Open day weekend

October 19, 2008 at 6:34 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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There is a legend known only to a few. That for two days in Greater London there is an open house day… that lasts two days.  These mysterious landmarks are normally off limits to the lay commoner but for a glorious weekend in September (20-21) they open their doors to the public. In an event known as Open House. However, the alignment of planets that allows for the great opening also carries with it a curse and a heavy burden. Spread out over 699 sites across the capital. Beware the reckless traveller that does not plan their viewings for lo the sheer number will boggle and confuse. You may cry out in despair and lament why all of these places are open on the same day but such rational protestations will fall on deaf ears. What place is there for logic when grandiose claims of 699 sites must be upheld! Even if some are open normally. Be wary in your search for the Lloyd’s Building for it is open only on Saturday and only those early enough or with great forbearance will prevail as the line becomes long and treacherous. Should a quick respite be needed try The Treasury as it takes all of 5 minutes to walk through the meeting room, past the staff cafe and outside again. Truly impressive.

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Beyond the Treasury was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Possibly the best of all open buildings. Years of Empire produced a wonderful building with interesting and fascinating interiors charting the (former) reach of British Empire. Well worth a visit.

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Next on the journey of a thousand steps came the home of the Cabinet where no mere devices of man (cameras and phones) where permitted to work. The rooms were small and well appointed but we were quickly done thus making the trials of entry almost more trouble than it was worth. At Trafalgar Square with spirits low we traversed the streets for enlightenment at St Martin in the Fields. Yet another venue ‘open’ on this special day that is open on most other days as well. Nonetheless the church while small was nice to wander around and the new expansion had recently opened and it provided a nice blend between old and new.

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Within the centre of the city inside it’s walls and past its modern monuments to power lies the Guildhall. Home to London’s Guild’s and a Horology Museum. While fine to explore there was limited information available and so the tours on offer of the main hall were invaluable.

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For those considering adventuring on this special day I would advise you strike off any place normally open and to limit yourself to one borough of the city in order to maximise the number of places you can see. For the Powers That Be I urge you to restructure this event to run throughout the year and improve the search functions on your site.

Lastly, if you are considering visiting Lloyds next year then I implore you not to…just so I can get in!

More photos at Flickr.

Cardiff – Cardiff Castle

October 19, 2008 at 4:30 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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In the centre of the city is arguably Cardiff’s most memorable feature – Cardiff Castle.

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As you walk along the city centre’s main roadways you will eventually come across the Castle. Surrounded by a high wall, sitting above the former Roman defences.

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Entry is only £8.50 and you’ll get a highly informative audio guide for use in the grounds and a tour of the main house. The castle was donated to the city so city residents have free entry to the grounds.

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The tour of the house is interesting and if you’re in a small group (as I was, it’s a trend for me this trip) you’ll receive the opportunity to ask more questions and have more time in each room to look at the architecture.

The main keep in the centre of the grounds besides the usual audio tour information about defences and history offers a great view over the city.

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The information centre has an audio – visual history of the Castle but it’s somewhat abstract with references to events such as the Romans and civil war without directly explaining them. Perhaps they anticipate people will read the display panels in the centre before being ushered into the AV centre or just know the important historical periods.

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One of the comments made during the tour is that the castle was rebuilt as a “rich man’s folly”, which the family rarely spent any time in. It is fascinating that the city’s premier attraction was made as little more than a hobby. Possibly Cardiff needs to develop some other attributes as well?

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Cardiff – Wales Millennium Centre

October 19, 2008 at 3:21 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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In Cardiff Bay is the Wales Millennium Centre. For £5.50 you can get a tour and a behind the scenes look at the building. If you’re lucky you might end up being the only one on the tour and much like the Senedd my guide was very friendly, informative and open about the centre.

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While larger and more extensive than Sydney’s Opera House the tour retains the same basic structure. First, a walk outside to look at the construction and the range of materials used (sourced from around Wales) and then inside to look at the artwork and design elements used within.

Inside you’ll be treated to a backstage look at the dressing rooms, set construction and the rehearsal spaces.

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One of the final sections is a chance to sit in the main theatre. The space was designed to enhance the audio visual experience. There are no columns in the space to restrict viewing and depending on the performance special screens can be lowered to influence the sound.

