Lockdown walks in London (Winter/Spring 2021)

hampstead heath

Hampstead Heath, 28th Dec 2020

 

It is January 2023, and I have not updated my blog for about 2 years. Although a lot has happened in the past three years, everything seems like a blur to me now. How did I pass my time during the lockdown days? When did the lockdown end? I don’t recall much now. Luckily, I did take many photos during that surreal period, and now I am looking at them trying to recall my weekly activities. After being stuck in Hong Kong for most of 2020, I returned to the U.K. at the beginning of Dec 2020, just days before the second/ third lockdown was announced by Boris Johnson. In hindsight, I would not have returned if I had known that there would be another lockdown. However, I was lucky to have missed the initial lockdowns in 2020, and only had to endure four months of lockdown in London, which turned out to be not as challenging as I had imagined.

 

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath  hampstead heath

winter

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

Hampstead Heath from winter to spring

 

For months, I did not take any public transport and I walked everywhere. I walked to Camden Town, Hampstead Heath, Paddington, Oxford Street, Regent street, Covent Garden, Kings Cross etc. I saw a London that I have never seen before – deserted. Yet it enabled me to appreciate the city’s beautiful architecture, especially around Oxford Street. Perhaps the hardest part for me during the lockdown was not being able to meet up with friends (apart from a couple who live near me), and I had to rely on the weekly farmers’ market for some human interactions (not via zoom or Facetime). And over the few months, I became rather obsessed with cooking – though as much as I enjoyed creating new dishes, I was completely sick of eating my own cooking by the end of the lockdown.

 

primrose hill

primrose hill

primrose hill

primrose hill

Primrose Hill

 

Walking around London during the lockdown made me notice the surroundings more – I started to see all the architectural details that I had missed in the past. Usually I would not look up while walking down Oxford Street as I am more concerned with avoiding the crowds around me. Yet without crowds or heaps of tourists, I was able to saunder down the streets and appreciate the historic architecture in the city.

 

Regent's Park

Regent's Park  Regent's Park

Regent's Park

regent's park

Regent’s Park

 

Oxford Street and Camden market are places that I would normally avoid as I don’t really like crowded places. However, during the lockdown, it gave me joy to wander through the empty (and rather eerie) Camden market. Meanwhile I also felt sympathetic towards the shops and businesses, and was particularly sad to see my favourite eateries/cafes in the neighbourhood close down due to the pandemic.

 

chalk farm

camden town  camden town

camden town

regent's canal

camden tow

camden town

camden town

Camden Town and Regent’s canal

 

At the end of winter, Hampstead Heath and Regent’s park were becoming as packed as Bond Street before the pandemic, and I started to change my walking routes. Instead of going to parks, I did more walks along the Regent’s canal. I headed east towards Kings Cross and west towards Paddington along the canal… these walks lasted only a few hours but they were uplifting especially on a clear and sunny day.

 

kings cross

kings cross

Kings Cross’s Coal Drops Yard

 

Two years on, it seems unlikely that we will experience another lockdown soon (fingers crossed), and what I miss most about that period is the sounds of nature ( like birds chirping while walking down the streets) and cleaner air. The pandemic made many of us (city dwellers) evaluate our relationships with nature and our cities. It is hardly surprising that many Londoners decided to move to the countryside during/ after the pandemic. Nature has healing power, which is why so many of us turned to nature during an anxious and unpredictable period.

 

abbey road  abbey road

covid

Little venice

Little venice

paddington

paddington

paddington

Top: Abbey Road; Second: Maida Vale; 3rd & 4th: Little Venice; 5th to bottom: Paddington

 

According to a report commissioned by the City of London Corporation, London is the greenest major city in Europe and the third greenest city of its size in the world. The metropolis contains 35,000 acres of public parks, woodlands and gardens, hence 40% of its surface area is made up of publicly accessible green space. Our public green space is precious, and I hope Londoners will continue to cherish and protect it.

 

london  bbc

regent street

carnaby street  carnaby street

oxford street

riba  riba

Regent Street, Carnaby Street, Oxford Street; Bottom: RIBA

 

mosque

img_5138

img_5153

img_5162

img_5169

Top: The London Central Mosque; Regent’s Park’s Outer Circle

 

covent garden

covent garden

Covent garden

 

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

A long walk around Chorleywood and Hertfordshire in spring

Blackberry Hills – a tranquil eco resort in Munnar

blackberry hills resort

 

I was due to leave India for Hong Kong after the Aranya conference at the end of February, but at the time, COVID-19 was starting to spread in Hong Kong, hence I decided to prolong my trip at the last minute. Luckily, the airline did not charge me for the change due to the circumstances. Looking back, I guess I was extremely fortunate because there were very few cases in India then, and I managed to enjoy another 2 weeks traveling around Kerala.

Since I was feeling quite exhausted after the conference, I wanted to relax and recuperate in Munnar for an extra few days. There are a numerous resorts in Munnar and it was not easy to pick one. After a bit of research, I booked the eco-friendly Blackberry Hills nature resort and spa, which is about 20 mins’ drive from the town centre.

