Don’t! Notting Hill Carnival

So, I decided to wait a couple days after the Notting Hill Carnival to write this post. I knew that some of my disdain for the two day London festival needed to dissipate before I scared you all away with how much anger I could have towards an event. I have calmed down following this weekend’s festivities, and am now ready to tell you what the Notting Hill Carnival means to me.

Portobello Road during London’s Notting Hill Carnival

The Notting Hill Carnival is huge. The type of huge you can only believe with your own eyes. It spans the entire Notting Hill neighborhood, and every single resident is affected, for better or for worse. About one million people per day head to the West London neighborhood to watch it transform from its quaint and posh little self to a mosh pit of dancing drunks celebrating the Afro-Caribbean subculture living within the community. 

The Afro-Caribbean celebration means for two days, the air is filled with the smoke of jerk chicken barbecues and copious amounts of marijuana, and the sounds of reggae music blasting from 10 foot speakers found on every street. Those streets are packed with scantily clad visitors either in Caribbean-inspired feathers, underwear, and parade garb, looking to celebrate their roots, and a million other nationalities that have come to watch the mayhem unfold or add to it. 

A parade marcher at the Notting Hill Carnival

The Carnival could be great if it actually had a message or a visible point. It’s so spread out, dirty, and packed, that you don’t get a sense of another culture. You don’t even know what you’re looking at. It’s just a mess. There are parades over the two days which are the best reminders of what you are there for. Who you are there to celebrate and understand. But after that, you’re drinking rum and watching people piss on the street and fall down. 

The Preparation: The Notting Hill Carnival is a huge imposition on the residents of the community. Since every open front door and stoop either gets graffitied or urinated all over, every owner needs to spend time and money boarding up the front of their homes. Our group of townhouses were gated in and require a guard at each end of the fencing. On top of this, us residents need to prepare for a two day apocalypse. No restaurants will be open. No dry cleaners. No pet stores. No gyms. No tube stations. Nothing. The entire neighborhood shuts down. My husband and I spent Saturday preparing like we would for a Nor’easter storm back home. Most locals choose to leave, which is, of course, another added expense. We choose to stay because we have animals and do not feel comfortable leaving them alone, confused by the extreme crowds and the booming bass that can be heard around the clock.

The Carnival: The morning starts out fine. The streets are not too busy and although the constant thumping of the speakers and the smell of jerk in my home gets old real fast, it’s not what it will be in a few hours. I pray that is stays lighthearted and tame, but without fail, that is the calm before the storm.

Westbourne Grove during the Notting Hill Carnival, London

Once lunchtime rolls around, the streets start to fill up. By 2:00, you will start to see people unravel. Inhibitions are lost and the animalistic side of humanity comes out in a very dark way. Men and women alike treat the neighborhood like a toilet. Baring it all, thongs, asses, squatting, falling and trying to urinate on any vertical surface they can lean on. This doesn’t matter if it is someone’s car or front door. They do not care. The same pee spot will become a lovers playground for X-rated grinding, fondling, and more falling. The scene has changed, as well as the vibe. Something doesn’t feel right in the air. People seem drunk and happy, but behind the sloppiness is an angry undertone. Maybe it’s oppression, maybe it’s all the thugs. I don’t know. There were multiple stabbings and a death this year.  A man bumped into me, which I thought was an accident, but then his friend simultaneously tried to trip me. My husband shielded me, and these two men started following us. They did not know us. They were just looking for a fight. So many people at the Notting Hill Carnival are looking for a fight. Last year I watched a drunken man punch a female bartender in the face after she asked him to get off of her service counter. The scene is scary. 

Public urination at the Notting Hill Carnival

The cops do not make you feel any safer. There are about 9,000 police for two million people. They can’t be bothered to stop every drunken asshole urinating and smashing bottles. They are reserved for the murderers, rapists, and robbers. You know, all of your favorite Carnival people. It’s quite sad. So, why does the pretty little neighborhood have this festival every year? I don’t think they have a choice. There’s talk that the riot for not having it would be worse that the disturbing weekend already is. If you canceled the August Bank Holiday Carnival, they would all still come, with their nitrous and graffiti, paper bags of booze, and tiny outfits, but this time they would be angry and the houses would not be prepared with their plywood and cage protection. It’s a situation where residents can’t win.

