Exploring Lancaster Gate on a Go Native Staycation

Jorge and I were invited a few weeks ago to stay in a new Go Native serviced apartment property on Sussex Gardens near Lancaster Gate and Hyde Park.

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We thought it might be fun to have a little staycation in a different neighbourhood. So we packed our overnight bags and walked from South Kensington to Exhibition Road and over to the other side of Hyde Park to check it out.

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It was still surprisingly Autumnal in the park the first weekend of December.

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There are berries and colourful leaves on some of the trees.

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Others were bare and still others dark green.

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Some had colourful trunks instead.

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We wandered up past the Peter Pan statue.

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It was always one of my favourite stories when I was younger.

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Then it was onward along The Long Water at the north end of the Serpentine where the birds always line up on a row of wooden posts.

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A little Australian boy was told off by his mother for trying to pelt them with stones.

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But overall, it was a very peaceful stroll.

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One of my favourite places in the park is the Italian Gardens, which I was happy to realise were on our route.

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There’s a fountain at the one end where you can stand and look back over the Serpentine.

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It wasn’t a very sunny day, but it was still a stunning view. Imagine with bright blue skies.

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The birds thought it was nice enough to go for a swim anyway.

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We reached the end of the park.

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The rest of the walk was just five minutes up through Sussex Gardens.

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We went to drop our bags in the lobby.

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Then we decided to consult the neighbourhood guide that Go Native had sent us for some ideas on what to do next.

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We were intrigued by the nearby Leinster Gardens Fake Houses and took a walk in that direction. We passed a small street with shops and some Christmas trees for sale on the corner.

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Then we turned down a pretty ordinary residential street in this area with big expensive homes just minutes walk to the edge of Hyde Park.

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And we found ourselves standing in front of two ordinary looking buildings that we wouldn’t have looked at twice unless we had read the guide. It said: “Take a stroll along Leinster Gardens (just off Lancaster Gate) and you’ll see that numbers 23 and 24 are eerily empty, both missing letterboxes and with their windows painted over. That’s because they’re an illusion. The original houses were demolished during the development of the London Underground and these facades mask the gap that remained.” Learn something new every day, right?

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What next? It was Sunday and we were hungry so clearly a Sunday Roast was in order. But where? After consulting that handy guide, we settled on The Grazing Goat. “Minutes away from Marble Arch is this hidden gem. A simple, elegant pub, it specialises in beer and guest ales but also has a reputation for fresh, seasonal food – specifically, their traditional Sunday lunch. Named after Lady Portman’s grazing goats that once populated the surrounding land, it doubles as the perfect reason to visit Portman Village.”

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So we walked back the way we came and followed the edge of the park down toward Marble Arch.

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This time, on the same route, I spotted something I love to find in big cities – a rack of international newspapers in a mishmash of languages. I can’t read any of them and I never buy any of them, but I love that they are a sign of such incredible diversity.

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We also spotted a sign on a door that said United Lodge of Theosophists. I had a relatively good idea of what that was but looked it up just to be sure. If you’re curious, theosophy is defined by “systems of esoteric philosophy concerning, or investigation seeking direct knowledge of, presumed mysteries of being and nature, particularly concerning the nature of divinity.”

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Moving on then. Around the corner, we came to Sheila’s Cafe, a hidden little place at the top of Lancaster Mews. With two tables for two, it’s mostly a sandwich takeaway shop and apparently popular with cab drivers and builders. The bacon sandwich got good reviews. We didn’t stop though.

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Across the street from Sheila’s is The Mitre, a popular pub that was listed in our guide, which reads: “Housed in a Grade II listed building, The Mitre was once populated by the Lords and Ladies of the day. Now, film buffs are more likely to recognise it from Woody Allen’s London-based movie Match Point.” Haven’t seen it. Have you? Any good?

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Anyway, we didn’t stop there either.

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We reached the park and kicked through the leaves near the Boris bikes.

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And wondered why there were no less than four red phone boxes back to back in a square across from them.

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Eventually we reached Portman Village, just between the madness of Edgware Road and the madness of Oxford Street. The Grazing Goat was tucked quietly away on a side street.

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But we opened the doors to a packed pub and waited at the bar for a table.

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It had been a while since I had a Sunday roast so it took me a minute to decide but I went with the lamb.

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The food was great and it was worth a visit, but the pub was incredibly noisy and full of squirming, screaming children so we were happy to leave.

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It was time to check into our room anyway.

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This time we went through the back streets. We wanted to check out Connaught Street. According to our guide, it “boasts two worthwhile spots: Le Pain Quotidien and Coco Maya, the latter of which is on the border of Connaught Street and Porchester Place. Interestingly, this is where Tony Blair and his family live – identifiable by the armed protection squad outside.” There was indeed an armed guard in front of a mews.

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The sun was already setting so it was a pretty walk.

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So we made it back and were shown to a large suite on the ground floor with a bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen area. It was, however, quite dark and four of the lights didn’t work so we called for someone to have a look.

