Southwark Cathedral

March 19, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Iconic Southwark Cathedral near London Bridge was interesting to wander through but not amazing. The architecture both in the interior and exterior is wonderful but perhaps suffering from temple fatigue I don’t think its particularly striking compared to other religious sites.

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You can take photos inside if you pay a fee and similarly there’s also an audio guide (in both cases I didn’t opt for it).

There are a number of display boards scattered throughout and they provide the usual content about the history of the building and its development over the centuries as well as notable events. Nothing for me stood out.

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They are expanding with a new information centre but this was under construction. I don’t believe it’s possible to climb the tower which is a shame as that would certainly boost the incentive to come and visit.

Nonetheless much like the Westminster Cathedral if you’re in the area and have a few minutes stop by and have a look but don’t go out of your way.

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Canterbury

January 21, 2009 at 11:29 pm | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, Food, General, museum, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Back before the Games Release Craziness ruined my social and blogging life I went to Canterbury. About an hour out of London this is an easy day or weekend trip.

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The City’s most well known attraction is Canterbury Cathedral the seat of the Anglican Church. The Cathedral looms over the city skyline and is easy to find as you walk through Canterbury’s medieval streets. The history of the building is fascinating with murders, money and of course faith all part of the picture. I’d strongly recommend an audio guide or getting onto one of the guided tours as it will add much needed colour to the history of the building.

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St Augustine’s Abbey– The ruined Abbey complex lies just outside the city centre and is easily accessible by foot. The Abbey was founded in 597AD by St Augustine and flourished for a time before being dissolved by Henry VIII and ultimately destroyed in 1703. The ruins were eventually excavated as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Canterbuty city. I would recommend hiring the audio guide as it provides much needed context but I found myself getting bored quite frequently and having to pace around the same spot for prolonged periods while the guide blathered on. Nonetheless still interesting and a very picturesque experience to walk around the shattered remains of a building that once rivaled the Cathedral.

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St Martin’s Church– The UK’s oldest and longest in continual use Christian parish. This small church nestled at the top of a hill in amongst gravestones and next to a prison is this stone church. It’s free to enter and there should be a member of the parish on hand to provide some background to the building. Informative, reasonably quick, not far from the city centre and St Augustine’s Abbey.

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Westgate Gardens – Lying on the Western side of the City (past the river) is a stretch of gardens that border the Westgate Towers. They’re pleasant and a brief diversion from but nothing particularly different. Although being there on a wet day has probably influenced my opinion.

West Gate Towers – A medieval tower at the western side of the city, while it has a small museum, it’s not very informative and the main reason to come is to climb to the top and look out over the city.

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Roman Museum – A small, cheap museum that’s fairly well appointed. The museum is found on one of the side streets near the Cathedral. It provides a run down on the ancient history of the city from its early days as a Roman outpost to the decline that happened when Roman rule fell. The museum also features some excavated mosaics.

Museum of Canterbury– which also features an exhibition on Rupert the Bear (if you’re interested!)  The museum covers the history of the city from its earliest beginnings to today. It does duplicate much of the information from the Roman Museum so you could probably skip that one if you’re pressed for time. Within the space available there seems to be a reasonably good amount of well presented information.

Norman Castle – Near Canterbury East station are the ruins of the Norman Castle. The ruins are free to enter and there are a few information boards around the site that explain the building and its use as a defensive structure, prison, factory and historic relic. Take a few minutes to soak it up before moving onto the rest of the city.

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The Canterbury Tales Experience – Not a site I would particularly recommend but if you’re bored or a fan of the Canterbury Tales then this might be for you. Actually if you’re a fan of the tales you might want to avoid it! Over the course of about an hour you’ll enter into a long road (mimicking the journey of the tales) and spread along it are spaces representing several of the tales. At each of these you’ll stop for about 10 minutes to listed to one of the stories. Unfortunately, this method of translating literary works leads to a fair amount of boredom and pacing around as each area is a static display with only the words to entertain.

 GreyFriar’s Chapel – Closed when I was there, the chapel straddles a small stream in a pleasant field and nestled within the city limits but accessed through a narrow alley.

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Another attraction closed during the colder months are River Tours. I did walk along the some of the river and it was quite nice and presumably either a river tour or walk during the better months would be an excellent break.

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I stayed at the  Canterbury Cathedral Lodge . It’s run by and within the Cathedral’s grounds. It was reasonably priced and well appointed with a complimentary breakfast. Admittedly, I don’t think it’s the place for a boozy weekend but that wasn’t an issue for me this time around. While the precinct gates close at night you’ll be able to come and go as you please with your hotel key.

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Food and Drinks

Cafe St Pierre a seemingly popular and busy french cafe on the high street

Inpresso for lunch, it’s a homewares store meets deli. Mediocre mocha, reasonable quiche, great side salad. Nice atmosphere, excellent value.

The Old Weavers restaurant. I ate a salmon fillet for dinner. It was a very large serving with mash and side of vegetables. Nice but not great. Still price to amount of food ratio is good. As the name suggests the venue is an old weavers house that dates from 1500AD.  Reasonable service.

Cafe Bohois a small, loud and brash. Filled with loud walls and many many clocks. The small tables and chairs makes me feel gigantic. I didn’t eat but there appears to be a reasonable range – desserts looked delicious. The cafe was doing a bustling morning trade. The service reasonable and while the mocha is good it was a little burnt. The manager runs a tight ship with the staff in spite of the cafe name. He was very friendly buying roasted chestnuts from the vendors outside and offering them to the customers. That was my frist chestnut – won’t be rushing back – but that’s not the cafe’s fault!

Coffee and Cork– It has lacklustre mochas but an excellent coffee shop atmosphere. Couches, board games, music and a bar. Appears popular with students and knitters as it also has a Knitting circle.

