All caught up!

January 12, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Posted in General, Random | Leave a comment
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After procrastinating for quite some time I have finally caught up on several years worth of entries.

Feel free to read some, all or none. Though the latter might be the best option given the rush to write them. You have been warned! Sorry.

London

UK

International

Theatre

Gaming

Movies

If you do then thanks for reading, bring on 2014!

New York

May 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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In September I spent a wonderful week in New York. We all have a picture of the city in our heads and probably know something of its history so let’s get straight into the itinerary. If you’re not familiar with New York where have you been? Here’s a summary.

I stayed at the Ace Hotel and, well, it was an ace experience. Centrally located, funky hipster decor and friendly staff. Its main restaurant, the Breslin, provided great food as well.

As there’s quite a bit to go through I’ll try and be brief, if you have any questions ask me in the comments.

  • Empire State Building – an amazing engineering feat towering over the city and offering excellent views. I went at dusk and seeing the sunset was a highlight. The ticket includes an audio tour which is very useful.
    New York - Empire State Building (2) New York - Empire State Building (6)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) – I visited when the museum has extended hours (thus allowing you to maximize your tourist time) and again another highlight. There are kilometres to walk through as you explore the world’s history and all of it is worth some time but if you stop to read everything you’ll need a few days. I took a harsh approach, walking through the galleries and only reading up on the items that caught my eye. Even so I was there for over 3 hours. While at the Met you must check out the rooftop garden – especially if there’s a display on – as the garden provides views over central park and the city.
    New York - Metropolitan Museum of Art (4) New York - Metropolitan Museum of Art - rooftop (5)
  • American Museum of Natural History – another huge museum that would take far too much time to look through properly. Even only stopping at a few items I was there for over 2 hours learning about both the natural world and the anthropology of various nationalities. I’d also make sure to go to the planetarium show that’s included in your ticket.
    New York - Natural History Museum (2)
  • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – I went on a free Friday (though had a ticket through city pass). I’m not normally one for the most modern of art, nonetheless many of the pieces on the lower levels were interesting. I was particularly bemused by the London Transport posters. However it was the top floors with the Van Goghs and expressionists who won me over. Beautiful. Also don’t forget to take a break and sit in the courtyard.
    New York - MoMA (12) New York - MoMA (17)
  • Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty – taking a ferry around the bays on a sunny day was a marvellous way to begin an early day. I didn’t go onto Liberty Island itself but continued onto Ellis. Over the next few hours I learnt about the immigrants coming to the US and the history of the site itself. Very informative. I was glad I hadn’t stopped at the Statue as the number of tourists had risen dramatically by the time I was ready to leave.
    New York - Statue of Liberty (8) New York - Ellis Island (4)
  • Guggenheim Museum – If you like modern art you’ll find it here in the iconic spiral building. I wasn’t blown away by anything like at MoMA but some of it was interesting and certainly challenging.
    New York - Guggenheim Museum (1) New York - Guggenheim Museum (2)
  • United Nations – the tours take an hour and are on a first come first served basis. On the tour you’ll be taken through some of the building hearing about the work of the UN. You’ll also get the chance to visit one of the most famous rooms in the world – the General Assembly Hall (assuming they aren’t in session).
    New York - United Nations (30) New York - United Nations (8)
  • New York Police Museum – in a small building near the bay and wall street is this museum devoted to the history and work of the NYPD. It’s a solid museum with sections on turn of the century criminals, formation of the force, September 11, 2001 and current work. I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the entry price if you’re not interested in the topic but you might find something worthwhile. I did but then I’m a fan of criminology.
    New York - Police Museum (3)
  • Rockefeller Plaza, Top of the Rock – of all the on high viewpoints I went to during this trip I’d say Rockefeller was my favourite. There are fewer crowds than Empire and the introductory videos were well presented. It could have done with an audio tour outside on the upper decks though. Otherwise it’s great.
    New York - Rockefeller Center (1) New York - Rockefeller Center - View from (65)
  • Museum of the City of New York – a small museum, probably worth the visit even with the entry charge, that gives an overview of the city through a fairy cool video presentation and some temporary exhibits. When I went they were looking at the life and times of one of the city’s former mayors during the turbulent 60/70s and the first visit by a Japanese delegation. Check before you go to see what’s on.
    New York - Museum of New York
  • New York Public Library – take a free tour with a member of the library and hear about the history of the building and some of their most important items (like a Gutenberg Bible).
    New York - Public Library (3)
  • Central Park – I came here a few days into my trip and more than anything it won me over to loving New York. The park with its fields and walks provides an excellent escape from the rush of the city. It gave me a good boost to continue the trip full of energy.
    New York - Central Park (19) New York - Central Park (26)
  • Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art – couldn’t find it! Fail.
  • Brooklyn Bridge – wasn’t planning on walking over it (although heard I should) but then after finding myself in Brooklyn meeting some friends decided to walk back via the bridge. Well worth it! The quality of the construction, the views and the flow of people all made it a wonderful walk.
    New York - Brooklyn Bridge (11) New York - Brooklyn Bridge (18)
  • World Trade Center site – the continuing construction and footprint of the buildings help to provide a sense of scale to the tragedy. There’s an information centre but I didn’t go.
    New York - WTC Site (3) New York - WTC Site (7)
  • Wall Street – a mix of tourists and office workers occupy the space in and around the Stock Exchange Building.
    New York - Wall Street - Stock Exchange (5)
  • Broadway and Times Square – I first had a wander through this area during the afternoon and it was teeming with tourists but once night falls it truly goes into overdrive with the huge billboards lighting up the entire area and encapsulating the “city that never sleeps” claim. Rather depressingly I find I have no pictures of it. Oh well I guess that means another trip.

Speaking of shops, as to be expected there are plenty of interesting and flagship stores throughout the city. A sample includes:

  • Evolution Nature Store – a quirky store offering a variety of natural history style goods
  • Forbidden Planet – not as big as the London shop but still good for all comic and geek based needs
  • Apple Store – while a fairly compact store it does have the advantage of being open 24/7 35 days a year
  • FAO Schwartz – toys, a giant keyboard and many, many sweets – yum
  • Bloomingdales, HollisterAbercrombie & FitchMacy’s and Saks 5th Avenue – for all your fashion needs
  • M&Ms – more M&Ms that you could ever need, not to mention almost every conceivable item emblazoned with some M&M branding
  • Nintendo – for all your Nintendo needs
  • Lego – need a spare lego block? You’ll find it and much more here.

Now back to the city. Besides all of the main attractions it’s highly recommended that you take some time to wander around the various districts to see the diversity in the city.

Of course New York City is a great hub to explore other areas. I only managed to see a glimpse of Brooklyn and New Jersey but they and many other places are easy to get to and there’s plenty to do in them as well.

Lastly, what about food and entertainment? Due to a fairly hectic schedule I didn’t embrace the nightlife too much but did go to a few bars over the weekend and they were all fun. As for food, there’re plenty of options (got to love the pizza slices!) here are a few that I liked:

  • Magnolia Bakery – famous cupcake shop. Very nice but I prefer Hummingbird’s – though the cupcake I bought was near the end of the day so that might explain it. Still yummy!
  • Blue Spoon Coffee – nice coffees and sandwiches
  • Penelope Cafe – continental and American style breakfasts, well presented, quick service and tasty
  • Keko Cafe – the food was fine, the atmosphere in this small cafe is quite cool with its wood panels and cannisters filled with coffee and tea
  • Culture Espresso – another good coffee shop with nice food as well!
  • Society Coffee – the decor and general attitude was quite relaxed, the food was fine but overpriced and the service was solid. I also had a very nice conversation with a fellow patron.

And now some other stuff:

  • subway and transport – being set out on a grid makes finding where you need to go really simple. Walking is a good choice for a lot of the venues but you should also pick up a travel card for the subway for those slightly longer commutes. The subway is fairly straightforward and the carriages are air conditioned.
  • NYC Information Center / City Pass – the number of tourists were relatively small but I was able to further reduce wait times by picking up a city pass. I bought mine on my first day from the NYC Information Center while wandering up to Times Square. I also bought my travel card from here too.
  • The service and people in New York were all excellent.

