Friday, 13 January 2017

ms-havachat discovers Eton and Eton Stationers

We've lived in Surrey for about 18 months now, and today was my first visit to Eton. It's not even half an hours drive, but for some reason, I've never been and now I have, I can't wait to go back and explore it properly. The architecture is amazing, the High Street has lovely bespoke shops, and of course, there's Eton College.

Today I went as I had a meeting with the delightful people at Eton Stationers regarding our stationery supplies for school, and I'm really glad I did otherwise I might never have made it to this quaint village.

First, a little chat about Eton.

The village lies on the banks of the Thames, opposite Windsor. Royal processions from Westminster to Windsor would pass through the village. Of course, today the village is synonymous with Eton College, one of the most prestigious private boys schools in the world. Established in 1440 by King Henry VI it was originally established to provide quality education to 70 underprivileged boys who would go onto Kings College, Cambridge which he founded the following year.

The school has about 1,300 students from all over the world. They live in one of 25 Eton Houses, and walk to/from school through the village streets. As I was leaving I saw one senior students crossing the road in his black tail coat and thought how delightful and odd at the same time. Young men (aged 13-18), preparing for 21st century jobs, in a school that's over 570 years old, carrying an iPad, wearing a black tail coat and tie. If only those walls and desks could talk! IMAGINE what secrets and observations they might share.

The BBC did a documentary a few years ago, following three new students at Eton, how the settled in, what life in their House was like, what a school day was like. If you get a chance to see it, please do. It was very interesting.

Commissioned work produced as notepads and
cards. Each one depicting an Eaton House. 

Thanks Google and for this terrific
photo of Eton students in their uniform.

Eton Stationers started as a the local post office, and about 30 years ago, the school invited the  current owners uncle to consider providing all stationery needs to the school and the students. Expanding into stationery was a huge undertaking. Learning the suppliers, researching the products, meeting the high quality expected by the College was a very steep and enjoyable experience.

The current owner, a qualified chartered accountant, offered to help his Uncle for a few months with systems and procedures and grew to enjoy the business so much, he stayed.

When he talks about the business and the College he speaks passionately and with enthusiasm. I got so excited just listening to him I went into interview mode and asked him if he'd mind if I blogged about it.

Serving a school like Eton take superior customer service, a can-do attitude and above all, discretion. Having worked in advertising sales, and various people-oriented jobs over the years, I absolutely respect businesses whose customer service goes above-and-beyond what's expected. Without sounding too pompous, I've prided myself on the customer service skills I've learned over the years and I was absolutely impressed by what I heard today.

I've also been a customer. Eton Stationery supplies our kids 'stationery kits'. It's a great service offered by school and is a blessing when you're moving from one country to another,  you've not arrived and when you do you're in a hotel until you find a home, have no idea where the shops are, and the kids are starting school! Ordering online and having the box delivered to school is a total WOW.

The shop is huge. It's a paradise for those of us who love stationery! From the every-day items like pens and pencils (but what a selection) to unique parchment writing papers and specialist art supplies. If what you need isn't there, just ask and the staff will do their utmost to source it.

It's here that you'll also find the Eton Gift Shop. Quality memorabilia items for those associated with the College but also for visitors to this well known and much loved English village.

If you decide to visit Eton, remember it's not that far from Great Windsor Park, you could walk the Long Walk to Windsor Castle and spend a few hours exploring the Castle. A stroll along the banks of the Thames in fine weather would be great.

I'm all about shopping local and supporting small business. Eton Stationery supplies those of us who are fortunate to live locally, as well as businesses and schools.

Eton Stationers website:

Please tell them ms-havachat enjoyed meeting you so much, she's happy to recommend you.

With friendship

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

ms-havachat dinning at Coworth Park, Surrey

Coworth Park from my car, taken on my phone.

Living a little bit of a high flying expat social life a few weeks ago, I was fortunate to share an early Christmas Luncheon with friends at the stunning Coworth Park in Ascot, part of the Dorchester Hotel Group.

