Classic Thames Afternoon Tea Cruise with Bateaux London

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Garry and I could not have chosen a better day for our visit to Bateaux London Cruises. A blue sky hung over the Capital and the glass high-rises glittered in the springtime sun. We arrived at Embankment Pier feeling peckish and looking forward to Afternoon Tea on the Thames, aboard the fittingly named Harmony.

After checking-in at reception, we took a seat and eagerly awaited the announcement to embark. Upon boarding the vessel, we were greeted by friendly – not to mention impeccably turned-out – staff, and shown to our table.

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The room was spacious and uncluttered. Each table was simply laid – with pastel tablecloths, white crockery and crisply printed menus – in preparation for the treats that were to follow. Large windows offered views on both sides and, in the corner, a tuxedoed pianist tinkled the ivories of a baby grand.

As the boat set-off, our tea order was taken and, within moments, a steaming pot of Earl Grey sat before me. With only a brief glance at the Premier passenger’s champagne, I poured my first cup and sat back to enjoy the ride.

The route took in several of the city’s most recognisable landmarks. The water-level perspective and mellow atmosphere, however, meant this was unlike any sightseeing excursion I recall. The London Eye and Westminster passed by our window, unaccompanied by the crush of tourists or blare of traffic noise.

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Before long, a silver cake stand was delivered to our table – an enticing selection of sandwiches, scones and cakes carefully arranged on its three tiers. Unfortunately, I was unable to tuck-in right away though as Garry – a keen photographer – had disappeared to the upper deck. I found him there – viewfinder to his eye and shutter-finger poised – as we neared HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge.

My colleague retrieved, it was time to sample smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches; a zesty tarte au citron and soft-centred lemon and blackcurrant cake. The chocolate torte was rich and velvety, and a generous globe of Cornish clotted cream sat alongside fresh scones and strawberry jam.

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Leaving only crumbs behind us, we now both made our way upstairs to admire the sites in the open air. We cruised back under the Millennium Bridge, past the familiar dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern’s imposing tower, and then – all too soon – the boat was preparing to dock.

Garry and I returned to the hustle and bustle of dry land with some reluctance. The Classic Thames Afternoon Tea Cruise afforded us a uniquely tranquil view of the everchanging city skyline, and we owe our thanks to Bateaux London Cruises and their excellent staff.

If you feel like treating a loved one, the Experience Days voucher can be found here.

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Traditional Men’s Wet Shave and Hair Cut with Gentlemen’s Tonic

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On a sunny weekday morning in the Capital, Garry and I found ourselves – not behind desks in the Experience Days office – but amidst the salubrious surroundings of Mayfair. We were here to visit Gentlemen’s Tonic, a luxury establishment offering traditional barbering, grooming and lifestyle services to London’s most discerning men, since 2004.

The flagship shop is on Bruton Place, within just 10 minutes’ walk of Piccadilly Circus. As we made our way along the secluded street, however, it was hard to believe that the city clamour lay within such short reach. Tailors shops neighboured high-end boutiques, and the bonnet of a blue Aston Martin gleamed in the sun.

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Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted and shown to the waiting area. The reception was lined with shelves displaying an array of the shop’s own tonics and potions, and – all in all – the interior gave an impression of masculine refinement, with careful use of dark woods, leather and marble.

Garry and I were led by our barber, Mohamed, to one of several private rooms. The booth was furnished with a single old-fashioned barber’s chair and the tools of the trade were laid out in preparation. Garry took a seat as he was to receive his traditional wet shave first.

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Firstly, a pre-shave lotion was applied to open the pores, before hot towels helped to soften hairs and relax the facial muscles. Garry’s face was then lathered with shaving cream, and Mohamed began to remove his stubble with a cut-throat razor. He wielded the blade with confidence and dexterity, making light work of Garry’s coarse beard in a matter of minutes. After a few finishing touches and a cold towel, my now boyish colleague then gave up his seat for my haircut.

Mohamed began by washing and conditioning my hair, before listening attentively to my vague instructions. He worked quickly and efficiently, handling scissors with the same skill he had the razor. Throughout our experience, his manner was gracious and reassuring – his expertise evident with every snip and flourish! As I gazed at my reflection in the mirror, I felt delighted to be in such safe hands and eager to unleash my new ‘do’ on the unsuspecting city catwalk.

