Victoria to Angel Walk

March 3, 2009 at 12:19 am | Posted in General, London, Out and About, photos, Random | 2 Comments
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Playing catch up on another photolog. I used to live in Angel and until recently worked in Victoria during that time I would regularly walk to and from on a journey crossing central London. Here is a selection of photos from that route.

Victoria to Angel (20) Victoria to Angel (111)

Victoria to Angel (113) Victoria to Angel (61)

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More at Flickr.

Snow Day

March 2, 2009 at 11:28 pm | Posted in General, photos, Random | Leave a comment
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About a month (and a season) late here are a few photos from London’s big snow day. It seemed appropriate to post now that reports into the transport collapse have been finalised. I wish I could have made it into the city to photograph some of the major sites but being a child again and playing in the snow was a lot of fun. I can’t wait till the next big snow fall or even venturing a bit further afield and going skiing or somesuch.

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More photos at Flickr!

Science Museum Lates – January 2009

January 29, 2009 at 1:08 am | Posted in General, museum, Out and About, UK | Leave a comment
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I came back to the Science Museum for its second Late night event – now on monthly – this time with the old Angel crowd.  This month was Japanese themed. It definitely seemed busier than last time with the queue stretching around the building although it moved reasonably quickly once the doors opened. However, there was quite a bit of congestion around the Underground entrance as the two masses collided.

Science Lates (2)  Science Lates (6)

Some of the specific events on offer were the Taiko Meantime drummers who performed along the glass bridge in the centre of the museum. They only performed once at the beginning of the night (albeit for 45mins), they then conducted drum lessons with the volunteers performing later in the evening.

Science Lates (9) Science Lates (7) Science Lates (40)

Short kendo performances (3x 15mins) were also on offer but we missed these (the room was changed but we missed the notification – assuming there was one).

Lunar views from the Japanese Kaguya satellite were being shown in the Ground Floor theatre. We stayed inside for about 10 minutes. It was interesting but not as fascinating as I’d expected, I don’t know what I expected the lunar surface to look like. The Earth sets and rises were quite cool and worth it.

The Japan Car exhibit which highlights the changing technology in he Japanese car industry to make them more efficient and environmentally friendly. Honestly, I’m not into cars so I found it less than spectacular and wouldn’t have paid for entry. This was the only exhibit with a cost, although you could get a discounted 2 for 1. Luckily, as a meetup member who rsvp’d to the ScienceLates event I managed to get a couple of free tickets from Peers the organiser. Another great benefit of the exhibit were the complimentary beer per ticket at the end of the exhibit. Made it all worthwhile.

Origami skills were on display in the computer hall. There were explanations for the standard designs like the crane, frog, rose and box but there were also more elaborate origami being created and on display.

Science Lates (44) Science Lates (42) Science Lates (23) Science Lates (24)

When we first entered the future music room I had no idea what was going on I just heard some electronic style music with a cluster of people in one corner. According to Tim there were some light boards, which produced the sound once touched. It’s via Tenori-on a digital instrument – watch a display at YouTube.

Science Lates (17) Science Lates (18)

Dance Dance Revolution competition on the ground floor for only a pound. If you’ve never heard of it before (really?) here’s an example.

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Once again the top floor’s Launchpad was a hit with lots of hands on science. I didn’t see as many volunteer explainers but I could have just been unobservant.

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Overall, the night was a lot of fun and I’d encourage you to go to the next one. Depending on the special events I might have to give it a miss for a few months because there’s only so many times you can shock yourself before it gets a little repetitive.

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Still very fun! Good work and the bars as ever were popular!

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More photos at Flickr.

Rome

January 27, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Posted in General, Italy, museum, Rome, Tourism, Travel | Leave a comment
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At the beginning of December I travelled to Rome. Here’s an overview of the places to see and do:

The Colosseum
It’s obviously one of the most famous sites in the city. After about a 10 minute wait I bought my ticket and audio tour. Personally I found the guide less than great but it’s better than nothing. Equally so I was less than thrilled with the Colosseum. Somehow it just didn’t live up to expectation, perhaps I thought it would be grander. Then again I was wet and hungry when I went. Although really you still need to go even if it’s to cross it off your list.

 Rome - Colosseum Rome - Colosseum

The Roman Forum
You can buy a combined ticket from the Colosseum. I didn’t see any audio guides on offer and given the scale of the site a guide may end up taking up precious time. Admittedly I wasn’t always sure what I was walking next to but the ruins in of themselves are spectacular and very emotive of the fall of the Empire. I was soaked and starving throughout my walk but enjoyed it thoroughly.

