The V&A, the British Museum, the Natural History and the Science Museum. They may be the royalty of London‘s museum scene and worthy monarchs, we grudgingly admit, but can they offer you Winston Churchill’s dentures, your own blend of gin and more sewing machines than an All Saints shop front? No, they cannot. But these weird and wonderful museums of London can.
HMS Belfast. By Stuart Chalmers.
The imagination-capturing “Lovett Collection of London Superstitions” can be found inside the Cuming Museum, an equally captivating museum built around the collection of items preserved – i.e. hoarded – by two generations of the Cuming family in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Victorian City banker Edward Lovett donated his private collection of observations about superstitions occupying the busy minds of Londoners at the turn of the 20th century, which includes some seriously odd good luck charms like a string of acorns – believed to cure diarrhoea – and a dead mole – thought to keep danger at bay. Obviously.
Containing four centuries’ worth of surgical “memorabilia” - if you can call jars of pickled limbs and preserved internal organs memorabilia – the Hunterian Museum inside the Royal College of Surgeons is a must for anyone with a lust for slightly odd, gruesome things chopped off or extracted from bodies. While for some the experience is akin to watching a B grade horror movie, there is no denying that it’s a fascinating collection of documenting medical history. It’s here’s where you’ll find Winston Churchill’s dentures.
Huntarian Museum. By Sumlin.
South of the river on Balham High Road is the Wimbledon Sewing Machine Company, which proudly houses the London Sewing Machine Museum. Step inside – when it’s open which is sadly only between 2pm and 5pm on the first Saturday of every month – and be prepared to be overwhelmed by the history of over 700 sewing machines of all different shapes and sizes including one owned by Charlie Chaplin and another bought by Queen Victoria for her daughter.
Sewing Machine Museum. By technokitten.
Tick, tock, tick, tock. Time flies by when you’re having fun in London and it is also the subject of much history in the capital city. The Clockmaker’s Museum not only documents this but also hosts the oldest collection of watches and clocks in the world. Learn about the innovative processes – yes, innovative! – involved in watch and clock making over the centuries and feel somewhat sad that the beauty of telling time has now largely been replaced by smartphones. Admission is free.
“Please Sir can I have some more?” Find your inner Oliver with a trip to the Ragged School Museum in east London which does its best to recapture what being educated in the first free schools set up by charities for “destitute” Victorian children in London was like. This museum is in the building of a school opened in 1877 by the now famous Dr Thomas Barnado and it offers your little ragged ones the chance to don typical Victorian clothes and sit in an authentic classroom where a schoolmaster will tell them what’s what. Oh and did we mention that the building is haunted too?
Technically it’s not a museum, more a trendy Notting Hill bar, but The Ginstitute takes you on a journey back in time to experience what London’s Victorian gin palaces were like. While there is much history and information to be shared by the resident gin expert – what a job! – he will also take you through the steps you need to follow to make your own gin. In fact they promise you’ll never have to buy the stuff from the supermarket again.
Too often ignored by the average visitor to London, the London Canal Museum does its best to highlight how the waterways weaving across the city were once a crucial part of its transport network. Now they can be one of the easiest ways to escape London’s busy traffic and overflowing streets. Because the museum is housed in the former warehouse-style factory for Carlo Gatti’s famous ice cream you can also find out how the “ice industry” in London is so intricately linked to the waterways.
London Canal Museum. From Wikipedia.
Dennis Severs House is not your average museum. In fact, it’s not a museum at all more a “still life drama” with each of the 10 rooms in this house at 18 Folgate Street being used to recreate different stages in what London would have been like for a family of Huguenot silk weavers in the 18th and 19th centuries. It became the life’s work of Californian artist Dennis Severs from 1979 until his death in 1999 aged 51. Weird but wonderful, the Spitalfields Trust now offer a number of different experiences to visitors.
Dennis Severs’ House. By Kotomicreations.
So you didn’t think there were enough animal skeletons in the Hunterian Museum? Well, try UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology which is stuffed full of dead animal bones. Literally, cupboards of them. It’s probably one of the only places in the country where you can see the famously extinct Dodo, in skeletal form of course.