The Aftermath: It’s now two days later and my street still reeks of urine. We haven’t had rain (for once) so the puddles of toxicity have dried as have the hints of graffiti all over the neighborhood. There is still broken glass between all of the cobblestone and the piles of litter will be lingering for at least another week. I drove by workers repairing store front tiles and repainting their entrances. No one gets reimbursed for this maintenance. It’s just all an assumed responsibility of the community. One I do not stand by or agree with. 

As you can see, I’m not a fan. I’ve tried. I’ve lived it. I’ve gotten wasted on rum punch and danced and woken up hungover. But that’s all I have ever gotten from the Notting Hill Carnival. A hangover. No magical, amazing time that made me love my neighborhood or want to fly right to a  Jamaican vacation. Nothing. Just a hangover.

The ugly side of the Notting Hill Carnival, London

Notting Hill Carnival
Notting Hill

Do! Cable co.

Summer is pretty much over and I can honestly say I’m relieved! My schedule was jam-packed with parties, weddings, concerts, events, trips to the States, Greece, Paris, and Italy (twice), and now I am finally home, ready to just relax! This past weekend was my first free weekend in six months. Finally, there were no obligations, no time commitments, nothing. I was able to wander the pretty streets of Notting Hill and then head up north to the bustling neighborhood of Kensal Rise.

Kensal Rise has a busy main street that takes you up past many little shops and restaurants. I like to take a weekend stroll all the way to the top until I reach one of the best coffee shops in London: Cable co.

Cable co. specialist coffee shop, Kensal Rise

Cable co. is a clean, hipster joint. I feel transported into a Brooklyn cafe every time I step into the Chamberlayne Road shop. You’ll know you’ve found it when you stumble upon an old painted oil barrel used as Cable co.’s outdoor advertising. Once you follow the barrel’s arrow inside, you’ll see some minimalist seating filled with all types of coffee drinkers, chatting or intently focused on a Mac or a good book. The basic decor is highlighted with some quirky touches. Mounted cages hold extra cups. An old-school label makes sense of their lid and sugar counter. Their full menu is displayed on menu letter boards you would have seen at a drive-in burger restaurant. The entire space is sunny and interesting, and makes you want to slide into a seat and dive right into a warm cup of coffee.

You order your coffee, and maybe a smoothie or a snack, and make small talk with one of the friendly baristas.  Everyone working at Cable co. has a welcoming personality and a knack for making a great cup of coffee. Cable co. employees seem like they want to be there, which in turn, makes customers want to be there, too. You do not often see such positive attitudes in London restaurants.

Now, for the coffee. It’s outstanding. Cappuccinos, lattes, flat whites–whatever your poison, you will not be disappointed. Cable co. proudly serves and sells East London’s Climpson & Sons beans, which have a nutty smooth taste and aroma. The coffee is swirled with your choice of a very accommodating variety of dairy and non-dairy milks, and served   with a beautiful, thoughtful design. The snacks are good too. I had a flaky, buttery croissant and it made for a perfect mid-morning snack.

Climpson & Sons beans at Cable Co., London

There are many reasons to head up to Kensal Rise, as I have previously discussed and reviewed, but I can honestly say, Cable co. is at the very top. My husband believes they serve the best coffee in London. I say it’s close, but Coffee Plant may still be my number one. Either way, these are top honors from both of us, and we highly recommend you head to London’s northwest neighborhood and check Cable co. out. You won’t be disappointed. Enjoy!

One good cup of coffee at Cable co., London

Cable co.
4 Bridge House
Chamberlayne Road
London NW10 3NR

Categories Do!

Don’t! Shrek’s Adventure

Before I begin with this review, let me first point out that I am not a toddler or a single-digit child, nor do I have one, so this is solely from the point of view of an adult. I do not specialize in children’s interests, but seeing as they can watch Frozen (or any movie for that matter) more than three times, I’m pretty sure they would be amazed by Shrek’s Adventure.

The entrance to London’s Shrek’s Adventure

Shrek’s Adventure is another big London tourist attraction, often sold in a package deal with the London Dungeon, Sea Life Aquarium, and London Eye. Those were all previous “Don’ts” as well. There really seems to be a pattern here! 

