Open House 2009

September 21, 2009 at 10:29 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Every year many of London’s buildings that are normally closed to the public are opened up for a rare chance to see some classic gems as part of Open House. This year I went to:

St Stephens: A historic church located near Bank. It could have been interesting but sadly it didn’t seem open when we came by at 9:15 (opening hours started at 9). Perhaps we missed the entrance?

St Stephens - Open House (3) St Stephens - Open House (2)

Lloyd’s:The iconic modern industrial high-rise in the City, home to Lloyds and numerous other traders. Normally when you visit you have to be smartly dressed and for men wearing a tie but not on this Saturday (Sunday it’s closed). The high atrium, external lifts and views of the city make this a worthwhile visit but it’s better to get here early as the queues can take a while. Probably no more than 30 minutes once you get in.

Lloyds Building - Open House (14) Lloyds Building - Open House (30) Lloyds Building - Open House (7) Lloyds Building - Open House (62)

Japanese Festival: Nothing to do with Open House but this special one off event at Spitalfields Market was on the same day so I opted to detour off the itinerary to check it out. There were plenty of stalls serving food and other Japanese related products. Taiko drummers were performing energetically when I arrived and provided a soundtrack for my wander around. It looked like a pleasant day out with a number of families perusing the various activities and shops.

Japanese Festival (18) Japanese Festival (23)

Chartered Accountants’ Hall: The Accountants’ Hall is, oddly enough, the home of the Institute of Chartered Accountants with a historic Victorian exterior, library and reception room blending with modern banqueting hall, restaurant  and council chambers. A 15 minute tour provides an overview of the building and its history.

Chartered Accountants Hall - Open House (12) Chartered Accountants Hall - Open House (6)

Pipers’ City of London: Located near Guildhall is the City’s marketing office and its scale model of London. It only takes 5 or 10 minutes to look at but it is quite cool to see the city in miniature with all of the proposed buildings on display. You can also choose specific buildings or categories and they’ll be illuminated.

Piper's City of London - Open House (19) Piper's City of London - Open House (11)

St Mary’s – Bow Church: Another historic London church and this one was open. There were tours of the crypt and guides on tour to answer your questions. I took the opportunity to let the ambience soak in. However I only stayed for 15 minutes.

St Mary-le-Bow - Open House (10) St Mary-le-Bow - Open House (5)

Salvation Army: The International Headquarters of the Salvation Army, located near Saint Pauls, had tours of their building every half hour. We missed the latest one so opted to have a wander around the basement cafe and small exhibit space instead. Obviously we didn’t get the most out of this building and I’d be interested to hear if anyone went on the tour.

Salvation Army - Open House (2) Salvation Army - Open House

120 Fleet Street: Formerly the Daily Express building (during the heyday of the newspaper industry on Fleet Street) is notable for its art deco foyer. You may have to wait in line for 5 minutes or so but with the 1920s style mouldings and design it’s worth it. Probably takes 5 – 10 minutes once inside.

120 Fleet Street - Open House (8) 120 Fleet Street - Open House (3)

Honourable Company of Master Mariners: Down near Temple tube station and moored in the Thames is the HQS Wellington, home to the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. A 40 minute guided tour of the vessel offers a background to the company, its tussels with the City of London and a history of the Wellington (named for the New Zealand City not the Admiral) and other ships. Interesting but a touch long.

HQS Wellington - Open House (9) HQS Wellington - Open House (14)

Society of Antiquaries: Located inside Burlington House, the Society of Antiquaries while relatively small is home to an impressive library and imbues a sense of history and the preservation of knowledge onto this casual observer. Definitely one to look in on.  10 minutes.

Society of Antiquaries - Open House (10) Society of Antiquaries - Open House (6)

Linnean Society: Also located within Burlington House, the Linnean Society does for biology what the Antiquaries does for museums and history. Again it has an interesting library although you can’t wander as extensively nor can you pick up random books to browse through. 10 minutes.

Linnean Society - Open House (3) Linnean Society - Open House (2)

Open House is a great weekend but it’s important to have a plan to make sure you can see as many sites as possible during the weekend and try and avoid those that are normally open – unless they have a special tour or event on.

More photos at Flickr and a Google map.

Plus unrelated to Open House but still cool giant chess set in Trafalgar Square!

Trafalgar Square Chess Set (2) Trafalgar Square Chess Set


May 20, 2009 at 12:59 am | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, Coffee, Food, General, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Visiting Brighton why not check out this quick guide:

Brighton (3) Brighton (64)