Driving into the estate in the middle of winter is dramatic - naked trees spreading their huge, thick branches inviting you to imagine them covered in foliage. The 240 acres of parkland offers walkers and runners beautiful natural surroundings to immerse themselves in, there's horse riding and/or polo amongst other outdoor activities. All I could think of was how perfect a picnic under the huge trees, or afternoon tea served on the patio would be.

You're only 45 minutes from London, but feel a million miles from anywhere! That's a priceless feeling in this hustle and bustle world, don't you think.

The Spa is on your left as you drive up the private road
The front of the property in understated but
the welcome from the Staff is far from it.
The Reception area blends into the
surrounding lounge area
The fireplace and lounge area behind reception allows
guests to quietly wait while their car or taxi is arriving.
The interior designers should be commended for their
artistic talents with the Christmas decorations though out
Coworth Park.

The restaurant where we had lunch was perfect for a private function.
I loved the ceiling feature, and it's reflection in the mirror
at the end of the room was spectacular.

The Ceiling feature - unique and stunning.

Table setting; Soup for starters which was delicious.
Main course and desert.

Our Luncheon started with a champagne reception, followed by a three course lunch. The lounge area where we sipped on champagne and chatted was decorated for Christmas, and several of us appreciated the artwork on the walls.

The service was 5 star all the way. Each table had 5 waiters serve to the 10 people. It was orchestrated beautifully and was a pleasure to watch. The wait staff would position themselves between guests, and with a nod from the head waiter, in unison plates were served. The staff would return to the kitchen in single file ready to serve the next table.

The soup starter was delicious. The presentation with the softly toasted bread was so pretty. However, the presentation of the main course was disappointing. (Is that rude to say?)  Appreciating they were catering for 74 people at once, the plate was less than appealing to the eye. It's the photo on the left, above - what do you think? 

The layers upon layers of food, the pool of watery gravy (I noticed I was not the only one to hold my fork over the plate allowing the drops of gravy to drip before eating,  the huge carrots looked out of place atop 3 thick slices of turkey. It was delicious to taste, but could have been presented with more finese. Individual or group gravy servers would have been a good start, even a vegetable bowl per two people to self serve rather than having it all piled the plate. Have I been watching too many cooking shows on TV? 

When you compare the presentation of the soup and the desert, one wonders what happened to the kitchen pass for main course. 

Three hours later, we were sipping on coffee and noshing on Christmas cookies ... a great lunch! I thoroughly enjoyed not having to rush off to pick up the tween from school early as she had a late finish that day. As the room cleared of guests, the few remaining moved seats, sipped on coffee and chatted until it was time to go. 

Friends have recommended afternoon tea at Coworth Park (will keep it in mind for a birthday celebration or when we have guests visiting from overseas); and The Barn for family friendly meals. 
The Spa sounds devine too!

Stock photo from Dorchester Collection of The Barn at Coworth Park

All in all, my first experience at Coworth Park was really lovely and I am looking forward to going back with my family in the New Year and dining at The Barn, and sharing an Afternoon Tea with friends at some point in 2017. 

Have you been?
What did you think?

With friendship

Friday, 16 December 2016

ms-havachat explores the Borough Markets

A few weeks ago, I spent the best part of the day with friends exploring the incredibly interesting and famous foodie haunt of the Borough Market. It was my third or 4th time there, but the first with an experience guide, so was rather excited to see what we would learn.

Ed from Secret Food Tours London was our guide for the morning. With a background in cooking (including a stint in posh foodie heaven of Wolloomloo Bay in Sydney, an old haunt of mine) Ed shared the history of the markets, as well as interesting information about the stallholders businesses, and the food tastings he'd organised for us as well as highlighting the odd streetscape where movies like Bridget Jones was filmed.

Our lovely guide, Ed at the beginning of our tour.
Sadly no vodka or gin, but the bottles of water
he gave us were appreciated.

We met across the road from London Bridge tube station and walked across London Bridge (didn't realise we were crossing the famous bridge until Ed told us cos it' doesn't look like a bridge these days). We paused for a few minutes and listened to the history of the markets (and if you click here, you'll be able to read all about it as there were so much to remember!) before walking down a flight of stairs into the Borough Markets.