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Apparently they didn’t have replacement bulbs because they were waiting on a shipment that hadn’t arrived so they kindly gave us a choice of two other apartments upstairs. The one we chose was lovely, with a huge wraparound balcony.

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Unfortunately it was too chilly to properly enjoy it, but the inside was really nice as well. It had very high ceilings, a spare room with a couch and extra set of towels, a living room and kitchen area, a bedroom and a bathroom. Definitely very spacious for London!

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It was also very cool to see they had thoughtfully left a small carton of milk, sugar, tea and coffee as well as dishwasher soap, washing up liquid, and laundry detergent for the small washing machine.

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The kitchen was fully stocked with pots and pans and everything you need really. One thing that would have been nice that we didn’t see is oil for cooking. But we didn’t use the kitchen.

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Taking advantage of its proximity, we headed back into the darkness to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland where we ate German sausages, churros and sweets for dinner instead.

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Jorge was amused by the fake snow, which he hadn’t seen before.

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I, on the other hand, am wishing for real snow, but considering it is still about 13C / 55F in London, that’s not looking likely any time soon.

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We didn’t go on any of the rides.

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Nor did we play any of the games.

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But we did do one of my favourite activities – try on silly hats!

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Jorge was going for the furry Russian look.

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I went the reindeer route.

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We were there mostly just to soak up the atmosphere.

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And then we headed back again.

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This time we walked through the Bathurst Mews where the Hyde Park Stables are, to see the horses that were tucked away for the night.

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Back in the apartment, we found a late night Christmas movie and then got up and walked the 40 minutes to work the next morning.

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All in all, a fun little adventure. I do like the idea of a staycation. While it wasn’t too far from where we live now, it was a nice getaway! If it were in East London and it was over a weekend, it would have felt like we’d really been on holiday!

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 Thanks Go Native!

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Walking Through a Wimbledon Wonderland

Early Sunday morning, the snow had settled, compact onto the London ground. It was pure, white, untouched. So I bundled up, grabbed my camera and walked across the street to a Wintery white Wimbledon Common.

White cloaked branches, stillness.

A silence swept through the woods, the occasional walkers passing by with a morning nod.

Remnants of Autumn, seasons confused.

A bit slippery for cycling…

…but some were determined to try!

And as the morning inched on, the screams and squeals of happy children rang out through the trees.

They had found a nice hill for sledding (or sledging as they say over here…).

Even the parents were enjoying themselves.

And the dogs…

Snowmen in every size and shaped popped up across the common.

Some still in progress.

And one with snow arms instead of branches.

Families took the opportunity to have a day out together.

But parts of the common were sleek, white and empty.

This man was chopping wood on his fancy machine and I thought how nice it would be to have a fireplace.

The windmill nearly blended in with the pale white sky.

And the fields stretched on, hazy white.

Snow gathered in all of nature’s nooks and crannies.

Parts of the common were already Spring green.

Crows stood on branches with cold feet.

Waiting for food…

I walked by one of the lakes, not quite frozen, but slushy with a hard enough surface that the birds could walk across.

Swans sat on the edge, hopefully with some thick feathers…

I love the magic of snow, its power of transformation.

What did you get up on the Sunday Snow Day?

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Our first stop at the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland? Mulled Wine. It’s £4 a cup, but when you’re standing in freezing night temperatures, it’s a must to keep your hands from going numb and to warm you from the inside.

We had some good laughs trying on hats (for example, one that looked like a fish – you stick your head up into its mouth), ate some bratwurst smothered in ketchup, watched the pretty lights of the rides and bought a a couple goodies from the Christmas market. There’s also an ice skating rink if you’ve got good balance or don’t mind a few bruises.

You pay for rides and food at regular fairground prices, but entry is free and it’s a nice experience just wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere. Friends of mine went on a weekend which is apparently crowded, but we went on a Monday night after work and it was just right. The Wonderland is open till 10pm. Dress warm!!

Do You See What I See?

Talking Reindeer

Mulled Wine

Rides

Snowman and Baby

Haunted Christmas

Slide

Bratwurst

Owl

Observation Wheel

Talking Tree

Chestnuts Roasting

Christmas Market Vendor

http://www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com/

Listen to a Londoner: Natalie Lester

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Natalie Lester

Natalie has a BA in English, BSc in geography and MA in publishing; She loves English literature and her outlet is writing. Her favourite gelato is found in London at Gelato Mia in Notting Hill (dark chocolate and Biscotto). She loves the theatre and when she was younger, wanted to be Christine in Phantom.

LLO: How long have you been in London, where did you come from originally and what brought you here?
NL: I’ve been in London for a little more than a year – I just finished my MA in publishing at UCL…turned in my dissertation in September so here’s hoping for the best! I grew up in Idaho (in the US) and during my undergrad I did a study abroad in London. Ever since I have been planning to come back. In my opinion everyone should live in London for at least a little bit!

