Buckingham Palace Tour

September 23, 2007 at 1:20 pm | Posted in London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 3 Comments
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The seat of the monarchy, a former country estate, Buckingham Palace, is (partially) open to the public during the summer months while the Queen is out of town.

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The tour offers the chance to view a normally hidden world. My childhood fantasies of grand and enormous palaces were sent tumbling as it seems to be a relatively small interior (granted we’re only privy to a fraction). Conversely, the design did live up to the imaginative hype.

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At the end of the tour I was more struck by the concealed depth the grass and wooded area behind Buckingham Palace as it is feels substanitlaly greater than the exterior geography. Then again compared to the days when all of Hyde Park was a royal hunting ground all of this must be quite the step down.

With ticket in hand (probably best to prebook) you are shepherded in large groups through the security check and the guide room where you’ll pick up your audio tours. These are your standard audio tour packages that you listen to as you progress through the various rooms and you’ll have the option to hear more on certain topics depending on how much time and interest you have available. Personally, I found the audio tour to be quite informative with the voices pleasant and easy to listen to as you walk around.

In addition to the wealth of design, craftwork and artwork that makes this tour a highlight is a special exhibit on the Queen’s wedding. Now topics like the wedding dress aren’t overly fascinating so I skipped this section quickly and moved on but many others were taking an in-depth approach.

Throughout the tour you will see excellent representations of art and finely decorated doors, walls, cups – pretty much everything. Unfortunately, you cannot take pictures inside the building and are restricted to the gardens for your photographic needs. Given the number of people taking the tour you would think it would result in a crush. Thankfully, this is not the case and there were only a few experiences with gridlock and these were at the beginning and bypassed easily enough.

At the end of the main tour and after dropping off your headsets you enter the palace gardens and on your wander out you will of course be met by the mandatory gift shop and the ever present tourism item (anything + Union Jack/ Royal = £). I took this opportunity to speak with one of the multitude of guides. It turns out most are students working in the palace over their break to earn some cash and a great reference. Explains why they all look so young. In her case she was a history teacher and had enjoyed her time working here and would be coming back next year. PR or praise, I’ll leave that to you but she appeared genuine. The guides receive a few weeks of training beforehand and they learn about ‘everything’. I’m not sure that’s the case but give it a shot and ask questions!

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The gardens themselves are a pleasant walk and before you know it you find yourself out the back gate and into the harsh glare of sun on concrete that is this part of Victoria.

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If you are in London during the summer opening take the opportunity to come and visit. The Buckingham Palace tour gets a definite recommendation from me.

The Original London Sightseeing Tour / Speakers’ Corner

September 8, 2007 at 4:00 am | Posted in London, Out and About, Speakers' corner, The Original London Sightseeing Tour, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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Taking a trip on a big red-ish bus around London is incredibly touristy but it does provide an opportunity to take in the city in a glance and this is most useful for the short term visitor. Those with more time can take advantage of the hop-on hop off nature of the ride and even take a cruise on the river.

The Original London Sightseeing Tour offers both a live English guide and another route which offers multi language headsets. As the bus route is predominantly in the inner city it would be advisable to go on a weekend when there are fewer cars and in the financial distict limited people.

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During the tour there were two different guides and there were a few discrepancies between in their statements. While there is no way to verify their monologue and realistically any tourist is put in the position of having to believe them but I found myself questioning them several times.

I apologise dear reader that I cannot recall the specific occurrences which would illuminate this point.

Contrary to my earlier statement, when I had first heard the tour I was irritated when they claimed Trafalgar Square (specifically the statue of Charles’ I) whereas we all know it is at Charing Cross near Charing Cross Station. Or do we? After doing some post tour research it seems that apparently I’ve been wrong these past few months and the spire by the station is only a replica with Charles’ statue being the correct site.

So kudos to the tour for teaching me something.

I’d started the tour at Hyde Park and ended it at the same place. Now I took the time to walk through Speakers’ Corner. Religious conversations and diatribes were the order of the day. Nonetheless the speakers were quite passionate and were almost uniformly surrounded by large groups of both casual observers and those keen for a good argument. Without a shadow of a doubt Sydney’s speakers’  corner is a poor shadow. For example Sydney has on average 2 speakers and perhaps just as many observers. London by contrast had almost 20 speakers and aforementioned crowds.

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I doubt the speakers will ever be shifted from their position but there is something to be said for a discourse – however limited it may be.

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Speakers’ corner is an active and lively place and it takes very little time to wander through and pick out the speakers and the craziness before moving onto other parts of London like Oxford Street. The corner is not a must but can be easily incorporated into other adventures.

Photos for the bus tour and speakers’ corner are on Flickr.

Natural History Museum

September 7, 2007 at 8:57 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Natural History Museum, Out and About, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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The Natural History Museum’s majestic and inspiring exterior is equally intricate and informative on the interior. As one of the city’s major attractions you may encounter lines around the outside of the building. Luckily, on this day it was straight into the museum (well after having my bag inspected). Besides the standard wandering around and looking at all of the exhibits the museum also has an audio tour discussing the architecture – apparently this is not available for the next few months.

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Throughout the entire building the artwork, motifs and finishing touches create a warm and inviting experience that promotes a sense of history and education.

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The main hall features in its centre a dinosaur skeleton and from here you can walk into all of the various halls. One of, if not the most popular sections are the aforementioned dinosaurs and understandably so. Calling them massive and old or massively old does not do all of the fossilised flora and fauna on display any measure of justice. I’m even more impressed by archaeologists for discerning the differences and history of something based on its bones (or fossilised skin). About mid way through this exhibit you will come across an animatronic T-Rex and it is completely cheesy, although one poor little girl to the chagrin of her mother was terrified and refused to walk past it.

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In addition to the dinosaurs my other recommendation is the Earth Sciences halls. From its main foyer you can normally take an escalator through a formative globe. Sadly, this was closed so to the stairs and viewing the exhibitions in reverse it was. Looking at various crystals isn’t overly stimulating but they are shiny. Shiny! That’s not distracting at all.

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Further up you will find a history of geology done through the vivid use of volcanoes and earthquakes as teaching aides. Walking through the history of space gleaned this gem from one of my fellow museum goers “I thought this was a natural history museum not a space museum.” Methinks someone needs to spend more time in the museum. Lastly, you have the opportunity to walk through an well designed history of the planet’s geology, geography and animal & plant evolution over its entire history. Whether this will interest you or not is obviously a matter of taste but with many other areas of focus such as marine life, plant evolution and humans.

Much like the escalator there were various exhibits closed on the day I visited. This proved to be something of a boon as the whole museum takes hours to walk around and being able to cut it down is advantageous albeit disappointing. By no means should you be put off from visiting the museum because it may take time, you can rush through if necessary and move onto the next tourism hot spot.

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A free, immersive education experience makes the Natural History Museum a worthwhile excursion and in my opinion is better than its neighbour the science museum.

Photos on Flickr.

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