Monday, June 30, 2008

London's Madame Tussauds

Madame Tussuads is said to be London's most famous visitor attraction-and I guess it would be hard to find someone who has not heard of the London Wax Museum. The most recent announcement is that the slightly mad London pop star Amy Winehouse will become a fixture at Madame Tussauds after she has been immortalised in wax. She will join just other modern favorites as Paris Hilton and Brad Pitt.

Millions and millions of people have flocked through the doors of London's Madame Tussauds since they first opened over 200 years ago and it remains just as popular as it ever was. There are many reasons for this enduring success, but at the heart of it all is good, old-fashioned curiosity. Today’s visitors are sent on a unique, emotionally-charged journey through the realms of the powerful and famous.

Some of Madame Tussauds’ original work and earliest relics are still on display in London, including the death masks she was forced to make during the French Revolution and the Guillotine that beheaded Marie Antoinette. Guests can also marvel at probably the earliest example of animatronics –‘Sleeping Beauty’, a breathing likeness of Louis XV’s sleeping mistress Madame du Barry sculpted in 1763, is the attraction’s oldest figure on display.

London's Madame Tussauds is full of interactive figures – Jennifer Lopez blushes, Britney Spears breathes and Kylie smells sweetly of her signature fragrance Darling. Meanwhile, Jamie
Oliver’s stomach rumbles, and Brit comedy stars David Walliams and Matt Lucas
wisecrack together.

A staggering 2,400lbs of wax is used in nearly 400 figures currently on show in the London
attraction. That’s roughly equivalent to 16,000 candles, even though the ‘Japan’ wax used
to create figures is incapable of melting.

500 precise body and facial measurements are taken over two hours at a standard sitting
session with the celebrity subject. This gives expert Madame Tussauds sculptors all the
information they need to create a strikingly realistic figure.

From initial sitting to press launch, a typical Madame Tussauds figure takes around four
months to make, utilises a team of around 20 skilled artists and costs £150,000.

Madame Tussauds- Adult £25.00, Child £21.00, Family £85.00

Friday, June 27, 2008

London Festival of Architecture 2008

London Festival of Architecture-there is a lot of great architecture in London-so they are spending a full month talking about some of London's greatest buildings. I like all kinds of Festivals and you have to love one that wants everything to be Fresh. Like fresh food, events will include a continuous picnic through Bloomsbury, growing projects across London and demonstrations and exhibitions about urban agriculture at Cheapside Market.

The London Festival of Architecture invites people to Take a Fresh Look at London. The central theme of 'fresh' is reflected in series of events that cover all five Festival Hubs. The LFA Fresh Flower pavilion designed by Tonkin Liu Architects will serve as a mobile platform for Fresh Thinking talks; the National Architecture Student Festival showcases Fresh Talent from a dozen universities; a series of expert design workshops will take a Fresh Approach to some of London's lost quarters; our guided walks and cycle rides encourage people to explore the city in the Fresh Air; and talks about Fresh Food and urban agriculture accompany a series of urban allotment installations and a public picnic.

During the Festival month, the buzz of activity will move across five key areas or 'Hubs' of central London, with large-scale public events taking place in a different Hub each weekend. Each of the Hubs covers an area with a very different character - historic, present and future – and full of different institutions and activities.

All in all it looks like a lot of cool stuff going on. But then it is in London, so it has to be cool, right? The London Festival of Architecture things of interest:

Wallpaper magazine is hosting Hauswork, a series of talks on the 21st-century townhouse.

The French art collective Exyzt is transforming Southwark Lido into conceptual Roman baths.

Scott King, former art director at i-D magazine, is creating an installation on hoardings in SE1.

David Chipperfield is lecturing on the King's Cross masterplan.

Screening the City is a series of films celebrating architecture.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

London's National Portrait Gallery

Being a portrait photographer, I kind of like places like London's National Portrait Gallery-just to see if much has changed over the years. Not much has-just the medium and the costumes, the lighting and body angles are often exactly what I use today. I have always been one of those people that likes the look of a real painting hanging on a wall in front of me. The Wife seems perfectly content just looking at a photo in a book. I like to stand where The Master once stood in front of a painting.