Built on the slope of a hill, the resort offers a magnificent views of the Western Ghats. I knew I had picked the right place when I saw the surroundings and view.

 

blackberry hills resort  blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

 

There are 16 cottages over 15 acres of land, and the hotel kindly upgraded me to a larger room with sitting area and a balcony facing a mini forest. This balcony was where I spent most of my time, and it was probably the most tranquil spot during my journey.

Every morning I would hear birds chirping and chatting to each other, which was a joy. In the afternoon, I also saw two Malabar Giant Squirrels (Ratufa indica) jumping from one tree to another. I haven’t stayed at other resorts in Munnar, but I think this resort is perfect for nature-lover and the eco-conscious travellers.

 

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort  blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

Malabar Giant Squirrel

 

There is one restaurant at the resort, which serves Indian and international dishes. The view from the restaurant is splendid, and you can easily enjoy a long lunch here. There is also afternoon tea tasting session where guests can taste different types of tea like green tea, cardonmon tea and masala chai etc.

 

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort

 

Besides the stunning environment, I also enjoying chatting to the friendly and hospitable staff. When I asked the manager about an odd-looking fruit growing within the resort’s grounds, he said he wasn’t sure but would find out for me. A day later, after enquiring his botanist friend, he told me that the fruit is called tropical soda apple (solanum viarum). Interestingly, it is is a perennial shrub native to Brazil and Argentina, and an invasive species. The colours of the golf-ball-sized fruit resembles a watermelon, but it is toxic. Yet no one has any idea how this South American plant end up growing in India…

 

blackberry hills resort  blackberry hills resort

blackberry hills resort  tropical soda apple (solanum viarum)

 

The resort occupies an entire mountain side, and there is a trekking trail that leads all the way down to the nearby village cum tea plantation called Attukad. However, due to hot weather, I abandoned trekking downhill and opted for a late afternoon walk westwards recommended by the restaurant manager. He told me that there is a great sunset spot about 45 mins’ walk west of the resort, and he was right. The sun setting behind the tea plantations and mountain was truly beautiful.

After extending an extra night, I ended up spending 4 nighs at the resort, which enabled me to recuperate fully. I believe that nature has healing powers, hence being surrounded by trees and mountains worked wonders for me, and I was very energised after my stay.

 

munnar  munnar

munnar

munnar

munnar

munnar

munnar

munnar

munnar

 

Kerala Folklore Museum in Kochi

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum  kerala folklore museum

 

When I was doing my research on Kochi before my trip, I wasn’t too bothered about visiting the main attractions, but one museum was written on my to-go list. If you are interested in architecture, ethnology, history, folk arts and crafts, then don’t forgo the Kerala Folklore Museum.

Upon arrival, you are likely to be intrigued by the museum’s striking traditional architecture, which comprises the reconstruction of around 25 traditional, heritage buildings dismantled from different parts of Kerala. This huge architectural installation is based on 3 architectural schools of Kerala namely Malabar architecture, Cochin & Travancore architectural schools. The whole wooded structure was completed with the help of 62 traditional carpenters over a period of 7.5 years.

 

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum  kerala folklore museum

 

It is hard to believe that the 3-storey building houses an impressive private collection of only one art dealer, George J Thaliath (1961-2018). For 35 years, Thaliath traveled around the Indian sub continent to study traditional Indian art. During this period, he also started his collection, which eventually accumulated to over 5000 artifacts spanning 10 centuries and primarily from Kerala. The vast collection includes furniture, stone, wood and bronze sculptures, ancient terracotta, Stone Age objects, pottery, jewellery, paintings, textiles, oil lamps, swords, musical instruments, tribal and folk art, wood works, utensils, masks and puppets etc.

Opened in 2009, Thaliath and his wife created this treasure trove aiming to preserve the rich heritage and traditions of South Indian culture. It also includes a theatre, antique and textiles shops and cafe. The museum attracted much public attention when architecture-lover, Prince Charles and Camilla paid a visit in 2013.

 

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum  kerala folklore museum

 

As I wandered around the museum, I was quite overwhelmed (positively) by the array of the artifacts and craftsmanship. There was so much to see here, and it was hard to absorb everything in one visit. I didn’t feel like I was inside a museum, it felt more like a massive antique/vintage shop, which made me feel at ease.

 

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum  kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum  kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum  kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

 

Since this museum is located in Ernakulam and not near other tourist attractions, it is best to order a taxi/uber to get here. However, it is really worth the time and effort as you are unlikely to find a museum like this elsewhere in Kerala.

 

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

kerala folklore museum

 

 

Cooking & homestay on Vypin Island, Kochi

Vypin island chinese fishing nets

Chinese fishing nets at Vypin Island

 

I think the rise of Airbnb has contributed to how we travel these days. Now even traditional b & b and homestay have opted to list their accommodations on Airbnb to increase competitiveness. I have had both positive and negative experiences using Airbnb, and the negative experiences did leave a bitter taste in my mouth, which made me more cautious than before.

