The Polish Institute & Sikorski Museum

August 5, 2009 at 9:51 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Opposite Hyde Park, on embassy row, if you look carefully you might see the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum.  A small museum spread out over several floors detailing some of experiences of Polish expatriate forces during World War Two.

There are limited information sign next to the collected items however you won’t need them as a guide will take you around, answering your questions and highlighting the importance of the pieces. This could pose a problem if a number of people come through during the two hours it is open. This happened to me in the final room when the usher brought a few Poles in for the guide (there’s only one). Luckily we were almost done. Also, as to be expected the guide spoke Polish and English. A tour takes about 30-45mins.

Probably not the thing to focus on but I am a geek after all but they have an enigma machine!

It doesn’t matter that I didn’t go ‘whoa’, ‘whooo’, or ‘whaooo’ over any of the pieces because the experience of the guide as he slowly moved around the museum and raspily extolled the value of the items made up for it and created a sense of ambiance and the importance that these pieces have for the museum.

It’s interesting, particularly if you are fascinated with the history of the period – or the armed forces. This could be out of the scope for the museum but I would have liked to see some content about the experience of Polish civilians, general background history for the unitiated and an overview of the culture.

Ok that’s a lot of requests, which is probably why they only focus on the one area.

Billingsgate & Smithfield Markets

April 7, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Early one morning I tried to wake up early so I could see London’s Billingsgate Market in full swing but sadly the snooze button got the better of me and I only saw the tail end.

Billingsgate is London’s fresh fish market located near Canary Wharf. It’s still run by the City of London (and as a result when you approach you’ll walk past signage indicating the political change). The market is open from 5am to 8:30am Tuesday to Saturdays. It’s a commercial space but members of the public can visit (photography isn’t permitted).

Billingsgate Market Billingsgate Market (2)

I’d envisaged a huge trade floor filled with fish of all descriptions and as I walked towards the long building I continued to believe this. Predictably this didn’t turn out to be the case. The trading booths occupy perhaps a third of the space with the rest presumably given over to storage.

When I arrived at 7:20 many of the traders were washing out their equipment but there were enough still actively trading to get a sense of the environment. I imagine if I was a foodie or a fisherman then you could spend quite some time checking out the varieties.

After Billingsgate I made my way to one of London’s other big commercial produce markets – Smithfields. I’d often walked past this literal meat market (near Farringdon) but never been able to go in due to its opening times. Luckily unemployment has a few benefits. It’s open 4:00am to 12:00 Monday to Friday. Once again this is a commercial building accessible to the public but not a tourist attraction per se.

Smithfields Market (2) Smithfields Market

The central hall runs the length of the building with traders on either side. I arrived about 9 and I assume I was already too late (despite the midday closing time) as most of the booths were deserted. Well that or they just hadn’t been set up yet – unlikely. What I did saw was a lot of red meat and I tried to imagine it multiplied by a hundred percent.

I have no idea when a good time to see the market is (possibly early?)and once again presumably only good for the foodies amongst you.

When you’re done at the market check out Smiths of Smithfield for a great breakfast!

Changing of the Guard

March 19, 2009 at 7:59 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A few Thursday’s ago I woke up shockingly early (for an unemployed hobo like me) to attend the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. The event begins at 11:30 although with the number of tourists in attendance it’s best to arrive a little earlier.

Changing of the Guard (16)

I initally set myself up at one side however after the procession entered the courtyard I realised this was a miscalculation as most of the activity was in the centre. As a result I moved to a better spot and while I wasn’t at the front luckily I could look over the heads of most people.

Changing of the Guard (11) Changing of the Guard (37)

Apparently the average tourist is quite short – except for those climbing on the fence. I feel quite sorry for the police who were constantly having to get the attention of these people and often through signaling advise them to climb down.

Changing of the Guard (14)

Unfortunately those with children or shorter than the average relied on climbing atop a parent or partner’s shoulders to get a glimpse. Anyone too far back was not going to see much.