Grant Museum of Zoology. By Catfunt.
While the London Transport Museum is brilliant and we encourage you visit, Acton Depot is where you can expect your eyes to pop out at how much transport memorabilia has been preserved. Here you can find over 7000 old tube posters, a number of old guard uniforms as well as old train carriages and double-decker red buses to experience what commuter life used to be like in times gone by. Yeah, we bet there were still delays then too. The museum is not open to the public all year round, however, though their open days are worth the wait with hands-on activities and tours. The first open weekends are due to happen in April 2013. All aboard!
LT Depot, Acton. By STML.
Featured image: Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms. By chriswatkins.
Ah, tourists, you can’t deny they get the best of everything just by dint of sheer volume and an almost supernatural ability to queue.
There they are. All over the Eiffel Tower in their cheery Crocs like demented toddlers. They’ve nailed every palazzo and plaza. The Blarney Stone is a personal photo opp. And, unless you know a night watchman at any of Europe’s museums (or you’re in a Woody Allen movie), buy some postcards; the real thing usually looks about the same size over a sea of heads.
But should we be beaten?
The Eiffel Tower attracts almost 8 million visitors each year. Image by Dunnock_D.
Should we resign ourselves to solitary armchair travel, trying to replicate the magnificence of Europe with nothing more than a few soggy chips, a jar of mayonnaise and a sachet of cappuccino mix?
No we should not. The time has come to take back the cobbles, the castles, the cathedrals, the architecture and art, in fact anything that’s even had a brush with a pair of Rohan convertible chinos in the past decade is now fair game. Because if there’s one thing tourists like even less than trousers that don’t turn into shorts, it’s winter.
Royal Palace of Madrid. By Martin Hapl.
This is the season to actually visit the visitor attractions and not stand in line for hours with people who look like they were knitted out of rough, brown wool. You can take guided tours and hear the guides. And you know all those things like funiculars and covered boats and miniature trains? They’re really quite good fun when they’re not packed. So what three cities might win you over this winter? We thought, Prague, Madrid and Florence.
Piazza della Signoria, Florence. By Gaspa.
Yes, we are actually going to suggest that you stroll across the Piazza della Signoria in Florence (in winter there’s even enough room for a skippity run if you like). Have a look at Michelangelo’s ‘outdoor’ David. Make your way to the Uffizi – less of a gallery and more ‘most famous museum in the entire known universe’. And get in without having to queue.
There are 45 rooms in the Uffizi so this is the perfect place to try out a guided tour. Make sure it includes ‘Cosimo’s Commute’ AKA the Vasari Corridor, designed by Cosimo I to let the Medici Family travel from Palazzo Vecchio (work) to Palazzo Pitti (home) in blissfully commoner-free 16th century style. Part of the Vasari crosses the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous bridge and still home to the city’s goldsmiths and frighteningly expensive jewellers – nigh on impossible to get near in summer.
Uffizi Gallery all to yourself. By funebre.
When you’ve ‘done’ the Uffizi it’s just a short walk to the Galleria Accademia. This is where they keep the real David and yes, he’s much taller than all those plastic statues would lead you to believe.
Have a drink on at least one of Florence’s piazzas. The Signoria and Repubblica might be like all ten circles of hell in summer but they’re very pleasant on a winter afternoon. Not warm of course, but it’s advisable to wear clothes in most public places these days. And you can watch the Fiorentini; a uniquely courageous people brave enough to live in this beautiful city even during the summer.
Piazza della Signoria. By Gwenaël Piaser.
The Madrileno are a little more elusive during the winter months. The capital of Spain can be chilly and the lure of some rich Rioja and a plate of tapas hard to resist. But don’t worry the city itself isn’t holed up in a bar. In fact it’s business as usual in Madrid, just a lot less people to share it with.
Parque del Retiro. By Alex E. Proimos.
One thing we know about tourists; they don’t like wandering too much. Handily enough Madrid has three of the world’s most famous museums forming a triangle in the city centre; Museo Reine Sofia, Museo del Thyssen-Bornemisza and Museo del Prado.
