Cologne / Koln

July 13, 2012 at 10:00 am | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Back in 2011 while some friends went to the massive GamesCom in Cologne (Koln in German) I busied myself with being a tourist. I didn’t get to everything on my list but I am happy with those that I did. While the hotel (the excellent Radisson) was a bit far out, luckily it was less than a twenty minute walk, with most things close together.
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Without further ado:

Cologne Cathedral – you can take a look inside the cathedral, it’s impressive treasury and climb to the top for a view of the city. I did it with a backpack which on some of the tighter turns up the stair well was a little problematic. The cathedral is right near the station and remarkably survived the bombings of the war so make sure to check it out.
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Hohenzollern Bridge – do you have a lover, a boyfriend or girlfriend? Perhaps you want to seal that love with a lock on the side of this pedestrian and rail bridge. There are thousands covering the entire length of all varieties, some with messages too.
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Chocolate museum – A chocolate museum (sponsored by Lindt) sounds like an excellent thing. For the most part finding out about the chocolate cultivation, logistics and consumption was alright but the number of people there made it less than enjoyable. Also I was rather disappointed that the restaurant that had a great chocolate cake didn’t have the option for mochas. While they did have an excellent hot chocolate the lack of mochas boggles this chocolate lover. Side note a German friend derided this establishment as having less than great chocolate. I only wish I could remember those!
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Museum of city of Cologne – Offers a good history of the city from ancient to modern times, make sure you stop by for a visit.
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National Socialist Documentation Centre – One of the most impressive and minimalistic museums, in this nondescript building the museum recounts NAZI activity in the lead up to, during and after World War Two. The documentation centre was a prison, detention and execution centre with scrawled messages in the cells providing poignant reminders. I would definitely recommend getting the audio tour as there is limited signage (whether in German or in English). Start from the first floor which provides all the context before heading down to the cells.
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Museum Ludwig – modern art, modern art and more modern art. Again pick up the audio tour. I didn’t get it all (ok most of it) but a lot of it was very cool with some nice views from the outside patio
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Overall I was pleasantly surprised by Koln and enjoyed it a lot. Not least due to the company I was with at the time which allowed for a few drinks and schnitzels!
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Pictures at Flickr

Map at Google

Paris (again) 2011

July 12, 2012 at 10:00 am | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Moving slightly ahead of the year behind we come to a return to Paris from way back in August 2011.
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This was a brief stop over on the way to Germany (coming up next) and I was mainly aiming to chill out and wander around.
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I did want to go to the catacombs but unfortunately the line was literally around the block so that unfortunately didn’t happen. Guess I’ll have to come back again!

Luckily the Jewish Museum was an alternative that offered a good background to the Jewish experience in Paris, from the earliest days to today, including modern and religious art. Remember to pick up the audio guide as there’s limited English.
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Next stop is Cologne (Koln).
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Pictures at Flickr

Leeds Castle

July 11, 2012 at 10:03 am | Posted in General, Out and About, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Take a day trip out of London and go visit Leeds Castle (and you don’t need to go to Leeds to get there).
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The castle is actually in south-east England, in Maidstone Kent and is relatively easy to get to. Although you will have to time it with the coaches that will get you there and back again.
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It is very easy to spend a day here walking through the grounds or taking in bird shows

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If you’re here during a medieval showcase you may see some jousting!

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You can also do a host of other activities like falconry and segwway tours (sadly not together) or maybe just sit around and have a picnic.
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Much of the castle was modernised during the 1920s so you’ll get a taste of the glamour of that period but you’ll also have opportunities to see other areas which highlight the 1000 year history of the castle.

There’s also a maze!
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It really is a lovely estate and one I’d suggest you try and get to.

Photos at Flickr

Leamington Spa & Kenilworth

July 10, 2012 at 10:01 am | Posted in General, Out and About, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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The final part of my west midlands tour from a year ago was visiting Leamington Spa and Kenilworth. I stayed at a central but less than great Travelodge (for the price should I really make my own bed?), although this was a year ago so perhaps it has improved.
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Leamington itself, while showing signs of recession was a good central base for the surrounding area and was quiet and pleasant to walk without ever feeling dangerous. What’re the main things to do:

Royal Pump Rooms – The main museum for the town, showcasing it’s history as a resort town famous for it’s waters (and being popular with Queen Victoria)