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Once the back had been viewed and approved, it was time to collect our jackets and bid our farewells. We emerged onto Brunton Place a good deal more presentable than we’d arrived – a dashing pair fit for the most exclusive soirées in Mayfair.

Thank you to our welcoming host, Manuela, and – of course – our terrific barber, Mohamed. If you feel like treating the gentleman in your life, you can find vouchers for a Traditional Wet Shave or Wet Shave & Haircut on the Experience Days website.

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Staff Review: Up at the O2 Climbing Experience

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I was full of curiosity as I made my way – with the rest of the Experience Days team – to Greenwich Peninsula to take part in the Up at the O2 Climbing Experience.

The last time I visited London’s O2 Arena it was the Millennium Dome. I can only vaguely remember an enormous beating heart, an episode of Blackadder and a shiny £5 coin (refused by a shopkeeper some years later).

Since the ill-fated Dome’s rebranding, the arena has played host to some of the world’s biggest stars – including Prince, Beyoncé and One Direction – and has become an iconic feature of the London cityscape.

The Up at the O2 Experience invites visitors to climb over the landmark via a 380-metre walkway suspended just a few metres from its surface.

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Upon entering the foyer – decorated with coils of rope, compasses and ice axes – we were handed forms to complete and a safety booklet. After a short wait and a few nervous glances at the furnishings, we were shown through to the Expedition Room.

Here, we met our guide for the evening, Ross, and watched a brief – but informative – video, explaining what to expect during the climb. Ross then led the way to the changing room and issued us with boiler suits, rubber-soled shoes and harnesses.

Suitably attired and with our possessions stowed securely, Ross lent a rough hand to ensure harnesses were properly fastened, before we made our way to the starting point.

Standing at the foot of the walkway, the ascent appeared steeper than I’d anticipated and somewhat exposed without an outer handrail. Ross’ reassuringly no-nonsense demeanour, however, meant I took my first steps full of confidence.

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Made to replicate the ‘tent’ beneath, the walkway wobbles and bounces underfoot and – though we’d been expecting this – it took some getting used to. Trickier still were the devices securing us to the central safety cable, which had to be cajoled along at regular intervals. Our inexperience was clearly at fault here though, as Ross glided up the slope untroubled.

The team were all breathing a little heavier by the time we reached the top. Once unclipped, we were free to wander round the platform and take in the view. The lights of the capital winked all around us and the dark Thames surged below.

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As we gawped, Ross proved himself a treasure-trove of interesting facts – describing the erratic course of the river and the history of some visible places of interest. By this point, we’d all become rather fond of our guide, whose gruff exterior belied a warm heart and expansive knowledge. Bearded and with “the skin of a Norwegian fisherman”, Ross was a support and pleasure throughout – the Edmund Hillary of urban mountaineers!

After a few more photos, it was time to make our descent. The final section was the steepest we’d tackled yet and our steps became tentative as the walkway shuddered beneath us. It was with some relief – plus a real sense of achievement – that we finally set our feet back on solid ground.

This, my second, visit to the ‘Dome’ turned out just as enjoyable – if surreal – as the first and I’d recommend the Up at the O2 Climbing Experience to Londoners and visitors alike. If you fancy giving it a go, you can find more information and book here.

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Banqueting House: Staff Review

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The Banqueting House is known as one of the most beautiful buildings in London, and the only surviving one after the great fire that burnt down the Palace Of Whitehall. Maddie and I were particularly excited to see inside this grand building and see its beauty with our own eyes. HRP Invited us to come to London and check out some of its most iconic historical architecture for ourselves – and iconic it was!

The architectural anomaly was King Charles the Ist of England’s execution location – where he actually stepped out of a window and onto the scaffolding which held his beheading block. He was beheaded for treason, one of the most common reasons for execution in the 17th century.

Once Maddie and I had collected our tickets and electronic audio guides, we headed up the grand staircase into the large hall itself.

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The sheer size and beauty of the columns, architecture and paintings on the ceilings were breathtaking. The only surviving artwork of Sir Peter Paul Rubens, the large pieces were each deconstructed in the audio, and we quickly learnt why they were commissioned by the King himself. There were large brown leather bean bags scattered around the hall where you could sit back and observe the artwork comfortably.

