Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cleopatra’s Needle - London - Places of Interest

London, Paris and New York all share a similar landmark, an ancient Egyptian obelisk presented to their countries by the rulers of Egypt in the 19th century, the ones in London and New York being a pair.

London’s Cleopatra’s Needle stands along the banks of the Thames on Victoria Embankment between Waterloo and Westminster Bridges. It was originally made for Pharaoh Thutmose III around 1460 BC and erected in the city of Heliopolis with hieroglyphic inscriptions added 200 years later by Ramesses II. Over a thousand years later the Romans moved the obelisks to Alexandria where they were eventually toppled over and buried in sand.

In the early 1800s Britain defeated Napoleon’s forces in battles in and around Egypt and in 1819 the Viceroy of Egypt Muhammed Ali presented the obelisk to Britain in commemoration of these victories. The Needle is 68ft high and weighs about 180 tons and the cost and difficulty of moving it to Britain prevented it arriving in London until 1878 after a specially built vessel was commissioned to take it on its journey. Cleopatra’s Needle is flanked on either side by a pair of large bronze sphinxes which were added in 1882.

The Needle is about 200 metres to the left of Embankment Underground station as you face the River Thames.

Leadenhall Market - London - Places of Interest

If you’re around the Liverpool Street or Monument areas of the City of London its worth taking a walk along Gracechurch Street to have a look at the site of one of the oldest markets in London.

Leadenhall Market has one of the most distinct looks of any shopping or market place in London, with cobbled walkways and colonnaded rows of shops supporting a wrought iron and glass curved roof. The walls, columns and shop fronts are all decorated with an ornate maroon, cream and gold leaf look that is a complete contrast to the futuristic Lloyd’s of London building which stands right next to Leadenhall, outside the market’s east entrance.

The Romans originally built a forum on the site in the 1st century and it’s been a food market since the Middle Ages. In 1321 it became the meeting place for poulterers in London and in 1397 cheesemongers were bound to take their produce there. Parts of the market were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and when it was rebuilt it was divided into the Beef Market, Green Yard and Herb Market.

The current structure was built in 1881 and designed by the City of London’s architect Horace Jones. Over the years Leadenhall was famous for its fresh fish, meat and poultry but nowadays the shops have been converted into bars, pubs, restaurants, cafes and clothing stores which are open Monday-Friday from 7am-4pm and are popular with the areas office workers.

Recreating a bit of the old tradition, every Friday from 10am-4pm stalls set up in the middle of the market selling gourmet food items. Fans of Harry Potter might also be interested to know it was used as the setting for Diagon Alley in the film version of JK Rowling’s first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Leadenhall Market is located off Gracechurch Street between Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street, just look for the Lloyd’s building if you can’t find it. The nearest Tubes are Monument, Bank and Liverpoool Street.

The Old Operating Theatre-London - London - Places of Interest

If you’re ever unfortunate enough to have to under go a major operation at least be thankful its going to be in the 21st century and that medical techniques are well advanced. There’s a museum in London that provides a look back at the way our ancestors had to deal with surgery when chances of surviving where very much 50/50.

The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret are in St Thomas’s church, the chapel of the medieval St Thomas’s hospital founded in the early 11th century and described as ‘ancient’ even in 1215. Its in the area just south of London Bridge although the actual St Thomas’s hospital moved in 1862 to Lambeth, currently on the south bank of the Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament. The first translation and printing of the Bible into English took place in the original hospital grounds in 1533.

St Thomas’s church was rebuilt in 1703, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and the large garret or attic room was used to store medicinal herbs as the location was dry and kept the herbs away from rats. The chapel was adjacent to the women’s ward of the hospital and in 1822 the garret was converted into an operating theatre for the women patients, because it was on the same level as the ward, gave medical students a seperate entrance and the thick wooden beams muffled the sounds of operations taking place without anaesthetics.

Before the use of gases was pioneered anaesthetics were unpredictable and might just as well kill the patient during an operation. Doctors decided is was safer to carry out surgery without them. Many patients also died from infections picked up during operations because bacteria weren’t discovered to be the cause until the mid 19th century, also unlike physicians, surgeons weren’t university trained but served an apprenticeship similar to butchers.

It became a museum after being rediscovered in 1956, almost a hundred years after the hospital moved locations. Nowadays it has a regular programme of events for visitors to experience how medicine and surgery were practiced in the past.

This April those events include Victorian Surgery, on every Saturday at 2pm, a lecture taking place in the operating theatre that demonstrates ‘the ordeal of Victorian surgery, when a patient’s only relief from agony was the speed of the surgeon’s knife.’ On the 12th April at 2pm there’s Hands On:The Power of Blood, a hands on session with medical instruments, old and new.

From 10-28 April there is a double-bill of plays under the title A Bloodless Field starting each night at 7.45pm in the operating theatre produced by theatre company Metal and Bone. The plays are The Body Snatcher, a chilling Victorian tale about an ambitious medical student who finds his conscience compromised when his anatomy class needs more bodies and The Gift a modern day story about a transplant surgeon who’s forced to question his talent. Tickets for A Bloodless Field cost £13.

The Old Operating Theatre is open daily from 10.30am-5pm and admission is £5.25 and each month there are a changing programme of events happening. Its located on St Thomas’s Street, two minutes walk from London Bridge Underground station.

Greenwich Heritage Centre - London - Places of Interest

The Greenwich Heritage Centre is on the site of the old Royal Arsenal armaments factory in Woolwich on the south bank of the Thames in the east of London. It combines the former Borough Museum and Local History Library and has a number of activities going on including providing extensive historical records of the local area for anybody trying to trace their family history.

It has a free exhibition called Inside the Arsenal telling the 400 year old story of the Royal Arsenal and Royal Woolwich Dockyard. The Royal Arsenal didn’t appear on any maps even though over 100,000 people worked there during World War 1. The exhibition tells the previously restricted stories of life in the Arsenal through films, pictures and documents and follows the advances in weaponry made there.

The centre also has a range of activities for children including illlustrated talks for schools and Saturday clubs for kids. This week there’s also a free art exhibition opening called Trigger featuring ’site-specific work by the best of the up and coming artists from SouthEast London.’ The work is inspired by the history, heritage and architecture of the Royal Arsenal and includes paintings, prints and photography. Trigger will be on show at the Heritage Centre from 14-28 April.

The Greenwich Heritage Centre is open 9am-5pm Tues-Sat and is located in Artillery Square off Beresford Street in Woolwich. The nearest train station is Woolwich Arsenal.

Royal Arsenal - London - Places of Interest

Look at street maps of London and you’ll see an area between the south bank of the River Thames, Thamesmead West and Woolwich Arsenal that has been left completely white. This ’secret’ part of London was the home since 1671 of the Royal Arsenal, Britain’s largest centre for the manufacture of military equipment and munitions and also the place where Arsenal Football Club began, hence the club’s nickname The Gunners.

The ownership of the whole 76 acre site was transfered in 1997 from the Ministry of Defence to the London Development Agency and the site is being converted into 4,200 homes, leisure facilities including restaurants, bars and shops, cinemas and light industrial use that should all be completed by 2015. In 2001 a new £15 million Royal Artillery Museum, named Firepower was opened. I haven’t been there yet but it looks pretty impressive, they’re currently on a winter opening schedule of only three days a week.

The Royal Arsenal expanded greatly due to the Crimean and First World War’s and at its peak employed 80,000 people. It was a group of these workers who formed the football club Arsenal. In the 1720’s a collection of workshops called Artificers Court and Basin Court were built on the site and in 1764 a sundial was put up over the entrance to what became known as Dial Square. This still survives today.

In 1886 some armaments workers formed a team called Dial Square and played their early games on Plumstead Common not far away. On Christmas Day 1886 they voted to change the name to Royal Arsenal and the team carried on as that until 1891 when they became Woolwich Arsenal, finally becoming just Arsenal Football Club when they moved to the Highbury area in 1913. When Arsenal moved to their new Emirates Stadium in 2006 they asked the Royal Artillery Museum if any guns were available to be placed at the new stadium’s entrance. The museum suppiled two 32 pound smooth bore cast iron guns on iron carriages that were made at Royal Arsenal in 1859.

The new Royal Arsenal development should be a big success. Its directly across the river from London City Airport and a short trip down stream from Greenwich, Canary Wharf and North Greenwich where the Dome is. Its certainly not a glamorous part of town at the moment, but if you see how areas further west along the river have changed in ten years, it could be once the regeneration is finished in 2015. One thing that might spoil the new neighbourhood is that its right near Belmarsh maximum security prison which opened in 1991 and houses lots of Britain’s terrorist and high security prisoners.

If you want to see where the greatest football club in the world originated take the SouthEastern train from Charing Cross to Woolwich Arsenal station.

Foyles bookshop in London - London - Places of Interest

Charing Cross Road has always been known for the bookshops along it, but the most famous is Foyles on the corner of Charing Cross Road and Manette Street, just a few blocks down from Tottenham Court Road station on the right hand side.

Foyles was started in 1903 by the two Foyle brothers, William and Gilbert, who began by selling second hand books. They moved into the current store in 1906 and for a long while Foyles was recognised as the largest bookshop in the world. Its still one of the biggest in Britain, spread over five floors with a huge stock of books and is still privately owned.

Foyles was always different from other bookshops, apart from the size of the shop they had so many books on just about every topic under the sun and they were all piled everywhere. It definitely wasn’t the slick marketing style of somewhere like Borders, the philosophy seemed to be order as many books as you can and let the customer root around for the one they want.
It was a great shop because they would have the book you wanted when 99% of others would not.

If you were a university student looking for some little known book on an obscure topic Foyles would be likely to stock it. They’d have a huge amount of fiction but also covered subjects like medicine, science, anything technical in depth. They also had a system where the books on shelves were arranged by publisher rather than author or subject.

One of the really idiosyncratic things they had going that always threw me when I went there was that when you bought a book you had to go to a counter and get a written invoice for the book and take that to another counter to pay for the book. Confusing and annoying if you didn’t know where the counters were or there were long lines.

