Benjamin Franklin House

July 20, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Located near Embankment and Charing Cross is the Benjamin Franklin House. Where, oddly enough, Benjamin Franklin lived during his (second) time in London. He left hurriedly at the outbreak of the revolution. Franklin and the House acted as the de facto embassy for the colonies in London. During his time in London he lobbied British politicians on behalf of the Americans (with mixed success), continued exploring science and his discourse with the minds of the Enlightenment. All while being a lodger in the house and developing friendships with that family.

Benjamin Franklin House Benjamin Franklin House (2)

The facts of Benjamin Franklin’s life before, during and after his time in the House are explored although understandably it is his time in London that features most prominently in the experience.

The novelty of the House is that it is less a museum and more a theatrical performance. After a brief video setting the scene the audience is greeted by the landlady’s daughter who proceeds to take us through the various rooms of the house, often accompanied by multimedia elements (audio/video) and tells us of ‘her’ and her family’s experience with Franklin.

I was apprehensive about coming to the House, thinking the conceit of the actors would be tacky and unbearable. I was wrong. It was well done, the actress who must do this dozens of times a day gave a great performance and I feel like I’ve developed a greater appreciation for Franklin and the period as a result.

The House is operated by a dedicated group of volunteers and in addition to their website (where you can also download a walking tour podcast) they can also be found on twitter.

It costs about £7 (adult) and runs for approximately and hour.

Masonic Museum

July 20, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Set amongst the heart of theatreland is the headquarters of the largest Masonic group in the UK and within its imposing structure is a museum and library.

Masonic Lodge Masonic Lodge

I think we’ve all heard rumour and innuendo about the Masons. They are our overlords after all and will surely censor this if it doesn’t suit them! Right? So I admit to feeling a little trepidation when entering the building (especially in jeans and t-shirt) but the guards were helpful and after being signed in I was directed upstairs to the library and museum. It’s worthwhile to not that they also have guided tours of the building, check their site for more details.

The museum is at the far end of the library and has display cases showcasing the craft works of the masons (both for practical and ceremonial uses) and a description of the formation of the current Mason’s group, symbols and the construction of its headquarters.

I found the craft work detailed and some of the facts interesting (by law all Norwegian Masons are publicly listed) I unfortunately still came away not knowing who the Masons are and why they developed. I get the impression from the museum that being a Mason might be like a philosophy of enlightenment running parallel with your own religion. Of course I could research this further but I would think the museum should provide that brief overview as well.

Then again I may have just missed that display.

The museum is interesting and free but don’t expect the secrets of the Order to be revealed. Perhaps just another (their) perspective on the Mason’s history.

Also currently on display in the headquarters is a free exhibit on the Masons and the French Revolution. Specifically the impact the revolt had on ‘secret societies’ in Britain. It’s reasonable and worth a visit in conjunction with the main museum.

The V&A (the second coming)

July 7, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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It’s been a while since I last visited the V&A. Certainly a very long time since I had a proper visit. Today I took the opportunity to see the special (and soon to be over) Baroque exhibit, Gilbert Collection and the Theatre Collection.

Baroque: The exhibit discusses the first global style – Baroque and its influence over the course of several hundred years over performing arts, religion and daily life. An adult ticket costs £11 and you can get an audio guide. I didn’t and don’t feel that I’ve missed out. The exhibit was larger than I expected with a number of interesting and intricate pieces. I found the localisation of the style (such as in Asia) particularly fascinating. If you have an interest I art, design and globalisation this would be a worthwhile visit.

Gilbert: if you’ve not had enough opulence at the Baroqe exhibit then make your way past the jewellery and silver collections to the new Gilbert Collection. It features a collection that was built up over the last half of the 20th century and bequeathed to the V&A at Gilbert’s death in 2000. It features a number of fascinating and well made gold pieces, small boxes and micromosaics.

