Mini Japan Trip 2009

December 26, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Posted in General, Japan, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel | 1 Comment
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I relocated to the UK a few years ago, coming via Japan. At the time I did a bunch of touristy things.

This trip is only brief (with only 1 non airport related day) and so I spent most of the time hanging out with a few friends. Part of which was a return to Kamakura and the not so nearby – unless you have a car – Restaurant Marlowe. Which offers a range of interesting custard and non-custard cakes. The green tea one had a strong after taste of tea and the other flavours around the table were equally nice. The restaurant has a clear view over the Pacific and on a warm day you’d be able to sit outside and enjoy the moment.

All this eating and commuting didn’t stop me adding a few new additions to the list.

Miraikan – The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation – This is one seriously cool museum. At least for the geeky amongst us. If you’re interested in health, food, robotics, the environment, space or new materials they’ve got you covered and there are probably other things I’m missing. These permanent exhibits cost 600Y and there is an additional fee for any other exhibitions.

There are lots of hands on activities but this could pose a problem during peak hours as I could imagine people getting frustrated at not getting the chance to play.

The information panels are almost all bilingual (Japanese and English) so learning could never be easier. Having said that I did not get the most out of this visit because I’d come straight after dropping my bags after a long sleepless night. So fatigue was definitely affecting my care factor. Nonetheless I could definitely see the value of this museum and all of the cool future tech.

Take the Yurikamome line (790Y one-way) from Shimbashi station and cross over the Rainbow Bridge (which also affords a nice view of the city).  About 15 minutes later you’ll get to the Telecom Center station and a 5 minute walk will have you at the museum. Unfortunately there’s not much else around (other than the Maritime Science museum that I didn’t go to), so if you’re pressed for time you may have to miss this one.

Mori Art Museum – is located in the new gleaming mixed use complex Roppongi Hills. Entry is 1500Y (varies on the exhibit) which is a bit pricey for an art gallery that is until you realise that you now have access to an almost 360 degree view of the city. It’s a magnificent vista with the chance to look out over the bay, the diminutive Tokyo Tower and Mount Fuji to name but a few highlights. Of course this will be influenced by the weather and the pollution levels.

For an additional 300Y you can go outside but unfortunately I was running a touch late so forgo this. I’m still quite happy with my view from the inside – except for the glare on a few pics.

The gallery itself has a rotating collection of special exhibits. Rather humourously when I visited they were looking at medicine and art, which included a large number of items on loan from London’s Science Museum and Wellcome Collection! So I’d had the chance to see many of these before. Did I get the most value for my money, probably not but you probably will. Make the most of it and grab a drink at the bar (no idea of the price – sorry!) and enjoy the view!

General Nogi’s Residence – One reason I was a bit pressed for time at the Mori building was because on my walk there I stumbled across the shrine for General Nogi (and his wife). They committed ritual suicide on the day of the Emperor’s funeral in 1912. The grounds are relatively small but well tended and it’s a nice break from the surrounding city.

All in all a quick and tiring (jet lag related) trip but it was good to come back, it felt almost natural and certainly great to see friends again!

Tokyo photos at Flickr.

Cambridge – The Quick Guide

December 26, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Posted in General, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Many months ago now I visited Cambridge and so you’ll have to forgive the truncated recap.

The city is most famous for the University of Cambridge and most of the colleges that make it up will allow the curious tourist entry (though this may change during term time). Some may incur a charge and most but not all will have information leaflets. Of these my favourites were:

Jesus College – While much like any other college grounds it makes up for it with some rather unique sculptures dotted around. You do get a brochure explaining much of the area but at times found its directions a little confusing. Apologies I don’t recall if there was an entry fee.

Kings College – £5 entry fee. This is for the grounds and its spectacular chapel (thought it’s the same price even if the grounds are closed as they were when I visited). Nonetheless, the chapel is wonderful and can take about 30 minutes to wander through. There are plenty of information panels as well.