Reine Sofia is where you’ll find Picasso’s Guernica. The Thyssen-Bornemisza collection covers the 13th to late 20th century. And Del Prado, what can we say? Unless you live under a stone, you’ll recognise the masterpieces in this museum. And, even if you ignore our advice on guides elsewhere, the ones in Madrid really are extraordinary.
Picasso’s Guernica. By Tab59.
Churros and hot chocolate on the Plaza Mayor is a winter box you have to tick. But don’t eat on the Plaza. Leave through one of the square’s Arco and look for somewhere small and busy, in winter that means it’s full of locals.
Plaza Mayor, Madrid. By Bjørn Giesenbauer.
You want Calle de Preciados for shopping and Plaza de Santa Ana for bars, cafés and flamenco. Yes, it’s the dreaded ‘F’ word. And winter in Madrid means not only can you see the great dance in action you can take classes too. A great souvenir is the mark of a true tourist and we can’t think of anything more delightful for your family and friends than the gift of seeing you Flamenco.
Flamenco. By somebody_.
Prague doesn’t offer much in the way of dance instruction but in winter it really doesn’t need to. With freezing temperatures, almost certain snow and some of Europe’s most ethereal architecture, dancing would look a bit show off. Happily, tourists seem to prefer Prague’s unbearable summer humidity which leaves winter free for you to do what they normally do, in peace.
St. Vitus Cathedral. By James Whitesmith.
Unlike Florence and Madrid, Prague doesn’t have hugely famous art collections, but what it lacks in paint on canvas it more than makes up for on its streets.
Take advantage of the Old Town Square’s relative calm and even if you don’t go into any of the buildings just wander about. It looks strangely like a movie set, but in a good way – especially once you get over thinking of the 14th century Tyn Church in terms of Cinderella’s Castle. On the hour be sure to stand in front of the Astronomical Clock and see the Apostles – it shouldn’t be cute, but it is.
Old Town Square. By james_clear.
Winter’s also the time to cross the famously famous Charles Bridge and ascend to Prague Castle. If you’re lucky the bridge will be snow covered for extra drama and Prague Castle is the biggest in Europe so it’s not too shabby either.
Pont Charles. By Panoramas.
And of course there’s the beer. Visit Prague in summer and you’d be forgiven for assuming that the rest of Europe was dealing with the problem of binge drinking by giving out free tickets to the Czech Republic. But winter’s perfect for enjoying some of the country’s most famous export without a stag party chaser.
So find a cosy bar, place your order and have our permission to feel just a little bit smug.
You made it as a tourist, you saw what all the fuss was about and now you’ve got the hang of it you can start planning next winter’s invasion.
Image by Mait Jüriado.
Featured image by zabozrut.
With much of Europe experiencing below freezing temperatures and icy winds, this Flickr Friday we explore an area with one of the most stable climates in the world. Because of its proximity to North Africa, and thanks to sitting comfortably on the Mediterranean coast, the Algarve region of Portugal makes for one of the best spots in Europe to thaw out.
So sit back, imagine the warming sunshine caressing your skin and enjoy this collection of unusual angles to view this stunning place.
Ghost fishing. By YaYapas.
Paisaje del Algarve. By fontxito.
Abandoned boat in Alvor. By Vitó.
Faro. By marettay Maurizio Mori.
Silves Castle. By Bert Kaufmann.
Silves, Faro. By c@rljones.
Praia do Amado. By Dani Alvarez Cañellas.
Lagos. By mazintosh.
Image by Bruno Amaral™.
Lagos. By MeckiMac.
Hidden Algarve. By lynxpardina.
Pego do Inferno. By Turist.
Ferragudo. By gulfman1.
Pursuit of happiness. By dB e n c h e c i.
Featured image by Travelling Pooh.
While Paris is the default setting for romantic escapes on Valentine’s Day – and it can easily live up to all expectations – there’s one city we think you should consider if you’re planning whisking the one you love away for a weekend to celebrate your love. But first let us tell you a story. Are you sitting comfortably?
