The Sky Garden

Friday, 19 June 2015

London's highest public garden, the imaginatively-named Sky Garden, sits on the 35th floor of the 'Walkie Talkie', a 525ft skyscraper in the City. It's not Shard-high, but it's still pretty damn high. It's free to enter, so long as you book a slot ahead of time. I overslept so was faced with the superhuman feat of crossing London in rush-hour, but I made it nonetheless, arriving in the nick of time for my 10am slot: breathless, bleary-eyed, but excited.

The queue for security upon entrance is a bit laborious - I do wonder if it's more an attempt to build audience anticipation than necessary safety procedure, but hey. On the plus side, I neither set off the alarm, nor was groped! Things were looking up. 

After a speedy climb in the lift, we arrived tone deaf on the top floor. Hard of hearing and dizzy from the altitude, you might be excused for thinking you were about to board a long-haul flight: the architecture is functional to a fault and the waiters have about as much charm as an airport lounge. 

But it's not all bad! We stepped into the Garden and were met with breathtaking views over the city. Architecturally, it falls somewhere between a greenhouse and a post-apocalyptic dystopian space-station. If we were to re-locate to Mars to simulate life on Earth over there, I'd imagine it would look something like this. The air is thin and muggy, and sprays of mist systematically douse people and plants. It was a bit early to sample the cocktails, but the pastries were cheaper and tastier than Starbucks, so a trip up to the Sky Garden won't leave you bankrupt. 

The 'Sky Garden' has a fairytale ring to it, but expect something from out of Studio Ghibli and you'll be disappointed. It isn't so much the Sky Garden that's extraordinary, but this city. From up in the clouds, I had an aerial view of my local haunts: my home, my uni, my local park, the trusty Tesco to which I make pilgrimage every Tuesday. Yes, I was briefly crippled by the whole I-am-but-a-measly-ant-in-this-vast-and-unfathomable-universe thing, but once you get over that, it's actually kind of liberating. Is there something to be said for feeling insignificant? I don't know, but maybe it takes a hike 500ft up in the clouds to plant your feet firmly back on the ground.

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The Monocle Café

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Instax/ polaroid of the Monocle CafeI recently visited the Monocle Cafe, a small independent coffee shop just off Baker Street. You might recognise the name and branding from Monocle Magazine - this is their spin-off café, a four-minute walk from the nearby Monocle store. It's cozy, minimalist, and beautifully designed, with industrial lighting and Japanese-inspired oak furniture. Definitely a spot to check out if you're in the Sherlock Holmes area and needing a homely nook to grab a bite to eat and have a good chinwag, or - like the men sat at our neighbouring table - to actually make something of your life: 'Listen, this is how I do business', I overhear.

Instax/ polaroid of the Monocle Cafe The café offers a weird and wonderful selection of dishes: order Chicken Udon soup, a Beef or Shrimp Katsu sandwich, a Japanese or Scandinavian breakfast, Muesli, Taco Rice, Chicken Curry - the possibilities are endless! It is not cheap, but neither is anyone forcing you to down a home-brewed Mocha while chanting 'Chug, chug'.

 Under the recommendation of my friend Mingling, I ordered a Matcha Green Tea Hot Chocolate, creamy and topped with luminous-green whipped cream: nauseating in appearance but heavenly on the palette. I also devoured a grilled cheese. This was no run-of-the-mill grilled cheese, nor any bog-standard grilled cheese, but a great grilled cheese, nutty and tender, while crispy to the touch. Have I made myself clear?

We then went all-out and ordered a batch of French-come-Japanese macarons in a fusion of flavours: green tea, chocolate, vanilla, and black sesame. This, I think, is the joy of a good café. Four walls and a roof is what, but not all, they are: they can be portals to other places, other worlds, other cultures. Nestled in a corner with a coffee in hand, time becomes a vortex and the café a welcome escape from real-world stresses. When you find a space like this, you've found an office, a pit-stop, and a home from home. 