Jephson Gardens – A set of gardens (shocking I know) near the pump rooms. Nice for a walk around.
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Kenilworth Castle – this was undoubtedly the highlight of my time in the west midlands. A big call I know. Perhaps it was because I’d only heard of the castle in passing, that it took a bus ride and a walk to find or maybe the other sites from the region had tempered my expectations. The Castle, like so much in Britain has a storied history, particularly as home to Robert Dudley the love of Elizabeth I.
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Most of the Castle is now in ruins and that’s what gives this site its power for me. For once British weather was only overcast and windy but lacked rain. Venturing through the collapsed walls with nothing but fields surrounding you, with the air whipping around provided an excellent atmosphere. Dare I say even a romantic one?
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Make sure to pick up the audio tour and take in the ornate gardens.
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I realise my in-depth descriptions may make Leamington Spa sound quite dull. Perhaps it is but sometimes you need a bit of a break and Leamington offers just enough stuff (or access to stuff) to make a weekend of it. Or if you feel like it a day trip.

Photos at Flickr

Map at Google


July 9, 2012 at 10:00 am | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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While continuing my recap of adventures had a year ago, here is round up of what Warwick has to offer.

Warwick Castle – It’s apparently Britain’s ultimate castle and does quite feel like it. There are some extensive grounds to picnic or stroll around, although you do have to share it with some peacocks. The history of the castle and its place in broader British history is interesting, such as its involvement in the civil war and even attempts at modernising its power supply offer something for everyone. Oh wait you don’t think that’s enough? OK well there are trebuchet, knights and archery displays too.
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You’ll have to pay additional charges if you want to do the Merlin (as in the tv show) tower and dungeon shows. Both of which I did do and they have high snark/campiness values but if you can put that aside you might have a laugh. I only smiled wryly. Warwick Castle is the primary attraction hence all the time spent on it here. It is silly and over the top but there is something slightly endearing about it especially on a nice day and when you get to the top of the battlements and have a view over the surrounding area. It is possible to spend a good chunk of the day here but also have enough time to check out Warwick’s other sites.
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Warwickshire museum – a mid sized museum with some interesting displays covering the geology, dinosaurs, neolithic, Roman, medieval and modern history of the area. A good overall view.

St John’s House – a larger museum offering a social history of the area, covering everything from home life to the military. I got here quite late in the day so had to rush around in about 20 minutes but if you can spare 30-40 you should get a decent idea.
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Lord Leycester Hospital – is a 16th century building that’s primarily a home for retired servicemen but given its age is also home to a museum and also permits tours of its chapel (apparently Tolkein got married there) and gardens. The staff were quite friendly and it was a pleasant wander although the military history didn’t really engage me (I put that down to fatigue). NB the link is to Wikipedia as their main site doesn’t appear to be working.
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After all of that I don’t really know if ‘adventures’ was the right term. Nonetheless it was pretty interesting if a touch commercial, although the castle offers a lot for families.

Photos at Flickr

Map at Google


July 8, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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About a year ago I visited Stratford-upon-Avon, most famous for being the birthplace of Shakespeare and home to the Royal Shakespeare Company. So, what can you see and do in Stratford-upon-Avon (not to be confused with Olympic hosting Stratford), well:

Royal Shakespeare Company and RSC tower – you can visit the RSC to take in-person tours, an audio tour and go up the tower to take in the view. The tours and tower were booked out for the day I visited and the audio tour was not working. I’d recommend you download the tour before you come (I tried to do it on my old HTC Desire but was unable to play it). Unfortunately a year later this link (and service?) no longer seems to be available. You can also take in a performance if you have time.
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Bancroft Gardens – These gardens are located by the river and and the RSC and are an excellent way to sit back and watch the world unfold. Very relaxing.
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Holy Trinity Church – A small church near the banks of the river, which is worth a look for its architecture, grounds and as the place where Shakespeare is buried.
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Shakespeare Birthplace – This really should be your first stop as it provides more than just the place Shakespeare was born but also a broad context of his life and the importance of his works. You will probably have to contend with a fair few tourists here though.You can also buy the multi-pass for the other buildings they manage.
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Halls Croft and Nash’s House – the other two trust properties in town offer more historical context and background to the archaeological process. Neither take a particularly long to do and are worth a quick look. The trust runs a couple of other properties but they’re not as accessible, especially on a day trip.
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Farmers Market – Depending on when you visit you may come across the farmers market between the station and all the Shakespeare stuff.
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On the whole Stratford-upon-Avon is interesting and worth a visit. Personally though I’d probably only spend a day (or less here).

Photos at Flickr.

Map at Google.

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