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

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

Don’t! London Eye

Back to rain here in London! Luckily, there was nothing but sunshine this past week while my sister was visiting. She and her friend are now off partying in Amsterdam, and I will be reuniting with them this weekend in Paris–giving me enough downtime to report to you with my latest Do’s and Don’ts!

I played tourist this weekend, as I usually do when entertaining guests. Today, I bring to you my thoughts on the London Eye. This was my third experience on the slow-motion ferris wheel, and (nope, third time is not a charm), it’s still a Don’t! I really try to avoid the Eye unless someone is really asking for it. I think it’s a waste of time given everything else this great city has to offer.

The London Eye
First, I could think of a better use of £30.00. Sure, they make the ride seem like a deal by throwing add-ons in to offset the cost, like bundling in the London Dungeon or Sea Life experiences (both previous Don’ts) for only £10.00 extra, but if you’ve read my thoughts before, they’re all a waste of time and money. The Fast Track option is another way they get you to up your online shopping cart. This puts you into a shorter line, but still not right onto the ride. I do think this is sometimes worth the extra £5-10, depending on the time of day or year. You should definitely buy any London attraction ticket online prior to your visit. This will save you money.

Beware, your pre-booked ticket, however, is only good for saving you money. Your selected time means absolutely nothing. You don’t have a booking to get on the London Eye, you have a booking to get in a very long online ticket collection line and then a very long line to get on the actual ride after that. It is horrible. Both likes are long, filled with loud children and confused tourists, and you’re surrounded by an overload of the color Coca-Cola red. 

Once we collected our actual tickets and headed to the main, outdoor line, we were faced with a rude employee, which is just the worst. It really makes you feel like your £30 is completely unappreciated and that you are just being pulled in and churned out of an overrated tourist trap. This girl was on a power trip, and declined our entry because we had to get in the back of the queue. Once she realized there was no one behind us, she let us into the line, but with an attitude.  

Once we navigated through the switchback line and the rude employees, we were finally ready, after about an hour, to hop on board the egg.  I say hop because you literally have to run and jump onto the Eye. It doesn’t stop for you. I could never imagine anything like that being in line with the U.S safety standards. But, anyway, you jump onto this egg-shaped capsule that moves at a snail’s pace to show you every angle of the city. 

The capsules itself are not impressive. They are overstuffed with visitors making it a race to the best spots or to the little screens that describe the buildings around you. They’re not worth looking at, anyway. Covered in greasy fingerprints, and not cleaned throughout the day, the dark, outdated screens are not worth the diseases probably brewing on them. Back when I took my firs London Eye ride, the capsules were cleaner, quieter, and not covered with tacky Coca-Cola decals as they are today. 

Inside the London Eye

The view is just okay. London doesn’t have the most impressive skyline in the world, so I would be just as happy checking it out  from a rooftop bar with a drink in my hand. Now that is where I would prefer to spend £30!

In conclusion, if the London Eye is something you feel you need to do, go for it, but if you’re on the fence, check out the rest of the blog to find out about all the other activities actually worth your while. If you have to check it off your list, avoid a summertime ride when tourist season is at an all time high. For the Eye, aim to go in the mornings…after 2:00 that attraction and area becomes a zoo. Good luck!

The London Eye

London Eye
Riverside Building 
County Hall
Westminster Bridge Road
London SE1 7PB

Don’t! Portobello House Bar/Bistro

Another don’t! I must say, I’ve had quite a few these days. I’m hoping my luck changes this weekend when I have my sister in town for a jam-packed five days of activities. For now, let me help spare you from picking the wrong bistro to spend your precious time and hard-earned money.

Portobello House, London

The Portobello House calls itself a “Boutique Hotel.” I think that term is used wayyyy too loosely and pretty much describes any space that is small and has some eclectic decor. Since I have never stayed at Portobello House or seen any of the hotel rooms, this review is solely for the ground floor bar and restaurant that wraps around the front of the building. Located right on the corner of Ladbroke Grove, in Notting Hill, Portobello House has the quaint and colorful exterior that you would expect in such a darling neighborhood. The inside, however, is anything but. After I spent some time in the restaurant, I was reminded of something a girl I knew once said. I thought she lived by the church near Portobello House, but she corrected me by stating “No, no. I live on the posh end of Ladbroke Grove.” I didn’t care for the comment (or even her after that attitude), but really, after spending a lot of time on the north side, you realize there is definitely a posh end.

