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.
Paris (10) Paris (8)

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.
Paris (4) Paris (1)

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.
Paris (16)

Next stop is Cologne (Koln).
Paris (6) Paris (5)

Pictures at Flickr

Warwick

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.
Warick Castle (58) Warick Castle (52)

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.
Warick Castle (39) Warick Castle (42)

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.
Warick (1)

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.
Warick (34) Warick (23)

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

Eltham Palace

April 14, 2012 at 11:40 am | Posted in London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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Want gardens, medieval history and art deco glamour? Then Eltham Palace is the place for you.
Eltham Palace (69)

It’s not exactly a palace though. It used to be but much of it was destroyed though there is still the impressive medieval hall with its high ceiling to look at.
Eltham Palace (65) Eltham Palace (64)

The more interesting element is the 1930s mansion that was built next to the medieval hall with its art deco opulence. Seeing these two sit side by side and imagining the lifestyle (assuming you don’t currently live in gold plated luxury) is the main reason to visit Eltham Palace.
Eltham Palace (59) Eltham Palace (53)

Although the rooms showcasing the army dorms, which the building was used for after the family left are a touch less stylish.

Do remember to pick up the audio guide!

Surrounding the mansion and hall are some extensive gardens. Having a wander through them is quite relaxing.
Eltham Palace (48) Eltham Palace (44)

If you can make it to Eltham in south east London then I would recommend going to the palace.
Eltham Palace (36) Eltham Palace (62)

Photos at Flickr! (Note: no photos can be taken inside)

Google maps.

Thames Barrier

April 12, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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With their distinctive outline the Thames Barrier is one of the most iconic buildings on the river (or in it).
Thames Barrier (8)

So if you’re out that way (south east London, with an emphasis on the east) you should consider visiting the information centre (£3.50).
Thames Barrier (10)

It’s a small venue so if there are a lot of people then the conflicting audio from the different videos can be a little off putting.
Thames Barrier (14)

That aside, it’s not bad, you learn about the river and the flood defences for London.
Thames Barrier (16)

If the centre is shut walk on a little to a cafe in the learning centre where you can get admission.
Thames Barrier (2)

So do you make the trip out for the centre? No, but if you’re wandering along the river on a nice day then stop by and check it out.

Photos on Flickr!

Google maps.

Royal Artillery Museum

April 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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Boom! Pow! Kablam! That’s what you’d expect from Firepower! the Royal Artillery Museum in London.
Royal Artillery Museum (13)

You may not hear a lot in the way of explosions but you will see an array of guns and things that would cause some destruction if they were working. For obvious reasons they’re inactive. Shucks.
Royal Artillery Museum (25)

As you walk through the museum you’ll get an overview of how these firearms developed from guns and canons to tanks and missiles.

Included in the price is a large introduction to the themes. with projected videos on screens around the seating area. Downside to this is that the chairs face one direction which only gives a good view of one or two (of four screens). I’m assuming this is to try and immerse you.
Thames Path Woolwich to Greenwich (3)

Overall it was pretty interesting and I think if you have a passion for the topic you’d love it. Even I felt testerone-y with all those weapons!

Entry is £5.30 and the museum is located out at Woolwich. It’s a little far from central London which can be a bit of a hassle to get to but there are some transport options, which might make it a little more bearable.

Photos at Flickr!

Google maps.

Kew Gardens

April 11, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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In the long, long ago (last year) I went for an outing to the lovely Kew Gardens in London and spent an enjoyable afternoon walking the paths and fields.
Kew Gardens (21)

On arrival to the gardens (which have an entry fee – £13.90 adult) the main gate had quite a line of families so I took a 5 minute detour to the side entrance and almost immediate entry. Top tip!
Kew Gardens (62)

There’s plenty of nature to immerse yourself in, with turf lawns, flower beds, woodlands, water features and different climate zones to see flora from other environments.
Kew Gardens (35) Kew Gardens (120)

Kew also features a pagoda, tree top walk and several historic buildings and museums. The first two may be closed on your visit as they were for me.
Kew Gardens (18) Kew Gardens (66)

If you like nature (or even if it’s only of passable interest) a trip to Kew is well worth it. Lastly if you time it right try and get a boat there and/or back. Again another thing I missed out on.
Kew Gardens (67) Kew Gardens (147)
Flickr photos!

Google map.

Florence Nightingale Museum

May 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Not suprisingly this London museum is devoted to Florence Nightingale (1820 -1910). It covers her upbringing, early work in medicine, time during the Crimean war and her later years until her death.

The materials are all presented very well (given a relatively small space) with different “environments” for each period. For example her early life is set in a garden with a hedge row and the display cases are set within the “hedge”.

There is an audio tour that you can (and should use) but with a slight twist. The curators have dispensed with the traditional walk around headset and opted for a stethoscopes that you place on spots around the museum to hear commentary. I assume they’re all thoroughly washed afterwards! One of these includes an actual recording of Florence.

All in all it was a fascinating museum and it detailed the life of this remarkable woman well.

Situated in the grounds of St Thomas Hospital near Westminster bridge and the London Eye. It’s on the ground floor near the car park so you may need to go down a level if you walk across the road from the bridge.

I spent about 90 minutes there and if costs £5.80 for an adult.

I would have included some photos but my phone’s SD card died.

New York

May 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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In September I spent a wonderful week in New York. We all have a picture of the city in our heads and probably know something of its history so let’s get straight into the itinerary. If you’re not familiar with New York where have you been? Here’s a summary.

I stayed at the Ace Hotel and, well, it was an ace experience. Centrally located, funky hipster decor and friendly staff. Its main restaurant, the Breslin, provided great food as well.

As there’s quite a bit to go through I’ll try and be brief, if you have any questions ask me in the comments.

