Science Museum Lates – January 2009

January 29, 2009 at 1:08 am | Posted in General, museum, Out and About, UK | Leave a comment
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I came back to the Science Museum for its second Late night event – now on monthly – this time with the old Angel crowd.  This month was Japanese themed. It definitely seemed busier than last time with the queue stretching around the building although it moved reasonably quickly once the doors opened. However, there was quite a bit of congestion around the Underground entrance as the two masses collided.

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Some of the specific events on offer were the Taiko Meantime drummers who performed along the glass bridge in the centre of the museum. They only performed once at the beginning of the night (albeit for 45mins), they then conducted drum lessons with the volunteers performing later in the evening.

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Short kendo performances (3x 15mins) were also on offer but we missed these (the room was changed but we missed the notification – assuming there was one).

Lunar views from the Japanese Kaguya satellite were being shown in the Ground Floor theatre. We stayed inside for about 10 minutes. It was interesting but not as fascinating as I’d expected, I don’t know what I expected the lunar surface to look like. The Earth sets and rises were quite cool and worth it.

The Japan Car exhibit which highlights the changing technology in he Japanese car industry to make them more efficient and environmentally friendly. Honestly, I’m not into cars so I found it less than spectacular and wouldn’t have paid for entry. This was the only exhibit with a cost, although you could get a discounted 2 for 1. Luckily, as a meetup member who rsvp’d to the ScienceLates event I managed to get a couple of free tickets from Peers the organiser. Another great benefit of the exhibit were the complimentary beer per ticket at the end of the exhibit. Made it all worthwhile.

Origami skills were on display in the computer hall. There were explanations for the standard designs like the crane, frog, rose and box but there were also more elaborate origami being created and on display.

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When we first entered the future music room I had no idea what was going on I just heard some electronic style music with a cluster of people in one corner. According to Tim there were some light boards, which produced the sound once touched. It’s via Tenori-on a digital instrument – watch a display at YouTube.

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Dance Dance Revolution competition on the ground floor for only a pound. If you’ve never heard of it before (really?) here’s an example.

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Once again the top floor’s Launchpad was a hit with lots of hands on science. I didn’t see as many volunteer explainers but I could have just been unobservant.

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Overall, the night was a lot of fun and I’d encourage you to go to the next one. Depending on the special events I might have to give it a miss for a few months because there’s only so many times you can shock yourself before it gets a little repetitive.

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Still very fun! Good work and the bars as ever were popular!

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More photos at Flickr.

Rome

January 27, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Posted in General, Italy, museum, Rome, Tourism, Travel | Leave a comment
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At the beginning of December I travelled to Rome. Here’s an overview of the places to see and do:

The Colosseum
It’s obviously one of the most famous sites in the city. After about a 10 minute wait I bought my ticket and audio tour. Personally I found the guide less than great but it’s better than nothing. Equally so I was less than thrilled with the Colosseum. Somehow it just didn’t live up to expectation, perhaps I thought it would be grander. Then again I was wet and hungry when I went. Although really you still need to go even if it’s to cross it off your list.

 Rome - Colosseum Rome - Colosseum

The Roman Forum
You can buy a combined ticket from the Colosseum. I didn’t see any audio guides on offer and given the scale of the site a guide may end up taking up precious time. Admittedly I wasn’t always sure what I was walking next to but the ruins in of themselves are spectacular and very emotive of the fall of the Empire. I was soaked and starving throughout my walk but enjoyed it thoroughly.

 Rome - Roman Forum Rome - Roman Forum Rome - Roman Forum Rome - Roman Forum

Circus Maximus
You’ll have to use your imagination here as there’s really nothing here except for a green field with the odd bit of rubble.

Rome - Circus Maximus Rome - Circus Maximus

Crime Museum
Tucked away at the side entrance of a police station is Rome’s crime museum. Most of the content is in Italian but there is the odd bit of English. Quite a few of the more gruesome torture and punishment exhibits need no real explanation. It’s really quite interesting (even if you can’t understand) and only costs a few Euros.

Rome - Crime Museum Rome - Crime Museum 

St Peter’s Basilica
Entering the Vatican City across the square took about 30 minutes (the longest wait I had the entire trip). While entry into the Basilica is free and you can wander around I’d recommend hiring an audio guide in order to provide a level of perspective. Although sometimes it can waffle it’s very helpful. As you’d expect it’s quite grand and presumably if you’re religious it will be very moving. Apparently you can also go onto Dome but it was closed when I arrived.