Maddie and I grabbed a bean bag, laid back and started our audio guide which took us through the years, teaching us about the Royal Family and London in the 17th century.

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The Banqueting house has had many famous visitors such as Nelson Mandela, members of The Royal Family amongst many more and has hosted many lavish events over the years. Without giving TOO much away, we would thoroughly suggest coming for a visit, whether you are a local Londoner or a visitor – the Banqueting House has its own charm and finesse. This really was the perfect way to get away from London’s busy streets, and a peaceful afternoon spent admiring the 17th century.

We would like to say a massive thank you to Historic Royal Palaces for having us and giving us the opportunity to come and see one of London’s delights!

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Thai Masterclass with Jenius Social

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Maddie and I were lucky enough to get invited back to Jenius Social and this time it was for something a little more savoury – Authentic Thai Food… yum!

From start to finish our whole experience was just as professional as our last one with Jenius Social (Marvellous Macarons.. another highly recommended class). We arrived at Highbury & Islington station and started the short walk to the Kitchens. We were warmly welcomed by Catherine, Jennifer and Andrew (Chef) and given our aprons. We then followed Andrew into the kitchen and he gave us a quick debrief on what was on the menu: Fresh homemade green Thai chicken thigh curry, jasmine rice, fresh pollock and prawn fish cakes with Thai spices and vegetable rice paper spring rolls.

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One of the great things about this class is you don’t have to worry about remembering which ingredients you’re using or the quantity of each, because this is all emailed to you after the class. This means you can simply enjoy your cooking experience and perfect your techniques. Andrew leads his classes as a very hands-on chef, and so as students in this Thai Masterclass we experienced prepping each ingredient and were taught exactly how.

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We started with the Green Thai Curry, which had quite a few different fresh herbs and spices, which we prepared and blended, before putting them in a pan to cook. We then added coconut milk and the chicken thighs, followed by spinach. All that was left to do after this was popping a lid on the pan and allowing it to simmer whilst we moved onto the fish cakes. This was again mainly prepping the ingredients to go into a big bowl, and then making small fluffy fish cakes which Andrew then deep-fried. Last (but by no means least) were the spring rolls. We cut all the ingredients into long, thin shapes so they would fit nicely into the rolled rice paper and made these whilst the fish cakes were frying. Fishcakes done, it was time to deep fry the spring rolls!

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Once we had finished cooking everything we were brought to the next room by Catherine who had laid the table beautifully and we sat and were served our delicious culinary accomplishments. It’s safe to say, we had to hobble home because it was so delicious – we couldn’t stop eating!

Cookery classes, in general, are great ways to socialise whilst picking up a new skill and of course having lots of fun doing it! We would like to say another massive thank you to Jennifer, Catherine and Andrew for having us and giving us such a fantastic evening.

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London Kayak Tours: An Expert Interview.

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We’ve been catching up with Laura from London Kayak Tours who has told us a little more about the drive behind the company! It seems Kayaking is the ideal activity for dating – keep reading to find out more!

Q. How did your passion for Kayaking begin?

A. I am from New Zealand, so typically like the outdoors and have kayaked from an early age in NZ! I like the pace of kayaking, it is adventurous and different without being too difficult for anyone. I like that it is ideal for novices and open to anyone trying out something fun, unique and active.

Q. What would you say is the best thing about seeing London from a kayak?

A. Seeing London from a kayak offers a completely unique view of the wonderful capital. It is a great place to observe the hustle and bustle of the city, whilst paddling gently down the river. The river offers a much slower pace and is much more peaceful. It is also a great position to observe some world-famous historical landmarks such as Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace. We see everything from a unique angle.

Q. What do you enjoy most about working on the River Thames?

A. It is great to do an activity I love and make a successful business out of this passion. I enjoy watching the changing seasons from a river view as well as being able to have an up-close view of river wildlife. It is fantastic being able to race alongside swans, kingfishers and ducks.

Q. Do you have any funny/ embarrassing stories to share?

A. We have had two marriage proposals and regularly take out stags and hens for their fun day out.

We have had some good dating stories, some successful relationships. We had one gentlemen bring a few different dates out kayaking with us. It was like his regular dating venue for a while.

