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Sunday, 30 August 2015

Mildred's Restaurant, London

Mildred's Restaurant, London

Where do I go to eat?

When travelling independently trying to find places to eat in unfamiliar cities can be somewhat confusing. Particularly somewhere like London which has a multitude of restaurants and cafes. Local knowledge when meeting up with friends or relatives is convenient as they then to take you to their favourites eateries. Now I also check other people's travel blogs, and Mildred's restaurant was one that appeared in some different ones as a recommended restaurant to try.

I wanted to try it as it's also a vegetarian restaurant, I'm not strictly vegetarian I just don't eat red meat. I don't like the taste, at a non-vegetarian restaurant I'm usually left with 3 or 4 choices on a menu and have people wonder how I can decide so quickly. It's easy when your options are limited! Needless to say I love the idea of being able to choose from the whole menu!

Mildred's is in Soho, I used my map app to find it. Not difficult at all, stroll down Regent Street, turn left, walk a bit more, turn into Lexington Street and there it was.

It is quite 'compact' and having read other blogs I learnt that it's very popular and doesn't take reservations. It opens for lunch at 12 noon so get there soon after if you want a table. I think I was there at about 10 past, by about half past it was all full. The front section has large bowls of salads and it does take away, the back section is where the restaurant seating is.

The reviews I had read talked about the vegan food you can order so I made the assumption that it was a totally vegan restaurant. That also made me curious since I had never eaten vegan. I ended up ordering the pasta dish of the day. 

(This was my first time taking food pictures in a restaurant, I don't know how the food bloggers do it. I felt like a total dill, very self conscious as I furtively looked around to  check that no-one could see what I was doing. And thinking I was a twat for taking pictures of my lunch!)

After thoroughly enjoyed my pasta, I realised that it wasn't exactly vegan! Then I looked at the menu more closely and saw that the restaurant was vegetarian and it offered vegan options. (Also gluten free) So major fail on my part, first time I tried to eat vegan I automatically went with cheese and cream and ignored the vegan choices! Oops! It does serve healthy drink options with organic juices and lists their alcoholic drinks as either vegan or vegetarian. It still has the less healthy options such as diet coke! If you're having to wait for an available table, you can pass the time by sipping on one (or two!) of their cocktails.

Mildred's is open from 12 noon to 11pm Monday to Saturday, it doesn't take reservations so either get there as soon as it opens or try later in the afternoon away from peak times. It was reasonably priced for a London restaurant, my pasta was delicious and I'm fussy about Italian food. Most of the people around me I noticed opted for various salad combinations, and the servings were generous. The restaurant is easy to find so if you're a stranger to London, you probably won't end up wandering aimlessly around trying to find it.

Here is their website

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

London, UK

Miscellaneous London

I thought miscellaneous London was the most apt title as I had some unrelated photos that I took. They were interesting enough to me to post, but not relating to a particular place in London.

The Gloucester Road Tube station entrance facing Cromwall Road. I had recently read a book about The Tube and its history (am now further establishing my history nerd credentials!) and discovered that originally it had been various private railways. The Metropolitan Railway had been one, this Italianite entrance was the station built in 1868 for what is now the Circle line and so is one of the oldest lines in The Tube complex. The establishment of The Tube dates back to 1863, in 2013 there were large celebrations in London for the 150th anniversary.

In 1906 the Piccadilly line was opened at Gloucester Road and this was the station for that line, just behind the older 1868 building. (research!) The stations are joined together, I just found the 2 old station facades interesting.

Not at Gloucester Road station, but the escalators going down to the Piccadilly line which is a deep underground line. Just fascinated by the lengths of the escalators. Also found out that the 'stand to the right' rule dates back to 19th century, even then people were in a hurry! (The left is for people to run up or down the escalators)

One of my days in London I happened to be walking through Leicester Square and saw a crowd behind barriers. Looked closer and I saw they were infront of the Odeon Theatre where the major movie premieres are held in London. These people were waiting to see the stars of the movie (Entourage) who would be there that night, this was at 11am! The red carpet was that evening! Dedicated lot I thought!

Chinatown in London, this is Gerrard St, the main road through with the Chinese gate. This was my first time walking around Chinatown, up until this trip wasn't exactly sure where it was! It's in Soho, just behind Shaftsbury Avenue.

Trafalgar Square on a Saturday afternoon, full of people and also these performers. They pose for tourists to take their pictures and leave tips, thought they were original then saw others in Prague's Old Town Square! So a common sight in famous tourist destinations it seems!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Imperial War Museum, London

Imperial War Museum, London

A modern history geek's delight!