 Rome - Roman Forum Rome - Roman Forum Rome - Roman Forum Rome - Roman Forum

Circus Maximus
You’ll have to use your imagination here as there’s really nothing here except for a green field with the odd bit of rubble.

Rome - Circus Maximus Rome - Circus Maximus

Crime Museum
Tucked away at the side entrance of a police station is Rome’s crime museum. Most of the content is in Italian but there is the odd bit of English. Quite a few of the more gruesome torture and punishment exhibits need no real explanation. It’s really quite interesting (even if you can’t understand) and only costs a few Euros.

Rome - Crime Museum Rome - Crime Museum 

St Peter’s Basilica
Entering the Vatican City across the square took about 30 minutes (the longest wait I had the entire trip). While entry into the Basilica is free and you can wander around I’d recommend hiring an audio guide in order to provide a level of perspective. Although sometimes it can waffle it’s very helpful. As you’d expect it’s quite grand and presumably if you’re religious it will be very moving. Apparently you can also go onto Dome but it was closed when I arrived.

Rome - St. Peter's Basilica Rome - St. Peter's Basilica

Vatican Museum
I’d heard that the queue here could be horrific but luckily I walked right in. Once again the audio tour is helpful. The museum is vast but reasonably easy to do in a few hours (as long as you don’t spend too long on each area). Featuring paintings, statues and even modern art the museum features a wide range of religious imagery. Its most famous exhibit is the Sistine Chapel. No photography is permitted in this room. I’d expected the chamber and the iconic image of the creation of Adam to be larger but that certainly doesn’t detract from the overall quality and splendour.

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Museum of Purgatory
The museum is located inside a church and there’s an expectation to donate a few euros. I’d expected the small museum – meant to prove the existence of life after death or at least purgatory – to be dark and spooky but the side antechamber was well lit. There’s a brief description of each item in various languages. Overall I thought the stories interesting but don’t feel particularly swayed. If you’re looking for something a bit different pop in.

Rome - Museum of Purgatory Rome - Museum of Purgatory

The Spanish Steps
Iconic site where you can look out over the city and on good days sit and watch the world go by.

Rome - Spanish Steps Rome

Trevi Fountain
Another major site where you’ll have to take an obligatory photo. It is fairly impressive and the vendors and toursits make it an oddly cheery atmosphere.

Rome Rome - Trevi Fountain

The Pantheon
Formerly a Roman religious site it is now holds Christian services. There’s not much content inside but it is free to enter and marvel at the construction. Outside in the square you might want to grab a coffee and watch the people (granted mainly tourists) pass by – although the prices are a tad extortionist.

Rome - Pantheon Rome - Pantheon

Castel Sant’ Angelo
A massive fortress on the banks of the river, formerly used to house the remains of the emperor Hadrian it was used by successive generations as a stronghold against attackers and had a passage leading to the Vatican in case the Pope needed to escape. Again the audio guide is recommended although it was a bit confusing. The changing uses for the castel and the artwork within is interesting and most notably at the top of the building you’ll be rewarded with wonderful views of Rome. It seems to be under visited but is worth it.

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Santa Maria in Trastevere
Trastevere
with its winding streets were a pleasure to wander around. Eventually I stumbled onto the square where the Santa Maria church is located and settled down at one of the cafes to watch the Romans and tourists. Afterwards I walked back into the old city via the Isola Tiberina, one of the islands located in the centre of the Tiber.

Rome - Trastevere Rome - Santa Maria in Trastevere Rome - Santa Maria in Trastevere Rome - Isola Tiberina

Trajan’s Forum
Another interesting site that you should try and see is Trajan’s Forum. It’s located opposite the Roman Forum and near Trajan’s Column. As per everywhere else the audio guide is a good investment. Ths forum was basically used as a marketplace and the ruins are quite extensive.

Rome - Trajan's Forum Rome - Trajan's Forum 

Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II
This massive structure is a monument to Italy’s first King as a modern unified country. It’s huge and dare I say over the top. There are displays about the unification and the King but I didn’t see any English so I can’t say whether this structure is valid. The museum plus several other exhibits are free. The monument has several opportunities to view the city. You can pay to go to the top via lift but when I went it was dusk and honestly I’m not sure whether the view would be significantly better than those of the lower levels or the Castel.

Rome- Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II Rome

Musei Capitolini
While there is an entry fee and yet another audio guide it is a good museum to visit, not least because it has longer opening hours so you can push this one back to take advantage of the nearby ruins. Having said that it does have a colonnade that looks down on the Roman Forums and you may prefer it in daylight (I was there at night and the ruins looked even more impressive in their illuminated decay). The museum offers a range of classical and renaissance works over many floors and as long as you haven’t gotten your fill from other sites it’s another one to visit.

