Off with their heads

The White Tower, Tower of London

The White Tower, Tower of London

The weather gods were not favouring us today, our last day in London. It was gloomy and forecast to rain a lot. It’s too bad we couldn’t have switched the British Museum tickets for the Tower of London tickets and gone to the museum today. That’s the chance you take pre-booking things online. And because we had tickets, we didn’t want to waste them and there is a lot to see indoors at the Tower.

Today’s mode of transportation is the Underground since it’s quite a way to go by bus. We got there (and have I mentioned lately how many damn stairs there are in this city????) and it was raining very lightly. It was before 11 a.m. but the crowds were already thronging. It’s Easter Sunday and that’s part of the reason. The other part is that the Tower of London is one of the most popular attractions in the city. Combine the two and you have epic crowds even on a rainy day like today. I can’t imagine how bad it would have been on a sunny holiday Sunday!

Because we’d had our tickets, we didn’t have to queue up to buy them. But the queue to actually get in was tremendously long. Still, that didn’t seem to take too long. Down through the gates, stop to have my handbag checked for security and we’re in. Where to start?

Waiting to get into the Tower!

Waiting to get into the Tower!

We wandered a little, had a look at the Traitor’s Gate leading out to the Thames and took in a small display on Torture machines. We went into a gift shop to escape the rain for a bit. Graham saw a couple of little souvenirs he wanted but we didn’t linger too long as it was a little too warm and a lot too crowded. Back out into the rain and we decided to head for the central White Tower, the oldest part of the complex.

When William the Conqueror and the Normans took over England, William built an intimidating wooden palisade on this spot and it was later rebuilt in stone. It was the monarch’s residence, or one of them, for centuries. The walls we see around the tower now were added over the years subsequent to William’s reign in two concentric circles around the White Tower, with guard towers and gates at various points around. The Tower has been, in addition to the royal residence, a prison, a mint, and even a menagerie/zoo.

The Crown Jewels are currently on display in one of the other buildings in the compound and the queue for that was unbelievably long. Even though this was Graham’s first visit, he was not inclined to stand in that lineup in the rain! Even though I’ve been here before, I haven’t seen the Royal Armoury in the White Tower and we were both enthusiastic about that.

Up more stairs on the outside of the White Tower to the entrance. The armouries did not disappoint! It is chock full of armour and weapons from eras as early as the 14th century forward. There are a couple of suits of armour that belonged to Henry VIII and several other monarchs. There were displays of armour for horses and even children and a dwarf. Some of it was very intricately decorated and all of it was polished to a gleaming shine. This first room was, unfortunately, not that large and with all the displays taking so much room, it was really crowded.

Up even more stairs, now we can see the “great hall” and some old Norman fireplaces. There are more displays here, more armour and weapons and lots of information boards. I really liked the Elizabethan era armour. In one area there was a display about the Executions in the Tower and it turns out there really haven’t been that many considering how much you’ve heard about it. Most of them took place from the mid-16th century to the end of it. You only had the privilege of being executed inside the walls of the Tower in relative “privacy” if you had royal blood or were particularly important. Some people that were imprisoned here were executed outside the walls on Tower Hill.

TowerArmoury ExecutionerMask

The executioner

One of the most chilling exhibits was a case featuring a “block” with a carved out nook for your head, an axe and a black metal mask that an executioner would have worn rather than a black hood as you see in films. It might not have been something they all wear but someone obviously did and the creepy thing about it was a skewed mouth with white teeth painted on it in a horrifying grimace.

Yet even more stairs led to the top floor. There were lots of weapons here, some more modern and international items. There were also some interactive hands on displays for kids. Oh and one really neat display was a huge dragon made from various bits of armour and weaponry, with gleaming red lights for eyes! Very impressive.

At the end, you have to go back down many, many stairs in a spiral staircase. There are a few more steps up and then you’re outside and must climb down to the ground. Are we tired yet? We found our way to the chapel but it seemed to be closed and we couldn’t go in and have a look there. We stopped into Beauchamp Tower where there was graffiti carved into the walls. I didn’t see it but there is apparently some authored by Guilford Dudley, the husband of Jane the ill-fated 9 days’ Queen (the one between Edward VI and Bloody Mary I)

Tower BloodyTower 1225We also had a look into the Bloody Tower, most famous as the place where the two young princes disappeared and were likely killed during the reign of Richard III. They also had Sir Walter Raleigh’s quarters set up in the Bloody Tower as well. He was imprisoned three times, finally meeting the axe in 1618. They also had a room up a narrow winding staircase where the Princes were held. Graham went up there and said it was just an empty room. He had to go out of there onto the walls to come back down so took a few photos while he was up there.

On the ground, I spied a parade of the Beefeaters in their scarlet and gold coats coming towards the corner of the green where I was waiting for him. Looked like some sort of changing of the guard except they weren’t dressed like the military guard who was standing by the guard post by the Queen’s House. That’s a half-timbered building at one corner of the Tower compound. Shortly after that, we saw another line up of a group of veterans being inspected as well.

Brightly uniformed Beefeaters

Brightly uniformed Beefeaters

Here’s a few more of our photos of the Tower and the armoury.

By now we’d had enough of being damp and wet and chilled and decided we’d seen enough for one day. Our feet agreed. We had people to meet and a pub to go to. We made our way out the exit which is along the river and facing Tower Bridge.