There’s plenty more to see. I particularly wanted to try:

but that’ll have to wait until next time.

I was very lucky that when I went (first week of September) there were so few tourists as it gave me a chance to do more and the weather was perfect too. All in all a great trip.

Now to plan the next one!

Maps at Google maps (including some things I didn’t get to)

Pictures at Flickr.

Google Doc of the itinerary – fairly close to what I ended up doing.

Bath

February 25, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Bath, with its Roman bathing history, Jane Austen love affair and historic buildings and streets is an enjoyable day trip from Bristol or London.

Bath (121) Bath (122)

 

  • Bath Abbey and Heritage Vaults – Just by the Roman Baths is the town’s grand Abbey. The architecture and finishes are, as you might expect from a building of this size are of a high quality. You can also pay a fee to go up to the tower. When I visited the heritage vaults were open but they are now closed for refurbishment. The vaults consisted of a history of the abbey, it’s religious order and the town through information boards and artefacts.
  • Bath - Roman Bath (7) Bath - Roman Bath (12)

  • Roman Baths – One of, if not the major attraction of the town are the well preserved Roman Baths. Famed from antiquity to today for alleged healing properties. There’s also a modern equivalent but enough of fancy spas let’s get historical. With audio guide in hand you’ll wander through the complex. It’s largely self guided in as much as you can choose whether to key in the audio prompts or not. As you’d expect through the tour you will learn about the history of the baths and their construction. Personally, I’d not fully appreciated the size and scope of the original complex, particularly in comparison with the remaining ruins. There are several places on the route (especially by the bath itself) where you can sit and relax.
  • Bath - Roman Bath (30) Bath - Roman Bath (32)

  • Jane Austen Centre – From what I’ve been told Jane Austen (famed author for anyone who hasn’t heard) didn’t necessarily enjoy her time in Bath but don’t let that put a dent in your visit to Bath or the centre. The content in the centre are informative both of Jane’s life, her writing and her society. However in order to access it you have to visit at two set times in order to sit through a mandatory lecture by a volunteer. Frankly, this could be done just as easily by a looped video so people aren’t forced into waiting.
  • Herschel Museum of Astronomy – A wonderful hidden gem that outlines the lives of siblings Caroline and William Herschel. In the 18th century they were one impressive duo not only were they talented musicians but also astronomers. William made highly accurate telescopes and discovered Uranus, while Caroline found many comets. Some of the rooms can be a little sparse but the video overview does help to set the scene.
  • Bath - Herschel Museum (7) Bath - Herschel Museum (4)

  • Bath Postal Museum – It’s a museum about the postal service in the basement of a modern post office. If you’re interested in the development of postal communication or stamps then this might be for you. Alternatively if you’re a little bit bored and need something else to do then this is an equally valid choice. You just might learn something too. There are some neat items inside.

The town and surrounds, with their period buildings, parks and waterways offer a pleasant chance to walk around and soak up the atmosphere. Some suggestions include taking a walk over Pulteney Bridge

Bath (124) Bath (93)

and along the river and over to the Royal Crescent.

Bath (80) Bath (73)

Photos at Flickr.

Map at Google Maps.

Dead Space 2

February 21, 2011 at 10:30 am | Posted in Gaming | Leave a comment
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It’s been forever since I’ve reviewed a video game (have I ever?) and Dead Space 2 seems like the perfect game for such a post. It is all about death and rebirth after all, well that and dismembering killer creatures.

If you’ve not played the first here’s a two sentence synopsis. In the future a human colony discovers an artifact which causes the colonists and a helpful spaceship crew to turn into savage creatures. You, as Isaac, are sent to help the ship and soon get caught up in the chaos.

An even shorter version. Shoot stuff til they die and the game ends.

If you liked the first game you’ll enjoy the sequel. While it is largely similar in mechanics that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is still satisfying to successfully fend off a wave of bad guys. Best of all there isn’t a stupid asteroid game.