If you buy Shrek’s Adventure with another activity, you’re really not paying more than an additional £10 for the add-on. Each activity purchased separately can run you about £35.00. Once you find the most cost-effective way to waste your money, you can pop into the Southbank attraction with your ticket and schedule an appointment. We stopped in at 12:00 and scheduled our adventure for just after lunch, at 2:00, which worked perfectly.

Time for Shrek’s Adventure, London

At 2:00, there the three of us were, surrounded by screaming, sticky kids, and beaming parents, who found it necessary to continuously fuel the already off-the-wall children with unneeded questions like “Who’s excited to see Shrek?!”

We got right in. Shrek’s Adventure did a better job controlling the appointment times than the London Dungeon did (where we ended up waiting an additional half hour even though our appointment was scheduled.) Once lined up in our group, we embarked on an hour long journey through a land Far, Far, Away. 

Shrek’s adventure begins in London!

My sister and I loved the Shrek movies (who didn’t), so this adventure could have been right up our alley if it were a little more Universal Studios and a little less kid’s birthday party. We kept an open mind and proceeded through the entry of the attraction, which started on a high note. 

The first part was awesome. You popped on 3D glasses and hopped on a virtual reality bus driven by Donkey. You shrieked and twisted along with the jerking ride and dizzying screen. The references to the movies we love were hilarious and the story begins when Donkey accidentally hits a witch. From there, it just gets stupid. You leave the awesome realistic CGI experience and instead go room-to-room with dressed up characters to collect ingredients for a potion that will help us get home and escape the consequences for killing a witch. There’s no more CGI at that point, nothing that will blow your mind, just dressed up college students teasing the children that came to play. It was just as lame and boring as the London Dungeon. At least Shrek’s Adventure is child-friendly so someone could benefit from the silly actors. At the end of the cheesy adventure, there are oversized statues of other familiar DreamWorks characters for little photo-ops, since you’re not allowed to have your phones on during the adventure. We breezed right past the shrieking children and escaped the frenzy  that is Shrek’s Adventure.

A photo-op at Shrek’s Adventure, London

In addition to the poor quality of the entire attraction, my experience was also soured by realizing how obnoxious parents are. Each parent desperately wanted their child to be the one to get chosen as part of a skit. They had to see their child hold the special note that was to be passed to the princess in the next room. No phones were allowed. We did not touch our phones, we knew the rules. Who got in trouble for using their phones? The parents. Parents blatantly disregarded rules to text or try to take pictures of their perfect children. Your children see you. They will think that it’s okay, and then you’ll wonder why they get detention for insubordinate attitudes in 8th grade. The parents at Shrek’s Adventure didn’t need to push their kids up to the front and steal pictures for their happy children, they needed to for themselves. Selfish people.

In summary, parents are annoying and Shrek’s Adventure is lame. It could have been great, in the same way Disneyworld is enjoyed by adults and children alike, but it’s not. Steer clear unless you have children and you think it’s something you have to do for them while you’re visiting London. And spoiler alert: it’s not.

Shrek’s Adventure
Riverside Building
Westminster Bridge Road
London SE1 7PB

Categories Do!

Do! Portrait Restaurant

Hi all. Well, I’m still lazing around Rome. It’s beautiful here, but I’m definitely missing clean and pretty London! To combat my homesickness, I’m taking the opportunity, while I eat another pastry and drink another cappuccino, to reminisce about my recent visit to the Portrait Restaurant.

London’s Portrait Restaurant

I had been to the National Portrait Gallery’s third floor restaurant before, and once again, it’s left me excited for my next visit. Here’s why:

First, a visit to the National Portrait Gallery and the Portrait Restaurant makes for a perfect day. You get to wander around or show visitors amazing works of art, old and new, check out unique book and gift shops, then cap it off with an amazing meal in a beautiful restaurant. Rain or shine, this is a great activity for out-of-town guests, a solo adventure, a first date, or something different with your girlfriends. It does not disappoint.

I’ve already given the National Portrait Gallery a huge “do” in a previous post, so I’m going to skip right to why the restaurant is so spectacular. The panoramic view spans the entire length of the restaurant, offering up London’s biggest attractions all from the comfort of your dining table. Right from your seat, you can see Big Ben, the London Eye, and Nelson’s Column, among other beautiful buildings and structures. This view really is a show-stopper and will wow even the most jaded of residents.