I like the Imperial War Museum and hadn’t been for a few years so decided to make a return visit. In the intervening years it had undergone some remodeling, I had even seen a TV series giving a behind the scenes look at how they removed the major exhibition in the atrium. This exhibition contains a Harrier Jump jet which was lowered the wings removed and then placed on a large trailer and placed in storage. The atrium area had been redeveloped and a new permanent World War I exhibition was put together for the anniversary of WWI.

The Imperial War Museum has several sites in London, the HMS Belfast, a ship moored in The Thames is part of the museum as are the War Cabinet rooms, they’re well worth a visit. What I visited was the museum on the south side of The Thames, the location is nice as well as it’s removed from the crowds of central London. I got off at the nearest tube station which is Lambeth North and then it’s an easy 10 minute stroll to the museum, it’s very well signposted so no problems with not being able to find it.

The guns are from 2 different battle ships and were placed in front of the museum in the 1960s. There's a nice park surrounding the museum that was created by the then owner of the land, Lord Rothermere in the 1930s and named after his mother. He wanted a large open space for the people who lived nearby in depressed circumstances, with little to no open space.

The new WWI exhibition was extensive but I do have to admit, I didn’t particularly like it. There was an enormous amount of information, lots of reading and looking, if anything it was too text heavy. That then makes it less accessible to children who won't read anything! And for non native English speakers who find wading through screeds of text onerous.

Very informative, so it served its purpose to educate but I preferred the previous exhibit which was less informative and more experiential. The WWI trenches were recreated and you walked through them with the sights and sounds that would have been seen and heard during the war. It gave you a really good idea of what being in those trenches was like and that’s what made it a good exhibit in my view. An indication of how the new exhibition didn’t make an impression on me was that I didn’t really want to take photos of anything I was seeing. The exception being a letter from a 9 year old to Lord Kitchener, offering his services to the army.

The atrium has a V2 rocket, a flying V1 (rocket with wings on side) a Spitfire and a Harrier Jet.

The atrium has been redeveloped more than once. It was originally a courtyard and then enclosed.

The armoured press car was used in the conflict in Gaza and the windshield was shattered due to the violence experienced there. Also on the ground floor was the flattened remains of a car that been car bombed in Iraq.

The placement of the jeep amused me as if the case were "Oops, nearly drove it over the edge!"

The museum doesn't just house military history but also social history from the war years. Currently there's a display that is a case study of a particular family showing how they lived. In the past I had also seen a really good temporary exhibition on children during the Second World War.

At the moment there is also a temporary photographic exhibition of Afghanistan, a team from the museum travelled to Afghanistan specifically to document the mission there, after the withdrawal of British troops. Gifts presented to the team and placed in the museum.

There are temporary exhibitions as well, the current one that I saw was the Fashion during the war, which is due to end on August 31st. Interesting to see fashion from the era of remaking and being creative with what material  they had. The museum is free to enter but some temporary exhibitions may have a charge to see them, this one did.

There’s a large gallery of VC (Victoria Crosses, the UK highest order for bravery in battle). The medals were collected by Lord Ashcroft who has placed them on permanent display in the museum. Fascinating stories attached to the recipients, spent a good deal of time looking through and reading the stories. Unfortunately that was the only part of the museum I couldn’t take pictures!

Had a really interesting morning at the museum, paused to have lunch in the cafeteria there, good selection of food, and then moved onto my next tourist adventure!

For people like me who are interested in modern history this museum is great, it's free to enter, there's a good variety in the exhibitions with temporary as well as permanent ones. It means that you can make repeat visits and see different things, so a major thumbs up or 5 Gold stars from me for the Imperial War Museum.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Thames River cruise, London

Thames river cruise

Slow boat to Westminster

The Greenwich area is nice to visit, not just because of the museums but also in regards to the mode of transport one can use to travel to and from Greenwich. I caught the DLR train to Greenwich and decided to take one of the Thames boats away from Greenwich to Westminster pier. It’s a really lovely way to cruise along the river, seeing the landmarks in a relaxed fashion. The day was overcast and cool by the late afternoon but the trip was still enjoyable.

The Isle of Dogs, it used to be the large dock area, now redeveloped with apartments and the Canary Wharf skyscraper area. It's not actually an island, just a large bend in the river so there is water on 3 sides.