Narrative wise, it’s fine. I’m not expecting anything of quality and the at times heavy handed flourishes (eg text smeared on walls) do help me to understood this world more while simultaneously rolling my eyes right out of it again.

People call this a horror game. I don’t know if I can agree. I’ve never played Silent Hill, which seems to be the benchmark for the genre, but for me this is just a shooter. A shooter that startles a lot but that’s it. I had the same reaction to the first game too but have spoken with others who in both games did get scared.

Based on that if you’re looking for a shooter that’s more than head shots or a (possible) horror game then Dead Space may be what you’re looking for. Assuming you’re old enough to buy it that is (18+ in the UK).

Mile End Walk

September 22, 2009 at 8:17 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 4 Comments
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A few months ago I heard about a guided walk around Mile End and jumped at the chance to have a wander along Mile End Road.

Mile End Walk (31) Mile End Walk (2)

At Stepney Green tube I met our guide Derek, a group of retirees and my ozzie blogger mate who’d suggested the walk in the first place.

For the next hour or so we looped around the road and some of the surrounding streets, hearing about the history of the merchants, mariners and some of the buildings that still exist along the road as well as a few notable ones that had long gone, such as Captain’s Cook former home.

Mile End Walk (33) Mile End Walk (6)

Eventually we made our way back to the tube station and said our farwells. For those who want to, you’re invited to lunch and then to walk around the first Jewish Cemetery in England and Queen Mary College.

I’m sure those would be interesting sites but the downside with the tour was it did drag on for a while, my only other criticism is that Mile End Road is heavily trafficked and as  result it could be difficult to hear Derek.

Mile End Walk (10) Mile End Walk (25)

Overall it was a worthwhile walk, providing an opportunity to see a part of London I wouldn’t have gone to or previously thought much about. For £2 it’s a great deal and Derek has clearly done a lot of research and is passionate about the subject. To find out when the next walk is (they’re infrequent) contact Derek on: derek AT terrahun DOT demon DOT co DO uk (stopping spam spider bots is horrible!).

Mile End Walk (29)

Thames Festival 2009

September 21, 2009 at 7:59 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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If you were visiting the Southbank of the River Thames over 12 – 13 September you may have been struck by the massive crowds that were wandering around for the annual Lord Mayor’s Thames Festival. Perfect blue skies and warm weather no doubt bolstered the numbers when I visited on Saturday. Sadly, I’d forgotten my camera so I’ll have to rely on my writing skills to paint a vivid picture.

Mmm that could pose a problem.

From Tower Bridge to Westminster Bridge there were numerous stalls with food, drink and random knick knacks etc for the discerning buyer, I mean tourist, to purchase. For the most part the food was quite diverse with Ethopian dishes alongside German sausage and strawberries and cream. Most stalls or variants thereof, were duplicated along the stretch of the walk.

Other than eating and more eating what was there to do? Not a lot during the day and even the eating wasn’t much of a draw.

On the Tower Bridge side there were some exhibits covering the environment, health and well-being of the river as well as a Korean display (cooking when we went past). Southwark bridge offered a unique eating experience – if you could push your way through the crowds – with the opportunity to eat on communal tables lining the bridge.

One particularly interesting event was the Flood Tide musical act, where sensors in the river were translated into notations for the assembled musicians and singers to perform. Quite chill and relaxing.

Night time may have offered a wider range of events with fire gardens, fireworks and parades but throughout the day it was a nice enough walk. That is as long as you’re ok with crowds and don’t suffer pedestrian rage. Just be prepared to take a few hours to get from A to B.

Will I go next year? Probably not but I may try and watch some of the evening events.

Tate Britain (Lates)

August 5, 2009 at 10:42 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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May of you will know that I enjoy going to the odd late night opening and the Tate Britain was no different. Although it is regrettable that it’s taken so long to write about one of their late night events.

The Tate Britain was the Tate until that upstart Modern turned up. The gallery houses an impressive collection of art from 1500s onwards! It is presented in the same way as the National Portrait and Art galleries. So if staid frames and artworks along painted walls is your thing then you’ll feel right at home. It certainly worked for me and without knowing more I felt like I had become more cultured – just from the experience.