London's National Portrait Gallery is right behind Trafalgar Square, famed for pigeons and London's Smallest Police Station. When I was there you could buy cracked corn to feed the pigeons, who are not at all bashful in Trafalgar Square and will freely sit on an outstretched arm or perch upon your head if you stand still for a minute. Amid the splashing water of the fountains and the screeching of the birds, this is a loud and fun spot. Your sure to want at least a few pictures of pigeons before heading off to the National Portrait Gallery-or maybe a bit of video would be better at catching the energy of Trafalgar Square.

There is a lot to see in The National Portrait Gallery and there are a few paintings you should seek out-including Sir Joshua Reynolds's first portrait of Samuel Johnson, a full-length of Elizabeth I, and a Holbein cartoon of Henry VIII. There's also a portrait of William Shakespeare (with a gold earring) by an unknown artist that bears the claim of being the "most authentic contemporary likeness" of its subject.

The website for London's National Portrait Gallery is filled with a mind boggling amount of information-The Online Database contains info about 113,519 works-57,952 of are illustrated. The National Portrait Galley's collection includes over 330,000 works. The database is being expanded regularly. For example, there are 39 portraits of John Lennon and 6 portraits by famed Hollywood Portrait Photographer George Hurrell. It would be easy to spend a good deal of time wandering around the images online. But I do like seeing these kinds of things in person.

OPENING HOURS-Open daily 10am - 6pm Late night opening Thursday and Friday until 9pm Last admission to paying exhibitions is 45 minutes before the Gallery closes. Closing commences 10 minutes prior to the stated tim0.The Gallery is closed 24-26 December. ADMISSION-Entry to the building is free. There are charges for special exhibitions throughout the year. Ticket prices vary. Disabled visitors pay concessionary rates and carers are entitled to free admission.

Photography is not allowed in The National Portrait Gallery.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Liberty of London

The Liberty store has a striking façade, however, once inside the true beauty of building is realised. From aged wooden staircases and quaint lifts to awe-inspiring atriums and hidden rooms, Liberty's interior is as much a constant source of wonder as the exterior.

The more my thoughts wander around London, the more I realize that it is impossible to see all the cool London Attractions one would like to see without actually living there. Since it is unlikely that I will be moving to London, barring winning a very large Lottery, I will have to be a bit more selective on what I plan on seeing when I do manage to get back across the Pond.

I feel that I have seen a good deal of the Major London Attractions, though there are plenty of those that I would like to stop by and see again. I keep thinking of smaller, and yet still very interestingattractions in London. London is filled to the gills with all kinds of great attractions, both large and small, well known and unknown. Well, unknown to the likes of me, anyway.

Liberty of London is one such place. Right-I know Liberty of London is not exactly on a par with The Tower of London or The British Museum, but I have a great weakness for junk shops of all sorts-and Liberty of London is a junk shop of all sorts. Plus I really love their website-that bit where you can play random piano notes as you scroll over the thumbnails is brilliant.

You have to just love old Tudor buildings in London and Liberty is a great old Tudor Building. While not exactly Hampton Court, it does have a lot of high beams and plaster walls and I have always had a weakness for skylights of all sorts. Ok, not exactly a junk store, more of a fine and rare stuff store-and lots of it.

They even have food and a place to get a haircut. I could easily see spending the better part of a day wandering around Liberty of London, or at least until I ran out of money and had leave before taking out a loan-they do offer financial services at Liberty of London. The very idea of a Champagne & Oyster Bar is kind of posh for me, but I think I could get used to it. I do like oysters. The description of the room says they have Acropolis marble counter tops-no wonder the old place is a ruins if people take the marble and make counters out of it.

