Chin Chin Labs: Nitro Ice Cream in Camden

July 13, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Posted in Cafes & Restaurants, Food, General, London, Out and About, UK | Leave a comment
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At Camden Lock there’s a new ice cream parlour: Chin Chin Labs. It bills itself as London’s first nitro ice cream parlour.

So what does that mean?

The staff use nitrogen to snap freeze liquid base that becomes the ice cream. You can get vanilla, lemon or chocolate with a variety of toppings.

During the snap freeze process the gas creates a cooling and atmospheric mist that rolls off the mixing bowl and during summer is a wonderful relief.

I selected a Madagascar vanilla bean base with chocolate, hazelnut and rasberry toppings. At first glance I thought the quantity for £3.5o was a little small but it’s surpisingly dense and filling.

Nitro ice cream

Now the flavour. It was remarkably smooth and tasty, with no threat of an ice cream headache. The combination of toppings also worked quite well.

One of the owners who served me advised that in winter they’ll be doing warm options too. Might come back for that as well.

It’s certainly a novel creation method and tastes great but I wouldn’t recommend it as a special trip but if you’re in the area definitely check it out.

The ‘lab’ is located at 49-50 Camden Lock Place (look out for the shop with the swing chairs).

Unfortunately their website doesn’t yet specify the opening times.

Also the FT article was particularly useful in inspiring me to visit.

Jewish Museum

July 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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London’s Jewish Museum has been closed for 2 years while refurbishment and modernization work takes place.

I didn’t go to the old version so I can’t comment on the changes but what’s there (in a limited physical space) is rather impressive.

When we visited the museum had a special exhibit on “Illuminations” showing a number of Jewish books and texts with intricate calligraphy, illustrations and histories. For instance, many had been collected by Christian scholars for their artistic and religious merits.

Working our way down we learnt about the Jewish experience in the UK, from their arrival in 1066, expulsion, re-admittance, the World Wars, the formation of Israel and modern life.

There is also a section on the Holocaust, which was done really well. The curators traced one British Jew’s experience as he was taken to a death camp, eventually freed by American soldiers and his life back in Britain. My only complaint about this gallery is the lack of seating for the 22min film. Consequently I didn’t each much of it.

The first floor is devoted to the religious faith and cultural practices that make up the Jewish faith. It provides a very useful primer.

The museum has made  wonderful use of technology, which help to maximize the available space. For example:

  • touch screens abound with the option to learn more about specific topics
  • various buttons to bring up video/audio content, such as an introduction to Jewish theatre,
  • a touch table to find out more about modern Jewish life in the UK. I tried to explain how to use it to a couple of older ladies but was only partially successful

It’s a shame that after a pleasant time and friendly staff my last encounter was with a rather condescending staff member/volunteer who ‘explained’ how to exit the building.

Despite that on the whole its an informative and well presented museum that is particularly useful for those unfamiliar with Judaism, especially the UK experience.

The museum is located in Camden and costs £7 for adults.

Random: Tower Bridge opening at night

July 11, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, photos, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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I’d always thought that I would need to check the Tower Bridge opening times website in order to see the bridge’s arms open but by sheer random luck I was walking home and saw it happening the other night.

So here are a couple pictures:

Tower Bridge opening at night

Tower Bridge opening at night

Something random.

July 10, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Posted in General, Random | Leave a comment
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I’ve been seeing the following referral search term crop up quite frequently:

“famous roundabout in paris”

Finally I plugged it into Google.

what the?

I was quite surprised to see that my post was the top result! Random but sort of cool and sort of weird as it was created two years ago and it’s a rather random search term.

If there are any SEO experts out there who want to explain that’d be cool!

And for future reference the roundabout is the Arc de Triomphe. 🙂

Might need to go back to Paris now.

Also in other random news get yourselves over to Diamond Geezer‘s blog. He very kindly included me in a post of blog roll links. Thanks!

Discover Greenwich Museum

July 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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The Discover Greenwich Museum is a new and exciting addition to the Greenwich landscape. Located near the Old Royal College and Cutty Sark, the museum looks out over the river and is full of interactive goodness.

Greenwich (20)

Oh and information.

That’s important too, not just the bright and shiny things.

When you enter you can either start wandering through the various exhibits or head to the centre of the room for a giant model of the area. The story of Greenwich is then periodically projected down onto the model. It’s very well done but I would suggest that they include a countdown on the screens that surround it, as it wasn’t clear when the next one would start.

Greenwich (5) Greenwich (9)

The rest of the museum covers the role of Greenwich from medieval times to today, looking at the construction of some of its landmarks and its place in naval history.

Greenwich (7)

The museum offers an excellent introduction to Greenwich before heading deeper into places like the Observatory, National Maritime Museum and Old Royal Naval College.