Our first food stop was Scotchtails for Scotch Eggs. Having absolutely nothing to do with Scotland, the first Scotch egg was created by Fortum and Mason in 1738 as a healthy snack to eat on the way home after work. They are just as popular today, tho the flavours of Scotcheggs has changed over the years and you can try some really posh ones at the Markets.

(Frustratingly I have lost several photos from the tour - we had incredible fish and chips, donuts, pork sausage rolls on the tour. Ed is happy to personalise the tour based on dietary requirements, allergies or personal likes/dislikes, so don't be shy when asking)

Look for the blue and white sign towards the back of the Markets.
See the huge round loaf in the front row?
Best rye bread!
Bread Ahead is famous for, you guessed it, bread
AND their baking courses!
We stopped and watched a group kneading their dough
while salivating at the international selection of bread in the window.
Check out the website for details on their baking courses. 
What a butcher!
The choice was amazing, and the counter
for take away cooked food was incredible.
Perfect for dinner parties.
You want to know anything about olives, ask these people.
From oils, to pate, to tea, to creams it's all here.
Check out their website here 
The seafood!!
Fresh! Delicious!
The hot fish'n'chips out of paper were scrumptious!
Mrs D's favourite cheese is found here, at the
Drunk Cheese stall. You simply tell him how much to cut and
he expertly slices it off the round. YUM!
Just look at the date!!!!!!!!!!

We finished our Tour here, at the MUG HOUSE, under the
last surviving original arch of London Bridge.
The place is charming and quirky.
We enjoyed a British cheese platter and some wine
before saying thank you to Ed and heading
back to school to pick up kids.

The other interesting aspect of the Markets is it's use in films. Stony Street (between Park and Southwark) was where parts of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was filmed; while Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was filmed on Stony Street too. Paddington, Salmon Fishing in the Yemon, The Golden Compass, and several BBC shows to name a few. The buildings and alley ways, the ol' fashioned style of markets just lends itself to this kind of thing. 

Recognise Bridget Jones' apartment block?
It's a pub on the edge of the Markets.

There's so much to experience at the Borough Markets (and surrounding area) that it really is a great day out in one part of historical London. If you have a flexible itinerary, maybe think about going mid-week to avoid the weekend crowds. It's when the 'locals' do their weekly shop and tourists visit too on their City Breaks. Of course, this lends to the atmosphere, but it's also crazy busy. 

It's a great place to remember to visit and shop at when having dinner parties. Take your shopping bags and a freezer bag, just in case. I'd also recommend a wheelie-style bag or trolley as the shopping can get heavy (wink, wink).

If you're interested, I usually come home with:
A round of rye bread.
A round of grain bread.
Olive paste and other yummy antipasto delights (Borough Olives)
Olive Tea and specialist oils (Oliveology)
Cupcakes (whichever takes my fancy on the day)
Various cheeses (sorry, don't have a favourite)
Sausage rolls (Ginger Pig)

MrsD loves Spice Mountain, Drunk Cheese, Oliveology and Borough Olives.

If I remember the freezer bag with ice bricks (for the train ride home) - fish and meat (again, it just depends on what I'm wanting, so no favourite stall)

For more information about the Borough Markets, click here to go to their website.

If you go to the Markets, please pop onto ms-havachat on Facebook and let me know what you thought. 

With friendship

Thursday, 15 December 2016

ms-havachat discovers Surrey - Lunch at Riverside Brasserie

My photo turned out ok despite the grey sky

Riverside Brasserie, Bray is a lovely hidden gem of a restaurant and I can't wait to go back.

Located in the Bray Marina, you wonder if you're going in the right direction despite the signs that point you towards RIVERSIDE BRASSERIE. Trust me, just keep going past all the boats in dry-dock and follow the signs.

Even when you see the signs PARK HERE FOR RESTAURANT, you wonder 'where's the restaurant?' but keep walking towards the river and you'll soon come across a relaxing outdoor patio with tables and chairs, outdoor heaters, umbrellas and the restaurant itself.

The wide glass doors are perfect on a day like today - too cold and grey to sit outdoors, but the view is simply too lovely to hide.

