London

TOP TOP #1: THE BRITISH MUSEUM

Sometimes you forget about the treasures you have on your own doorstep. Living in London, it is so easy to do that. There is so much to do, so much to see and the most amazing treasures all over.


The British Museum is one such treasure.


It has been up at least 15 years since I last went there, seeing it as the place that a tourist may visit and there was no need to swing by again. How wrong I was.


We decided to have a “cultural” day out one Sunday and the British Museum came up as an option. And what a great outing it ended up being.


The British Museum was founded right back in 1753 and is located in the centre of London, not far from the bustling Oxford Street and easy walking distance from Tottenham Court Tube. Like all museums in the UK, entry is free although they encourage a donation of £5 via donation boxes dotted around the entrance and through the museum.


The museum is housed in a large and very impressive looking building with long columns. But it is inside that there is a real wow factor. The buildings are dramatic, imposing and a startling mix of old and new effects. There is a huge glass roof covering what must have been an open courtyard the museum buildings faced into. There is a modern central structure and then as one explores you keep coming into massive and equally bold and awe-=inspiring halls and rooms. The use of glass roofs and skylights makes the whole place bright and modern.


One thing that I found really interesting and impressive, other than the remarkable artefacts and displays was the mix of people. The museum was jam packed full the Sunday we went. It was really quite incredible how many people the museum attracts, and is a credit to the vision of the people behind the museum who have made it such an event in both structure and exhibits that they can pull so many people in. The other thing that struck me was how many young people were there, which is also impressive that they have managed to be so interesting and relevant to young people. In fact in the video tour that I made and is posted on YouTube and on the blog, people spontaneously comment about how many young people are in the museum.


There are three major attractions that are the real draw for most people, and on the real “must do” list for most people (and the video tour I did covers these):
– The Egyptian area, which includes the Rosetta stone and various busts and statues from ancient Egypt and the area. This is on the ground floor and the first stop for most people. This is a bright and very impressive area.
– The “Elgin marbles”, which are the hotly disputed freezes taken from the Parthenon in Athens that the Greeks are hungry to have returned to their origin. This is also on the 1st floor. The huge chamber these are housed in dates from the 1930s and is very stunning.
– The “Mummy” section higher up in the museum where there are caskets and mummies. This area gets very packed!

There are also audio tours that one can hire that guides you through the museum, and there are immersion and “eye opener” talks held in the different halls. Also on the website they suggest routes based on how much time you have.


Dotted around the museum are some eating places with the most popular the ones in the large hall / courtyard when you enter.


There are a number of different shops on the ground floor, some selling just postcards through to one that sells resin full size statutes for £10000, and other pricey replicas and gifts.


I was (as you can tell) very impressed and had a great time. I recommend watching the 6 minute video tour on the posting or on YouTube (click here).


You can see the many photos I took that I have on Flickr: click here

My video tour of the British Museum, watch on YouTube (click here) or on the blog post:

TOP TIP #2: LONDON SEA LIFE AQUARIUM

The London Sea Life Aquarium is in the old County Hall building across Westminster Bridge from the Houses Of Parliament in London, and near to the London Eye (the massive and very popular Ferris Wheel originally set up for the Millennium that has become a permanent feature).

The area along the Thames in front of County Hall is, unfortunately, becoming a bit of a busy and somewhat tacky tourist area. This is unfortunate, but possibly inevitable, and is rapidly evolving into the more depressing cheap and shabby areas like South Street Seaport in New York and Fisherman’s Wharf (Pier 39) in San Francisco. Gone is the Dali permanent exhibition and Saatchi art exhibitions and now there is Movie themed and horror house type attractions. Along with low price fast food, and a very busy McDonald.

In here too is the Aquarium. It has been open some years and recently been more active in promoting itself. I had heard mixed things and so was interested to go.

Overall it is a fairly entertaining few hours visit, and certainly the young children (aged 6 and 9) we went with found it fun, engaging, interesting and not too long. In fact a few hours went by and I did not realise until we left quite how long we had spent in there. So that must mean something positive.

I think it is a fairly good but not exceptional or world leading aquarium. But that is probably me just having been spoilt from getting to see some more ocean based and mega funded aquariums over the years on my travels where they have more “trophy” catches for the marginally sea life interested patron like me. There is a wide range of fish and tanks which are structured and show the type of fish life through the various oceans and areas of the world. For me, the most impressive was the tank with the sharks in (but that is maybe the adult in me). The children were as happy, if not even happier, to spend time looking at the Sea Horses and multi coloured fish of all sizes from around the world where they could get up close and view them in their smaller tanks.

