The Science Museum

August 19, 2007 at 10:51 pm | Posted in London, museum, Out and About, science, Science Museum, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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This week I’m off to the Science Museum. The Piccadilly line is the easiest way to the museum via South Kensington Station. The tube station is also close to a number of other tourist spots such as The Natural History Museum. I was starving before I left but figured it would be more efficient to grab a bite when I arrived. This was not the case what with Kensington being a cultural hub it seems to disapprove of cafes, McDonalds or any other eatery. After walking around for a bit (probably missing the above food outlets by metres) I gave up and decided on eating at the Museum cafe. Through the main doors I queue up for my bag to be inspected. The signs helpfully point out that I should not be carrying a gun.

Post inspection I’m faced by hordes of tourists and families with strollers crowding through the main floor. I’m now stuck in another line, this time for some unfortunate sandwiches. Now with something in my stomach I’m ready to walk through the museum. I was planning on entertaining myself with Dave and Joel on my walk and while iTunes claimed to have synced the latest track to my iPod this was not the case. Basically, it was just me and too many people and too many lound children that I wasn’t able to block out with one of my favourite podcasts.

If you can’t tell today I became a grumpy and crotchety blogger.

What can be said about the Science Museum? Well there is a lot of content and display cases with scientific artefacts on any number of issues such as energy, metals, weather and timekeeping to name just a few.

Trying to avoid the crowds, the best place to go is to the 4th and 5th floors which cover the history of medicine. Despite the small floor space they have certainly packed in a lot of information. The 3rd floor covers Flight – including full scale models and motion ride simulators (extra charge). 2nd floor is maritime engineering (another quiet spot), mathematics, energy and computing. The energy exhibit includes some helpful hands on displays including a dance dance revolution style activity. 1st floor features a pretty informative temporary exhibit on plastics as well as permanent sections on agriculture, weather and time. Ground’s best feature is the modern world displays covering my favourite area: space exploration. Lastly, the basement has a display on the changing home. There are a few other sections and paid areas such as an Imax cinema.

I’m starting to think I may be a philistine in academic robes. All of this knowledge and potential new information should fulfil my curiosity but on the contrary I just got bored and tended to walk past most exhibits – unless something caught my eye. Perhaps things would have been better if many of the exhibits didn’t seem to end around 1980/1990 or look like a 1970s class room. For example, the Internet seems completely lacking as do alternative energy systems (other than the child’s hand on display). Although the hunger/ crowd thing may have just reduced my enthusiasm for this particular outing.

There is a lot on offer in the museum but for the tourist I wonder whether it’s possible to get the most benefit. Even without reading in depth it still took me a few hours to walk through and with that in mind a tourist may have to prioritise which floors to explore or frankly, whether to come at all – assuming you have to make a choice between one museum/ activity or another. Once again this museum is free which is beneficial but the time it takes and the lack of up to date scientific displays are serious drawbacks.

Coffee @ Goswell – my new favourite place

August 6, 2007 at 6:00 am | Posted in cafe, Coffee, Food, General, Out and About, UK | 3 Comments
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There are a few things I look for in a regular coffee shop and luckily I’ve found a place that meets most of these needs in Coffee@Goswell, located on oddly enough on Goswell street near Old Street, Barbican and Angel stations. So how does this cafe measure up against my needs?

First and foremost is the coffee (obviously) and not just any coffee but a mocha. For me the definition of a good mocha is it must be sweet, at least a little thick and of course chocolatey without adding extra sugar to mask the lack of chocolate or other sweetener. Not having to add sugar is a fairly big indicator on the general quality. Australian coffee was sometimes a miss but on the whole it was reasonable and sweet. Of course having the Lindt cafe so close may be skewing my assessment. Meanwhile in London the coffee has been lacklustre. I’ve resorted to Starbucks. Of all the shame but at least their mochas are usually the same standard. C@G has excellent coffee, thick, sweet and easy to drink, therefore being a big plus for them. Of course this might just be my palette’s reaction to the weak coffee I’ve been subjected to over the past few months.

Second, the atmosphere and amenities. Ideally, I’d like a place that is relaxing and has comfy chairs, almost a la Central Perk in Friends. On this score C@G does well with sofas around a central table with other tables and chairs on the side – so plenty of seating. Along one wall is a stretch of eltrical sockets for those with laptops and a few internet cafe PCs as well. The cafe has wi-fi (pick up the code at the counter) but what do you expect from a cafe using the @ symbol? I don’t feel out of place reading a book, working on my laptop or pulling out my DS. However, on the flip side there is limited seating outside; it is basically just a bench and I may be wrong but I don’t think there are bathrooms inside.

Third, other food and drinks. Other than their coffee I’m also a fan of their berry smoothie. Very tasty but I’ll have to start expanding my choices to see if they are all as good. My big disappointment is the lack of a kitchen and set menu. The cafe offers a selection of pre-packaged meals (sandwiches and salads) as well as any number of cakes. I can’t be too harsh on them though (well I’d like to be) but it seems as though this “style of cuisine” is the norm for most cafes. On the plus side at the end of the day the staff put any uneaten cakes and pastries out on a table and they’re all free. Yes free food is really the clincher for me!

C@G is open 7 til 8 every day and they stop serving about 7:45. The staff are friendly and helpful. I’ve only been there a few times and they already seem to know me. If you live in the area and hankering for good coffee Coffee@Goswell is an excellent choice.

UPDATED 13/01/08 – Two additonal points on C@G – First and most important is that the wifi is now free with purchase which should mean more money for you (although I have experienced their router dropping out). Second, apparently this place is dog friendly (there are dog treats on the counter) and people bring their dogs in off the leash. However, I’m not really a fan of letting them wander everywhere and I think as dog owners you should watch where they go so they aren’t bothering anyone or blocking anything.

Although if the staff aren’t concerned by them going behind the counter then who am I to complain? Oh right a customer.

The National Portrait Gallery – all those eyes looking at me…

August 5, 2007 at 9:50 pm | Posted in General, London, National Portrait Gallery, Out and About, Travel | 1 Comment
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What better way to spend a glorious summer day than by going inside the National Portrait Gallery? Nothing I say, absolutely nothing. I would never even consider going somewhere more exciting like a beach. After all the fountains in Trafalgar Square constitute an excellent opportunity to cool down.

Once I’d managed to get to the Square (most easily accessible by Charing Cross or Leicester Square tube stations) I walked into the Portrait Gallery, located around the side of the Square slightly away from the entrance to the National Gallery. After getting through the crowds and listening to the busking violinist for a moment I walk into the main entrance. The Gallery is free, which is quite handy but I also put down £5 for an exhibit of Fleet Street photojournalist…photos.

Taking the escalators up you begin wandering through a gallery of the Tudor period (Elizabeth I anyone?) before moving through various periods of English history and its notable figures. Unlike other galleries each portrait comes with a small (or not so small) blurb about the person and where available the artist. I found this particularly useful in conjunction with the background of each period’s political, scientific and cultural achievements. While I can’t remember all of the featured people it was inspiring seeing their varied contributions to the development of English history. As you walk through I began to discern more readily the differences and changes in artistic style, fashion and frame design!

Unfortunately, after a while reading all of the bits and pieces began to eat up my time and all of the faces began to blur together. I tried to focus on the art and some of the stories as I progressed through each floor. The gallery closes at six, which was fortuitous as I hadn’t reached the final floor by 5PM.

You can also rent an audio tour although in this instance being able to read the aforementioned explanations should cover most of what you need to know. There are also plenty of tour guides who seem fairly informative about the pieces on display.

My principal fault with the gallery is the logistics. Entering into any particular section almost always results in backtracking. I don’t necessarily need a completely linear experience but for the most efficient experience I don’t need to see the same section again.

Overall, I found the portrait gallery interesting and an excellent chance to see different interpretations of notable English figures. The associated explanations provide a general overview of English history which only heightens the experience. Realistically, for those who find art less than invigorating, the gallery might not appeal to you but as it’s free and central it would be worth your while to do a quick whip around. On the other hand there may be something that catches your eye and draws you into the gallery as a whole and if that’s the case my only warning is to watch the time or you might find a few hours have been and gone.

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