Stock photo of patio area in full summer readiness (which I
will definitely be enjoying as soon as the weather warms up)
While we didn't have blue skies, or see a barge go by,
we could absolutely imagine this scene happening.

The location in winter is quiet and private which is lovely, though you can also appreciate the atmosphere in the warmer months with people dining on the patio and the glass doors open from the main restaurant. I'm sure there would be people arriving on their boats, mooring along the jetty. This reminded me of Sydney's Eastern Suburbs and the boats pulling up into Watson's Bay, or along the Hawkesbury River and that we need to befriend someone with a boat!

The interior is spacious, with large tables and comfy chairs. The open kitchen is a favourite aspect of any restaurant for me as I love to watch what goes on. The floral displays were huge and the hint of Christmas on the tables were understated.

My photo.

We started with warm flatbreads with 3 dips. Really delicious, tho the tzitziki was a tad too watery for my liking. I love a really thick dip that sits atop the bread. What I did like was the size of the servings of dip as there wasn't too much wasted, and we both felt we had enough.

Main for MrsC was gnocchi with mushrooms which she said was delicious, not too creamy and full of mushroom flavour while I had my favourite, grilled salmon, served on a bed of broccolini. The salmon was grilled rare with a crispy skin which I love. The sauce was tasty and there wasn't too much.

We finished with coffee and mint tea. 

Lunch for 2

We weren't rushed.

The service was pleasant and attentive but not in-your-face. 

We both really enjoyed lunch and both of us said 'we'll be back'.

For more details on Riverside Brasserie Bray click here

(This is a totally independent review of Riverside Brasserie.)

Friday, 11 November 2016

ms-havachat ponders MIA - Mums in Action

This chat's been sitting on my laptop for a while now. I've been editing it and now I think it's ready to share. Some chats flow so easily from my fingers while others are there in my head but struggle to be related thru my fingers onto the keyboard.

I'd LOVE to chat with you on a daily basis, and sometimes there's HEAPS to share, and other times, not so much. The ups'n'downs of everyday life right? At times like that, our Facebook page keeps us connected (if you've not LIKED mshavachat on FB yet, please do, the more the merrier)

Anyhow, MrsD and I went walking a while ago (actually several weeks ago). I hope she won't mind me sharing this story with you. I'm sure I said then 'this is such a great topic for ms-havacahat'.

That's how some chats end up here. Inspiration from a conversation with a friend, or in a group. It's not all me all the time.

Here we go:

One year, MrsD was unable (can't recall why) to attend the information session at night for parents at the beginning of the school year. You know the one, where the Head of School reaffirms why you've chosen the school, explains the schools philosophy to learning, promotes the upgrades around the campus that should have been finished before school started but are running over time, introduces teachers etc. 

Her husband was home (a very rare happening as he travels a LOT) and offered to go in her place as he could tell having a clash of events was troubling her. 

She printed the list of teachers, they discussed any issues/concerns they had and needed to be addressed, and off he went. After putting the address into the sat nav, he headed off to school and she went out. Her phone rang not long after "I found the school ok, where do I go now?'

Well, I roared with laughter, while also acknowledging, as she did, that it was also kinda sad.

The kids had been at school for a few years ...... he had no idea where to go once there because he'd never been. He, like other expat dads travel A LOT.  MrD is away at least 6 months of the year and he's not the only one. MrsC husband lives/works in another country because they want their kids to have a normal childhood which they wouldn't get living where he is based. Another family has their dad on short term contracts, so moving every 6-12 months just wouldn't work for the kids, so they are based in the UK while dad visits as often as possible. Another set of friends are split mid-week due to the hours hubby works in London, so he opts to stay there rather than come home simply to sleep but has Fridays off to be with the family. And another example, is a friend who's husband's business was sold and relocated by the new owners to another country so he's there for 2 years over transition their kids are at a critical point in their school lives so they decided to stay put and have dad go and visit - often. Another friend has made the huge decision to pop their kids into boarding school in their home country for continuity of education/lifestyle/extended family close by.

These scenarios are not unique. Sadly, in expat life 'family life' takes many forms. There's a community of mid-week-single-mums as the dads work long hours/travel for work, bunker down with family on weekends and go to work again.