Foyles has had a major makeover in the last few years and walking around it now there’s none of the books piled high clutter there used to be. They’ve also added a cafe and an art gallery which I guess they had to do to keep up with the competition.

It still a great shop to browse around and they’ll most likely have something you’ll want. Foyles is open Mon-Sat 9.30am-9pm(10pm in the run up to Christmas), Sun 12-6pm, they’re closed Christmas Day.

The Thames Barrier - London - Places of Interest

The River Thames snakes its way through the heart of London and is a tidal river for about half of its 200 mile length. It flows eastwards into the Thames Estuary and out into the North Sea and this makes areas along its course susceptible to floods, the Thames Barrier was built to protect London from the threat of serious flooding.

The last time central London was flooded was in 1928 when 14 people drowned, but it took until 1974 for construction of a flood control barrier to be started. The Thames Barrier is a series of ten separate movable gates positioned end-to-end across a 520m stretch of river, about 1.5 miles down stream from where the Millennium Dome is. The gates are pivoted and when they’re closed they seal off the upper part of the Thames from the sea. Construction was finished in 1982 and the barrier was first used a year later.

Global warming means low lying south and eastern England is under a considerable threat from floods and beside that the tide levels in the Thames Estuary have been rising by 60cm a century in relation to the land. The Thames Barrier particularly protects London from surge tides, which occur when low pressure coming across the Atlantic goes north of Scotland and pushes water from the deep ocean into the shallower North Sea. If this surge water meets a high spring tide (of which there are two a month) around the Thames Estuary, the flooding risk greatly increases.

Tides and surges can be predicted up to 36 hours in advance and the Thames Barrier can be closed in a matter of minutes although they usually allow a lot longer time to do it.
There’s a Thames Barrier Information and Learning Centre that is open to the public and has a working model of the Barrier and a video that shows its construction, operation and how flood protection works. There’s also a cafe and picnic area with great views of the barrier.

Admission is £2 and its open daily from 10.30am-4pm April-Sept, 11.30am-3.30pm Oct-March. Its located on the south bank of the Thames at Unity Way in Woolwich, the nearest rail station is Charlton about a one mile walk from the Thames Barrier. The closest Underground is North Greenwich by the Dome.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre - London - Places of Interest

On the south bank of the River Thames between Southwark and Blackfriars bridges is the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, where many of Shakespeare’s plays were first performed. The original Globe was built in 1599 and owned by the company of actors to which Shakespeare belonged. It was destroyed by fire during a performance in 1613 when a cannon used as a prop misfired setting alight the timber beams and thatched roof. It was rebuilt but closed and knocked down again by the Puritans in the mid-17th century.

The new Globe was built to the Elizabethan plan and finally opened in 1997, 200 yards from the original site, although it only holds 1,500 for performances compared to the 3,000 in Shakespeare’s day. It was also the first thatched building allowed to be built in London since the Great Fire of 1666.

Nowadays with both the stage and the audience open to the elements, performances of Shakespeare’s plays take place between May and September. Year round you can visit the Globe to take a tour of the theatre and the Globe Exhibition and learn about the costumes and clothes, special effects and music that were used in Shakespeare’s time. They also detail how Shakespeare’s plays were published and the reconstruction of the Globe.

During the October to May period you can take the tour and see the Exhibition between 10am-5pm, daily. In the summer period when performances are held you won’t be able to tour the theatre in the afternoons. Tickets for the Exhibition and tour are £9, £7.50 for the over 60s.

The Globe has a restaurant, cafe and coffee shop which are open all year. The stage is in the middle of the circular theatre facing audiences on three levels, you can get a good idea of this by looking at the Globe website’s virtual tour.

You can start booking tickets for plays in February when they release the details of the summer performances. Southwark is the nearest tube on the south side of the Thames or you could go to Mansion House north of the river and walk across the Millennium Bridge, with the Globe to your left.

London Bali bombing memorial - London - Places of Interest

I went and had a look yesterday at the British memorial to the victims of the 2002 Bali bombings that was unveiled by Prince Charles a couple of days before.

The attack in Kuta in 2002 killed 202 including 28 Britons and the UK Bali Bombing Victims Group applied for permission to erect the memorial in 2005 and the British Foreign Office contributed £100,000 to the £300,000 cost of the project. The memorial is located just below the Clive Steps at the rear of the Foreign Office, opposite St James Park and a couple of hundred yards up from Horse Guards Parade. The UKBBVG says it hopes it will provide a focus for relatives of the dead and survivors from across Europe.

The memorial is a 5ft(1.5m) marble globe, to represent that people from 21 countries were killed, and has 202 doves carved into it. The names of all 202 are on a curved stone wall behind the globe. Its the work of artist Garry Breeze and sculptor Martin Cook and is really simple and effective. The area its in is a fairly quiet stretch of road on a weekend, its next to the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum so may get a lot of tourist traffic at peak times but relatives should be able to come and have some time to themselves at certain points.

When I visited there were still many flowers and personal items left from the dedication ceremony a few days before. If you’re around St James Park or at Horse Guards Parade its worth a few minutes to walk to and take a look at.

Golden Jubilee Bridges - London - Places of Interest

Central London has three major pedestrian bridges across the River Thames, the Millennium Bridge near Tate Modern which opened in 2000 and had a lot of problems with it moving around when large numbers of people used it, and the two Golden Jubliee Bridges opened in 2002 and named for the Queen’s fiftieth anniversary as monarch.

They are also known as the Hungerford footbridges because they have been built on each side of the Hungerford Railway Bridge that takes trains coming from south London into Charing Cross Station. The footbridges were the result of a competition in 1996 and the designers had to take into account the fact the railway bridge had to be kept in use during construction and that the Bakerloo Underground Line was directly under where the bridges were to be erected.

Each footbridge is 320m long and over 4m wide and provide a nice way to cross the river. They’re located about halfway between Westminster and Waterloo Bridges and even though they have high pylons and struts supporting the footbridges they do offer some good positions to take photos up and down the river.
They pretty much hide the steel framed railway bridge which is no bad thing because its not the best looking bridge across the Thames.

If you’re near Trafalgar Square and want to cross to the south bank, the quickest way is to walk down past Charing Cross Station to the Embankment and the footbridge will bring you out on the other side of the river between the Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye area.

London’s Gherkin - London - Places of Interest

One of the most distinctive buildings in the City of London, that can be seen for miles around is 30 St Mary Axe, otherwise known as The Gherkin.
Its the blue coloured, glass, missile shaped office tower that’s on the site of the old Baltic Exchange, the former headquarters for world shipping sales that was severely damaged by an IRA bomb in 1992.

The Gherkin’s off Bishopsgate, between Liverpool Street and Monument stations, but its also London’s sixth biggest building at 590ft(180m) so you get a glimpse of it from a lot of places around town.

It’s a private office block that also has the highest restaurant and bar in London, used by the companies that occupy the building during the day but which are available for private functions and weddings on weekends and after 6.30pm during the week. The restaurant has 360 degree views over London and combined with the bar can handle about 260 people. There are also five private dining rooms that are for hire for breakfast, lunch and dinner weekdays.

The Gherkin only opened in 2004 and is a very ‘green’ building using around half the energy of a typical office block its size, doing this by combining natural ventilation with a double skin, along with the tower allowing in lots of light.

Its an impressive place to walk around and being in the heart of the historic centre of London you find a lot of old buildings and churches with this really modern tower as a backdrop.

After the Baltic Exchange was bombed the planners in charge of the area had tight regulations on what could be built but with the growth of Canary Wharf and the shift of businesses to offices custom designed for their needs, the rules on what could go up were relaxed and The Gherkin today is one of the most recognizable structures in London, although I bet if you asked most Londoners to describe 30 St Mary Axe they wouldn’t have a clue what you were talking about.

The Monument - London - Places of Interest

In 1666 in a fire started around midnight in the bakery of Thomas Farriner in Pudding Lane, close to London Bridge. The Great Fire of London went on to destroy large parts of the old city and led to a major rebuilding programme. As part of this new construction a monument was proposed that would commemorate the losses caused by the Great Fire and like so much of the new London built at that time it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

Completed in 1677 and called simply The Monument, its a column 202 feet high made from Portland stone and is the tallest freestanding stone column in the world, topped out with a flaming urn of copper symbolising the Great Fire.

Inside the column is a narrow spiral staircase which visitors can climb to the viewing platform at the top. It’s 311 steps up but The Monument offers fantastic views over that part of central London. There’s a doorway and ticket booth on the eastern side of the base and its normally open everyday from 9.30am-5.30pm with admission £2. Unfortunately at the moment visitors won’t be allowed in until December 2008 as The Monument is undergoing an 18 month refurbishment.

The base of the column features reliefs depicting the fire and the reconstruction. The Monument’s height of 202 feet is said to be the distance from the start of the fire and on the north side of the base is the inscription ‘In the year of Christ 1666, on 2 September, at a distance eastward from this place of 202 ft, which is the height of this column, a fire broke out in the dead of night which, the wind blowing, devoured even distant buildings, and rushed devastating through every quarter with astonishing swiftness and noise … On the third day … at the bidding, we may well believe, of heaven, the fire stayed its course and everywhere died out.’

The Monument is located just north of London Bridge on Monument Street, the nearest Tube is Monument on the District and Circle Lines.

City Hall London - London - Places of Interest

On the south bank of the River Thames, directly across from the Tower of London is an unusual looking building, the recently built City Hall. Its a 10 storey glass office block that looks like its leaning over to one side.

It was designed by Norman Foster, cost £65million and was opened in July 2002. It’s the home of the London Assembly, the body that oversee’s the activities of the Mayor of London, and the building has been leased to the Assembly for 25 years. There are 25 members of the Assembly and they are elected at the same time as the Mayor.

City Hall was designed and built after a competition to find the best location and design and the public had a say in which one was chosen. It’s 45 metres high and has 25% less surface area than a cubed building of the same volume. The design means that its the most energy efficient shape and combined with internal features allows it to run on a quarter the energy used normally for a coventional building that size.