Notting Hill’s Portobello House on Ladbroke Grove

Portobello House’s clientele can be described as a hot mess. The men and women that frequent the place seem to be wasted. The men are shouting at their football games and chain-smoking out front. The women are doing the same, while trying to adjust their too tight skirts while navigating through the place on impractical heels. Someone referred to the place as “chavy.” Since this word is still new to me and my American diction, I don’t know if it is or isn’t, but I would say that person usually knows what they’re talking about.

The establishment clearly enjoys the patrons it caters to, because they’re not doing themselves any favors. The place is decorated like the “boutique hotels” you would find up north, in a place like Derby, not in Notting Hill. There are neon lights, champagne bottles on display, and ornate chandeliers. Someone thought those things made a statement when put together, and then decided to take it all even further with menu chalkboards, black and white movies playing from a projector, and shabby chic wallpaper. It is design overload, meant to wow the uncultured guest where a multitude of trends must equal good taste.

Interesting design choices at London’s Portobello House

Now for something positive. The food is tasty. The menu has something for everyone because (like the decor) it’s kind of all over the place. But, that’s okay. Some days I want spaghetti, others chicken satay, mac n’ cheese, nachos, or a cheese board. You just never know. My husband, on the other hand, who is forever paralyzed by choice, hates it. I usually opt for the mixed Tapas & Bruchetta Board they offer to mix in a little bit of everything when sharing with a friend. They have an extremely powerful Gorgonzola Bruschetta which really is amazing. They’re all guilty pleasure snacks, so don’t go if you’re on a diet or vegan that day.

If you’re thinking at this point, it sounds like she’s been there more than once, you’re right. It took some time for me to categorize this one. My last visit sealed Portobello House’s fate after some poor, slow service and a plethora of rude and loud customers. Their Happy Hour specials and tasty apps are not good enough to keep coming back. And for that, they’re a don’t! Do not be tempted by their smart and pretty website, FYI, the place must just be photogenic. That’s all.

London’s Portobello House


Portobello House
225 Ladbroke Grove
London W10 6HQ

Don’t! Concerts at Wembley Stadium

I’m a music girl. All types. I’m a rapping, county singing, heart-wrenching lyricist wannabe, outfitting my high school AIM profile in the words of Coldplay, Dashboard Confessional, and Smashing Pumpkins and later tagging best friends in identifiable Taylor Swift and Mumford & Sons heartbreak songs and Drake and Jay Z anthems. With this affinity for music and the many different genres that fit my many different moods, comes a love for concerts. I’ve been to many, of all sorts, which is why I can confidently give Wembley Stadium as a concert venue a definite Don’t. 

Beyonce’s Formation Tour hit London’s Wembley Stadium

My husband surprised me with Beyoncé tickets since she is my favorite and he is the best. The tickets were for the Club Wembley area, which is some sort of VIP level primarily for the football games. The concert was Saturday evening, with doors opening at 5:00. I put on my Beyoncé best, strappy shoes, skinny jeans, lots of diamonds, and a low-cut top. For some reason I felt Beyoncé needed me to look like a basketball wife. Anyway, we headed there for around 6:30, which was enough time to buy a bottle of champagne and pour it into two clear plastic cups (no glasses allowed in the stadium), and inhale an unhealthy burger and questionable nachos. I didn’t understand what was so special about the Club Wembley area. The food was awful and there weren’t a lot of options. It did seem to be a quieter level, so many that’s the draw? Who knows.

With our first of three bottles of £35 bubbly for two (don’t judge us) we headed to our seats. The actual proximity to the stage was fine. The venue offered a vast floor section and filled a horseshoe shape worth of stadium seats, making for a pretty full show. Full doesn’t translate to energetic, however. My first criticism may not be Wembley specific, as I’ve seen this issue at several London concerts. London crowds don’t get very rowdy. It was baffling to me seeing concergoers sit in their seats during Beyoncé. BEYONCÉ. The crowd was disappointing, but obviously didn’t stop me from pounding another bottle of champagne and dancing like a fool while actually being drunk in love. I spoke to my friends who went to the Madison Square Garden show, and they too were in disbelief. No one sits. It’s un-American. 

