New Sainsbury Wing at the V&A opens with Opera Exhibition


This year’s must see exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics opens this Saturday at the new Sainsbury wing of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London’s South Kensington.

There are several reasons to go. Firstly to see the new Sainsbury wing which is architecturally stunning, but also for opera lovers and those who want to learn about and hear opera, displayed with the use of ground breaking technology. The aim of the exhibition, organized in collaboration with London’s Royal Opera House as well as other opera houses around the world, is to bring opera to as many people as possible. The exhibition reveals how opera brings together multiple art forms to create a multi-sensory work of art, and shows how social, political and economic factors interact with great moments in the history of opera.


The route takes the visitor through seven journeys Venice, London, Vienna, Milan, Paris, Dresden, Leningrad, ending with World Passion where enormous wall to ceiling screens show excerpts from various operas. With headphones that were given to me when I went in, I was able to listen to different operas depending on what part of the world I was in. Among the 300 items on display are costumes worn at operas, paintings, and musical instruments including a piano played by Mozart in 1787; a stage set; and a video installation demonstrating how different directors interpreted Wagner’s ballet sequence in Tannhãuser.


A wide range of events have been organized in connection with the exhibition including lunchtime concerts on some Thursdays and an Opera Weekender from Friday, 10 to 12 November.

Runs until 25 February 2018.

Admission £19.00. Concessions available.

Tel. 0800 912 6961



Posted in Art, Culture, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Royal Mews and Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace


#Buckingham Palace is a must-see for everyone whether a Londoner or a tourist. Sadly the Royal Mews and the #Queen’s Gallery, which are part of the Palace should be included, but are often overlooked. As a Londoner, although I was aware of their existence, I had visited neither until this year. Both are part of the Royal Collection, and within the grounds of Buckingham Palace. A bonus is that they are open, subject to holidays and royal occasions, throughout the year.

John Nash who was responsible for remodeling Buckingham Palace was initially involved in the architectural drawings for the Royal Mews. In Georgian times, the mode of transport was by horse and carriage but it was only when Queen Victoria came to the throne that the Mews, as it is today, was built.

By each exhibit is a written explanation but even better are the free, guided tours. Visitors, with the use of a multi-media guide, can also wander around on their own. The majority of the carriages on display, which are maintained in pristine condition, are those once used by Queen Victoria, and still used today. On display too are some of the Royal cars.

Visitors can get a sensation of what it’s like to sit in a carriage in a replica of the semi-state landau, which has a roof that comes down. There are also smart red jackets to dress up in, ideal for a photo opportunity. On my visit I was also able to see the harness rooms, the stables, and a few of the thirty horses stabled there. Apparently, they can often be seen in the road going or coming back from Hyde Park where they take their exercise or attached to a landau transporting an Ambassador to an audience with the Queen. At the entrance to the Royal Mews, near the main road is the riding school which is used to accustom the horses and their riders to traffic noise, and is where the horses are trained to pull the carriages.


On Display at the Queen’s Gallery until November 12 are paintings, drawings and prints by Venice’s most famous view-painter, Canaletto (1697-1768). Visitors can get an idea of Venice in the eighteenth century as seen through Canaletto’s eyes. Key works are the Regatta on the Grand Canal held annually in February, and the Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day; the Venetian Festival of the Wedding of the Sea. These works, along with the rest of Joseph Smith’s huge collection, were bought by the young George III in 1762 from Canaletto’s agent and dealer. Smith was British Consul in Venice, and one of the greatest patrons of Venetian art.

Canaletto always manipulated his painting as well as diversifying the subject matter. He was a prolific draughtsman, making hundreds of drawings of the city he saw around him. Encouraged by Smith he was also interested in the buildings of Venetian architect Andrea Palladio. Canaletto’s work is shown alongside that of fellow artists of the 18th century. Of the 200 works on display 40 are by Canaletto.

Talks and school sessions are being held throughout the exhibition.


Gilded Channukiah from the Board of Deputies of British Jews 1982

Even if you have already visited the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace there is for 2017 an exhibition of over 200 Royal Gifts from around the world  that Her Majesty The Queen has received during her 65 year reign. This summer also marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and this is commemorated with a display in the Music Room of personal memorabilia including her desk from Kensington Palace.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Gastro dog-friendly pub in Hampstead


The Freemason’s Arms

 Whenever I go to Hampstead to meet friends we invariably end up at the Freemason’s Arms on the south side of the Heath. The big plus for me and lots of others who frequent the gastro-pub is that it is dog-friendly, has good food, and is easily accessible.