The Old Buttermarket– Is a Nicholson pub that’s like a Weatherspoon’s. It’s a sprawling pub and very busy, which is understandable as it is near the cathedral. While cheap the roast was tough and chewy. Not recommended – although maybe for a pint.

Tiny Tim’s Tearoom. A small wooden tearoom with a 30s style. Offering a variety of freshly made food and high teas. Mocha was nice and rich.

Final Thoughts:

Canterbury is a wonderful city and a great way to recharge from life in London. Canterbury has endeared itself to me with its winding medieval streets, centuries of history behind it and touches of modernity. I managed to get most of the sites above done on Saturday and by the time my train departed at 5 on Sunday I was well and truly done – it wouldn’t be a stretch to say bored. As a result I’d say Canterbury would be good for a day or day and a half, any longer and you’ll have to look into going further afield.

More photos over at Flickr and the map is at Google!

Manchester

March 9, 2008 at 11:31 pm | Posted in General, Manchester, Out and About, photos, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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Myself and Miki made our way to Manchester on Friday to meet our resident local – Rhiannon and to catch up since we had gone our separate ways in Sydney. Although first we’d have to get on the train. We would have to take the overland from Euston and we arrived at the underground tube station. As we were making our way out were informed that the station was being evacuated and we were to take the next tube out. After arriving at Kings Cross a quick call to Virgin Trains advised that the evacuation had been canceled and even more fortuitously we would be allowed to use our ticket on a later train. Arriving at Euston again our ticket was validated for the 12:30 train (an hour late) and after finding some seats we settled in for a 2 hour trip.

Manchester feels like a big spread out city but is remarkably easy to walk around (at least in the core). We checked into our apartment for the night and then headed into the city for a wander around the main streets and next to the major buildings.

In the city center near Harvey Nichols is a Tudor period pub the Old Wellington with wood beams and and walls. With meals, drinks, reasonable service, ambient atmosphere and views over the city it is a charming spot. While a little cramped it all adds to the experience and during the summer I’m sure sitting out in the courtyard with the pub or wheel as your backdrop would make this a great venue.
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The Manchester Wheel – I’ve never been on the London Eye and now I’ve been on it’s smaller cousin I’ll have to make the effort. For £6 (adult) you get 3 rotations. The first time is slow as you’ll be listening to an audio track providing a history of the wheel and pointing out local sights.
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At night and without knowing the city it can be a little challenging to to get your bearings before the guide has moved on. You can even choose the audio in different languages.
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The next two rotations are relatively fast and I’d say all up it took about 15 minutes but was a lot of fun. If you feel like splashing out you can spend £50 – £65 for the VIP gondola. I hope for that money it’s more than 15 minutes.

In the square next to the Wheel is a giant TV screen and unlike many other screens, it actually has sound so it’s quite possible to watch Eastenders!
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That night we ate at East Z East Indian restaurant. While the underground blue neon pillars and foliage is all a bit surreal the food and wine were filling, delicious and affordable. The service was friendly and efficient as well. They have a few branches so if you’re in the mood for Punjabi cuisine give it a try.

The next day started out gloomy but we ate a hearty breakfast before once again walking around town.

There was Manchester Cathedralscene of some horrific fighting and then of course, controversy.
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Afflecks Palace-Lots of alternative and vintage shopping (clothes mainly) in this multi-level shopping arcade with a range of different vendors.
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Chinatown – While it lacks a pedestrian mall it does have a cool arch and a load of Asian restaurants nearby.
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The Town Hall(currently celebrating St Patricks Day) and was featured on “How we Built Britain” as a masterpiece of Victorian engineering constructed at the height of the city’s industrial power.
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There are tours of the building but this week it was on a Sunday so we missed out but took a wander around instead. The lower floors are all well crafted with vaulted ceilings and inlays with exquisite architecture.
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The higher floor were less opulent and on a Saturday felt more like an abandoned school. HWBB has a potentially unhealthy interest in the heating used in the building and as a result of this repetition I found myself obsessing about it as well.

Urbis is an exhibition center focusing on city life culture.
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When we visited they had a display on “d&ad – the best design and advertising in the world” with some very funky ads and design pieces ranging from print and audio to video games and mix media. There was also an exhibit from recent graduates with a variety of avant garde work.
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Sadly, I missed out by a week on the upcoming manga exhibition so if you’re in town check it out.
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Also of note is the lift. The building is a unique slanted design and apparently getting a standard lift would require it to have a railway license so they opted for the counterweight option thus creating a multi-stop rollercoaster (probably the slowest!).
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After looking at the displays we went down to Urbis’ cafe The Social and took some time out.
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While there we looked outside at the various groups of young teens milling about in the plaza. Apparently just chilling but the police may not have been so sure as there were a lot of them talking to them. I’m not sure why they had such issues these young people just seemed to be talking and hanging.
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<Sigh> ‘young people’ clearly I no longer perceive myself as a ‘young person’

At any rate the rain forced them away more effectively than the police presence and in turn we kept inside the cafe until I had to leave for the train back to London.
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And as per the journey up the journey back was similarly challenging. All trains going to London were going to take another hour in travel time so my train was cancelled and I left half an hour later and took 4 hours to get back to Euston. The bathroom I sat next to was particularly odious.

Luckily there was a group of young guys who were mildly entertaining and they persuaded a dog trainer who joined the train at Coventry after a competition to get her second place dog to do tricks. It was enough to break the boredom for the last stretch.

Overall I enjoyed Manchester. It was easy to traverse and while there is more to see and do I feel like I received a good sample of the city. Obviously, having a local helps but I’m sure it’ll be entertaining for you as well.

More photos on Flickr and a Google map with locations here.

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