Rome - St. Peter's Basilica Rome - St. Peter's Basilica

Vatican Museum
I’d heard that the queue here could be horrific but luckily I walked right in. Once again the audio tour is helpful. The museum is vast but reasonably easy to do in a few hours (as long as you don’t spend too long on each area). Featuring paintings, statues and even modern art the museum features a wide range of religious imagery. Its most famous exhibit is the Sistine Chapel. No photography is permitted in this room. I’d expected the chamber and the iconic image of the creation of Adam to be larger but that certainly doesn’t detract from the overall quality and splendour.

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Museum of Purgatory
The museum is located inside a church and there’s an expectation to donate a few euros. I’d expected the small museum – meant to prove the existence of life after death or at least purgatory – to be dark and spooky but the side antechamber was well lit. There’s a brief description of each item in various languages. Overall I thought the stories interesting but don’t feel particularly swayed. If you’re looking for something a bit different pop in.

Rome - Museum of Purgatory Rome - Museum of Purgatory

The Spanish Steps
Iconic site where you can look out over the city and on good days sit and watch the world go by.

Rome - Spanish Steps Rome

Trevi Fountain
Another major site where you’ll have to take an obligatory photo. It is fairly impressive and the vendors and toursits make it an oddly cheery atmosphere.

Rome Rome - Trevi Fountain

The Pantheon
Formerly a Roman religious site it is now holds Christian services. There’s not much content inside but it is free to enter and marvel at the construction. Outside in the square you might want to grab a coffee and watch the people (granted mainly tourists) pass by – although the prices are a tad extortionist.

Rome - Pantheon Rome - Pantheon

Castel Sant’ Angelo
A massive fortress on the banks of the river, formerly used to house the remains of the emperor Hadrian it was used by successive generations as a stronghold against attackers and had a passage leading to the Vatican in case the Pope needed to escape. Again the audio guide is recommended although it was a bit confusing. The changing uses for the castel and the artwork within is interesting and most notably at the top of the building you’ll be rewarded with wonderful views of Rome. It seems to be under visited but is worth it.

Rome - Castel Sant'Angelo Rome - Castel Sant'Angelo Rome - Castel Sant'Angelo Rome - Castel Sant'Angelo

Santa Maria in Trastevere
Trastevere
with its winding streets were a pleasure to wander around. Eventually I stumbled onto the square where the Santa Maria church is located and settled down at one of the cafes to watch the Romans and tourists. Afterwards I walked back into the old city via the Isola Tiberina, one of the islands located in the centre of the Tiber.

Rome - Trastevere Rome - Santa Maria in Trastevere Rome - Santa Maria in Trastevere Rome - Isola Tiberina

Trajan’s Forum
Another interesting site that you should try and see is Trajan’s Forum. It’s located opposite the Roman Forum and near Trajan’s Column. As per everywhere else the audio guide is a good investment. Ths forum was basically used as a marketplace and the ruins are quite extensive.

Rome - Trajan's Forum Rome - Trajan's Forum 

Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II
This massive structure is a monument to Italy’s first King as a modern unified country. It’s huge and dare I say over the top. There are displays about the unification and the King but I didn’t see any English so I can’t say whether this structure is valid. The museum plus several other exhibits are free. The monument has several opportunities to view the city. You can pay to go to the top via lift but when I went it was dusk and honestly I’m not sure whether the view would be significantly better than those of the lower levels or the Castel.

Rome- Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II Rome

Musei Capitolini
While there is an entry fee and yet another audio guide it is a good museum to visit, not least because it has longer opening hours so you can push this one back to take advantage of the nearby ruins. Having said that it does have a colonnade that looks down on the Roman Forums and you may prefer it in daylight (I was there at night and the ruins looked even more impressive in their illuminated decay). The museum offers a range of classical and renaissance works over many floors and as long as you haven’t gotten your fill from other sites it’s another one to visit.

Rome - Musei Capitolini Rome

Capuchin Crypt
A macabre religious site tucked away in a Basilica. A number of priests were granted permission to exhume the bones of hundreds of their brethren in order to create the Capuchin Crypt. A series of chambers decorated with human remains. You’ll have to donate a few euros and a photography is banned. It’s sombre, creepy and just a bit different to the norm.

Rome

Basilica of San Clemente
Free to enter this Basilica has a wonderful range of artwork along its walls and ceilings.