Liberty of London is open seven days a week, so there is no excuse not to stop by for an oyster or two and maybe a nice scarf. Nearest tubes-Oxford Circus - Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines and Piccadilly Circus - Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

London Foods I Like

I like most British Foods, well, mostly I like British Junk food. There is just something about Shepard's Pie, Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash, Jelly Babies, Clotted Cream Fudge, and the occasional Cup of Tea. I also like sillyl stuff like Liquorice flavored Altoids-I really like the Liquorice flavored Altoids.

There are a lot of pretend British Pubs around home, but they are not the same as a good London pub. You can whip up your own British Food, or you can wander around London to eat any of the amazing foods that strikes your fancy. There's really only one Brit Food that I hate-Salmon, but that just might be because I had my appendix removed after I ate salmon once. Not likely to happen again, but memories are sometimes tricky things.

A good real British food is Cottage pie, a traditional English dish made with minced meat covered with mashed potato and often topped with cheese. While a variety of meats can be used, the dish is traditionally made from beef or lamb. The lamb version is often called shepherd's pie but there is no hard-and-fast rule about either term. You can even get a bit of Cottage Pie on British Airlines-though I can't say I'd recommend it.

Another great British item is clotted cream-a thick yellow cream made by heating unpasteurized cow's milk and then leaving it in shallow pans for several hours. During this time, the cream content rises to the surface and forms 'clots'. Clotted Cream Fudge is great stuff. The clotted cream fudge that I ate came from Harrod's, if memory serves correct.

Bangers and Mash may, even when cooked at home, be thought of as an example of pub grub - relatively quick and easy to make in large quantities as well as being tasty and satisfying. More up-market varieties, with exotic sausages, are sold in gastropubs, as well as less exotic alternatives being available in regular pubs.

My favorite London junk food was Fish and Chips from a Donner KaBob in Camden Town. The Donner Kabob is a take away place with very large meatballs for sale in addition to the very generous portions of fish and chips. It was also a pretty good spot to stare out the window at the crowds passing by.

Of course, London chocolate is a bit sweeter and softer than American chocolate, doesn't get as hot in London so the chocolate does have to be protected from melting as much. All kinds of odd and wonder sweets in London, just grab one and enjoy.

Well, just a quick hit of the high points, I'm sure there are lots of other great things to eat in London.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Folio Society-Thousand Best Houses in England

Sir John Soane's Museum- London

The Sir John Soane's Museum, which has been described as the most ingenious domestic architecture in Britain, is an amazing London treasure-house.

The Sir John Soane Museum is my kind of place, clutter everywhere and a nice sense of ordered chaos. Left to Great Britain by the architect Sir John Soane in 1837, this is the kind of place that Victorians would dream about. Mounds of antiquities and lots of shadowy corners-with a good deal of London sunlight streaming in here and there as well.

London's Soane Museum has developed a programme of free Audio Tours-which can be downloaded to you MP3 player, iPod and some mobile phones. There is an introduction by the brilliant Stephen Fry, who speaks briefly about his own love of the Soane Museum. You can listen to the audio tour before or after your visit and plan your tour of the Sir John Soane Museum.

One of the prizes of the John Soane collection is William Hogarth's satirical series The Rake's Progress, which includes the well known Orgy and The Election, a satire on mid-18th-century politics. Sir John Soane's Museum also has the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I, found in a burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings-London seems to have a lot of Egyptian stuff lying about. Also on display are John Soane's architectural drawings, about 30,000 or so. Be sure to see the West End Attractions map.

Sir John Soane's house is on a lot of must see London lists, and for good reason.

Sir John Soane's Museum is open free: Tuesday to Saturday inclusive, 10-5. Also on the first Tuesday evening of each month, 6-9 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, Bank Holidays and Christmas Eve.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

London, Paris, and Manchester

We all have a list of places we would like to go, and I must admit that I have never really had a strong desire to head for Manchester, England. But it seems they do have some nice hotels near the Manchester Airport. And its only a few hours from London to Manchester. There is more to Manchester, England than Manchester United- just not much more. Just kidding-there's a lot to in Manchester. Manchester travel should include a look at Albert Square, the John Rylands Library, the Manchester Art Gallery, and take in the People's History Museum. A good hotel in Manchester will make finding the sights easy. Maybe one of the Manchester Airport hotels would do the trick.

