Third Blogiversary

May 21, 2009 at 5:54 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Today marks this blog’s third year, it’s also close to my two year anniversary living in the UK and almost coincides with four months of unemployment. So here’s just a brief post to blather about it.

Blog wise while I’m considering adding a podcast element but this will depend on the skills required (time to Google…) and how much motivation I have – this site doesn’t have procrastination in the title for nothing. For those of you who read regularly (or irregularly or randomly) a big thank you. I appreciate your comments.

The past two years in London has gone in a flash. I’m still surprised by how many years have passed since graduating university, living abroad or moving to Sydney. Regardless I have and continue to enjoy my time here thanks to developing a great group of friends and all of the travel and tourism options London provides. Although I certainly need to go to Europe more frequently – though that requires a steady stream of income….

And now onto unemployment. Since being made redundant at the end of January I’ve spent my time at home trying to save money or travelling around London’s landmarks. Originally I’d intended to work in some form with the criminal justice sector but residency issues has made this unlikely so I’ve decided to go back to standard admin temping or procurement  to get some money in while looking for a ‘real’ permanent job. Thanks to savings I’m not financially desperate but it would be good to keep some money left over.

The past year’s been fun and I’m looking forward to the next!

Brighton

May 20, 2009 at 12:59 am | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, Coffee, Food, General, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Visiting Brighton why not check out this quick guide:

Brighton (3) Brighton (64)

Attractions

  • Toy and Model Museum –  This museum costs £4 and if you’re a particular fan of model trains then you’ll want to check it out. The central collection of trains and tracks looks impressive but after pressing the start button only one locomotive runs. The collection also house other period toys, tin models, railways and dolls.
    Brighton - Toy and Model Museum (3) Brighton - Toy and Model Museum (4)
  • St Bartholomew’s Church – I’d read that St Bartholomew’s Church was something to check out due to being the ‘tallest church‘. Besides that there’s not a great deal to recommend it. While certainly a nice church it’s nothing to write home about.
    Brighton - St Bartholomew's (2) Brighton - St Bartholomew's (3)
  • Volks Railway – A small rail service running since 1883 along Brighton’s foreshore. It’s cheap, short and silly but randomly fun (for a 10 min trip). £1.70 one-way trip
    Brighton - Volks Railway (5) Brighton - Volks Railway (2)
  • Madeira lift – Not an attraction per se but while walking toward the Undercliff I randomly found the Madeira Lift. It’s basically just a lift and it takes you down to the beach (through the Concorde 2 bar). Basically it’s just random!
    Brighton - Madeira Lift Brighton - Madeira Lift (3)
  • Undercliff Walk – A coastal walk from Brighton and Saltdean. Walking it was somewhat disappointing and I don’t think it was just the weather. After taking 20 minutes just to get past the marina I was now properly walking next to the white cliff face with uninterrupted views of the sea on the other side. I felt small next to the steep face and rather peaceful looking out on the sea. This lasted for about 20 mins before the constant monotony set in. The unending parallels of cliff, path and water weighed heavily. You can’t readily leave the walk (which made me ponder what would happen if there was a storm or less likely a tidal wave). By the time I reached Saltdean I’d been walking for about 1.5 hrs (and you can go on a bit further). I walked up to the high road and caught a bus back to Brighton. If you have a bike then the ‘walk’ might be a lot more fun. If you go on a sunny day don’t forget to bring some water with you.
    Brighton - Undercliff walk (5) Brighton - Undercliff walk (4)
  • West Pier – Not an attraction per se but the ruins of one of Brighton’s piers is on the shore and a good starting point to walk along the beach towards Brighton Pier.
    Brighton - West Pier (2)
  • Brighton Pier – This pier is filled with carnival attractions (some may close depending on weather), video games, poker machines and food outlets.
    Brighton - Pier (6) Brighton - Pier (8)
  • North Laine – Spread out over a number of streets (check the Google Map) North Laine features a variety of shops from comics and clothes to cafes and the huge flee market of Snooper’s Paradise
  • The Lanes – Similar to North Laine, the Lanes consists of a multitude of small shops, eateries etc dispersed throughout a number of winding lanes. While not as extensive as I’d imagined it was still interesting to walk around.
  • Royal Pavilion – This former Royal Palace is probably one of the major attractions in Brighton. You’ll be charged £8.80 and get a complimentary audio tour. The Pavilion with its distinctive domes and turrets is now owned by the city with most of the fittings on loan from the Queen. The Pavilion is an excellent example of Chinoiserie and Regency decor. Some of the most notable rooms are the Banqueting Hall with its impressive dragon ensnared chandelier, the ‘modern’ kitchen and the music room with its hand woven carpet and gold cockle ceiling. No photography is permitted inside.
    Brighton - Royal Pavilion (5) Brighton - Royal Pavilion (13)
  • Brighton Museum and Art Gallery – This museum is located in the same park as the Royal Pavilion and its free (unless there are special exhibits on). It’s reasonable and varied but not spectacular. In addition to a history of Brighton the museum had sections on world cultures, ceramics, art deco and Egyptology.
    Brighton - Museum and Art Gallery