The place is very dark, as they have a good selection of deep sea fish and well laid out. There are clearly a lot of people in there at any one time, but although felt busy did not get too crowded. They have people giving talks and explaining hr fish and how they were acquired, and these are worth joining (I found out some interesting facts, and finding out one fairly large but what seemed unremarked fish was worth at least £250000 and is very rare and came to them from being confiscated at Heathrow when someone was trying o smuggle it in , added to the interest and story of the place).

There is a “fact finding” scratch card they give to children with 9 questions and that also got us and them engaged, and they got a nice medal at the end if completed and correct.

Overall a good day out. But nice visited not sure would go back, but I would recommend it to anyone visiting.

See all my photos of the attarction on Flickr: click here

Watch the video I took of the area around the Aquarium and throughout the attraction on the blog posting, or by clicking here and watching on YouTube

TOP TIP #3: LONDON DUCK TOUR SIGHT SEEING


london 002, originally uploaded by marksanford.

Living in London you often take the amazing and rich history, and the tourist sight seeing opportunities for granted.
When I first moved to London, over 21 years ago, I was struck by how little of the tourist attractions and museums many people in London had seen. I spent my first few months getting out every day looking at sights and attractions.
But even so, when it was suggested that we take some visitors on an open air bus tour round London – was not wildly excited.We were booked on a slightly different take on the experience.
The Duck Tour company, using old war world 2 troup and equipment carriers that both drive on land and can enter the water and act like ships, was the tour we were booked on.These strange looking trucks are somewhat old and dated, painted bright yellow and are as much an attraction for staring passer-bys as the sights of London.
If you are looking to see the attractions of London, the open air bus tours are probably better. They go further, are cheaper and you can see so much more and have much better photo and video opportunities than the Duck tour.
But the Duck Tour beats them for uniqueness and the fun factor. The guide is funny and entertaining, and though has knowledge the main focus is on fun. The tour on land is short, and whips you round past houses of Parliament, 10 Downing Street, Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace, before heading off to Vauxhal to enter the Thames by the MI6 building where you chug down to near the Westninister Bridge and back. So before the busy part of the river.
The tour when traffic is light is just over an hour and around 18 pounds for adults.I enjoyed it a lot, though we did not really show our visitors a lot of London and get loads of great photos. But I did get a fun video of parts of the tour and compiled them. Of interest is entering and leaving the river.
Watch the video on the blog posting, or on YouTube (click here).

The Duck Tour website: click here

FOR THE ADULTS: VINOPOLIS WINE>

The Bombay Sapphire Room and Cocktail Bar

Laithwaite’s Wine Shop at Vinopolis London

The Rum Bar

Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Bar

The start of the experience

Entrance to Vinopolis

I had heard a bit about Vinopolis in London, but had never thought about going there. In my mind it was a place for wither real wine buffs or drunken hen or stag parties. While both of those may be true, it was a very pleasant experience when I went – even for this small time drinker!

This is how they describe themselves on their website: “Experience a world of wine and food on our Wine Tasting Tours and special tasting events. Learn the secrets of wine, beer and spirits in a fun, sociable and modern environment”

“Treat your taste buds to a range of wines; drink beer from the microbrewery, indulge in a Bombay Sapphire cocktail, try Nicolas Feuillatte Champagnes in our Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne bar or even an Authentic Caribbean Rum or whisky tasting in the Still Room. Comprised of themed sections representing the main wine producing regions of the world, the Wine Tour offer a unique opportunity to explore wines and spirits of the world all under on roof, all tour ticket also includes a Bombay Sapphire cocktail in the Bombay Sapphire Blue Room”.

And as the photos hopefully show, it is a very massive, diverse and experiential place. In fact it is incredibly vast complex.

We were given the trip to Vinopolis as an Christmas gift, and what a great few hours it turned out to be.

You can buy various packages including hen and stag dos and special evenings. The various packages give you varying numbers of tickets to try wines, champagne and rum at the different sections and themed areas around the sprawling complex. You also get a Bombay Sapphire cocktail at the end. You start the journey with a talk and demonstration about how to taste wine, and then you are off on your own to explore for as long or as short as you want.

You are also given a tasting notes booklet so you can make a note of the wines you like, and there is a Laithwaite’s store within the complex where you can buy them(or online afterwards). The various sections include: Champagne room, Old world wines room with premium wines as well, Italian section with scooters showing videos of the region on the windscreen, New wines  room featuring areas like South Africa, a Rum tasting bar and Whiskey tasting bar. There is also a Whiskey Exchange store and a huge Laithwaites shop. Around the complex are water stations to rinse your glass and drink water too! They sell Tapas in one room. There is also a stunning and very trendy Bombay Sapphire exhibit and cocktail bar.

Of course with the volume of wines you taste, if you swallow you will get a bit merry!

Overall I was really impressed and found it a great few hours.

Link to their site: http://www.vinopolis.co.uk/

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