An unenthused crowd at Wembley Stadium, London

I first noticed the lame crowd during DJ Khaled’s opening set. In every city throughout the Formation tour, DJ Khaled had been bringing up surprise performers to wow the crowd. I couldn’t wait to see the London guest stars after learning that some cities had names as big as Snoop and Weezie. I thought Khaled was just warmingeverybody up when two basic performers came on with a song I may have heard once. When they left the stage, so did Khaled, and everything came to a halt for 30 minutes. That’s when I realized how disappointing this London show was destined to be. I had already heard the horror stories from the previous week’s Rihanna concert at Wembley. Everyone I spoke to said it was the worst show they had seen, it was barely half-filled, and RiRi sounded like shit.

The sun decided to show up once B was on stage and the concert was in full swing. It was burning the retinas of others earlier in the evening, and once my girl was on stage, it was our turn. So much of a concert is about the stage, lighting, screens, and videos. When you have a venue that is still light out at 9:00PM, it kinda puts a damper on all of the best parts of a concert. Wembley was not only too light and bright, but the setting sun actually parked right across the guests faces for lengthy portions of the show. It was such a disappointment. None of the colors, costumes, videos and dance moves were as powerful as they could and should have been. 

Sun probs at Wembley Stadium, London

Now that you know the visuals were all compromised, let me get into the sound. Stadium concerts are always the worst. I don’t know if it’s due to being outdoors or the sound echoing all over the place, or what, but it was lame.

So that was our concert. And after a disappointing (£400 for two tickets) show that made me miss the USA and want to hide myself in Bey’s luggage, we left Wembley and embarked on a challenging journey home. We followed a sea of people toward never ending tube signs, only to give up after the crowds were so severe that we imagined a forever wait and/or the grossest ride ever. Instead, we turned around and called an Uber to a nearby hotel.

I can safely say, I will never go to Wembley Stadium for a concert again. I can see it being fine for a football match, but for something that requires multiple senses, no thanks. Take my word for it and skip concerts at Wembley!

All of the lights at Wembley Stadium, London

Wembley Stadium 
London HA9 0WS

Don’t! Fourth of July at Balthazar

Fourth of July is a tough one for me. Living abroad has its perks, but it also has many days where you can’t help but feel frustrated and homesick. The holidays magnify these feelings and, since the UK celebrates New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter, it’s just the outside holidays that put me over the edge. Thanksgiving is tough, but I’m usually preoccupied with cooking, but Fourth of July, that’s a different story.

Last year, I made the mistake of attending the most British event ever on my country’s Independence Day. I went to the Henley regatta where posh Brits sip Pimms and have polite little picnics. It would have been amazing any other day, but on July 4th, I needed something more. I needed to be surrounded by patriotic Americans, waving flags, having rowdy BBQs, and lighting off loud and bright fireworks. I wasn’t going to find that in England, so I brought my own little piece of America to last year’s regatta. 

I got up extra early and made an American flag cake for my picnic contribution. You know, the sheet cake that’s decorated with blueberry stars and strawberry stripes. I carefully placed each sliced tiny fruit onto that cake as if it was my duty as an American. I did this while blasting Toby Keith and sobbing. True story. Later, at the regatta, I got wasted and drunkenly offered a piece of my flag cake to any regatta spectator I came across. I ended up trading a couple pieces for a nice pair of men’s dress socks at one of the clothing booths. I was a mess. 

So, this year, knowing how vulnerable the Fourth of July makes me, I went a different route and tried to find an American activity where I could be among my own kind and feel at home. My two American girlfriends and I stumbled upon Balthazar’s Fourth of July lunch. The sibling to one of New York’s favorite restaurants was paying tribute to the good ol’ US of A. Not only did they have an American-themed set menu, but the whole experience was FREE if you wore Stars and Stripes! I was very excited, but should have known that nothing was going to fill the void of missing my nation’s birthday party. 

Balthazar is cool. It’s open and relaxed, elegant and classic. The perfect mix of a French bistro with a New York City vibe. It’s larger than most restaurants you’ll find in London–with high ceilings, oversized mirrors, and a grand staircase leading up to the ladies room where we took too many selfies of our Stars and Stripes ensembles. I was expecting to see a million Americans decked out for the occasion (and for the free meal) but it was kind of a letdown. I rose to the challenge, sporting an American Apparel flag tank and a striped skirt, but, aside from the waitstaff, there were only a few other red, white, and blue diners in the crowd.  The staff was cute. They tried, with flag bow-ties and bandanas. It was a nice tribute coming from some heavy-accented Frenchmen. 

