I have grown to love London more each time I visit. As an adult in my twenties, I visited London occasionally but was always intimidated by the size of the city and the busyness of the tube. Having grown up in a small town, I worried about being mugged in the Big Smoke as I feared that danger lurked around every corner!
It was only in my late 30s when I visited with my two young children that I began to truly fall in love with the city. Travelling with children opened up a different side to the city as people talked to us on the tube and asked to have their photo taken with my daughters on the London Eye. My girls' enthusiasm and awe for the city rubbed off on me and now I can't wait to visit.
At the end of January, Gethin (my husband) had a weekend of work planned in Paddington and invited me to stay with him. It is our wedding anniversary on 28th January and so he was feeling guilty for being away. Geth asked me if I would be ok on my own in the big smoke and able to amuse myself.... Hell yeah! So with the girls happily spending time with their grandparents, Geth and I jumped on the 9.18 train from Rhiwbina and headed to London.
On arrival, Geth headed straight to work until 9pm, and I felt lucky to have the whole afternoon ahead of me. Having spent the morning sat on a train, I decided to get some fresh air and walk down through Hyde Park. The Italian Gardens are a lovely spot to sit with a coffee and contemplate the world and I really enjoyed people spotting on my walk.
When I asked for advice from fellow parents ahead of my trip to London with Awen & Tiri, a good friend recommended spending time at Princess Diana's Memorial especially on a hot day. We had so much fun whilst we were there - the atmosphere was so relaxed with loads of parents and children, couples and groups of tourists all splashing around in the water and taking photos. This time, the memorial was really quiet with just a few couples walking around and I suddenly missed my girls and wished that they were with me.
I continued down through the park and then cut across to The Victoria and Albert Museum. I have always wanted to visit it but have never made it through the beautiful doors. It is open late on the last Friday of the month so I knew that I had plenty of time to explore the seven miles of exhibition space. I must admit that I was slightly overwhelmed by the size of the museum and got completely lost as I found the layout very confusing even with a map! But the welcome desk had a really helpful leaflet on the top ten items not to miss so I wandered around and tried to find them all.
My heart was in my mouth when I saw the Armada Jewel aka The Heneage Jewel. The Jewel is decorated with a profile portrait of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) in gold and on the reverse is an image of a boat sailing peacefully on stormy seas which is intended to represent the Church of England, steered by Elizabeth, weathering religious turmoil. It was made around 1595 and is a beautiful locket containing a miniature painting of Elizabeth I which they believe she gave to her loyal and active courtier Sir Thomas Heneage. The colours on the back are so vibrant and I was overwhelmed to see something so old.
The jewellery room is a must visit for any magpies. Look at this collection of rings and gemstones!
I love to discover new makers and their work wherever I visit so I definitely didn't want to miss the inaugural Women's Hour Craft Prize which is on display at the V&A. The finalists are a varied and eclectic mix and I would argue that many of them fall more in to the design and technology category than craft - see what you think by following the link.
Here is the winning piece by Phoebe Cummings, 'Triumph of the Immaterial'. Phoebe creates temporary sculptures and installations using raw clay. This sculpture will change as the clay dries out and will eventually erode and dissolve. I thought that her flowers were beautifully crafted and so delicate.
If you do visit the museum, make sure you pop in to the cafe. How amazing is the decor! Although I don't think the wire ball lampshades work....I'm not sure the Queen has wire balls in Buck House.
The V&A has a brilliant gift shop with a great selection of prints, postcards, art, books, accessories and jewellery, including a range from Donna Wilson, who I love.
After spending four hours walking around and marvelling at everything, it was time for me to jump on the tube and head back to the hotel to meet Gethin. As I was leaving a DJ started playing in the foyer, the lights were turned down low and loads of people were arriving to meet up with friends and enjoy the late night opening. Each of these late nights has a theme and there are free talks and activities happening across the museum. There was a really good atmosphere and I was sad to leave.
Saturday, Gethin had to be in work for 8am bless him so I was up and out and on the tube by 9am wondering how to fill my day as he was not due back until 6pm.
I headed to the iconic Trafalgar Square which was already bustling with tourists waiting for the National Gallery to open at 10am. How lucky are we to be able to visit these amazing exhibition spaces for free. There is a charge for special exhibitions but I was able to see Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse, Rossetti, Klimt, Constable, Di Vinci and so many other world famous artists for free!
This was one of my favourite paintings by John Russell, 'Les Terrasses de Monte Cassino'. Such beautiful pastel shades.
Before the 19th century most women painters who enjoyed anything like professional status were the daughters, and often the wives of male artists. So there is not a lot of art work in the Gallery by female artists but I did fall in love with this self portrait by Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun.
After a morning of culture, I was ready for an afternoon of retail therapy and so my next stop was one of my favourite buildings in London, Liberty's.
I can't afford any of the clothes, accessories or jewellery in there but I do love to wander around, people spotting and gazing at the fabulous displays. (I really enjoyed the behind the scenes programme on Channel Four a few years ago and hope that it returns).
My love of all things stationery means that I head straight to this department every time I visit but this year I was sadly disappointed as they have downsized the range and didn't even have their expensive pencil sets! (You can never have too many pencils right?!) Maybe they have moved the range upstairs.....They did have an amazing selection of witty cards and notebooks in the Liberty print but usually I can find something a bit different in there and treat myself but sadly it was not to be.
So I headed upstairs to the home department as they always have a beautiful display of ceramics and this section didn't disappoint me.
Pastels do seem to be everywhere and I loved this range of pretty concrete vases from Scottish artist Emma McDowell. Carefully crafted by hand from start to finish, her pieces are often moulded using found or recycled materials.
Fantastic to see a big company showcasing independent makers too.
I have followed Jimboart aka James Ward for years on Facebook so it was fabulous to see some of his range in Liberty's. I need that pancake plate especially with Shrove Tuesday around the corner!
A welcome new addition since the last time I visited are the plants on sale. Succulents are everywhere in interior design and I loved seeing how the team at Liberty's worked this new range in to their home display.
More beautiful pastel ceramics......
Sadly I left Liberty's empty handed this time but really enjoyed wandering around. It is a beautiful place to visit at Christmas time so I will make sure that I head back there for gift inspiration in November.
It was getting dark outside and I felt really tired as I had walked a lot and so I decided to head back to the hotel, to order a large glass of wine and wait for Geth to finish work.
That evening, Geth treated me to anniversary meal in the restaurant at the top of the Oxo Tower building on the South Bank. The view over to St Paul's Cathedral was stunning. The staff at the restaurant were so friendly and attentive and the food was good. Here we are outside the restaurant before we headed back to our hotel.
A big thank to Geth for spoiling me that weekend.
London, it was fun. See you soon!
April Liddell. Founder of Little Otter Markets. Lives a crafty life. Loves going for walks with her dog Betsi, listening to music, and eating chelsea buns.