After you take in the view, you’ll be extremely pleased with the quality of the restaurant itself. The decor is modern, clean, and crisp. It has the tendency to seem a little sterile, however, so I highly recommend they up their fresh flowers game for some splashes of color and turn on some pleasant music. Otherwise, it feels a little gray (the typical London sky doesn’t help). But it is sleek and nice, as is the well-dressed staff. Everyone is very helpful and professional, making the restaurant and view really feel like a treat!

You will be very pleased with the food. I have enjoyed all different cocktails including their tasty Bellini. My first experience was for lunch, which did not disappoint, but my most recent was for a traditional Afternoon Tea. My sister and her friend said that this was the highlight of their visit to London! Kudos to the Portrait Restaurant for these high honors! (Their second favorite activity was the Jason’s Trip boat ride to Camden Market–both the ride and market have previous positive reviews on that you can check out).

A Bellini special at the Portrait Restaurant, London

The tea was lovely. I sipped the Bellini and their house special tea and snacked on the impressive tiered tray of traditional goodies. And I have to add, the best scones I have ever had. The tea is served from 3:30-4:30 and is one of London’s most reasonably priced. Coming in at £32.50 (with the Bellini) you get a high-quality, full service tea, without the price tag that other big-hitters, such as the Ritz, attach to the same meal. This is a great value for a great Afternoon Tea. Every resident and visitor must experience an English Afternoon Tea at least once, and in my opinion, this is where to do it.
Tea time at the National Portrait Gallery restaurant

So, if you’re in town for a short while, or living in London looking for a way to spend your day, head to the Portrait Restaurant for a lovely tea or lunch experience. The view is amazing and the quality of the food and service is top-notch. Pop in to the National Portrait Gallery rooms before or after to really make this an experience to remember! Enjoy!

Portrait Restaurant 
National Portrait Gallery
St. Martin’s Place
London WC2H 0HE

Categories Do!

Do! Trailer Happiness

Looking for a fun after-dinner drink?!  Head to Trailer Happiness, right off of Notting Hill’s Portobello Road. You can’t miss the retro underground cocktail bar. The street level entrance is a glass showcase illuminating funky wallpaper and a life size hula girl. The entrance is enticing, and once head down the staircase, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported onto the set of That 70’s Show. 

Trailer Happiness, Notting Hill

Wood paneling, geometric prints, and carpeted surfaces definitely give Trailer Happiness a 70’s vibe. But you’re definitely not in Wisconsin, like in the aforementioned show, you’re in Hawaii baby. Trailer Happiness is one big luau with tropical drinks decorated with pretty orchids served by serious bartenders in Hawaiian shirts. The music, however, is not that of a luau, but instead the rap and hip hop dance anthems of my 20s. It was great. We danced like we were in college and sipped the best damn cocktails we have had in some time.

Amazing cocktails at Trailer Happiness, London

Those bartenders were serious about their drinks. Their determined faces and honed precision resulted in three delicious Polynesian Princesses. These well-crafted drinks alone make Trailer Happiness worth a visit back. The upbeat music and kitschy decor are just bonuses.

If you’re looking for a silly time, feel like dancing, and want some high-quality cocktails, head to Trailer Happiness. Keep in mind that the ventilation is not great down there, so it can get hot and stuffy and make for some pretty frizzy hair. Other that that, enjoy!!

Trailer Happiness
177 Portobello Road
London W11 2DY

Don’t! Brasserie Blanc-Southbank

Okay, it’s hard to think about London right now while I’m having a leisurely breakfast in Florence, but I must warn you about Brasserie Blanc. My recent experience left me unimpressed with no desire to go back. 