Theatre: London used to have a dedicated theatre museum however this has now closed. The collection was given to the V&A and they’ve presented a snap shot in the new rooms. An attendant advised that it is possible to see the larger collection via special appointment with the information desk. The rooms cover topics such as producing, casting, costumes, legal obstacles, advertising and the sets. It’s all fairly interesting (such as the bishops who’d attend the equivalent of glorified strip clubs) but you’ll be able gloss over some items while reading the descriptions of pieces that grab your attention. For the children they can play dress up in some costumes. Overall very well done condensing a large collection into an accessible overview.

The Big Bus Tour

July 6, 2009 at 11:39 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Recently my parents, sister and her boyfriend visited London and we decided to go on the Big Bus Tour. Perhaps an error in judgement.

Obviously the benefit of these types of tours is the ability to get an overview of a foreign city with the option to jump on or off within a day of purchasing a ticket. However, for those of us who stay on board for the entire 2+hrs (the shorter version) it began to drag. While on the upper deck I could clearly hear the guide but after we had to change buses and I was on the lower deck it became a partially incoherent dialogue.

Speaking of incoherent once we changed buses we also got a new guide and he’d clearly had a rough night what with the slight slur, red eyes and somewhat dishevelled appearance.

Based on my own knowledge of the capital I thought the information was largely accurate and I did pick up on a few things as well. However, there were a few instances when the bus was stuck in traffic and I tried to break the lull by providing anecdotes of the area – something a qualified guide could surely have done.

My other criticisms of the tour were the over use of movie filming locations. Specifically Harry Potter. If I wanted a Harry Potter tour I’d go on one. Secondly, the guide would often be so busy cross promoting some other tour or another that by the time they mentioned something of actual interest we’d already whizzed past it.

Some of you may recall that a few years ago I went on the Original Bus Tour, so of course my memory may be a bit cloudy but if I had to choose one bus tour of London I’d go with the Original over the Big Bus anytime.

Met Police Museum

July 6, 2009 at 10:58 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Close to West Brompton Tube at the Empress State Building is the local police complex and a newly opened police museum, which is also meant to be an aid to police recruitment.

Despite thousands of items in storage the museum is seriously restricted by the available floor space. They’ve certainly maximised the available area with blurbs covering topics such as the changing face of the Met since its inception, allowing women into the force and new technologies.

According to the museum they’ll be rotating the items on display and they’re also hopeful of expanding their floor space. The museum is new and the volunteer staff I spoke to genuinely excited and enthusiastic so I’m sure it will continue to grow and develop.

With the space as a caveat my only suggestion would be to add some greater information, perhaps anecdotes and histories on the display case items. Also an official website would be great too!

Given the size I can’t recommend it as a must see but if you happen to have an interest in criminal justice, working in the police or happen to be in the area then drop by this free and newly minted museum. Perhaps one day the Black Museum will open to the public too. Meanwhile perhaps one day the Bow Street Museum will open as well.

Also you might want to check out Time Out’s Big Smoke Blog on the museum.

Allan’s Patisserie Review

July 6, 2009 at 10:14 pm | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, General, London, Out and About, UK | Leave a comment
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I decided to check out the newly opened Allan’s Patisserie at London Bridge after a heads up from SE1. I could have easily given it a miss.

Granted we got there towards the end of the day so it may be understandable but we found the staff abrupt and very slow to take our order from us (despite being the only people there), I ordered a panino and got a sandwich instead (if they’d run out of panini it would have been nice to be told). In the end between a hair in the bread and less than stellar tomato it was just easier to stop eating (with less than half finished).

The volume of coffee and tea was appreciated. The quality of former was ok but I still needed to add sugar to the mocha while the tea retained its teabag at the bottom.

Meanwhile the decor for the top floor was quite nice with some reasonable chairs and couches to sit in and chat with friends. If only the food was better!