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The tour is recommended as it’s reasonably priced, only an hour and quite informative with friendly staff.

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Cardiff – St Fagans

October 19, 2008 at 2:15 pm | Posted in General, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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St Fagans located a short bus ride from Cardiff is an open air museum featuring buildings from around Wales. Other than the transport costs it’s free.

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On a nice day it is a nice way to spend a pleasant two hours.

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Wandering around the various constructions from Celtic farms to a home of the ‘future’.

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The architecture is interesting, some have information blurbs explaining the significance while others have very limited content.

One of the better parts of the complex is a museum housing a number of collections relating to Welsh life. While it didn’t help me understand the political issues in the country I did feel like I came away with a somewhat better appreciation of the culture. I just wish I had more time to read up on the displays.

If you have a spare 3 hours (round trip) and good weather a trip to St Fagans would be worthwhile.

Cardiff – National Museum

October 19, 2008 at 1:22 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Cardiff’s National Museum is more of a natural history museum with a splash of art and human archaeological history than a true national museum.

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As a result if you’ve been to a natural history museum anywhere before you may not get much out of it. Children will enjoy it as there are plenty of large models and recreations to engage the imagination. The museum also covers the geological history of Wales (as well as native species etc) so that’s probably the only thing this section of the museum has going for it. The maps at the museum do show Wales in relation with the other parts of the UK as they moved around the globe over millions of years – much better than that other museum.

The museum also has on offer some Welsh artwork in its upper galleries. I assume the arty among you will find something of interest here. I did not.

What I was searching for was an understanding of Wales and its people and history. At first I thought I’d missed it but eventually found it in one of the side wings. Most of this section details stone age life with maybe a third of room detailing historical developments. There was limited or more aptly no real explanation of English-Wales relationship when it came under the former’s control or the reasoning for devolution. I don’t know whether this was because everyone is meant to know these facts already or perhaps after centuries it is still too soon for an open discussion. Regardless as a newcomer I was left wanting with no understanding of the forces at work in Wales. For a place of knowledge that’s great work.

I later asked at the information desk (as well as the tourism office) where I could find more information about Welsh history -especially political as that’s my interest- everyone seemed mystified that such a thing should exist. I was pointed to St Fagans and the Senedd. Still not a great response for a part of the world that’s trying to highlight its differences and further devolve. 

Apparently there are plans to focus the museum solely on natural history. That might be a good idea as long as they develop a new museum for the history of the Welsh people.

It is free and located at Cathays Park in Central Cardiff. In its current form you can skip it.028

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What's with the matching outfits?

Cardiff – Doctor Who Exhibit

October 19, 2008 at 1:04 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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A few minutes walk from Cardiff Bay is the Red Dragon Centre. In amongst the cafes, restaurants and cinema is the Doctor Who exhibit.

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For £5 you can take a relatively quick tour before being deposited in the gift shop and the exit. The exhibit features some props ad costumes from Old Who but most the prosthetics, models, aliens etc are from New Who (particularly seasons one and two).

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I assume that the exhibit couldn’t secure more floor space thus explaining the lack of quantity or diversity from all of the Who-verse. What it had was good but brief.

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At the end of it I thought “was that it?”. If you’re a fan or bored and don’t want to buy a ticket at the nearby cinema it might be worth it.

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Cardiff – Senedd – The Welsh National Assembly

October 19, 2008 at 12:46 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 2 Comments
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The Welsh National Assembly, the Senedd (Senate) is a unique building situated on Cardiff Bay.

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Throughout the day they offer free tours. If you’re lucky you may even be the only one on the tour. My guide was happy to answer my questions about the building and Welsh politics. The building was built with the environment in mind both in terms of sustainability and the materials available in Wales used for its construction.

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The spacious atriums are  filled with natural light and with the slate floors and wooden ceilings provide a warm and pleasant atmosphere. The upper level allows you to look down on the assembly chamber. The assembly chamber itself is danker than the rest of the building. It feels contradictory given the amount of potential light to come down. A small fact the ceremonial mace was donated by the government of New South Wales, Australia as a gift on the opening of the Senedd.

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Overall the 30 minute tour was interesting from an architectural and political perspective. While the building may largely just house the assembly chamber but it also provides a focus for the nascent Welsh political system.

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