Rome - Musei Capitolini Rome

Capuchin Crypt
A macabre religious site tucked away in a Basilica. A number of priests were granted permission to exhume the bones of hundreds of their brethren in order to create the Capuchin Crypt. A series of chambers decorated with human remains. You’ll have to donate a few euros and a photography is banned. It’s sombre, creepy and just a bit different to the norm.

Rome

Basilica of San Clemente
Free to enter this Basilica has a wonderful range of artwork along its walls and ceilings.

Rome Rome

Largo di Torre Argentina
While inacessible to tourists it’s still possible to wander around the edges of these former temples and marvel at the sheer number of cats that live there.

Rome - Largo di Torre Argentina Rome - Largo di Torre Argentina

Campo de’ Fiori
A fresh produce market towards the south east.

Rome - Campo de' Fiori Rome - Campo de' Fiori

Piazza Navona
A large piazza featuring many stalls, generally for tourists and children with sweets and toys. The main fountain was under repairs when I visited.

Rome - Piazza Navona Rome - Piazza Navona

Piazza del Popolo
At the hotel they circled this piazza on my map. I arrived there at night and while large and filled with people milling around it wasn’t particularly impressive. Perhaps visiting during the day or with better weather?

Rome - Piazza del Popolo Rome - Piazza del Popolo

Food
I ate at a number of restaurants and cafes throughout the city and on the whole I found the quality and price reasonable (although perhaps with a touch of tourist inflation added). Service was cheery and even those who didn’t speak English tried to help (English does seem to be widely spoken/understood). I’d advise just going into a place and giving it a try.

Accommodation
I stayed at Hotel Zara after cross checking it with Trip Advisor. For the price the quality was reasonable. My only complaint is the water pressure was not very good (that may or not be city-wide). Breakfast was complimentary and a good way to stock up before heading out to the tourist traps.

General
As I mentioned I came in December and it was an excellent time to visit because there were so few tourists to compete with and as a result I was able to access more sites more efficiently. The downside was the weather, generally during the day it was fine with perfect blue skies and the odd downpour but once dusk and nightfall set in it would storm. This was somewhat advantageous as Italians tend to go out later with most bars I found not really starting until 10 or 11 and as a result the wet weather kept me inside and enabled me to get a good night’s sleep for the next day.

While researching Rome I’d come across a number of sites that were fear mongering by basically implying that you’ll need extra security to deal with all the thieves that inhabit the city. It might have been the time of year but I had no problems whatsoever, certainly if you’re used to a big city I don’t think you’ll have too many problems.

At several sites there appeared to be free guides but admittedly I didn’t speak with them to find out what the deal was as my inborn and London cynicism kicked in and I assumed this was a scam. It may not be the case but I’d be cautious and check it out fully before proceeding. Although a tour will take take longer and potentially reduce your capacity to visit a number of sites.

I enjoyed my four days in Rome and was able to see the above highlights in about 3 – 3 and a half days. If I had more time I might have considered a day trip, possibly out to Pompeii.

Rome was a wonderful city and I enjoyed the trip immensely clearly millions of visitors can’t be wrong can they?

Rome Rome - Vatican

Photos on Flickr. Unfortunately, I had some problems with the upload and it lost all my tags and descriptions. If you’re interested in knowing about any specific shot let me know and I’ll update the individual details.
Map at Google.

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.

The Imperial War Museum

January 27, 2008 at 3:12 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, photos, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Saturday afternoon I took the Northern line down to Elephant & Castle and the Imperial War Museum.

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My what big guns you have!

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The museum grounds also feature a Tibetan peace garden and a walk through England’s native trees.

Most of the museum is free with the exception of the occasional special exhibit.

Once you enter you’ll be in the main atrium, which is filled with a variety of modern armaments from nuclear missiles to turn of the century aircraft and artillery.

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The keyword here is modern. The IWM only covers British involvement in conflicts from The Great War to today. According to their Information Desk more historic wars can be found at the National Army Museum. I just hope this doesn’t mean I’d have to find the National Maritime Museum for their perspective on the same events.

After browsing the big items on the ground floor head downstairs to the history of World War I and II. Both cover the causes, battles, home front, resolution and repercussion to these wars. Generally, this is done through large font summary texts as well as smaller descriptions for the items in the display cases. While obviously not an in depth analysis they will provide a general sense of the time. However, as I’m passingly familiar with the events I’d have preferred some more information… in the larger text as that’s all I was reading.