If you’re around Tower Bridge or the Tower of London go into City Hall and take the elevator to the 9th Floor which is given over to public viewing. There’s an outside balcony that runs almost 360 degrees around the building and offers great views, its the best place to take photos of Tower Bridge or the Tower of London on the opposite river bank. You can see west to St Paul’s, down river to Canary Wharf or off into deepest south London.

The public are allowed into City Hall between 8am-8pm Monday- Friday and on certain weekends. Access to the lower ground, ground and 2nd floor’s is not restricted but it is to some of the floors with offices above. There’s a security check once you enter the building similar to airports where they’ll x-ray any bags and ask you to empty your pockets.

Outside City Hall along the riverbank there’s currently an outdoor exhibition of large photographs by the Japanese photographer Hiroji Kubota who spent four years travelling around Japan to capture some of the images on show.

On the west side of City Hall is a sunken area known as the Scoop, an area of circular steps that can seat up to a 1000 people but is probably more used by as some to eat a quick lunch, it faces the cafeteria on the lower ground floor of City Hall.

New Zealand War Memorial - London - London - Places of Interest

The new New Zealand War Memorial was unveiled and dedicated by the Queen and the New Zealand Prime Minister on 11 November this year. Its located on the large area at Hyde Park Corner between Hyde and Green Park’s. This is where the Wellington Arch and the striking Australian War memorial already are and the NZ Memorial is in the northeast corner, basicially at the bottom of Park Lane.

The memorial is called The Southern Stand and is made up of 16 large bronze ’standards’, crossed shaped pieces of different sizes weighing up to 700kg each and some 4.5 metres long, set in the ground at an angle and all facing south. Some have been set in the path going round that part of the area, some in a grassy bank, six of which make up the shape of the Southern Cross.

Each standard has text and a sculptured image representing reflecting New Zealand and the tops have LED lights lighting up the shape of the cross. It’s the work of architect John Hardwick-Smith and sculptor Paul Dibble who won a design competition that started five years ago. The pieces were built at a studio in Palmerston North on New Zealand’s north island and shipped to London by sea.
It should provide a focal point in London for Anzac Day and Waitangi Day celebrations for New Zealanders.

Its maybe not as visually striking as the Australian Memorial, about 70 yards away on the other side of the Wellington Arch, but I guess the thing with this memorial is you can walk through and around it, get up really close and see it from various angles not just front on.

Its in a good location in London, Hyde Park Corner’s a busy intersection but the site itself is quite large, the NZ Memorial’s in its own corner and going there’s not going to take people out of their way too much, its a big crossroads to many parts of the West End.

Australian War Memorial London - London - Places of Interest

If you're ever around Hyde Park Corner, where Park Lane, Piccadilly, Grosvenor Place, Knightsbridge and Constitution Hill meet, have a look at the roundabout area in the middle.

It’s dominated by Constitution Arch, the large pillared arch with the chariot on top that’s dedicated to the Duke of Wellington, but as you walk towards it from Hyde Park tube look in the right hand corner and you’ll see the Australian War Memorial commemorating Australians who have died fighting along side Britain in two world wars.

This is a new memorial that was only opened in 2003 on 11 November, Rememberance Sunday, by John Howard, Tony Blair and the Queen. It’s a very contemporary design, with elements maybe of the Vietnam wall in Washington and Berlin’s Holocaust memorial with a clean granite look, strong lines, names in small lettering, this time on a curved wall. It’s very effective and doesn’t set out to glorify any particular battle but all the people who’ve died in wars for Australia.

It’s made from 200 tonnes of Verde Laguna granite from Jerramungup, Western Australia and was designed by a team of Sydney architect’s. The curved wall is around 8ft high and on it are the names of 24,000 Australian towns where servicemen have come from and the names have been sandblasted in such a way that certain letters are cut densely enough to spell out the larger names of 47 battle sites where Australians have fought when viewed from further back. Parts are also a water feature, with a slow trickle of water from the top of the wall not a cascade.

It’s a very well made and thoughout piece of work and it seems to fit perfectly in its location. There are no large signs around advertising it and as the path cuts across the roundabout and the memorial is in a corner, it’s easy to miss.

I think this memorial has already become popular with Australian’s for Anzac Day celebrations and a New Zealand one is due to open on Rememberance Sunday 2006.
The nearest tube is Hyde Park Corner and if you are walking between Green Park and Hyde Park it’s right along your path.

The Royal Albert Hall - London - Places of Interest

The Royal Albert Hall is one of the most recognisable music venues in Britain. Located in Kensington Gore on the south side of Hyde Park,opposite the Albert Memorial, it opened in 1871 and is generally known as a classical music venue but just about every kind of music has been played there and also a lot of non-music events have taken place inside.

It was built in honour of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert and the design gives the feel of a Roman amphitheatre and can hold around 8,000 people. The hall is oval shaped inside and measures 83m x 72m. The building is Grade 1 listed, meaning its of exceptional interest and any work carried out must be done under strict conditions.

The most famous annual event to take place in the Albert Hall are the Proms or the Sir Henry Wood Promenade Concerts which are classical music concerts that happen over a number of weeks in the summer, which include the famous Last Night of the Proms when the audience wrap themselves in the Union Jack, release loads of ballons and sing patriotic songs like Land of Hope and Glory.

It’s not just classical music that takes place there though, the only time The Beatles and the Rolling Stones shared a bill was at the Albert Hall in 1963, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan have played there, Cream’s farewell gig was also there. Major rock acts will regularly play at the Albert Hall and it holds comedy shows, tennis tournaments and even circus events.

You can take a tour of the Royal Albert Hall from 10am -3.30pm Fri-Tues. Tickets cost £6 and are conducted in English, the tour lasts for about 45 minutes and departs from inside the South Porch at door 12.

The Millennium Bridge - London - Places of Interest

It didn't turn into the white elephant the Millennium Dome did but it was up there with it for a while. The Millennium Bridge was one of the big projects designed to celebrate the year 2000, proposed in the mid-90’s and started in 1998, it was going to be the first new bridge across the River Thames in London since Tower Bridge opened in 1894.

It was to be a pedestrian only suspension bridge linking the north side of the river around Upper Thames Street with the south bank directly next to the Tate Modern. It came in at a price of £18million and opened on 10 June 2000, so far so good.
It was very popular as soon as it opened, much to popular for the designer’s because when the large numbers of people walked in some kind of unison the bridge began to sway from side to side. A fun item on all the tv news bulletins for a day or so but then reality set in and with the ‘Wobbly Bridge’ swaying getting quite pronounced the bridge had to close on the 12th June 2000.

To fix the problem required the installation of 89 dampers to absorb the energy and control the horizontal and vertical movement of the bridge. This cost £5million and took from May 2001 till January 2002 to complete, the Millennium Bridge finally reopened in February 2002.

It is a nice bridge to walk across, it’s directly in line with St Paul’s Cathedral on the northern side and is a good spot to take photos from, up and down the river or of St Paul’s or Tate Modern. Traffic on it seems fairly busy, lots of joggers coming from the City, but there may have been an event of some kind on today.
Nearest tube Blackfriars.

Albert Memorial - London - Places of Interest

In between Kensington Gardens and the Royal Albert Hall is a very non-British looking memorial, this one in honour of Prince Albert, Queen Victroria’s husband who died aged 42 in 1861.

The memorial took 15 years to build and is 175ft high with a black and gilded spire, a multi coloured marble canopy and almost 200 sculptured figures around the base.

About thirty yards from the base of the main memorial are four sets of sculptures one in each corner depicting people from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

With this memorial and the close by Royal Albert Hall Queen Victoria no doubt hoped to preserve her husband’s memory, but I doubt if she would have suspected that almost 150 years later the name Prince Albert is most associated in Britain with a piece of ‘body art’, namely piercing the end of your penis and putting a ring through it similar to what cows have put through their nose.

What possesses people to do this I have no idea, but legend has it that Albert wore one to secure himself to his thigh and keep a tight line in the trousers of the day. There’s a hell of a lot to be said for baggy pants.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Greenwich - London

Greenwich is known for its fine buildings and park that dominate the area east of the market and Greenwich Church Street. The University of Greenwich has 20,000 students, around 4,000 from overseas and has a large campus on the banks of the Thames in the home of the Old Royal Naval College.

The buildings were built by Sir Christopher Wren in the late 16th and early 17th century and form part of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site. The University took over some of the main buildings in 1999, a year after the Royal Navy stopped using the site and Trinity College of Music moved into the King Charles Court building in 2001. If you walk past Greenwich Market and through the gates at the end of College Approach you’ll hear people doing their stuff in music classes.

Greenwich must be just about the grandest university campus in London, big and imposing with columns everywhere, but nicely spread out with a large manicured lawn are in the centre. If you walk down to the riverside Canary Wharf rise’s above the trees from the other bank and if you go further down the bank towards the Trafalgar Tavern you get a good look at the Millennium Dome which sits at the head of the next bend down river.

There’s no problem walking around here but if you’re taking photos try to come on a sunny day, the light will just lift the architecture in the pictures. A number of films have shot scenes around the college including Patriot Games, Lara Croft:Tomb Raider, and Four Wedding and a Funeral among others.

If you stand with your back to the river and look up towards the road, the two large buildings with domed clock towers are Queen Mary Court on the left and King Charles Court on the right, both used by the university. Looking past them over the road is the white two storey Queen’s House, part of the National Maritime Museum and located in Greenwich Park.

Greenwich Park is one of the Royal Parks and as well as being home to the Maritime Museum it also includes the Royal Observatory and the Greenwich Meridian Line. Once you go past the Museum there’s a large open grass area that’s criss-crossed by paths that leads up the hill to where the Observatory is. It’s one of those places that have always been occupied because its the only hill overlooking the Thames on its eastern approach and if you’re in Greenwich you have to walk up for the views and to get your picture taken with everything in the background.