The pub we are heading for is called the Doric Arch, a little pub just outside the Euston train station. You must go upstairs from the ground level, though. And the toilets are down stairs from the ground level, meaning you have two flights to go down and back up if you need the loo. *sigh* Anyway, our friends arrived a little later and we had a lovely few hours in the nice, warm pub. They didn’t have pear cider but they did have Kopparberg apple cider so I had that and it was very good, as well. The food there was really wonderful. My beef pie was hot and full of big chunks of meat and mushrooms with lovely hot gravy.

Finally it was time to leave. We said goodbye to our mates and caught a bus two stops up Euston Road to Warren St. Station next to the hotel, picked up some sandwiches in Tesco for later on this evening and tucked up in the hotel where it was warm and dry! We made tea and coffee and spent our last evening together.

Monday was an early start. I had booked an airport transfer service for 7:30 so it was too early for the hotel breakfast, which started later on weekends and holidays. Graham headed to the train station and I to Heathrow where I got breakfast after I checked in, amazed that my suitcase wasn’t overweight! Picked up a few items in duty free and waited for my gate to open. The Luggage Gods favoured me and my bags arrived with me.

Another holiday ended and another one always in the works to be planned.

When Vikings and Cartoons mix

Covent Neils Yard 2014I’m not sure why I thought spending Easter Weekend in London was a good idea. It’s crowded at the best of times. When  you add in a holiday, it’s insane. Still, booking my vacation to include the Easter Weekend meant I used two fewer vacation days. Originally we were to be in France, taking the Eurostar to London on the Easter Saturday. Plans changed but we were able to get away for a couple of days and booked the train from Manchester to Euston Station, first class since it wasn’t too dear.

We arrived before noon and traipsed down into bowels of Euston Station where the taxis are, arriving at the hotel in short order. It wasn’t far but I had my large, heavy suitcase and didn’t feel like dragging it around. Luckily, we could get in our room straight away so we could get rid of the bags and sort things out.

We were quite happy with the hotel and the room. It was a Radisson which is well out of our budget normally but the travel agent got it for a pretty good price. The location was really convenient to Euston station and there were two underground stations within a block. We stashed the bags and headed out, walking down Tottenham court Road, intent on lunch.

There was a pub a block from the hotel, the Northumberland Arms and that’s as good as any, we thought. There were a few other likely candidates plus non-pub cafes and sandwich shops along the road as well. The food was pretty good but the portions were smaller and price a bit more expensive. That’s London for you! I have been on a pear cider kick since I had such a nice one in the Sedge Lynn pub the other night in Chorlton. The one they had here wasn’t very good, though, not compared to the other. That brand was Kopparberg and they do apple cider as well. This one was Bulmers which is normally good at least for apple cider but the pear cider hardly had any pear flavour at all. Be warned.

Never mind. The food set us up for the rest of the afternoon. My first order of business was to find a particular shop in Covent Garden to get something a friend had asked me to find. We wandered into the area and did some window shopping along Neil Street which has lots of great, funky shops. We found Neil’s Yard where the desired store was and made my purchase. “Job’s a good’un” as Graham would say.

Neil’s Yard is a little, hidden courtyard. It’s not that easy to find if you didn’t know it was there. I had discovered it years ago by accident while exploring Covent Garden. It’s got some little shops and a café or two and the buildings are brightly painted. There are a few little trees and benches around to sit and people watch. It’s a little oasis of peace in a very busy neighbourhood, away from the crowds. I love Covent Garden but it’s usually elbow to elbow with tourists.

British Museum, Viking ship

British Museum, Viking ship

It’s probably a good time to make our way to the British Museum. We have timed entry tickets for the Viking exhibit at 3:00 and thought as it’s still early we might be of a mind to look around the museum first. When we got there, we decided against that idea. It’s really crowded and our feet were already hurting from the walking so we found a bench to sit and wait.

At 3:00, we went to the exhibit. I don’t know how many they let in for each timed entry but it’s too many. The exhibit was extremely crowded and it was difficult trying to get your turn in front of the glass cases to read and see the items. The first rooms in particular were the worst as they weren’t large. Later on, the rooms opened up some and people spread out as they all took a different length of time to view. The last room was a hall where they had a large skeleton of the remains of a Viking longboat fitted into a metal frame. They brought it over from the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum which we’d visited a few years ago.

We did enjoy the exhibit, though, in spite of the crowds. The artifacts that have been found over the years and preserved are amazing when you think of the centuries they would have been buried until someone discovered them. Precious metals and stones, gilding, carving, everyday items, too.

Our feet were suffering when we were done there. A quick look through the gift shops and we were back out the door, perhaps to start thinking of looking for a place to eat before the theatre, or a coffee shop to have a sit-down, at least. But first, as we walked south away from the museum, up a narrow street (Little Russell Street) that was two or three away and parallel from the street that the British Museum is on I spied a sign for a little museum that I’d heard of. It’s the Cartoon Museum!

Exhibit in the Cartoon Museum, London

Exhibit in the Cartoon Museum, London

I can’t resist small museums like that and I had read about it while planning the trip. It’s a small, private museum and showcases the history of cartoons and comic art back to the 18th century when caricatures first became a popular way to skewer politicians and other well known faces of the day and satirize society. You can read a little more about the history here.

They have some great examples, both reproductions and originals of cartoons right up to modern day ones created digitally. Classic British comic strips are featured in the upstairs gallery and the temporary exhibit that was on while we were there featured the Spitting Image puppets and cartoons from the 1980s. They had a storyboard showing how they were made and other posters with information on the creators and a few memorable examples including Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, with very long ears that, in the old television show, used to wiggle all the time.

The museum appealed also because Graham is an artist and does marvellous caricatures and drawings and he enjoyed getting a closer look at the artwork.

