Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Museum of the Docklands - 21 February 2010

Chinese dragons in the DocklandsAs a celebration of the Chinese New Year, the local Council had free admission to the Museum of the Docklands. As the name suggests, it gives a detailed history of the docklands from the founding of Londinium, through the 19th century expansions, where the West India Company built the largest docklands in the world, through the The Grapes - historic pub in Docklands where Charles Dickens based the pub in 'Our Mutual Friend'Blitz in World War II, to the present day where housing and finance has taken over from shipping. Trading of one form or another has been the area's raison d'etre throughout its history.

The museum is spread over three floors, and it could easily fill a whole day. The Chinese community had prepared a fund-raising lunch in the basement, and we enjoyed the best sweet and sour chicken we've had in the UK. St Katherine's Docks
St Katherine's Docks
Tower of LondonBy the time we had seen all the exhibitions, the rain had stopped, and we were able to enjoy a walk back along the Thames through the dock areas we had just been reading about to the Tower of London.

Woburn – 20 February 2010

Woburn Abbey gardens
Grotesque on Woburn churchWoburn is a picturesque town next to Woburn Abbey, about 45 miles from London. It was the perfect day for a winter walk. We discovered it the town had woken to heavy snow the day before, and plenty of snow had survived the sunshine.

Woburn AbbeyThe town itself is full of art and food. We purchased both before walking through the deer park of Woburn Abbey to the Woburn Antique centre and annual art sale.

Woburn Abbey garden

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Darwin Centre – 13 February 2010

Natural History MuseumLast week we walked past huge queues outside the Natural History Museum, both morning and mid afternoon, and wondered what was on. Today we found out (by chance) how to avoid a similar fate. We planned to visit the recently opened Darwin Centre, and booked a timed, free, ticket to the Cocoon. This magical piece of paper allowed us to walk right past the enormously long queue, straight to the security desk. The Cocoon
I would recommend this method, as the cocoon is interesting. Using very modern technology, there are interactive activities, which could inspire a new generation of entomologists.

The Power Within galleryThe museum, in the true spirit of evolution, has evolved a lot since we last visited, with many new exhibitions. A whole day is only just enough time to very briefly visit every exhibition. Fortunately we had enough time to visit the dinosaur exhibition,before our cocoon time, as after we came out again, there were queues up to the 45 minute marker (and that of course is after the patiently waiting families had survived the long wait outside in the freezing cold). But I guess dinosaurs are a must see for every child.

Attenborough Theatre presentationThe best experience in our opinion, was the Attenborough Theatre interactive multimedia presentation of how animals see. This was extremely well done. We joined the other spectators to have a 30 minute rest, but found it really interesting.
inside Natural History Museum
detail on inside decorationsThe Natural History Museum is an extremely popular attraction with up to 20,000 visitors per day on a weekend, The decision to remove entry charges was clearly a wonderful way to encourage families and others to be inspired by the exhibits, even if they do try to recoup the costs with their exorbitant charges in the cafes and restaurants.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Computer and other Art – 6 February 2010

Road view of V&AInternal courtyard of V&A
Computer art exhibitionThe V&A have a very interesting computer art exhibition at present. Most exhibits are interactive and many reflect the viewer in different ways. The manner of participating ranges from lights mimicking actions, to being able to capture photographs to participate in the exhibit.
Computer art exhibition Computer art exhibition
Fake 'ancient Egyptian' Coffin Mask sold for $5000The police also have an exhibition of art fraud. This was particularly interesting, as we remembered one of the cases, when a couple of years ago the Greenhalgh family were arrested. The son made the fakes, many with elaborate and convincing provenances, while his parents marketed them for him.

V&A RestaurantOne of the most delightful areas of the V&A is the restaurant/cafe. It is definitely worth taking a coffee break, just to enjoy the wonderful dining area which is entirely covered in ceramic tiles. This tile work is part of the original design of the museum and a glimpse of what the designer intended for the entire building, had funds permitted.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Winter at the beach – 31 January 2010

We followed the sunshine to Ramsgate in Kent, which is due east from London. The winter is the ideal time to visit the seaside here, as the roads must be absolutely jammed in summer, with limited parking once the town is reached. Today the coastal town sparkled in the sunshine, and we enjoyed a pleasant walk around Ramsgate, and it's neighbour – Broadstairs.
RamsgateWhite Ness
Charles Dickens frequently stayed in Broadstairs, and wrote his novel Bleak House while staying in the house at the end of the cliffs. This town has a very pleasant traffic free beach promenade.
Shell Grotto, MargateWe finished the day at Margate, which rather lacks the appeal of it's neighbours. But tucked away behind the town is a shell grotto, which is interesting to visit. It was discovered in 1835, and no one knew of it's existence before then. There are some theories that suggest it dates back to Roman times, or maybe it was built by a secretive eccentric.

Thaxted - 30 January 2010

Thaxted Guildhall
ThaxtedOne of the delights of winter is walking on a frosty morning over wet farmland, frozen solid.

We needed to give our flat battery a good run, so decided to visit Thaxted,

Thaxted is totally delightful. A colourful High Street, Thaxted Windmillwith the painted pargetted and timber framed buildings leading the eye to the large, elaborate church, past a very stylish 14th century Guildhall. Behind the village is a windmill, still in working order.

ThaxtedOur 9 mile circular walk turned back at Great Easton, a smaller, but quite charming village, set around a green.

The day was mild, despite the frost, and stayed sunny all day; one of winter's gems.

Great EastonGreat Easton pargetting detail