Before I go on I should say that this scenario is slowly changing and that there are more and more mums being the expat employee, with dad staying home with the kids. Very rarely do both expat parents work full time.

Some of you might think WT - you have a choice. No one's making you live this lifestyle. What's more important career or family? Change jobs! Move home! Redefine the work hours! Take control of work/life balance!

It should be that simple, but it's far from it.

M I A - Mums In Action! (or DIA, Dads In Action)

Co-parenting is not a term often used when talking about expats.

Single parenting, while keeping the absent one informed and included is key to a happy and long marriage/family.

When the working parent comes home, dividing their time between their partner and kids is difficult as everyone wants and needs their time and attention, friends want to catch up while you just want to bunker down with the family; or you want to sleep!

Two Fat Expats on a recent podcast talked about Lead Parent - that's the one who Leads the way - settling the kids into school, establishing yet another new home, making friends, researching doctors, hairdressers, learning where to shop for what, maybe even learning a new language or navigating a new culture. All this is done while the 'other parent' goes to work, or hops on a plane for a business trip.

At our recent Parent information session, introducing the Middle School program, G commented that there were very few dads there and he could have stayed home while I went. WHY? I asked - you don't travel! it's one a a handful of things he can attend (most stuff is during the day) and I absolutely expect his support and our daughter deserves it. (Footnote; He said it in a joking way, but I took it a little bit too seriously, so I'm just telling you what happened)

The other consideration to acknowledge is new families have only just arrived and don't have anyone reliable to sit with the kids while they go out (huge disruption to date nights), so one parent (dad) offers to stay home so Mum can attend as she's the Lead Parent.

I said to MrsD, I appreciate just how unique and fortunate we are as an expat family that G does not travel for work, he's home every night, and is flexible to a point with his hours so can be home early (providing there's enough notice) to join me at evening meetings.

Mums (or Dads) In Action ..... imagine all of this, multiplied by the number of kids you have! As the parent of one child, I'm in constant awe of friends. I also offer to help out.  Having one child, there's always room for 2 more in our small car; or a spare bed for a sleep over if mum and dad need a spur of the moment date night; or notes to be shared after a meeting at school.

  • School runs. 
  • Meetings with various teachers. 
  • Organising 'stuff'.
  • Getting involved in Parents Group/Association.
  • Keeping the school calendar and personal diaries up to date.
    • Depending on the age of kids, this could mean up to 4 school calendars
    • Add sports, drama, music, art, community stuff !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Buying another pair of indoor shoes cos their feet won't stop growing..
  • Impersonating a taxi driver every afternoon. 
    • One car, one driver needed to be at various places at the same time - IMPOSSIBLE
    • Car pooling is a great idea, sharing the dropping off/picking up
  • Helping/checking/bribing homework is done, as well as musical instrument practise, sport etc. 
  • Encouraging hygiene on a nightly basis.
  • Managing use of mobile phones or time online with friends.
  • Encouraging them OUTSIDE.
  • Cooking.
  • Washing.
  • Shopping.
  • Sorting out the weekends activities around the kids social calendar.
  • Organising Date Night
The list goes on ................ so how those of you who work full time outside the home do it is beyond me. 

MrsD (a different one) once told her housekeeper 'I work to hard to keep you employed. If I didn't work such long hours, I'd be able to do this myself, so please help me and do as I ask' (Long story and it's not as rude as it might sound. All good. Everyone's happy.)

Reminds me again of Annabelle Crabb's recent book, The Wife Drought, Why Women Need A Wife and Men Need a Life.

We are a fortunate that G's work allows him to be home every night; that he's able to be involved with what's going on and I do not feel like a M I A. The few times he works longer than usual hours (and they are long at the best of times) for a few nights in a row I 'suffer' but then I think of friends and laugh it off.

Why do we do it?

Probably because the job opportunities at 'home' are less, that the excitement and career prospects are greater overseas, because it's fascinating living in a different country, because we are a team and we agreed to this lifestyle and if one of us doesn't do their role properly, the team (i.e.: family) is affected.