Food and Drink

Brighton surprised me by having a high density of cafes and eateries. Here are the ones I visited but there are plenty of others!

  • Red Roaster – This cafe had been recommended and it seems popular with the locals but I found it wanting. My mocha only had the barest hint of chocolate and was generally weak. While the environment was cosy the wall colour is a very bland light beige. My sandwich was reasonable and filling.
  • Tic Toc Cafe – I definitely enjoyed this cosy cafe located in the Lanes with its light atmosphere, couches and decorated walls. The mocha was delightfully sweet without the need for extra sugar. The staff member was also friendly and helpful.
  • Scoop and Crumb – This cafe has a wide selection of sundaes and waffles. It claims to have the largest menu in the UK. Even my dull sounding choc fudge sundae was tasty and comes topped with a few streamers!
  • Bill’s Produce – Beyond the plastic flaps at the entrance you’ll find a small but plentiful fresh produce selection. Rustic wood tables are in the middle. One wall is filled with canned and bottled produce and the other side is where the display cabinets (sandwiches etc) and cooking are done. Prompt friendly service. While I initially thought that the volume of food (compared to London prices) was badly skewed I was mistaken. Not only did the food smell and taste wonderful but by the end of the meal I was satisfyingly full.
  • Shakeaway – An ice cream shake shop. Fairly expensive and is popular with tourists and young people. While tasty and filling I just don’t get the hype. Perhaps I’m just too familiar with Cold Rock to be impressed?
  • Choccywoccydoodah – Great atmosphere, very fun and an array of tasty chocolate. Mocha was good and had the option to use their brand of white, milk and dark chocolate. A little bit costly but worth it.
    Brighton - Choccywoccydoodah
  • Pompoko – This Japanese restaurant was cheap and the servings while not enormous were reasonable and the food was a decent quality. The food was served quickly and the staff were friendly.

Bars

A caveat on this section. I went out on a Tuesday night and as a result every bar we went to (and those we skipped) were all quiet. Brighton has many other bars to check out as well.

  • The Mash Tun – A student bar with outside seating. I thought that the on tap beer price was a bit excessive but besides that it’s a fairly stereotypical bar.
  • The Windmill – A little further out from the centre of Brighton (not a big thing in small Brighton). Prices were reasonable, staff friendly and a fairly relaxed atmosphere. Unfortunately due to lack of numbers I can’t comment about the type of clientele.
  • Heist – A cocktail bar with leather couches and tables on one side and bar stools on the other. Even on Tuesday this bar had quite a few people ranging from young student types to the middle aged. Our cocktails were fairly good and not too expensive.
  • Royal Pavilion Tavern – Luckily, we made it to the upstairs club area while it was still free entry. Apparently Tuesday is indie night and while I’m no expert it’s probably fair to say it was more heavy/rocky than indie. Plenty of people some even danced but sadly I wasn’t feeling the music enough to dance. That or I wasn’t drunk enough – difficult given the queues at the bar (lack of staff?).

Map at Google and photos at Flickr!

Greenwich

May 17, 2009 at 11:30 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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What can you do on a trip to London’s World Heritage Site of Greenwich? Try some of the following:

Cutty Sark

  • The Cutty Sark was a (formerly) major tourist attraction was seriously damaged by fire and while the restoration work is underway the most you’ll see of the ship are the ‘sails’ covering the wreck.
  • Greenwich - Cutty Sark

Greenwich Park

  • London’s oldest enclosed Royal Park (free) Greenwich Park is a wonderful place to lie on the rolling grass for a picnic, stroll, play sports or look out over London and there are paths for those with roller blades and bikes. Not to mention the flower gardens, deer and the less spectacular Roman ruins and Queen Elizabeth’s Oak.
  • Greenwich - Park (17) Greenwich - Park (5)

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

  • Running from the southern bank near the Cutty Sark the foot tunnel runs under the Thames to the north bank. It’s a tunnel and it’s free. That’s about it but apparently it’s a thing to walk across but probably not necessary!
  • Greenwich - Shore (6)

National Maritime Museum

  • The National Maritime Museum is pretty much here for all of your maritime needs and is one of the major attractions of the Greenwich area. Inside the free museum (although you’ll still need to get a ticket from the counter – weird!) there are sections detailing international shipping and trade (including slavery), naval warships, marine habitats and exploration. It’s quite a large museum and can take some time to wander through but worth it.
  • Greenwich - National Maritime Museum (7) Greenwich - National Maritime Museum (4)

Royal Observatory and Planetarium

  • The Observatory and Planetarium is split over two distinct precincts on top of Greenwich’s hill. The former is easy to spot with the tower and it’s red ball looming over the area. The red ball drops everyday at 1PM (it’s very anticlimactic), it’s a tourist event but used to perform the function helping ships in port to synchronise timepieces. The rest of the observatory predominantly deals with issues concerning timepieces, longitude and latitude. The observatory area also has a camera obscura and the famous Meridian line where everyone stands at zero degrees. The Planetarium has some very cool interactive displays looking at astronomy and space flight – it also has a number of shows (these are charged).
  • Greenwich - Observatory (6) Greenwich - Observatory (10)

Queen’s House

  • Part of the Observatory/Maritime district the historic Queen’s House was home to Anne of Denmark and queen to King James I. You’ll be given a complimentary audio tour (entry is free) and it will guide you around the architecture and art in the building. The most noted feature of the house is the Tulip stairwell – apparently the first free standing one in England. Reasonably quick to walk around but not particularly interesting or worthwhile.
  • Greenwich - Queens House (3)

Old Royal Naval College

  • The Old Royal Naval College is across the road from the National Maritime Museum and features two historic buildings: The Painted Hall and the Chapel (both free). The architecture and interiors for both of these buildings are well designed and are well worth checking out. The former even has some mirrored tables to reduce neck strain as you look at the painted ceilings!
  • Greenwich - Royal Naval College (2) Greenwich - Royal Naval College (10)

Fan Museum

  • The Fan Museum is funnily enough a museum about fans. Honestly if it weren’t for my obsessive need to see London’s museums I probably would have skipped it but it was actually reasonably interesting. I found the fans made entirely of ivory particularly fascinating. Just make sure you get the information booklet, which has plenty of additional information about each exhibit. It costs £4.
  • Greenwich - Fan Museum Greenwich - Fan Museum (10)

Greenwich Market

  • There used to be 2 markets in Greenwich (3 if you count the small one up on the high street towards Deptford) but with the closure of Greenwich Village Market we’re left with the Greenwich Market. It’s predominantly undercover and has sections for food, knick knacks and all the other usual market fare. It’s centrally located near the historic districts and DLR.
  • Greenwich - Market (4)

All in all a day out in Greenwich is a wonderful experience, particularly on a sunny day when you can sit out in the grass and let the world pass by.

More photos at Flickr!

Royal Courts of Justice Tour

May 17, 2009 at 8:22 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Have about 2 hours free during the week and £6? Why not book a tour of the Royal Courts of Justice.

Royal Courts of Justice (2)

The Royal Courts of Justice on Fleet street are the home of the UK’s civil and criminal appeals courts. Conversely criminal cases are heard at the Old Bailey. The planning and construction took decades and was almost complete at the time of architect George Edmund Street’s death. It was opened in 1882, 16 years after Parliament established an architectural competition for the courts in 1866.

These stories and more are imparted to you over a two hour tour. Generally held twice a month but contact the guide as it can change. I found myself the odd man out as the lone individual amongst an arts trust tour. They were all very nice!

The first part of the tour is held in one of the courtrooms and takes on a traditional class room feel as we’re told about the history and functions of the court. There’s plenty of opportunity for questions too. Of note apparently no one (including lawyers) ever know the name of the current high lord judge. For the record it’s Judge Judge. Cool name.

