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

Victoria to Angel Walk

March 3, 2009 at 12:19 am | Posted in General, London, Out and About, photos, Random | 2 Comments
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Playing catch up on another photolog. I used to live in Angel and until recently worked in Victoria during that time I would regularly walk to and from on a journey crossing central London. Here is a selection of photos from that route.

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More at Flickr.

Snow Day

March 2, 2009 at 11:28 pm | Posted in General, photos, Random | Leave a comment
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About a month (and a season) late here are a few photos from London’s big snow day. It seemed appropriate to post now that reports into the transport collapse have been finalised. I wish I could have made it into the city to photograph some of the major sites but being a child again and playing in the snow was a lot of fun. I can’t wait till the next big snow fall or even venturing a bit further afield and going skiing or somesuch.

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More photos at Flickr!

Manchester

March 9, 2008 at 11:31 pm | Posted in General, Manchester, Out and About, photos, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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Myself and Miki made our way to Manchester on Friday to meet our resident local – Rhiannon and to catch up since we had gone our separate ways in Sydney. Although first we’d have to get on the train. We would have to take the overland from Euston and we arrived at the underground tube station. As we were making our way out were informed that the station was being evacuated and we were to take the next tube out. After arriving at Kings Cross a quick call to Virgin Trains advised that the evacuation had been canceled and even more fortuitously we would be allowed to use our ticket on a later train. Arriving at Euston again our ticket was validated for the 12:30 train (an hour late) and after finding some seats we settled in for a 2 hour trip.

Manchester feels like a big spread out city but is remarkably easy to walk around (at least in the core). We checked into our apartment for the night and then headed into the city for a wander around the main streets and next to the major buildings.

In the city center near Harvey Nichols is a Tudor period pub the Old Wellington with wood beams and and walls. With meals, drinks, reasonable service, ambient atmosphere and views over the city it is a charming spot. While a little cramped it all adds to the experience and during the summer I’m sure sitting out in the courtyard with the pub or wheel as your backdrop would make this a great venue.
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The Manchester Wheel – I’ve never been on the London Eye and now I’ve been on it’s smaller cousin I’ll have to make the effort. For £6 (adult) you get 3 rotations. The first time is slow as you’ll be listening to an audio track providing a history of the wheel and pointing out local sights.
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At night and without knowing the city it can be a little challenging to to get your bearings before the guide has moved on. You can even choose the audio in different languages.
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The next two rotations are relatively fast and I’d say all up it took about 15 minutes but was a lot of fun. If you feel like splashing out you can spend £50 – £65 for the VIP gondola. I hope for that money it’s more than 15 minutes.

In the square next to the Wheel is a giant TV screen and unlike many other screens, it actually has sound so it’s quite possible to watch Eastenders!
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That night we ate at East Z East Indian restaurant. While the underground blue neon pillars and foliage is all a bit surreal the food and wine were filling, delicious and affordable. The service was friendly and efficient as well. They have a few branches so if you’re in the mood for Punjabi cuisine give it a try.

The next day started out gloomy but we ate a hearty breakfast before once again walking around town.

There was Manchester Cathedralscene of some horrific fighting and then of course, controversy.
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Afflecks Palace-Lots of alternative and vintage shopping (clothes mainly) in this multi-level shopping arcade with a range of different vendors.
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Chinatown – While it lacks a pedestrian mall it does have a cool arch and a load of Asian restaurants nearby.
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The Town Hall(currently celebrating St Patricks Day) and was featured on “How we Built Britain” as a masterpiece of Victorian engineering constructed at the height of the city’s industrial power.
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There are tours of the building but this week it was on a Sunday so we missed out but took a wander around instead. The lower floors are all well crafted with vaulted ceilings and inlays with exquisite architecture.
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The higher floor were less opulent and on a Saturday felt more like an abandoned school. HWBB has a potentially unhealthy interest in the heating used in the building and as a result of this repetition I found myself obsessing about it as well.

