The hanging gardens of Barbican

Blog, Sights

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Many of London’s great landmarks are easy to love. The architecture is straightforward, quite obviously attractive, easy to photograph and aesthetically pleasing without question.

The Barbican is a place that my eyes aren’t quite sure what to do with. I find it truly fascinating and it’s one of my favourite spots in London.

I love the great rhinoceros-grey sprawl of concrete and the way its long round legs trudge through the still green ponds. I love the contrast between the brutal straight lines of the buildings and the window boxes overflowing with flowers that tumble over the edges.

At the same time, there’s something quite ugly about it.

I realised, in order to describe how I feel about the Barbican, I need a very specific word. After some searching, I found a term that ticks the box: “Jolie-laide”.

Jolie Laide: a woman whose face is attractive despite having ugly features.

During my semantic search, I came across an article by Stephen Bayley in the Architectural Review, talking about this whole idea of beauty and ugliness. In the article he suggests that “we only enjoy the ephemeral deliciousness of beauty if we have an active concept of ugliness…

“Heaven needs hell.”

 

I work nearby, so I took a lunchtime stroll recently. Here are some picture taken on my wander.

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The river at Postbridge, Dartmoor National Park, Devon

Postcards from a roadtrip to Cornwall

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The river at Postbridge, Dartmoor National Park, Devon

The river at Postbridge, Dartmoor National Park, Devon

Despite going to university in Devon and spending three years living right on the brink of Cornwall, until last weekend I had never been there. How did I let this happen!??

Anyway. In the early hours of Friday morning, we packed up the MG and headed West.
The weekend was spent adventuring, in the glorious twin counties of Devon and Cornwall.

We explored the moors of Dartmoor National Park, ate Cornish pasties and waved hello to a tiny Dartmoor pony who was just trotting around, swishing his tail, doing his thang looking so cute and tiny.

Later in Bude, we wandered along the clifftops, dodged swooping seagulls and ate fish and chips and crab bisque by the beach.

After lunch, we zoomed along the Atlantic Highway to Tintagel with the roof open, the sun on our faces, and much to Gavin’s disgust, the sound of Justin Bieber pumping through the speakers.

Upon arrival, we skipped down the steep path to see the turquoise waters of Tintagel cove. Gavin then imparted a load of made-up facts about what makes the sea look turquoise, the history of Tintagel and the legend of Arthur before we huffed and puffed and grumbled our way back up the hill. It was very steep you know!

We took a trip to Padstow, then meandered around the harbour eating ice cream and lolling at creepy peeping gargoyles.

It was a GREAT weekend – may I suggest you all go there immediately.

When you do, stay in Langstone Manor. They have sweet little wooden cubby holes to sleep in, they love the environment and the site is actually inside the boundaries of Dartmoor National Park – i.e the WILDERNESS.

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BOTH CREEPY AND PEEPING.

The secret wonders of Kew Gardens Tropical Nursery…

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Fried-egg-orchidCactus-in-Kew-Gardens

Tucked away in a leafy corner behind a pair of Victorian wrought-iron gates lies Kew Gardens Tropical Nursery. It’s a hot, misty place, filled with intriguing and bizarre wonders of the natural world, from the world’s largest flower to the tiniest lily.

The Nursery is where Kew do research, conservation work, and look after rare plants. It’s not usually open to the public, but Gavin somehow managed to wangle us a tour. Gavin has a habit of winning tickets for things – I’m not sure whether he enters hundreds of competitions or is just really lucky. Either way, we got to go and look round and find out about all kinds of crazy plants.

Kew Gardens Tropical NurseryKew Gardens Tropical NurseryCactus in Kew GardensOpen-closy-thingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now I am a nerd and absolutely love plants and learning new things. But I’m aware that a lesson on tropical plants isn’t the way EVERYONE in their mid-twenties would choose to spend a Saturday afternoon. (On that note, at what age must one reluctantly swap ‘mid’ for ‘late’ when talking about age? I’m 27 and I’m clinging on to my ‘mid-twenties’ label for at least another year.) Seriously though, some of the plants in this Nursery would fascinate even the grumpiest plant-hater.

Cafe Marron

Cafe marron, the Lonesome George of the plant world.

Café marron, is a flowering plant from Mauritius. A few years ago, the cafe marron’s future resembled that of Lonesome George – there was just one sad little plant left in the wild. Luckily, Kew Gardens saved it from extinction – they propagated a load, kept a stash in the nursery and send some back to Mauritius.