The park looks pretty popular with joggers and runners and the inclines of the hill would give a good workout, ther’s also enough space to stay clear of groups of tourists. Greenwich Park is open from 6am-dusk year round.

At the top of the hill leading away from the Observatory is Blackheath Avenue, a long straight treelined road and a little way along on the left is The Pavilion Tea House, a cafe that has a large outdoor seating area and is open from 9am-8pm in the summer, 9am-4pm in the winter and they do serve alcohol.

The main road leading back down the hill and out of the park is King William Avenue and it comes out to the left of the museum. Right near here is Greenwich Theatre which has a changing schedule of productions.

If you’re in London for a visit spending a day in Greenwich is well worth your time, its more relaxed than central London with a less frantic pace. There’s a lot of good things to see, the Maritime Museum, the Observatory, the Naval College are all free and the town’s compact enough that you aren’t going to get tired walking around it.

Holland Park - London Parks - London

Holland Park is the largest park in London’s wealthiest borough, Kensington and Chelsea. It’s not huge, 54 acres, but has a very rustic, woodland feel that makes it seem a lot bigger than it is when you’re walking around it. All the trees and thick foliage help cut out of traffic noise and disguise you’re in a busy part of west London.

It’s bordered on its east by Kensington Palace (Princess Di’s old pad), trendy Notting Hill on the north and Kensington High Street on the south and all over this area are four and five storey Victorian townhouses that provide a great location for sections of London’s weathly to live. If I had the money I’d love to buy a place around here.

You can tell the park attracts a different type person because the dogs even have their own designated pooping area. Whether a dog thinks to itself ‘I hope she hurry’s up and gets to the dog toilet area quick, I’m dying for a shit’ when its being walking around the other end of the park I don’t know, but its a nice idea.

One thing that struck me walking around there the other day was the number of Russian voices I heard, it seemed like every other person was speaking it, they definitely are the new money in Britain at the moment.

There are a lot of different areas to Holland Park, on the north side its mainly woodland with a number of paths and tracks to walk down. These are mainly stony, uneven paths which with all the autumn leaves and moisture on them can be a bit slippery, so be careful if you go for a jog.

There’s a pond called Lord Holland’s Pond in this northern part with a statue of a seated Lord Holland in the middle. A lot of wildlife are attracted here, foxes, a couple of types of bat, over 30 species of bird and there are even some great looking blue, green and yellow coloured peacocks running around. The squirrel’s here are very tame and almost run up your leg looking for something to eat.

Holland Park has a Japanese garden called the Kyoto Garden, that was built by the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce to signify friendship between Japan and the UK and was opened by Prince Charles in 1991. The centre piece is a waterfall and pond but the water at the moment looks like it could use a good clean, there’s a thin grey film all over the surface which can’t be good for the fish in there.

The old Holland House in the centre of the park is not what it was a 100 years ago and is used as a youth hostel. Around the house are large formal garden’s with low clipped box hedges and plenty of park benches that provide lots of quiet places to sit. Next to here are a restaurant and outdoor cafe, the house’s old orangery (a type of greenhouse) being converted, there’s also an ecology centre.

Holland Park is known for its summer outdoor theatre and opera performances in the grounds of the old house. There’s a busy and varied programme of shows from early June to the middle of August. They do erect a large canopy to cover the stage and auditorium.

The southern section of the park is more open with tennis courts and a large cricket/sports pitch. There’s also a good size children’s play area but that’s more towards the eastern side.
Holland Park’s a nice, peaceful place to come for a walk or a quiet sit down, maybe if you need a break from all the shopping on Kensington High Street. The entrance there is right next to the Commonwealth Institute building, which looks like its in disrepair and no longer in use.

The nearest tubes are Holland Park on the north side and High Street Kensington on the south.

Hampstead Heath - London

Hampstead Heath is 3 sq miles of woodland, grassland, ponds and hills bordered by Hampstead village on the west, Highgate to the north and Gospel Oak in the south.

Most of it is in the London Borough of Camden but it’s administered by the Corporation of London.

Entering the Heath from Hampstead village it seems more like natural countryside than some of the big London parks. There are a lot of trails through densely wooden, fairly dark areas and though some of the paths are man-made, they’re quite stony and uneven.

There are many people jogging around the Heath but the western side makes running a bit more of a trail run and at this time of the year the falling leaves and damp ground mean you need to watch your step.

Hampstead Heath is famous for its views over London and Parliament Hill is one of the highest points in London. You can get a good view of London taking in the Post Office Tower and London Eye, the area around St Paul’s, on along to Canary Wharf and up into Islington, you get a great view of the Emirates Stadium. This is the place where you need a wide angle lens.

Besides joggers the Heath is very popular with dog walkers and family’s with young children, not surprising as its surrounded on all sides by expensive houses. At the bottom of Parliament Hill is the Parliament Hill Fields Atheltic Track, a modern running track and a little way on from that a bandstand, cafeteria, tennis courts and bowling green. Details on all the sports available can be downloaded from the City of London website.

Hampstead Heath has around 10 ponds spread around it, some for swimming or fishing in. The majority are on the eastern side of the Heath following the line of Millfield Lane. There are three ponds where swimming is allowed, one for males only, one for females only and one mixed. I can’t see what the difference makes having separate ponds when the rest of the world is free to watch.

If you carry on walking along by the ponds on the eastern part of the Heath eventually the track will lead through a low fenced area, this is into the grounds of Kenwood House and if you’re visiting Hampstead Heath make sure you go and have a look at Kenwood House.

It’s set in a beautiful spot on top of a slope on the north side of the Heath. Kenwood House and its grounds are looked after by English Heritage rather than the Corporation of London and the landscape is a bit more manicured. There’s a lake at the bottom of the slope and a large grassy area running up to the house which was built in 1764.

It was left to the nation by Edward Guinness of the brewing family on his death in 1927 and contains his collection of Old Master paintings including ones by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Reynolds and Gainsborough. The House has a stunning looking libary.

It’s free to enter and is open 11am-5pm summer, 11am-4pm winter. On the right hand side of the house is a large courtyard eating area with plenty of tables and the Brew House Cafe which is open all year and serves breakfast.

Follow the path with the avenue of trees from the house and on the left you’ll see a large two piece sculpture by Henry Moore, not really sure what it is or what its meant to be saying but its a feature.

Kenwood House is definitely worth going to even if you don’t go in, its very nice walk around that part of Hampstaed Heath.

Regent’s Park - London Parks - London

Regent’s Park is a large, 410 acre, open park about 1.5 miles northwest of Trafalgar Square. It’s around a fifteen minute walk from Oxford Circus, just head north up Regent Street until it becomes Portland Place, walk round past the famous John Nash designed terraces in Park Crescent and you’ll be at the park’s southern entrance. Part of Regent’s aprk is in the borough of Westminster and part in the borough of Camden.

The park was originally another one of Henry VIII’s exclusive hunting areas and it only became enclosed as a park in 1812 when the then Prince Regent commisioned John Nash to design and landscape the whole area.

His plan included the beautiful terraces that surround the park, a lake and canal, villas and a summer palace for the Prince Regent that was never built. Regent’s Street was the route built to link St James’s Palace and the palace planned for Regent’s Park.

One of the villas designed by Nash that was completed is The Holme which looks out over the southern end of the boating lake. Someone out there must be kicking themselves because a few years ago it sold for £5million, now with the rampant property inflation in the UK its market value is £101million. It’s currently owned by Prince Khaled Al-Waleed , whose uncle is the King of Saudi Arabia, and he apparently spends about two weeks a year there.

Inside the park there is an outer ring road called the Outer Circle that goes the whole way around the outside and an inner, much smaller ring road called the Inner Circle, in the southern part of the park.
The Inner Circle surrounds Queen Mary’s Garden’s which is a large set of gardens with formal planting, tree lined walks, fountains and hedges and plenty of secluded areas if you want to sit and read or eat some lunch. The Inner Circle gets very little traffic and because the gardens are a distance from any main road its very quiet and peaceful in there.

Regent’s Park is known for its rose gardens and they have over 30,000 plants from 400 different varieties

As you walk into Queen Mary’s gardens from the western side there’s a restaurant called The Garden Cafe that is open from 10am-9pm in summer and 10am-4pm in winter.

On the west side of Queen Mary’s garden is Regent’s Park’s open air theatre, first opened in 1932 and home to the the UK’s oldest fully professional theatre company. The open air theatre is famous for its productions of Shakespeare plays especially its annual A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but they also put on musicals and children’s plays and in recent years have been holding Sunday evening concerts that have featured the Finn brothers from Crowded House, KT Tunstall and Ronan Keating amongst others.

The theatre seats 1200 and their season runs from May to early September. Ticket prices vary with the event that’s on, Sunday night concerts were around £18, Shakespeare plays anywhere between £10-30 depending on where you’re sitting.

The theatre grounds open up 90 minutes before performances start and you can bring picnics with you if you want or they have a barbecue and buffet and what they say is one of the longest theatre bars in London. You can take drinks into the auditorium and the bar stays open until midnight. A nice way to spend a summer evening.

On the west side of Regent’s Park is one of its main features, the boating lake. It’s in a curving Y shape and has a number of islands that are ideal for its large waterfowl population.

If you walk along the west bank of the lake you’ll come to The Boathouse, a restaurant with a large outdoor terrace that’s open 9am-8pm in summer, 10am-4pm in winter and a place where you can rent out rowing boats. Prices are £6.30 adults and £4.25 children per person, per hour. Kids can get pedaloes for £3 for 20 minutes. Boats are rented from 10.30-5pm.

There are a lot of mature trees around the top part of the lake including willows and the shape of the lake and the way its been landscaped create’s quite a few secluded spots. Just on the edge of the park opposite the top of the lake is the London Central Mosque which was opened in 1978 and can hold up to 1,800 people, they certainly picked a nice part of London when they decided to build it.