Queens’ College – Charges vary depending on when you visit. This college offers a wide range of architecturally distinct buildings and the chance to walk over the Mathematical Bridge. Also check out this page on their site detailing the issues of using an apostrophe.

Trinity College – While the forecourt has some excellent buildings the primary reason to visit is for a chance to see the Wren Library and some truly amazing books including Isaac Newton’s first edition of Principia Mathematica that includes some of his own handwritten notes. It should be noted that the library is only open for a few hours every day and numbers are restricted.

Other than the colleges you’ll find that Cambridge offers a number of museums, such as:

Fitzwilliam Museum – Definitely the largest and most imposing of the city’s museums. It houses an eclectic display, ranging from ancient Egyptian burial rites to Renaissance arts. It is a fine collection and most certainly one to visit.

Round Church – I was going to walk right past this small little church. After all it looked so unimpressive (other than being round) what could it offer? What it offers is a history of the city. Granted they are also overlaying it with a Christian history but this doesn’t detract from the overview of Cambridge they provide. From recollection the other museums don’t provide such a full context.

Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences – OK I would probably have skipped his one if it weren’t raining and indeed I did go through quite quickly but if you’re interested in geology then the Sedgwick offers this in abundance and it is all well presented to boot.

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology – Now this museum was much more my style. I always find history of people and civilisations much more fascinating than the planet’s (unless we’re talking astronomy). While the presentation is a touch dated it was informative and clear.

Museum of Zoology – Having now been to several zoology themed museums I found myself a little jaded by this experience. Having said that, I can certainly see the appeal for others, with its large display cases and overviews of the various classifications it offers the more curious information and the less so a bunch of animals to gawk at.

Food and drink wise Cambridge has a wealth of coffee shops and eateries catering for students and travellers alike. Dojo Noodle Bar came with several recommendations and was indeed well-priced, fast and tasty.

Getting around in Cambridge is a breeze. It’s very easy to walk around and the train station is only a 10-15mins walk from town centre.

A trip to Cambridge is quite pleasant and a few days should be more than enough. My only regret was that I didn’t get the opportunity to punt down the Cam.

Also any of my Cambridge friends (or random readers) please feel free to correct any of this in the comments!

Maps are over at Google Maps.

Photos are over at Flickr.

V&A Museum of Childhood

December 26, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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I’d been meaning to visit the V&A Museum of Childhood for a while but it seems so out of the way that I’d put it off. However it’s near Bethnal Green so it’s really a non-issue and I wish I’d taken the chance to come ages ago. It’s very cool.

So why is it cool? Well it has things for all ages from kids to adults, with a mixture of display cabinets and hands on activities (though some of the latter you’ll have to pay for).

The museum provides both a timeline f toys and childhood activities from Victorian times while also applying a kind of scientific classification regime by having sections devoted to different types of toys such as those with a look see component (from those old time spin wheel contraptions to video games) to push/pull toys like bicycles.

Thus it teaches how these larger theories are applied to childhood and even if the kids don’t get it parents will. Although the parents might just as easily be relieving their (or their grandparents) youth by looking at some of the older items.

Personally I saw a lot of familiar 80s/90s examples. I assume there were more recent ones but these weren’t particularly clear.

On the second floor you’ll come across a wide selection of doll houses, various baby cribs through the ages and a special exhibit space. When I visited it was showcasing the work of the Roald Dahl artist Quentin Blake but these change often so best check.

One of my few criticisms is that the display cases have frosted panels providing an explanation of the contents, which is excellent, however they can sometimes obscure an individual item’s description.

All in all a very enjoyable time and one worth visiting – especially as it’s free!

Photos of some of the toys and other displays are at Flickr.

The Guards Museum

December 26, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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The Guards Museum offers a history and background to those units responsible for protecting the Queen and the royal palaces.

I have to admit I was not in the most positive mindset when I came to visit as I was a touch hungry and dehydrated but on the whole I found it lacking.