Kew Gardens is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s not just a pretty garden, it’s so important to conservation and science. Being there makes you realise how incredible our Earth and its inhabitants are, and  how we should do all we can to preserve and protect them.

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After our visit, we popped to see the Hive. It’s a brand new art installation that mimics a real beehive. It was designed by artist Wolfgang Buttress and has lights and music that reflect the activity in a hive located elsewhere in Kew Gardens.

The Hive is surrounded by a swaying field of wildflowers. Since the 1930s, the UK has lost NINETY SEVEN PER CENT of its wildflower meadows. This is disastrous for bees. It’s where they love to hang out and without these meadows, our poor pollinating pals are under threat. (I’ve banged on about how much I love bees and how important they are before, the post is here if you fancy a read).

After visiting the Hive we wandered around the gardens and I spent the best part of an hour scampering around in the flowerbeds trying to take a photo of a bee…

I’d really recommend a visit to the Hive, followed by a stroll through the secluded garden to spot bumbles in the bushes.

Bees in Kew GardensBees in Kew Gardens

 

Costa Rica, a tropical paradise filled with sloths and parrots

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The view of Manuel Antonio National Park from Hotel La Mariposa

Regularly labelled the happiest, greenest and most sustainable country in the world, Costa Rica is a tropical haven in the heart of Central America. The country relies mostly on renewable energy, it doesn’t have an army and it’s home to the world’s most adorable creature: THE SLOTH.

To summarise, Costa Rica is about as close as you can get to heaven on Earth

Tortuguero beach, Laguna Lodge, Costa Rica via A Ranson NoteGardens at Laguna Lodge, Tortuguero, Costa Rica via A Ranson NoteMural in San Jose, Costa Rica

Thanks to its tropical climate and lush vegetation, photographs of Costa Rica need no filter. It’s like someone has turned up brightness and saturation on the whole place, it’s so green, so blue, so yellow and so red, in equal measure. Describing it without resorting to cliche is nearly impossible.

We recently spent an incredible two weeks travelling around Costa Rica and it was an absolutely unforgettable trip.

On the canals in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica via A Ranson NoteTortuguero Village, Costa Rica via A Ranson Note

We hiked through dripping rainforests, sailed along crocodile-infested canals and trundled along mountain roads past erupting volcanoes. We shooed cheeky monkeys away from our picnic and in turn were chased by brazen coatis and racoons after a quick snack.

We floated gently down the still waters of Tortuguero, watching with wonder as white-faced capuchins leapt high above our heads.

Tree Canopy in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa RicaFungus in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa RicaMoss on a branch in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica via A Ranson Note

The cloud forest is a curious, misty place. Every branch is covered in moss and vines, orchids and bromeliads. Ferns hang down, creeping vines curl around other plants.

In the early morning light, we crept through the forest on the hunt for the country’s beloved Resplendent Quetzal. The aptly named bird has rich green and red feathers, a ludicrously long tail and big eyes to help it see in the forest. Stubbornly resistant to living in captivity, the Quetzal can only be found in a few places on Earth, the Monteverde Cloud Forest being one. We were so lucky to spot a family nesting in an old tree.

Sun shining through the trees in the Cloud ForestResplendant Quetzal in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica via A Ranson Note

Alongside the early mornings, strenuous hiking and long journeys on treacherous unpaved roads, we found time to relax. We rested aching limbs in hot springs heated by the lava bubbling under nearby volcanoes. We splashed in infinity pools, swam in clear blue seas and sunbathed on the pure white sands of unspoilt beaches.

Sunset in Tortuguero, Laguna Lodge, Costa RicaTortuguero beach, Costa Rica via A Ranson NoteOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If this is sounding too much like advertising blurb from a travel agent brochure, then it’s only because I really, really, love Costa Rica. But to balance it out a little, I’ll say this: at times, the humidity was unbearable. One night, I lay in bed, in a room with no air conditioning, in a place with 89% humidity and I felt like a little tree of broccoli being gently steamed ready for a Sunday lunch. It was impossible to think about anything else but the stifling, inescapable heat. I lay there for over an hour, dripping with sweat, imagining what it would be like to be steamed to death.

Aside from the dream about my untimely demise, it was an incredible, beautiful trip. On the way to the airport, I even shed a little tear that it was coming to an end…


For more photos and travel journals, visit SIGHTS

Glastonbury festival. Image by jaswooduk from UK (Glastonbury 2011) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Things NOT to take to Glastonbury

Blog, Sights

Whenever I go to a festival I always ask the Internet what to pack, and the Internet usually obliges with handy blogposts and checklists for me to use as inspiration when creating my own list.