Nowaways, many of of us prefer to travel independently and connect with the locals; we want authentic experiences and hang out in non-touristy areas. Occasionally I would join specialised guided tours (like the textiles tour in Gujarat last year), but most of the time, I would plan my own itineraries, which does have some ups and downs as well. Sometimes I don’t necessary pick the most convenient accommodations, but I do get to see how the locals live, which I think makes the trip more interesting.

After one night in Fort Kochi, I moved to an island opposite called Vypin/Vypeen, which is a residential area reachable by ferries and a few bridges. Actually there is not much to see on Vypin Island, but if you want to get away from the tourists in Fort Cochin, then Vypin may be right for you. Fort Kochi and Ernakulam are accessible by commuter ferries, which operate daily and are fairly frequent.

 

ferry Vypin kochi

ferry Vypin kochi

ferry Vypin kochi

ferry Vypin kochi

ferry Vypin kochi

Commuter ferries to Fort Kochi and Ernakulam

 

On the island, there are some homestays and one of them is a 2-room homestay called Bungalow Heritage Homestay, which is a 1930s heritage home built by the owner, Neema‘s father. The main attraction for me was the cooking class offered by Neema, as I was keen to learn about South Indian cooking. Neema is a passionate cook and she even has a Youtube channel where she shares her recipes and cooking tips.

Since Neema‘s husband was a Captain on Merchant ships, which meant that their family has sailed around the world, and their home is filled with nautical decorations and items. Even the rooms are named after the world’s greatest explorers, Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus. As I was the only guest there during the two nights, Neema upgraded me to a bigger room and even invited me to her relative’s birthday party next door. It was interesting to meet her extended family and chat to the locals who were all very hospitable.

 

img_6709-min

Bungalow Heritage Homestay

img_6649-min  img_6652-min

Bungalow Heritage Homestay

img_6641-min  img_6650-min

Bungalow Heritage Homestay

 

img_6693-min

Inside a relative’s home

 

Another positive aspect of homestay is that breakfasts are never dull! I am not a fan of many hotels’ breakfast buffets, so I appreciated Neema’s homecooked breakfasts featuring a variety of local dishes. I don’t usually eat spicy food for breakfasts, but when I travel to hot places, eating spicy food for breakfasts suddenly becomes quite appealing.

 

kerala breakfast

kerala breakfast

kerala breakfast

Homecooked breakfasts

 

My cooking class took place in the afternoon, and I learnt to cook five local south Indian dishes using fresh spices from Neema‘s kitchen. The dishes I learnt are not complicated, but various spices are required in all dishes. After eating at different restaurants in Fort Kochi, I do think that my (Neema‘s)  homecooked meal was the best I have had so far!

 

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

 

Although there isn’t much to see on this island, you can enjoy a laidback stroll along the waterfront to see the Chinese fishing nets. Since there are no tourists here, you can watch the fishermen at work and take many good shots.

 

Vypin island

Vypin island chinese fishing nets

Vypin island chinese fishing nets

vypin

vypin

vypin

flowers vypin

flowers vypin

 

Like in most part of Kochi, churches and shrines are conspicuous… By the ferry terminal is the Roman Catholic Our Lady of Hope Church (Igreja Da Nossa Senhora Da Esperança), one of the oldest churches in Kochi built by the Portuguese in 1605. The church was renovated in 2005, which explains why it looks fairly polished. I visited the church early in the morning in between the masses, so it was empty and very peaceful.

 

Our Lady of Hope Church

Our Lady of Hope Church

Church of Our Lady of Hope

Church of Our Lady of Hope  church door

Our Lady of Hope Church

 

Besides the small churches and shrines, there is a large pilgrimage centre on the nearby Bolgatty Island called The Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom/Vallarpadam Church. This is an important prilgrimage site in India and around one million people visit the Basilica every year. Originally built in 1524, the former churcn was destroyed by heavy flood, and a new church was reconstructed in 1676. It became famous after a miracle happened in 1752 when the lives of two devotees were saved from a violent storm. In 1888, the church was declared as a special church by Pope Leo XIII and later the Union Government stated it as a major pilgrim centre. I didn’t have the time to visit the church, but took a photo of it when the taxi drove past it (see below).

 

dsc_0732-min

vypin

img_6856-min  img_6855-min

img_6710-min

Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom

Bottom: Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom

 

I think two nights on this island was enough; it offered me a different perspective and I enjoyed the tourist-free time. If sightseeing is not your main priority, then I do recommend a short relaxing stay on this island.

 

architecture vypin

vypin

vypin

vypin

 

 

 

Colonial architecture and churches in Kochi

St Francis fort Kochi

St Francis Church

 

I love architecture and I am particularly fascinated by colonial style architecture. In Fort Kochi, you are likely to encounter numerous built in Dutch and Portuguese styles, including many beautiful Portuguese churches and cathedral.