Southbank’s Brasserie Blanc, London

Brasserie Blanc seemed like the perfect find. Situated near London tourist trap central, I thought we managed to escape the overpriced chain restaurants that most tourists get sucked into. Brasserie Blanc is just a short distance from all of the well-known South Bank attractions and just a short walk from Waterloo. In between the London Eye (a London Checklist Don’t) and Shrek’s Adventure (you’ll see) we headed to the French restaurant for lunch. For the proximity to those activities, it got an A. But after that, the experience unraveled. 
Southbank’s Brasserie Blanc menu, London

Brasserie Blanc is tucked away on Belvedere Road. You enter on the ground level, then take a few steps down to give the restaurant a true basement feel. The layout and decor didn’t do the dark, windowless space any favors. Tables were lined up in one long open space. There was nothing to break up the vast area. I would have liked to see dividers, tables and chairs of different height, larger decor, anything to stop the eye from panning across such openness. The colors were also too cool for something that felt so cold. A little warmth and flowers would go a long way. And they must do something about their ceiling. It’s basic, with many vents, making the room feel like a church basement where AA is held or the castaway training room that most companies have. I was not a fan of the space.

I was a fan, however, of the deal. Their lunch special is priced just right. A glass of wine, appetizer, and entree was just about £20.00. Not bad at all. And the food was worth the price. Nothing too outstanding, but we all seemed to enjoy what we had ordered. The salad special with the Gorgonzola dressing was nice once we added salt and pepper. We were a little disappointed that there were no visible pieces of the cheese in the dish. The fish entree looked beautiful with the saffron aioli stealing the show, but again, nothing really wowed us. 

An entree at Brasserie Blanc, London

Perhaps the meals would have tasted better if we were not already expecting to be disappointed. After spending the majority of our visit frustrated by the confused staff, we had low expectations for the quality of the food. From the moment we arrived, we knew we were going to have a problem. The hostess sat us without barely saying a word. Her lack of energy and enthusiasm was not great for a patron’s first impression of the restaurant. After being seated, it took a good ten minutes for someone to come over to us. Starved, and pressed for time before our next adventure, we ordered everything at once, asking for cocktails, water, and giving our lunch special selections.  There was a wait for the drinks, and we had to remind the server about the water. Then she brought one of us our salad starters, then took it back, saying it wasn’t for us, then brought it back again realizing it was. Deja vu a half hour later, and the server brought the wrong tables meal to us, and took it back yet again, teasing us with a pretty portion of someone else’s fries. Now everyone was nice enough, but when it came to efficiently waiting on tables, the restaurant was at a loss.

The food didn’t wow me, the ambiance was cold with unimpressive decor, and the service was pretty awful. All those things add up to a pretty big don’t. Do yourself a favor, and skip Brasserie Blanc!

Brasserie Blanc
9 Belvedere Road
London SE1 8YL

Do! National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery, located just around the corner for the National Gallery, is my favorite museum in London. It is the perfect size, kept interesting with six yearly exhibitions, and offers a great restaurant and unique gift shops. The National Portrait Gallery originally paved the way for the art world’s portrait exhibitions, opening in 1856 as the world’s first portrait museum. I definitely recommend a visit to this little piece of history.

The gallery holds portraits of famous, influential and historical figures, brought to life in many mediums. The works range from 16th century paintings of notable men and women of Britain’s history all the way up to present day figures, making the experience great for all types of art lovers. The mix of British war heroes and pop culture stars keeps each room unique, fresh, and interesting.

National Portrait Gallery, London

The building itself follows that same formula. The gallery rooms are traditional with ornate moulding, rich wall colors, and decorative frames. The central areas of the National Portrait Gallery, however, are much more modern. The long staircase and escalator are a focal point of the main lobby, and bring you up to a bookshop loft or the open second and third art levels. This sharp area of the building is a work of art itself with unique, clean lines and architecture.
A pop of color at the National Portrait Gallery, London

The book store is pretty great. I’ve purchased travel, art, kids, and fashion books for birthday and Christmas gifts. There is enough variety at reasonable prices to make it a great spot for a keepsake. If you’re not looking for books, you can head to the main gift shop, located near the entrance. There you will find a little bit of everything–clothing, accessories, prints, pencils, umbrellas, coasters–and much, much more.

Between the amazing temporary and permanent collections, the beautiful building to explore, the noteworthy shops, and the amazing top floor restaurant (which I will detail in a later post), you can really make a day of London’s National Portrait Gallery. It’s the pretty little sister to the National Gallery, right there in Trafalgar Square. Head to one of the most grand areas of London and find your way to one of the city’s best museums!

Familiar faces at the National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery
St. Martin’s Place
London WC2H 0HE

Categories Do!