For me London hotels are best hotels in Europe. Though I have stayed in London hostels near London attractions as well. I like London and I love the way they talk. My favorite London attractions would include The British Museum, The Tower of London, The London Eye, and a good meal of Fish and Chips. Watching the telly can be a bit of fun as well. Be sure to use The London Pass while your there to save on London Attractions. I spent ten days in London in one of the many budget hotels in London. I haven't stayed at a lot of London hotels, but the ones I have stayed at were very nice. Great stuff in London.

As far as 5 Star hotels in Europe go, you'll find a lot of fine hotels if visit Paris. Are Paris hotels the best hotels in Europe? Maybe-but just being in Paris would have to make them pretty special anyway. From Paris, France Hotels you'll find another city you can easily spend a week or more wandering around and never see it all. The best hotels in Paris would be allow easy access to the Catacombs, the Eiffel Tower, Basilique du Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame de Paris, and of course-Le Musée du Louvre. There are also lots of romantic hotels in Paris, and there even be a few cheap hotels in Paris.

London to Paris or London to Manchester would be a fun trip. It's easy enough to get to hotels in Paris or Manchester hotels from London-being the center of the universe and all-at least as far people who live in London are concerned. And who I am to disagree?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Best Bookshops in London

Since I generally work under the assumption that any bookstore is a good bookstore, I am not too critical of anyone trying to make a living selling books. There is something nice and comforting about being surrounded by all that knowledge and all those stories and all that history. A good bookstore warms the heart with its clutter and crowded shelves.

I used to be a book dealer myself and it was often a bittersweet moment when a good book would sell. But that was the nature of the business, let go of one book and go out and find another. It does the heart good to know that there are still people who read and care about books in this age of the blog and the DVD. Great bookstores are always a joy to enter.

So here is a list of London Bookshops in no particular order.

bookartbookshop 17 Pitfield St, London N1 6HBn-features the publications of some of Britain’s best-known artist presses and publishers of artists’ books, as well as books from abroad. The shop is a centre and a service for individual & institutional collectors, artists, publishers and the aesthetically and bibliographically curious. Where a book is more than just something to read.

Newham Bookshop, London, 747 Barking Road, Newham, London E13 9ER-East Londons leading independent bookseller, supplying books for over 29 years. Newham books has recently entered the exciting world of blogging-clearly they are more interested in books than blogs.

London Review Bookshop, Bloomsbury, London, 14 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL-ah, any bookstore in Bloomsbury has to be good for a quick look. And they have cake. Nestled within the London Review Bookshop, the London Review Cake Shop is an exuberant expression of the thread of gaiety so familiar to those that know and love the LRB.

John Sandoe (Books) Ltd, London, 10 Blacklands Terrace, Chelsea, London, SW3 2SR-John Sandoe started this shop in 1957. Before that, the premises were partly devoted to the grooming of poodles. The other half was a junkshop, where books were sold by weight. In 1989 the shop was sold to members of staff. Since then, the business has grown and moved with the times, but it remains essentially the same - an independent literary bookshop with many regular customers.

Daunt Books, Marylebone High St, London, 83 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 4QW-Just looking at the outside of the shop makes me want to go inside. Looks like the kind of place of that Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson would while away the odd hour looking for that rare book on tobacco ash. Called by The Daily Telegraph the Most Beautiful Bookshop in London this is certainly a bookstore worth paying a visit.

Black Gull Books, Camden 70-71 Camden Lock Place, Camden Lock Market, NW1 8AF-One of the Wife's goals for our visit to London was to find a book by John Wyndham that she had not read-since many of his books never seemed to make the trip to Texas. She found an old paperback in a bookstall at Camden Lock-and there was much rejoicing. It may well have been Black Gull Books, but there are so many cool place in Camden Lock you should go anyway.