Q. Have you ever had any celebrities take part in the tours?

A. Yes, we have had Natalie Imbruglia, Sunita Shroff and Emma Catherwood previously from Holby City.

Q. Is there anything you would like to add or share that has not been covered?

A. If you haven’t been on a London Kayak Tour then you must! Our visitors have given us some great reviews on Trip Advisor. Do have a look at these and some of our pictures and videos at www.londonkayaktours.co.uk. We continue to have fun with this business and encourage everyone to try this at least once!

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We would like to say a massive thank you to Laura for taking the time to answer our questions. If you would like to start your London kayaking adventure – choose from three different locations:  Tower Bridge, Regents Canal or Windsor!

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Staff Visit to Kensington Palace – London

staff-review-of-kensington-palace-headerAs the royal home to many of Britain’s Queens, Kings and most recently the much loved ‘people’s princess’ Diana, Leoni and I were hugely appreciative to be invited to take part in a staff review at Kensington Palace and walk within these famous footsteps. We managed to jam pack our day trip to London by visiting two of the London Historic Royal Palaces which is easily do-able both in one day. Here’s our Kensington Palace review…

Our experience began by walking through the quaint Kensington Gardens towards the palace entrance. We were then greeted by a member of the HRP team in their iconic red suited uniforms and shown to the where the tour of the palace begins. First of all, we headed up The King Staircase with the paintings on the wall capturing a typical 18th century court and the white and black chequered tile print floor. It definitely feels pretty surreal strolling around where our Kings and Queens would have entertained many of the country’s richest elites back in the day (we even felt a bit posh!). Next stop, was the King’s State Apartments featuring grand ceiling paintings and intricate woven tapestries. There are informative placards around the room with interesting facts like how William III caught a cold after playing in the Kings Gallery which caused his early death in 1702. Also, in the Kings Apartments are some old-fashioned style dresses with the huge skirts (see the photo of Leoni below trying out the look) which she can’t quite pull off – sorry Leoni best to leave it to the Kings and Queens!

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The King’s Apartments then follows through to The Queen’s State Apartments which includes the Queen’s Gallery, Closet and Dining Room. You can even see porcelain china that the King and Queen would have used to dine on their favourite dishes of fish and beer. When we visited Kensington Palace (on the 8/03/2017) they had the Diana Fashion Exhibition which will run at the Palace for 2 years which was truly inspiring. I had little knowledge about the influence Princess Diana had on people and the way she would dress to cater for her different appearances. This moving exhibition will be at the Palace for 2 years so get yourself there!

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You then head out towards the Palace Gardens and see the ‘The Sunken Garden’. Although it was drizzly wet day, the neat hedgerows and water fountains were still just as picturesque. Leoni and I didn’t eat in The Orangery but this apparently does delicious Breakfast, Lunch or Afternoon Teas which are just as on par to match the elegance of the Kensington Palace as a whole.

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Thank you to Historic Royal Palaces for letting us experience some of the finer things in life and take a trip round both Kensington Palace and The Tower of London. Keep an eye out for our visit to The Banqueting House too!

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Staff Review of Twickenham Stadium

twicken-stadium-tours-london-blog-headerWith the echo of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” ringing through our ears, Leoni and I hopped off at Twickenham train station to take part in our latest staff review and I’m sure you can guess what it is – a Twickenham Stadium Tour for two. After a quick 10 minute walk from the station to the stadium, Leoni and I headed to the Rugby Store where the tour starts.

As the largest stadium in the world which is purely devoted to Rugby, Leoni and I knew we were going to be in for a treat seeing the behind the scenes actions of such an iconic sporting venue – and hopefully spot a rugby player or two! We were warmly welcomed by our tour guide and set off to start the tour. The first stop was into the Rugby Internationals Club where ex-players can enjoy their own bar and seating area for match days. Across the walls there is many pictures of different rugby matches from the old days when the Twickenham pitch would have been full of mud and thick across the rugby players faces, a lot different to the pristine pitch now as informed by our tour guide!