The pub was refurbished last year and the décor is stylish but remaining welcoming. The place maximises on places to sit, at the front of the building, in its bar, three restaurant areas and a garden. Anyone ordering food in the bar has to compete with those popping in for a drink. One of the waiter service restaurant areas is dog-friendly. At the weekends, when the sun shines hamburgers are barbecued in the garden. Food seems to be served non-stop throughout the day.

I have always eaten in the bar but with the sun shining and people queuing up for drinks the dog-friendly part of the restaurant was definitely the best option. The Sunday roasts, which includes a vegetarian option was the choice of virtually everyone I saw eating.


With eyes bigger than my stomach, I rather stupidly opted for the trio of roasts consisting of slices of beef, pork and chicken with all its associated trimmings. The roasts, bar the vegetarian option, come with goose-fat roasted potatoes, braised red cabbage, honey-roasted parsnips, cauliflower cheese and a gigantic Yorkshire pudding plus gravy, mustard, apple butter, and crackling for the pork. Far too much food. Sadly, too, my beef came well-done my only grievance but to give the staff credit I was told it was not possible to have it rare. My companion Sharon fared rather better with her roast lamb rump which was served as it should be, pink. Having informed me that her mother used to make the best Yorkshire Pudding she was suitably impressed with theirs, also complimenting the chef on his tasty gravy.


Not realising how big my main course would be, we shared a starter of crispy Karaaga chicken, pieces of deep fried but succulent chicken with a katsu, curry flavoured sauce served with a rice and broad bean salad on a thin slice of mooli. Lots of flavour and delicious.

The desserts all sounded very enticing and included baked Sicilian lemon cheesecake, warm Belgian chocolate Brownie, and a British Cheese Board. Needless to say, neither of us had any space or desire to try them as delicious as they sounded which seemed equally apparent with our fellow diners. Poppy, my dog was, however, very delighted as it was impossible for me to eat all the meat on my plate and on leaving she was presented with a ‘doggie’ bag.

Advisable to book in the restaurant. The bar and garden are not bookable.

The Freemasons Arms

32 Downshire Hill, NW3 1NT

Hampstead T. 020 7433 6811


Posted in Bars, dog friendly, Food, Pets, Restaurants, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leonardo to Rembrandt Drawings at NPG


Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt opens at the National Portrait Gallery.

An exhibition of 48 portrait drawings by some of the most talented Renaissance and Baroque artists working in Europe during the 17,18 and 19th centuries, some of which have never been shown before, are on display at the National Portrait Gallery, just off Trafalgar Square.

Drawings unlike paintings have usually been made as the result of an encounter between an artist and a sitter at a specific moment of time or a study for a future painting, and the exhibition homes in on the relationship between the artist and the sitter. Artists of that period were fascinated by the expressive power of the human face and regularly drew their friends as well as those they met in daily life.


Some of the people depicted can be identified, but many of the faces are people that the artist may have passed in the street. The star of the show is Hans Holbein the Younger’s drawing of John Godsalve c. 1532-4, one of 15 drawings lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection Trust.

A film on a screen discreetly placed on a ledge at the side of one of the galleries shows how and with what equipment, such as silver point, chalk, pen and ink as well as the different types of paper that were used drew during that period.

The accompanying booklet has been designed to give visitors a more detailed description of each drawing encouraging them to admire what is in front of them rather than having to stand and read the sign.

One of the aims of the exhibition is to inspire visitors to take up drawing themselves.

FullSizeRender 2

Study of a Male Nude by Leonardo da Vinci c.1504-6


Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt is on display until 22 October, 2017

Tickets with donation: £10.00 Concessions £8.50

National Portrait Gallery,

St Martin’s Place, London WC2H OHE

T. 020 7321 6600


Posted in Art, Culture, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Atmospheric hotel in Pretty Village of Dunster

The dog-friendly Luttrell Arms in Dunster, Somerset one of the oldest post-houses in Britain, occupies the site of three ancient houses. Recorded in 1443, two of them were at that time conveyed to Richard Luttrell, who already held the other.

The houses were built into the hillside so the hotel’s garden with views of Dunster Castle, can be found on the first floor. The Coat of Arms of the Luttrell Family dating back to 1261 can be seen on the exterior of the building.