Heritage hotels

I chose to spend the first night at a mid-range 3-star heritage hotel by the Chinese fishing nets called The Tower House. The hotel is on the site of a 17th century lighthouse, but there is no sight of the lighthouse now. I love the colonial style interiors and furnishings here, but I do think it needs to be updated and better maintained.

 

The Tower House

The tower house

The Tower House

The Tower House

The Tower House

The Tower House

The tower house

The Tower House

The Tower House

 

There are many mid-range heritage hotels and guesthouses in Kochi, as well as some more upmarket ones like Forte Kochi, Old Lighthouse Bristow Hotel, Brunton Boatyard, The Malabar House, and Ginger House Museum Hotel etc.

 

forte hotel

Forte Kochi Hotel  Forte Kochi Hotel

Forte Kochi Hotel

 

Brunton Boatyard fort kochi

Brunton Boatyard

 

ginger house

ginger hosuse

ginger house

ginger house

Ginger House Museum Hotel

 

Churches

I have lost count of the numbers of churches I saw in Kochi – you are bound to pass by one in every corner. One of the most famous one is Saint Francis CSI Church, originally built in 1503 by the Portuguese, it is the first European church built in India. The original church structure was made of wood, but rebuilt with bricks in 1516 and dedicated to St. Antony. Over the next few centuries, the church was restored by the Dutch in 1779, then another extensive restoration was carried out by the British between 1886-87. After that, the British/Anglicans dedicated the church to St. Francis.

The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died in Kochi in 1524 on his third visit to India. His body was originally buried in this church, but after fourteen years his remains were moved to Lisbon by his son, Padre da Silva de Gama. Though the gravestone of Vasco da Gama can still be seen at the church.

I really like the calm ambience and exterior – which reminds me so much of Portugal. It just felt a bit surreal to see this Portuguese style church in India.

 

St Francis CSI Church

St. Francis CSI Church

St. Francis CSI Church

St. Francis CSI Church

St Francis CSI Church

 

Not far from the St. Francis Church is The Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica, one of the eight Basilicas in India. This basilica serves as the cathedral church of the Diocese of Cochin, the second oldest Diocese of India. The history of Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica also dates back to the sixteenth century and its foundation stone was laid on May 3, 1505, the feast day of the ‘Invention of the Holy Cross’, hence the church was named Santa Cruz. However, the original Portuguese structure was later destroyed by the British, and the current structure was consecrated in 1905.

This Basilicas is more imposing and grander than most of the churches in Kochi, featuring a main altar decorated by the famous Italian painter Fr Antonio Moscheni, S.J., and his disciple De Gama of Mangalore. There are also columns decorated with frescoes and murals, seven large canvas paintings on the passion and death on the Cross, large stained glass windows and paintings on the ceiling.

 

Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica

Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica

Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica

dsc_0603   dsc_0605

Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica

Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica

 

St. Andrews Parish Hall

St. Andrews Parish Hall

St. Andrews Parish Hall

 

Other sights

A tranquil sight hidden from the main street is the Bishop’s House, which was originally built as the residence of the Portuguese Governor in 1506. After that, it became the possession of the Dutch, then the British, and in 1888, Dom Jos Gomes Ferreira, the 27th bishop of the diocese of Kochi acquired it and made it the Bishop’s House.

My intention was to visit the Indo Portuguese Museum located within the grounds of the Bishop’s House, but I found myself being enchanted by the tropical garden and plants, the colonial architecture and peaceful setting.

 

Bishop's House at Fort Kochi

Bishop's House at Fort Kochi

Bishop's House at Fort Kochi

Bishop's House at Fort Kochi Bishop's House at Fort Kochi

Bishop's House at Fort Kochi  Bishop's House at Fort Kochi

Bishop's House at Fort Kochi

Bishop’s House

 

After lingering around the garden for a while, I walked towards the museum at the back. At the ticket office, the ticketing staff started to talk about the history of the museum and he just went on and on… I was listening to him for about 10-15 mins and decided to get away as I realised that he could go on for hours. Oddly enough, there was no one at the museum during my visit, and it didn’t take me too long to finish the ‘grand’ tour of the museum.

I was a bit disappointed with this museum and it wasn’t because of its small size or contents. There are some interesting Catholic and Portuguese artefacts at the museum, but there is not enough written information and history about these items. Without a guide, it is hard to understand the significance of these items, and I think a small leaflet would also be helpful if they want to attract more visitors here.

One intriguing fact I did learn from the talkative staff is that there is supposed to be an underground tunnel that connects the building to the old fort by the sea. But since the cellars are constantly flooded, no one is allowed to go into the tunnel now. Howvever, I couldn’t find any information online about this… Fact or fiction? It is up to you to decide.