The east side of Regents Park has lots of woodland and mature trees but the park’s also well known for its sports pitches and the area north of the lake is full of football, rugby,hockey and it’s used by local schools a lot during the week. The park is also the home of the London Softball League the UK’s largest, and they have 19 pitches marked out on weekday evenings in the summer.

There’s a new centre and restaurant called The Hub on the edge of the sports fields. It includes new changing facilities and a restaurant with a 360 degree view, the centre’s open 7 days a week from 9.00 - 18.30 and the restaurant all week from 10am-5pm.

Not far from the Hub is a tennis and golf practice centre and you can turn up and play for both or take lessons as coaching is available for both the tennis and golf.
With prime residential areas of London like Primrose Hill just on the edges of the park its no surprise its a really popular place for joggers and runners to do their stuff and on a sunny day its a great park to go round walking or running.

Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens - London Parks - London

Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens were originally part of one park and at 625 acres combined are one of the largest green spaces in central London. They’re located in between the most fashionable and wealthiest parts of the city, with the eastern side bordered by Park Lane and Mayfair, the south by Knightsbridge and the north and west by Bayswater, Notting Hill and Kensington.

Henry VIII seized the land from the church in 1536 to use as a royal park for deer hunting but he kept it for his private use and it wasn’t until 1637 that Charles 1 opened the park for public use. Hyde-park18.jpg
In 1690 William III created the first road in England to be lit at night when he had 300 oil lamps installed on Rotten Row to make his journey between Kensington and St James’s Palace’s safer.

One of the major landscaping changes to the park took place in 1730 when George II’s wife, Queen Caroline, had the flow of the Westbourne River dammed to create The Serpentine, an 11.3 hectare lake that curve’s through the parks, separating the two.

Hyde Park has always been a place used for major events in London. In its early days duels were fought and horseracing took place there, it was the site of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and in the last hundred years it’s been used for concerts and political demonstrations. The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Who and Queen all played major gigs in the park in the 60’s and 70’s and recently it staged Live 8 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers while hundreds of thousands turned up for a Stop the War march in 2003.

Today Hyde Park consists of a mixture of tree lined walks, open grass or mixed wooded areas, paths set aside for cycling, roller blading and running, bridle ways for horse riding and the Serpentine lake.
If you approach the park from Hyde Park Corner you can go through the Grand Entrance, built in the 1820’s, a long columned entrance with three carriage and two walking gates. Once inside the park you’ll be at the area where Carriage Drive, Rotten Row, Serpentine Road and Broad Walk converge.

Walking north from here there’s a large statue of a warrior, dedicated to the Duke of Wellington, on the right hand side then Broad Walk leads off in the direction of Marble Arch and Speaker’s Corner. Along this eastern side of the park paths criss-cross each other and there are a lot of mature tree’s providing shade. At the top right hand corner of Hyde Park is Speaker’s Corner where under a law of 1872 it is legal to gather a crowd and address them on any subject without any legal repercussions. The only two subjects not allowed are the Royal Family and overthrowing the state.

Hyde-park2.jpgIn its time Marx, Lenin and George Orwell among others have been down to Speaker’s Corner, get along on Sunday’s to hear people get off their chest’s what ever’s bothering them.

Looking out on the park from the Marble Arch side the trees give way to a large expanse of open grass and paths, although some young trees have been planted.

If you walk west from the Hyde Park Corner entrance along Serpentine Road you’ll pass the bandstand on the right and some garden’s on your left where winter planting was taking place this week. This is really one of the few parts of Hyde Park with some formal planting.

A little further on and you’ll reach the Serpentine, a pancake flat expanse of water that looks fairly shallow from the edge but is deep enough for pleasure boating. In the eastern corner of the Serpentine is a restaurant called the Dell with an interesting batwing shaped roof and high glass walls. There’s plenty of seating on an outside terrace in front and there’s a large area on its left with wooden tables and benches providing a good view of the lake. The Dell is open 9am-8pm in summer and 10am-4pm in winter and they do sell alcohol.hydepark12.jpg

The Serpentine seems very calm, the ideal place to get in a boat and go for a row on the water
and a few hundred yards along the lakeside from the Dell is a boathouse where you can rent out rowing boats, pedal boats or take a ride on a solar powered glass boat.

Prices for rowing and pedal boats are £4 per half hour/£6 per hour for adults, £1.50 per half hour for kids or £9.99 for two adults and two kids for 30 minutes, £14.99 for an hour, life jackets are provided. Rowing lessons are available if you need them.

The SolarShuttle is a pontoon like boat with a curved roof made of 27 glass mudules that collect the sun’s enegry and power the boat. It takes up to 40 people on a winding tour of the lake starting at the boathouse and finishing at the Lido on the other side. Tickets cost £3 for adults and £1.50 for children and it runs from 10am-6pm in summer and 10am-5pm in winter.

The area around the lakeside has fairly wide paths and along with all the other trails through the park this is a particularly popular place for joggers especially at lunchtimes during the working week and you’ll see hundreds of runners working up a good sweat during their lunch breaks.
Hydepark11.jpgHyde Park and Kensington Gardens together are a runners paradise, lots of routes, spacious paths, a flatish terrain that has enough inclines to make you work, lots of shade in summer and cafe’s and refreshment stands around the park if you need to get a drink, plus the scenery is very nice.

The Serpentine attracts a lot of bird life and you’ll see ducks, swans, greyleg and Canada geese, cormorants, heron’s and gulls among other’s around the edge’s of the lake.
The birds and water fowl in the park are obviously getting well fed by visitors, they’re so used to people that you almost tread on some of before they’ll move out of your path.
There are enough sheltered parts around the lake to provide a breeding area for the birds, similar to St James’s Park.

On the 10 November park staff are conducting a guided walk of the park called Autumn in Hyde Park looking at how autumn effects the animals and plants, its from 1-2.30pm and places need to be booked in advance by contacting the address on their website.

The bridge that crosses the Serpentine was built in the 1820s by John Rennie and marks the point where Kensington Gardens begins the stretch of water on the western side of the bridge is known as Long Water.The bridge allows a road called West Carriage Drive to go from the north side of the park near Lancaster Gate to the south coming out on Kensington Gore.

On the other side of the lake to the boathouse is the Serpentine Lido, a roped off area for outdoor swimming with changing facilities. Its open to the public daily from June-September. The Lido Cafe is a long single storey building with a clock tower that is open from 9am-9pm in the summer, 10am-4pm in the winter. They have outdoor seating and they serve alcohol.

A short walk from the Lido Cafe is the Princess Diana Memorial which was opened by the Queen in 2004. Its a long, flat circular water fountain set on a gentle slope and the water flows in two directions down hill before meeting in a pool at the bottom.

It’s made from 545 pieces of Cornish granite and you’re allowed to sit on it or paddle your feet in the water. I have to say seeing it for the first time its pretty uninspiring, it’s flatness and the fact there’s just grass in the middle means it doesn’t grab your attention.
It needs some mature trees in the centre area to set it off and make you want to walk around the back to see what’s there. They spent a lot of money designing and building this fountain but for me it doesn’t work.

It’s open from 10am to around dusk nearly all year, there’s a regular maintenance programme and in 2006 that’s from October 30 to November 14.

If you walk west from the Diana Memorial and across West Carriage Drive into Kensington Gardens you will pass on the left the Serpentine Gallery, a 1934 tea pavillion that was opened in 1970 as a gallery for modern and contemporary art. Its open daily from 10am-6pm and admission is free.

Kensington Gardens is similar to the Hyde Park side with its long, straight, criss-crossing paths with avenues of tall shady trees. At its western side towards Kensington Palace is a circular pond called the Round Pond, dug in the 18th century. There’s no boating on this pond unless its the model boat variety and the area is quite open and featureless.

Walking across Kensington Gardens from the Round Pond towards Lancaster Gate you’ll see a tall obelisk made from red Scottish granite, first erected in 1866 in honour of the explorer John Hanning Speke who died aged 37 two years before.
Speke along with Sir Richard Burton were the first Europeans to find Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. Speke also found and christened Lake Victoria after being told about it by locals and controversially claimed to have found the source of the Nile. It was, but Speke hadn’t traced it the whole way and was guessing.

A little way form the Speke obelisk, next to Long Water is a small statue that Kensington Gardens is well known for, a bronze of novelist JM Barrie’s character Peter Pan standing on a pedestal.

In 1906 the book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was published. Scenes from the 2004 film Finding Neverland starring Johnny Depp were also filmed in Kensington Gardens.

Continue down the lakeside and you’ll come to the Italian Fountains, commissioned by Queen Victoria, four large ponds, two abreast with a fifth smaller pond in the middle each with a fountain. At one end is a pavilion with three arches on each side and a square tower about 20ft on its roof. At the other end of this railed water garden, water comes from spouts in the wall into the Serpentine.

Kensington Gardens are open from 6am-dusk year round and Hyde Park is open from 5am-midnight year round. Both offer free walking tours throughout the year, upcoming for Kensington Gardens are 19th Century Pioneers on the 23 November, explaining the lives of people who have statues and memorials in the park and on the 14 December Christmas Through The Ages.

Hyde Park has Cancer Research UK - Stride for Life on 29 October a sponsored 5km walk for cancer research, Autumn in Hyde Park on 10 November, Christmas Through The Ages on 8 December and London’s Fair from 21 December-7 January.

Green Park - London Parks - London

Green Park is like a sister park to St James’s, the two are just a short walk across the Mall apart, but Green Park is very different in layout. Its triangular shaped, bordered by Constitution Hill, Piccadilly and Queens Walk. It’s basically 47 acres of undulating grass with a lots of mature trees, mostly London Plane and Lime’s, many of them planted in long avenues.

It’s criss crossed by paths which makes it a great place to going jogging, the slight inclines and lengths of paths should provide a good workout and it is ideal for anyone staying in a hotel in the area behind Piccadilly.

There are pretty much no planted areas or flower beds in the park and only a small raised angular water feature down near the Queen Victoria gates side of the park.

The park is a popular place for office workers to come and have a relaxing lunch hour in summertime, there’s plenty of shade if its hot and deckchairs available near the Green Park tube entrance. Prices are £1.50 for 2 hour’s and £2 for 4 hour’s. Toilets are also in that part of the park.

Apparently Green Park used to be a popular 18th Century duelling location, unfortunately shootings in London today are more of the random, drive by variety.

Green Park is open from 5am-midnight.

St James’s Park - London Parks - London

St James’s Park is the oldest Royal Park in London and occupies 58 acres of prime land right in the centre of the city. It runs from the edge of Horse Guards Parade and the Foreign Office buildings west to Buckingham Palace, bordered on its north side by The Mall and Birdcage Walk on the south.

If you’ve had a hard day’s sightseeing around the Westminster and Buckingham Palace area St James’s Park offers a very tranquil and peaceful place to take a break in, traffic noise isn’t to apparent and The Mall is closed to traffic on Sundays. It has a lake running its length and a bridge crossing the middle offers good photo oppurtunites looking back towards Buckingham Palace or Horse Guards.

The park attracts a lot of bird life that breed’s in the park including Tawny Owls. Around the lake you’ll see lots of geese and ducks that are so used to being fed by visitors they’re almost demanding it. The lake has a couple of nesting sites for 15 differnet types of water bird.
There are some huge Great White Pelicans that are extremely tame and not bothered at all by the presence of people.

The park seems popular with joggers although I imagine at the height of summer the number of people walking on the paths might make Green Park a better bet to run in. Benches are spread all along the paths in the park if you need to take a load off, alternatively deckchairs are available from spring to autumn, weather permitting.

There’s an interesting looking restaurant called Inn The Park that opened in 2004 on the north side of the lake towards the Horses Guards end. A curved timber building with a turf roof and views over the lake, Inn The Park is open from 8am-10pm Mon-Fri and 9am-10pm Sat-Sun for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the menu looks good but not cheap.
You can take a number of guided walks around St James’s Park reflectin the time of the year. Up coming walks include Slavery and freedom on October 25th and Gunpowder,treason and plot on November 4th, the day before Guy Fawkes Day. For any walk at the park you need to call 0207-930-1793 mon-fri 8am-4pm to reserve a place.

St James’s Park has a play area for smaller children and toilet facilities for disabled visitors, the park is open from 5am-midnight all year round. St James’s Park, Charing Cross and Green Park are the nearest tube stations.

Florence Nightingale Museum - London Museums - London

Florence Nightingale is one of the most famous figures of Victorian Britain and renowned as one of the pioneers of modern nursing. There’s a museum to her life and work near St Thomas’s Hospital in Westminster, she had founded the first school of nursing in Britain at the old St Thomas’s Hospital in Southwark in 1860.

Florence Nightingale was born to a wealthy English family in Florence, Italy in 1820. She decided to go into nursing in her mid-20s against the wishes of her family, going on to train in Germany. She came to prominence during the Crimean War between Russia and the Alliance of Britain, France and Turkey. Conditions for wounded soldiers were horrendous and Nightingale along with 38 volunteer nurses she’d trained went out to Turkey to try and improve the care and treatment of the wounded.

Reports of her work in the British press built up the legend of the Lady with the Lamp watching over the sick. After the war she continued her work training nurses from many countries and also did a lot of work on hospital planning. When she died in 1910 her family declined the offer of a burial in Westminster Abbey.

The Florence Nightingale Museum includes items she owned or used, military, hospital and nursing items from the Crimean War, objects connected with her nursing school and St Thomas’s from the 19th century, over 60 of her letters, pictures and images of her, the Crimean War, the nursing school and the hospital in her day, and 53 originals of the 200 books she wrote.

The museum is open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4.30pm, admission is £5.80. Its located at St Thomas’ Hospital, 2 Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7EW (Map) just across Westminster Bridge from Big Ben.

HMS Belfast London - London

HMS Belfast is the former Royal Navy cruiser that is now a permanent floating museum along the banks of the River Thames, just west of Tower Bridge near to London’s City Hall building. This week the ship is holding Warship Week onboard with a daily programme of events designed to show what life was like for the crew and what the Belfast did on active service.

HMS Belfast was launched in 1938 and had a number of roles during the Second World War including escorting arctic convoys, being involved in the sinking of the German battleship Sharnhorst and taking part in the D-Day landings and invasion of France. HMS Belfast opened up on German positions at dawn on D-Day and continued shelling German positions in Normandy for five weeks solid. She supported UN forces during the Korean War and was hit with North Korean shells in 1952. The Belfast was brought to London and open as a public museum in 1971.

Among the activities this week they’ll be a number of re-enactments including the 4? gun drill, Captain’s defaulters and the Rum Ration Issue in the Artic Messdecks. They’ll be a Damage Control display, a Gunnery Control Display and the Naval Wargames Society will be staging a wargame based on the events of 9 July 1940. Below is the daily schedule of Warship Week from 26 May-3 June.

11am 4? Gun Drill Gun Deck
12 noon Up Spirits Arctic Messdeck
1pm Family Activities & D-Day News Reels Educational Suite
1.30pm 4? Gun Drill Boatdeck
2pm Family Activities & D-Day News Reels Educational Suite
2.30pm Damage Control 3H
4pm Captain’s Defaulters
Naval Wargames Society staged Wargame based on Events of 9 July 1940 SCDH

HMS Belfast is open from 10am-6pm daily, admission is £9.95 adults, under 16s free. The ship is moored on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. London Bridge is the nearest Tube.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum - London Museums - London

The home of Sherlock Holmes, Britain’s most famous detective, was 221b Baker Street and there’s a museum there were you can see how the great man lived and worked.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional consulting detective was meant to have lived at the address between 1881-1904 and there’s a blue plaque on the wall outside to prove it.

The museum’s at the very north end of Baker Street close to the boating entrance to Regent’s Park. If you come out of Baker Street tube and turn right, its at the top left hand side as you walk up Baker Street. It’s part of a terrace of houses that have had the bottom floors converted to shops, you’ll spot it because there are always people outside having their picture taken in front of the black 221b front door.

The ground floor of the museum is a shop selling just about anything Holmes related or anything they can put his name or profile on, so if you feel you’d look good with a pipe and a deerstalker hat this is where to get them. You can get all the books and stories here as well, even a keyring saying ‘No Shit Sherlock’ (just making that up) and when you enter there’s a young girl dressed up as Holmes’s housekeeper Mrs Hudson.

The museum itself is on the upper floors and you have to get a ticket from the cash desk at the back of the shop, a hefty £6. On the first floor is Sherlock Holmes’s study, fitted out as it would have looked in Victorian London, with his desk, armchairs, fireplace and dining table.

On the second floor are the bedrooms of Mrs Hudson and Dr Watson with displays of personal possessions and on the third floor are exhibit rooms with waxwork models of figures from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

If you’re a Holmes fan its probably worth paying to go in the museum, otherwise if you happen to be in Regents Park or at Madame Tussaud’s it’s only a short walk to 221b Baker Street to get yor picture taken outside.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum is open every day except Christmas Day from 9.30am-6pm, tickets are £6 adults, £4 children, the shops on the ground floor and you can go in there for nothing. The nearest tube is Baker Street.

The Wellcome Collection - London

London’s newest museum, The Wellcome Collection, was opened on 20 June by Nobel Prize winner Professor James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. Located on the Euston Road close to Euston Station, The Wellcome Collection houses the personal collection of the late American/British pharmacist, entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Henry Wellcome who was passionate about medicine and its history, and who collected one million items he in his lifteime covering those subjects along with science and art.

Wellcome was born in Wisconsin in 1853 and set up a pharmaceutical company that introduced medicine in tablet form to Britain a few years later and went on to establish world class medical research laboratories and set about buidling his collection of medicine and health through the ages.

The building on the Euston Road houses three exhibitions, the world-famous Wellcome Library, a cafe, bookshop and a conference centre, and among the eclectic items on show are a lock of George III’s hair, Nelson’s Razor, Napoleon’s toothbrush, Darwin’s walking stick, Florence Nightingale’s moccasins and the guillotine blade used to execute Jean-Baptiste Carrier. You can also see early x-ray images, stethoscopes and enema syringes, 19th century sex aids, a Chinese torture chair, a scold’s bridle, a iron chastity belt, a 14th-century Peruvian Mummy and 19th-century amputation saws among many other things.

Artists whose work is on show include Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol, Antony Gormley, Marc Quinn, John Isaacs, Christine Borland and Martin Parr. The three current exhibitions are Medicine Man, Medicine Now and The Heart and new events from talks and discussions to live performances will be happening every week.

The Wellcome Collection is open daily from 10am-6pm (Thurs 10am-10pm, Sun 11am-6pm) and admission is free. The galleries are closed on Mondays. Its located at 183 Euston Road diagonally across the road from Euston Station. If you’re visiting the British Library its only a couple of blocks from the Wellcome Collection.

Royal Observatory Greenwich - London

If you’ve stood on the Equator and jumped back and forth the next thing is to stand on zero degree’s longitude and do the same and if you go to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich they’ve got the official line on the courtyard floor inside the gates.

The Royal Observatory is at the top of the hill in Greenwich Park and its location gives some of the best views over the east part of London. The Observatory opened in 1675 and was the first purpose built scientific building in Britain.

Today its a museum with a big collection of astronomical and navigational tools, telescopes and clocks covering about the last 400 years and they also have some excellant display’s showing how to navigate using stars, how to work out your longitude and latitude using some of this old equipment.

They’re undergoing a £15million redevelopment at the moment so there’s scaffolding around some of the Observatory buildings and a few parts might be closed. The main Royal Observatory building is ahead of you when you reach the top of the hill and the Meridian Line is just through the gate on the right. Its free to enter but they do make you go and get a free ticket from the ticket window of the main building, not sure why they do this but there are boxes asking for donations to help pay for the renovations scattered about.