We took our time and it we were done in 30 minutes – oh and it’s free!

Greenwich (12)

My other criticism was the service. I realise that taking a coffee into a museum can sometimes be a no-no (and sometimes it’s a yes-yes), upon entering I looked for appropriate signage and not seeing any we went in. A staffer told us we couldn’t drink it, which is fine, apparently there is a sign but it’s from their inside café leading to the inside of the museum. Not exactly useful to the rest of us. After being told we could sit on a bench within the museum to finish our drinks yet another staffer came by to ask that we don‘t. So now I will too. Complain that is. End of rant.

Greenwich (10)

Again besides that little hiccup it was worth a visit.

More pictures over at Flickr.

Museum of London (part 2)

July 8, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 2 Comments
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Many years ago, when I first arrived in London, I visited the Museum of London. I was disappointed to find that it only went up to 1600 but was told they were going to be opening new sections in a few years.

And was the wait worth it?

Emphatically yes!

The new galleries are now putting the old ones well and truly to shame.

So did much happen to London between 1600 – now? Quite a bit, from the great fire, empire, wars and various social upheavals. The curators have done an excellent job of covering the city’s history and presenting the content in stimulating and memorable ways. On the downside, if it could be considered as such, there can be a bit too much information, so it’s not as easy to do a quick trip and if there are a lot of visitors it can be quite the challenge to read.

Some of the more interesting elements to the presentation are in the Victorian period where there’s not only a streetscape to wander along (make sure you pick up the summary board at the entrance) but also a ‘real’ pleasure palace. You can sit in the middle and watch videos projected onto the sides reenacting the period.

The new galleries also have a number of screens, many of which are touch enabled. When I visited it was painfully obvious that everyone has been influenced by Apple’s interactivity model (even me and I don’t have an iphone) in how we expected things to work when we did certain things. Generally it didn’t work directly how I assumed it would. This is fine, every system is different afterall, perhaps a brief instruction panel? Would this destroy the aesthetic too much?

The museum is free and well worth the visit for both cynical Londoners and tourists alike.

Windsor Castle

July 7, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Posted in General, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 3 Comments
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My university offers a number of tourist activities throughout the year, including reduced price tickets to see Windsor Castle. That was the excuse I needed to see one of the Queen’s residences in the town of Windsor (about an hour from Waterloo, London).

However, it did have the downside of putting me into a tour group situation which meant I didn’t really get the experience to explore Windsor (and Eton) or savour the castle as deeply as I may have wanted. On the plus side I met some great people. On the other downside, forgot my camera. So…. sorry about that.

After ascending the spiral road from the station we arrived at the visitor centre and being a group we were fast tracked past those waiting in line. Once through we picked up our audio guides (free with the ticket and absolutely essential for appreciating the castle). The normal caveat about audio guides and the unfortunate consequence of pacing around waiting for the dialogue to finish comes into play here.

You do get a few options as to which route to take, this is particularly advantageous as it acts to split the tourists up and hopefully making your progress through more pleasant than trudging in a sea of people.

After a view over the fields and town near the castle we entered the building proper. Our first sight was of an enormous and intricate dolls house, this then lead through a few other rooms housing special exhibits and some of table sets the Queen has received. Afterwards you make your way up a set of stairs into an imposing entry chamber with suits of armor and weapons on the walls. From here you proceed into a number of the state apartments, each with their own histories and artwork from the royal collection. Lastly you’ll go through sections dealing with the fire and reconstruction of the castle, some of the UKs military traditions and the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

Also within the castle grounds is a chapel which is very ornate. Although by this point I/we were flagging so opted to do a quick view before heading out to lunch.

Would I recommend Windsor Castle? It’s difficult. I certainly think it’s interesting and has a dramatic history and setting but conversely the adult entry price (even with audio guide) makes me shudder a little at £16. I was certainly happy to pay the discounted rate £13.05. Yes it’s only £3 but exceeding £15 for a ticket is a strong psychological barrier.

However if that price isn’t too bad for you should go!

San Francisco – January 2010

July 6, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, Food, General, museum, Out and About, Random, Tourism, Travel, USA | Leave a comment
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This was my second visit to San Francisco but the first time as an adult so it was time to party!

San Francisco (218)

I got a great deal through Expedia and stayed at the Hyatt Regency in downtown. The room and service were excellent –  just what I needed at the end of a long trip.

Now onto the stuff. It’s always about the stuff! Oh I’m going to be completely touristy here.

Alcatraz
Well why not start with one of the most well known prisons in the world. Predictably the ferry trip over was surrounded by fog thus helping to create the ideal atmosphere.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (118) Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (121)

You can opt for an audio guide or not but obviously it’s better with one (and comes with the ticket anyway). I was somewhat familiar with the prison but didn’t know that it was also a military fort, a Native American sit-in protest site and lastly a nature reserve. Many of the buildings are in a state of neglect (probably managed by the Parks Service to keep it at the same level from when they took it over).