 

portuguese museum fort kochi

Portuguese museum Fort Koch

Portuguese museum Fort Kochi

img_6464

Portuguese museum Fort Koch

Portuguese museum Fort Koch  Portuguese museum Fort Koch

Indo Portuguese Museum

 

Personally, one of my favourite places in town is David Hall Art Cafe. After seeing so many Portuguese architecture, it is refreshing to see a beautiful Dutch bungalow. Built around 1695 by the Dutch East India Company, it was the residence of the renowned Dutch governor, Hendrick Adrian Van Rheede tot Drakestein. However, the building gets its name from a later occupant, a Jewish businessman called David Koder.

The building hasn’t been altered much over the centuries, and you can still see the the wooden roof which is made of flat face rafters. I love the wooden beams and high ceiling inside the building, as well as the relaxing garden. The premise now runs as a contemporary art gallery, cultural venue & café, and I would definitely want to spend more time here on my next viist.

 

david hall Fort Kochi

david hall Fort Kochi

david hall Fort Kochi

dsc_0542-min

david hall Fort Kochi

david hall Fort Kochi

david hall Fort Kochi

David Hall Art Cafe CGH Earth

 

Since I didn’t have many days here, I only briefly visited the historic Mattancherry area, where it is known for 16th-century Mattancherry Palace built by the Portuguese in traditional Keralan style. I didn’t have enough time to visit the palace, but I did pay a visit to the nearby Paradesi Synagogue located in Jew Town.

Constructed in 1568, it is one of seven synagogues of the Malabar Yehudan or Yehudan Mappila people or Cochin Jewish community in the Kingdom of Cochin. The interior of the divine hall is quite dazzling as it is filled with glass chandeliers and lamps that date back to the 19th century imported from Belgium. The room is also filled with hand-painted blue willow patterned tiles. It is worth a visit if you are in the area, but no photography is allowed inside.

 

Mattancherry Palace

Paradesi Synagogue  Paradesi Synagogue

Mattancherry Palace & Paradesi Synagogue

 

There are many beautiful and unusual colonial and modernist houses and buildings in Fort Kochi, and I think you can see more on foot. If you love architecture, you would love wandering around here. My advice is to go early or late afternoon, otherwise, it would be too hot and humid.

 

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

kort Kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi   Fort Kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

 

Modernist

 

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ywca fort kochi

Fort Kochi Modernist

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Fort Kochi Modernist

Fort Kochi

 

Doors and windows

 

Fort Kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

fort kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi

windows

 

 

Forgotten Masterpieces: Indian Painting for the East India Company

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

Even though I am a regular art exhibition-goer in London, I often miss many excellent but less publicised exhibitions in town. Luckily, I did manage to see the rare and wonderful “Forgotten Masterpieces: Indian Painting for the East India Company” at The Wallace Collection before my travels to Asia.

Guest curated by renowned writer and historian William Dalrymple, the exhibition is the first in the UK to showcase 100 artworks by Indian master painters commissioned by East India Company officials –ranging from botanists and surgeons, through to diplomats, artists, governors and judges, and their wives – in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (1770 to 1840). These Indian artists include Shaikh Zain ud-Din, Bhawani Das, Shaikh Mohammad Amir of Karriah, Sita Ram and Ghulam Ali Khan, who were all uncredited for their intricate artworks. Until now.

The exhibition explores the four main centres of what has traditionally been described as ‘Company School’ painting: Calcutta and Lucknow, where provincial Mughal painters from Murshidabad, Patna and Faizabad were employed; Madras and Tanjore, where artists from the South Indian traditions received patronage; and Delhi, where Imperial Mughal artists created some of the finest works of this period. India’s natural world appeared to be a popular subject for the British officials at the time.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

After I started to do botianical illustrations as a hobby in recent years, I became very interested in botanical art. Hence I was immediately drawn to all the bold and meticulous botanical paintings of Indian flora at the exhibition. There is a timelessness feel to these paintings, and you could easily see them being transferred to wallpaper or fabric and sold at House of Hackney to trendy East Londoners.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

The fauna paintings are equally interesting. I particularly liked the study of “Great Indian Fruit Bat” (around 1777-82) by a well-known Indian artist Bhawani Das, who was trained in Mughal miniature painting and commissioned by Sir Elijah Impey, Chief Justice of Bengal (1774–1782), and his wife, Lady Mary, to make extensive natural history studies at their estate in Calcutta. I have never liked bats, but the paintings are so intriguing that I found it hard to move away from them.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

Aside from the natural world, another highlight was the painstaking architectural drawings of India’s manmade wonders including the Taj Mahal. I felt like asking for a magnifying glass in order to study these drawings! These drawings were done by an unknown artist (possibly Sheikh Mohammed Latif), and each drawing showcases the detailed ornamental patterns and calligraphy on the facades of the buildings. I am not sure if such drawing techniques and craftsmanship still exists today – these works are immaculate and priceless.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

The exhibition also displays masterpieces from the famous Fraser Album for the first time since the album was broken up and sold in the 1980s. Fraser Album is a collection of paintings documenting various aspects of Mughal life, made between 1815 and 1819, commissioned by a British Indian civil servant, William Fraser. The last court painter of the Mughal empire, Ghulam Ali Khan, was commissioned to illustrate Mughal life using traditional techniques but with English watercolours on English paper. This fusion style is known today as the Company School. 