  • Toy and Model Museum –  This museum costs £4 and if you’re a particular fan of model trains then you’ll want to check it out. The central collection of trains and tracks looks impressive but after pressing the start button only one locomotive runs. The collection also house other period toys, tin models, railways and dolls.
    Brighton - Toy and Model Museum (3) Brighton - Toy and Model Museum (4)
  • St Bartholomew’s Church – I’d read that St Bartholomew’s Church was something to check out due to being the ‘tallest church‘. Besides that there’s not a great deal to recommend it. While certainly a nice church it’s nothing to write home about.
    Brighton - St Bartholomew's (2) Brighton - St Bartholomew's (3)
  • Volks Railway – A small rail service running since 1883 along Brighton’s foreshore. It’s cheap, short and silly but randomly fun (for a 10 min trip). £1.70 one-way trip
    Brighton - Volks Railway (5) Brighton - Volks Railway (2)
  • Madeira lift – Not an attraction per se but while walking toward the Undercliff I randomly found the Madeira Lift. It’s basically just a lift and it takes you down to the beach (through the Concorde 2 bar). Basically it’s just random!
    Brighton - Madeira Lift Brighton - Madeira Lift (3)
  • Undercliff Walk – A coastal walk from Brighton and Saltdean. Walking it was somewhat disappointing and I don’t think it was just the weather. After taking 20 minutes just to get past the marina I was now properly walking next to the white cliff face with uninterrupted views of the sea on the other side. I felt small next to the steep face and rather peaceful looking out on the sea. This lasted for about 20 mins before the constant monotony set in. The unending parallels of cliff, path and water weighed heavily. You can’t readily leave the walk (which made me ponder what would happen if there was a storm or less likely a tidal wave). By the time I reached Saltdean I’d been walking for about 1.5 hrs (and you can go on a bit further). I walked up to the high road and caught a bus back to Brighton. If you have a bike then the ‘walk’ might be a lot more fun. If you go on a sunny day don’t forget to bring some water with you.
    Brighton - Undercliff walk (5) Brighton - Undercliff walk (4)
  • West Pier – Not an attraction per se but the ruins of one of Brighton’s piers is on the shore and a good starting point to walk along the beach towards Brighton Pier.
    Brighton - West Pier (2)
  • Brighton Pier – This pier is filled with carnival attractions (some may close depending on weather), video games, poker machines and food outlets.
    Brighton - Pier (6) Brighton - Pier (8)
  • North Laine – Spread out over a number of streets (check the Google Map) North Laine features a variety of shops from comics and clothes to cafes and the huge flee market of Snooper’s Paradise
  • The Lanes – Similar to North Laine, the Lanes consists of a multitude of small shops, eateries etc dispersed throughout a number of winding lanes. While not as extensive as I’d imagined it was still interesting to walk around.
  • Royal Pavilion – This former Royal Palace is probably one of the major attractions in Brighton. You’ll be charged £8.80 and get a complimentary audio tour. The Pavilion with its distinctive domes and turrets is now owned by the city with most of the fittings on loan from the Queen. The Pavilion is an excellent example of Chinoiserie and Regency decor. Some of the most notable rooms are the Banqueting Hall with its impressive dragon ensnared chandelier, the ‘modern’ kitchen and the music room with its hand woven carpet and gold cockle ceiling. No photography is permitted inside.
    Brighton - Royal Pavilion (5) Brighton - Royal Pavilion (13)
  • Brighton Museum and Art Gallery – This museum is located in the same park as the Royal Pavilion and its free (unless there are special exhibits on). It’s reasonable and varied but not spectacular. In addition to a history of Brighton the museum had sections on world cultures, ceramics, art deco and Egyptology.
    Brighton - Museum and Art Gallery

Food and Drink

Brighton surprised me by having a high density of cafes and eateries. Here are the ones I visited but there are plenty of others!

  • Red Roaster – This cafe had been recommended and it seems popular with the locals but I found it wanting. My mocha only had the barest hint of chocolate and was generally weak. While the environment was cosy the wall colour is a very bland light beige. My sandwich was reasonable and filling.
  • Tic Toc Cafe – I definitely enjoyed this cosy cafe located in the Lanes with its light atmosphere, couches and decorated walls. The mocha was delightfully sweet without the need for extra sugar. The staff member was also friendly and helpful.
  • Scoop and Crumb – This cafe has a wide selection of sundaes and waffles. It claims to have the largest menu in the UK. Even my dull sounding choc fudge sundae was tasty and comes topped with a few streamers!
  • Bill’s Produce – Beyond the plastic flaps at the entrance you’ll find a small but plentiful fresh produce selection. Rustic wood tables are in the middle. One wall is filled with canned and bottled produce and the other side is where the display cabinets (sandwiches etc) and cooking are done. Prompt friendly service. While I initially thought that the volume of food (compared to London prices) was badly skewed I was mistaken. Not only did the food smell and taste wonderful but by the end of the meal I was satisfyingly full.
  • Shakeaway – An ice cream shake shop. Fairly expensive and is popular with tourists and young people. While tasty and filling I just don’t get the hype. Perhaps I’m just too familiar with Cold Rock to be impressed?
  • Choccywoccydoodah – Great atmosphere, very fun and an array of tasty chocolate. Mocha was good and had the option to use their brand of white, milk and dark chocolate. A little bit costly but worth it.
    Brighton - Choccywoccydoodah
  • Pompoko – This Japanese restaurant was cheap and the servings while not enormous were reasonable and the food was a decent quality. The food was served quickly and the staff were friendly.


A caveat on this section. I went out on a Tuesday night and as a result every bar we went to (and those we skipped) were all quiet. Brighton has many other bars to check out as well.

  • The Mash Tun – A student bar with outside seating. I thought that the on tap beer price was a bit excessive but besides that it’s a fairly stereotypical bar.
  • The Windmill – A little further out from the centre of Brighton (not a big thing in small Brighton). Prices were reasonable, staff friendly and a fairly relaxed atmosphere. Unfortunately due to lack of numbers I can’t comment about the type of clientele.
  • Heist – A cocktail bar with leather couches and tables on one side and bar stools on the other. Even on Tuesday this bar had quite a few people ranging from young student types to the middle aged. Our cocktails were fairly good and not too expensive.
  • Royal Pavilion Tavern – Luckily, we made it to the upstairs club area while it was still free entry. Apparently Tuesday is indie night and while I’m no expert it’s probably fair to say it was more heavy/rocky than indie. Plenty of people some even danced but sadly I wasn’t feeling the music enough to dance. That or I wasn’t drunk enough – difficult given the queues at the bar (lack of staff?).

Map at Google and photos at Flickr!

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