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (22)

I rather liked the tour. It was a little tiring walking around but the various anecdotes (such as prisoner escape attempts) made me forget all about sore legs! Or perhaps it was the refreshing sea air.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (111)

I went early and would suggest the same as it helps to bypass more tourists and maximises the amount of time you can spend on other sightseeing.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (86)

It may be a bit cliché to go and visit Alcatraz but it is worth the trip.

Fisherman’s Wharf and surrounds
Along the bay is the tourist destination of Fisherman’s wharf and Pier 39. There are an abundance of shops catering to tourists, it’s a bit of a trap but enjoyable to wander around in. Also at Pier 39 you can also check out the seals.

Fisherman's Wharf - San Francisco 2010 Sealions at Pier 39 - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Throughout the Wharf, Piers and San Francisco you’ll come across stores selling clam chowder in sour dough bowls. I finally tried it at Boudin’s Bakery (which also has a tour but I didn’t go on it). I thought the dough was a bit, well, sour but on the whole rather nice and filling.

Clam Chowder Sourdough bowl (Boudin Bakery) - San Francisco 2010

Lastly, you might be interested in checking out Musée Mécanique which houses a number of historic penny arcade machines. Most, if not, are still useable and looks like it could be a lot of fun (and just a touch geeky) to play around with.

Musee Mecanique - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Golden Gate Bridge Area
After a bit of a mammoth walk around San Francisco I walked towards the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Don’t worry there are public transport options I just felt like walking.

Before I got there I walked briefly through the presidio where there was a warning about the potentials for coyotes! Even so the presidio was surprisingly calming and relaxing.

Presidio Walk - San Francisco 2010 (2) Presidio Walk - San Francisco 2010 (1)

There’s also the chance to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum but I didn’t have time to go in and check it out. Not to mention the $20 entry fee seemed a little steep.

Walt Disney Family Museum - San Francisco 2010 (3)

At the base of the bridge you’ll find Fort Point. It’s free to enter and a very informative museum covering the history of the fort and military, the bridge and some of the city’s history as well. Top it all off with some excellent views from the roof of the fort and it was definitely one of my favourite places.

Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco 2010 (5) Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Other areas
Castro District – Otherwise known as a the LGBT heart of the city. Having heard so much about it for years I expected something particularly wild but it felt like it was a bit gentrified. A rather relaxing and easy going spot. In many ways it was the same sort of vibe as Sydney’s Oxford Street and London’s Compton Street.

Chinatown – Some Chinatowns can be smaller than you expect (London) and others exceed expectations. San Francisco falls under the latter, with numerous shops and cultural establishments down and around a long avenue.

Chinatown - San Francisco 2010 (1)

The Haight – I think I completely missed this iconic district after getting slightly turned around at Alamo Square. It’s apparently worthwhile but I don’t know. I’m not a hippy/ flower power kind of guy. Still it’d be another reason to come back to the city.

Museums that weren’t
Cable Car – I’m not entirely sure if I’d even found the correct spot. I was basing my search on an online mapping reference without having double checked the website. Lesson learnt.

Chinese Historical Society – Prominent signage exists throughout Chinatown and the surrounds. I was quite interested in checking it out but when I reached the ‘open’ museum I couldn’t enter and there didn’t seem to be any information on how to enter or what to do.

The Chinese Museum that wasn't - San Francisco 2010 (2)

Other
Lombard Street – It’s a twisty, twisty street. That’s about it. Still one of those things traditional tourist spots.

Lombard Street - San Francisco 2010 (1)

UN Plaza/Civic Center – San Francisco was where the UN Charter was signed so I couldn’t help but take a few moments at the UN Plaza. Although only a few moments, it felt a little seedy.

UN Plaza - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Ferry building – I came through on the weekend when it housed a farmers market on top of its regular shops. There were plenty of tourists and locals around calmly queuing for the various goodies on offer.

Coit Tower – This impressive tower stands atop a bluff looking out over the Bay. When I walked up I was too early, on a clear day it would be worthwhile to pay and take in the views from the top.

Coit Tower - San Francisco 2010 (4)

Food and drink
Mama’s – A brilliant breakfast at Washington Square. It’s popular with tourists and locals. The staff are busy but will try and help as much as possible.

Vesuvio – A number of people recommended this relaxed bar and it’s perfect for a catch up with friends (which I did with the wonderful LadyeeNerd)

Vesuvio - San Francisco 2010 (2)

Cafe Trieste – On a side street near a church this crowded cafe offers the usual assortment of coffees and snacks. Apparently it’s quite popular. The mocha was reasonable and sitting outside offered some decent people watching.