24 Hours in Florence

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Dear Reader,

I hope that you someday have the good fortune to find yourself in Florence with 24 hours to kill. If luck and opportunity coincide to bring you this serendipitous fate, you need to be prepared. I have selflessly taken it upon myself to prepare you for any such eventuality. You're welcome. No, really. Oh, quit it - I'm blushing.

My mum grew up in Florence so we go back often, and she certainly comes in handy as our dedicated tour-guide. Florence is at once sprawling in its suburbs and gloriously compact; and let me tell you, this city never tires. The walled old town is pedestrianised and can be easily navigated by foot, but buses too are cheap and frequent. You could while away days wandering its back streets and winding alleys, but when time is of the essence, it can be covered in twenty-four hours. I'll leave the sightseeing to your Lonely Planet guide, but let me hold your hand through some lesser-known must-sees. 

Once you've seen the river and posed on the Ponte Vecchio, stop for a cheap and cheerful lunch in a traditional Italian canteen: the Ristorante Self-Service Leonardo. It's bang in the centre of town, minutes from the station and the famous Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Think Italian family kitchen meets school cafeteria. If you're looking for luxury dining then maybe think again, but I'd choose red gingham tables and a view of the busy Florentine streets any day.

'A sated stomach is always accommodating' - Buddha. Okay, I may have invented that last one, but you get my point: ice cream. Believe me when I say that it'll be worth dragging your food-baby to the Bar Vivoli. It's a five minute walk from Ristorante Leonardo, so you have no excuse. If the Roman gelateria Giolitti is notorious for serving the best ice cream in the world, then the Florentine Bar Vivoli surely comes second best. I'm sure their mothers think so, anyway

Head south of the river to the Oltrarno area to find the Piazza Santo Spirito, a quiet and leafy neighbourhood, unpretentious and free of tourists. Idle old men sit in the many cafés which line the square. Facing the piazza is the beautiful minimalist Basilica Santo Spirito, a 15th century Renaissance church with a vast sandy facade.

Just a few minutes walk away is the penultimate stop on our pilgrimage, an outrageously cheap shoe shop named 'Otipopse'. On my last trip to this sacred spot, I snagged a pair of desert boots for €15 euros. I know.

Finally we come to our last stop: the Boboli Gardens. If you're in town in high summer, find refuge from the sweaty madness of the Ponte Vecchio in the Gardens, an oasis of calm and quiet amid a sea of fake Ray-Bans and tourists yielding parasols. Climb the hill to reach a grassy plateau with an incredible view over the city: it's a lovely place to end your day as the sun goes down.

Florence, it was a pleasure. I can think of worse ways to spend 24 hours.


Spring-Summer Playlist

Monday, 1 June 2015

Looking like an absolute tool in a field of sunflowers
1.) 'Post Tropical' by JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW
2.) 'Stay With Me' by ANGUS & JULIA STONE
3.) 'Technicolour Beat' by OH WONDER
4.) 'Skinny Blues' by JEREMY LOOPS
5.) 'Cerf Volant' by LES CHORISTES
6.) 'Myth' by BEACH HOUSE
7.) 'Caught Me Thinkin' by BAHAMAS
8.) 'I Follow Rivers' by LYKKE LI
9.) 'Hot Scary Summer' by VILLAGERS
10.) 'Turning Back Around' by RHODES
11.) 'Flowers in Your Hair' by THE LUMINEERS
12.) 'Blue Skies' by NOAH AND THE WHALE
13.) 'Mykonos' by FLEET FOXES
14.) 'Boom Clap' by LENNON & MAISY
15.) 'Sprawl II' by ARCADE FIRE
Best enjoyed in a hammock, but sweaty public transport works too. You do you do, boo boo.
Click here to listen to the playlist on Spotify. Or here to listen to it on YouTube.

Happy June, and thank you for the lovely and overwhelming response to my previous post. It was an absolute pleasure to meet Antonio, and I hope it has set the ball rolling for many more interviews with young creatives. If you have any suggestions for talented folks whose work needs that #promo, let me know. All you spring-chickens who make stuff, get in touch! Look forward to plenty more exciting posts this summer, but in the meantime, have a good month.
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