We’re done there after about an hour and we head further back into Covent Garden. We want to find the theatre so we know where it is and then find somewhere to have a pre-theatre meal. Right, there it is down a small street off Shaftsbury Avenue, a longish street that cuts through the West End theatre district. Shaftsbury Avenue and the immediately surrounding streets probably have the highest concentration of theatres in London though the district spreads out for many blocks.

We have tickets to see the historic play, The Mousetrap. That’s based on an Agatha Christie book and has been running in the West End for 62 years, so the neon sign on St. Martin’s theatre says. I wonder how much it costs to change the number every year? It’s a tourist attraction on its own nowadays. We retraced our steps and found a restaurant at the intersection of Shaftsbury and Charing Cross Road called Leon de Bruxelles, a Belgian restaurant. The menu looked good, they had a reasonably priced fixed price menu that had items both of us liked, so in we went.

Nice place, didn’t take much notice of the regular menu item prices so it may have been a bit pricey but not out of the ordinary for that part of London. The fixed price menu was under 20 pounds for three courses, under 15 if you only had two courses. Drinks, of course, are extra. Pear cider time again, and they had pear and apple by the famed Belgian Stella Artois brewery. Not bad, still not as good as Kopparberg but better than Bulmers.

We enjoyed the meal and went back to the theatre to find our seats. The play, a murder mystery, was good fun, a bit overly dramatic in the style of acting but it’s set in the 1950s and is just like watching movies from that era, too, all similar in acting style. The performances were all great and Graham even figured out who the murderer was by the intermission. I hadn’t come to that conclusion but when he said what he thought during the break, it seemed likely. I can’t reveal the culprit’s identity because you are charged at the end to keep the secret so unless you’ve read the book, you won’t find out from me!

We caught the bus back to the hotel, as usual we got off a stop too soon and had to walk the last few blocks. Turns out there’s a bus stop right in front of the hotel! Oh well. It wasn’t cold, it was quiet and there were blessed few people around, unlike most of the day, so we enjoyed the stroll. We picked up some drinks and snacks at the Tesco next to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Classic cars in the Lake District

Lakeland Motor Museum

Lakeland Motor Museum

When last we spoke, I described a nice road trip out for a day in the Lake District. We were last seen heading back towards Manchester in the general direction of Kendal where we could pick up the motorway nearby but went past a sign for the Lakeland Motor Museum. What a better way to end a road trip than to see a museum of classic British cars! We were very glad we decided to stop!

LLMPennyFarthingsWhat an excellent exhibit they have there! Dozens of classic British cars from right back to very early vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, a fire engine, an enormous Cadillac limousine, so many different kinds of vehicles. One area had a display of classic Vincent motorcycles from the 1950s and another had a dozen or more pennyfarthing bicycles with the huge front wheels.


Replica of a 1920s garage

They had some mock shop fronts with fashion and items from different eras, a mock up of a 1950s era café, an example of what a garage from the 20s might look like, crowded with tools and parts. There is a display of child sized pedal cars.  They als had some newer model vehicles but still considered classic or unique such as a TVR red race car, a DeLorean with the gullwing doors and several cars from the 1980s that Graham remembered driving or being driven in. That made him feel old! There are models and toys and more gas station and auto parts and product signs all over the museum. There are really odd looking vehicles and some classics. There’s a good vantage point upstairs where you can look down over the lower floor.

I absolutely love old cars and I couldn’t get enough of these! They really need more space. There are smaller vehicles squeezed in between and behind the larger ones and in other rooms they are mounted on walls and shelves and doubled up. Most of them have signs and many have information as well.

Bluebird K7

Bluebird K7

In another building they, too, have a display about Donald Campbell and his father, Sir Malcom, with examples of a few of their vehicles, cars and boats, full size, not just models. There are information boards and video to tell the stories. The vehicles were all named Blue Bird or Bluebird and that came from Malcom Campbell’s early racing days when his efforts were not very successful. He saw a play in London called the Blue Birds and as it was making money he changed the name of his vehicles and started winning. He designed a logo and painted the vehicles bright blue. Thus, in this part of the Lake District you do see a lot of references to Bluebirds (cafes, beer etc.)

There’s also a café there on the site though we didn’t partake as it was still quite a drive back to Manchester. We didn’t really get lucky with the sunshine though it didn’t rain at all. It was a little cool but pleasant. It’s always a nice drive up through the Lake District. If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, though, avoid the Easter holidays and steer clear of Windemere and Ambleside as they’re the busiest spots. Grasmere is pretty though can also be busy. Keswick is a nice town, nearer the north part of the Lake area and there are lots of little villages and towns off the beaten track. It’s a popular area for water sports and walking and hiking the hills and countryside as well.

The two weeks in Manchester is done now. Over the two weeks, we’ve seen some interesting museums, lovely scenery and even seen the sun a lot more than I usually do while here in Manchester. It’s been nice catching up with friends, too. Tomorrow we’re up early and off to The Big Smoke for my last couple of days in the U.K.

Peel Trident Bubble car

Peel Trident Bubble car

Ground floor display

Ground floor display

1954 MG

1954 MG

The Lake District – Coniston Water

Rather than "Lake Coniston" or "Coniston Lake", it's called Coniston Water. Other lakes in the district are sometimes refered to that way, though not all.

Rather than “Lake Coniston” or “Coniston Lake”, it’s called Coniston Water. Other lakes in the district are sometimes refered to that way, though not all.