The most entertaining part of the event was the music played by the respective guard’s bands, which ranged from traditional to modern soundtracks.

Changing of the Guard (28) Changing of the Guard (32)

After about half an hour the changing of the guard was finished, while I admit by the end I was a bit bored it was still a reasonable bit of  pomp and ceremony- assuming you can see it!

Westminster Cathedral

March 19, 2009 at 7:53 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Near Victoria station on the way to Westminster Abbey you’ll find a plaza with Westminster Cathedral. The home of the Catholic church in the city of Westminster.

Westminster Cathedral (4) Westminster Cathedral (5)

The Cathedral is still a work in progress and they continue to raise funds for completing the interior. In that sense it’s quite interesting to see the bare brick ceilings rather than the usual plaster seen in most other cathedrals and churches. Around the edge you’ll see a number of small chapels some of the artwork is interesting but not spectacular. Given the age of the structure this is to be expected.

One of the valuable parts of the cathedral is the opportunity to go to the top of the tower and take photos of the surrounds. There is a cost for this (approx £5) and it’s probably not best on an overcast day but it is still worthwhile to look out over part of the city. It is cheaper than the London Eye but you won’t see everything unlike with the Eye.

Westminster Cathedral (22) Westminster Cathedral (27)

Overall, if you’re in the area then you could stop by and have a look. It’s not a must by any stretch (although the exterior is nice) but if you’re in London when the sky is clear and blue you might want to check out the tower.

Westminster Cathedral (11) Westminster Cathedral (9)

Night at the Museum – the Science Museum

October 16, 2008 at 10:22 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Random, Tourism, Travel, UK | 2 Comments
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Wednesday night (24 September) was London’s Science Museum’s inaugural late night opening specifically for adults. All in all a great time made all the more pleasant by having some friends to share the experience.

The best part of the night was hands down the lack of children and massive crowds. It made navigation and enjoyment so much easier and less stressful. The museum put on several bars and a DJ. Remember t bring your I’d as the doorman/ bouncer will check. The computers exhibit featured a build a robot/robot wars activity. There were also Lindy Hoppers dancing up a storm. The crowd (and our) favourite was the hands on section. Normally dominated by children but for a few brief hours adults could play, laugh, learn and revel in the wonder of science.

Unfortunately I do have one criticism. Namely that the entire museum was not open. I’m not sure if this is the result of crowd control and security concerns but it seems to go against the concept of a late opening.

Overall, the crowd was very cool with a healthy mix of suits, geeks and the groovy hopefully brought together by science! I know I had a big grin when one of the ever present and helpful Explainers … explained the maglev concepts. If most people came away with a similar experience then it was a worthwhile night.

I probably won’t go back for a few months as I don’t want to kill the novelty but I’ll wait and see what they have planned for the night.

Other late night events around London can be found at

There are some less than stellar mobile photos at Flickr.

The Victoria and Albert Museum plus China Design Now exhibit

August 3, 2008 at 9:08 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Located in Kensington, adjacent to the Natural History and Science Museums is the Victoria and Albert Museum (or the V&A if you’re a local).

It has an enormous collection spanning time periods from across the globe. Walking through the exhibits will take a few hours – more if you plan to read in depth on the plentiful display boards.

Generally, the items on display are object d’art and re-creations of living environments with period pieces. Most are exquisitely crafted and it is interesting to see how these skills have developed and the quality of the craftsmens’ abilities.

Easily one of my favourite areas was the plaster cast section, where they have copies of some impressive statues and monuments (such as Trajan’s column). Granted it is all fake but still very cool. Another notable attraction is the Ardabil Carpet in the Middle Eastern section. It is the world’s oldest carpet and is only illuminated for 10 minutes every hour to help preserve its quality.

