They are so much fun, and are making a big difference to my general stress levels as I am (like many self-employed people, I'm sure) usually pretty terrible at stopping work from creeping into my time off. I managed to squeeze in 17 Nice Days Out into 21 weeks last year which isn't bad going!
I am definitely going to try and stick to my "one Nice Day Out per week" plan in 2014 - and to keep blogging about them, too. Writing about my trips is really helping me to a) remember to take my camera with me to record the day (giving me loads of photos to look back on) and b) stick with it and not let work and the general ups and downs of life (and the demands of work, and the temptation to be lazy and stay in bed and have a long lie in instead of getting up and catching the train somewhere) get in the way of scheduling some proper days off.
Before I start blogging about my 2014 trips though, I need to catch you up on the couple of days I spent in London before Christmas :)
Day #1 was planned around places I could get in for free / for a discount with my Art Pass (the Art Fund have a great map on their website that lets you look up places you can get a discount with your card, plus other galleries and museums in the area so you can easily plan a day out).
First up, the Household Cavalry Museum.
I arrived at Horse Guards Parade at the perfect time - just when the Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard was taking place! What luck.
I watched a bit of the changing of the guard, and wandered round the huge parade ground looking at the surrounding buildings and monuments and the rather wonderful Turkish cannon....
... then I went into the museum. To be perfectly honest I wasn't really expecting to love this museum and I'm not sure I would have bothered to visit it were it not for my Art Pass but I really enjoyed it!
The exhibits had a great mix of historical info, interesting stuff to look at and quirky anecdotes about the Regiment. A friendly volunteer guide came up and pointed out some of the most interesting exhibits & told me entertaining stories about them, which was great. Plus: there's a large glass partition where you can see into one of the working stables, which was quite delightful.
After my visit to the Household Cavalry Museum I walked back along Whitehall, through Admiralty Arch...
... and down the Mall to visit a couple of galleries.
I popped into The Institute of Contemporary Arts but wasn't too surprised to discover that it was a bit too conceptual for my taste (I used to love conceptual art when I was younger but these days it leaves me a bit cold. Is this a sign I am getting old? Or just that I'm slowly turning into my dad??).
Then I went to the Mall Galleries which focuses on modern figurative painting - the main exhibition when I visited was The Royal Institue of Oil Painters annual exhibition. I enjoyed the exhibition and had a cuppa and a very tasty cake in their cafe which (rather awesomely) is in one of the gallery spaces so you sit and drink tea surrounded by paintings. I'm very much looking forward to seeing some other exhibitions here during the coming months.
After visiting the Mall Galleries I walked round the corner to the National Portrait Gallery and went to the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. This was a lot of fun, with a fabulous mix of different pictures. I think I looked at everything at least twice.
... then a walk down the Strand...
... to Somerset House, to have a look at the building itself (I'd never been before) and to see the Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War exhibition, featuring the his paintings from Sandham Memorial Chapel. After my visit to Cookham and the Stanley Spencer gallery there, it was really interesting to see more of Spencer's work and great to get the chance to see these paintings without having to trek to visit the Chapel itself.
Finally, I visited the Courtauld Gallery (which is in the North Wing of Somerset House) which has been on my list of places to visit for years. I have no idea why it's taken me so long to get around to visiting.
The gallery isn't huge, but there's some awesome art on display and the building itself is quite lovely (the main staircase is especially fabulous). Do check out the fancy virtual tour on their website.
All in all, a long but lovely day!