Inamo Restaurant Review

July 6, 2009 at 9:44 pm | Posted in Cafes & Restaurants, Food, General, London, Out and About, UK | Leave a comment
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In Soho you might come across Inamo an Asian themed restaurant that’s received a bit of buzz for its use of technology in the dining experience. That’s probably the only reason to come.

So let’s talk tech. The first review I read of Inamo said it had touch screen tables. That’s not exactly true (and not Inamo’s fault for poor reporting), rather the screen is projected onto a white table from the ceiling with a small touch pad near each diner. This is used for manipulating the mouse pointer. Nonetheless I was anticipating something like Surface and I got it’s poor cousin.

You’ll be able to check out a webcam of the chefs, change the table cloth “wallpaper”, find out local information, play games and of course order drinks and food. As the cloth is part of the projection they’ve kept a plate sized area white, presumably so you don’t get random images dancing over your food. However the big white patch does take away from the atmosphere. There are two games on offer. Tile puzzles and Battleship. With the latter there’s no way to block the other person seeing where you’re positioning your ships and this is in part because you can only play with the person opposite you. I would have thought it’d be easy enough to play with someone else in your group or randomly in the restaurant.

The webcam is pretty interesting but you can’t see a great deal of detail. Still a cool feature. As is the local information of nearby bars, entertainment and transportation options.

Inamo 4 Inamo 2

Ordering food is a pretty easy endeavour with the option to add and deduct items as you see fit. Now what about the quality of the food? Well, it’d be good if everyone’s meals came out at once and if the meals were a little bigger (particularly considering the cost of both the food and drinks). For an Asian restaurant it was surprising that the white rice was so poor in quality. Each of us thought our respective meals were reasonable but again the price to size and taste ratio was unsatisfactory.

Inamo 1

Last but not least after the clean lines of the dining room I was surprised by the lack of tech in the bathroom -it was kind of grotty too!

For tech lovers you might want to come and play with the toys but you might want to wait for a 2.0 to come out. Otherwise, Asian foodies can just give it a miss.

Taste of Spain

July 6, 2009 at 8:25 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Sydney, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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At the end of May Regent Street in London was turned into a “Taste of Spain“.

Taste of Spain (14) Taste of Spain (3)

While I know I missed out on the free hats and paella it didn’t really live up to expectations.
Taste of Spain (17)

Realistically the event should have been renamed Spanish Tourism as most of the exhibitors were promoting travel to Spain with leaflets and brochures. Whoo. There were also a few vendors but nothing striking. The main stage had some dancers and the events there may have proved interesting.
Taste of Spain (5) Taste of Spain (11)

I went relatively early and walking along the street was fairly easy, that is until I reached the middle of the road where the organisers had placed a large sandy enclosure thus forcing the crowds into bottlenecks on either side. Awful planning.
Taste of Spain (7)

Lastly, I only saw 2 Spanish food vendors on the street with predictably large queues which more than anything seems to run contrary to an event called a “Taste of Spain”.
Taste of Spain (16)

Despite its significantly smaller size I found Sydney’s Spanish Festival a much more lively affair.

More photos at Flickr.

Canada Day 2009

July 4, 2009 at 8:59 am | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Canada Day: London edition was a celebration of all things Canadian. Whether a result of the economic downturn or green algae in the fountains there seemed to be fewer people than last year but for my money that benefited the event.

For one I could walk fairly easily around the Square and the for the other accessing stalls (for food, drink or travel and work information) was significantly easier.

Canada Day (12) Canada Day (15)

But onto the event.

Trafalgar was awash with red and white with maple leaves covering bodies and clothes. The crowd – even with alcohol – was friendly and relaxed. Events were hosted on both the main stage and a central court. While I was attending there was a hockey game between Oxford and Cambridge, with the former winning.

Canada Day (4) Canada Day (7)

Next year if you can make it you should try and stop by to look while grabbing a burger, sit on the steps and enjoy the atmosphere.

More photos at Flickr.

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