A server at Balthazar, London

The menu was contrived, but adorable. Offering first a drink–a Budweiser or some cocktail that had nothing to do with America, but I don’t think they knew that. Next, we had our choice of Balthazar’s gourmet versions of a hot dog, a cheeseburger, or the macaroni and cheese. I opted for the Bud bottle and burger and fries. Later, it this was all brought to a close with their take on an apple pie. My outfit was approved, so the whole experience was on the house. I threw in a tenner for gratuity and that was my Fourth of July.
A cold one at Balthazar, London

So, bottom line: you can’t recreate America. While I appreciated Balthazar’s efforts and a free meal, of course, sometimes it’s easier to embrace the new than to try to be something you’ll never be. Balthazar in London will never be able to make a Fourth of July cheeseburger. They don’t have American cheese for starters, but aside from that guilty-pleasure, we all know the meat is different and the buns aren’t the same and it’s just not going to live up to what we grew up enjoying. The apple pie will not be a traditional Crisco-filled flaky pie crust, sprinkled with a layer of tapioca and generous bits of butter, with cinnamony, lemon doused apple slices. It will be a different-tasting tart. Good, but different. It’s just the way it is.

So, while Balthazar gets an A for effort, their Fourth of July celebration is not a do. It’s a poor interpretation of what American food is all about, and it will just magnify your UK frustrations. Next year, I vow to have a nice day at home, make all the American meals that I grew up with–that taste how you would expect–listen to country music, wear my flag shirt, and probably watch Talledega Nights or Joe Dirt or something redneck American that can just make me laugh. Here’s to next year!

4-6 Russell Street
London WC2B 5HZ

Don’t! Changing the Guard

Buckingham Palace, London

Buckingham Palace is an obvious must-do. The Queen’s residence stands tall and proud right in the heart of the city’s most beautiful parks. You can walk from Big Ben and the river up the ceremonial approach known as The Mall. This makes for an impressive walk, adorned with flags, leading up to the Victoria Memorial monument and the royal residence that towers over it. Buckingham Palace is an impressive site, standing alone with its ornate gates and traditionally uniformed guards. The gardens are well-manicured and the flags are updated regularly to inform the public on the Queen’s whereabouts. If the Queen is in, her Royal Standard flag waves proudly, and if she is out, the Union Jack is raised in its place. The entire site is one of beauty and tradition and worth being seen. This review, however, is for one specific area of the Buckingham Palace traditions: Changing the Guard.

Changing the Guard, London

The Changing the Guard ceremony takes place daily in the summer months, and every other day in the winter, weather permitting. The ceremony surrounds the changing from one regiment to another, the Old Guard trading places with the New Guard. This includes a full band playing while the highly ranked Adjutant inspects the New Guard. The New Guard later approaches the Old Guard, while in choreographed formations, and they hand each other arms.  The ceremony concludes with the New Guard being given the Palace keys. It takes about 45 minutes for the band and the well-uniformed soldiers on foot and on horses to complete their ritual.

This all sounds fun and magical, but believe me, it’s not. This is one of the largest London attractions, and since you have only have a 45 minute window each day (at most) to catch it, you’ll find yourself wedged between every visiting tourist. To me, that is not fun. The side from the fountain is your best bet, or down the street away from the Palace. This will allow you to see the band and the horses, but you’ll miss the ceremony that takes place behind the gates. If you really want to be able to see that (which you probably won’t regardless) you may want to peek in from the very far left of the Palace grounds. Really, what I’m trying to say is that there’s no good seat in the house. Every time I go, I am wedged between tourists and body odor and obnoxious children and selfie sticks and I regret ending up there once again. I have even joined the crowd and reached my phone up in the air, on record, to capture a scene to watch later. It was kind of sad. My most desperate attempt to catch a glimpse, though, was when I pretended to need to cross the street, so was held right at the front while the cavalry passed. A guard held me at the front temporarily, allowing me to stand exactly where I wanted to be. That video I will post, but don’t misconstrue that visibility of what a tourist could expect. That is the the visibility of an opportunist.

If you find yourself in London, I say skip it. It’s stressful and cheapens the beauty that is Buckingham Palace. Go first thing in the morning and take in the sights when it is quiet and peaceful. When you can actually take a picture in front of the gates and not have fifteen other people’s body parts in it. That will be a time worth remembering. Enjoy!

Buckingham Palace Gardens, London

Changing the Guard
Buckingham Palace
London SW1A 1AA

Don’t! HMS Belfast

The HMS Belfast is a decommissioned naval ship permanently docked on London’s Thames River. This WW2-era ship has been preserved by the Imperial War Museum and serves as a popular London tourist destination. My decision to give this attraction a “Don’t” didn’t necessarily come from its design or content, but instead due to an incident that left me feeling uneasy while I was aboard the ship.  I know that what transpired will not leave my mind, and for that reason I would never go back, nor  can I recommend the HMS Belfast to any of my peers. That makes this an unfortunate “Don’t.”

I purchased tickets and boarded the HMS Belfast with my husband and family. This destination was saved for my step-dad’s visit since he served in the U.S. Navy many moons ago. My husband’s suggestion to take him here was a huge hit and the boys were very excited. I was personally indifferent. To actually see an old ship’s insides, in-person and not just in Hollywood, would be interesting, but I think I had hit my capacity on World War 2 facts and another area dedicated to Churchill. I’ve come to realize over time that London lives and breathes Winston Churchill.

So, anyway, we embarked on the HMS Belfast and began looking from room-to-room and deck-to-deck, at bits of information, pictures, machinery, and reenactments put together with props and creepy mannequins. I was initially impressed with the overall structure, and then less enthused once I reached the unappealing infirmary and other mannequin areas, and hit my information quota in the mini-museum. And then of course there was the incident.

The situation I keep referring to was this: I noticed something when I went to the bathroom as soon as I boarded the ship. My family went ahead and I went alone, finding the ladies room down a hallway, close to a restricted staircase. The restricted staircase was roped off and blocked with a very obvious sign. The staircase appeared to lead to another level of machinery, but the floor seemed dark–only lit by the windows that must be on that floor. As I went into the bathroom, a man was coming down the stairs. He swiftly cascaded down the staircase, let himself out of the clipped roped exit, and disappeared. I never saw him again and I don’t think he saw me. He was gone, but I was left with a sinking feeling. This man was not wearing an HMS Belfast uniform, nor was he wearing a badge. In fact, he was wearing street clothes, and sporting unkempt hair and an overgrown beard. I tried to tell myself that perhaps I was making presumptions because he was a man and not a woman, or maybe because he looked like what we have come to assume is the look of a bad person. Regardless of what my mind was trying to rationalize, one thing I knew for certain, there was a man somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be. There is a saying that the government has ingrained in us: If you see something, say something. So I said something.

After taking the fastest pee of my life, and booking from the bathroom in case a bomb went off and I was in the closest area to the detonated weapon, I found someone that clearly worked for the HMS Belfast. I told him calmly what I saw and then tried to put the encounter out of my mind. But the problem is, I couldn’t. The employee that I had spoken to was back within seconds. He didn’t seem concerned as he went back to his post. In fact, none of the workers did. I tried to tell myself that he had passed it on to his supervisors who were looking into the serious matter, but all I kept imagining was him taking a trip upstairs, not seeing an obvious bomb, shrugging, and heading back to his post. I felt uneasy and that feeling did not subside. I kept noticing the lack in security, the lack of a metal detector or a bag search, and spent more time pinpointing the nearest exits in each room than paying attention to the actual content. It was unfortunate.

I realize this entire issue was probably nothing and this post is more about feeling unsettled than the actual exhibit. But, unfortunately, this is the world we live in now. This blog reviews the whole package, and I promise to do my best to only steer you to places that are a good value, fun, interesting, but also safe.

The HMS Belfast, London

HMS Belfast
The Queen’s Walk
London SE1 2JH

Don’t! The Folly

A short walk from the Monument tube stop leads you right to The Folly, a large bar and restaurant for the city folk right in Central London. You enter, not a botanically inspired haven as their website describes, but a loud industrial box that is filled with craft-store leaves, twigs, and trellises, giving a mixed identity to the mixed crowd of drinkers.

The Folly, London

I hate places like this. The oversized bars surrounding all the big banks and firms that have one goal: to accommodate as many flashy happy hour drinkers as they can. They have to set themselves apart from the trendy cocktail lounge down the street, so they all have different themes. If they don’t have a view, or a rooftop, they get “creative”. The Folly chose to become a garden and play off London’s overused Midsummer Night’s Dream theme. Don’t get me wrong, this would all be fine if the decor was done right and in a more fitting space. These Central London oversized modern builds don’t pass the test when you’re looking through the Garden of Eden at oversized heating ducts and industrial piping.

Questionable decor at The Folly, London

My first impression of The Folly was that it was loud. Extremely loud. There’s nowhere to sit, there are people everywhere, and if all of these people are coming from work, why is everyone carrying an oversized backpack? One I got through the hurdles of fancy Jansports, I located the bar and headed there with the friend I had met up with. The bar was crowded, but we got served very quickly, so that was a plus. The minus, was the price. The world’s smallest Maker’s Mark Old-Fashioned and a Peroni was £17.00. That’s $25.00.  No matter how you break those two drinks down, its appalling. I’ve had a lot of expensive cocktails in my life, but this by far was the most unwarranted when assessing the atmosphere, presentation, taste, location, and service, The Folly had to offer.  This place is expensive just because. Just because young money wants to flash some bills at Happy Hour and needs a place to go.

Not my scene. If you’re into the oversized strip mall bars you may see in, say, Vegas, Atlanta, or Derby, this may be for you. Otherwise, steer clear of The Folly, an overpriced playground for young corporate types that will rob you of your hearing, patience, and wallet.

Indoor/outdoor vibes at The Folly, London

Garden party at The Folly, London

The Folly
41 Gracechurch Street
London EC3V 0BT

Don’t! The Green Room

This Don’t honestly makes me a little sad. There are so many positives about Southbank’s The Green Room, that it breaks my heart that the young eatery couldn’t just get it together. These positives include:

The Location. Right near Waterloo and Westminster’s main attractions, The Green Room is in a great spot for an easy dinner before or after one of London’s many activities. We popped into the restaurant before seeing a show at the Southbank Centre, a favorite destination for arts and entertainment.

The exterior of London’s The Green Room

The Building. The Green Room looks really cool. It’s in a giant, modern building that looks like an LA pad, not a London restaurant. The decor mixes earthy elements of stone, wood, and neutral colors to compliment the menu’s organic, green mission statement. Inside, the restaurant has a hipster vibe, with cafeteria-style seating, recycled bottle salt and pepper shakers, and clip board menus.

Laid-back dining at The Green Room, London

The Service. The service was so fast and friendly, I was honestly blown away. We had the kindest young guy for our server, that was so quick with recommendations, drinks, and our meals. He understood we had a show to catch and made it his mission to get us there on time. He did not miss a beat, and compared to the typical London restaurants, I was thoroughly impressed.

Those are huge positives, right? How could The Green Room not be considered a Do? Well, unfortunately, the bad really does outweigh the good here. There are two other components that make up a restaurant review, and these, my friends, are The Green Room’s negatives.

The Ambience. Sure the aesthetics are nice, but what about the mood? The mood was, well, scattered. It felt like chaos the entire time. I never felt relaxed. I blame this mainly on the acoustics. The large box of a building and high ceilings held constant bouncing, banging, rumbling noise. This noise came from the overflowing bar and the high-turnover tables. From the couple next to us fighting (and then later breaking up with her storming out) to the people trying to push tables together for their friends. There was just so much going on and just goddamn noise. 

Dinner time at The Green Room, London

The Food. The food was basically inedible at The Green Room. I can honestly say it was disgusting. My husband and I both left food on our plates and holes in our stomachs. (Which later caused us to get shitfaced.) If was such a disappointment. We started with the BBQ wings which were prepared in the most strange/awful sauce. Obviously, no comparison to US BBQ, but these weren’t even in the same playing field as UK BBQ! Next, we had our entrees. I had the vegan burger which had a normal taste, but was so dry. I subbed out the chips/salad for the samphire I noticed on the menu. Samphire is one of my favorite English greens, and not seen on many menus, so I order it any chance I get. Or at least I used to. Now, I still have The Green Room’s horrible samphire taste lingering in my mouth. It was served to me in the form of cold, green, rubbery salt sticks. I was heartbroken. Lastly, my husband’s grilled tuna steak was to be prepared medium-rare. You can probably guess where this is headed. It was gray. Completely well-done and an unattractive color. It was an incredibly terrible food experience from start to finish.

So, as you can see, despite the positives, there were some huge unforgettable negatives in my experience at The Green Room. I won’t be returning, and that fact alone is what lands you on the Don’t list. Diners beware!

Clean lines at The Green Room, London

The Green Room
101 Upper Ground
London SE1 9PP