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

Of course this exhibition is not just about art; the exhibition is fascinating because of its Anglo-Indian history and context. Through these works, we could get a glimpse of the last days of the Mughal Empire, and appreciate the last phase of Indian artistic genius before photography and the influence of western colonial art schools – ended an unbroken tradition of painting going back two thousand years. From the exhibition, we could see that the commissioned Indian artists not only responded to European influences, they also maintained their own artistic visions and styles, therefore these works are truly original and remarkable. Sadly, the vast array of ‘fusion’ works produced during this period were largely forgotten by the world, which is why this exhibition could be seen as a late tribute to the ingenious Indian masters from that period.

 

Emmanuelle Moureaux’s ‘Slices of Time’ exhibition at Now Gallery

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

I have been a fan of Tokyo-based French architect Emmanuelle Moureaux and her colour-driven architecture for some time. Since 1996, she has been living in Tokyo where she established Emmanuelle Moureaux architecture + design in 2003. I have never actually seen Moureaux‘s architecture and installations in real life, so I was really looking forward to seeing her first art/design exhibition “Slices of time” in London.

Moureaux invented the concept of shikiri, which literally means ‘dividing (creating) space with colours’. She uses colours as three-dimensional elements, like layers, in order to create spaces, and her work ranges from art, design to architecture.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

Inspired by the location of the gallery, near the Greenwich Meridian, “Slices of Time expresses the past, the now and the future through 168,000 numbers cut out from paper. The cut-outs are hung in the gallery space, as a representation of the round earth floating. 100 layers of numbers in 100 shades of colours visualise the next 100 years to come (2020 to 2119), while 20 layers of numbers in white represent the past 20 years (2000 to 2019).

On the preview night, I headed to NOW Gallery on the Greenwich Peninsula, and a long queue had already formed outside of the gallery. At the door, we were assigned a timeslot and when it was our turn, we had to queue (again) outside of the exhibition area. We were allowed to walk around the installations for a short period before being hurried out to let the next group in.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

It was wonderful to see the striking installations from above and up close. I am also glad that the architect has chosen paper as her medium – the installation truly reveals the beauty and power of paper. I only wish that I was given more time to linger, but since I was going to be away for several months, this was the only opportunity for me to see the exhibition before leaving. And for those who don’t live in London, there are currently two other exhibitions being held in Taipei (“Forest of Numbers” ) and New York (“100 colors”) where visitors can be stimulated by vast array of colours.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux  Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

 

London’s new street food halls & markets

Flat Iron Square

Flat Iron Square in Southwark

 

Once upon a time, visitors to London used to tell me that London rarely changes, especially when you compare to cities in Asia. Well, you can’t really compare London to cities like Beijing or Shanghai, but as a Londoner, I feel that London has changed immensely over the last decade. Gentrifications around London has changed the city’s streetscape dramatically, and it is evolving quicker than people realise.

One of biggest trends in recent years is the rise of street food and outdoor street food markets. In terms of food market, Borough market is one of the largest and oldest in London, but it is also the busiest and most touristy one. Try visiting the market on a Saturday, and it is likely turn out to be an exhausting and off-putting experience. In 2010,  Maltby Street Market appeared under the railway arches in the nearby Bermondsey, and soon became a popular food market for many Londoners.

The team behind Kerb is also contributes to London’s thriving street food scene. Their King’s Cross street food market that started in 2012 was highly sucessful and subsequently, they opened four more outdoor street food markets at various locations across London. Now outdoor street food markets can be found in many local neighbourhoods, and Londoners are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options.

 

vinegar yard

vinegar yard

vinegar yard

Vinegar Yard near London Bridge station

 

Unlike London’s trend-driven food scene, street food has been prominent in Asia for decades. Night markets, food courts, and hawker centres are popular in many cities. I particularly love street food in Taiwan (my favourite are Tian Jin flaky scallion pancakes and oyster omelet), pad thai in Thailand (cheaper and better than the restaurants), popiah and chai tow kway at the hawker centres in Singapore. Prices are cheap and choices are endless.

Although I think street food in London is quite expensive compare to Asia, there are some interesting Asian street food stalls at the Old Spitalfields Market if you are craving for Asian street food. In 2017, the iconic East London market received a facelift and launched an indoor street food market called ‘The Kitchens’. I have visited this market a few times, and have tried a few dishes from various Asian vendours.

At Pleasant Lady, I tried their vegetarian jian bing (£6.8), a Chinese savoury crêpe with fillings, which was tasty and crispy but quite expensive as a snack. At Dumpling Shack, I tried their prawn wontons in chilli oil (£7.9) which was spicier than I expected, and rather expensive for the portion. The ‘best value’ dish was a fried fish lunch box from the Burmese stall Lahpet (now they have a restaurant in Bethnal Green), which reminded me of my trip to Myanmar a few years ago.

Besides the above, you can also find Yi Fang fruit tea and Wheelcake Island from Taiwan here.

