Category Archives: England

List of articles with tips for things to do in England; top English attractions, sights and museums.

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The Horniman Museum in London

I resolved to finally visit the Horniman Museum in south London when I noticed that I could get a direct London Overground train from Hoxton station, fairly close to the RE London Shoreditch Hotel where I was staying, to Forest Hill, where the Horniman is located. It was raining during the rail journey, but fortunately dry for the ten minute uphill walk from Forest Hill station.

The Horniman Museum, built in the Arts and Crafts style, opened in 1901 to house the collections of tea-trader Frederick Horniman.

The ‘Humanity in the House of Circumstance’ mosaic at the top front of the building illustrates human aspirations and constraints.

horniman museum mosaic

I was impressed by the Conservatory which was being used by visitors who’d bought drinks and snacks from the Cafe and those who’d brought picnics.

horniman museum conservatory

I didn’t spend much time in the gardens, as I didn’t arrive at the Horniman Museum until after 4pm, I thought I’d better get into the museum, as it closed at 5.30pm. When I came out of the museum, it had started raining again. It’s a pity as I would have liked to follow the ‘Sundial Trail’.

horniman museum sun dial

My favourite section of the Horniman Museum was the ‘Whisper of the Stars’ temporary exhibition depicting life in Artic Siberia.

horniman museum whisper of stars child

horniman museum whisper of stars feeding

horniman museum whisper of stars reindeer

The Natural History Gallery was dominated by an enormous walrus.

horniman museum walrus

There were some very vivid Scarlet ibis.

horniman museum red ibisi

The collection of central nervous systems in various species was interesting.

horniman museum central nervous system

Entry to the Horniman Museum is free of charge, but you do have to pay to get into the Aquarium and some temporary exhibitions. During my visit the cost for a combined ticket, giving access to the ‘eXtremes’ exhibition and the Aquarium, was £8.80 for adults and £4.40 for children.

horniman museum extremes

There were some colourful photos in Gallery Square on the lower ground floor.

horniman museum lower ground foyer1

The Ijele (a giant Nigerian mask), which honours the dead, on display in the ‘African World’ section, was commissioned by the museum.

horniman museum mask

The Midnight Robber mask is a representation of a character who is a traditional part of carnival in Trinidad.

horniman museum skeleton

I wish that I’d had more time to explore the Horniman Museum and Gardens. I recommend that you make the effort to visit.

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A Morning in Lincoln’s Inn Fields London

I spent an enjoyable morning visiting the Sir John Soane’s and Hunterian Museum, both free to enter,  in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London. Unfortunately, photography isn’t permitted in either museum.

Sir John Soane’s Museum was built in as the home of Neo-Classical architect. In 1833, four years before his death he established his home as a museum on condition that the interior be maintained as it stood.

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Exterior of John Soane’s Museum

The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeon’s is directly opposite the Sir John Soane’s Museum, through Licoln’s Inn Field Sqaure, the largest public square in London.

lincoln's inn fields fountain

Fountain in Lincoln’s Inn Flields

lincoln's inn fields modern sculpture

Modern sculpture in Lincoln’s Inn Fields

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The Royal College of Surgeon’s in Lincoln’s Inn Fields

In the Hunterian Museum, there was the skeleton of the ‘Irish Giant’, Charles Byrne, who was 7’7″ tall. The most interesting section for me was about plastic surgery, developed largely in response to the many facial injuries inflicted on troops during WW1. This theme was continued in the ‘War, Art and Surgery’ exhibition which runs until 14 February 2015.

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 War, Art and Surgery exhibition poster

 

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Review of Tara Tari Buffet Restaurant London

Update 17 December 2014 – The restaurant has now closed. I’m assuming that this is at least partly due to loads of awful reviews on TripAdvisor. I’m surprised, as I enjoyed my meal there.

