Royal Artillery Museum

April 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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Boom! Pow! Kablam! That’s what you’d expect from Firepower! the Royal Artillery Museum in London.
Royal Artillery Museum (13)

You may not hear a lot in the way of explosions but you will see an array of guns and things that would cause some destruction if they were working. For obvious reasons they’re inactive. Shucks.
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As you walk through the museum you’ll get an overview of how these firearms developed from guns and canons to tanks and missiles.

Included in the price is a large introduction to the themes. with projected videos on screens around the seating area. Downside to this is that the chairs face one direction which only gives a good view of one or two (of four screens). I’m assuming this is to try and immerse you.
Thames Path Woolwich to Greenwich (3)

Overall it was pretty interesting and I think if you have a passion for the topic you’d love it. Even I felt testerone-y with all those weapons!

Entry is £5.30 and the museum is located out at Woolwich. It’s a little far from central London which can be a bit of a hassle to get to but there are some transport options, which might make it a little more bearable.

Photos at Flickr!

Google maps.

York

February 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Posted in Travel, UK, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In 2012 I went up to York during a particularly snowy winter.

Some of the things to do:

  • York Minster – York’s impressive cathedral, take a walk around and soak it in
  • Clifford’s Tower – on the other side of the city from the Minster (but easy to get to), at the top of the tower you can get great views of the surrounding area
  • Yorkshire Museum – not overly impressive (though I’m biased after having access to London) but covers a number of topics so something for everyone
  • JORVIK – when I mentioned I was coming to York people recommended JORVIK, it’s a Viking centre which covers the period when the Viking were in charge of the area. Part museum, part ride where you take a vehicle on rails seeing and smelling the activities of the time.
  • Betty’s – As well as JORVIK the other must do people recommended was Betty’s. A tea room in the heart of York offering teas and cakes and a very pleasant atmosphere.

Other:

  • Yorkshire pudding – You’re in York why not have one of them!
  • alleys and walking – The city is well known for it’s crooked and narrow streets and alleys, make sure you walk around
  • The city walls – much of the city walls can still be walked on so give that a go. They were closed when I was there due to the ice.

Photos at Flickr.

Florence Nightingale Museum

May 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Not suprisingly this London museum is devoted to Florence Nightingale (1820 -1910). It covers her upbringing, early work in medicine, time during the Crimean war and her later years until her death.

The materials are all presented very well (given a relatively small space) with different “environments” for each period. For example her early life is set in a garden with a hedge row and the display cases are set within the “hedge”.

There is an audio tour that you can (and should use) but with a slight twist. The curators have dispensed with the traditional walk around headset and opted for a stethoscopes that you place on spots around the museum to hear commentary. I assume they’re all thoroughly washed afterwards! One of these includes an actual recording of Florence.

All in all it was a fascinating museum and it detailed the life of this remarkable woman well.

Situated in the grounds of St Thomas Hospital near Westminster bridge and the London Eye. It’s on the ground floor near the car park so you may need to go down a level if you walk across the road from the bridge.

I spent about 90 minutes there and if costs £5.80 for an adult.

I would have included some photos but my phone’s SD card died.

Jewish Museum

July 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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London’s Jewish Museum has been closed for 2 years while refurbishment and modernization work takes place.

I didn’t go to the old version so I can’t comment on the changes but what’s there (in a limited physical space) is rather impressive.

When we visited the museum had a special exhibit on “Illuminations” showing a number of Jewish books and texts with intricate calligraphy, illustrations and histories. For instance, many had been collected by Christian scholars for their artistic and religious merits.

Working our way down we learnt about the Jewish experience in the UK, from their arrival in 1066, expulsion, re-admittance, the World Wars, the formation of Israel and modern life.

There is also a section on the Holocaust, which was done really well. The curators traced one British Jew’s experience as he was taken to a death camp, eventually freed by American soldiers and his life back in Britain. My only complaint about this gallery is the lack of seating for the 22min film. Consequently I didn’t each much of it.

The first floor is devoted to the religious faith and cultural practices that make up the Jewish faith. It provides a very useful primer.

The museum has made  wonderful use of technology, which help to maximize the available space. For example:

  • touch screens abound with the option to learn more about specific topics
  • various buttons to bring up video/audio content, such as an introduction to Jewish theatre,
  • a touch table to find out more about modern Jewish life in the UK. I tried to explain how to use it to a couple of older ladies but was only partially successful

It’s a shame that after a pleasant time and friendly staff my last encounter was with a rather condescending staff member/volunteer who ‘explained’ how to exit the building.

Despite that on the whole its an informative and well presented museum that is particularly useful for those unfamiliar with Judaism, especially the UK experience.