Over the years I have managed (despite all that faffing around) to screw myself over in some way or the other, and in attempt to learn from mistakes, this year I have made a list of things NOT to bring.

The plastic bag

Ikea bag

Don’t bring the majority of your belongings in a plastic bag. One year, I decided to pack two boxes of wine and three litres of premixed gin and tonic (among a plethora of other crap) in one of those big blue plastic bags you get from IKEA. I can’t remember why I thought this was a good idea, but I realised the moment I got out of the car and everything rolled out onto the floor that I had made a disastrous decision.

There is NO WAY to comfortably carry this bag. After about five minutes of walking, with big purple lines cut into my hands and shoulders I dropped the bag dramatically to the ground and resorted to dragging it behind me like a sledge… until the inevitable hole wore through the plastic and I was forced to scoop the whole lot up in my arms and carry it like a baby.  In summary, get a backpack.

The playsuit
Beware the playsuit – it is a false friend. “What a fun, summery, festival-appropriate garment!” you think to yourself until you are having to get completely undressed (wellies and all), in a compost toilet that’s filled with a foot of sticky mud and smells like a farmyard. Leave the playsuit at home.

The things to wash with

It’s a nice idea. But the notion that I will wash with water (and not baby wipes) is a fantasy that I will no longer indulge in. Every year, the travel-sized shower gel (that costs almost as much as the full bottle) the camping towel and shampoo gets packed into the bag where it stays for five days until it is unpacked again after the festival.

This year I will be making do with babywipes, dry shampoo, a spritz of perfume and the knowledge that I’m a little bit more disgusting than I like to believe.  

The good wine

Red wine makes you sleepy and warm white wine will always taste bad whether it’s good quality or not. So leave the nice stuff at home, and buy something that defines itself on the box as a ‘wine cocktail’. Country Manor. This wine is so revoltingly bad that you may find yourself mixing it with everything from lukozade to barbecue sauce in an attempt to make it drinkable. You will not succeed. But at least you didn’t waste any money and when the campsite supply of alcohol reaches an all time low on Saturday night you will have an emergency stash.

Anything you definitely want to take home

The first festival I went to was Reading at the age of 15. Beforehand, I was well and truly lured in by the “Festival style” window display in Topshop and spent a fortune and a considerable amount of time and effort trying to look casual, laid back and bohemian.

Within hours of arriving at Little John’s Farm, I had managed to spill a whole tray of beer all over myself, fall over in the mud, lose a shoe and witness a friend’s hat (that had been painstakingly selected and purchased) plucked from her head and hurled across the campsite never to be seen again by a drunken passer-by. In that moment, as the hat soared high above the tents, I realised it was utterly stupid to take anything to a festival that you definitely like and definitely want to keep. 

When I got back to my campsite, I saw that someone was urinating on my tent, my camping chair had been used as kindling to start a fire and someone had drawn a penis on the side of my tent with toothpaste. So if you can help it, don’t spend too much money on fringed waistcoats, floral vintage dresses or fancy Cath Kidston tents because your festival will be spent worrying about them or being annoyed.

Anything you definitely DON’T want to take home 

This might appear to contradict the previous point, but BEAR WITH. Glastonbury is a real working farm and they have strict policies on litter. For that reason, if you find yourself thinking “I’ll pack that, and if I don’t need it I’ll just leave it there…” UNPACK IT IMMEDIATELY. 

Rubbish left at Reading

Carrying stuff home is so much worse than carrying it there. While the drink and snacks may be gone, your bag will still be heavy, but you’ll have much less energy than you did on the outgoing trip, you’ll be exhausted from the festival and sad that it’s all over. The last thing you want to be doing is lugging a load of junk that you thought might be useful or might be funny, all the way home. And the other option, leaving it there, will just exacerbate your post-Glastonbury blues, as you can add the guilt of ‘leaving a trace’ to your list of things to be miserable about. 


My friend Heidi-Lee has written a great post about what you should pack for Glastonbury for her blog Titian and Turmeric.

Image of Glastonbury festival by jaswooduk from UK (Glastonbury 2011) 

Lloyds of Kew bookshop

A perfect day in Kew

Blog, Sights

Kew Gardens Palm House.jpgKew is a lovely suburb in West London famous for its acclaimed botanical gardens. It’s also home to tons of lovely independent shops and cafes, so if you’re planning a day trip to Kew Gardens, I’d definitely recommend a few stops on your way. Here’s my recipe for a perfect day in Kew.