LLO: What’s your favourite way to pass a Saturday afternoon in London?
NL: Nothing beats the markets in London on a Saturday. I live right next to Regent’s Canal (Little Venice) and you can easily walk along the canal to Camden Market. If you go early enough then usually you are the only one along the canal and you get to breathe in the crisp air all by yourself. On my way to Camden I sometimes take a detour into Regent’s Park with my book… but I always make sure I get to Camden for my favourite treat in London – Chocolate covered strawberries and pineapple on a banana leaf!

LLO: Where is your favourite place to pick up an American treat if you’re craving something from home?
NL: One time I was in desperate need of some Root Beer and happened to be in the Leicester Square area so I had to pop into Ed’s Diner and pay a ridiculous price for a can of some A&W…it was worth it!

LLO: Which part of London are you most familiar with and what’s the best part about it?
NL: Well, I live on Edgware Road, which is pretty central London, so probably that area and then the Regent’s Canal area I was talking about earlier. London is great for its diversity and there is no better place to see this than Edgware Road with its plethora of Middle Eastern restaurants. And while the rest of London seems to close ridiculously early, you can venture onto Edgware at midnight and it still has the liveliness of midday.

LLO: If I told you I would be in London for one night only and wanted to get off the tourist trail, where would you send me to eat and drink?
NL: Ok, maybe this is still a bit touristy, but you can’t beat their chicken and leek pie at Doggetts Pub. It is right on the southbank by Blackfriar’s Bridge and if you want a nice meal you can go up top to the restaurant and sit by the window and watch London light up at night.

LLO: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an expat in London?
NL: Maybe this is a lame challenge to have, but I miss my clothes dryer every day! Jeans just don’t fit the same here with nothing to dry them back into shape. Like I said, lame, but other than that…oh, and trying to find a frozen turkey at Thanksgiving (an adventure that ended with my flatmate and I carrying a frozen turkey in our arms for 45 minutes on our walk back from Camden). Other than those two things I have very few complaints about London.

LLO: Tell us about a favourite London memory that could only have happened in London.
NL: Keeping on the Thanksgiving theme, last year my flatmate and I were hosting a Thanksgiving party for a lot of people and we had purchased two turkeys. Somehow we forgot that this wasn’t America and not only did we not have room for them in our fridge, but we didn’t have two ovens. On Thanksgiving day we rang up some friends that lived about 15 minutes away to ask if we could borrow their oven. We ended up carrying the pre-cooked (but stuffed and seasoned) bird down the road and stuffed it into their oven which was even smaller than ours. Four hours later I picked up the bird—who was now full of juices and twice as heavy—and proceeded to walk down the very busy Edgware Road with a 20lb bird and turkey juice sloshing all over me everytime I placed a foot down! Surprisingly, after all that poor turkey had been through, and my arms shaking for about 20 minutes afterwards, Thanksgiving dinner never tasted so good!

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
NL: My favourite place in all of London is one I discovered with my fiancé. He is a Londoner and loves to walk on the southbank by the London Eye at night when the trees have their blue lights. While we were sitting, gazing up at the Eye through a sea of blue, we noticed that there was a break in the hedge and on the opposite side of the trees was a park…with swings. Now, it isn’t like this playground is exactly hidden, but it is further back from the main southbank walkway and I had never noticed it before. We quickly climbed over the rest of the hedge and snuck into the playground to swing (my all-time favourite past-time). In front is a large tree, and when you swing at night you catch glimpses of the London Eye lights through the trees and it looks like the London sky is full of stars that you can almost touch. I think it is one of the most magical places in London.

LLO: What would you suggest if I asked you to plan a creative, off-the-wall or otherwise unique date in London?
NL: Saturday morning head down to Borough Market, bring your appetite! Spend the first little bit just wandering around the stalls and take advantage of the free samples. Then, just about midday choose something that either a) you can’t possibly resist or b) something that is really strange and you have never tried before. Don’t eat it yet, but walk to Shakespeare’s Globe and wait in line for the groundlings so that you are the first ones in. While you are waiting break open lunch and enjoy! When they open the gates make sure that you get front and centre and you can lean up against the stage! Enjoy!

LLO: If you move back to America in the future, what five things will you miss most about London?
NL: Where do I start, once you have lived in London it becomes a part of you and I think there will always be something that I miss. But, if I had to choose 5, I would have to say 1) waking up on a crisp Autumn morning, getting a Chocolate Milano at Café Nero and crunching through the leaves in Hyde Park; 2) Big Ben at night…it just looks so magical and everytime I see it at night I think that Peter Pan will come land on the hands of the clock at any moment; 3) Amazing fish and chips the the hole-in-the-wall chippies (they are always the best); 4) Christmas time in London, from the Harrod’s Christmas Parade to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park; 5) Low-tide on the Thames on the southbank skipping rocks.

Thanks Natalie!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.