Inside are many notable architectural features. The mediaeval hall with its hammer beam roof can be seen in room 17. The lower half of its twelve light window lights the Inn’s bar. A large section is missing, possibly removed during the restoration of 1777 to give access to a new staircase.

In room 14 are the Coat of Arms of George Luttrell and his second wife Silvestra Capps. From this room you can enter the top of the porch-tower where there is a wonderful view of the High Street to the Castle. On the first floor, bedrooms 18-22 occupy what was once the ballroom. In the ceiling, which is original are large plaster roses with vent holes to allow the heat to escape from the gas chandeliers.

The Stable Bar to the left of the archway is where the horses would have entered in what used to be the stable block. The bar is dog-friendly while the main restaurant isn’t. Fortunately and as I was with Poppy, my dog we, along with some friends, were able to enjoy the restaurant’s menu with waiter service in the bar. It turned out to be a bonus as the olde-worlde bar had lots more atmosphere than the more modern decor of the restaurant.

Under new management in the past few years, the hotel has undergone refurbishment while retaining the history and atmosphere of times gone-by.

Read a full account about our trip at:



Posted in Bars, dog friendly, Hotel, Pets, Restaurants, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Synagogue is One of Plymouth’s top Tourist Attractions

Plymouth Shul 3

Nominated by Trip Advisor as one of Plymouth’s top visitor attractions, the city is home to the oldest functioning Ashkenazi Synagogue in the English speaking world.  Its added attraction is that it has a Royal connection. The synagogue dates back to 1762 with the only major extension, the addition of North and South wings, in 1864 of a Ladies Gallery The latter was paid for by Leon Solomon, grandfather of Ernest Simpson, whose wife Wallis divorced him to marry Edward, the Prince of Wales.

 The Jewish community settled in Plymouth in the early 18th Century with its members mainly from Holland and Germany.  In 1742 they leased the plot of land where the synagogue now stands, and in 1834 bought the freehold .  
After the Second World War, with the decline of the Devonport Dock Yard many families moved away leaving a community today of 39 members. In 2012, the synagogue’s custodian Jerry Sibley was presented to the Queen for being one of Devon’s unsung heroes. Through his efforts, with the synagogue surviving mainly on donations from tourists, visitors, and school trips, the building is kept open for both worship and visitors.
The most commendable thing is that Jerry, himself is not Jewish. 
Read about my trip to Plymouth at:
Posted in Culture, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why It’s Painful to Watch The Handmaid’s Tale

I went to Bucharest and can see how the entrepreneurs of this lovely country are doing whatever they can to encourage prosperity in their country Romania after such a rigid and horrendous regime.

Source: Why It’s Painful to Watch The Handmaid’s Tale

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bucharest and Southern Romania



It is hard to imagine what the people of Romania endured under the Communist regime. Whole areas of the city were destroyed, and people moved out of their homes, on the orders of their former dictator Nicholae Ceausescu to create the People’s Palace. Not only did it have to be the biggest and the best but leading up to it he had created for him Romania’s longest boulevard, wider than the Champs Elysees in Paris with numerous fountains. Visitors are only permitted, with a guide, to see a small part of the interior. Everywhere, the floors and the walls, are covered in marble with magnificent chandeliers. Apart from the auditorium with its curved seating and raised stage, now the seat of the Romanian parliament, it is hard to imagine what the other rooms, a lot identical to each other, were used for.

Bucharest is a sprawling city and its important to consider where you stay as the majority of things to see and do are centred around the Old Town. I stayed at the boutique Hotel Domenii Plaza which, although it describes itself as being in the centre, isn’t. It is however, near a lovely park and the city’s Arc de Triumph.


Staying at a hostel isn’t my logical choice but the owners of the Pura Vida Hostels, Anda and Tudor are such great fun, and I was particularly impressed as their dog goes everywhere with them. One of their properties the Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel is in the centre of the old town where the live entertainment takes place every Saturday night. I saw a photograph of one of their double, private rooms and was pleasantly surprised, much nicer than I had expected. In summer, the Sky Bar on its roof is a social hub and ideal for watching the sun go down, as well as for the view.

Taxis are very cheap. However it is important to either ask your hotel to order their known reliable one or if picking one up in the street either negotiate the price before getting in or make sure the driver puts on his meter. This is a city where taking #UBER could well be an option.

Barbecued meat can often be found on restaurant menus. Doughnuts served with sour cream is one of their traditional desserts. Romanian wines have come a long way.  Look out for the brand Liliac.