Both War exhibits feature and ‘experience’ portion. The first is in the trenches – it’s like you’re a part of a giant diorama. The second is the London Blitz, where after spending a few minutes in the shelter you walk out into a blasted street with audio characters talking about the impacts. Both are OK but if there’s a line up you could easily skip it or try again later.

The lower ground also features post-WWII conflicts in fairly sparse displays, for example the Falklands has only one screen, Vietnam has three and the Irish “troubles” are about a third of a screen. Although in fairness the Cold War display while brief was relatively comprehensive.

After finishing here head up to the First Floor. Here you’ll find a few more large armaments as well as a display on survival at sea for the merchant navy, the Victoria & George Cross display (it seemed closed) and an exhibit covering the Secret War of intelligence agencies and covert units. While the exhibit is well set up it was too brief. I realize that there may be some classified materials but presumably they could have made more of the efforts undertaken during World War II and the Cold War. By efforts I really mean gadgets.

Next, on the second floor are two sections dealing with art from the two world wars. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to walk through here. Also on this floor was a temporary exhibit looking at propaganda posters. At this point I was starting rush a little so I only glanced at the posters without reading the explanatory text. However, there is quite a range from the allied and axis powers and well worth a visit.

Level 3 brings us to the Holocaust and is for ages 14+. The exhibit is well done with a history of Jews in Europe before Hitler, the laws used to separate the Jews and other minorities from the larger society and the eventual extermination. Videos of survivor testimonies and other artifacts of the period makes it a moving and reflective experience – particularly so close to Holocaust Memorial Day.

The final part of IWM is on level 4 and titled “Crimes Against Humanity” and is recommended for those 16+. This is not so much an exhibit rather a learning centre. You can sit and watch a 20 minute video outlining the whys of crimes against humanity as well as possible means of stopping or reducing them or you can sit and use the interactive screens to learn about various crimes past and present. The video is top level, which is handy for those with short attention spans, while the database content appears to be quite comprehensive.

While all of the big guns might infer that the IWM glorifies war this is not the case. Rather it covers the causes, effects and aftermath with the last two levels highlighting the worst consequences. At best it might be arguing for a more proactive humanitarian intervention approach.

The museum takes a while to get around. For the history buff you’ll want to devote a serious chunk of time. I was only perusing and it still took me about 3 hours. While there you can hire an audio guide but I stopped using it mainly because it was using up a lot of time and only adding a little bit of colour with the summaries and anecdotes. Fortunately, there is enough text next to each exhibit to get the jist so you don’t need to rely on pacing around in circles while the audio guide plods on. 

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The Imperial War Museum is well worth a visit. It’s interesting and is well laid out but the time commitment and relative distance from the city centre and its hub of museums and attractions will make it more difficult if you’re only on a short trip.

Absolut Ice Bar

January 26, 2008 at 10:30 am | Posted in General, London, Out and About, photos, Random, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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London’s Absolut Ice Bar situated on Heddon Street near Regent Street in Mayfair is, as the name implies, an ice bar.

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For £15 you’ll get 40 minutes in the bar, a free drink and an incredibly snazzy cloak with gloves helpfully attached to the cloak.

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The bar is kept at -5C and is made of Swedish water and sculptured by artists from the famed Ice Hotel.

My imagination didn’t exactly live up to the reality. I’d like to blame James Bond for false expectations of ice buildings. I had thought the room would be larger and contain a few sculptures.

The ice bar actually consists of a metal floor (presumably non slip), ice walls and around the pillars and a few alcoves with ice benches covered in fur to sit on.
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The sculpting takes place predominantly along the walls with such things as this informative and mildly concerning text.
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At the bar your first drink is free (refills are about £7). You’ll be able to choose an Absolut Vodka drink served in your very own square edible ice cup. Good thing you’ve got those gloves. The price of the drinks relative to the volume of liquid in your cup isn’t very good value for money so I only had my complimentary drink.

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Perhaps because of this I felt that 40 minutes was more than enough time.

The cold – at least while wearing the cloak – didn’t cause too much discomfort so you shouldn’t have any concerns about freezing. My camera on the other hand was not so lucky. The cold sapped the energy out of my battery making it almost unusable by the end.

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Maybe I should just stop taking photos.

I’m glad that I went to the Ice Bar I had a great time with my friends and it is something to cross off my list – especially as I never went to the ice bar in Sydney. However, unless you’re a die hard ice/vodka fan, on its merits the ice it is not worth the money.

For the real experience going to Sweden and the Ice Hotel may be the better experience.