Once who’ve had your picture taken on the GMT line walk across into the brick building with the black door, Flamsteed House, named after John Flamsteed the first English Astronomer Royal. The house contains recreations of how Flamsteed lived in the house, the working conditions and the types of basic equipment they had to use at the time, the exhibition covers all floors of the building.

There are also some of the clocks John Harrison made back in the 18th century to try to gives ships an accurate ‘home time’ so they could work out their longitude. There’s a great little book by American Dava Sobel called Longitude, that came out about ten years ago telling the story of how they tried to solve the problem.

If you follow the story through Flamsteed House it brings you out of a side entrance and its a short walk over to the main building where they have displays of giant old sextants and telescopes.

There was actually a movie being filmed in the park today and all the film production trucks and catering area were right next to the Observatory so it was fairly busy around there. I saw them bringing back a car on a low trailer that had the cameras attached to the doors and in front.
Didn’t recognise who was in the car but there was a guy standing around the edges chatting to someone and he looked a dead ringer for Peter Jackson, the New Zealand guy who did Lord of the Rings. It didn’t look like a Hollywood scale picture so unless he’s having to go down market since King King I’d have to think it probably wasn’t him. Either way it was a nice autumnal day for filming.

The Royal Observatory is open seven days a week from 10am-5pm, its closed 24-26 December. The easiest way to get there is the Docklands Light Railway to Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich station or take a river boat to Greenwich then just follow the signs from either it’s about a five minute walk to the park and a five or ten minute one to the top of the hill. Make sure you bring a camera because there are great photo ops with Canary Wharf and the Dome in the background.

The Imperial War Museum - London Museums - London

The Imperial War Museum might not be the most popular attraction in London but its one that’s well worth going to and even though its on the south side of the Thames is easy to get to.
Its in the building of what used to be the Bethlehem Royal Hospital for the Insane (they moved all the occupants into the Houses of Parliament) in Lambeth and is only about a 10 minute walk from County Hall and the London Eye.

If you’re walking over Westminster Bridge, carry on straight at the big roundabout down Westminster Bridge Road. You’ll see a large church spire, Christ Church, where the road forks, take the right fork down Kennington Road and a left on Lambeth Road and you’ll see the grounds of the museum with a set of absolutely enormous guns from a battleship set in front of the old hospital building. If you’re coming by tube Lambeth North is the station to get off at, its at the junction of Westminster Bridge and Kennington Roads.

The Imperial War Museum was first set up to preserve and display items from the First World war involving British and Commonwealth forces and it moved to the current location in 1936. It now features collections and displays from all military operations that have involved British or Commonwealth forces from 1914 to the present day.

The museum is free to enter although for some selected special exhibitions there might be a admission charge. Immediately inside the front doors is a large hall filled with real military hardware from the last hundred years. Real tanks, artillery pieces and cannons, from the high ceilings they’ve hung fighter planes from World War’s 1 and 2 including bi-planes, a Spitfire and the jet fighter that the Germans had developed and started using just as the Second World War was ending. Also on display are captured examples of the V1 and V2 rockets that Germans used to bomb London in 1945 and a Polaris nuclear missile from a British submarine.

The museum is on a number of levels with galleries in the basement as well as three upper floors. As you go up each level the are balconies all the way around the main hall allowing you to get a real close look and photograph some of the aircraft they have on display.

The museum has a large number of permanent galleries including ones on the First World War and Second World War which use everything from weapons, uniforms, documents , photos, film and art to tell the story on these conflicts.

Their outstanding Holocaust Exhibition is permanent and is spread over a number of levels, telling the story of the rise of Hitler and the Nazis and how they planned and carried out the Final Solution. This exhibition is really well put together and worth spending some time in if you’re in the museum, they recommend you don’t take younger children in though and photography is not allowed inside it.

Among the special exhibitions on at the moment are The Animals’ War looking at how animals get used in conflicts. This runs until April 2007 and costs £6 for adults. Henry Moore: War and Utility is a collection of British artist Henry Moore’s war related work, this is on until Feruary 2007 and costs £7 for adults. The Children’s War is the Second World War from a child in Britain’s perspective, evacuation, air raids, lack of food etc. It’s running until March 2008 and is free.

The Imperial War Museum is open daily from 10am-6pm, its closed 24-26 December. Its quite spacious and easy to get around and if you’re looking for an interesting place to visit for free in central London cross over to the south bank around Westminster and you’ll soon be here.

National Maritime Museum - London Museums - London

The National Maritime Museum is one of the best in London in my opinion and the good thing is it doesn’t seem to get as crowded as some of the main central London one’s, probably due to it being a few miles down river from the really busy tourist areas.

Its located on Romney Road, Greenwich and is impossible to miss as its set back in the spacious grounds of Greenwich Park. If you’re coming from Greenwich Pier or the DLR look for a Tex-Mex restaurant called Cafe Sol on the corner of Nelson Road and Greenwich Church Street. Nelson Road leads into Romney Road and the Maritime Museum is a little way along on the right.

Through some black railings you’ll see three large impressive buildings separated by two long colonnaded walkways. The main museum building is on the right, the one with the Harrier jump jet parked in front, the second building is the Queen’s House.

It’s free to go in the museum although you have to get a ticket at the desk about 15 yards inside the main door, they’ll also give you a handy little pocket plan that not only covers the museum but has floor plans and information on the Queen’s House and Royal Observatory.

The National Maritime Museum opened in 1937 and has a collection of over 2million items that chronicle Britain’s seafaring history. They have excellent displays covering Britain’s role in exploration, warfare, trade and the slave trade amongest others and the collection’s have original uniforms, clothes, weapons, charts, maps, timekeeping and navigational items and more from hundreds of years ago right up to modern diving and ocean exploration equipment.

There’s been a clever redevelopment of the inside of the main hall. Looking from the front the original stone building has three main parts with two recessed areas, each side of the main entrance. They’ve added a glass ceiling and glass walls so that now what used to be an exterior wall is on the interior and this gives them a huge display area on two levels.
They’ve put some of the bigger items here, a wave making machine that kids like, large propeller’s off of ocean going ships and a fantastic looking Royal barge from the 18th century.

The main building has exhibits on three levels and a cafe and a coffee bar on the second floor and its a spacious and easy place to get around. They don’t allow photography inside and it’s one of the most well staffed museum’s I’ve seen so they’ll be someone around to tell you not to.

If you come out of the main museum and turn right, walk along to the end of the building and up to the walkway that has all the columns. If you go along to Queen’s House the next building along, they have the the National Maritime Museum’s art collection. Queen’s House was built in 1637 as a home for the wife of James I and it’s been used as an art gallery by the museum since 2001 to show its main collections.

On the 17 November Queen’s House opens up a new exhibition that will run to next September called Art for the Nation using 200 of their most important paintings.

The museum and Queen’s House are open from 10am-6pm in summer, 10am-5pm in winter, both are closed 24-26 December. They’re well worth a visit and the location and other places in the Greenwich area make it a nice place to spend a day.

Museum in Docklands - London Museums - London

One of the best museum’s in London that I’ve seen is one of its newest and probably least well known. The Museum in Docklands is an offshoot of the Museum of London and only opened in 2003 in converted sugar warehouses in West India Quay.

It tells the story of London in relation to the River Thames. Why people first settled along the river and where, how invaders such as the Romans, Vikings, Danes, the Angles and Saxons and the Normans changed London and impacted on the people and what was their legacy.

To get to the museum its easiest to get off the Dockland’s Light Railway at West India Quay, walk past the Marriot Hotel to the end of the long brick building with the outside bars and restaurants and you’ll see the museum with two big river buoy’s in front of it.

The museum’s on three levels and the friendly staff will tell you to start on the 3rd floor and work your way down. Entrance to the Museum in Docklands costs £5(free under 16’s), which is different to its parent Museum of London or some of the other big ones around town which are free but it’s worth paying to go in and the ticket is valid for a year so you can get value for money.

On the third floor you’ll start in a gallery called Thames Highway which looks at London as a port from AD43 when the Romans were running the show to 1600. Other galleries on that floor include Trade Expansion 1600-1800, looking at how Britain gaining an empire made London richer and Coming of the Docks focusing on the construction of docklands.
There are lifts and stairs to the third floor including a mobility lift for wheelchair users and wheelchairs and powered scooters can be borrowed free of charge. There is also a cloakroom and set of toilets on the third floor.

The second floor galleries look at all aspects of London as a port for 200 years from 1800 onwards. There are half a dozen different sections including one called Sailor Town featuring full size recreations of the narrow streets, alleys and shops that would have greeted incoming sailors to London a 150 years or more ago.
The museum has thousands of original items to show such as the Gibbet on the right, which were hung along the riverbank and into which the bodies of executed pirates were put to rot. Captain Kidd ended up gibbeted at Tilbury in 1701.

On the ground floor are the main reception, a coffee shop, a bar and dining area and a play section for kids.
As well as the permanent exhibitions the Museum in Docklands also has regular special ones, the next of which is Journey to the New World: London 1606 to Virginia 1607, running from 23 November 2006 to 13 May 2007 and commemorating the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the first English settlement in America at Jamestown. The exhibition tells the story of the crossing and the development of Jamestown and there’s no extra charge to view this.

If it seems a little away from the normal tourist track I’d still recommend getting down to Museum in Docklands. Its got some great exhibits on the story of London and when you come out you’re in an excellent location to have a drink or go for dinner.

Museum of London - London Museums - London

The Museum of London was opened in 1976 and chronicles the history of the city from pre-historic times up until the First World War. It’s housed in an uninspiring looking 70’s, flat roofed building that is overlooked by towering glass office buildings, but inside the Museum is open, with a lot of space and is easy to get around.

The layout of the museum leads you through the story they are telling, starting in the first gallery called London before London and taking you on through Roman, Dark Age, Medieval, Tudor, 18th Century, Victorian and a few other periods in London’s development.