The museum is located in Camden and costs £7 for adults.

Museum of London (part 2)

July 8, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 2 Comments
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Many years ago, when I first arrived in London, I visited the Museum of London. I was disappointed to find that it only went up to 1600 but was told they were going to be opening new sections in a few years.

And was the wait worth it?

Emphatically yes!

The new galleries are now putting the old ones well and truly to shame.

So did much happen to London between 1600 – now? Quite a bit, from the great fire, empire, wars and various social upheavals. The curators have done an excellent job of covering the city’s history and presenting the content in stimulating and memorable ways. On the downside, if it could be considered as such, there can be a bit too much information, so it’s not as easy to do a quick trip and if there are a lot of visitors it can be quite the challenge to read.

Some of the more interesting elements to the presentation are in the Victorian period where there’s not only a streetscape to wander along (make sure you pick up the summary board at the entrance) but also a ‘real’ pleasure palace. You can sit in the middle and watch videos projected onto the sides reenacting the period.

The new galleries also have a number of screens, many of which are touch enabled. When I visited it was painfully obvious that everyone has been influenced by Apple’s interactivity model (even me and I don’t have an iphone) in how we expected things to work when we did certain things. Generally it didn’t work directly how I assumed it would. This is fine, every system is different afterall, perhaps a brief instruction panel? Would this destroy the aesthetic too much?

The museum is free and well worth the visit for both cynical Londoners and tourists alike.

San Francisco – January 2010

July 6, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, Food, General, museum, Out and About, Random, Tourism, Travel, USA | Leave a comment
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This was my second visit to San Francisco but the first time as an adult so it was time to party!

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I got a great deal through Expedia and stayed at the Hyatt Regency in downtown. The room and service were excellent –  just what I needed at the end of a long trip.

Now onto the stuff. It’s always about the stuff! Oh I’m going to be completely touristy here.

Alcatraz
Well why not start with one of the most well known prisons in the world. Predictably the ferry trip over was surrounded by fog thus helping to create the ideal atmosphere.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (118) Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (121)

You can opt for an audio guide or not but obviously it’s better with one (and comes with the ticket anyway). I was somewhat familiar with the prison but didn’t know that it was also a military fort, a Native American sit-in protest site and lastly a nature reserve. Many of the buildings are in a state of neglect (probably managed by the Parks Service to keep it at the same level from when they took it over).

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (22)

I rather liked the tour. It was a little tiring walking around but the various anecdotes (such as prisoner escape attempts) made me forget all about sore legs! Or perhaps it was the refreshing sea air.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (111)

I went early and would suggest the same as it helps to bypass more tourists and maximises the amount of time you can spend on other sightseeing.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (86)

It may be a bit cliché to go and visit Alcatraz but it is worth the trip.

Fisherman’s Wharf and surrounds
Along the bay is the tourist destination of Fisherman’s wharf and Pier 39. There are an abundance of shops catering to tourists, it’s a bit of a trap but enjoyable to wander around in. Also at Pier 39 you can also check out the seals.

Fisherman's Wharf - San Francisco 2010 Sealions at Pier 39 - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Throughout the Wharf, Piers and San Francisco you’ll come across stores selling clam chowder in sour dough bowls. I finally tried it at Boudin’s Bakery (which also has a tour but I didn’t go on it). I thought the dough was a bit, well, sour but on the whole rather nice and filling.

Clam Chowder Sourdough bowl (Boudin Bakery) - San Francisco 2010

Lastly, you might be interested in checking out Musée Mécanique which houses a number of historic penny arcade machines. Most, if not, are still useable and looks like it could be a lot of fun (and just a touch geeky) to play around with.

Musee Mecanique - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Golden Gate Bridge Area
After a bit of a mammoth walk around San Francisco I walked towards the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Don’t worry there are public transport options I just felt like walking.

Before I got there I walked briefly through the presidio where there was a warning about the potentials for coyotes! Even so the presidio was surprisingly calming and relaxing.

Presidio Walk - San Francisco 2010 (2) Presidio Walk - San Francisco 2010 (1)

There’s also the chance to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum but I didn’t have time to go in and check it out. Not to mention the $20 entry fee seemed a little steep.

Walt Disney Family Museum - San Francisco 2010 (3)

At the base of the bridge you’ll find Fort Point. It’s free to enter and a very informative museum covering the history of the fort and military, the bridge and some of the city’s history as well. Top it all off with some excellent views from the roof of the fort and it was definitely one of my favourite places.

Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco 2010 (5) Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Other areas
Castro District – Otherwise known as a the LGBT heart of the city. Having heard so much about it for years I expected something particularly wild but it felt like it was a bit gentrified. A rather relaxing and easy going spot. In many ways it was the same sort of vibe as Sydney’s Oxford Street and London’s Compton Street.

Chinatown – Some Chinatowns can be smaller than you expect (London) and others exceed expectations. San Francisco falls under the latter, with numerous shops and cultural establishments down and around a long avenue.

Chinatown - San Francisco 2010 (1)

The Haight – I think I completely missed this iconic district after getting slightly turned around at Alamo Square. It’s apparently worthwhile but I don’t know. I’m not a hippy/ flower power kind of guy. Still it’d be another reason to come back to the city.

Museums that weren’t
Cable Car – I’m not entirely sure if I’d even found the correct spot. I was basing my search on an online mapping reference without having double checked the website. Lesson learnt.

Chinese Historical Society – Prominent signage exists throughout Chinatown and the surrounds. I was quite interested in checking it out but when I reached the ‘open’ museum I couldn’t enter and there didn’t seem to be any information on how to enter or what to do.

The Chinese Museum that wasn't - San Francisco 2010 (2)

Other
Lombard Street – It’s a twisty, twisty street. That’s about it. Still one of those things traditional tourist spots.

Lombard Street - San Francisco 2010 (1)

UN Plaza/Civic Center – San Francisco was where the UN Charter was signed so I couldn’t help but take a few moments at the UN Plaza. Although only a few moments, it felt a little seedy.

UN Plaza - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Ferry building – I came through on the weekend when it housed a farmers market on top of its regular shops. There were plenty of tourists and locals around calmly queuing for the various goodies on offer.

Coit Tower – This impressive tower stands atop a bluff looking out over the Bay. When I walked up I was too early, on a clear day it would be worthwhile to pay and take in the views from the top.

Coit Tower - San Francisco 2010 (4)

Food and drink
Mama’s – A brilliant breakfast at Washington Square. It’s popular with tourists and locals. The staff are busy but will try and help as much as possible.

Vesuvio – A number of people recommended this relaxed bar and it’s perfect for a catch up with friends (which I did with the wonderful LadyeeNerd)

Vesuvio - San Francisco 2010 (2)

Cafe Trieste – On a side street near a church this crowded cafe offers the usual assortment of coffees and snacks. Apparently it’s quite popular. The mocha was reasonable and sitting outside offered some decent people watching.

Blue Bottle – This was a late recommendation but it was a good call – thanks LaydeeNerd. The Blue Bottle was located at the Ferry Building and there was quite a queue on the weekend. While the mocha wasn’t as sweet as I’d like it was still nice and other patrons seemed happy with their brews.

Peet’s Coffee – A local coffee shop chain and it was excellent. The staff were friendly and the coffees tasty. I wish it was warmer so I could have tried their chillers as well. Oh well yet another reason to come back.

On the whole I liked the city but I don’t think I could live here. It’s not just because of all the hills but the city just seemed too quiet for me. There was a considerable lack of bustle. I’ve grown used to a certain level of activity after living in Sydney and London. Perhaps I could learn to thrive on less – but not yet.

Certainly for a holiday spot it’s great and well worth multiple visits. Often it seemed as though each corner brought out a new type of district, each with its own flavour. Hopefully next time I’ll go beyond the city core as well!

More photos at Flickr and locations at Google Maps.

Brisbane mini trip 2009

December 28, 2009 at 11:27 am | Posted in Brisbane, General, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel | 1 Comment
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It’s been about 2.5 years since I was last in Brisbane and for better or worse not much has changed.

Brisbane (4) Brisbane (10)

The Queensland Museum is largely the same as it has been for years and years. Though there are now new areas devoted to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and colonial/state history.

The museum doesn’t occupy a particularly large space and in addition to the above also covers subjects such as dinosaurs, animal extinction, historic vehicles and a rotating exhibit space.

It’s free and a nice enough area to wander around but unless one of those topics catches your attention it’s fine to skip.

The Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) had opened just before I was last here and I’ve come back on this visit in order to check out the special exhibit “The 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT6)“.

Brisbane (17) Brisbane (15)

GOMA itself is largely unchanged but of course the APT6 items are new and come across the region from Iran to Japan. The pieces included video installations, interactive displays and then everything in between from wall hangings to full houses.

My personal highlight was a room full of densely packed hanging threads that you wander through bare foot while trying to avoid collisions with other visitors.

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Conformity through production.

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Randomly in the ground floor bathroom they have a video display of hand washing!

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APT6 is free and well worth a wander. Where one artist’s efforts may bore another will invigorate!

My only critique of the gallery is to question why the restaurant and members lounge both overlook a freeway and truck depot rather than the Brisbane river. An odd choice!