Roma today. By Giuseppe Moscato.
It is two hundred years after the death of Christ and a man named Valentine lives in the most important city in the world; Rome. He is a priest and aside from his faith, he is a passionate believer in one special thing; love.
Valentine is also quite fond of his beautiful city, which is the centre of a fast growing Roman Empire. It’s a bustling hub of innovation, culture and sport with stunning new buildings popping up on virtually every street corner. He loves to explore this new and vibrant city.
Valentine fills his days under the warm Italian sun by firstly walking to the Forum in the centre of town to find out the latest news and meet with his friends. As he walks past the nearby impressively grand Colosseum, loud and boisterous cheers from the crowds watching those bloodthirsty gladiators fight one another interrupt his thoughts; he wonders if a time will come when blood sport isn’t the spectacle it is in his lifetime. Before heading north to Trajan’s Market to buy groceries, he heads to the Pantheon, a newly built temple dedicated to the Roman Gods, to meet an associate in secret. He hopes to find out if there is any change on the Empire’s current persecution of Christians; he fears not.
Trajan’s Market. By robertpaulyoung.
It is for this reason that Valentine acts out on what he believes he is called to do, celebrating his religion with fellow believers. One of the duties that he carries out with special care and attention in secret churches across Rome’s already sprawling urban landscape is marrying lovers in their faith. One day as he walks around the city he loves he is arrested for this crime and is thrown in prison.
Whilst imprisoned our hero Valentine continues to pray and practice his beloved faith, including saying prayers for those who have jailed him. In the process Valentine’s love for his captors heals a Roman General’s blind daughter and the whole family convert to Christianity. However, it is too late to undo his fate and in the minutes before Valentine is executed, he writes a note to all those he loves and leaves behind simply saying “From your Valentine”. Many years after his death Valentine is made a saint and the day on which his name is to be celebrated is officiated as the 14th February.
Roman Angel. By lennox_mcdough.
Or at least this is how one myth behind the story of Valentine’s Day goes. There are other theories as to why this time of year is a celebration of love, the ancient Pagan festival of Lupercalia being the most entertaining of these thanks to its rituals including beating up one’s lover and indulging in S&M style “fertility” acts.
However, what is true about this story and can still be experienced today is the romance and history of Rome. All of those buildings, meeting places and markets that Valentine explored still exist today in Italy’s capital city and should all be seen to fully appreciate how Valentine’s city looked, particularly the Pantheon, which is considered the best-preserved Roman building in the world.
The Pantheon. By Sean Molin Photography.
Aside from the Roman relics and ruins, there are the buildings and landmarks that were built since, and these hold the same romantic potential: throw a penny and make a wish at the Fontana di Trevi, climb the Spanish Steps hand-in-hand, take a romantic turn in the gardens of Villa Borghese and if you’re feeling really generous share a gelato with the one you love – though we fully understand if you’d rather have your own. Finally walk over the Tiber to Trastevere for dinner, where the smell of freshly baked pizza dough and sun-ripened vegetables will show you better than any guidebook where you can find one of Rome’s best loved restaurants. To complete your evening, brave the winter night (or jump in a taxi) and head over to the Roof Terrace bar on Via Tor de’ Conti close to the Colosseum where Valentine’s Rome is waiting for his lovers to toast his beloved city goodnight.
The skull of St. Valentine. By CapnOats.
Featured image by jonrawlinson.
Congrats to Auld Reekie, UK’s favourite city 13 years in a row and recently voted one of the top 5 ‘must see’ cities in the world. No doubt Scotland’s capital will be more unbearable than ever this summer – or the Season of the Mime Artiste as we like to think of it. So we decided to get in early and bring you our own tribute to the charms of Edinburgh best enjoyed in the company of some low lying mist, light drizzle and a wind chill factor.
Harrison Park. By chatirygirl.