 

spitalfields market

spitalfields market

dumpling shack

spitalfields market

Pleasant Lady

lahpet

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Yi Fang

Old Spitalfields market

 

After an explosion of outdoor street food markets over the last few years, street food markets have been gradually moving indoors. In 2018, the team behind Market Halls converted two abandoned buildings into bustling street food markets: Market Hall Fulham and Market Hall Victoria; and in November 2019, they opened UK’s biggest food hall at the former BHS building.

When my friend and her family came to visit from New York last year, I brought them to Market Hall Victoria on their first night in town. After trying out different restaurants and pub for the next few days, they suggested returning to the food hall again on their last night in town. They were extremely impressed with the simple and fresh pasta from Nonna Tonda, whereas I am fond of the authentic Malaysian food at Gopal’s Corner, which has the same owner as the super-popular Roti King in Euston. Since there is always a queue outside of Roti King, I would rather come here for my laksa or roti fix.

 

victoria

roti king

Market Hall Victoria

 

In Sept 2019, Kerb also opened its first indoor street food market in Covent Garden. The Seven Dials market now occupies the two-storey 21,000sq ft former banana warehouse on Earlham Street that used to be a shopping centre selling street fashion shops since the 1980s. The shopping centre lost its appeal in recent years, and shoppers were few and far between.

The idea to turn an uninspiring shopping centre into a food hall was a wise one. The bright and spacious market is inviting, and big enough for 25 traders, including street food stalls, a bar, a bookshop, and food producers’ stores on the ground floor. Out of the thirteen food stalls, I ordered a portion of salt and pepper squid with chips from Ink, a fish and chips stall. The batter was crisy and tasty, but not outstanding enough to make me return and reorder. I didn’t mind the communal tables, but I doubt you can have a decent conversation with friends if you come during the peak times. This market is likely to attract hipsters and tourists, so do be prepared to pay the ‘West End’ prices for your food and drinks.

 

seven dials market  seven dials market

seven dials market

seven dials market

 

If you want to eat street food in a more glamorous setting, then Mercato Metropolitano’s second street food market (the first one is in Elephant and Castle) is likely to impress. Mercato Mayfair is situated inside a Grade I listed, deconsecrated 19th century St. Mark’s church in Mayfair. It is celebrated as one of the finest examples of 19th century Greek revival architecture, and the market opened in November 2019 after a £5m restoration.

Even if you are not into expensive street food, it is still worth a trip to this market just to see its stunning interiors. Wandering around the church one afternoon, I saw pasta and pizzas being served on the ground floor, and upstairs, I saw my favourite Turkish dish – pide– being served at Lala, so I decided to give it a try. Normally, I would go to Mangal Pide in Dalston for this, but the upmarket version was a pleasant surprise, and the seating offered a grand view of the church’s interiors. The crust of the machine-made pide was crunchy and the filling ingredients tasted fresh; although it is more expensive than the Dalston version, I would come back for this if I am in the area. The beautiful setting is also a big draw for me, so I wouldn’t mind trying out other stalls in the future.

 

Mercato Mayfair  Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair  Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair  Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair

 

Novelty plays a key factor in the street food scene, therefore these markets have to keep changing in order to attract returning customers. I believe indoor food markets would attract more customers in the cold winter days, and judging from the current trend, we are likely to more of them popping up in different locations across the city in the future.

 

“Floating worlds: Japanese woodcuts” exhibition at Brighton Museum

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

 

I have visited exhibitions on Ukiyo-e (Japanese Woodblock prints) in Japan, France and London before, but never in Brighton. After reading some positive reviews on the “Floating Worlds: Japanese Woodcuts” exhibition at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, I decided to head to Brighton to see the exhibition before it ended.

Oddly enough, even though I have visited Brighton several times before, I have never been to the museum nor The Royal Pavilion. As I was approaching the museum located within the Royal Pavilion garden, I was immediately impressed by its architecture, which was built in a similar Indo-Saracenic style as the nearby Royal Pavilion.

 

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

 

Opened in 1873, the museum was one of the first purpose built museums in England. A major refurbishment costing £10 million took place in 2002, moving the entrance from Church Street to the Royal Pavilion garden, and its galleries redesigned with new interpretation.

The museum has a interesting collection of pottery, which was the collection of one of its founders. Henry Willett, a wealthy local brewer.  I was also surprised to see the 20th Century Art and design collection in the main gallery featuring artists and designers like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Eric Ravilious, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Grayson Perry etc.

 

brighton musuem  brighton musuem

brighton musuem

brighton musuem  brighton museum

brighton museum

brighton museum  brighton musuem

 

The ukiyo-e exhibition occupied two rooms upstairs, and it showcased woodblock prints from the Edo period (1615-1868), which are part of the museum’s collection. Guided by haiku poetry, the exhibition enabled visitors to learn more about lives in Edo ( Tokyo) through the exquisite prints.