I'm proud of my M I A status. I've learnt so much about myself, my capabilities, my limitations, my strengths. I've put myself into situations I'd never thought about and survived!

So, to all you M I A's (and dads too) well done! Congratulations. You're doing a great job. Find a friend like me, who has one kid cos we're often only too happy to help you out.

Remember those famous words said by a very famous American Lady 'Its takes a village'. And you know what, it truly does.

With friendship

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

ms havachat and the quest for creative, online photo albums

Do you leave them on your phone? WHY???????????

Do you upload them to your laptop and have them play in an endless cycle when the laptop is in sleep mode? WHY?????

Do you have them printed and make photo albums?

Do you create on line albums?

I used to make photo albums with real photos. I'd design the page layouts, and create headings, have the photo's developed then sort them out into chronological order before placing them into the albums to be admired and appreciated for years to come.

Then I switched to making them online - cheaper, quicker, more creative options, fabulous coffee table quality.

Then, the online company I was using decided to no longer be compatible with Apple (or maybe my new MacBook Air is the issue) either way I haven't made an album for quite a few YEARS and I'm freaking out.

This hasn't happened overnight.

I've been looking for what seems to be ages for a replacement online photo album company, but none of them seem to have the range of things the one I was using had - and I would love so much to be able to have it all again.

About 4 years ago, I used a different company as a comparison and didn't like the result. The quality of paper was different, there was no option for a flat-spine, so the perfect-bound spine is all cracking and you can't open the book flat to see the entire photograph.

We've done several holidays since, and all the photos are sitting on the laptop waiting to be made into albums.

I guess my issue is simply, I am years behind in my photo albums which is simply not like me at all and I'm wondering does it matter?

No one's asked to see them photos.

No one's gone looking for the memories.

Maybe one day they will ....... or not.

I believed taking the photos and creating the albums was important family documentation. One day, I won't remember or I'll be gone and MissM will go to the album, relive the memory because I spent time writing the story of the photograph for prosperity. She'll be overcome with emotions - happy ones I hope (cos who puts sad photos into albums?) and her expat kid life will be there is a pictorial diary, readily available.

Which house?
What year did we go to (insert place) for holidays?
Where were we when (Insert visitors name) did (????)
In grade 3, my friends were ..............
At (insert school) I went on (insert field trip)
I turned (insert birthday) (insert house)

The list goes on.

We're all so caught up in taking photos on our phones and uploading them to social media - has this replaced the urgency and desire to have them printed and seen in albums? We can create online albums on our FB pages, give it a title, and add pics any time.

Random FB photo page found on Google Images.

When we travel, we have the photos on our phones plus the ones on the 'big camera' (which I have to admit we don't always take with us anymore cos the phone camera's are so good). Is the impetus to 'see' the pics removed because we've commented and shared them already?

Camera phones are so convenient and the technology is great!

A friend, who is single and has no kids does not take photos. She travels A LOT and has been to many amazing places and still does not take photos. WHY, she asks me? They are 'my' memories and I'll remember them. No one wants to have to clean out decades of memories.

I have always thought that's sad.

Maybe that's the case with us.

Maybe, deep down, MissM doesn't want the albums either.

Maybe my not being able to find a reliable, creative online album company is a message that I'm to not bother.

On days like today, when I'm home with nothing specific to do, I know I could very simply work on the albums. Then I get stressed to the max trying to make them work ...... then give up (which so isn't in my DNA).

Maybe when the MacBook Air dies, I'll make sure my next laptop is compatible with the online software I prefer then I'll spend months going back over years of photos filed away, creating albums.

Gosh I hope I remember where we were!

With friendship

Thursday, 8 September 2016

ms-havachat in London Experiencing the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum dates back to 1837. How fortunate are we that the grand building still stands today, housing some of the most exquisite and interesting art from around the world AND it remains FREE to the public (other than one-of exhibitions) as was the original intention for all to enjoy.

The V and A as it's fondly called, was a government initiative, with the prime goal of improving British design. While well known and respected for manufacturing, Britain was loosing ground to European competitors across all design disciplines.