Urbis is an exhibition center focusing on city life culture.
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When we visited they had a display on “d&ad – the best design and advertising in the world” with some very funky ads and design pieces ranging from print and audio to video games and mix media. There was also an exhibit from recent graduates with a variety of avant garde work.
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Sadly, I missed out by a week on the upcoming manga exhibition so if you’re in town check it out.
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Also of note is the lift. The building is a unique slanted design and apparently getting a standard lift would require it to have a railway license so they opted for the counterweight option thus creating a multi-stop rollercoaster (probably the slowest!).
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After looking at the displays we went down to Urbis’ cafe The Social and took some time out.
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While there we looked outside at the various groups of young teens milling about in the plaza. Apparently just chilling but the police may not have been so sure as there were a lot of them talking to them. I’m not sure why they had such issues these young people just seemed to be talking and hanging.
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<Sigh> ‘young people’ clearly I no longer perceive myself as a ‘young person’

At any rate the rain forced them away more effectively than the police presence and in turn we kept inside the cafe until I had to leave for the train back to London.
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And as per the journey up the journey back was similarly challenging. All trains going to London were going to take another hour in travel time so my train was cancelled and I left half an hour later and took 4 hours to get back to Euston. The bathroom I sat next to was particularly odious.

Luckily there was a group of young guys who were mildly entertaining and they persuaded a dog trainer who joined the train at Coventry after a competition to get her second place dog to do tricks. It was enough to break the boredom for the last stretch.

Overall I enjoyed Manchester. It was easy to traverse and while there is more to see and do I feel like I received a good sample of the city. Obviously, having a local helps but I’m sure it’ll be entertaining for you as well.

More photos on Flickr and a Google map with locations here.

The Imperial War Museum

January 27, 2008 at 3:12 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, photos, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Saturday afternoon I took the Northern line down to Elephant & Castle and the Imperial War Museum.

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My what big guns you have!

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The museum grounds also feature a Tibetan peace garden and a walk through England’s native trees.

Most of the museum is free with the exception of the occasional special exhibit.

Once you enter you’ll be in the main atrium, which is filled with a variety of modern armaments from nuclear missiles to turn of the century aircraft and artillery.

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The keyword here is modern. The IWM only covers British involvement in conflicts from The Great War to today. According to their Information Desk more historic wars can be found at the National Army Museum. I just hope this doesn’t mean I’d have to find the National Maritime Museum for their perspective on the same events.

After browsing the big items on the ground floor head downstairs to the history of World War I and II. Both cover the causes, battles, home front, resolution and repercussion to these wars. Generally, this is done through large font summary texts as well as smaller descriptions for the items in the display cases. While obviously not an in depth analysis they will provide a general sense of the time. However, as I’m passingly familiar with the events I’d have preferred some more information… in the larger text as that’s all I was reading.

Both War exhibits feature and ‘experience’ portion. The first is in the trenches – it’s like you’re a part of a giant diorama. The second is the London Blitz, where after spending a few minutes in the shelter you walk out into a blasted street with audio characters talking about the impacts. Both are OK but if there’s a line up you could easily skip it or try again later.

The lower ground also features post-WWII conflicts in fairly sparse displays, for example the Falklands has only one screen, Vietnam has three and the Irish “troubles” are about a third of a screen. Although in fairness the Cold War display while brief was relatively comprehensive.

After finishing here head up to the First Floor. Here you’ll find a few more large armaments as well as a display on survival at sea for the merchant navy, the Victoria & George Cross display (it seemed closed) and an exhibit covering the Secret War of intelligence agencies and covert units. While the exhibit is well set up it was too brief. I realize that there may be some classified materials but presumably they could have made more of the efforts undertaken during World War II and the Cold War. By efforts I really mean gadgets.

Next, on the second floor are two sections dealing with art from the two world wars. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to walk through here. Also on this floor was a temporary exhibit looking at propaganda posters. At this point I was starting rush a little so I only glanced at the posters without reading the explanatory text. However, there is quite a range from the allied and axis powers and well worth a visit.

Level 3 brings us to the Holocaust and is for ages 14+. The exhibit is well done with a history of Jews in Europe before Hitler, the laws used to separate the Jews and other minorities from the larger society and the eventual extermination. Videos of survivor testimonies and other artifacts of the period makes it a moving and reflective experience – particularly so close to Holocaust Memorial Day.

The final part of IWM is on level 4 and titled “Crimes Against Humanity” and is recommended for those 16+. This is not so much an exhibit rather a learning centre. You can sit and watch a 20 minute video outlining the whys of crimes against humanity as well as possible means of stopping or reducing them or you can sit and use the interactive screens to learn about various crimes past and present. The video is top level, which is handy for those with short attention spans, while the database content appears to be quite comprehensive.

While all of the big guns might infer that the IWM glorifies war this is not the case. Rather it covers the causes, effects and aftermath with the last two levels highlighting the worst consequences. At best it might be arguing for a more proactive humanitarian intervention approach.

