Hampstead Heath

February 22, 2011 at 9:00 am | Posted in London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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I’ve been meaning to visit London’s famed Hampstead Heath and one Saturday I made the trek from South London to the North.

The park is vast and encompasses wonderful views of the city, a free art gallery, playing fields, outdoor swimming pools and large areas to just wander and get lost in.

It’s the latter that I found both a strength and a weakness. There’s something wonderful about the (imaginary) prospect of getting lost and exploring. Having said that there are a few notable places (or at least places highlighted on maps) I couldn’t find as within the park there are very few signs so it’s quite possible to miss out.

A friend says this is so only locals know all the best bits. Whether this is true or not it may be a good idea to have a local take you around – but only after you’ve gone for a self guided ramble first.

The gallery, Kenwood House, at the north of the heath is in a stately home and a good stop off to have a wander through. I particularly liked the library. While free they appreciate a donation. There are also a few cafes there so it’s a good spot to sit and recharge.

I look forward to going back in the summer to try out the pools and maybe have a picnic.

Pictures on Flickr.

The Royal Mews and The Queens Gallery

December 26, 2009 at 11:15 am | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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The Royal Mews and The Queens Gallery, which adjoin Buckingham Palace are both run by the royal collection and through much of the year a joint ticket can be purchased (you can also combine the ticket with a tour of the palace state rooms when those are open as well).

When I visited I went to both so thought it only fair to write it up as such.

The Mews and Gallery offer different content and experiences but the unifying theme of royalty runs through them both.

Let’s start with the mews. The mews were originally the royal stables but only retain a portion of that function now. Horses remain on site as do the other, more modern vehicles the royal family uses to get around. Although it’s unlikely they’ll be popping down to Tesco’s for a pint of milk.

Most of the publicly accessible areas are given up to displays of the various horse-drawn coaches. Most notably the ostentatious coronation carriage with its massively intricate and golden design.

So for the transport buff there’s the mews but what of the art lover? Well that’s when you walk down the street and go into the Queen’s Gallery. The gallery has a changing list of exhibitions so it’s best to check their website or you could just wander in.

When I ventured in it was to find an exhibit on French porcelain. Initially I was a bit skeptical but I came away finding the process challenging and the results delicate and beautiful.

Not to be drawn into stereotypes but you could almost say this was a suitable compromise date with something for him and her.

The Royal Mews took about 30 mins at a cost of  £7.75  (including audio guide). The Queens Gallery took me about an hour and costs £8.50 for an adult. A combined ticket is £15.

Tate Britain (Lates)

August 5, 2009 at 10:42 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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May of you will know that I enjoy going to the odd late night opening and the Tate Britain was no different. Although it is regrettable that it’s taken so long to write about one of their late night events.

The Tate Britain was the Tate until that upstart Modern turned up. The gallery houses an impressive collection of art from 1500s onwards! It is presented in the same way as the National Portrait and Art galleries. So if staid frames and artworks along painted walls is your thing then you’ll feel right at home. It certainly worked for me and without knowing more I felt like I had become more cultured – just from the experience.

Now, that was the artwork – which you can see on any visit but what about the Lates?

For those new to the concept, basically, various museums in London will have extended hours one night a month that’s just for adults. So there’ll be entertainment, drinks and food.

For Tate Britain they had Courvoisier in attendance providing discounted cocktails (in an attempt to broaden the appeal of cognac – according to our server). However, you could only drink in a very small space, relative to the entire gallery area, as a result we found ourselves pacing around trying to finish our beverages and move on. This is similar to the Victoria and Albert’s Lates. I respect that they don’t want accidental spillage but perhaps they could widen the drinking area or have a few other ‘safe zones’ throughout. I realise I sound like an alcoholic but if I wanted to just look at the art I’d come on a normal day but I chose to attend for a Lates experience.

Rant over.

Tate Britain (4)

Besides the bar area the main hub of the gallery was given over to a couple audio visual displays. Generally necessitating those who wanted to watch them all to sit on the floor. The Tate also held a variety of walks and talks but we weren’t able to make any of these.

Lastly there was musical entertainment in the form of the Shellac Sisters – a group of gramophone playing retro ladies. What we could hear of it echoing down the corridors seemed novel but every time we were actually in sight in seemed to be break time.