I had lunch at the Tara Tair Buffet Restaurant in Finchley Road, Swiss Cottage in late May 2014. I had done some research to find a reasonably priced restaurant for lunch fairly close to my hotel, the Colonnade Town House in Little Venice. I knew that I’d arrive at the Colonnade around one hour before the official check in time of 2pm. I didn’t fancy hanging around the hotel lobby. As heavy rain was forecast, I thought I’d go out to eat. I didn’t want to be wandering around in the rain looking for a restaurant. I was able to get to Tara Tari on a direct bus route from a stop two minutes walk from the hotel.

tara tari exterior

It was very quiet when I entered Tara Tari. The staff were welcoming,

tara tari interior

I thought that there was an excellent choice of dishes. I really enjoyed the aubergine stew.

tara tari starters

The mexican chicken was tasty.

tara tari main course

The fruit salad contained pineapple, grapes and melon. All too often it’s mainly apple. The chocolate cake pieces were good.

tara tari desserts

I thought that the price of £8 for a weekday lunch at the Tara Tari Buffet Restaurant offered very good value for money in London. I’ve often paid more than £10, plus a 12.5% (supposedly discretionary) service charge for an indifferent main course in London.

Review of Tara Tari Buffet Restaurant LondonKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

Review of Airbnb Apartment near Barbican in London

I searched the Airbnb peer-to-peer accommodation website for a 2 night midweek stay in London in early December 2014. My budget was up to £75 a night, as Airbnb had given me a £150 credit to try out their site. My search criteria were quite restrictive, I was looking for a private room with an ensuite bathroom within a 30 minute walk of both King’s Cross station and Shoreditch High St a few days prior to my stay.

Fortunately I found a room that ticked all the boxes with availability, that was under budget at £115 for the two nights. The room was in a two bedroom apartment with a shared kitchen and living room in Goswell Road near the Barbican Centre.

Before booking I checked with the host that there were no pets and that is was no smoking accommodation. Once that was established, the host confirmed my booking within a few minutes.

Another attractive feature of that accommodation was that check-in and check-out times were flexible. This enabled me to walk straight to the apartment to drop off my case after my arrival into King’s Cross.

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Entrance to the apartment block in Goswell Rd

I didn’t meet the host in person, we communicated by messaging. The cleaning lady let me into the flat. I was happy with my room and its ensuite bathroom. It was warm, comfortable and very clean. I did hear some road noise when I was in bed at night, but that’s usually an issue from me in cities.

goswell rd bedroom

My bedroom

The WiFi was faster than our fixed line broadband at home. I was able to upload photos in a flash. The kitchen was really well equipped, not that I did any cooking, but it was handy to have access to a fridge and toaster.

goswell rd kitchen

The kitchen

The living room was so large that it could comfortably fit four sofas and a six seater table. There was Sky TV, but I didn’t use it.

goswell rd lounge

Living room

There was another Airbnb guest, an Austrian guy, in the other bedroom in the apartment. I chatted with him a few times in the kitchen.

I thought that £115 for two nights in an ensuite room in a central location with access to a lounge and a kitchen was excellent value for money, especially compared to hotel prices in London.

If you join Airbnb using this referral link, you’ll receive a credit of $25 (approx £16) which you can use when you make a booking for the value of at least $75 (approx £48), excluding any cleaning fee, within 30 days of the referral.

I’ll receive a $25 credit if you make a qualifying booking, and $75 credit if you sign up to become a host, after you’ve hosted your first qualifying stay.

Click here to read the full referral terms and conditions.

geffyre museum christmas 1930s room

Christmas Past at the Geffyre Museum London

As I was staying within a 30 minute walk of the Geffyre Museum when I was in London last week, I decided to visit to see the Christmas Past. Every year from late November to early January, eleven period rooms at the Geffyre are decked with festive decorations appropriate to the times.

geffyre museum christmas past 1960s room

!960s room for Christmas Past at the Geffyre Museum

geffyre christmas past victorian room

Victorian room during Christmas Past at the Geffyre Museum

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1990s loft conversion flat during Christmas Past at the Geffyre Museum

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1630s festive spread during Christmas Past at the Geffyre Museum

geffyre museum christmas past 1930s room

1930s room during Christmas Past at the Geffyre Museum

Christmas Past runs until Sunday 4 January 2015 at the Geffyre Museum. It’s free to enter and the museum’s open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am – 5pm, but closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

Photo Tour of the London Film Museum – Bond in Motion

Although I’m not the greatest aficionado of the Bond movies, the series of films is an integral part of British culture. As I had a relative working at Pinewood Studios in the 1970s, a highlight of my teenage years was gaining access to watch part of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, starring Roger Moore, being filmed in 1976.  That’s why visiting the ‘Bond in Motion’ exhibition at the London Film Museum was fun for me.

bond in action ski car

‘The Living Daylights’ (1987) – Aston Martin V8

bond in action helicopter

 ‘You Only Live Twice’ 1976 – Little Nelly

bond in motion armoured car

‘Die Another Day’ (2002) –  Jaguar XXR

bond in motion colourful car

‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971) – Ford Mustang Mach 1

bond in action silver car

‘A View to a Kill’ (1985) – Rolls Royce Silver Cloud

bond in motion folding wing plane

‘Octopussy’ (1983) – Agrostar BD-5J

bond in action spikes on bumper

‘Die Another Day’ (2002) – Aston Martin V12 Vanquish

bond in action montage

Montage from various Bond movies

Tickets for the London Film Museum cost £14.50 for adults, £9.50 for kids aged 5+ and over 65s. I received complimentary entry. Do check the opening hours before you visit, as the day before I visited, the standard opening hours were reduced.

camden arts centre foyer

Camden Arts Centre London

Camden Arts Centre is located close in Arkwright Road, near the Finchley Road Underground station in London. It focuses on contemporary visual art and education. The building started life as Hampstead Central Library in 1897. It became an arts centre when the new library building opened in Swiss Cottage in the 1960s.

camden arts centre exterior

The shop in the foyer has a good selection of books.

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There’s a garden with a patio for the Cafe and some other seating. It was too wet during my visit to go out.

camden arts centre garden

I wasn’t permitted to take photos in any of the galleries.

camden arts centre exhibition

The Morya Davey exhibition ‘life without sheets of paper to be scribbled on is masterpiece’ didn’t appeal to me at all. The Canadian artists’ visual essays and her relationship with literature were too much naval gazing for my taste.

camden arts centre moyra davey exhibition

Things went from bad to worse in the other exhibition, ‘Besides’, by London based Phillip Lai,  which featured installations such as folded blanket type material with cutlery arranged at the side and what looked like an old metal lamp sitting on a plank with wires sticking out of the top.

Anyway, it’s still interesting to see work by various artists. Different styles of art appeal to different people.

It’s free to get into the Camden Arts Centre. It’s closed on Monday. Opening hours are 10am – 6pm, with late opening until 9pm on Wednesdays.

poppy installation at the tower of london

Visit the Poppy Installation at Tower of London Before It Ends on 30 November 2014

Update 8 November 2014 -I read this morning that the Weeping Willow and the Wave segments of the poppy installation will now stay on display until 30 November 2014.

The ‘Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red’ installation at the Tower of London, featuring 888,246 ceramic poppies, will be on display until 11 November 2014.

poppy installation at the tower of london2

I visited today. Quiet contemplation wasn’t easy with the hordes. Nevertheless, I recommend that you visit the poppy installation.

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poppy installation tower of london

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Review of RE London Shoreditch Hotel

I stayed at the RE London Shoreditch for two nights in late May 2014. I was searching for a hotel in the Shoreditch/Hackney area to be to close to the Aegon Retiready event which I was attending for my personal finance blog.

I booked the hotel around ten days in advance of my stay through lastminute’s ‘Top Secret’ hotels. I reckoned that the “4 star jewel in East London’ secret hotel priced at £177 for two nights, on a room only basis, was the RE London Shoreditch, which had a standard price of £238 for two nights. I hadn’t been too bothered if the ‘Top Secret’ hotel wasn’t the RE, as the hotel was guaranteed to be in the area in which I wanted to stay.

It took me 15 minutes to walk to the RE London Shoreditch from Bethnal Green Underground station.

re london shoreditch exterior

I arrived at the hotel a few minutes after the check in time of 2pm. I was hoping for a quick check in, so that I could head straight for the Horniman Museum. I had to queue for around ten minutes to check in. Although I’d requested a quiet room on the lastminute.com booking form, I was allocated a room at the front of the hotel, right above a pelican crossing on Hackey Road.  As I didn’t fancy two nights of disturbed sleep, I decided to go back down to reception to request a quiet room. I had to queue for around ten minutes again. I was offered a room which faced the internal courtyard. However, that room wasn’t ready, so I was asked to wait in the lobby. A receptionist came over to give me key to my new room.

re london shoreditch restaurant

I was really glad that I changed rooms. My new rooom was cooler and quiet enough to leave the window open overnight.

I thought that the room was low key but functional and comfortable. There was a fridge which was great for storing milk and fruit. I was glad that I was staying alone, as the duvet didn’t seem wide enough to cover two people.

re london shoreditch double room

The hotel offers free WiFi throughout but you need a username and password for each device. I was unable to use the WiFi. When I tried to connect both my netbook and mobile phone, there was a “this connection is untrusted” message. I played it safe by sticking to my mobile broadband. I did mention this issue on check out, but was told I was the first person to have a problem with the WiFi connection.

There were some tasty biscuits and drinking chocolate sachets in the room. However, I think that there should be more than two teabags and two sachets of regular coffee in rooms. I doubt if the one small tube of shampoo and shower gel supplied in the bathroom would be sufficient for two people.

It’s a ten minute walk up to Broadway Market, held on Saturdays. Regent’s Canal, Hackney City Farm and Haggerston Park are a few minutes walk west along Hackney Road. There’s a Tesco Express close by on Hackey Road heading east towards Cambridge Heath station. The Geffyre Museum of the home is a 20 minute walk, located next to Hoxton Overground station.

In summary, I was happy with the RE Shoreditch, my room was very quiet for London, clean and comfortable. However, it could be improved by doubling the supply of  toiletries and tea/coffee sachets, a larger duvet and WiFi which doesn’t require usernames and passwords or have security issues.

Review of RE London ShoreditchKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

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Review of the Colonnade Town House Hotel London

I booked a room at the Colonnade Town House Hotel in Little Venice through lastminute.com’s ‘Top Secret’ hotels. I was searching for a reasonably priced hotel for a two night stay, in an area I hadn’t previously explored, one week before my stay in late May 2014.

I’d worked out that a hotel described as a “4 star Victorian boutique hotel by Little Venice and Paddington” and priced at £155 for two nights (after using a 10% discount code) was likely to be the Colonnade. This was a massive saving of of £284, compared to the £439 price of being guaranteed that you were booking the Colonnade.

The hotel is located a one minute walk from Warwick Ave Underground station on the Bakerloo Line. It all looked very promising as I approached the Colonnade, the area was beautiful and the hotel exterior impressive.

colonnade town house hotel exterior

I thought that the lobby was a bit over the top. There was a cat basket in the corner of the lobby and a friendly cat wandering around. Not ideal if, like me, you are allergic to cats.

colonnade town house lobby

Things got worse when I entered my room. It was at the back of the hotel with two frosted white upvc windows with mould in some sections. This made the room so dingy that I needed the lights on during the day. There were two heating/air conditioning units, one in a corner of the room and one under the smaller window (which prevented the blind from coming down fully.) As I didn’t require the room to be heated or cooled, I didn’t investigate further, but I didn’t understand why two ugly units were requried and why they weren’t located in more discreet locations. All in all, the room was not quite in keeping with the touted Victorian luxury town house.

colonnade town house hotel room

I swithered about whether to go back down to reception to request another room. However, I could see the advantage of the quiet location at the back of the building. I’d read in reviews that the rooms in the basement were noisy as they were above the Underground train tunnel and I thought that rooms on the top floor might be hot. On balance, I decided to stay put.

The room was so badly designed. There was no place for my case. The wardrobe was too small, so I had to lay the case on the floor. There were no free electrical sockets by the desk. I had to unplug the TV to charge my netbook or boil the kettle. There was barely space on the desk to lay my netbook, due to the TV and large lamp. I  ended up sitting the kettle on the carpet and plugging it into the electrical socket by the bathroom door.

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There were a few small patches of peeling paint in the bathroom. The bath towels were very frayed around the edges,

There was a safe in the wardrobe, which was large enough to hold my netbook. The free WiFi had a very good signal.

The Colonnade makes a big deal of having a turn down service, where they bring a bottle of water to your room, lay a chocolate on your pillow, change your towels (on request) and fold over the duvet. In my opinion, they need to put a lot more effort into basics such as new towels, providing a suitcase stand and more electical sockets in the bedrooms,

At under £80 a night for a double, my room at the Colonnade Town House Hotel was reasonable value by London standards. I did sleep quite well due to the room being quiet and dark. However, if I’d paid the standard price of £220 for that room, I’d have been livid and left feeling cheated.

Review of the Colonnade Town House Hotel LondonKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff