Saturday 27 April 2013

Norman Parkinson Exhibition at the National Theatre, the South Bank

A free exhibition of a ground-breaking fashion photographer's best work, Lifework: Norman Parkinson's Century of Style features scores of memorable photos. It includes iconic images from the 1950, such as the Art of Travel, showing a smartly-dressed woman crossing a Nairobi airfield and New York, New York, which depicts a couple running towards the camera, against a backdrop of skyscrapers. Extended to May 27th, many of the highly-stylised images, which are a mixture of black and white and colour, feature famous people, including The Beatles, David Bowie and Richard Burton, in engaging poses. There is also an unusually natural photo of the Queen with her Mum and her sister.  If you are near the South Bank, you should stop by the National Theatre. 7/10

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Bloomsbury Square Gardens, central London

One of London's more picturesque garden squares, Bloomsbury Square is home to some beautiful and well preserved four-storey Georgian terraces. Although the entire eastern side of the square is occupied by the slightly-Orwellian Victoria House - a handsome, but forbidding, neo-classical office building dating from the early twentieth century. On a summer lunchtime, the square's inviting lawns fill with office workers and students. On the north side, is a bronze statue of an eighteenth century whig politician who oddly has his back to most of the square. 8/10

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Grosvenor Street, Mayfair, London

Paved with gold? Grosvenor Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Mayfair, one of London's smartest districts, gleams in the late afternoon sunshine.

Friday 12 April 2013

EasyJet, Luton to Tel Aviv

EasyJet's flights to Tel Aviv leave from Luton - probably London's grimmest airport. When you check-in online, you should consider paying for an extra legroom seat for this five hour flight. In any case, aim for a window seat as you can get some fine views of the Greek coastline and its islands. But don't bother paying for speedy boarding - seats are allocated anyway. It is best to avoid the lengthy baggage drop queues by only taking hand-luggage, as the security checks at Luton tend to be under-manned and slow. When you finally make it to the gate, you might be approached by EasyJet staff and asked to put your hand baggage in the hold - they sometimes do this if the flight is full. But make sure you take on some food and drink, as the refreshments on board aren't great. In early April, the plane can be packed with families of orthodox Jews who may stand in the aisle mid-flight to pray. There is no in-flight entertainment system, so make sure you bring plenty to read.

Shalom Hotel & Relax, Hayarkon St, Tel Aviv, Israel

Situated on a busy road and with a boxy design, the oddly-named Shalom Hotel and Relax doesn't look  that promising from the outside. But it is actually a stylish boutique hotel, tastefully decorated and furnished in soothing shades of white with arty French prints on the walls. The largish rooms feel luxurious - the carpet (and the glazing) is thick, the duvet is soft, the furniture is solid and the safe and television are up-to-date. When you arrive, a platter of exotic nibbles - dates, nuts and the like - will be waiting for you in your room. The free WiFi can be fast, but you sometimes get kicked off, presumably if it is overloaded. Although the air conditioning is loud, it is very effective - the room can be very chilly by the morning. In the en-suite bathroom, there is a trendy square sink and a raindrop shower. But the hotel's best features have to be the breakfast and the roof-top terrace with its tasteful wooden decking and views of the Mediterranean and the towers of Tel Aviv. 

Belle & Antoine, Ben Yehuda, Tel Aviv, Israel‎

An appealing cafe-bar on a fairly busy junction in the heart of Tel Aviv, Belle & Antoine is housed in a distinctive red building with an outside terrace enclosed by a row of pot plants. The menu is fairly simple, but the food is fresh and competently-prepared. For a starter, the sardines and parmesan bruschetta is a good bet, but there isn't quite as much flavour as you might expect. For a main course, the very creamy gnocchi is excellent - if you are hungry, be sure to order some bread to mop up the sauce. But many of Belle & Antoine's punters seem more interested in the wine than the food - the bar keeps a decent selection from Israeli vineyards. And they seem to be consistently good, unlike some of those served in the more grungy parts of Tel Aviv. If you prefer hops to grapes, you can order a strong Paulaner wheat beer in a 330ml bottle. And if your party spends enough, one of the statuesque waitresses, which look like moonlighting models, may bring you a complimentary shot glass of limoncello each. 7/10

Gan-haAtsmaut (the Independence Garden), Tel Aviv, Israel

A small, but picturesque, park, Gan-haAtsmaut (the Independence Garden) is situated just north of Tel Aviv's Hilton hotel. It packs a lot into a compact space - the garden boasts exercise equipment, a children's playground, eye-catching sculptures, manicured lawns, jogging trails and space-age lamp-posts.  Although it was first opened in 1952, it appears to have had a major face-lift in recent years. Gan-haAtsmaut is reputed to be popular with gay tourists, but straight visitors to Tel Aviv should also come and see the fine views of the city's bays and marina. 7/10

Sebastian, Maskit, Herzliya, Israel‎

Images from Sebastian's web site
A large and lively restaurant in a business district about 20 minutes drive north of Tel Aviv, Sebastian has been artfully decorated to create the look and feel of a venerable establishment you might find in a ancient European city. It has high ceilings, dark wooden panelling, stylish prints and an impressively large racks of wines. Sebastian is known for its veal schnitzel (72 shekels or about 13 pounds), but the generous and juicy entrecote steak (114 shekels or about 21 pounds) is also a good bet. The seafood risotto is equally excellent. It has a sharp citrus tang, which really brings out the flavours of the fresh prawns and mussels. However, the sashimi can lack flavour.  There is a fairly extensive wine list. The Israeli Chardonnay (128 shekels a bottle) is light and crisp or you might play it safe with a bottle of Becks beer (21 shekels for 330 ml). Service by the chatty staff, which look natty in their white shirts, is attentive and friendly. 8/10

Sunday 7 April 2013

Cliveden, Taplow, Buckinghamshire

Surely one of the most extensive and evocative National Trust properties in the south east of England, Cliveden's varied and verdant 365 acres must warrant almost a day of your time. Start by walking the long, straight and wide driveway leading down from the Fountain of Love to the elegant Italianate mansion, which dates from the mid-1800s.  Now run as an upmarket hotel, the grand three storey house  dwarfs the lines of smart cars outside the main entrance. The stately centrepiece is flanked by two substantial wings, one with an attractive tower hosting a large blue clock, embellished with an elaborate gold frame. The rows of classical windows and balustrades strike the right balance between fussy detail and clean lines.