As you walk through the streets of Soho you will find yourself in one the most vibrant, eclectic and historic areas of London. The sheer energy of this part of town cannot be denied. Soho is filled to the brim with theatres, bars, coffee shops and restaurants. We can now add Blade Hairclub to that list.
If I can help it, during July and August I avoid travelling. This is mainly down to two reasons; One is that it is peak season due to school holidays – I am no fan of crowds. The other is that I love London in summer. Sunshine is never guaranteed. Rain almost always is. Still, give us a mild temperature and a few hours of clear skies and we’ll make the best of it.
For a city with a river running through it, London does not have a culture of al fresco swimming. It was however, something that was popular in the 1930s. So much so that local councils built 169 Lidos (unheated outdoor swimming pools) across the UK. As times changed and foreign holidays became more affordable many Lidos were forced to close. Recently, though London has been falling back in love with outdoor swimming and particularly Lidos. Those that remained open now boast communities of passionately loyal regulars.
Parliament Hill Lido
The Parliament Hill Lido is a great example of the modern and fashionable 1930s. It was built in 1938 and cost a mere £34,000; The most expensive Lido in London at the time. It was Grade II listed in 1999.
I dropped by on a visit to Hampstead Heath and was stunned by it. Why oh why hadn’t I done this earlier?! It was as if I had been teleported back to perfectly preserved, simpler times of the inter-war years. Astonishing panoramic view of the surroundings and striking art deco architecture captivates instantly. It’s a real throwback and an art deco classic. The pool measures a grand 61 x 27 metres as Lidos were designed to give the look of an ocean liner at a time when people did not travel abroad so frequently.
The revival of these architectural gems is mostly thanks to the fiercely passionate communities who love them. They stepped in with local campaigns to save them when many were being shut down or abandoned due to a decline in their popularity. The campaigns were backed by heritage bodies who also recognised the architectural value of these stylish buildings.
The Parliament Hill Lido is a stunning example of the preservation efforts of the local community. The pool was lined in stainless steel in 2005 giving the water a sparkling, metallic shimmer. The surrounding buildings perfectly reflect the design of the Lido. On a hotter day, I could have expected to queue to enter the pool. However, as it was a mildly warm day there were only a few regulars to contend with.
Socialising at the Lido
Entrance to the cafe.
As it was in the 1930’s, Lidos are not just places for swimming. They are national institutions for bathing and socialising. You can sunbathe, eat in the cafe, picnic, read a book or simply relax.
So, as the tides turn for these national treasures, not just in terms of their popularity but also in that they are once again in vogue – be sure to step into the art deco terrace of your nearest Lido and be a part of their modern revival.
The nearest station to Parliament Hill Lido is Gospel Oak and an adult day pass costs £7.
There is no denying that Dubai has successfully transitioned from oil rich emirate to metropolitan tourist hotspot. Tourism is now it’s no. 1 source of income. While it may not be for everyone, shopping, restaurants, unparalleled luxury and opportunities for economic betterment attracts tourists and a workforce from all over the world. As the saying goes, “If you want to meet the world, come to London”. Well, as a Londoner who recently visited Dubai, I can tell you the same felt true of Dubai. It’s workforce in particular – hotel staff, shop staff, restaurant staff, drivers add sparkle to what might otherwise feel like a super shiny, playground.
It’s global workforce is one of the most interesting aspect of this desert turned (man-made) oasis. Conversations and interactions were enriched by each person I met who added an interesting perspective to my experience. And they came from all over the world – India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Laos, Eastern Europe, Spain, Portugal and South America bringing an old world quaintness to a city so determined to appear modern.
Whenever I refer to visiting the Gulf states, I am asked the same questions by eager travellers who would like to get the most out of their trip without breaking the rules. So, here are 5 common travel questions about Dubai answered:
WHAT do you wear?
Well, if you’re within the confines of your hotel or resort wear ANYTHING – bikinis, strappy tops, shorts, mini skirts, long skirts, sheer tops, ball gown and tiara if you so wish. However, you will need to be more conservative and mindful in public spaces such as malls, souks and public transport. Opt for short sleeved tops instead of strappy tops and keep your skirts and shorts knee length or below. You maybe walking around in a desert but avoid wearing anything too sheer in public spaces. When in doubt my secret weapon is a scarf. Carry one in your handbag and pull it out to cover your shoulders if you feel your attire maybe causing mild offence. It shows respect for local customs and will be received well.
This is short and simple – NO. A peck on the cheek is as far as you should go and only with people you know well. Goes without saying – please don’t do this with strangers, especially if they are female! Save your amorous displays of affection for when you’re within the privacy of your hotel room.
If like me, you love to explore a new place on foot then Dubai is simply not the place. It is far too hot to do so during the day and people seem to love driving. Everything is ostentatious so luxury cars are everywhere. However, I have it on good authority that the Metro system is fantastic – clean, safe and gives breathtaking views of the city. So, don’t forget to hop on a train.
Consumption of Alcohol
All hotels serve alcohol and are fairly relaxed about this. In fact, Dubai is known for its boozy work brunches. However, outside of the hotels alcohol is not readily available and you should avoid trying to buy it. If you decide to eat at a restaurant that is not attached to a hotel it is very unlikely that they will have a licence to serve alcohol.
Visiting during Ramadan
During the holy month of Ramadan everyone you meet will be fasting. It is not mentioned or discussed but you can safely assume that they are. Be especially mindful if you happen to visit during this time. It is forbidden to eat and drink in public during the day. Hotels and restaurants have designated areas for visitors offering dining facilities (usually hidden from the public with curtains or blinds). Small places such as coffee shops are all closed until sunset. However, when it’s time to break fast (Iftar) you can feast like a sheikh. Most hotels offer traditional Arabian buffets which break the fast. Be sure to join in!
“Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” – Samuel Johnson (The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D.Vol 3)
It is well known amongst my friends, that wherever I am in the world, I always return to London during the summer months. When this city begins to awaken from it’s wintery slumber, there is no place I would rather be. The feeling of walking down a leafy street with the gentle sunlight caressing my face is one of happiness in abundance. This is my favourite time of the year.
Whenever anyone mentions visiting, I always advice that they do so in summer. London is the most visited city in Europe and has a reputation for being one of the most expensive. There is, however, so much to do and see that costs nothing or very little and yet encapsulates everything that London is.
As I consistently say, walking is the best way to feel the rhythm of a new place. It offers a glimpse of every day life and often allows you to feel the pulse of a city.
One of my favourite walks in London begins at St.Paul’s Cathedral, along Fleet Street towards The Strand and rounds off along Victoria Embankment. So much history on a simple lunchtime walk, topped off with a spectacular stroll along the Thames. It doesn’t get any more “London” than this.
WHERE TO STOP
St. Paul’s Cathedral – This is a busy place at the best of times. In summer, people sit on the steps, chat with friends, eat lunch, eat ice cream and bask in the sunshine. There is a charge to enter the cathedral. It is absolutely worth getting to know it’s rich history. But it is not to say that you cannot simply enjoy this magnificent building from the outside. As with most places of worship, there is no photography allowed inside except on the observation deck. You can climb up to it’s dome for breath taking views across London.
The Temple Bar Memorial
From St. Paul’s it’s a straight walk down Fleet Street towards The Strand. The Temple Bar Memorial marks the boundary between the City of London and Westminster. The original boundary is mentioned as far back as 1293 (Wren’s Temple Bar). It was replaced with the current memorial (1880) with statues of Queen Victoria and The Prince of Wales who were the last monarchs to pass through the gates in 1872.
Less than two minutes walk past the Temple Bar Memorial is the spectacular Law Courts branch of Lloyds Bank. It was originally built as a restaurant in 1883. The restaurant failed and the building stood empty until 1895 when Lloyd’s Bank purchased it. It is tucked away unsuspectingly so make sure you don’t walk past it. Even before you consider the site’s great history, the interiors alone will leave you in awe.
What would London be if it was not full of the most astonishingly beautiful pubs? Turn off along any of the streets off The Strand towards the river and you will find yourself spoilt for choice for places to eat and drink. The Edgar Wallace stands at the corner of Essex Street and Devereux Court. This is a particularly cosy pub, typical of traditional English pubs, complete with 8 hand pumps. It has a magnificent range of fine ales, perfect for a late afternoon in the sun.
Cut through Essex Street and walk down towards the banks of River Thames, namely, Victoria Embankment. Depending on where you turn off from The Strand, you may also walk across Victoria Embankment Gardens – a series of beautiful green spaces built in 1874 on reclaimed land. Finish off your walk along Victoria Embankment, one of the most beautiful and romantic walks in London. With views of The London Eye, Big Ben, the Oxo Tower and the ultimate icons of London – bright red phone boxes, it is the perfect way to end your tour.