Bertram Rota, Covent Garden, 31 Long Acre, WC2E 9LT-Since its foundation, Bertram Rota Ltd has established a reputation for handling the sale of archives for major figures in the fields of literature and the arts. Since its foundation, Bertram Rota Ltd has established a reputation for handling the sale of archives for major figures in the fields of literature and the arts.

There are many other great bookshops in London. Bloomsbury is famous for all its bookshops and Notting Hill has more bookstores to browse in than the famous Travel Book Shop.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Photographer's Gallery-London

Open Daily-Admission Free

London's The Photographers' Gallery is one of those places that can't make up its mind what it wants to be. Like The Wapping Project, it is a little bit of everything-all of it good.

Part gallery, part bookstore, part cafe. As a photographer myself I always find places like The Photograpers' Gallery of special interest. I can think that I might one day have my own works hanging on these noble walls. Though really, the odds are against it, as I have yet to have even a small show-let alone something in London's best.

This doesn't stop me from wandering around the works of those that do have the chops to be displayed in London's Largest Public Gallery. I like most photographic art, but sometimes I find the Fine Art a bit too fine. Odds and ends, lost and found, interesting and just awful. But that's what makes art great-I don't like one artist, but maybe I find someone new that I will like.

The Photographers' Gallery has developed a reputation as the UK's primary venue for contemporary photography. One of its major achievements has been to establish photography within a wide viewing public-making it more popular and accessible. Anything that gets the public interested in fine art photography is a good thing.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Tired of London? Try San Francisco

San Francisco is a lot like London-lots of fog, water, and a world famous bridge. Also like London, there is so much to do and see in San Francisco that the mind boggles as to just where to start. Having a good home base is also a great idea, so check out the San Francisco Hotels to find one you like.

As a start you might want to hit a few of San Francisco's Top 5 Attractions-these are all solid favorites and sure to make for a memorable trip.

Golden Gate Bridge-this
1.7-mile-long suspension bridge is an icon of San Francisco just as the Tower Bridge is an icon of London.
Japanese Tea Garden-originally part of the 1894 World's Fair Exhibit, this little bit of Japan is part of Golden Gate Park. Is the tea as good as it is in London? You'll have to decide that, but the view is very nice.
Exploratorium-Learn about Earthquakes and Global Warming in one of San Francisco's most popular and interesting museums. While not quite London's British Museum, it is worth a visit.
Fisherman's Wharf-San Francisco's most popular stop offers a great view of
San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. It's the kind of place that would be good to put one of those big Ferris wheels like the London Eye.
Alcatraz-'The Rock' has been featured in many movies, my favorite being The X-Men film where Magneto picks up the Golden Gate Bridge and swings it over to Alcatraz Island, even though it real life it wouldn't stretch far enough.

Other San Francisco attractions include the world famous Cable Cars, Chinatown, North Beach, Alamo Square, and the Red-and-White Ferry. There are tons of great restaurants, theaters, and parks. You'll run out of time before you run out of things to do and see in San Francisco.

Of course if San Francisco is bit far to travel, check out the Dublin Hotels, or maybe look at some Paris Hotels. Of course, the whole world is close to London-and it must be nice to have London to return home to.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

London Hotels-The Royal National, Etc

A few years ago, back when British Airways was trying to boost ridership on the Concord, they had a costume contest. British Airways was giving away trips to London. Costume contest. British Airways. London. Count me in. The Wife found out the Ride The Rocket costume contest and she has a dead brilliant Borg costume, which has won her a number of prizes over the years. We entered the contest, chatted up the British Airways flight crew, and won four round trip tickets to London. Insert shouts of joy here.

Since it was a British Airways trip, they sent us a packet of London Tourist info and a list of the many properties owned by British Airways. We picked the Royal National, as it seemed to be fairly cheap and was pretty close to many of the London Attractions that we wanted to see. The Royal National is right down the street from the British Museum, for example.