To read a full account of my trip to Bucharest with included a visit to Dracula’s Castle, check out

Posted in Bars, Culture, dog friendly, Food, Hotel, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Food Trends WITH NATASHA BLAIR published by The Magazine Connection



Olive oil is one of those products that should be in everyone’s store cupboard. It is not only beneficial for a healthy diet but can also be used to replace butter, margarine, and other spreads. While butter may taste delicious it is made from saturated fat while margarine is likely to have been chemically treated, and is often combined with other ingredients.

Virgin olive oils are made solely from the fruit of olive trees, and are produced through natural extraction that won’t change the oil. The oil can, however, be a blend of refined olive oil and virgin / extra virgin olive oils.

Countries with regions that have mild winters and dry hot summers are likely to have olive trees, and plantations can be found as far away as Israel, China and India. The label identifies where the oil is from, and it is worth noting that colour is not an indication of quality.

Olive oil doesn’t last forever, and when shopping it is worth considering how much you are likely to use. Shelf life, once opened, is anywhere from eight to twelve weeks as it degrades over time. The fresher the oil the better but it can be kept sealed for up to two years so it is important to check the ‘best by’ date.

Enemies are heat, light and air. Store your oil in a dark bottle or tin. Putting oil in a bottle with a spout may look lovely but if left exposed to the air it is likely to oxidise and become rancid. Avoid plastic bottles or metal containers made from iron or copper as they could cause a reaction. Store in a cool, dark place, never near a stove.

Olive oil tastings aren’t as common as wine tastings but are a fun way to learn about di erent extra virgin olive oils. Arrange a tasting with friends, asking each person to bring a bottle, making sure that they are all di erent. This may include oil where

the producer has infused di erent herbs. Pour a little into a glass, cupping the glass with your hands to warm the oil, and then sni it. Drink

some sparkling water between tastings to cleanse your palate.

For a quick starter or light lunch, where extra virgin olive oil isamust,one of my favourite recipes is Italian Bruschetta

  • Ciabatta bread cut into thick slices
  • Large ripe beef tomato(s), the redder the better, chopped finely removing the centre pith
  • Garlic clove
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Salt & PepperPreheat the oven to 200o C. Put the slices on a tray and bake on both sides until the bread is a golden colour. Take out, and immediately rub the garlic over the hot bread so it sinks into the toast. Drizzle the olive oil over each slice. Stack the chopped tomato on top and finish with a leaf or two of basil. Drizzle over some more olive oil and season. Delicious eaten warm but can also be served cold.The Magazine Connection is a group of four high quality magazines delivered to 23500 homes on the North Hampshire/Surrey borders. Designed to help local businesses promote their products/services to residents the magazines (the first of which was published in 2005) have a truly local feel, with local photos on the covers and lots of Community Content. They also include interesting articles among which is a regular column “Food Trends” written by Natasha Blair.
Posted in Food | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Giacometti Retrospective Opens at the Tate Modern

Giacometti Retrospective Opens at the Tate Modern

An exhibition of works by Albert Giacometti opens today Wednesday, 10 May at the Tate Modern. Considered one of the great sculptors of the 20th century this is the first large scale retrospective of his work in the United Kingdom for twenty years. As well as the bronze figures for which he is largely associated there are also plaster sculptures, decorative objects, portraits and drawings.
Giacometti’s distinctive elongated figures are some of the most instantly recognizable works of modern art. A number of items on display have not been seen before including key plaster sculptures which have undergone extensive restoration and which provide a new perspective on Giacometti’s working methods.

Born in Switzerland in 1901, he moved to Paris in the 1920s where he became engaged with Cubism and latterly joined the Surrealist Group. He subsequently became interested in scale and perspective and began to work on much smaller sculptures in a more realistic style. Part of the Avant Garde movement, his works move seamlessly from decorative to fine art. Each room has a different focus.

One room has small sculptures created in his hotel bedroom in Switzerland where he set up a studio during the war. Another focuses on portraits demonstrating his intensely observed images of the human face and figure. A film shows him at work in his studio in Paris.

The exhibition finishes on 10 September 2017.
Look out for events relating to the exhibition
Tel. 020 7887 8888
Open 10.00 to 18.00 and until 22.00 Friday and Saturday
Adult £18.00 Concession £16.50
Tate Modern, Eyal Ofer Gallieries (Nearest tube Southwark)

Posted in Art, Culture, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment