Melbourne

January 11, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Posted in Travel | 1 Comment
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In 2013 I went back to Australia for the first time in three years for a wedding and took the opportunity to visit Melbourne for the first time. Long haul flights are not my friend so inevitably I was incredibly jet lagged, which may colour my opinions.

As for Melbourne I went to:

  • The Queen Victoria Market – Lots of stalls when I got there quite early most of the outdoor ones hadn’t opened yet but inside there was a lot of activity and I wish I was hungry enough to buy all the food
  • National Gallery of Victoria – it’s a decent representation but sorry to say nothing here blew me away (spoilt from London I guess)
  • Shrine of Remembrance – monumental structure to remember those who died in war with a museum underneath it. From the top you can go outside and get some great view.
  • Botanical Gardens – get your fill of nature and greenery here
  • St Kilda and the Esplanade – it was a very windy day as I walked to St Kilda and along the esplanade but I imagine on a sunny day it would be very relaxing
  • Federation Square: Australian Centre for the Moving Image and the Ian Potter Centre – ACMI had some interesting exhibits on changing media in Australia and the world from radio, TV, film and new digital forms like the internet. The IPC is an Australian art gallery that was interesting but nothing made me want to go and buy a print from the shop.

Overall I thought Melbourne was ok and the winding laneways offer lots of opportunites but the river didn’t offer the same impact as Sydney Harbour. Having said that I only saw a small portion of it and was quite tired so I could have just missed the spot that really sells the city.

Photos on Flickr.

Belgium

January 11, 2014 at 9:24 pm | Posted in Travel | 1 Comment
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A couple of times over the last few years I’ve been to Belgium, here’s a quick overview:

Antwerp

  • Het Steen Castle – picturesque castle on the waterfront no museum associated with it but a great landmark
  • Cathedral of our lady– the usual impressive cathedral interiors
  • Town hall / city square – walk around and enjoy the ambience (not to mention the wall of flags on the town hall)
  • MAS – Skyscraper of art, go through the various levels and end up on the rooftop for some great views (note there is an English guide that you use to scan QR codes and in 2012 some of them wouldn’t work because of positioning and shadow but on the most part good)
  • Prints room – how did manuscripts get printed before modern printers? Come here to find out!
  • Sounds of the city – Museum looking at musical instruments. Very little in English but for someone not that fussed about music just taking a walk around and listening to various samples was enough.
  • Rubens House – Not sure if I came here or not, either way looks like you might want to!

Brussels 

  • Royal army and military history museum – located next to the art museum on a spacious park, not a lot of English but plenty of items like tanks and planes to check out. Quite a lot of floor space to walk through.
  • Art and history museum – fascinating and large museum with plenty of artefacts so be prepared to take some time to go through it
  • Palace – During set periods you can check out the palace and its array of opulent rooms
  • BELVUE – learn about the history of Belgium in this short but informative museum
  • Belgian Comic Book Centre – like comic books? Then this is the place to go for Tintin, Asterix and so many more.
  • Parlamentarium – Want to learn about how democracy and the legislative process in Europe then come here. It’s very modern with some great interactive exhibits, which took longer than I anticipated to go through.
  • Pis statues – Mannekin is the city’s famous statue, I honestly don’t know what I was expecting but at the end of the day it’s literally a small statue peeing. That’s it. Not sure what all the fuss is about. Meanwhile the more recent Jeanneke (the female version) is behind bars. Lastly, apparently there’s also Zinneke (a dog) somewhere but I didn’t know about it.
  • Christmas market – spread throughout the city but lots of stalls and options to get food and drink

Bruges

  • Basilica of the Holy Blood – small church with a relic that allegedly has some of Jesus’ blood
  • Friet Museum – Fries, fries and more fries (and the history of them)
  • Choco Story Museum – learn about the history of chocolate. Not as fancy as the one in Cologne but by the same token it’s smaller so faster to go through
  • Grote Markt and Belfry – go up the famous belfry and look out over the city. The security mesh at the windows at the top does diminish the view a bit though.
  • City Hall – has a historic meeting hall that you can look at and a small museum beside it, there’s another museum your ticket gets you into that’s tiny and doesn’t have any English
  • Walk around the historic and charming city centre and buy chocolate!

Ghent

  • Belfry – another belfry with a great view over the city, I preferred this over Bruges because it was less crowded and offered open air views without security mesh (and an elevator if you don’t want to take the stairs)
  • Castle of the Counts – cool castle complex, take the opportunity to walk around and explore
  • The house of Alijn – a former almshouse and it now showcases the everyday lives of people over the 20th century
  • St Nicolas’ Church – large interior but nothing amazing inside
  • Most importantly walk around, see the old city and buildings (including numerous churches) and don’t forget to walk over the bridges on the river. The station is further away so you may need other transport and it’s larger than Bruges with things more spread out but I think I prefer it to Bruges.

Food wise on my latest trip these three places stood out:

As with so many other places I may have forgotten things but let’s hope not.

Photos at Flickr (2012; Antwerp and Brussels) and (2013).

Amsterdam

January 11, 2014 at 5:35 pm | Posted in Travel | 1 Comment
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Went to Amsterdam in 2012.

Some but not all of the things I did are below, make sure to take the time to walk around the city, canals and the parks as well:

  • Anne Frank House – Famous but too famous as you end up trudging along in one long line throughout unable to appreciate it and in my case potentially near people who’d had too much pot. There is an app that let’s you explore Anne’s Amsterdam. I only used it briefly but may be a more engaging overall experience.
  • Rijksmuseum – Still undergoing its renovation when I was there so there was not as much to see (although that was advantageous in not having to spend as long there)
  • Amsterdam Museum – Find out about the city, its history and people. Definitely worth it.
  • Van Gogh Museum – Well known and very popular and I didn’t go as the queue was massive
  • Dutch Resistance Museum – Interesting and a museum devoted to resistance during WW2 was a topic I hadn’t seen explored in other places
  • Rembrandt House – About Rembrandt, enough said right?
  • Royal Palace Amsterdam – Very cool building to explore, it’s city centre and you should check it out

Probably did a few other things but may have forgotten! There are plenty of other things to see and do in Amsterdam as well.

Photos at Flickr.

Edinburgh

January 11, 2014 at 3:36 pm | Posted in Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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In 2012 I went back to Edinburgh most of it was spent catching up with my parents but we did do some touristy things.

Royal Yacht Britannia – do you like boats or monarchies? If you answer yes to either of those then come and check out the Queen’s former royal yacht. If you don’t have a car getting here from central Edinburgh is a bit tricky but we used one of the bus tours to get there. The Yacht was definitely interesting to walk around and to see how the very, very other half live and travel. There are a number of anecdotes that help to give colour to the literal nuts and bolts of the ship.

Gladstone’s Land – built during the 1600s and located in the centre of the city it gives an idea of the living conditions in Edinburgh throughout the 17th century

Majestic bus tour – as mentioned we used a bus tour to get to and from the Britannia, as well as the logistical benefits it did offer a reasonable way of seeing hearing more about the city but not essential

Some photos on Flickr.

 

Bournemouth

January 11, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Posted in Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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In 2013 I visited the sea side town Bournemouth briefly.

Take a walk around town, particularly through the park and along the pier. Definitely go to the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum. The interior is excellent with exhibits covering the tastes of the turn of the 20th century Russell-Cotes and also modern themes.

During summer I imagine the beach front would be great to walk along but I wasn’t in season for this.

We also had lunch by the entrance to Poole Harbour at the Haven Hotel, while it was grey outside it was very nice to look out over the water.

Some photos at Flickr. There were more I’m sure but uploader seems to have failed.

Eddie Harvey tribute concert

January 11, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Posted in London | 2 Comments
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I’m not particularly musical but was invited to the Eddie Harvey tribute concert for an evening of jazz.

Without knowing anything about jazz I’ll have to fall back on the classic “I know it when I see (or hear) it”. The concert was several hours long but didn’t feel like it. The acts paying tribute to Eddie were sharing their stories and were engaging.

The friends I went with (who know a lot more than me on this topic) also enjoyed it so if you get the opportunity and like jazz check out Eddie’s repertoire.

Christmas in London

December 28, 2013 at 9:00 pm | Posted in London, Out and About | 1 Comment
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Did a few things in London over Christmas in 2012 and 2013.

Winter Wonderland – Hyde park has a large fun fair and market, Winter Wonderland from November to January. We were there on a rainy day, which meant attendance was down so walking around was easier. It was pleasant to wander and see what was happening, drinking mulled wine and eating. We didn’t go on any rides, the ones that looked most fun predictably had lines and that wasn’t enough incentive to pay and stand around for a while.

Geffrye Museum – is a museum that showcases the home through the centuries. Over Christmas the rooms are decorated as they would have been in the different eras. So if you’d like to see how past generations celebrated the season this might be a good thing to check out.

Smithfield’s Auction – on Christmas Eve morning if you still haven’t bought your turkey you can pick one up at the famous auction at Smithfields. If you’re planning on buying (instead of just watching) make sure you get there early and probably do some reserch about the etiquette/rules. I’ve no clue!

Wandering around on Christmas Day – in 2012 and 2013 I lived close enough to central London to ride in and walk around without having to worry about public transport being shut. In 2012 it was rainy and I had to wait for a friend before we could start. By then it was around ten and a few people were about and by the time we arrived at Trafalgar Square at 11 there were a lot more tourists. A quiet Sunday and not at all eery. 2013 was a later start and I started at St Pauls at 11 so by the time I arrived at Trafalgar about an hour later it was very busy. There were also plenty of shops open. If you want to try and get a quiet Christmas experience try and get things done by 10:30 at the latest. Photos from 2012. 2013 doesn’t have anything particularly different (and I’m lazy and won’t add to flickr for a while).

Lastly, there are also a quite a few markets around town.

Gaming: Dishonored

December 28, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Posted in Gaming | 1 Comment
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So I played Dishonored and while it’s been well received I didn’t really enjoy it. It’s a stealth game set in a steampunk world suffering from a plague and an assassinated empress. You’ve been wrongly accused and spend the game seeking out the conspirators and putting the rightful heir onto the throne.

The game promotes stealth (which is a game style I’m not a fan of) but also offers many different violence options and upgrades for those too. However using them could impact the chaos level which leads to a “bad” ending. Throughout each mission there’s no indication of how close you are to tipping over to a higher chaos level so for me I opted to be more cautious which led to way too many restarts in an attempt to limit confrontations and ultimately reduced the flow and fun of the game.

A twitter friend advised after the fact that they’d used a mix of violence and stealth and still got the “good” ending which further reinforces the need to have something show this chaos level inside each mission.

Secondly there was a key mechanic allowing you to travel great distances and at least for me it never seemed to “lock on” to the correct spot. Of course this could be a poor player but as I’m the player I’d like to say it’s a limitation of the device. Even making it glow a different colour when it was “safe” might have been useful.

OK so there are issues but generally the story is interesting and I was happy to proceed and find out what was happening. Although it suffers from the same problem as many games where characters start talking but are drowned out by other ambient noises or generally can’t be heard. Presumably an audio option could fix it here and on other games I’d just like the defaults to work better.

Would I recommend it? If you’re a fan of stealth and steam punk sure. If you’re keen to try a more aggressive approach then maybe google what the chaos levels are or just do whatever you want and watch the endings on youtube.

Lastly, if you don’t like rats then this may not be for you.

Gaming: XCOM Enemy Unknown

December 28, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Posted in Gaming | 1 Comment
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Played XCOM Enemy Unknown. It was a fun turn based strategy game although I did it wrong by re-loading my games frequently when my characters died off. When you name them it’s easy to get attached! Some of the elements could have been clearer particularly using Satellites for money but all worked out in the end and I saved the world. I guess.

Theatre: Noises Off

December 28, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Posted in London, Theatre | 1 Comment
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Went to the Old Vic and watched Noises Off and it was a great farce set behind the scenes over the run of a theatre show. How very meta. The first act was funny but not necessarily consistent. However the second act had set all the pieces in motion so the physical comedy and jokes could run thick and fast. Thus ending on a very strong note and allowing the audience to leave with a grin on their faces (and mine).

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