Temple and the Inns of Court

January 25, 2008 at 1:17 am | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Last weekend I visited the Temple district during its open weekend as part of the 400th anniversary since being granted freehold over the land. Although the Temple and the Inns of Court (Inner and Middle Temples) had been around since the 12th century. There are two other inns (Lincoln and Gray) but these weren’t covered in the open day and weren’t really discussed – are they the ugly duckling of the legal world?

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So what is the district and why should anyone care? The Inns of Court are colleges used to train barristers in the esteemed study of law.

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Due to war and fire damage Inner is a modern reproduction whereas Middle has retained many of its historic buildings, specifically the Middle Temple Hall – a fine Tudor period building.

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The Temple where the area gets its name was founded by the Knights Templar and is well known for its round shape, effigies and unfortunately, its use in the Da Vinci Code.

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I arrived mid afternoon in time to take the 45 minute guided tour. There were surprisingly large numbers of us and the guide had difficulty projecting her voice. It was a little disappointing that people who chose to come later and join this mass complained about this problem. Amusingly at the end of the tour a random passerby started talking loudly on her mobile and the crowd almost in unison began shushing her.

The tour was quite reasonably interesting as we heard about some of the area’s history and the challenge of imposing secular rather than canon law on society. I’m glad I went on this before striking out on my own.

After the main tour I took the time to check out some of the other buildings. The district is home to many law firms and barrister’s offices which were open in addition to the main halls. Unfortunately, these offices were just that offices and being a white collar worker looking at desks, files and meeting rooms on my weekend is hardly my idea of an engaging time. Presumably if I was more knowledgeable of the previous barristers who’d worked there or more interested in a legal career I would be more interested.

I did take the opportunity to talk with a Middle student and he advised that there was no real rivalry or differences between the Inns, which seems somewhat unlikely given the age of the institutions but I’ll accept his statement. He also suggested that Middle had a better scholarship program, apparently they will interview all applicants who submit on time.

During the open day there were considerably more Middle volunteers than Inner and it certainly has the better hall so at very first blush I’d be inclined to join them but Middle’s symbol is the lamb. Whereas Inner has Pegasus.

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Clearly Inner has the trump card.

Or does it?

Middle has quite an impressive library with some of the earliest globes, the largest US law library outside of the United States and a copy of the original Declaration of Independence.

The police were also running various bicycle demonstrations. I must be missing the connection with the Inns of Court.
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The Inns of Court are located adjacent to Fleet street and close to Temple and Blackfriars underground stations.

While the open day was a one off there may be other events during the 2008 celebrations that will interest you.

Tower Bridge

January 24, 2008 at 10:30 am | Posted in General, London, Out and About, photos, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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London’s Tower Bridge is not just another bridge but fits within the ever growing list of bridge based tourist attractions. Unlike many other cities (like Sydney) London will soon be home to its second bridge attraction. I know! Who knew that a means of transit could produce such a niche industry.

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What does the exhibit offer and is it worth the £6 entry fee? The short answer is a bit and maybe.

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The slightly longer answer is 2 brief videos of the history of the bridge, entry to an old (working) engine room, oh and access to the walkways between the towers overlooking the city.

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Honestly, I’d never really thought about the age of the tower and as its architecture blends with the nearby Tower of London I had assumed they were of a similiar period and it had simply been upgraded. I wouldn’t say I was surprised that it had been constructed in 1894 rather it was more of an ‘oh that makes sense’ moment.

Clearly, the designer’s intent of matching the surrounding area worked well. At least on this oblivious idiot. Although in my defence I don’t remember any pictures or videos with the bridge being raised plus it was only the towers themselves I’d thought of as old not the entire construction.

The engine room, which is outside of the towers is interesting for your inner engineer. Personally, whenever I saw the diagrams of the piston and gear movements I was having flashbacks to any number of intelligence and personality quizzes. If big machinery isn’t your thing you can skip this section but after paying your entry fee you might as well get your money’s worth.

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The walkways feature sliding windows so you can take unobstructed pictures.

Down to Canary Wharf on one side.
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Towards Westminster on ther other.
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I was there in the early evening (in winter it looks a lot later) but the Tower’s are relatively low and their obvious position over the river means that the Thames at night will impact on cityscape style photos. Daylight would obviously rectify this problem but I am happy to have gone when I did as I have plenty of photos of the city skyline and this was an opportunity to see it at night.

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I prefer the views up to Westminster as there was more to see on either bank and across the river with London Bridge, St Paul’s and HMS Belfast to name a few.

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For the views and a little bit of history (as well as alternative designs) the cost at this London attraction is reasonable and if you’re not planning any other high rise sightseeing worth the visit.

I should also apologise for the blur in these photos. My camera is not good with night shots and any kind of movement. Might be time to upgrade…

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