Blue Bottle – This was a late recommendation but it was a good call – thanks LaydeeNerd. The Blue Bottle was located at the Ferry Building and there was quite a queue on the weekend. While the mocha wasn’t as sweet as I’d like it was still nice and other patrons seemed happy with their brews.

Peet’s Coffee – A local coffee shop chain and it was excellent. The staff were friendly and the coffees tasty. I wish it was warmer so I could have tried their chillers as well. Oh well yet another reason to come back.

On the whole I liked the city but I don’t think I could live here. It’s not just because of all the hills but the city just seemed too quiet for me. There was a considerable lack of bustle. I’ve grown used to a certain level of activity after living in Sydney and London. Perhaps I could learn to thrive on less – but not yet.

Certainly for a holiday spot it’s great and well worth multiple visits. Often it seemed as though each corner brought out a new type of district, each with its own flavour. Hopefully next time I’ll go beyond the city core as well!

More photos at Flickr and locations at Google Maps.

Sydney – January 2010

July 5, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Posted in Australia, General, museum, Out and About, Sydney, Tourism, Travel | Leave a comment
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Obviously very late with this wrap up and for the next few. Regular readers will know this means that they tend to be shorter than usual. I do apologise for this but when procrastination is in the title it’s got to be expected. Right? Right?

Or not.

So with the mea culpa out of the way, let’s get down to business.

Has Sydney changed much in the past 2 and bit years since I left (over 3 at this writing!)? Not appreciably, no. There are always going to be new shops springing up and closing down but luckily the bustle and energetic vibe of the city remains. This was a nice and welcome contrast to the slightly less active Brisbane.

I was surprised by the redevelopment happening in Pitt Street Mall. Formerly one of the most frequented shopping streets and on my visit largely covered in scaffolds. Presumably this will lead to a super shopping experience in the future, nonetheless is was a touch unnerving.

Now onto the things I went and saw (for those wanting more Sydney activities check out the archive).

ANZAC Memorial
I used to walk past this imposing and towering memorial to Australia and New South Wales’ war dead practically every day on my way to work through Hyde Park and never went in. Even on my last helter skelter day it was still on the cards but never eventuated. So did it live up to the hype?

ANZAC Memorial - Sydney 2010 (14) ANZAC Memorial - Sydney 2010 (10)

Sort of. For foreign nationals it’ll probably only appeal to the military history buffs amongst you. As for an Australian, I did find it reasonably interesting.

There weren’t exactly a lot of exhibits or content but the curators have done a solid job of putting up information that covers the conflicts have been involved in, the lives of soldiers and their families and their current activities.

However, this is a memorial, to remember and reflect. The museum elements are simply there to put it into context.

ANZAC Memorial - Sydney 2010 (21)

Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout
Want to walk up the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge but don’t have the time or money to do the climb? No problem! The Bridge Pylon centre is here to help. Located on the south side of the bridge the right hand pylon houses a museum covering the construction and maintenance of the bridge as well as a viewing platform.

Pylon Lookout - Sydney 2010 (1)

Granted the views won’t be as magnificient as those from the top of the bridge but they’re still very good.

Pylon Lookout - Sydney 2010 (32)

This option is really much faster and cheaper than the climb so if either of these are limiting factors, then go for it!

Pylon Lookout - Sydney 2010 (24) Pylon Lookout - Sydney 2010 (33)

Sydney Observatory
Located near the southern pylons is the Sydney Observatory. It no longer functions in that capacity, rather it now houses a musuem covering the astronomy and the unique history involved in charting the southern hemisphere’s night sky.

Sydney Observatory - Sydney 2010 (9)

The observatory is set atop a hill (as you’d expect, really) and also offers some great views over the surrounding city. A few years ago I watched the new year fireworks from year – a great spot.

Sydney Observatory - Sydney 2010 (10)

However, one bugbear was that in several places it still referred to Pluto as a planet. If by chance they opposed the resolution stripping it of that status then at the very least they should put up a piece of paper explaining the position. If they don’t oppose it then it’s just laziness to no put up some statement. Afterall won’t someone think of the children (and their education!). …. end of rant.

Sydney Observatory - Sydney 2010 (28) Sydney Observatory - Sydney 2010 (27)

Besides that it was a very pleasant wander. In one instance I helped explain the working of a telescope to a family. OK really it was just verbally explaining the instructions to the English speaker in the group who then translated, but still! Don’t take away my moment.

I love visiting Sydney and look forward to coming back again. Will also have to get to Melbourne – people are always raving about you!

Lastly, a big thanks and special thanks to Amy’s mum. Sorry it’s taken so long to get move past Brisbane.

More photos over at Flickr and Google maps.

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