Rome Rome

Largo di Torre Argentina
While inacessible to tourists it’s still possible to wander around the edges of these former temples and marvel at the sheer number of cats that live there.

Rome - Largo di Torre Argentina Rome - Largo di Torre Argentina

Campo de’ Fiori
A fresh produce market towards the south east.

Rome - Campo de' Fiori Rome - Campo de' Fiori

Piazza Navona
A large piazza featuring many stalls, generally for tourists and children with sweets and toys. The main fountain was under repairs when I visited.

Rome - Piazza Navona Rome - Piazza Navona

Piazza del Popolo
At the hotel they circled this piazza on my map. I arrived there at night and while large and filled with people milling around it wasn’t particularly impressive. Perhaps visiting during the day or with better weather?

Rome - Piazza del Popolo Rome - Piazza del Popolo

Food
I ate at a number of restaurants and cafes throughout the city and on the whole I found the quality and price reasonable (although perhaps with a touch of tourist inflation added). Service was cheery and even those who didn’t speak English tried to help (English does seem to be widely spoken/understood). I’d advise just going into a place and giving it a try.

Accommodation
I stayed at Hotel Zara after cross checking it with Trip Advisor. For the price the quality was reasonable. My only complaint is the water pressure was not very good (that may or not be city-wide). Breakfast was complimentary and a good way to stock up before heading out to the tourist traps.

General
As I mentioned I came in December and it was an excellent time to visit because there were so few tourists to compete with and as a result I was able to access more sites more efficiently. The downside was the weather, generally during the day it was fine with perfect blue skies and the odd downpour but once dusk and nightfall set in it would storm. This was somewhat advantageous as Italians tend to go out later with most bars I found not really starting until 10 or 11 and as a result the wet weather kept me inside and enabled me to get a good night’s sleep for the next day.

While researching Rome I’d come across a number of sites that were fear mongering by basically implying that you’ll need extra security to deal with all the thieves that inhabit the city. It might have been the time of year but I had no problems whatsoever, certainly if you’re used to a big city I don’t think you’ll have too many problems.

At several sites there appeared to be free guides but admittedly I didn’t speak with them to find out what the deal was as my inborn and London cynicism kicked in and I assumed this was a scam. It may not be the case but I’d be cautious and check it out fully before proceeding. Although a tour will take take longer and potentially reduce your capacity to visit a number of sites.

I enjoyed my four days in Rome and was able to see the above highlights in about 3 – 3 and a half days. If I had more time I might have considered a day trip, possibly out to Pompeii.

Rome was a wonderful city and I enjoyed the trip immensely clearly millions of visitors can’t be wrong can they?

Rome Rome - Vatican

Photos on Flickr. Unfortunately, I had some problems with the upload and it lost all my tags and descriptions. If you’re interested in knowing about any specific shot let me know and I’ll update the individual details.
Map at Google.

Canterbury

January 21, 2009 at 11:29 pm | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, Food, General, museum, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Back before the Games Release Craziness ruined my social and blogging life I went to Canterbury. About an hour out of London this is an easy day or weekend trip.

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The City’s most well known attraction is Canterbury Cathedral the seat of the Anglican Church. The Cathedral looms over the city skyline and is easy to find as you walk through Canterbury’s medieval streets. The history of the building is fascinating with murders, money and of course faith all part of the picture. I’d strongly recommend an audio guide or getting onto one of the guided tours as it will add much needed colour to the history of the building.

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St Augustine’s Abbey– The ruined Abbey complex lies just outside the city centre and is easily accessible by foot. The Abbey was founded in 597AD by St Augustine and flourished for a time before being dissolved by Henry VIII and ultimately destroyed in 1703. The ruins were eventually excavated as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Canterbuty city. I would recommend hiring the audio guide as it provides much needed context but I found myself getting bored quite frequently and having to pace around the same spot for prolonged periods while the guide blathered on. Nonetheless still interesting and a very picturesque experience to walk around the shattered remains of a building that once rivaled the Cathedral.

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St Martin’s Church– The UK’s oldest and longest in continual use Christian parish. This small church nestled at the top of a hill in amongst gravestones and next to a prison is this stone church. It’s free to enter and there should be a member of the parish on hand to provide some background to the building. Informative, reasonably quick, not far from the city centre and St Augustine’s Abbey.

