Mike Raanhuis (1975) is an independent Dutch journalist and photographer for ad agencies, (digital) magazines and various companies. Using evocative images to back up his words and vice versa, Mike captures the purity of people and nature in unique reports. See also www.miketekstenbeeld.nl.
The steering wheel of my rented Polo is on the right but I have to drive on the left hand side of the road! That always takes a while to get used to, especially in a bustling city like London, but I’m soon on my way to my first location in the city centre. The classy district of Kensington is the ideal base from which to explore London and I’m staying at a lovely bed & breakfast in a row of stately Victorian houses.
Golfing in the heart of London
Not entirely unexpected, it’s raining cats and dogs. Perfect golfing weather in other words! I make some inquiries and discover ‘Urban Golf’ right on Kensington High Street, where advanced simulators allow you to play world famous greens such as St. Andrews and Pebble Beach. Tee off, let the ball hit the screen and the computer’s virtual course takes over. It’s a fascinating and addictive game, and even pros regularly visit Urban Golf to practice their swing.
It’s amazing how easily I can manoeuvre the compact Volkswagen through the crowded London traffic. With the satnav on my windscreen, I drive from one location to the next in no time at all. If you’d rather use public transport, Bus 12 offers an excellent alternative. For only £2.00 this line will take you to various landmarks such as Trafalgar Square, 10 Downing Street and Oxford Circus for much less than the (expensive) tourist buses.
Lost Property Office
My next destination is really special. The Lost Property Office saves all the items left in buses, taxis and on the underground. Ranging from dentures and irons to mobile phones and breast implants (!), all items are labelled and stored until collected by their rightful owner. More often than not, however, they are never picked up at all so the service has a unique collection of lost & found items dating back as far as 1933. It makes for a truly unique place to visit!
Smallest cinema and London jazz
My next hotspot is located south of London in the Belham district. Here you’ll find the city’s tiniest cinema, The Exhibit, and the second smallest in the whole UK, with room for just 24 people. The location mainly attracts 20 or 30-somethings who enjoy watching art-house films for just £7.00 snuggled up on leather two-seater settees. With the sound and HD projector being of the highest quality, I heartily recommend a viewing.
I end my first day in rainy London with a visit to Club 606, and the tip I received from a musician in a local pub turns out to be a great one. After getting slightly lost around Chelsea Harbour I eventually find a door with an intercom and descend into a basement full of musical instruments and jazz musicians. Club 606 is a place where jazz icons gather to jam for an exclusive crowd; even Jamie Cullum has performed here, and he described Club 606 as London’s best music venue. A must-visit!
Most shops in Neal's Yard sell organic, macrobiotic or natural products, and it is the perfect place to relax with a ‘cuppa’ between shopping or visiting the city’s sites. Make sure you go into the tiny building that advertises a 'Walk-in Backrub' to enjoy a ten-minute chair massage that will make you feel reborn. Trust me, I know!
Hidden Gem: Neal's Yard
As usual I get up early on day two of my trip. Whenever I travel I feel restless and want to explore the city and its hidden treasures as soon as I can. Number one on my list today is a place unknown to many Londoners. Tucked away near Covent Garden, Neal's Yard is without a doubt the most colourful spot in the city. With its bright yellow, grass-green, ocean-blue and candy cane-pink coloured buildings, the alley radiates a wonderful sense of spring.
London’s best chocolate
More to my taste than Westfield is a tiny shop called Melange Chocolate, in the southeast of London. According to the experts it has the best chocolate in London. The French owner is known for experimenting with eccentric flavour combinations, such as coriander and grapefruit or lavender and lime. Delicious! Another thing you simply must try is the hot chocolate - pure, liquid cocoa extravagance.
Speaking of delicious, instead of eating too much chocolate save some space for the delicacies at l'Art du Fromage. As the name suggests this restaurant is a homage to cheese, including a cheeseboard with 15 types that have to be eaten in a specific order. Enjoy your meal!
Trip down memory lane...
I have found and visited all the places I wanted to visit, including the Museum of Brands, a hidden treasure in an alley in Notting Hill. It exhibits around 12,000 items from Robert Opie, including every-day products, packaging, toys and games collected over the past half century. A real trip down memory lane, the museum takes you on a nostalgic journey accompanied by a detailed explanation from the founder/collector himself.
The roots of Roald Dahl
After all my urban exploration, it is time to visit a hidden treasure outside of London. My final destination is Great Missenden, a picturesque village an hour’s drive from the city. For 36 years this was the home town of the famous children’s books’ writer Roald Dahl, who was buried here in 1990. His grave is still visited daily, especially by children. Seeing the many notes and pens left by the grave, it has virtually become a place of pilgrimage. The village also has a Roald Dahl Museum with a replica of Dahl's renowned writing hut – the garden shed where he wrote most of his work. The original interior was moved here and has been kept exactly as Roald Dahl left it. An interesting and fun experience for people of all ages!