My main purpose in coming to the V&A was to see the China Design Now exhibit. I’d been meaning to see it for ages, procrastinated and then hurriedly made my way here on its penultimate day. The entry cost was reasonable and I also paid an additional fee for the audio guide. This was a mistake. I’m sure the content was fantastic but standing in front of a single panel for ten minutes is not my idea of engaging content. I quickly stopped using the guide and read the fairly informative display panels instead.

In large part the exhibit focused on the development of Chinese graphic design in print, clothing, music and emerging trends in architecture. I’m pleased that I went as it was fairly engaging. The youth branding areas of design were particularly fun, while their more mundane uses in areas such as school construction was interesting.

Other than special exhibits it is free, which is another huge bonus. Even the size isn’t too much of an issue however it was at times a challenge to navigate. I was frequently looking at my map and doubling back on myself as the wings don’t necessarily interconnect (not to mention all of the side galleries).

At the end of the day don’t let that put you off. The V&A is a fantastic museum that you should see. If museums aren’t your thing you might want to consider coming on one of the late night adults only openings (with DJ’s and bar).

West End Live

June 24, 2008 at 10:03 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Random, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Thanks to a well placed sign at the Cartoon Museum I was reminded of the West End Live event going on at Leicester Square. For anyone not in the know the West End is where all of the theatres are located and is basically adjacent/around/in close proximity to Leicester Square. So of all the places to hold an event promoting the West End this seems equally wildly unnecessary and perfectly placed for the fan/tourist.

As it was free I was for it.

Basically, within the square there were a range of stalls either promoting businesses, movies (e.g Kung Fu Panda) or Art Galleries or alternatively being kind of kitschy, like playing dress up and pretending you’re attending a premiere or taking your photo with Batman and other impersonators (Batman was considerably shorter than Indy – is that right?). On the outer ring of the square were a range of famous movie cars to take photos with like the Flintstones and the 60s Batmobile. Finally, the main stage had various performances like the musicians from the Globe.

The bulk of these stalls were definitely geared towards children but apparently the organisers think children only want to colour and draw. Strangely, Jet Li’s movie The Forbidden Kingdom had a stall, no the fact that it had a stall wasn’t the odd thing. Rather the activity there seemed to be showing and/or teaching martial arts and/or stunt fighting and there was only one boy participating – not even any spectators. Clearly today’s children aren’t fans of violence! Video games must be having the wrong effect, well that or today’s children are not enthused by physical activity.

On my way out I grabbed a swag bag which consisted of a random collection of items, honestly I have no idea what this is meant to say about the movie/theatre tourist:

  • Wilkinson Plus catalogue – because you need somewhere comfy to sit at home when watching DVDs
  • 1x Sammy Dodger snack bar, 1x Maryland munch bar and 1x salt and pepper Crips (yes crips) – at least they know snacks are important
  • Kiwi brand foot silk and 4x Comfort Concentrate – clearly you stink! Thanks for coming to West End Live!

Overall West End Live was a nice, quick and free diversion and fortunately it wasn’t too crowded. Next year if it’s back you can easily do a loop or time it for when a performance you like comes on. If you have children this will probably be a fun activity but marshaling them around may be a bit tiring.

Oh so you actually write a blog do you?

May 12, 2008 at 11:16 am | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Yes, funnily enough I do. Although what with the unannounced two month hiatus you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. To all my dedicated readers I apologise.

The last 8 weeks have been incredibly hectic. I’ve had a few friends visiting but more importantly I was devoting an inordinate amount of time to finding a newjob. After a considerable amount of effort I can announce that I have my first permanent job after years as a temp. We’ll have to see how it goes but permanency is probably a good thing. Right? Fortuitously, despite sending out a number of applications I only had one real call back and that’s obviously for this job.

I’m looking forward to completing my probabtion period and taking paid holidays! Oh and learning new skills and all that.

Oh and I bought an X-Box 360! That hasn’t affected my free time in the slightest. Nope. Not at all.

I’m now looking forward to getting back on the review path and with slightly better pay getting further afield.

Thank you for your continued support.

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