  • Empire State Building – an amazing engineering feat towering over the city and offering excellent views. I went at dusk and seeing the sunset was a highlight. The ticket includes an audio tour which is very useful.
    New York - Empire State Building (2) New York - Empire State Building (6)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) – I visited when the museum has extended hours (thus allowing you to maximize your tourist time) and again another highlight. There are kilometres to walk through as you explore the world’s history and all of it is worth some time but if you stop to read everything you’ll need a few days. I took a harsh approach, walking through the galleries and only reading up on the items that caught my eye. Even so I was there for over 3 hours. While at the Met you must check out the rooftop garden – especially if there’s a display on – as the garden provides views over central park and the city.
    New York - Metropolitan Museum of Art (4) New York - Metropolitan Museum of Art - rooftop (5)
  • American Museum of Natural History – another huge museum that would take far too much time to look through properly. Even only stopping at a few items I was there for over 2 hours learning about both the natural world and the anthropology of various nationalities. I’d also make sure to go to the planetarium show that’s included in your ticket.
    New York - Natural History Museum (2)
  • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – I went on a free Friday (though had a ticket through city pass). I’m not normally one for the most modern of art, nonetheless many of the pieces on the lower levels were interesting. I was particularly bemused by the London Transport posters. However it was the top floors with the Van Goghs and expressionists who won me over. Beautiful. Also don’t forget to take a break and sit in the courtyard.
    New York - MoMA (12) New York - MoMA (17)
  • Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty – taking a ferry around the bays on a sunny day was a marvellous way to begin an early day. I didn’t go onto Liberty Island itself but continued onto Ellis. Over the next few hours I learnt about the immigrants coming to the US and the history of the site itself. Very informative. I was glad I hadn’t stopped at the Statue as the number of tourists had risen dramatically by the time I was ready to leave.
    New York - Statue of Liberty (8) New York - Ellis Island (4)
  • Guggenheim Museum – If you like modern art you’ll find it here in the iconic spiral building. I wasn’t blown away by anything like at MoMA but some of it was interesting and certainly challenging.
    New York - Guggenheim Museum (1) New York - Guggenheim Museum (2)
  • United Nations – the tours take an hour and are on a first come first served basis. On the tour you’ll be taken through some of the building hearing about the work of the UN. You’ll also get the chance to visit one of the most famous rooms in the world – the General Assembly Hall (assuming they aren’t in session).
    New York - United Nations (30) New York - United Nations (8)
  • New York Police Museum – in a small building near the bay and wall street is this museum devoted to the history and work of the NYPD. It’s a solid museum with sections on turn of the century criminals, formation of the force, September 11, 2001 and current work. I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the entry price if you’re not interested in the topic but you might find something worthwhile. I did but then I’m a fan of criminology.
    New York - Police Museum (3)
  • Rockefeller Plaza, Top of the Rock – of all the on high viewpoints I went to during this trip I’d say Rockefeller was my favourite. There are fewer crowds than Empire and the introductory videos were well presented. It could have done with an audio tour outside on the upper decks though. Otherwise it’s great.
    New York - Rockefeller Center (1) New York - Rockefeller Center - View from (65)
  • Museum of the City of New York – a small museum, probably worth the visit even with the entry charge, that gives an overview of the city through a fairy cool video presentation and some temporary exhibits. When I went they were looking at the life and times of one of the city’s former mayors during the turbulent 60/70s and the first visit by a Japanese delegation. Check before you go to see what’s on.
    New York - Museum of New York
  • New York Public Library – take a free tour with a member of the library and hear about the history of the building and some of their most important items (like a Gutenberg Bible).
    New York - Public Library (3)
  • Central Park – I came here a few days into my trip and more than anything it won me over to loving New York. The park with its fields and walks provides an excellent escape from the rush of the city. It gave me a good boost to continue the trip full of energy.
    New York - Central Park (19) New York - Central Park (26)
  • Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art – couldn’t find it! Fail.
  • Brooklyn Bridge – wasn’t planning on walking over it (although heard I should) but then after finding myself in Brooklyn meeting some friends decided to walk back via the bridge. Well worth it! The quality of the construction, the views and the flow of people all made it a wonderful walk.
    New York - Brooklyn Bridge (11) New York - Brooklyn Bridge (18)
  • World Trade Center site – the continuing construction and footprint of the buildings help to provide a sense of scale to the tragedy. There’s an information centre but I didn’t go.
    New York - WTC Site (3) New York - WTC Site (7)
  • Wall Street – a mix of tourists and office workers occupy the space in and around the Stock Exchange Building.
    New York - Wall Street - Stock Exchange (5)
  • Broadway and Times Square – I first had a wander through this area during the afternoon and it was teeming with tourists but once night falls it truly goes into overdrive with the huge billboards lighting up the entire area and encapsulating the “city that never sleeps” claim. Rather depressingly I find I have no pictures of it. Oh well I guess that means another trip.

Speaking of shops, as to be expected there are plenty of interesting and flagship stores throughout the city. A sample includes:

  • Evolution Nature Store – a quirky store offering a variety of natural history style goods
  • Forbidden Planet – not as big as the London shop but still good for all comic and geek based needs
  • Apple Store – while a fairly compact store it does have the advantage of being open 24/7 35 days a year
  • FAO Schwartz – toys, a giant keyboard and many, many sweets – yum
  • Bloomingdales, HollisterAbercrombie & FitchMacy’s and Saks 5th Avenue – for all your fashion needs
  • M&Ms – more M&Ms that you could ever need, not to mention almost every conceivable item emblazoned with some M&M branding
  • Nintendo – for all your Nintendo needs
  • Lego – need a spare lego block? You’ll find it and much more here.

Now back to the city. Besides all of the main attractions it’s highly recommended that you take some time to wander around the various districts to see the diversity in the city.

Of course New York City is a great hub to explore other areas. I only managed to see a glimpse of Brooklyn and New Jersey but they and many other places are easy to get to and there’s plenty to do in them as well.

Lastly, what about food and entertainment? Due to a fairly hectic schedule I didn’t embrace the nightlife too much but did go to a few bars over the weekend and they were all fun. As for food, there’re plenty of options (got to love the pizza slices!) here are a few that I liked:

  • Magnolia Bakery – famous cupcake shop. Very nice but I prefer Hummingbird’s – though the cupcake I bought was near the end of the day so that might explain it. Still yummy!
  • Blue Spoon Coffee – nice coffees and sandwiches
  • Penelope Cafe – continental and American style breakfasts, well presented, quick service and tasty
  • Keko Cafe – the food was fine, the atmosphere in this small cafe is quite cool with its wood panels and cannisters filled with coffee and tea
  • Culture Espresso – another good coffee shop with nice food as well!
  • Society Coffee – the decor and general attitude was quite relaxed, the food was fine but overpriced and the service was solid. I also had a very nice conversation with a fellow patron.

And now some other stuff:

  • subway and transport – being set out on a grid makes finding where you need to go really simple. Walking is a good choice for a lot of the venues but you should also pick up a travel card for the subway for those slightly longer commutes. The subway is fairly straightforward and the carriages are air conditioned.
  • NYC Information Center / City Pass – the number of tourists were relatively small but I was able to further reduce wait times by picking up a city pass. I bought mine on my first day from the NYC Information Center while wandering up to Times Square. I also bought my travel card from here too.
  • The service and people in New York were all excellent.

There’s plenty more to see. I particularly wanted to try:

but that’ll have to wait until next time.

I was very lucky that when I went (first week of September) there were so few tourists as it gave me a chance to do more and the weather was perfect too. All in all a great trip.

Now to plan the next one!

Maps at Google maps (including some things I didn’t get to)

Pictures at Flickr.

Google Doc of the itinerary – fairly close to what I ended up doing.

Bath

February 25, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Bath, with its Roman bathing history, Jane Austen love affair and historic buildings and streets is an enjoyable day trip from Bristol or London.

Bath (121) Bath (122)

 

  • Bath Abbey and Heritage Vaults – Just by the Roman Baths is the town’s grand Abbey. The architecture and finishes are, as you might expect from a building of this size are of a high quality. You can also pay a fee to go up to the tower. When I visited the heritage vaults were open but they are now closed for refurbishment. The vaults consisted of a history of the abbey, it’s religious order and the town through information boards and artefacts.
  • Bath - Roman Bath (7) Bath - Roman Bath (12)

  • Roman Baths – One of, if not the major attraction of the town are the well preserved Roman Baths. Famed from antiquity to today for alleged healing properties. There’s also a modern equivalent but enough of fancy spas let’s get historical. With audio guide in hand you’ll wander through the complex. It’s largely self guided in as much as you can choose whether to key in the audio prompts or not. As you’d expect through the tour you will learn about the history of the baths and their construction. Personally, I’d not fully appreciated the size and scope of the original complex, particularly in comparison with the remaining ruins. There are several places on the route (especially by the bath itself) where you can sit and relax.
  • Bath - Roman Bath (30) Bath - Roman Bath (32)

  • Jane Austen Centre – From what I’ve been told Jane Austen (famed author for anyone who hasn’t heard) didn’t necessarily enjoy her time in Bath but don’t let that put a dent in your visit to Bath or the centre. The content in the centre are informative both of Jane’s life, her writing and her society. However in order to access it you have to visit at two set times in order to sit through a mandatory lecture by a volunteer. Frankly, this could be done just as easily by a looped video so people aren’t forced into waiting.
  • Herschel Museum of Astronomy – A wonderful hidden gem that outlines the lives of siblings Caroline and William Herschel. In the 18th century they were one impressive duo not only were they talented musicians but also astronomers. William made highly accurate telescopes and discovered Uranus, while Caroline found many comets. Some of the rooms can be a little sparse but the video overview does help to set the scene.
  • Bath - Herschel Museum (7) Bath - Herschel Museum (4)

  • Bath Postal Museum – It’s a museum about the postal service in the basement of a modern post office. If you’re interested in the development of postal communication or stamps then this might be for you. Alternatively if you’re a little bit bored and need something else to do then this is an equally valid choice. You just might learn something too. There are some neat items inside.

The town and surrounds, with their period buildings, parks and waterways offer a pleasant chance to walk around and soak up the atmosphere. Some suggestions include taking a walk over Pulteney Bridge

Bath (124) Bath (93)

and along the river and over to the Royal Crescent.

Bath (80) Bath (73)

Photos at Flickr.

Map at Google Maps.

Bristol

February 23, 2011 at 1:00 am | Posted in General, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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Bristol in the south west of England offers a pleasant respite from the pace of London but that doesn’t mean it’s quiet.

I got a good deal on Expedia for accommodation and spent three nights there although you generally need a lot less time. If you’re planning on exploring further afield you may want to consider hiring a car. Bath is accessible via train (there’ll be more on that tomorrow).

So after checking in it was time to hit the sights. Here are a few things to do:

  • Brunel’s ss Great Britain: One of the city’s major attractions at this museum you’ll get the chance to wander through this historic ship (while listening to audio stories) and learning about Bristol’s maritime past. One of the coolest aspects is that the ship sits in a drydock that affords the chance to walk underneath the craft and on the water line they’ve placed a glass ceiling with water running along it. Providing an excellent atmosphere.
  • Bristol - Brunel's ss Great Britain (3) Bristol -  Brunel's ss Great Britain (76)

  • Waterfront walk: Walk along the river and canals, soak up the atmosphere, the people watching at the bars and walkways while also looking out at the countryside beyond the city and Bristol’s colourful buildings.
  • Bristol -  Brunel's ss Great Britain (141) Bristol -  Brunel's ss Great Britain (71)

  • Clifton Suspension Bridge: A bridge over the river? Why would you go you ask? Well it provides an opportunity to see some excellent views and if you walk over and go to the visitor centre you can find out its remarkable history as the concept struggled to come to fruition. You’ll also get the chance to wander through the charming Clifton Village and our next Bristol stop.
  • Bristol - Clifton Suspension Bridge (38) Bristol - Clifton Suspension Bridge (2)

  • Clifton Observatory: On the top of the hill by the bridge is the observatory. You can go upstairs to the Camera Obscura or take a wander into the depth’s of the giant’s cave. I went down to the cave and it’s not exactly built for a giant but as long as you don’t mind crouching a bit it leads out to a nice view over the river valley.
  • Bristol - Clifton Observatory (2) Bristol - Clifton Observatory (15)

  • Bristol Museum and Art Gallery: The city’s museum features a wide range of topics from natural history to Egypt and aviation. While all of this is interesting the one thing that it lacked for me was a history of the city. As a tourist I’d like to find out how Bristol came to be and develop. Otherwise it has plenty to offer.
  • Bristol Cathedral: The architecture and craftsmanship was good and worth the time to stop in and have a look. There are pamphlet guides to help you learn about the building.
  • Bristol - Cathedral (3) Bristol - Cathedral (4)

  • Brandon Hill Park and Cabot Tower: One of the main park’s in the city with a picturesque tower at the peak. When I was visiting the tower was closed but there were still superb views.
  • Bristol - Brandon Hill Nature Park and Cabot Tower (43) Bristol - Brandon Hill Nature Park and Cabot Tower (29)

  • Arnolfini: A modern art gallery located on the waterfront it features a rotating display so pop along (it’s free) and see what’s on during your trip. Failing that you can always grab a bite in the cafe.
  • Royal West of England Academy: A more traditional art gallery but when I was visiting they were preparing most of the galleries were shut while they prepared for a new exhibition. What I did see appeared to be pleasant enough pieces. Hopefully you’ll have better luck!
  • Bristol (175)

  • At-Bristol: While I didn’t go I can see the appeal of this hands on science centre for the science lovers and families.
  • St Nicholas Market: A covered market with a variety of stores from shirts and music to food and drinks. Check it out.
  • Castle Park: Another park with a small church and sits along the water.
  • Bristol - Castle Park (2)

  • Frogmore Street features a Banksy while it and Park Street have some worthwhile shopping, eating and wandering opportunities. Similarly, historic Queen Square offers a good spot to relax with a coffee and a book and the Christmas Steps offer a quaint historic shopping area.
  • Bristol (176)

I enjoyed Bristol and the break it afforded me. While I’m in no rush to go back I’d certainly recommend it for a gateway.

Google map here.

Photos on Flickr.

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