The museum takes a while to get around. For the history buff you’ll want to devote a serious chunk of time. I was only perusing and it still took me about 3 hours. While there you can hire an audio guide but I stopped using it mainly because it was using up a lot of time and only adding a little bit of colour with the summaries and anecdotes. Fortunately, there is enough text next to each exhibit to get the jist so you don’t need to rely on pacing around in circles while the audio guide plods on. 

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The Imperial War Museum is well worth a visit. It’s interesting and is well laid out but the time commitment and relative distance from the city centre and its hub of museums and attractions will make it more difficult if you’re only on a short trip.

Absolut Ice Bar

January 26, 2008 at 10:30 am | Posted in General, London, Out and About, photos, Random, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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London’s Absolut Ice Bar situated on Heddon Street near Regent Street in Mayfair is, as the name implies, an ice bar.

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For £15 you’ll get 40 minutes in the bar, a free drink and an incredibly snazzy cloak with gloves helpfully attached to the cloak.

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The bar is kept at -5C and is made of Swedish water and sculptured by artists from the famed Ice Hotel.

My imagination didn’t exactly live up to the reality. I’d like to blame James Bond for false expectations of ice buildings. I had thought the room would be larger and contain a few sculptures.

The ice bar actually consists of a metal floor (presumably non slip), ice walls and around the pillars and a few alcoves with ice benches covered in fur to sit on.
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The sculpting takes place predominantly along the walls with such things as this informative and mildly concerning text.
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At the bar your first drink is free (refills are about £7). You’ll be able to choose an Absolut Vodka drink served in your very own square edible ice cup. Good thing you’ve got those gloves. The price of the drinks relative to the volume of liquid in your cup isn’t very good value for money so I only had my complimentary drink.

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Perhaps because of this I felt that 40 minutes was more than enough time.

The cold – at least while wearing the cloak – didn’t cause too much discomfort so you shouldn’t have any concerns about freezing. My camera on the other hand was not so lucky. The cold sapped the energy out of my battery making it almost unusable by the end.

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Maybe I should just stop taking photos.

I’m glad that I went to the Ice Bar I had a great time with my friends and it is something to cross off my list – especially as I never went to the ice bar in Sydney. However, unless you’re a die hard ice/vodka fan, on its merits the ice it is not worth the money.

For the real experience going to Sweden and the Ice Hotel may be the better experience.

Tower Bridge

January 24, 2008 at 10:30 am | Posted in General, London, Out and About, photos, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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London’s Tower Bridge is not just another bridge but fits within the ever growing list of bridge based tourist attractions. Unlike many other cities (like Sydney) London will soon be home to its second bridge attraction. I know! Who knew that a means of transit could produce such a niche industry.

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What does the exhibit offer and is it worth the £6 entry fee? The short answer is a bit and maybe.

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The slightly longer answer is 2 brief videos of the history of the bridge, entry to an old (working) engine room, oh and access to the walkways between the towers overlooking the city.

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Honestly, I’d never really thought about the age of the tower and as its architecture blends with the nearby Tower of London I had assumed they were of a similiar period and it had simply been upgraded. I wouldn’t say I was surprised that it had been constructed in 1894 rather it was more of an ‘oh that makes sense’ moment.

Clearly, the designer’s intent of matching the surrounding area worked well. At least on this oblivious idiot. Although in my defence I don’t remember any pictures or videos with the bridge being raised plus it was only the towers themselves I’d thought of as old not the entire construction.

The engine room, which is outside of the towers is interesting for your inner engineer. Personally, whenever I saw the diagrams of the piston and gear movements I was having flashbacks to any number of intelligence and personality quizzes. If big machinery isn’t your thing you can skip this section but after paying your entry fee you might as well get your money’s worth.

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The walkways feature sliding windows so you can take unobstructed pictures.

Down to Canary Wharf on one side.
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Towards Westminster on ther other.
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I was there in the early evening (in winter it looks a lot later) but the Tower’s are relatively low and their obvious position over the river means that the Thames at night will impact on cityscape style photos. Daylight would obviously rectify this problem but I am happy to have gone when I did as I have plenty of photos of the city skyline and this was an opportunity to see it at night.

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I prefer the views up to Westminster as there was more to see on either bank and across the river with London Bridge, St Paul’s and HMS Belfast to name a few.

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For the views and a little bit of history (as well as alternative designs) the cost at this London attraction is reasonable and if you’re not planning any other high rise sightseeing worth the visit.

I should also apologise for the blur in these photos. My camera is not good with night shots and any kind of movement. Might be time to upgrade…

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

January 23, 2008 at 10:34 am | Posted in General, London, Out and About, photos, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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It may be a replica but that doesn’t detract too much from Shakespeare’s Globe at Southwark near the Tate Modern and over the river from Saint Paul’s.

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Unless you’re going to a show you should pay the £9 allowing you access to the museum and the 45mins tour. Otherwise it’s about £4 for each part.

I arrived about 20 minutes before the tour and this was just enough time to do a quick whip around the museum. The museum discusses the history of the Globe (and its reconstruction), theatre in Shakespeare’s day and surprisingly the theories of whether Shakespeare wrote the plays were delved into.

There were also sections on clothing, artisians and music in the theatre but I only glanced through them so you may want to devote a little more time if you’re interested in these topics.

Touch screens as well as a few video screens are also available for more information.

Lastly, on the ground floor before going on the tour you may be able to take a few minutes and watch some stage combat and chat to the actors.

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At the beginning of the tour I was a bit concerned that the guide was only going to reiterate items from the museum but this wasn’t the case. Although my lack of intensive reading could mean this isn’t entirely accurate.

Although there were quite a few of us on the tour the guide projected his voice well and was friendly and engaging. He gave us a brief overview before taking us into the ground floor of the theatre with progressively more information as we moved higher into the Globe.

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Apart from the sprinkler system, concrete floor and fire escapes (oh health and safety you are so irritating) the building is largely the same as the original and was constructed using methods and materials available to Elizabetheans. Quite the task.

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While the theatre predominantly runs Shakespeare’s work they also develop their own original perfomances which they use to explore the theatre’s unique open space and natural lighting.

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For the actor or English major the Globe will be particularly interesting but for everyone else it is only an average exhibit. Despite the history of theatre and the excellent efforts of the staff it is difficult to significantly upsell the fact that at the end of the day it is only a building.

A lack of extensive historical information about the Globe means that there are only limited contemporary anecdotes and these could have brought the theatre even more to life.

Day 4 Paris Trip: The Latin Quarter and the Jardin du Luxembourg

January 22, 2008 at 10:30 am | Posted in Anime & Manga, books, Comics, France, General, Manga, Out and About, Paris, photos, Tourism, Travel | 6 Comments
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The last day in Paris was spent with a journey to the Latin Quarter and the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens).

I’ll start with the gardens first. I walked and used the Metro but you might prefer to ride a bicycle. Throughout Paris are bike rental stations  –Velib -where you basically hire it and can return to any other station. For the safety conscious they don’t come with helmets.

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Meanwhile, the gardens are home to the French Senate.

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Extensive grounds.

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Statues.

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Chess games alongside the sleeping homeless.

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Flower beds and bare trees – presumably the place would be spectacular to walk around in spring.

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Or you could play tennis.

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Overall, the gardens allow for a relaxing stroll around the grounds. A pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

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Even in the slight chill there are plenty of people taking the opportunity to sit around, contemplate, chat or have lunch.

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I’ve often complained that London lacks any trash cans and I realise there are safety concerns but it wasn’t until Paris that I realised why even the clear bag option may not work.

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Then again perhaps a slightly thicker non explosive/metallic material would still allow for a clean and safe environment?

Once out of the Gardens I took to the Latin Quarter in earnest. Home of higher education for the esteemed university La Sorbonne. Thus almost completing my pained and over stretched analogy of a trip of highs.

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Or more cultural highs at the Pantheon. Or, rather I’m sure there would be if I’d actually gone in.

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Or the high from finding a real life manga cafe in Paris – near a number of other comic/DVD/book shops. After all it is a university student district.

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The blue shop is Album comics but while trying to find the URL I stumbled upon the Boulevard des Bulles which is the same area.

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As the masthead indicates this is Boulinier and on the right down the small Rue Serpente (with a yellow awning) is the small but potentially interesting AAAPoum.

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Another books shop I stopped in was Shakespeare’s (towards Notre Dame). A well known second hand English bookstore where the staff actually live in the shop. As you walk around you’ll see the folded up beds and the sparse belongings in small piles so as to not disrupt the customers.  

And now a last smattering of photos from the Latin Quarter. Definitely a worthwhile part of the city to get lost in.

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After leaving the Latin Quarter I picked up my bags from the hotel and headed to the station, Gare du Nord, for my final high. The high speed train.

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Arriving back in Kings Cross.

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Overall, I liked Paris, despite warnings I was not prepared for the distances involved. Realistically, I could have packed more in and left a day early but in part this holiday was about taking things relatively slowly and chilling out a bit. For the most part this was accomplished so the next time I make it to France I’ll be able to travel further afield.

Now that I’ve dipped my toe into Europe I doubt it’ll be too long before I’m back on the continent!