Most of the rest of the tour is spent walking around with guide pointing out various architectural and design highlights, such as the intentionally unfinished pillar and the ‘grafitti’ on some of the other columns.

Of particular note is that the Royal Courts are an open building (well after you get past security that is) and anyone can come in and sit in the great hall or wander into most court cases.

The tour is quite worthwhile while it took a little while to get going it was nonetheless quite interesting. Perhaps if you have a strong knowledge of the English legal system the introductory parts may be dull but if not or you have an interest in both the architecture and the system then this tour is recommended.

Royal Courts of Justice (3)

Check out the court’s FAQ for details on contacting the tour manager.

Royal Courts of Justice (4)

The day I visited there was a very small protest asking for smoking to be banned in films.

Madame Tussaud’s

May 17, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Honestly, I didn’t expect to like Madame Tussaud’s but I was pleasantly surprised. I’d bought my ticket in conjunction with the London Eye so it was cheaper and gave ‘priority’ access thus I skipped the ‘on-the day’ ticket line. Very easy.

Tussaud’s features multiple galleries each with their own theme such as sports, politics and celebrity. There’s definitely a focus on the latter what with sections on movie, music and other stars.
Madame Tussaud's (4) Madame Tussaud's (29) Madame Tussaud's (63) Madame Tussaud's

Each room is quite well done and the characters are fairly realistic. There’s a display at the end of the tour that provides an overview of the wax works process.

Madame Tussaud's (34) Madame Tussaud's (42)

What made the endless (albeit varied) array of models bearable was the use of a few ‘rides’ to break up the journey. One being a ‘black cab’ trip through the history of London and another is a ‘horror’ walk through a dungeon.

Madame Tussaud's (79) Madame Tussaud's (93)

I rather liked walking around and taking photos of the famous and infamous but given the price and the other attractions in London I wouldn’t call it a priority.

Madame Tussaud's (89)

Not clear in this pic but the girl's parents told her to salute. Apparently as a joke!

More photos over at Flickr!

Sherlock Holmes Museum

May 11, 2009 at 10:33 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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The Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street is only for the aficionado all others would do well to steer clear. I’ll preface this review by saying I’ve never read Sherlock Holmes so that may colour my impressions.

Sherlock Holmes Museum (2)

The museum is spread out over several floors with each room set up as a different room in Holmes’ home with signs identifying who lived in each one. The top floor features some mannequins showing some scenes from the books.

Meanwhile on the first floor landing you may encounter “Dr Watson”. The actor engages visitors with chatter and attempts to be friendly. Personally I found it grating especially after he asked to see my ticket (something he didn’t ask of others). I realise I’m currently an unemployed lout but it was very off putting.

Sherlock Holmes Museum Sherlock Holmes Museum (23)

Each room has bric a brac that presumably would be recognisable to a smart Sherlock but my lack of knowledge of the literature and the limited information sheets meant that I had wandered the entire museum in under 20 minutes. At a cost of £6 this was most definitely not worth it.

Sherlock Holmes Museum (21) Sherlock Holmes Museum (5)

If you have a familiarity with the books you might want to have a look but there are plenty of better things to do in London.

Cuming Museum

May 11, 2009 at 9:56 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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In South London you’ll find the Cuming Museum. It wasn’t until it appeared in a list of London’s most underrated museums that I became aware of the Cuming. Frankly, it should have stayed off.

That’s not to say it’s bad. It has some interesting things like a sample of the Cuming Family collection of artefacts from around the world. The family didn’t buy them overseas rather purchased them all at auction in London between 1780-1902. The collection was subsequently donated to the local government. The items are in their own way interesting but similar items (in larger number) can be found at other museums throughout London.

Cuming Museum (3)

Besides the Cuming collection you’ll find a room filled with a history of Southwark, its people and it modern developments. The curators have tried to make the most of the small space, utilising drawers and what not but felt rather unsatisfied with the content and display.

Cuming Museum (2)

The last section is a temporary gallery space with a changing rotation of exhibits.

Cuming Museum

The museum is beneficial to local people (appropriate given it is a local government museum) but if you’re not South London/ Elephant and Castle based it can be missed without a second thought.

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