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Next up, we visited some of the Royal Boxes and enjoyed sitting in their premium seats at the top of the stadium. These boxes are slightly out of our price range… but we can dream! We then moved on to seeing the different hospitality suites including the Presidents Suite where royalty like to relax and dine before a big game. Our tour guide continued to take us round and share fun facts with us about the sport, players and the history of the stadium.

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Our next stop was what we all had been waiting for; the dressing rooms and the players’ tunnel. Now would have been the perfect time for one of the rugby stars to pop up! In the dressing room, you can see the different designated space for each player and the previous players who have been there before them. I took a quick picture of George Ford’s seat and sent it to my friend who is an avid fan, might have something to do with his blue eyes I reckon. We also saw the medical and old fashioned bathing areas where the players can tend to their sore muscles after the game. We then left the changing rooms and headed through the Players’ Tunnel pretending we were about to walk out to a full 85,000 capacity Twickenham Stadium, chanting our names. Our tour finished by going pitch-side and checking out the immaculate pitch right from its sidelines.

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Unfortunately, when we visited (in March 2017)  Twickenham World Rugby Museum was closed due to refurbishments but this is definitely something you’d need to check out once you are there. If you’re visiting before the Museum opens again in May 2017, you’re entitled to go back and visit again for free, so you can relive the experience all over again! Thank you so much to Twickenham Rugby Tours for inviting us along to take part in the experience, we had a fab time.

You can purchase a Twickenham Stadium Tour for two here or alternatively take the family for a tour of their lifetime!

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Staff Review: Tower Of London

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Last week Maddie and I ventured into London to discover more about its history. Historic Royal Palaces’ Tower of London was our agenda, so we hopped on the Tube to Tower Hill and made the quick walk through to the Tower of London entrance.

Once we had collected our tickets, we were free to roam the castle grounds. With lots of stops along the way, the plaques at each stop showed details of the history over the last few decades. Discovering things from various eras, we were amazed at the vast history of the Tower and its grounds.

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From the original suit of arms to statues of the animals that were once kept in the grounds, the overall experience was truly fascinating. Believe it or not, the King used to keep polar bears and elephants in the Tower Grounds! We visited the torture chambers of people that had betrayed the Royals, the King’s rooms and the places where criminals were publicly beheaded and shamed.

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Out last stop was the Crown Jewels, which were fascinating and held ancient British History. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the HRP Royal Jewels, but I’m sure you can imagine the sheer beauty – swords covered in diamonds, ruby encrusted crowns and solid gold shields…incredible!

Unfortunately we did not get to go for Afternoon tea but without giving away too much, learning about the Tower of London’s history is a must-do for everyone, whether you live locally or are a visitor to the city.

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Classic Military Vehicle Driving Day with Greentrack Events

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With the sun unusually shining on a February morning, Leoni and I took part in the Classic Military Vehicle Driving Day based in Christchurch, near Bournemouth. The experience was led by Peter who clearly has a passion for all-things-military, making him an excellent instructor for our day. Our experience involved driving a Land Rover 101 Forward Control with a Rolls Royce 4L Engine and a Humber Armored Personnel Carrier, proper old school army vehicles! Here’s how we got on…

First up was Leoni in the Land Rover. Now these vehicles are very old, there’s no fancy technology like power steering or even windshields on some of the vehicles, just good old fashioned strength. Leoni drove the Rover out of its parking spot and we hit the dirt track. Luckily for us, the sun hadn’t dried all the mud up, so we went splashing through and over the rutty path. I was riding in the back seat – you definitely have to hold on, it’s a bumpy ride! Next, it was my turn to take the wheel. It’s a lot harder than driving a car, but with Peters instructions and the odd “NOW LEFT, TOO MUCH LEFT!” we managed to get the hang of it. It was also very amusing listening to Peter shout “watch out for the broccoli!” as the track runs around the side of some crop fields. I navigated round the track back to the start point to drive our second vehicle.

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The Humber Armored Personnel Carrier was used for exactly what its name is, to carry military personnel across various terrains, so it needed to be able to withstand some serious conditions. I hopped in the back and Leoni took the driver’s seat again and off we went. From watching, this one seemed harder to drive and it probably didn’t help that we both could only just about see out the windows! But we got round the track laughing and it truly was so much fun.

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Thanks so much to Peter for having us! This experience is a totally unique way to spend a lovely morning in the countryside.

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