The exhibits from various periods feature everything from clothes, weapons, coins, paintings, maps, full scale mock-ups of buildings, furniture and original items like the French made Unic taxi on the right which was used as a London taxi from 1908 to 1922.
At the time motor cabs were thought to be better because horse drawn cabs were dumping 2000 tons of manure of the streets every day, little did they know. There are also constantly running film clips from the late 19th and early 20th century’s and some interesting photography from around the same period.

As well as their permanent exhibtions they’re are also special one’s throughout the year, the latest being Belonging: Voices of London’s Refugees which started on 27 October and runs until 25 February 2007.

It uses interviews, photographs and possessions to tell refugees stories. One from Afghanistan says ‘I thought of London as an English city. I had imagined that it would be a city that a majority or ninety percent should be white people. But, when I started to explore the city, it appeared that you can find people from all around the world here. I was surprised. It’s a cosmopolitan city. Now, I think that fifty per cent of the population of London are foreigners.’ He’s probably right.

The Museum of London is at the corner of Aldersgate Street and London Wall, the site of the defensive wall built by the Romans parts of which are in the grounds of the museum. It’s in the heart of the financial district close to the Barbican art centre.

Admission is free and its open Mon to Sat: 10am-5.50pm, Sun: 12pm-5.50pm and closed closed 24-26 December and 1 January. It seems quite popular with school trips, there were a few groups in when I was there. The nearest tube stations are St Paul’s or Barbican.

The Science Museum - London Museums - London

The Science Museum on Exhibition Road in Kensington is one of those museum’s kids will love going to. It’s exhibits are hands on with plenty of interactivity and there’s lots of cool things that kids like on display such as real space capsules, planes, engines, technical stuff from ships and boats, things to get young minds thinking.

It became the Science Museum in 1885 taking exhibits from other museum’s and now has over 300,000 items in its collection including Stevenson’s Rocket and the first jet engine.

The museum is spread over seven floors of its huge building and has numerous galleries on each floor. Some of the highlights include Making the Modern World on the ground floor explaining how technology changed the way we live, this is where they have the Apollo 10 command module. There’s an IMAX 3D cinema on the ground floor showing a selection of movies, currently including Sharks 3D, Deep Sea 3D and Space Station 3D.

The second floor has a gallery called Computing:A History of with examples of some of the earliest attempts at making computers, through the 50’s and 60’s up to the present. The one on the right is the last working model of a Pegasus a valve-based computer, where small glass vacuum tubes are used as electronic switches.

Flight is another popular gallery on the third floor, full of early planes and flying machines. On the fourth and fifth floors the exhibitions are focussing on medicine, medical history and psychology. Throughout the rest of the museum you’ll find galleries on topics such as weather, time, telecommunications, mathematics, marine engineering and many other’s.

On of the newest features in the Science Museum is the Wellcome Wing which is all about comtemporary science and technology and lets you go into a virtual world through sound and vision.

The Science Museum is free to enter and is open 7 days a week from 10am-6pm. It’s closed from 24-26 December. The nearset tube is South Kensington, follow the signs along the underground tunnel rather than exiting the station right at South Ken, they’ll take you under the Cromwell Road and bring you up right next to the Science Museum.

The Natural History Museum - London Museums - London

The Natural History Museum is one of the most popular in London and is the third major museum along with the V&A and Science that are close to each other in the Cromwell Road area near South Kensington.

It’s based in a magnificent, purpose built, cathedral like building that makes you feel like there’s something worth seeing inside.

The Natural History used to be part of the British Museum but in the mid 19th century their collection was growing to large and a competition was held to build a new museum to hold their natural history exhibits. The current building was opened in 1881 and it became independent of the British Museum in 1963.

The Natural History is a museum that is gets very busy during the summer and school holidays but its worth spending some time on your visit. The museum’s famous for its dinosaur skeleton’s, a 85ft long Diplodocus greet’s you after you enter and walk through the central hall, but also has a collection of 70 million items.

The museum’s divided into four zones, Red, Blue, Green and Orange. The Red Zone includes galleries focusing on the earth and the forces that have shaped it, what people take from it and its place in the universe. The Blue Zone looks at dinosaur’s, reptiles, sea life, human biology among others while in the Green Zone the galleries tell the story of fossils, minerals, birds, primates plus seven other galleries.

The Orange Zone features the Wildlife Garden and the Darwin Centre which hold’s the museum’s collection of 22 million specimens in over 400,00 jars, this collection was first started in 1753.

All the permanent exhibitions in the museum are free but they also host temporary or visiting exhibits through the year and some of these may require you purchase a ticket. Currently the Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year is on from October 21 2006- April 29 2007 and tickets for this are £6, under 5’s free.

An exhibition for the kids called Dino Jaws has been on since June and runs until April 2007. Tickets for this are £8 adults, £5 children.

The museum has three cafes and restaurants, a coffee bar and a picnic area and three shops selling books, gifts and toys. Free maps of the museum are available from the central hall information desk in a number of languages.

This Christmas the Natural History Museum is staging its Christmas Fair and installing a Skating Rink again. The skating rink and fair are in a spectacular location,especially at night, at the right side sunken area at the front of the museum. The Christmas fair and viewing platform for the skating are free, the actual skating costs £10 weekdays and £12 weekends for adults and £7.50 all week for kids.

It’s open 10am-10pm from 9 November 2006 - 21 January 2007, closed Christmas Day. Skates are included in the price of the ticket or you can bring your own. A nice way to cap a day’s visit.

The Natural History Museum is located on the Cromwell Road in Knightbridge, the nearest tube station is South Kensington

The British Museum - London Museums - London

The British Museum is one of the top visitor sites in London and it’s the oldest public museum in the world, first opening in 1753. Its located in the Bloomsbury area and is about a ten minute walk from Tottenham Court Road, Holborn or Russell Square tubes, the main entrance is on Great Russell Street, if you’re there in summer just follow the crowds.

It was originally opened to house the collections left by Hans Sloane and grew into Britain’s national museum of antiquities and also housed the national library until 1997. The current building with the Greek style facade and 44 tall columns around the outside was built in the early/mid 19th century when the collection grew to big for the previous building. The British Museum now has over 7million items from all over the world.

When you enter through the main entrance they’ll be corridors to galleries on the right and left and a large open staircase going up to the second floor but the first thing you should do is carry on walking straight to the Great Court. This is the centre piece of a £100million redevelopment at the British Museum and opened in 2000.

It does look spectacular, the famous huge circular Reading Room of the British Library has been restored, although the British Library’s national collection of books and manuscripts has been moved to the new building at Euston Road. The Reading Room is open to members of the public to use and its worth going inside just to see where Karl Marx spent years researching and writing his revolutionary ideas, where the likes of Gandhi and George Bernard Shaw also spent time and to see the amazing domed library.

A big part of the Great Court project was putting on the glass roof to make the largest covered square in Europe using over 1600 panes of shaped glass. Because the joins in the panes with a spiders web kind of pattern the first thing you want to do is stop and take a photo, the design of this court really blends different old and new styles well, at least I think so.

At ground level in the Great Court you’ll find cafeterias, shops and toilets and if you go up the steps around the Reading Room you’ll find a restaurant at the top.

The British Museum is huge, almost to big and its one of those museums you can get lost in or at least lose track of where the hell you are. Its galleries are on three levels and there are endless rooms top wander in and out of, you definitely need some kind of map or floor plan to figure out where you are and where you need to get to. They do have plenty of staff around if you do want some help though.
Its displays cover human culture through the last few thousand years and are split into regions of the world including Britain, Europe, Greece, Rome, Egypt, Africa, Americas, Japan, Asia, Islamic and others. If you were to go there I’d recommend picking out a few regions and sticking to them, because if you try to go through them all it just becomes a blur of artifacts, pottery and sculpture and you’ll barely have time to realise what you’re looking at.

The British Museum is free to enter but they do have special exhibitions that require you to buy tickets. Currently they have The Past From Above looking at the world’s greatest archaeological sites, running until 11 February 2007 and costing £5 and Power and Taboo which explores the Gods of Polynesia, running until 7 January and which is free to view. Different parts of the museum are open at various times, the Great Court is open Sun-Wed 9am-6pm, Thurs-Sat 9am-11pm. The Galleries are open Sat-Wed 10am-5.30pm, Thurs-Fri 10am-8.30pm. The museum is closed 24-26 December, 1 January and Good Friday.

London Eye - London

The British Airways London Eye, to give it its full title, has quickly become one of London’s most popular visitor attractions since it opened to the public in March 2000. It’s the world’s tallest observation wheel, 443ft(135m) high, and is located in a fantastic position on the south bank of the River Thames next to County Hall, just across Westminster Bridge from the Houses of Parliament.

For anyone looking to get great panoramic views of London, the Eye is the best option available and if you go on it on a clear day you can see for up to 25 miles. Attached to the wheel are 32 glass capsules and because they’re on the outside of the wheel the views are unobstructed. Each can carry 25 people comfortably, there’s a wooden bench in the middle to sit on but being all glass it can get a bit warm in there on a hot day.

It takes 30 minutes to do a full revolution and the ride is so smooth you don’t feel like you’re moving. The Eye doesn’t actually stop when people get on or off, its moving slowly enough to unload and load capsules without coming to a halt. When you’re on it take notice of the compass points on the capsule floor. Even though the Eye is on the south bank of the Thames the bend in that stretch of the river means that looking straight across at the opposite bank is looking directly from east to west.

The London Eye is open from 10am-8pm daily, Oct-May and from 10am-9pm, June-Sept. Walk up tickets are £13.50(adults), if you pre-book they’re a little cheaper, booking online saves 10%. The London Eye website gives the full range of adult, child and discount tickets. The ticket office is located in the County Hall building right next to the Eye which is where you also pick up the pre-booked tickets. It is worth booking ahead because the queues in summer can get quite long.

There is full disabled access and they have a fast track policy for disabled or elderly cutomers if its requested.

The London Eye is at Jubilee Gardens next to County Hall on the South Bank, the nearest tube stations are Waterloo and Westminster. Its pretty hard to miss if you’re anywhere around central London and well worth the time to visit.