More photos on Flickr!

Day 3 Paris Trip: Notre Dame and The Eiffel Tower

January 21, 2008 at 10:30 am | Posted in France, General, Out and About, Paris, photos, Tourism, Travel | Leave a comment
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I woke up late on day 3, got ready quickly and headed to my next stop in the high places of Paris Tour (having done the culturally high yesterday). My first stop was the Notre Dame cathedral but first I made a detour by a popular crepe maker so I could get a life supply of Nutella smeared onto a crepe and later my face.

I’d originally planned to go to the Notre Dame via the Hotel de Ville – seat of Parisian government – so I could try the temporary ice skating rink that had been set up outside. Fortunately I didn’t have to embarrass myself trying to skate as I didn’t bring any gloves and these are apparently a necessity. I’m not sure why as the ice wasn’t exactly frozen.

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At any rate I walked over the Seine to the plaza in front of the cathedral before walking in and doing another quick loop inside.

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Not a whole lot of content although there is an audio guide you can pick up if you like. I also paid a few Euros to look through the treasury or a sample of the treasury. It wasn’t very interesting but I felt obliged to go in after coming all the way.

The high ceilings reminded me of St Paul’s and I assume when I get there, Westminister Abbey, as well. While impressive it didn’t live up to expectations and fantasy.

On the other hand the real reason to go (unless you’re here for prayer) is to climb to the top and look out over the city. I had to wait about 20 minutes before beginning the climb. I was relieved to be in the middle of the pack as I doubt I could maintain the pace for that long. Luckily, for those who do tire out completely there are alcoves to stop and let others pass. Priests in the cathedral’s hey day must have been pretty fit with all the stair climbing and bell ringing!

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Once you reach the top, take the requisite photos and move over to a bell tower. After navigating the small wooden stairs you can admire the bell and think of Quasi Modo.

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Of course, there are also the cathedral’s famed gargoyles!

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Afterwards you cross to the second tower and climb up to the viewing platform with even more views of the city.

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Lastly, you’ll climb all the way down and back to the cathedral’s courtyard.

I now made my way down through the Latin Quarter (more on that tomorrow), the train and my next stop the Eiffel Tower

I knew the Eiffel Tower was large but I never appreciated how large or how much it would dominate the city skyline.

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It wasn’t until I stood right under it that I began to comprehend its enormity.

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My other reaction to its sheer size and all those nuts and bolts was thinking about giant robot anime shows but that’s probably just me.

Even though it was late afternoon there were still quite a few people lining up. I’d been advised to walk up to the second level as this line usually went faster than the elevator queue. Walking up the Eiffel Tower was an experience and later on the return journey I felt a surge of accomplishment. Though that might be adrenaline as I was running down to catch the light show.

I’m getting a bit ahead, let’s rewind. You can walk around the first level or continue walking up to the second level.

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In retrospect you can keep going as the views won’t shift dramatically between the two but in terms of a sense of completion I walked around the sides first before moving up.

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On the second level I saw a woman who’d joined the elevator queue while I went for the walking option, so perhaps climbing isn’t a faster option or taking my time on level 1 was were I lost out.

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Level 2 doesn’t take that much time to walk around and as dusk was rapidly setting in I was eager to reach the top.

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Having only paid for the stairs I needed to purchase an additional ticket for the viewing platform elevator. After waiting in line for a few minutes I was whisked up to the top and looking out from the elevator was amazing as the city expanded and glowed below.

The elevator was just the warm up for the main attraction on the viewing platform, which is divided into enclosed and an open area above.

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Originally I’d wanted to see the city in daylight but as with so much the unexpected turned out to be the better experience. Paris is a relatively flat city so while there are these excellent vantage points dotted around you can almost be excused for thinking you were at the same spot and there is only so much of an expanding city you can look at before it loses its intrigue. That is until you’re on the Eiffel Tower at night.

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The city lit up looks fantastic. I’m going to misuse the term here but in this context it really is a city of light.

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Only the blustery wind and the extremely long queues to return to Level 2 put a dampener on my mood.

But this was short-lived because as I climbed down the Eiffel Tower’s light show began and it looked incredibly picturesque all lit up and with bulbs flashing everywhere. Unfortunately night images of the Tower are copyrighted by the authorities.

I know it’s a tourist cliche but the Eiffel Tower is definitely worth a visit. I would suggest at the end of your trip because you’ll be able to look out over the city at everywhere you’ve been and hopefully reminisce about all of the good times.

Onto day 4!

More photos on Flickr.

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