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
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

048 049

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.

060 063

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

065 068

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
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

018 063

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

Westminster Abbey

June 15, 2008 at 6:24 pm | Posted in General, London, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

Iconic, ancient and a tad morbid are just some of the interpretations of Westminster Abbey. While the building doesn’t resonate with the same instant recognition as St Paul’s or the Palace of Westminster (Big Ben), it nonetheless features heavily in British cultural and political life. Religious and spiritual events have been occurring at the site of the Abbey even before Christianity took hold. Religious buildings have come and gone and the current church began construction in the 13th century. Although it has been the home of coronations since 1066 and seventeen monarchs are buried there.

Westminster Abbey (18) Westminster Abbey (10)

One of the features of the royal coronation is the coronation throne which has seen monarchs come and go since the 1300s. For me it’s this sense of continuity that gives the Abbey it’s strength and gravitas more so than its vaulted ceilings and stone work. That a chair and a building have borne witness to so much in English history impresses me and upon me. Despite upheaval they have remained.

In the same manner the multitude of memorials and busts to notable persons (poets, scholars, philanthropists and politicians) all highlight the changing nature of British society. Even when there is upheaval there can still be development of culture and a snap shot, however brief, is captured in these stone monuments.

At least this is what I took away from my visit. On the other hand you might be more interested in the tomb of Queen Elizabeth I and her sister Mary (amongst others), the ornate stonework or the religious events that take place throughout the year.

Westminster Abbey (17) Westminster Abbey (12)

You can take your own initiative and look around and read information displays but that content is limited and a more advisable option would be to take an audio guide or if one is available a tour with one of the Abbey’s Vergers. The latter two options will be cost more (about £5 or £6), which is on top of the £12 adult entry fee. I used the audio tour and was able to go at my pace while learning about the Abbey. Presumably the Verger tour will be a bit more regimented – though more interactive!

The Abbey is a worthwhile experience and it took just over an hour and a half (the audio tour is 90mins). For the history and culture buff the Abbey should go on your list but if you only have a limited stay in London I would opt for St Paul’s. While the Abbey is older and features more heavily in British life, St Paul’s has many similar cultural monuments and has views over the city. With the latter clinching the deal.

Return to the museum – The Terracotta Warriors

October 30, 2007 at 1:10 pm | Posted in British Museum, General, London, Out and About, Travel | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , ,

China’s First Emperor’s terracotta warriors are on display at the British Museum for a relatively short time. So drop everything buy a ticket and see it! Or so the advertising would have you believe. While it’s true that the exhibition won’t be here forever I’m not fully convinced that it is a must see. For a brief history of the warriors read the wiki.

So the basics, if you haven’t bought a ticket in advance online then you must vie for one of 500 extra tickets released each morning. I was going with Ankush at 2PM and walked into the museum at 11 and the earliest tickets were for 1:30. On a Monday and at 2 when we came for the tour they had completely sold out. So my advice is if you can pre-buy and if not get in early, buy your tickets for late afternoon or evening and then explore other parts of London or the museum.

There is no photography allowed inside but at the end of the tour you can get plenty of merchandise at the gift shop! Exciting, no? On the other hand for a few extra pounds you can pick up an audio tour. The audio tour helped keep me engaged with the subject matter but that’s probably because I have a short attention span. While there was some additional content on the audio tour I don’t think this really exceeded what was on the signs and explanatory materials. In many instances I was rereading what I’d only heard moments before thus protracting the experience.

While I was aware beforehand that each warrior was a unique work I was oblivious or failed to think about the other aspects of the tomb. What was new to me or at least reinforced was the variety of other statues found within the tomb complex such as civil servants, acrobats and animals. No women though. Maybe they’ll be uncovered one day.

The artistry and gruelling workload required to create the vast number of statues is inspiring and shocking at the same time given the number of prisoners ’employed’ in their construction.

I feel let down a little by the display as it only featured about a dozen warriors (as well as various other statues) and a part of me had imagined a more extensive display reminiscent of the columns of soldiers you see in videos of the excavation. Nonetheless, The British Museum has provided a snapshot of the Terracotta Army and it is likely that only the museum in Xi’an could do better.

One of my hopes was that by coming to this exhibit I could ignore Xi’an and the effort of going to the Terracotta Warrior site. I’d heard from numerous travellers that there isn’t anything else worthwhile in Xi’an besides the museum. Unfortunately, the British Museum only offered the tip of the iceberg or should that be tip of the burial mound so it looks like one of these days I will return to China and trek over to Xi’an and then get out quick!

The exhibit is interesting and something people with an interest in ancient history or China should see but there’s no rush, if you see something on the History Channel first then that might be sufficient.

Buckingham Palace Tour

September 23, 2007 at 1:20 pm | Posted in London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 3 Comments
Tags: , , ,

The seat of the monarchy, a former country estate, Buckingham Palace, is (partially) open to the public during the summer months while the Queen is out of town.


The tour offers the chance to view a normally hidden world. My childhood fantasies of grand and enormous palaces were sent tumbling as it seems to be a relatively small interior (granted we’re only privy to a fraction). Conversely, the design did live up to the imaginative hype.

DSC02636 DSC02637

At the end of the tour I was more struck by the concealed depth the grass and wooded area behind Buckingham Palace as it is feels substanitlaly greater than the exterior geography. Then again compared to the days when all of Hyde Park was a royal hunting ground all of this must be quite the step down.

With ticket in hand (probably best to prebook) you are shepherded in large groups through the security check and the guide room where you’ll pick up your audio tours. These are your standard audio tour packages that you listen to as you progress through the various rooms and you’ll have the option to hear more on certain topics depending on how much time and interest you have available. Personally, I found the audio tour to be quite informative with the voices pleasant and easy to listen to as you walk around.

In addition to the wealth of design, craftwork and artwork that makes this tour a highlight is a special exhibit on the Queen’s wedding. Now topics like the wedding dress aren’t overly fascinating so I skipped this section quickly and moved on but many others were taking an in-depth approach.

Throughout the tour you will see excellent representations of art and finely decorated doors, walls, cups – pretty much everything. Unfortunately, you cannot take pictures inside the building and are restricted to the gardens for your photographic needs. Given the number of people taking the tour you would think it would result in a crush. Thankfully, this is not the case and there were only a few experiences with gridlock and these were at the beginning and bypassed easily enough.

At the end of the main tour and after dropping off your headsets you enter the palace gardens and on your wander out you will of course be met by the mandatory gift shop and the ever present tourism item (anything + Union Jack/ Royal = £). I took this opportunity to speak with one of the multitude of guides. It turns out most are students working in the palace over their break to earn some cash and a great reference. Explains why they all look so young. In her case she was a history teacher and had enjoyed her time working here and would be coming back next year. PR or praise, I’ll leave that to you but she appeared genuine. The guides receive a few weeks of training beforehand and they learn about ‘everything’. I’m not sure that’s the case but give it a shot and ask questions!

DSC02625 DSC02624

The gardens themselves are a pleasant walk and before you know it you find yourself out the back gate and into the harsh glare of sun on concrete that is this part of Victoria.

DSC02626 DSC02631

If you are in London during the summer opening take the opportunity to come and visit. The Buckingham Palace tour gets a definite recommendation from me.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.