Kew Village

Arrive at Kew Gardens station in the morning. Despite serving the London Underground, the station is above the surface of the earth and is pleasantly dissimilar to the grubby litter-strewn station you come to expect when taking the tube. The leafy, open-air platforms are lined with palm trees and flowers and there’s a cosy looking pub with a large ornate curved window that overlooks Platform 1. 

Kew Gardens station

Kew Gardens station in the sun

You’ll emerge from the station into Kew Village, a sweet little square, with independent shops ranging from a butcher and a florist to an organic wholefood store. The list of shops resembles a nursery rhyme, although the shopkeepers vehemently deny bathing together.

P.M. Flowers in Kew Village


Compiling a picnic

After a little mooch around the shops, you can begin compiling the QUEEN of all picnics. Oliver’s Organic Wholefood Store is filled with delicious salads, cheeses, chutneys, and snacks – all of which, as the name suggests, are organic.

On Saturdays there’s a little stall in the corner of the square where you can buy bread and cakes and other tasty baked things. If you fortuitously visit on the first Sunday of the month, the streets are closed for Kew Village Market – a monthly event with stalls selling seasonal and local produce.

Chutneys in Oliver’s Wholefood Store

Visit The Good Wine Shop to pick up your tipple of choice. They sell chilled wine, french cidre and locally brewed beer to suit all budgets. The friendly non-snooty staff are always happy to help, even if your request is for something “cold and cheap.”

The Good Wine Shop: Does exactly what it says on the tin


A vintage bookshop

As you leave the village, wander down the road to Lloyds of Kew bookshop along Mortlake Terrace. Looking like the library of a crumbling stately home, the independent bookshop sells rare, vintage, antiquarian and modern second hand books.

Inside, the tomes are piled high, the till balanced on a desk behind plants and freshly cut flowers. Have a coffee while rummaging for a classic paper back and then proceed to Kew Gardens.


Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens is the largest collection of living plants in the whole world and an important centre for botanical research and conservation. It’s also a stunning place to visit.

I’ve done a lot of wandering around and I think the perfect place for a picnic is the Redwood Grove on the West side of the grounds. This area, planted in the 1860s, is home to some colossal trees known as giant and coastal redwoods. They are the tallest species of tree on Earth, can grow over 100 metres high and live for thousands of years. Pretty bloody impressive! Ask for a map or directions when you get in to find this magical forest.

After a leisurely lunch, have a wander round the botanical gardens making sure you don’t miss the Japanese garden, the lake or the treetop walkway.

Kew Gardens Palm House - A Perfect Day in Kew by A Ranson Note http://nicolaranson.comBlossom in Kew Gardens

My second favourite part of Kew Gardens after the redwood grove is the Palm House. The vast Victorian structure is made of iron and glass and houses hundreds of palms. It’s like stepping into an rainforest, birds will cheep, and the nostalgic elegance of the glasshouse will make your hands twitch to take hundreds of photos.

Palm House Kew Gardens, via A Ranson Note nicolaransonPalm House, Kew Gardens via a Ranson Note http://nicolaranson.com

For more photos of Kew Gardens, visit my post about the Princess of Wales Conservatory.


An evening in Kew

On your way out of the gardens, you can stop in one of the various pubs that surround Kew Green for a cocktail or a G&T. The Coach and Horses usually have a really reasonable cocktail of the day, along with comfy chairs, a roaring fire (in the winter) and a library room.

There are lots of tasty places to eat in Kew, from the Michelin starred Glasshouse, to the French restaurant Ma Cuisine Bistro. The pubs around Kew Green also serve really great food and many have wonderful gardens for you to sit and enjoy the evening sun.

My personal favourite is a Korean BBQ restaurant called O.PPA, located along Kew Road as you head towards Richmond. Each table is fitted with a little barbecue grill which you use to cook your own food! Cue lots of hilaaaaaarious jokes from your boyfriend complaining about going to a restaurant then having to cook your own dinner. Still, I think it’s great fun and a perfect way to end a wonderful day in Kew!

 

Crocus in glass vase, Urban Jungle Bloggers

Urban Jungle Bloggers: Plants & Glass

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This will be my first ever post for Urban Jungle Bloggers. Aloha!

The theme this month is ‘glass and plants’ so I thought I’d share a few photos of a little crocus bulb I planted in a glass vase back in December.

Crocus bulb in glass, Urban Jungle Bloggers

I love the long noodle-esque roots that swirl around in the water.

Curly roots, crocus in glass, Urban Jungle Bloggers

The little tiny bulb has enough nutrients to put down these long straggly jellyfish roots, and to sprout a delicate flower without needing soil which I find amazing.