I haven’t had the chance to get back to this and blog the rest of my travels. It’s been a hectic second week away and getting back home, there’s been a lot to sort out. Getting back to work takes up the rest of the time! Here’s another installment, the first half of another nice day out.

We love the Lake District with its spectacular scenery. It’s not a long way from our base in Manchester so we have driven up through this gorgeous area a few times over the years when I’ve visited England. We decided to do another trip and, luckily, the weather cooperated. This time we chose an area we’ve not been before, Coniston, which is less touristy than Windemere and the towns along that famed lake. That was the anticipation, at least.

Away from the motorway, traversing the country roads

Away from the motorway, traversing the country roads

We started up the motorway and turned off, heading west towards the southern lakes. We found ourselves on some pretty country roads, narrow and twisty but no lakes in sight. Yet. We soon came to the lower part of Lake Windemere and the GPS sent us down a narrow road to a queue of cars waiting to board a ferry across the lake! The signs indicated it could be a 30 or 40 minute wait. That didn’t appeal (the GPS was set to send us the “fastest” route. a 40 minute wait kind of contradicts that). We decided to head further north alongside Lake Windemere and in doing so, we had to navigate the narrow streets of the town of Windemere itself, made worse by the crowds of  Easter holiday tourists.

We forged onward to Ambleside, suffering another bottleneck of traffic. This isn’t boding well but at least we could see some of the lake. I knew we could get to Coniston by driving through part of Ambleside and over the top of Windemere and that’s what we did, finally arriving in Coniston about noon. We had intended on going down to the lake, having lunch in the Bluebird Café and maybe taking a boat ride but we couldn’t find a parking spot at all! Even in the village itself, parking spots were scarce and there were a lot of people wandering around. So much for this being less touristy although it was less so than Windemere.

Country pubs don't mind if you bring your dogs

Country pubs don’t mind if you bring your dogs

We finally found a place to park behind a pub that dates back to the 16th century when it was a coaching Inn. It’s called the Black Bull and we went in there for our lunch since the sign at the parking lot warned us it was for patrons only. Lunch was excellent and we each had a pint of Bluebird Ale, brewed just behind the pub in Coniston Brewery. My piece of battered haddock was so large we joked it was a piece of whale! G. had a wild boar burger and was very happy with that, too.

From there, we walked along the main street past the shops, picking up some Kendal Mint Cake in one, basically that’s a block of minty sugar, some of it coated in chocolate or a brown sugar crust. We found the John Ruskin Museum which tells some of the story of Coniston. It was founded by W.G. Collinwood who was secretary to artist John Ruskin who died in 1900 (the museum opened in 1901 as a memorial to him as well as depicting the surrounding area of Coniston). There are interactive displays and lots of information signs.

Items that belonged to or were painted by artist John Ruskin

Items that belonged to or were painted by artist John Ruskin

The museum has some nice displays of linen and lace, geology and social history, mining and farming and a section honouring World War veterans including a local man who was awarded the Victoria Cross in WWI. His motorbike is there on display. There’s a miniature stone version of the village out behind the building. There’s a larger gallery that focuses on John Ruskin himself, including artifacts, books, letters, photographs and many of his paintings and drawings. He was an important man in the art world in the 1800s, being a strong defender of J.M.W.Turner and a strong influence to the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Most of his paintings are water colours and are nature-related or architectural features. Ruskin’s house, Brantwood, is on the opposite side of the lake and can also be visited.

A piece of wreckage from the Bluebird K7 crash

A piece of wreckage from the Bluebird K7 crash

Another newer gallery that was there told the story of Donald Campbell. I had never heard of him but he and his father both endeavored to break speed records on land and on water with various types of vehicles and boats. Donald Campbell died in 1967 while attempting to break his own speed record on water in his Bluebird K7 speed boat on Lake Coniston. The boat flipped and crashed on the water and his body was not found until 2001. They had photos and models of his boats and his father’s cars and they had pieces of the wreckage including a boiler suit that his remains were found in. Kind of creepy! Graham remembers when the crash happened, it was big news here in the U.K. It might have been in Canada too but I was only 8 at the time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard about it.

St. Andrews paris church, Coniston

St. Andrews paris church, Coniston

We walked through the village and stopped into St. Andrew’s church. It’s a pretty little church but there isn’t anything unusual or overly interesting in it. There’s a nice font in one nook at the back and the graveyard is nice. The grave of the soldier who won the Victoria Cross is here but Donald Campbell was buried elsewhere in the village.

We decided to drive on and see if we could actually see a bit of the lake itself. A short way out of the village we found a stopping point where we could look over the lake and take a few photos. We drove on and though the scenery was still nice, we really didn’t see much more of that or any other lake. The drive long Ullswater that we’d taken a few years ago was much prettier as far as water views go.

We drove along the rest of the road, intending on picking up the motorway near Kendal but ended up taking an unexpected stop. More on that later.

Ordsall Hall

Ordsall Hall, Salford

Ordsall Hall is a Tudor era manor house in Salford near the redeveloped Salford Quays. While there has been a house on this spot for 750 years, the current one dates back to the late 15th century and it also has connections to the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Guy Fawkes is the most noted member of the conspiracy that attempted to blow up Parliament and Ordsall Hall was allegedly one of the locations where the group met to form their plans, the Radclyff family who owned it for several centuries, being Catholic.

The Radclyffe family sold it in 1662 and it’s been used as quite a few things over the years. It’s been a museum since 1972 and was recently refurbished and is free to enter, open Sunday through Thursday as a rule. The hall can be hired for events and weddings which would be really cool.

Rear of Ordsall Hall

The first time I visited here was in 2001 and I was eager to see it again since the renovations. There wasn’t as much of it open to the public as there is now. We only had a half hour to see it before closing and that is nearly enough time as it’s not very big. There is also an upstairs space used for exhibitions and a little gallery but we didn’t have to time to have a look. There’s a small gift shop area and café on the ground floor as well.

Timbered beam ceiling of the Great Hall

You enter into the Great Hall with its superb beamed ceiling and lovely leaded glass windows. The hall is set up for a banquet with the antique oak table from the 1500s, and several wonderful old cabinets around the edges, near the big wooden studded doors. The hall itself is dated to 1512. The ceilings and the windows are really beautiful, especially the bay oriel window overlooking the knot garden at the back of the house (which is where the entrance is).

The Star Chamber, the oldest surviving part of the hall

The next room is the oldest part of the house, the Star Chamber, so called due to the metallic stars installed in the ceiling. There are some wattle and daub wall fillers still viewable and the old fireplace here still shows gouges in the stone where people used to hone their swords. This Star Chamber is the location of the supposed meeting between Guy Fawkes and Robert Catesby as they came up with their infamous plot. There’s no real evidence to support it but the lane following one side of the property is named after Fawkes.

There is even an alleged ghost and they have a “ghost cam” set up in the house. Also in the Star Chamber is a suit of armour and a box of armoured helmets. There was a table with an old writing desk on it and feather “pen” and another with some old musical instruments on display. There’s an Elizabethan globe in one of the other rooms. They also have six pieces of medieval stained glass hangings, mainly “heraldic” symbols like one of a bull’s head in the kitchen and two hanging on the oriel window off the Great Hall.

Italian plaster ceiling

On the top floor, there is also a room with an Italianate plaster ceiling which was rare in the northwest. This is newly opened to the public after the recent restorations. This is normally closed to the public but you can look into it through a glass panel.

The Great Chamber

You can then go upstairs to see another solar chamber, the Great chamber, with a canopied bed and an old fashioned bath (reproduction). There’s also a gorgeous off-white Elizabethan dress on display with really beautiful detail on the bodice, sleeves and around the ruff. There are a few pieces of costume in the wardrobe like hats and ruffs that you can try on if you want. The hall is often used for school outings and they have costumed guides to explain the history of the house to schoolkids.

Back on the ground floor there’s a kitchen set up as it would have looked in Elizabethan times and which has interesting items to look at as well and it’s got a recorded voice over of “life in the kitchen”. Some of the items are of later eras such as a bread oven from Victorian times.



Sir John Radclyffe campaigned with Edward III and was allowed to bring back some weavers to his manor where he set up a sort of factory and made his money in cloth production. The exterior of the oldest part is half-timber beamed and there is brick addition on the house as well. It used to be built around a courtyard but only two wings are left now, an L-shape. After the Radclyffes sold the house, it went through a number of owners. The last time it was occupied as a residence was in 1871.

More about the hall here.

My Flickr set of photos is here.

The Vikings are Coming

British Museum, London

Social media may have it’s skeptics and detractors but it has often come in handy for me. I’ve often seen links to really interesting things float by on my Twitter or Facebook feed, links to news, lifestyle, travel, books, movies, great websites and all kinds of other things.

When I joined Twitter, I followed a few Coronation Street actors. Well, I still do. One of them was also an artist and a man I would have liked to have a conversation with. He always seemed to have interesting things to say though he doesn’t seem to be tweeting much anymore. I own a portrait of one of the other Corrie actors that he did. It was part of an auction he did for charity. He also mentioned this very old library in Manchester that he’d visited. It’s in the city centre but it’s tucked away in a music school behind the cathedral and because he mentioned it, I made sure to go visit it the next time I went over.

Chetham’s Library Reading room, Chetham’s Library in Manchester. Apparently, Karl Marx worked at this very table.

I never would have known about this interesting place to visit had it not been for social media. The reason I’m bringing this up is that over this past weekend I saw a mention of a new exhibit coming up at the British Museum in London. It’s called Vikings: Life and Legend and it’s being put on in conjunction with the Danish National Museum (which we’ve been to!). Immediately I went looking for details and was gratified in discovering that it would be opening in March and ongoing while we are there at Easter.

I am lucky to have a man who really likes museums and galleries and I know he loves things like Vikings and ancient Romans, armour and weaponry. I would find this exhibit on Vikings really interesting, too. We both enjoyed the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum in Denmark a few years ago and apparently they have sent one of the ships, or remains thereof, to be part of this show. We are also both fans of the tv series Vikings which begins it’s next season soon.

Viking ship silhouette, Roskilde Viking ship museum, Roskilde, Denmark

Anyway, the upshot of it is, I didn’t even wait to consult him, I booked tickets straight away. The last time the British Museum had a big exhibit while we would be there was in 2008 for the Terra Cotta warriors from China. I waited too long and we couldn’t get tickets for the days and times that would work for us. I wasn’t taking that chance this time as it was again over Easter. The tickets are now booked and I sent him the link to the information the museum has online. When I spoke to him later, he was quite happy. We’re looking forward to the exhibit and I may even buy the exhibit book considering no photos will be allowed. These books are usually stunning in their content. I bought one from the Henry VIII exhibit that the British Library had a few years ago.

Isn’t the internet wonderful? Chances are that we would not get tickets if we show up on the day we arrive in London, and if there’s a chance, there would likely be long queues. We only have two days in London so would be limited in our dates so we probably would miss out if we couldn’t pre-book this far out. That’s what happened with the Terra Cotta exhibit. I did try to get tickets online but couldn’t and when we went to the musuem, all the tickets for the times we could get there were gone.  In some ways pre-booking does restrict you to dates and times but in other ways, you can skip the long lines, or not be disappointed by missing out.

