Cardiff – Cardiff Castle

October 19, 2008 at 4:30 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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In the centre of the city is arguably Cardiff’s most memorable feature – Cardiff Castle.


As you walk along the city centre’s main roadways you will eventually come across the Castle. Surrounded by a high wall, sitting above the former Roman defences.


Entry is only £8.50 and you’ll get a highly informative audio guide for use in the grounds and a tour of the main house. The castle was donated to the city so city residents have free entry to the grounds.

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The tour of the house is interesting and if you’re in a small group (as I was, it’s a trend for me this trip) you’ll receive the opportunity to ask more questions and have more time in each room to look at the architecture.

The main keep in the centre of the grounds besides the usual audio tour information about defences and history offers a great view over the city.


The information centre has an audio – visual history of the Castle but it’s somewhat abstract with references to events such as the Romans and civil war without directly explaining them. Perhaps they anticipate people will read the display panels in the centre before being ushered into the AV centre or just know the important historical periods.


One of the comments made during the tour is that the castle was rebuilt as a “rich man’s folly”, which the family rarely spent any time in. It is fascinating that the city’s premier attraction was made as little more than a hobby. Possibly Cardiff needs to develop some other attributes as well?


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.

Edinburgh – Edinburgh Castle

September 22, 2008 at 8:17 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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Edinburgh Castle absolutely dominates the city’s skyline and history. Understandably, it is the city’s biggest tourist atraction and should be on your list to visit.

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As you progress through the castle you’ll learn about the history of the castle through such periods as Robert the Bruce and its modern conservation. Besides the impressive buildings and halls, other areas of interest include the old St Margaret’s Chapel and Mons Meg (a massive gun).


St Margaret's Chapel


Mons Meg Canon


On a clear day you’ll be able to see far out over the city. Within the castle grounds are other notable sites such as the Scottish War Memorial Museum and the Royal Scots Regimental Museum. Personally, I find it somewhat offensive that the you have to pay for entry into the Castle in order to access the Memorial.


War Memorial

One of the most important areas is the vault holding the Honours of Scotland (the Scottish crown, sword  and sceptre) as well as the Stone of Destiny. The crown is the oldest surviving crown in Europe. There are many stories as to how they escaped destruction by the Parlemantarians but the end result is that they were sealed in the castle for about 100 years before being re-discovered.


Entry costs £12 and for an additional £3.50 you can pick up an audio tour (in various languages). If you’re not pressed for time the audio guide is well worth it. I spent about two and a half hours with the audio guide and ducking into all of the smaller museums.

More photos at Flickr.


Tool who can't read a sign or symbol

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.

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