Monday, 22 June 2015

Weekend in Covent Garden, South Bank and The Chelsea Flower Show



This post has been waiting to be written for too long! Apologies about being a bit behind with the times, its one of those moments when I have more post ideas than time to write them.

Back at the end of May, I went down to the smoke for my sister-in-law Ella's hen party and to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and took a bunch of beautiful bloom pictures which I've been meaning to share for anyone thinking of visiting next year, especially as I was a Flower Show first-timer and didn't know what to expect.

Here's what we got up to and what my impressions of the Chelsea Flower Show were...

We opted to travel down on the train first class, which was really hassle-free and a much nicer start that driving. It did make me wonder why I always take my car everywhere!


When we arrived it was a short hop on the tube from King's Cross to our hotel, which was in a pretty great location. We stayed at the Park Plaza Riverbank, which was just up the river from the Houses of Parliament and a short stroll from the South Bank. I would highly recommend it as a place to stay if you're planning a weekend down in London - it was very central, and a lovely place.

There were a few laughs when we got to our rooms. I was sharing with my other sister in law, Kirsty, and we couldn't work out why the room was so dark when we walked in. It turned out our room looked out over an internal courtyard, but because they were doing building work, the top of the courtyard was all boarded over with scaffolding, so not much daylight was getting through.

Despite that, the room was lovely, especially the roomy marble bathroom with its Elemis products.

We quickly dumped the bags and took a stroll to see what we could see. After a look around Westminster, I suggested that we go toCovent Garden for the afternoon. Its pretty much my favourite place in London, and any excuse to go really. I know its a little bit touristy but I like the continental vibe, it always makes me feel like I'm on holiday.


We had a poke around some of the shops. Ella wanted to buy some wedding make-up, so we popped into the Mac store, where I ended up treating myself to 'Blankety', which I've wanted for a while.




Then we stopped for a gelato at Venchi, a lovely little Italian ice cream shop. Yummy pistachio ice cream always makes me happy!

I also found a stall where a man was doing charcoal sketches of children's characters. You might know that we recently put some gorgeous Paddington wallpaper up in the baby's room, so when I saw he had sketches of Paddington, I had to get them. The nursery definitely has a theme now!

We stopped for a drink in The Punch and Judy, which was packed full of people enjoying the sunshine. Of course I had to stick to a lime and soda, but the girls were able to have a drink - I definitely miss a cheeky lunchtime drink.



We walked for a while and wandered through Leicester Square before decamping to St James' Park. It was a beautiful afternoon and everyone was picnicking, so we grabbed a latte and kicked our shoes off on the grass to join them.

We had to get up relatively early for the Flower Show the next day, so no one wanted to stay out late - we ended up having dinner at a little Sicilian place - Giovanni's in Goodwin Court.

The walls were covered in pictures of West End names who'd dined there, which was all very well until one of the girls said "Why is Mr Bean in all of the pictures?". Turned out that was the restuarant owner - very distinctive eyebrows - and from then on, I couldn't stop giggling.



Had the most delicious carbonara, followed by a truly lovely orange blossom and dark chocolate cannoli, before heading back to our rooms.

The next day, we were up and showered early and ready for our day at Chelsea. We started the morning with breakfast at Le Pain Quoditien, which hasn't made it up to Nottinghamshire yet, and just as well because I'd be the size of a house if so!

I had a massive bowl of latte, a fresh apple, melon and mint cold pressed juice and granola parfait with fresh fruit that set me up nicely for the day.


We caught the tube from Waterloo to Sloane Square, where we met up with my mother in law and one of her friends who'd also come down for the day. Before going, I'll confess I wasn't too sure what to expect and not really looking forward to it. I like flowers and gardens as much as the next person, but I wasn't convinced that a whole day of looking at them was going to be my thing.


But I had to concede that the RHS Flower Show is something special. The level of beauty and creativity was enough to impress anyway.



There were a few gardens that especially stood out for me - a Japanese garden (I've always loved them) that was an oasis of balanced tranquility, a garden featuring a 3d sculpture called the Evaders Garden by John Everiss that took my breath away - you could only see lines of suspended slate until you changed angle, when it became the form of WW2 RAF officer. Just stunning.


I also especially liked the selection of Alice in Wonderland floral sculptures they had commemorating the anniversity of the book. Its always been a particular favourite of mine.


There was lots to see and do, including some great shopping - I picked up some edible herbs and a wildflower garden in a box. Its sort of an instant garden, like a paint-by-numbers, as it includes all the flower seeds you need and a planting plan. Perfect for complete beginners like me. I also discovered the homewares by Sophie Allport, and now have a long wishlist of her stuff.


Our garden is pretty much a long strip of lawn running 80ft down to the canal banks, so its just a blank canvas and I now have plenty of ideas and inspiration for how to transform it, although I suspect that with the baby its going to be several years before they all come to fruition.



We had a prosecco picnic on the lawn until fairy lights strung from the trees, as big band music drifted across, and it was all very serene and lovely, even when the heavens opened and we had to don plastic ponchos that we proudly christened 'twat macs'. A great day out.


After going back to the hotel to change, in the evening we headed to a great little restaurant on the South Bank called Arch Duke, where they have live jazz and strong cocktails (again though -  none for me!).

After a delicious meal there with a smoked salmon and blood orange starter, chicken and parmesan escalopes and a warm chocolate brownie, we took a trip on the London Eye.



This is the ultimate tourist activity of course, and one of I've always skipped before due to the long queues, although we booked online and went for Fast Passes, meaning we managed to avoid waiting in line for just a couple of pounds more. I was excited to see the views and I've never been afraid of heights, so I bounded on without a second thought.




When we were about halfway up though, I got a sudden and unexpected attack of giddiness! I think it was because I could feel the pod moving in the wind, which I wasn't expecting at all...it didn't take me long to push it to one side though and just enjoy the stunning views over the city as dusk fell.



There was a festival on, so we found ourselves a seat at one of the outdoor bars, all hung with lights and Chinese lanterns.

It had a great vibe and I even had a little dance, despite the lack of alcohol. A couple of Ella's other friends had come down in the evening to join us for the night out, and two of them have recently had babies, so of course there was a lot of talking about that.

One of them was so ill throughout her pregnancy and had a terrible experience, which made me feel very lucky as I haven't experienced anything too bad so far.

I didn't want to slow the group down too much, so at about 11 I said my goodbyes and Kirsty and I went back to the hotel. She was so kind looking after me all weekend -  since having our niece and nephew she knows well what its like to be pregnant and she's been wonderful. It turned out the others didn't actually stay that long afterwards anyway, so we didn't miss much.

On the way back along the Embankment, we saw lots of lighting equipment and sound stuff piled up and loads of tabarded marshalls stood around. We didn't know why, but the girls that came after us asked some questions and found out it was filming for the new James Bond movie, Spectre. A huge pyrotechnics scene on the Thames. They hung around for a bit, but sadly there was no Daniel Craig!


The next day we actually went back to LPQ for breakfast again, and I had the most amazing ham and Gruyere croissant -  shameless Foodstagram there, but it really was delicious. I haven't been snacking much but I do like to have a good breakfast at the moment and that place was the best!

There was just time for a quick poke around the shops at the train station (Oliver Bonas, squeal!), and then it was back home. I had a great time, although at the moment I don't like being away from Seb much - pregnancy has made me majorly clingy!

So that was our little weekend at the Flower Show and goodbye to Ella's single days - now here's just hoping we can make the wedding....
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