This trip coming up looks to be quite a cultural one, with lots of museums and galleries. We’re planning on seeing Giverny and Monet’s house, also the Orangerie museum in Paris which has a lot of Monet’s Water lilies, and we’re going to see the Bayeux Tapestry. Other places on the list, and we will get to at least some of them, include the Musee Carnavalet, Sainte-Chapelle, possibly the Concergerie as well, and Les Invalides with the Army museum and Napoleon’s tomb. We’re also going to Rouen for a day as well. Monet painted the Cathedral there and it’s also where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

Back to the original point of the post, social media. It’s not just all about following celebrities or news feeds. You can find something to match any interest you might have. If you don’t follow something specific, you may still see it shared or re-tweeted by someone else which is how I think I saw the Viking exhibit. I didn’t follow the British Museum (but I will now) on Twitter but I do follow the BBC History Magazine and I think that was the source of what I’d seen.

And while we’re on that subject, the British Museum shared this from the Guardian’s site, 10 Best Vikings from books, history, movies and even cartoons. Wonderful!

Do you Museum when you travel?

An exhibit in Profundo Rosso,  A museum about the Italian horror movies of director Dario Argento

An exhibit in Profundo Rosso, A museum about the Italian horror movies of director Dario Argento

I came across a link to an article on The Economist about museums and how they’re attracting new visitors. Museums: Temples of delight. The premise of the article is based on how museums are changing. These days, you can find out about pretty much anything on the internet. Why would people want to go to museums to see and learn about things? But they certainly are. According to the article, 3/4 of all Swedish adults visit a museum once a year. That’s amazing! But it doesn’t really explain what the attraction is.

One theory is that as more people are getting better educations, they like to visit museums as an extension of that education. The next two paragraphs, quoted from the article, are the ones I find particularly interesting.

In developed countries museums are being championed by a wide variety of interest groups: city fathers who see iconic buildings and great collections as a tourist draw; urban planners who regard museums as a magic wand to bring blighted city areas back to life; media that like to hype blockbuster exhibitions; and rich people who want to put their wealth to work in the service of philanthropy (“a way for the rich to launder their souls”, as one director put it). For young people they are a source of something authentic and intriguing when their electronic entertainments start to pall.

In the more affluent parts of the developing world, too, museum-building has flourished, driven mainly by governments that want their countries to be regarded as culturally sophisticated (though wealthy private individuals are also playing a part). They see museums as symbols of confidence, sources of public education and places in which a young country can present a national narrative. Visitor numbers in such countries are also rising fast, boosted by a growing middle class. Some hope to use cultural offerings to attract many more foreign tourists. In Qatar and Abu Dhabi, for instance, a clutch of new museums under construction is meant to turn the Gulf into a destination for visitors from Europe, Russia and South Asia. Chinese museums received more than 500m visits last year, 100m more than in 2009.

Tourism, urban development, philanthropy, cultural status and a reality check? These days museums are not just about reading information boards beside the exhibits. They incorporate multi-media, encourage participation, making a visit to a museum an experience. And while I often find the “Experience” more of a tourist trap than a true overall feeling, in many cases, museums especially, it really can add to the visit. In order to keep people coming and attract new visitors, especially younger people, you gotta entertain them to keep their interest and I say, what’s wrong with that? If being interactive and entertained teaches someone about any subject, isn’t that a good thing?

I love museums and when I travel I always plan to take in at least one or more. I may not have the stamina to spend hours and hours in the big ones but I will still take in highlights or areas of it that interest me the most. I like museums, large ones or small, unique ones. Sometimes the smaller and more unique, the better though these are the ones that are struggling to stay open! I like museums because I’m interested in history and art and where it all  comes from and how things evolve to what they are today, in many cases.

One of my favourite museums is the Museum of London that traces the history of the city back to the Romans.  Another similar one is the Glasgow People’s Museum. Social history museums of just one period in history or the history from the beginnings to current day of an area or city are really interesting and also important to help you relate to how the past shaped the present.  What was life like 200 years ago? Are there similarities in how people lived then to how they do now?

In that article from the Economist, there are a few icons for oddball museum topics and at least one of them, ‘dog collars’ is one I’ve been to. It’s in Leeds Castle in Kent, England and is just a couple of rooms of glassed cases but it’s fascinating! Other interesting smaller museums include the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, the Sir John Soan Museum in London and the Fan Museum in Greenwich, London, just to name a couple. I love these odd and unique museums even if just because they can be so bizarre. The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle was awesome and the Crypt for the Cappuchin Monks in Rome, with chapels decorated in bones of thousands of monks is superbly strange!

British Library, London, with the Victorian St. Pancras Hotel behind it

British Library, London, with the Victorian St. Pancras Hotel behind it

I’ve also been to special exhibits in locations that aren’t strictly museums but which do have displays on a revolving or semi-permanent basis. The British Library has a display of some of their treasures and a few years ago, we got tickets for a fantastic exhibit on Henry VIII. That had many multi media aspects including audio, video, and even a hologram of Henry in his armour. Very cool! It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up to see the letters he wrote and notes he wrote in the margins of books.

On our next trip, we’re going to Paris and I’m hoping to see the Musee Carnavalet which tells some of the story of Paris. We’re also planning to see the Military Museum and Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides. We are even doing a day trip to see the Bayeux Tapestry on display and will probably take in something about Joan of Arc in Rouen and stroll through Monet’s garden and house at Giverney.

What’s  your favourite museum? Do you prefer the big ticket ones or small, intimate ones? Do you seek out a particular topic or type of museum?

The Book of Kells for free

Trinity College Library, Dublin, Home of the Book of Kells

Trinity College Library, Dublin, Home of the Book of Kells

A few days ago I posted an entry to a photo challenge about Illumination. I posted a photo of a medieval copy of the Canterbury Tales, which was illuminated. There was a bit of discussion about the Book of Kells, the famous illuminated gospel at Trinity College, Dublin. Lo and behold, today I see a link to the college’s blog and they now have the whole book of Kells online, digitally scanned using the latest technology.

You can see it through this link. Each page is zoomable so you can see the exquisite detail. If you never get the chance to go to Dublin to see the real thing, this is the next best thing. Heck, even if you have seen it, this is pretty awesome since when you see the book, it’s opened to one spread of pages and you don’t get to see the rest of it unless you come on a different day and hope they’ve changed the view. Most excellent!

What I particularly like is that you see the thumbnails down the left so you can scroll to the pages that have more design on them and then zoom in to see the beautiful detail work. Next best thing to being there!

Travel Journey of the Week – The Louvre

The Louvre and pyramid. No tourists. It's Tuesday and the Louvre is closed

The Louvre and pyramid. No tourists. It’s Tuesday and the Louvre is closed

Liberated Travel’s weekly Travel journey is the Louvre, one of the world’s largest museums, in Paris.

I’ve been to the Louvre museum in Paris twice. The first time was during a school trip to Paris in 1977. We had a bus tour around the city and one of the stops was the Louvre. I don’t think we had a guided tour around the museum highlights but we did have our entrance paid and had an hour or so to have a quick look round it. I remember finding the Mona Lisa, She was hung at the time on a wall in a large gallery and I was so surprised to see that it was not a very big painting at all and that it was painted on wood, not canvas. The size of it is only about 11×17 or thereabouts.  Now, of course, it’s in a special viewing area of its own and is behind bulletproof glass. I don’t think it was back then but I may be wrong.

The other piece of art I always remember from that visit was the Winged Victory of Samothrace. She is a masthead from a ship, carved in stone and though head and armless, you can see that she’s facing the winds of the seven seas which  is blowing her robes backwards.

30 years later, I finally returned to Paris with my parter. We decided to go to the Louvre on the Wednesday late opening but looking back, we really should have done it first. It was at the end of a very long day, during which we’d gone up to Montmartre, visted the Basilica, took in the Dali museum, had lunch and walked many narrow streets, and had a quick look at the exterior of the Moulin Rouge before taking a bus back to the Louvre. I was exhausted with very sore feet even before we got to one of the world’s largest museums.

But we went anyway. It was late November and the queue under the pyramid entrance was not all that long at all. We got our little map and headed in to find the Mona Lisa and whatever else we could find. We did find the little maps confusing. When looking for particular galleries or the toilets, they were never where the map said they were. I was getting frustrated and tired. But we found the enigmatic Mona and got a chance to get to the front of the viewing area for a look and a photo.

Then we wandered a bit, saw the Venus de Milo. She had almost nobody around her. We got up close and had a good look but my partner quipped, “Well, that’s not a very good statue. It’s got no arms!” Very funny. I really wanted to find the Victory again, too, so I could get some good photos of it. We finally came upon it from one side and I was as struck by it this time as I was the first.

“This one’s even more rubbish! It’s got no head AND no arms!”

I had to laugh, only because I was so tired, I think! By this time, even though we’d barely seen anything other than those three things and one or two galleries of paintings, I had had enough. I really needed to sit down and I really needed a cold drink. We finally found a cafe near the entrance but for some reason we weren’t allowed to sit at the tables, so we bought some bottles of pop and found a bench. I was nearly in tears by this time, between the sore feet, the thirst, the frustration trying to find our way around.

But you know what? Once I had a rest and a drink, I got a little puff of a second wind. We had talked about getting an after dark boat cruise on the Seine. G. was willing to forgo it if i wanted to go back to the hotel for the night but no, I thought I would be ok, and besides, a boat cruise means you can sit down, right? Right. So we made our way across Pont Neuf and down to the quay to get tickets. The cruise was great, if a bit chilly and we walked back to the hotel under the moonlight, stopping in a Chinese restaurant on the way for a late meal. It was our last day in Paris and we made more than the most of it!

Memories of Cornwall: Down the west side of Cornwall

In May 2011, we took a road trip to Cornwall, the lovely peninsula on the south west tip of the U.K.  We drove down from Manchester and stayed overnight in the small cathedral city of Wells, with just enough time to explore the cathedral and a bit of the city centre. From there we crossed to the north Somerset and Devon coastline and traveled down into Cornwall, with a stop at the ruins of Cleeve Abbey and the twin towns of Lynmouth and Lynton along the way.  The sea was on our right and the moors of Exmoor spread across to our left. Needless to say the scenery in this part of the country is spectacular!

We stayed at a wonderful inn, Pendragon Country House which is a couple of miles from Camelford on a quiet road off the A39. They are winning awards and well deserved, too! The rooms are all filled with antiques with lovely fitted bathrooms. They have two big lounges with an honour bar in one and games and movies you can borrow. They have a small games room in the basement with a pool table and a video game console and there is a new conservatory that was being built when we were there that now houses their dining room and overlooks the Devon moors. For a luxury B&B, the rates are still affordable and it’s a good base for touring around Cornwall which isn’t that big. There’s a motorway straight up the centre through Truro, the capital of the area, though it’s not nearly as scenic as the lovely coastal roads.

After a hearty breakfast, our first stop was nearby Boscastle, a tiny fishing village. Almost 10 years ago, the village was devastated by flash floods. We saw some of the video in their visitor centre and it’s horrific, watching cars being tossed by the raging waters. There was a huge amount of damage but the village is slowly returning to normal now.

This is the tiny river that turned into a raging torrent of water in 2004 as the flood waters came down from the surrounding hills

This is the tiny river that turned into a raging torrent of water in 2004 as the flood waters came down from the surrounding hills

Boscastle's harbour looking towards the breakwater.

Boscastle’s harbour looking towards the breakwater.

Boscastle has pretty little shops and quaint Bed and Breakfasts. The harbour is pretty and it’s sheltered. You can walk up over the breakwater to see the sea itself but you don’t see it from the harbour.  We walked around taking photos while waiting for one of the museums to open, the Museum of Witchcraft. That was the main reason for our visit and we were not disappointed!

What an excellent little museum! They warn you right from the start that some of the exhibits may upset as they can be controversial.  The Museum of Witchcraft tells the story of how witches and the “black” art of witchcraft have been perceived over centuries. It shows many different images all through history along with related items such as talismans against curses, and mandrake root carvings. There are stories of the torture people accused of being witches were subjected to, especially in the 17th century. The museum explores all aspects, good, bad and stereotype and was very interesting! It’s a small museum but it’s packed with things to read and look at including a large Book of Daemonolgie written by King James I. Graham said it was one of the coolest museums he’d ever seen and he even bought a t-shirt with a pentagram (five pointed star) on it.

The book of Daemonologie, written by King James I

The book of Daemonologie, written by King James I

Second floor of the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle

Second floor of the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle

From there, we drove through Tintagel but didn’t really stop. Due to its associations with the legend of King Arthur, it’s a major tour bus stop and is thronged with people. It feels very much like a tourist trap. We aren’t hikers so didn’t go up to the ruins of the castle, either.  We wanted to stop in Padstow, a popular seaside village but it was so packed that we couldn’t find a parking spot and it, too, felt too crowded to properly enjoy. We followed the coast a bit further and found a little beach at Mawgan Porth with a couple of seaside restaurants that were quiet. Perfect! We had lunch and the walked over to check out the beach.  It’s May and it’s not really beach weather but there were people sitting on chairs and socializing and another person nearer the shore in a chair watching their dog run.

Lost shoe at Mawgan Porth beach.

Lost shoe at Mawgan Porth beach.

We really hadn’t got as far down the north west coast as we thought we would have and I still wanted to go all the way to the south coast to see the open air Minack Theatre so we took the motorway down to save a bit of time.  The plan was to see the theatre then come back up to St. Ives and have dinner there.

The Minack is an open air theatre created by a woman called Rowena Cade who built it starting in the 1930s. She lived in the area and wanted to start a theatre company. The theatre is created with local granite blocks, filled in with earth and has grass grown along the tops of the seating rows for comfort. The granite stage is at the bottom and the rows of seats fan out up the side of the hill from there. It almost looks as if it was carved out of the side of the cliff. There are gardens and rock gardens on the site, and you look down over the sea with a wide beach off to the left. It would be really something to attend a performance here but you are open to the elements! It was beautiful under the warm sunny skies and we poked around taking photos. We had a hot drink before leaving in the cafe that also overlooks the theatre.


Minack Beach P1050015

We went back to the motorway via Land’s End just so we could say we’d been there. It has a huge visitor centre and is another one of those tourist traps that see dozens of tour busses daily. By the time we got there, it was closed or nearly so. We just took a photo from the parking lot over the end of the coast rather than walk into the visitor centre and walk down the paths. Good enough. Back to the motorway and up to St. Ives, which is a very nice little town but there are a lot of *very* narrow streets that a car can barely fit through. We discovered this because our GPS kept sending us in confusing directions and we nearly got stuck a couple of times before we figured out where we needed to be and told the infernal machine to shut up!

The harbour front is lined with pubs and restaurants and we walked along trying to decide on which one to try. Most were fairly crowded at this time of the evening. The one we ended up at wasn’t probably the best choice but the food was ok. Not great, but ok. We were tired and hungry and out of energy to walk too far.  Of course the shops and museums and galleries are also closed but we did walk around a bit just to see the place. It’s a historic town and a centre for artists. Unsurprising given the beautiful coastline and light.  The old centre contains narrow roads lined with old stone cottages and whitewashed ones with cute house name signs on them like “Buttonhole”! There were a couple of main shopping streets and a little market square with a church and a war memorial cross.  There is even a branch of the Tate Modern Art gallery here. But that was also closed by this time.

St Ives low tide lampost

St. Ives at low tide

St Ives lane white van

One of the narrow lanes we did NOT try to drive through!

St Ives doorway

One of the little stone cottages in St. Ives

Graham is a talented artist and draws me a cartoon for my birthday every year. This one, from 2012, commemorated our experiences in St. Ives the year before

Graham is a talented artist and draws me a cartoon for my birthday every year. This one, from 2012, commemorated our experiences in St. Ives the year before

We were done. It was time to hit the motorway and head back up to the B&B. We had a drink in the bar and relaxed after a long day on the roads. We always seem to try to fit in too much! Tomorrow we’re going to a historic house and another little village and maybe some more coastal drives, depending on time and energy. But that’s another post.