We probably don’t need to tell you about Edinburgh’s slightly unsavoury reputation. You can’t throw a glance in this town without hitting a ghost. And Edinburgh has enough ‘Tours of Terror’ to keep your average ghoul in gainful employment till the next millennium – unsurprisingly every one of them is an ‘authentic experience’. Personally we think if you’re brave enough to walk around in public with a cackling ‘resting actor’ in the full witch gear there’s nothing on any tour that’s going to raise your heart rate.
Ghost Tour Guide. By malyousif.
So, if you’re in search of gloom and the creeping chill of your own vivid imagination is companion enough, might we suggest …….
Greyfriars Kirkyard, born in 1561, is a mere stripling in this ancient city. Designed to take the stink (literally) away from St. Giles on the Royal Mile, Greyfriars is famous for the lovable and loyal ‘Greyfriars Bobby’. But on a winter’s day with the bare trees, dripping damp and a knife sharp wind round the tombs, nothing cute this way comes.
Greyfriars Bobby. By mr lynch.
If treading in the footsteps of Greyfriar’s infamous Resurrectionists (grave robbers) isn’t chilling enough, then step lightly through Mary King’s Close. When the Black Death struck in 1645 Edinburgh answered the cries of this Close’s victims by bricking them up – alive. We won’t go all guided tour cheesy on you and suggest you can still hear their shrieks. Just watch where you put your feet and hands, the post-plague clear up crew were none too careful when they cut the corpses up for disposal.
Mary King’s Close might be notorious but it’s not alone. The Wynds and Closes off the Royal Mile seem very picturesque today but in their time they were home to almost every ne’er do weel that Edinburgh ever spawned. So avoid the tartan and tat and take to the slippery cobbles and high tenement walls. The street lights are always a bit mist blurred at dusk but don’t be nervous. That glimpse of something out of the corner of your eye, it was probably nothing.
Bakehouse Close. By curlsdiva.
Like all Scotland’s great cities, Edinburgh was originally a port. And while Leith docks today are haunted by more ad executives and bankers than spirits of a disgraceful past they’re still atmospheric enough to warrant inclusion on your winter list. Plus, Leith’s where locals go when they want seafood.
Old Pier. By RK Smith.
For ghosts of summers past head for Portobello; sandy beach, wild sea, fish suppers, real Italian ice cream and not a sun-broiled Scot in sight. Pick a day with a good stiff wind – not an issue in Edinburgh – and you can walk from one end of the beach to the other barely moving a muscle. Just remember to wrap up warm.
Portobello. By byronv2.
In our opinion Afternoon Tea is the ideal accompaniment to winter weather and ghosts. And nowhere else on earth does justice to this perfectly balanced meal like Edinburgh. To appreciate the art form at its finest (three tier cake stand, triangular sandwiches, real tea, china cups and saucers) visit the city’s Georgian New Town. Originally built to let Edinburgh’s elite escape the grime of the Old Town, the New Town is still where the city’s grand and glamorous live. But it’s also home to any number of elegant hotels serving Afternoon Tea, every day, from 4pm sharp.
Old Town, New Town and the mighty thoroughfare of Princes Street apart, Edinburgh’s also a city of villages. Technically the same could be said of most cities, but in Edinburgh the villages are still villages and they wear winter well. Visit Stockbridge for cute streets, vintage shops and the magnificent Royal Botanic Gardens. Dean Village is woods, waterfalls, quaint houses and the Scottish National Museum of Modern Art (in parkland). Lovingly conserved Colinton has ‘Colinton Dell’, enough said. And for Arthur’s Seat, Cafés, pubs and general student liveliness it’s got to be Newington.
Colinton Dell. By Ninian Reid.
By all means visit Edinburgh in the summer, everyone else will this year. Join one of the tours, they’re probably fine and you’re on holiday so who’s going to recognise you anyway? Or you could take our advice and go now while the weather holds true to its northern roots, the mist lies low across cobbled streets and you aren’t distracted by the sound of one of the world’s most beautiful cities having its soul sucked out by hordes of ravening tourists.
Atop Arthur’s Seat. By Marius Brede.
Featured image: St Giles Cathedral. By vgm8383.