Overall I liked the artwork on display and found it satisfying. While the option to go Late is appealing I didn’t find the extra offerings compelling enough to recommend a late night visit. A regular day time trip should be fine.

Foundling Museum

June 26, 2009 at 8:52 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 2 Comments
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London’s Foundling Museum is somewhat interesting as an art gallery and history of abandoned children in the capital but not interesting enough to warrant a £5 admission price.

The museum is located near Coram Fields – a playground for children (adults may only enter if accompanied by a child). I have fond memories of visiting here on my first visit to London as a child. Revelling in the power of not “accompanying” my parents and denying them entry.

As for the musuem itself it is split roughly into three sections. The first provides a rather well presented history of the building as its use for foundlings and abandoned children (or in latter years – due to limited numbers – those selected from mothers petitioning the trustees). This area gives an outline of the children’s lives before, during and after the house.

The bulk of the house is given over to art work (it was London’s first public gallery). It was pleasant but I can’t comment on the quality as I’m a dullard on that point. On a similar artistic note, the museum includes a section on one of the museums supporters – the composer Handel. One of the galleries is also used for musical performances and on days when there is one then the entry fee is probably worthwhile.

Finally, the other main area within the museum is a special exhibits area with a changing rotation of displays. However, if you’re not willing to pay you could stop in at the cafe. I’ve not tried it so let me know what you think!

Overall, the Foundling Museum is ok but nothing particularly special – unless you have a strong interest in the history of abandoned children in the capital.

Wellcome Collection

February 28, 2009 at 12:38 am | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Opposite Euston station is the Wellcome Collection it’s a free gallery and library focusing on medicine with the occasional special exhibit.

The main galleries are Medicine Now and Medicine Man with a third having temporary exhibits. Medicine Now predictably looks at some of the contemporary issues in medicine with displays on obesity, malaria and the human genome. This gallery is well presented with listening chairs – when you sit down you’ll hear a blurb about one of the themes, the sound doesn’t travel so it doesn’t bother other patrons. The entire are is well lit and bright with some interesting displays. One of the more fun activities is a biometric picture where you can enter some details like heart rate and height for a geometric picture of ‘you’. Quite cool.

In Medicine Man you’ll walk through a wood panelled gallery featuring artifacts Henry Wellcome collected during the 19th century. There are a variety of items such as drawings, prints, paintings, replacement limbs and many random and interesting bits and pieces such as Japanese sex aids and Napoleon’s toothbrush. In the wood panels are tastefully hidden information boards that provide more information on each item, its use and how it came into the collection.

The Wellcome Collection is an excellent museum, its often open late and is free. I would advise checking its upcoming events for temporary exhibits that interest you and planning your visit accordingly.

Edinburgh – National Galleries of Scotland

October 16, 2008 at 6:50 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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This National Gallery is relatively small, positively tiny compared with its big brother in London.


Unless there’s a specific exhibit or you’re of the artistic persuasion there’s probably not a lot to offer you.


After a quick 30 minute walk I was done and fairly non plussed.


Edinburgh also has a few other galleries if you’d like to dip further into the Scottish art world. Entry is free and the gallery is centrally located on Princes Street.

Edinburgh – The Palace of Holyrood House and the Queens Gallery

September 22, 2008 at 8:59 pm | Posted in General, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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The home of the Queen in Edinburgh – The Palace of Holyrood House – does not disappoint. While the area accessible to tourists is more vintage it is still an interesting peak inside the monarchy and Scotland.

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Entry price (£9.80) includes an audio guide – essential given the lack of information boards. The palace is fascinating and takes about 90 minutes including the gardens and ruined abbey.

in the palace you basically go on a loop of the second floor starting in the dining room and ending in Queen Mary’s bedroom (shown to tourists for generations). The Queen’s bedroom is notable for the death of one of her suitors/advisors – Rizzio. The guide even points to the blood stain on the floor!


Outside the palace you’ll be able to visit the ruined abbey. After the roof collapsed it was left abandoned. Somewhat odd given that the palace is and city is still inhabited. Nonetheless the result is a cool and picturesque and ambient landmark.

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Beyond the Abbey are the gardens but it only take a few minutes to walk around the publicly accessible areas.

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You’ll also have the opportunity to visit the Queens Gallery (an extra £5- including audio guide). The gallery has changing exhibits, during my visit it was showing some Italian Renaissance drawings. It was fine – not great – but I blame my lack of artistic knowledge.


Overall, the palace should be on your list of places to visit in Edinburgh and is quite the contrast to Buckingham Palace.

More photos on Flickr.

Day 2 Paris Trip: The Louvre and the Marais

January 20, 2008 at 2:44 pm | Posted in France, General, museum, Out and About, Paris, photos, Tourism, Travel | Leave a comment
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One of the big plusses of coming to Paris at the beginning of the month is the free museums. On the first Sunday of every month many of the city’s top museums are free. Going to the Louvre was a clear choice for free entry and a good way to spend a rainy and windy day. Check out the comparison between Saturday and Sunday in the below photos.

Louvre (2) Louvre (12) Louvre (35)

Perhaps because of the weather the line to get in was quite small, which was handy given the sheer size of the Louvre. My Time Out guide to Paris helpfully suggested only trying to see 2 collections. Presumably this is to get the most out of the art but a momentary flash of stubbornness and a tourist’s desire to see everything meant I was pacing through it all.

Tiring but rewarding.

Personally, I found the statues across all periods and places the most interesting with the life like and epic proportions fascinating. Although the enclosed garden in the Greek/Roman section was the most well organised. By the end it did feel a little disquieting with thoughts of the White Witch from Narnia abounding in my head.

Louvre (14) Louvre (18) Louvre (31)

With the exception of the occasional sword the Decorative Arts collection was the least interesting. While the intricate work is commendable there is really only so many plates, cups and upholstery I can look at without completely switching off.

What about the paintings? Well, there are a lot of them. I took a mercenary approach to most of the galleries and walked quickly through each section, glancing at most of them and only looked in depth if it was a striking piece. I realise this means I haven’t truly appreciated the artwork but sadly with limited time and only a passing interest in art this method seemd to work. Although I may not be any wiser for it.

Louvre (26) Louvre (28)

Perhaps I’m just a Gen-Y who needs instant gratification?

No, it’s probably the no knowledge of art reason. This is pretty clear after seeing both the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. I wasn’t awed and I don’t understand why these pieces are valued so significantly above the others on display. Perhaps someone can tell me?  

Louvre (30) Louvre (33)

I was going at a medium pace and this slowed to an amble in some sections either due to other patrons or where there was a worthwhile piece of art.

Obviously if you’re like me then a quick pace around might be an option, if you’re more interested in the art then hire an audio tour or go on one of the tours and if you love art then there’s a good chance you’ve already stopped reading. If not you may want to devote quite a bit of time so everything sinks in.

After the Louvre I had lunch and rested up for a while before heading over the Seine.

Seine (6) Seine (11) Seine (10) Seine (12)

Unfortunately, while I’d beaten the queue at the Louvre this wasn’t the case at the Musee d’Orsay.

Seine (14) - Musee d'Orsay Seine (15) - Musee d'Orsay

Considering my earlier overdose of art, the weather and the line I opted to walk back through Paris, to the metro and the district of Marais.

Marais is located within walking distance of the Hotel de Ville in the centre of Paris or on the Metro. A well known Jewish and gay district it is filled with a host of bakeries and cafes but very few of these had internal seating and the weather really prohibited strolling and eating. I did end up eating a bagel at one of the larger cafes and while I wasn’t a fan there were lots of people inside who presumably would disagree.

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(taken on my last day – hence the slightly better weather)

Paris 359

Now with the bulk of day two done I returned to the Grands Boulevards, grabbed a quick bite and caught up on some sleep.

Onwards to day 3.

Photos on Flickr.

Tate Modern

December 17, 2007 at 2:50 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Quite a few Saturday nights ago I went to Tate Modern (it’s open late on Friday and Saturday) night with free entry unless it’s a special exhibit. On this particular night none of the exhibits interested me so I only made my way through the standard gallery. One of the notable features of the Modern at the moment is Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth or otherwise known as that giant crack in the floor. The basic premise of this giant crack running the length of the Tate’s floor is to highlight division between peoples. I’m not opposed to the message or the method of application however what was most curious was the reaction of the onlookers. Generally they just seemed surprised to see a crack in the floor. The BBC and The New York Times have pieces outlining the contrasting opinions of the crack. I’m just glad it wasn’t an Australian who fell down/in/over it.

The standard gallery is laid out in a linear progression but generally focusing on one theme or another (e.g poetry and dream). Within each gallery there is generally quite a bit of scope to wander around and take your time to look around all the different artwork. Sometimes there might be a bit of crush of tourists thus reducing the time you have to ponder a piece but as yours truly isn’t an art aficionado this didn’t pose a significant problem.

As to be expected from any modern art gallery there are a variety of mediums employed by the artists to convey the spirit of their work and message. Sometimes I’m completely bewildered by what message is being said and I feel daft and a fraud for walking in the door and at any moment a curator will march me out for invading this space of culture. Fortunately, with people like me in mind most of the art has a small description detailing the purpose of the work and artist.

The Tate also features a variety of cafes and there is also a balcony overlooking the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s which is quite cathartic to stand and watch the world go by. Presumably if you go on a busy day you may have the completely opposite reaction to standing out on the balcony!

The Tate is interesting and varied and it was certainly miles and kilometres ahead of Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Even so, I couldn’t help but get bored by it all. Or is the better word overwhelmed? There is a lot of art to cover and process so perhaps I was just fatigued by it all – but in a good way?

Once again I’m caught in the mental trap of not knowing if I like something because I find it informative and engaging or only because I think that’s the reaction I should have. Regardless, as with any review of an artistic institution if you already like modern art go to the Tate (you don’t even need my recommendation do you?) and if you’re not sure about it or want to expand your artistic horizons then why not go, give it a shot and maybe learn something about art/ yourself in the process.

National Gallery

December 16, 2007 at 2:45 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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Writing this post seems to have taken almost as long as the walk around the UK’s National Gallery. First off I’d like to thank everyone for visiting despite the lack of any new content and will try and get through some of the backlog as quickly as possible.

And now onto the gallery.

Obviously if you like art (non-contemporary) then the national gallery is the place for you in London. Unless of course your preference is for portraits in which case right next door is the National Portrait Gallery. The national gallery is located at the top of Trafalgar Square looking down on Admiralty Arch and down towards the Palace of Westminster (Big Ben etc). At this time of year you’ll also find the city’s main Christmas Tree. Apparently this is an annual gift from Norway in thanks for the efforts of the British during World War II.

Entry is free although they do request a small donation (special exhibits may carry a charge). Upon entry, as with so many other places, you can purchase an audio guide, grab a map or just head straight in. Now, normally I’m all for an audio guide to explain things for me and hold my hand so to speak through the exhibit. After all I am lazy. While art generally poses an intellectual morass for me I held of on the guide so I could work on more efficiently getting through the sheer size of the galleries on offer.

And there certainly were a load of galleries which spanned medieval to turn of the century art. These are predominantly spread across the one level but there is also a relatively small and dull gallery underneath near the cafes and main bathrooms. What an endorsement!

The ancient works appear to be almost exclusively religious based – indicative of the funding and power structures of the era – although, honestly, boredom began rushing in after seeing Jesus and the Saints being religious and/or being killed/ born etc in a variety of forms. The capacity to rework the same theme in a myriad of ways is admirable and interesting and yet I will not deny once, twice or even thrice that I was over it sooner rather than later. Luckily the Renaissance came around and apparent complete obsession with this artwork was replaced by classical icons, portraits and stills.

As I progressed through the gallery it felt as though I was becoming more aware of the evolving use of colours, forms and materials but at the same time there were ‘older’ portraits which appeared less sophisticated than their predecessors. I have to give the benefit of the doubt and assume that this was a nostalgic piece and/or that I just don’t get it. Really either explanation works for me.

The greater diversity in subject matter opens up opportunities to both the artist and the viewer. In the latter’s case there are just more options to find a piece you’ll be engaged by. Personally I found myself favouring the city scenes, probably in reflecting the romanticism of city life I’ve associated to moving to the big(ger) city. Granted in this example the women are all going to be martyred…

Whether it’s sunflowers, horses, battleships, ancient godsportraits or Jesus there will be something to capture your eyes for at least a fleeting moment. If art isn’t your thing then the gallery may only be worthwhile on a rainy day but if you are an art lover then you’ll need to put aside three or four hours at a minimum.

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