The room was on the small side, but it was clean and we were more than ready for some rest after the nine hour flight and that nice little ride on the Gatwick Express. It was impossible to rest too much with London right outside our window. We wandered down to the British Museum, which is huge beyond imaging, and looked at the Mummy Room, the Totem Poles, and a baffling array of odds and ends from all over the world. We then went back to our London Hotel to watch the telly for the rest of the afternoon. Jet lag is a bitch.

The next day we felt a bit better about being a world away from Texas. We went down to have some of the Royal National's free breakfast, which turned out to be a rather large mound of toast and a lot of small tubs of jams and jellies. Not exactly the Full English Breakfast, but what do you want for nothing? The Royal National was just our home base while we explored London-a place to eat cucumber sandwiches from a local market, and watched British TV shows we had never heard of before.

I'm sure that The Royal National is not the best hotel in London, but it worked for us. Thanks for having that Ride The Rocket contest, British Airways. When are you going to have another one?

Monday, June 2, 2008

James Smith & Sons-London Umbrellas

all the umbrellas in London couldn't stop this rain
and all the dope in new york couldn't kill this pain
and all the money in Tokyo couldn't make me stay
all the umbrellas in London couldn't stop this rain
-The Magnetic Fields

James Smith & Sons has been around since 1830, making one of those places in London where you can step back in time. They have umbrellas, seat sticks, walking sticks, and a number of accessories for your umbrella needs.

Among their better items are the James Smith & Sons Limited Editions-custom umbrellas in the 500 pound range. These umbrellas have handles made of Ebony, Rosewood, Snakewood, and Violetwood. Ok, I've never heard of snakewood or violetwood, but it sounds interesting, doesn't it?

On the Walking Stick front there are a couple of cool looking sticks with carved animal heads-a wild boar and a duck. Or find an umbrella cleverly disguised as a walking stick for those London strolls. There are also rams horn walking sticks and buffalo horn crooks. Hiking staffs are ready to help with a walk in the country or doing battle with Evil Wizards.

James Smith & Sons has been providing London with all kinds of umbrellas, gents umbrellas, ladies umbrellas, sun umbrellas, and folding umbrellas. Lots of wooden umbrellas all around. There is something about a wood umbrella-something more traditional. An umbrella with a handle in the shape of Sherlock Holmes' head will set you back a mere £65.00.

They even have a nice frilly ladies parasol which looks cute enough for Eliza Dolittle to take it to the races. Lots of umbrellas in My Fair Lady, what with that opening scene in the London rain and all. Those were fashion umbrellas, eh?

Of course, if you just want a brolly to keep the London rain off, you can find one of those anywhere. James Smith & Sons is for looking at umbrellas as much as it is for buying them. Just remember, you can never have too many umbrellas.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Ok, Botswana is pretty far from London-unless you happened to watch The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency on BBC. Sydney Pollock died the other day, a great loss to the entertainment industry. As I was looking over his recent credits, I found that he was a Producer of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Since I am a great fan of the BBC and Sydney Pollock I decided to give it a look. No real surprise that it was great stuff.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is the story of Precious Ramotswe and her quest to open the first Woman's Detective Agency in Botswana. There are not great building like you find in London, though there is a lot of traffic in the city that Precious settles into to open her business.

There are funny bits and serious bits and all kinds of silliness. I laughed, I cried, etc etc etc. This was a fun show. The accents are a bit thick at times, but the usual Detective story ploy of sometimes silly names helped me feel at home in the wild and open African landscape. One character is named Happy, our hero is named Precious and a night club is called the Hansom Man Bar. The actors are good looking and have very white teeth.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was the first book by Alexander McCall Smith to feature Precious Ramotswe-there are currently nine books in the series. I don't know if the BBC is going bring all nine books to the London airwaves, but I certainly hope that they will.

I know, London has all kinds of things to do and see, why sit around and watch the telly? Because it's some of the best telly in the world, that's why. I love the new Dr Who, I'm a huge fan of the Disc World films, and I watch a ton of BBC stuff on Masterpeice Theater on PBS.

And while I don't watch nearly as much telly as I used-it is something to do after that hard day of using the London Pass to have another great day out.