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After GOMA we wandered over the Wheel of Brisbane ($15; 10 mins; 3 rotations). It’s nothing compared to the London Eye but still provides a good view of the city and surrounds. One advantage of the Wheel over the Eye is that there’s a volume controlled narration of some of the notable buildings.

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Unfortunately one of the facts they decided to include was the use of a bridge in the straight to video Inspector Gadget 2. Seriously? If it’s not a good thing don’t include it.

More photos at Flickr.

V&A Museum of Childhood

December 26, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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I’d been meaning to visit the V&A Museum of Childhood for a while but it seems so out of the way that I’d put it off. However it’s near Bethnal Green so it’s really a non-issue and I wish I’d taken the chance to come ages ago. It’s very cool.

So why is it cool? Well it has things for all ages from kids to adults, with a mixture of display cabinets and hands on activities (though some of the latter you’ll have to pay for).

The museum provides both a timeline f toys and childhood activities from Victorian times while also applying a kind of scientific classification regime by having sections devoted to different types of toys such as those with a look see component (from those old time spin wheel contraptions to video games) to push/pull toys like bicycles.

Thus it teaches how these larger theories are applied to childhood and even if the kids don’t get it parents will. Although the parents might just as easily be relieving their (or their grandparents) youth by looking at some of the older items.

Personally I saw a lot of familiar 80s/90s examples. I assume there were more recent ones but these weren’t particularly clear.

On the second floor you’ll come across a wide selection of doll houses, various baby cribs through the ages and a special exhibit space. When I visited it was showcasing the work of the Roald Dahl artist Quentin Blake but these change often so best check.

One of my few criticisms is that the display cases have frosted panels providing an explanation of the contents, which is excellent, however they can sometimes obscure an individual item’s description.

All in all a very enjoyable time and one worth visiting – especially as it’s free!

Photos of some of the toys and other displays are at Flickr.

The Guards Museum

December 26, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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The Guards Museum offers a history and background to those units responsible for protecting the Queen and the royal palaces.

I have to admit I was not in the most positive mindset when I came to visit as I was a touch hungry and dehydrated but on the whole I found it lacking.

Once you enter you can watch an introductory movie and watch is the operative word as it wasn’t clearly audible. Subtitles would have been a boon.

The other element that annoyed me was there didn’t seem to be an overview of why the early divisions (if that’s the correct term) were established it just launched into some of their early missions etc. It could have been on the video and if I missed the relevant information board please tell me and I’ll retract.

Having said that some of the more modern additions to the guards did include an explanation.

There are numerous information panels and brief descriptions for the multitude of artefacts, which is all very useful except for when a there is a summary of a battle and the outcome is left incomplete or completed elsewhere in the museum and I was too dim-witted to find the next relevant panel.

There is indeed a lot for the military buff to look at in this museum so my complaints shouldn’t detract you too much from visiting. For everyone else, it is only £3 and so could be somewhat interesting.

The Guards museum on birdcage walk  is a short distance from Buckingham Palace or St James’s Park station. Depending on how interested you are in the exhibits it’ll take between 30-80 minutes.

Charles Dickens Museum

December 26, 2009 at 11:58 am | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 1 Comment
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I recently paid a visit to the Charles Dickens Museum and it was here that a rather unfortunate truth became apparent: I am not a reader nor am I ever likely to be able to discuss the works of Dickens or any other great writer. For this I do apologise to you and to me, it is one of those self-improvement tasks that will likely percolate without ever truly boiling.

So with that said this is my caveat about the museum. I am unfamiliar with Dickens in all but the Christmas Carol and Doctor Who of senses thus I cannot discuss with conviction the content of the museum.

However, I did go with more knowledgeable people and they seemed particularly interested in the various pieces of paper and information boards relating to his life and the development of various stories.

So assuming for the time being that the content will hold a literature fan’s interests let’s now look at the presentation.

The house has 4 level (including a basement) and a small garden. The basement is where you can watch a video that provides a bit of an overview of Dickens, his work and the house he lived in where the museum is now housed. While a touch long it does provide enough context to view the rest of the displays.

The remainder of the house looks at Dickens’ London, items he used, drafts of stories and information on the man and his life. After watching the movie some of this is repetitive.

Information was easily accessible and clear but alas much of its importance was lost on this dullard.

It must be clear by now that the museum will be of most benefit to fans of Dickens and literature of the period. Given it’s the Charles Dickens Museum that’s hardly a revelation. For what it is and it’s target demographic the museum does a good job. For the rest of us though you could give it a miss.

The Charles Dickens Museum costs £6 and takes about an hour or so to look around (including a 30 min video).

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