Now, that was the artwork – which you can see on any visit but what about the Lates?

For those new to the concept, basically, various museums in London will have extended hours one night a month that’s just for adults. So there’ll be entertainment, drinks and food.

For Tate Britain they had Courvoisier in attendance providing discounted cocktails (in an attempt to broaden the appeal of cognac – according to our server). However, you could only drink in a very small space, relative to the entire gallery area, as a result we found ourselves pacing around trying to finish our beverages and move on. This is similar to the Victoria and Albert’s Lates. I respect that they don’t want accidental spillage but perhaps they could widen the drinking area or have a few other ‘safe zones’ throughout. I realise I sound like an alcoholic but if I wanted to just look at the art I’d come on a normal day but I chose to attend for a Lates experience.

Rant over.

Tate Britain (4)

Besides the bar area the main hub of the gallery was given over to a couple audio visual displays. Generally necessitating those who wanted to watch them all to sit on the floor. The Tate also held a variety of walks and talks but we weren’t able to make any of these.

Lastly there was musical entertainment in the form of the Shellac Sisters – a group of gramophone playing retro ladies. What we could hear of it echoing down the corridors seemed novel but every time we were actually in sight in seemed to be break time.

Overall I liked the artwork on display and found it satisfying. While the option to go Late is appealing I didn’t find the extra offerings compelling enough to recommend a late night visit. A regular day time trip should be fine.

The Grant Museum of Zoology

August 5, 2009 at 9:59 pm | Posted in General, London, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Over at UCL (University College London), near Euston tube, in amongst all of the academic departments you’ll find the free Grant Museum of Zoology and its collection of animal specimens.

It’s well signposted so should be fairly easy to find on the campus however it is in a teaching building so you you’ll need to advise security when you enter in order to get buzzed through the barriers.

As the name suggests this smallish museum looks at the animal kingdom. Upon entering you’ll see rows of display cabinets and every other piece of available space seemingly filled with different specimens. While not dark and musty it is still atmospheric, a cross between modern student and Victorian collector.

The first part details the development of the collection and the influence of its subsequent curators. The second section (and bulk of the floorspace) is devoted to each of the classes with multiple examples (generally skeletons, some in jars) in the cabinets.

The overview panels in each area provide just enough information to enlighten without boring a general reader. Each specimen will have a name tag and a number will provide more in-depth information.

Besides the general museum goer you may come across students and artists drawing some of the specimens.

For those with an interest in zoology and don’t want to go to the natural history museum then this is an excellent option .

The Petrie museum is also located nearby within the UCL campus.

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.

Benjamin Franklin House

July 20, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Located near Embankment and Charing Cross is the Benjamin Franklin House. Where, oddly enough, Benjamin Franklin lived during his (second) time in London. He left hurriedly at the outbreak of the revolution. Franklin and the House acted as the de facto embassy for the colonies in London. During his time in London he lobbied British politicians on behalf of the Americans (with mixed success), continued exploring science and his discourse with the minds of the Enlightenment. All while being a lodger in the house and developing friendships with that family.

Benjamin Franklin House Benjamin Franklin House (2)

The facts of Benjamin Franklin’s life before, during and after his time in the House are explored although understandably it is his time in London that features most prominently in the experience.

The novelty of the House is that it is less a museum and more a theatrical performance. After a brief video setting the scene the audience is greeted by the landlady’s daughter who proceeds to take us through the various rooms of the house, often accompanied by multimedia elements (audio/video) and tells us of ‘her’ and her family’s experience with Franklin.

I was apprehensive about coming to the House, thinking the conceit of the actors would be tacky and unbearable. I was wrong. It was well done, the actress who must do this dozens of times a day gave a great performance and I feel like I’ve developed a greater appreciation for Franklin and the period as a result.

The House is operated by a dedicated group of volunteers and in addition to their website (where you can also download a walking tour podcast) they can also be found on twitter.

It costs about £7 (adult) and runs for approximately and hour.

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