Touring the South Bank

Two years ago, almost to the day, we went on the most amazing tour of the Southbank Centre.  It involved donning high vis vests to visit closed off spaces and I loved it – an absolute highlight of 2015.  I can’t even remember why I was on the Southbank Centre website a few weeks back, but I noticed that they were advertising more tours and being the efficient nerds we are, Tim and I decided to combine this with a backstage tour of the National Theatre.  What an excellent Saturday.

We met our guide in a very peaceful National Theatre foyer where we were immediately given high vis vests again.  YES!  I now know this to be the hallmark of a brilliant tour.  There were about 10/15 people on the tour, a mixture of ages, quite a few Americans, but a nice respectful bunch who asked (mostly) sensible questions.  After hearing a bit about the history, we were taken into the back of the Olivier theatre, where crew members were going through a tech rehearsal.  I did try to make an effort in listening to the wonderful tour guide as she talked about the drum revolve and the fly tower, but it was so fascinating seeing the action on the stage.

It’s a beautiful theatre and brought back great memories of seeing Everyman there a few years ago.  From the Olivier, we went over to the Lyttelton theatre which was all set up for Jane Eyre.  It’s really odd being in a brightly lit and empty theatre, but you really get to experience the venue, rather than the performance.  We were taken around the back of the stage (where the photo at the top was taken from), saw the props all laid out, costumes hanging up, and a Henry Hoover ready to go. 
From there, we walked down the main ‘road’ behind the stages, visited the carpenters shop, and peered down into the props department from the walkway.  Even though it was a Saturday, staff were still busy at work creating amazing sets and props, including very realistic looking pizza.

The final part of the tour took us through the offices and dressing rooms, where we saw Bryan Cranston’s name on a door, reminding Tim that he has tickets to see Network, and enabling me to snag his spare ticket.  Back to the Olivier I will go in January.
The second tour of the day was the architecture tour of the Southbank Centre, sadly without high vis jacket.  The tour mainly took us around the public areas so it didn’t really add much to the one we did a couple of years ago although we did get to go into the empty Royal Festival Hall where some musicians were hauling instruments on stage for that night’s performance.  What a treat.

I was able to boast about my stay at A Room for London which I am always happy to do for a willing audience (can’t do it enough to be honest) but the rest of the tour wasn’t ‘backstagey’ enough for me.  They do have a bunch more tours scheduled for the rest of the year, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to go on the actual behind the scenes tour.

After we said goodbye to our tour guide, we went back to the National Theatre to try to catch a glimpse of something referenced on our tour.  We were told that the dressing rooms have windows that overlook a private courtyard and on press night, the actors all stand at their windows banged on the glass as part of a longstanding tradition.  According to the guide, you can just about see the courtyard from one of the outdoor terraces.

Off we scampered, and whilst we didn’t find the courtyard, we did find a secluded garden, great views over the south bank (and also people trying to work with two idiots running around outside).  Every time I visit the Southbank, I discover something new.

Switch House, Tate Modern

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If you have a thing for over-processed photos of concrete, then boy you are in for a treat.

Holy crap, I love the Switch House – the new addition to the Tate Modern building.  I’ve watched it spring up at the back of the Tate Modern over the last couple of years but could never imagine that it would turn out as beautiful as it has.

It had been open for about a month when Tim and I visited a couple of weeks ago.  We assumed it would be rammed so got there for just after opening time, but we had most of the space to ourselves – it was amazing.

We couldn’t have picked a better day to visit as the sun poured in through the windows.  We did look at the art – the Marina Abramović exhibit sticks in my mind for many reasons – but this visit was all about the building.  The concrete, the sharp lines, the sweeping curves.  It feels very deliberate and unapologetic, completely unpretentious, and like it’s always been there.

The floors become narrower as you get closer to the top, before it opens out to amazing views of London from the roof.  And an opportunity to be nosy on the neighbouring buildings.  I don’t necessarily recommend taking the stairs all the way to the top floor as it does get a bit constricted towards the top.  Also, it’s 10 floors.  Oof.

At the top, I of course had to take a few tilt shift photos.

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But my absolute favourite thing of the whole building was the staircase.  The smoothness of the concrete was just so satisfyingly touchable.  I’ve decided that any future house I own will have to have an epic formidable staircase.  I think that might mean I need to buy a huge Brutalist mansion, but it’d be worth it.

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Just looking at that shiny concrete floor is giving me all the feels.

There are no straight maids in South Beach

DSC_9460Surfside was perfect for us and we could have happily stayed in that area the whole holiday, but we did think we should make the effort to go to the more touristy area at least once.

And South Beach is very touristy.  It was a bit of a culture shock, going from the 5 people walking passed you on Harding Avenue to dozens of people, cars, restaurants blaring music.  It was almost a little too much.

The Parisian Hotel MiamiBut the art deco building were extraordinary so it was worth it.  We could have booked on one of the walking tours but they were so busy, and the written free walking tour guide on the National Geographic website was pretty good so we just used that.   After a quick coffee at a Starbucks on 2nd St. (where we oddly saw two people that we’d seen in Aventura the night before – spies!), we made our way up Ocean Drive.

DSC_9407You trip over amazing buildings all over Ocean Drive and the surrounding area.  It is a real shame that the area isn’t pedestrianised though, as you want to be able to crisscross all over the place but there’s so much traffic.

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It was so hot on the Sunday, unpleasantly so, and we’d duck into shops just to soak up the air conditioning.  We wanted to see what the beach was like so took a quick detour off the Nat Geo walking route, and could not believe how many people were out there.  It was rammed!  After Ocean Drive, we headed for Lincoln Road for the Sunday market (it was ok, nothing special).  I may have stopped by another Sephora as well.

Just after lunch, the heat got to us and after a quick stop at Shake Shack for fries and lemonade, we headed back to our northerly haven for a bit of peace and quiet.

As a neon worshipper, I was tempted to go back at night to see the hotels in all their glory, but we knew that South Beach after dark wouldn’t be our kind of place.

Completely astonishing buildings though – I mean, look at the Gap!  Good old crazy America.

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Coincidentally, one of my favourite jewellery designers – Designosaur Yeah – was in Miami shortly before I was, and has made the most amazing Ocean Drive necklace.  You best believe it’s already on it’s way to my house.