Crocus in glass vase, Urban Jungle Bloggers

It’s not all good news though. This fella started well, sprouting a little shoot and a tiny root. But then nothing! The promising sprout stopped growing abruptly and started to go all brown. Lots of care and attention failed to resurrect his progress. I think perhaps there was too much water in the vase and the bulb rotted. Sorry flower!

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And finally, as this month’s theme is glass and plants I thought I’d share some photos of one of the amazing glasshouses in Kew Gardens. I live nearby so when I saw this month’s theme I popped over to take some photos.

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The Princess of Wales conservatory was opened in 1987 and is home to cacti, ferns, orchids, waterlilies and even water dragons! When you’re inside it’s like being in a giant terrarium. Wandering around, I feel like a little Minimian character.

 

This strange looking jade vine hangs down and has these strange almost-glow in the dark coloured flowers. In the wild, they are polluted by bats, but the ones in Kew are hand-pollinated by Kew Gardens staff who go round armed with little paintbrushes.

The plant only flowers every 2 – 3 years so it was great to see it! The destruction of rainforests in the Phillipines, the jade vine’s natural habitat means the vines are under threat.

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Urban Jungle Bloggers is a monthly series run by two bloggers, Igor (Happy Interior Blog) and Judith (JOELIX.com). To view more from the glass and plants theme, visit the Urban Jungle Bloggers website

Travel// A weekend in Nantes, France

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During the many years I’ve known my boyfriend, I have heard more about Nantes than most employees of the Pays de la Loire tourist board. It’s an understatement that the French city is one of his favourite places on this little blue Earth. Our trip to Nantes this month was therefore very, very overdue.

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Yellow Titan crane – a “remnant of the historical era”

Nantes is a beautiful, friendly and quirky little place, filled with unique historical buildings, delicious crêperies and unusual cultural and artistic projects.

While many cities offer you a cathedral or a tall tower as their definitive landmark, Nantes offers you a gigantic wooden elephant robot. Part of the Machines de L’île cultural project, ‘le grand éléphant’ stomps round the island, squirting water in the face of anyone in its way. It’s bloody magnificent.

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Le grand elephant, Nantes

On Sunday morning we caught the boat to the colourful little village of Trentemoult, took lots of pictures of the bright houses and saw a couple of gnomes hanging out on a windowsill.

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The colourful houses of Trentemoult

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Gnome lads peeping out of the window

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Mural painted by Badouin in the village of Trentemoult

Le Nid, at the top of 37 storey Tour Bretagne, is a bar designed to look like a stork’s nest by graphic designer and illustrator Jean Jullien. A ginormous white stork snakes round the whole of the floor, the bar is located in its body and you can sit on the neck. The tables and chairs are all little eggs and those with particularly beady eyes can spy egg splats painted on the rooftops of the buildings below.

We popped in to Le Nid on Sunday evening to watch the sunset, have a cocktail and listen to music.

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Le Nid, by Jean Jullien

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Artworks by Jean Jullien on the walls at Le Nid

We wandered round the castle, visited the pastel pink LU biscuit factory and saw some of the Estuaire art installations located along the water. Le Pendule by Roman Signer is a massive old derelict concrete factory, that has been converted to a large clock with the fitting of a swinging pendulum.

We also visited a few of the city’s many crêperies, Au Vieux Quimper was my favourite.

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The old LU biscuit factory has been converted to an art exhibition space

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“The Rings” by Daniel Buren

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“Le Pendule” by Roman Signer, part of the Estuaire art project

On our last day, we went for a coffee at La Cigale, an extravagant art-nouveau brasserie. It’s filled with palm trees and has floor to ceiling patterned ceramic tiles. Beautiful and over the top and a great end to the weekend!

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For more photos and travel journals, visit SIGHTS!

Travel// A trip to Bosnia, Montenegro and Croatia

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We took a trip to the most beautiful places. Bosnia, Montenegro and Croatia. Starting in Mostar we wandered across the Stari Most, tried our first cevapi, and stayed in Muslibegovic House, a former Ottoman family home. We drove across to Sarajevo, visited the abandoned bobsled track from the winter Olympics held there and drank Bosnian coffee from little copper cups. We drove along perilously narrow roads, up mountains, through canyons and around beautifully turquoise lakes. We floated along the Tara River in a raft and rowed out to the tiny island in the Bay of Kotor.  Here are some photos of our trip.

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Gavin has written great little posts about each of the places we visited, so visit his blog at gavingreene.com for details!