Household Cavalry Museum

December 12, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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The Household Cavalry Museum tells funnily enough the story of the Household Cavalry.

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Their story covers the protection of the monarch throughout England’s tumultuous history, ceremonial duties and modern deployments overseas in war zones and peacekeeping missions.

The museum covers all of these elements and items are well displayed in their glass cases with short but clear descriptions. For those with less time or less attention there are larger overview pieces as well.

After the brief overview you enter into a horse stable and it’s no simple mock up but a sealed off part of the actual Horse Guard stables, there’s a glass wall between the two sections and you may get the chance to see some of the Horse Guards at work.

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This same section also offers the chance to try on some of the uniform and use some interactive displays to learn more about different elements and history of the Cavalry.

The final section gives a more in depth history of the Household Cavalry from their establishment to today.

It was all quite informative and interesting in a well designed museum. I’d certainly recommend it for a quick 30 -40 minute wander.

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The Household Cavalry Museum is located within the impressive Horse Guards building on Whitehall/St James’s Park and costs £6.

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More photos at Flickr.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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.

The Big Bus Tour

July 6, 2009 at 11:39 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Recently my parents, sister and her boyfriend visited London and we decided to go on the Big Bus Tour. Perhaps an error in judgement.

Obviously the benefit of these types of tours is the ability to get an overview of a foreign city with the option to jump on or off within a day of purchasing a ticket. However, for those of us who stay on board for the entire 2+hrs (the shorter version) it began to drag. While on the upper deck I could clearly hear the guide but after we had to change buses and I was on the lower deck it became a partially incoherent dialogue.

Speaking of incoherent once we changed buses we also got a new guide and he’d clearly had a rough night what with the slight slur, red eyes and somewhat dishevelled appearance.

Based on my own knowledge of the capital I thought the information was largely accurate and I did pick up on a few things as well. However, there were a few instances when the bus was stuck in traffic and I tried to break the lull by providing anecdotes of the area – something a qualified guide could surely have done.

My other criticisms of the tour were the over use of movie filming locations. Specifically Harry Potter. If I wanted a Harry Potter tour I’d go on one. Secondly, the guide would often be so busy cross promoting some other tour or another that by the time they mentioned something of actual interest we’d already whizzed past it.

Some of you may recall that a few years ago I went on the Original Bus Tour, so of course my memory may be a bit cloudy but if I had to choose one bus tour of London I’d go with the Original over the Big Bus anytime.

Royal Courts of Justice Tour

May 17, 2009 at 8:22 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Have about 2 hours free during the week and £6? Why not book a tour of the Royal Courts of Justice.

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The Royal Courts of Justice on Fleet street are the home of the UK’s civil and criminal appeals courts. Conversely criminal cases are heard at the Old Bailey. The planning and construction took decades and was almost complete at the time of architect George Edmund Street’s death. It was opened in 1882, 16 years after Parliament established an architectural competition for the courts in 1866.

These stories and more are imparted to you over a two hour tour. Generally held twice a month but contact the guide as it can change. I found myself the odd man out as the lone individual amongst an arts trust tour. They were all very nice!

The first part of the tour is held in one of the courtrooms and takes on a traditional class room feel as we’re told about the history and functions of the court. There’s plenty of opportunity for questions too. Of note apparently no one (including lawyers) ever know the name of the current high lord judge. For the record it’s Judge Judge. Cool name.

Most of the rest of the tour is spent walking around with guide pointing out various architectural and design highlights, such as the intentionally unfinished pillar and the ‘grafitti’ on some of the other columns.

Of particular note is that the Royal Courts are an open building (well after you get past security that is) and anyone can come in and sit in the great hall or wander into most court cases.

The tour is quite worthwhile while it took a little while to get going it was nonetheless quite interesting. Perhaps if you have a strong knowledge of the English legal system the introductory parts may be dull but if not or you have an interest in both the architecture and the system then this tour is recommended.

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Check out the court’s FAQ for details on contacting the tour manager.

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The day I visited there was a very small protest asking for smoking to be banned in films.

BBC Tour

April 6, 2009 at 7:26 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Out at White City you’ll find not only a brand new(ish) shopping centre but the BBC Television Centre. For £9.50 (Adult) you can take a 1.5 – 2hr tour around the complex. Pre-bookings are essential as they won’t allow purchases on the day.

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So the question is do you get enough bang for your buck? On the whole the answer is yes. Once you’ve met your group you’ll walk through security and past the news room for your first major introduction and background on the centre. Next up you’ll exit outside and it is revealed that the complex is in the shape of a giant question mark – the best shape apparently for the plot of land that also allowed speedy access to the studios.

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Moving beyond you’ll see some of the studios and the wonders of green screen technology as it applies to the weather. Some of tour group had seemingly never encountered it as it was met with plenty of exclamations. Now it’s onto one of the dressing rooms and a mock studio for some group participation in front of the ‘cameras’.

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Throughout the tour you’ll get snippets of backstage gossip and things like the excesses or not of various celebrity riders.

The guides we had were great fun, informative and very willing to answer questions. For example I asked who normally Twitters for the BBC’s various feeds. Apparently it’s normally a junior producer (who will also look after the other social web duties in addition to their other tasks). I believe their names were Jamie and Elizabeth (I hope!).

At the end of the tour you’ll get a chance to go to a BBC shop and buy some paraphenalia.

Overall it was a reasonable experience. The tour often references BBC shows (fair enough) and for those of you out there who have an emotional attachment will probably have an even better time!

Cardiff – Cardiff Castle

October 19, 2008 at 4:30 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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In the centre of the city is arguably Cardiff’s most memorable feature – Cardiff Castle.

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As you walk along the city centre’s main roadways you will eventually come across the Castle. Surrounded by a high wall, sitting above the former Roman defences.

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Entry is only £8.50 and you’ll get a highly informative audio guide for use in the grounds and a tour of the main house. The castle was donated to the city so city residents have free entry to the grounds.

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The tour of the house is interesting and if you’re in a small group (as I was, it’s a trend for me this trip) you’ll receive the opportunity to ask more questions and have more time in each room to look at the architecture.

The main keep in the centre of the grounds besides the usual audio tour information about defences and history offers a great view over the city.

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The information centre has an audio – visual history of the Castle but it’s somewhat abstract with references to events such as the Romans and civil war without directly explaining them. Perhaps they anticipate people will read the display panels in the centre before being ushered into the AV centre or just know the important historical periods.

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One of the comments made during the tour is that the castle was rebuilt as a “rich man’s folly”, which the family rarely spent any time in. It is fascinating that the city’s premier attraction was made as little more than a hobby. Possibly Cardiff needs to develop some other attributes as well?

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Cardiff – Wales Millennium Centre

October 19, 2008 at 3:21 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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In Cardiff Bay is the Wales Millennium Centre. For £5.50 you can get a tour and a behind the scenes look at the building. If you’re lucky you might end up being the only one on the tour and much like the Senedd my guide was very friendly, informative and open about the centre.

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While larger and more extensive than Sydney’s Opera House the tour retains the same basic structure. First, a walk outside to look at the construction and the range of materials used (sourced from around Wales) and then inside to look at the artwork and design elements used within.

Inside you’ll be treated to a backstage look at the dressing rooms, set construction and the rehearsal spaces.

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One of the final sections is a chance to sit in the main theatre. The space was designed to enhance the audio visual experience. There are no columns in the space to restrict viewing and depending on the performance special screens can be lowered to influence the sound.

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The tour is recommended as it’s reasonably priced, only an hour and quite informative with friendly staff.

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