Once you enter you can watch an introductory movie and watch is the operative word as it wasn’t clearly audible. Subtitles would have been a boon.

The other element that annoyed me was there didn’t seem to be an overview of why the early divisions (if that’s the correct term) were established it just launched into some of their early missions etc. It could have been on the video and if I missed the relevant information board please tell me and I’ll retract.

Having said that some of the more modern additions to the guards did include an explanation.

There are numerous information panels and brief descriptions for the multitude of artefacts, which is all very useful except for when a there is a summary of a battle and the outcome is left incomplete or completed elsewhere in the museum and I was too dim-witted to find the next relevant panel.

There is indeed a lot for the military buff to look at in this museum so my complaints shouldn’t detract you too much from visiting. For everyone else, it is only £3 and so could be somewhat interesting.

The Guards museum on birdcage walk  is a short distance from Buckingham Palace or St James’s Park station. Depending on how interested you are in the exhibits it’ll take between 30-80 minutes.

Charles Dickens Museum

December 26, 2009 at 11:58 am | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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I recently paid a visit to the Charles Dickens Museum and it was here that a rather unfortunate truth became apparent: I am not a reader nor am I ever likely to be able to discuss the works of Dickens or any other great writer. For this I do apologise to you and to me, it is one of those self-improvement tasks that will likely percolate without ever truly boiling.

So with that said this is my caveat about the museum. I am unfamiliar with Dickens in all but the Christmas Carol and Doctor Who of senses thus I cannot discuss with conviction the content of the museum.

However, I did go with more knowledgeable people and they seemed particularly interested in the various pieces of paper and information boards relating to his life and the development of various stories.

So assuming for the time being that the content will hold a literature fan’s interests let’s now look at the presentation.

The house has 4 level (including a basement) and a small garden. The basement is where you can watch a video that provides a bit of an overview of Dickens, his work and the house he lived in where the museum is now housed. While a touch long it does provide enough context to view the rest of the displays.

The remainder of the house looks at Dickens’ London, items he used, drafts of stories and information on the man and his life. After watching the movie some of this is repetitive.

Information was easily accessible and clear but alas much of its importance was lost on this dullard.

It must be clear by now that the museum will be of most benefit to fans of Dickens and literature of the period. Given it’s the Charles Dickens Museum that’s hardly a revelation. For what it is and it’s target demographic the museum does a good job. For the rest of us though you could give it a miss.

The Charles Dickens Museum costs £6 and takes about an hour or so to look around (including a 30 min video).

The Royal Mews and The Queens Gallery

December 26, 2009 at 11:15 am | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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The Royal Mews and The Queens Gallery, which adjoin Buckingham Palace are both run by the royal collection and through much of the year a joint ticket can be purchased (you can also combine the ticket with a tour of the palace state rooms when those are open as well).

When I visited I went to both so thought it only fair to write it up as such.

The Mews and Gallery offer different content and experiences but the unifying theme of royalty runs through them both.

Let’s start with the mews. The mews were originally the royal stables but only retain a portion of that function now. Horses remain on site as do the other, more modern vehicles the royal family uses to get around. Although it’s unlikely they’ll be popping down to Tesco’s for a pint of milk.

Most of the publicly accessible areas are given up to displays of the various horse-drawn coaches. Most notably the ostentatious coronation carriage with its massively intricate and golden design.

So for the transport buff there’s the mews but what of the art lover? Well that’s when you walk down the street and go into the Queen’s Gallery. The gallery has a changing list of exhibitions so it’s best to check their website or you could just wander in.

When I ventured in it was to find an exhibit on French porcelain. Initially I was a bit skeptical but I came away finding the process challenging and the results delicate and beautiful.

Not to be drawn into stereotypes but you could almost say this was a suitable compromise date with something for him and her.

The Royal Mews took about 30 mins at a cost of  £7.75  (including audio guide). The Queens Gallery took me about an hour and costs £8.50 for an adult. A combined ticket is £15.

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