The term ‘ukiyo-e’ literally means ‘pictures of the floating world’. The ‘floating world’ referred to the ‘pleasure quarters’ that were filled with teahouses, Kabuki theatres and licensed brothels in Japan’s cities during the Edo period. The hand-carved and hand-printed prints depict actors, courtesans and geisha, who became style icons of their day. I love the detailed patterns on the kimonos of the courtesans and geisha, which reveal the splendid craftsmanship of the period.

 

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img_5598-min   img_5590-min

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img_5592-min

 

Besides the ‘pleasure quarters’, the exhibition also explored the Hanakotoba, the Japanese language of flowers. Meanwhile, countryside and the transient seasons are common themes featured in ukiyo-e, alongside with Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji, which was illustrated either explicitly or implicitly in the background.

 

img_5600-min

img_5602-min

img_5603-min

 

Unlike the extremely crowded and overhyped Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum, I utterly enjoyed this low-key and wonderful exhibition. It is hard to appreciate an exhibition in a stressful environment (where people kept pushing, chatting and refusing to move), hence the quiet and spacious setting of this exhibition truly enabled visitors to appreciate the poetic quality of the prints. I only wish that the museum will showcase more of its ukiyo-e prints to the public in the future, because they are just too beautiful to be locked away.

 

brighton museum

Drawings by the visitors at the exhibition

 

Historic Colchester – the former capital of Roman Britain

Colchester Castle

 

Although Colchester is only 50 miles from London, I have never visited this historic market town before. Regarded as Britain’s oldest recorded town, it used to be the capital of Roman Britain, but it does not seem to attract as many visitors as Cambridge and Oxford. After visiting The Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmsmarket, I took the opportunity to trace its history and learn more about Roman Britain.

 

Colchester

colchester

Colchester   Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

 

The MUST-SEE sight in Colchester is the Grade I listed Colchester Castle, an imposing Norman Castle dating from 11th century. Built on the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius, Colchester Castle is the largest Norman keep in Europe. The museum displays artefacts up to 2,500 years old, from Celtic Britain, through Roman invasion and Boudiccan revolt, to Norman conquest and medieval life. Visitors can also see the prison cells in the basement.

Personally, I was fascinated by the Roman artefacts especially the beautiful mosaic floors. There is a large Middleborough Mosaic (made up of around 250,000 tesserae) on display dated to about AD150-175. It was laid inside a large villa in Middleborough outside of the town wall, and was discovered in 1979. Although it is damaged, you can still appreciate the design which features two wrestling cupids being observed by a bird in the centre, four sea creatures (hippocamps), and an acanthus scroll border with large flowers, heart-shaped fruits and four more birds.

This museum has a vast array of collection that includes pottery, vessels, armour, coins and jewellery etc; it is a gem not to be missed.

 

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester castle/museum

 

Hollytrees Museum

Colchester

Hollytrees Museum

 

Another interesting sight is the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory, founded about 1100, one of the first Augustinian priories in England. The building was badly damaged by cannon fire during the Civil War siege of 1648, yet it was never rebuilt. This is an example of early Norman architecture built in flint and reused Roman brick, and it still looks impressive with the remaining arches and piers.

 

Colchester St Botolph's Priory

Colchester st botolph's priory  Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory  Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

St Botolph’s Priory

 

Holy Trinity church is the oldest surviving Saxon building in Colchester. The Saxon-style tower has a triangular arch over the west door and features re-used Roman bricks. The tower dates to the mid-11th century, probably around AD1050, but the body of the church was built in 1349. The church was made redundant in 1956 and now not opened to the public.

 

Colchester trinity church

Colchester Church

Colchester

Holy Trinity church

 

The Minories Galleries houses a contemporary art gallery run by Colchester School of Art, part of Colchester Institute. The A listed Georgian building also has a shop selling arts and crafts made by local artists, as well as a Tiptree’ Tea Room with a spacious and relaxing garden.

 

Colchester Tiptree’ Tea Room

Colchester Tiptree’ Tea Room

Colchester Tiptree’ Tea Room

Colchester The Minories Galleries

The Minories Galleries & Tiptree’ Tea Room

 

Honestly, I was rather surprised to see a contemporary art institue in the middle of this historic town. Designed by starchitect Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly (also known for his car-melting Walkie-Talkie building in London), the conspicuous gold metal structure looks a bit out of place here. Built in 2011, the controversial Firstsite took 8 years to build and costed £28 million (!). It has received criticism for its sloping walls and failing to attract footfall. When I visited the venue, there were only a few visitors, which felt quite strange… However, I was impressed to see the Berryfield Mosaic reinstalled at its original site after it was unearthed in 1923 and moved to the Colchester Castle. Dating from around AD200, the mosaic originally formed part of the dining room floor of a wealthy Roman townhouse; its design features a central rose motif surrounded by four panels depicting sea monsters chasing dolphins.

 

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Berryfield Mosaic

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester FirstsiteColchester Firstsite

Firstsite

 

Due to time contraint, I didn’t have enough time to visit more places, but I had a good time and would want to explore more around this part of the UK in the future.