Jumping forward a few years, and after a successful Great Exhibition, Prince Albert had even bigger ideas. He wanted a dedicated space in the middle of London where everyone, regardless of social status could, for free, experience the best of the best of British and European art and culture.

It's still stunning.

It's still free for all to enter and enjoy (other than unique exhibitions)

It's ranked 11th globally for number of visitors.

It contains 4.5 million objects across the most diverse range of interests: ceramics, glass, textiles, costumes, jewellery, drawings, photography sculpture, prints, furniture.

The Museum covers 12.5 acres, and houses 145 galleries.

One needs more than one visit, or if that's all you have time for, make sure you dedicate an entire day to the place and know the highlights you want to see while there.

My first visit was with a group of friends a few months ago. We had a two hour private guided tour of the highlights. The time flew and we knew we had only but scratched the surface of what this incredible building had to offer.

We met our guide under Dale Chihuly's Rotunda Chandlier which was created in 2001, drawing on the techniques made famous by the glass blowers in Murano, Venice. Each piece of the chandelier is free blow, or mould blown. My photo does not do it justice, so please take the time to google it, or better still, come to London and see it for yourself.

My photo.

Our first highlight was the Medieval and Renaissance sculpture gallery.  Being able to walk up so close to these exquisite works, and gaze into the eyes of the featured person was incredible.

Samson Slaying a Philistine.
Lots of interesting individual pieces to enjoy.

We quickly found ourselves in the Reproduction Rooms. There were copies of famous sculptures and paintings, works wrapped for storage and some minor repair work being done. It was a quiet hive of activity. G has often said with so many galleries and museums around the world, where is the original? And when galleries and museums 'share' items for exhibitions, do they really share the original or are they superb reproductions - just think of the insurance!!!!!!!!!! Imagine what the consequences would be if 'it' broke AAAAAAHHHHHH. Now I've seen a room like this, I wonder too.

We saw a cast of Trajan's Columns (we saw the originals when we were in Rome a few years ago) and as they were placed low to the ground, we were able to admire the intricate carvings.

Another visit to the VnA recently to meet friends visiting from Sydney, I arrived early and took time to look at the Islamic Middle East exhibition. It's the first time I've had the opportunity to do this as I'm usually with other people for a specific exhibition and need to be done in time for the 2.10 train back to school! This exhibition is as beautiful as you'd imagine. The music to the videos is haunting.

The centrepiece to the exhibition in my opinion is the magnificent Ardabil Carpet, the worlds oldest dated carpet. The mosaics and pottery are beautiful too, but the Ardabil Carpet is simply WOW.

The highlight of the exhibition is the Ardabil Carpet.
None of my photos turned out, so I borrowed this from Google Images.

After hugs and kisses (hadn't seen each other for a couple of years, so it was a lovely reunion in the entrance to the museum) we saw the one-off exhibition, UNDRESSED, A Brief History of Underwear from the 18th Century to Present. WOW! Women have been suffering for the gender for centuries! Definitely time for Bridget Jone's big knickers to make a come back and stay!

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the cafe under the most decorative of ceilings, before wandering the Silver section of the museum, followed by Theatre and Performance exhibition. Seeing one of the costumes worn by Michael Crawford in Phantom was incredible - it was so big and heavy we were amazed at his obvious strength on stage. There's a replica of Kylie Minogues' dressing room with 'real' Kylie items; several costumes from The Lion King and more.

It was rather hot'n'sticky with all the lights in this area, so we went downstairs and enjoyed a cold drink in the outdoor cafe watching the kids play in the decorative pond. It was a wonderful sight - young families enjoying the sunshine in the grounds of an historic building in the middle of London for free.

Afterwards, we strolled thru the Silver section of the museum before loosing ourselves in the Jewellery exhibition (permanent); WOW! Gems and diamonds and opals and gold and silver and platinum and gemstones from tiny weeny pieces to humongous pieces.

I simply love the V&A, so much so, I bought the book!

Cover of V&A Book featuring history and major works.

I sincerely hope if you're ever in London you have the time to set aside a day (at least) to visit this incredible legacy of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Pop back and let me know what you thought.

With friendship