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Westgate Gardens – Lying on the Western side of the City (past the river) is a stretch of gardens that border the Westgate Towers. They’re pleasant and a brief diversion from but nothing particularly different. Although being there on a wet day has probably influenced my opinion.

West Gate Towers – A medieval tower at the western side of the city, while it has a small museum, it’s not very informative and the main reason to come is to climb to the top and look out over the city.

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Roman Museum – A small, cheap museum that’s fairly well appointed. The museum is found on one of the side streets near the Cathedral. It provides a run down on the ancient history of the city from its early days as a Roman outpost to the decline that happened when Roman rule fell. The museum also features some excavated mosaics.

Museum of Canterbury– which also features an exhibition on Rupert the Bear (if you’re interested!)  The museum covers the history of the city from its earliest beginnings to today. It does duplicate much of the information from the Roman Museum so you could probably skip that one if you’re pressed for time. Within the space available there seems to be a reasonably good amount of well presented information.

Norman Castle – Near Canterbury East station are the ruins of the Norman Castle. The ruins are free to enter and there are a few information boards around the site that explain the building and its use as a defensive structure, prison, factory and historic relic. Take a few minutes to soak it up before moving onto the rest of the city.

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The Canterbury Tales Experience – Not a site I would particularly recommend but if you’re bored or a fan of the Canterbury Tales then this might be for you. Actually if you’re a fan of the tales you might want to avoid it! Over the course of about an hour you’ll enter into a long road (mimicking the journey of the tales) and spread along it are spaces representing several of the tales. At each of these you’ll stop for about 10 minutes to listed to one of the stories. Unfortunately, this method of translating literary works leads to a fair amount of boredom and pacing around as each area is a static display with only the words to entertain.

 GreyFriar’s Chapel – Closed when I was there, the chapel straddles a small stream in a pleasant field and nestled within the city limits but accessed through a narrow alley.

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Another attraction closed during the colder months are River Tours. I did walk along the some of the river and it was quite nice and presumably either a river tour or walk during the better months would be an excellent break.

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I stayed at the  Canterbury Cathedral Lodge . It’s run by and within the Cathedral’s grounds. It was reasonably priced and well appointed with a complimentary breakfast. Admittedly, I don’t think it’s the place for a boozy weekend but that wasn’t an issue for me this time around. While the precinct gates close at night you’ll be able to come and go as you please with your hotel key.

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Food and Drinks

Cafe St Pierre a seemingly popular and busy french cafe on the high street

Inpresso for lunch, it’s a homewares store meets deli. Mediocre mocha, reasonable quiche, great side salad. Nice atmosphere, excellent value.

The Old Weavers restaurant. I ate a salmon fillet for dinner. It was a very large serving with mash and side of vegetables. Nice but not great. Still price to amount of food ratio is good. As the name suggests the venue is an old weavers house that dates from 1500AD.  Reasonable service.

Cafe Bohois a small, loud and brash. Filled with loud walls and many many clocks. The small tables and chairs makes me feel gigantic. I didn’t eat but there appears to be a reasonable range – desserts looked delicious. The cafe was doing a bustling morning trade. The service reasonable and while the mocha is good it was a little burnt. The manager runs a tight ship with the staff in spite of the cafe name. He was very friendly buying roasted chestnuts from the vendors outside and offering them to the customers. That was my frist chestnut – won’t be rushing back – but that’s not the cafe’s fault!

Coffee and Cork– It has lacklustre mochas but an excellent coffee shop atmosphere. Couches, board games, music and a bar. Appears popular with students and knitters as it also has a Knitting circle.

The Old Buttermarket– Is a Nicholson pub that’s like a Weatherspoon’s. It’s a sprawling pub and very busy, which is understandable as it is near the cathedral. While cheap the roast was tough and chewy. Not recommended – although maybe for a pint.

Tiny Tim’s Tearoom. A small wooden tearoom with a 30s style. Offering a variety of freshly made food and high teas. Mocha was nice and rich.

Final Thoughts:

Canterbury is a wonderful city and a great way to recharge from life in London. Canterbury has endeared itself to me with its winding medieval streets, centuries of history behind it and touches of modernity. I managed to get most of the sites above done on Saturday and by the time my train departed at 5 on Sunday I was well and truly done – it wouldn’t be a stretch to say bored. As a result I’d say Canterbury would be good for a day or day and a half, any longer and you’ll have to look into going further afield.

More photos over at Flickr and the map is at Google!

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