There are various boats that leave from Greenwich, including one that is free if you have a London Pass. A quick aside in regards to the London Pass, I used one a few years back and would agree they are good value, provided you take some things into consideration. First to get the best value from the pass, you need to plan your sightseeing with military precision! Work out what attractions that the pass covers are close by and plan in which order to visit. Be realistic, the pass gives you entry into Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace. Sounds great but Windsor Castle is a 45 minute train ride from central London, it’s really a day trip, Hampton Court is not quite as far out but also not in central London. Travel times between attractions have to be factored in as well as how many palaces do you really want to see? The Tower is interesting as well,  but it’s not a quick hour visit and then move onto the next attraction. Price what you want to see individually and then look at the London Pass options, as in 1 day Pass, 3 day Pass to see what is the better value. Don’t exhaust yourself visiting everything, you won’t enjoy it. Select a few places that you really want to see and spend a leisurely amount of time there rather than trying to fit as many attractions in a day as possible. Keep in mind too that museums and art galleries in London are free so visiting some free attractions is a good way to make your sightseeing budget stretch further.

Now back to the river cruise, I didn’t have a London pass so paid the regular fare, it’s quite a slow trip up The Thames and we arrived an hour later at Westminster.

The boat made a stop at Tower, the pier next to the Tower of London. That's the White Tower in the centre, the oldest part of the Tower and where the crown jewels are kept. (The tide was out so the banks of the river are clearly seen)

The Globe Theatre, it is a recreation as the original one burnt down in the 17th century. Well worth visiting and even seeing a performance of a Shakespearean play. It's open air with a standing area in front of the stage, performances don't get cancelled if it rains, and no umbrellas allowed! There are seated sections under the roof, just further from the stage.
Another stop, St Katherine's docks with one of my favourite modern buildings in the background. The 'gerhkin'!

Another favoured modern building, The Shard.

Nineteenth century architecture, alongside twenty-first century architecture. The Shard and Tower Bridge.

Cleopatra's Needle

I have a nostalgic soft spot for Cleopatra's Needle. It was the first tourist attraction I ever saw on my first trip to London. It's just near Embankment station, which was where the trains from Gravesend would (still?) arrive into London. For my first trip to the UK I had gone to stay with a friend of mine who was working in the UK for a year. I stayed in Gravesend, whose claim to fame as I discovered was that it was the burial place of Pocahontas. I came across her statue down by a river park, she died on a boat that was moored at the docks there and was buried in the town.

So back to Cleopatra's Needle, first trip to London, walked out of the train station with my friend who was playing tour guide and as we walked along the river we immediately came across Cleopatra's Needle. I had my first "I'm in London" photo taken alongside one of the lions.

Three 'needles' were removed from Egypt, the most well known to me at least is the one in Place de la Concorde in Paris. Researching Cleopatra's Needle the other day I discovered that it has a 'twin' which is in Central Park in New York. The Paris needle's 'twin' is still in Egypt, these needles were placed at temple entrances.

Heading into Westminster pier, the Palace at Westminster (British parliament building) and 'Big Ben' really the tower that houses Big Ben the bell. A good view, once you get very close, the area around, including the bridge, is full of people taking photos of themselves with Big Ben!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Cutty Sark, Greenwich

Greenwich, The Cutty Sark and Royal Observatory

Let's go across The Thames.

It’s easy to make repeat visits to London and either discover new parts of it or revisit an area a few years later to see the changes in it. Greenwich is one of those areas for me, I was last there 5 years ago. It’s a nice trip out there as you catch the DLR (Docklands Light Railway), which is an automated train. There’s no driver so you can sit at the front and pretend to drive the train! Going through the Canary Wharf business area is fascinating too as that’s where the major London skyscrapers are.

The Cutty Sark against a typically grey London sky!

For this visit I wanted to see the Cutty Sark, it was being restored last time I visited. The Cutty Sark, was built in 1869, it one of the last of the tea clippers, at the time when sail gave way to steamships. Tea clippers sailed to China, the opening of the Suez Canal (also in 1869) meant that steamships could make the trip to China quickly but sailing ships struggled in the canal.(research!)
Below decks, showing how the tea was transported in chests.The squares on the floor representing more cargo, the storage areas were full.

The white iron frames are original, the others are newer restorations.

 The Cutty Sark only spent a few years as a tea clipper before turning to the trade in wool. The trip to Australia was made by going around Africa and a clipper had the necessary speed to do the trip quickly. 

Wool bales that would get transported from Australia to the UK.

The Cutty Sark held the record for 10 years for the fastest trip to Australia. Reading the signs I found out that  ‘clipper’ came from North American slang ‘to go a clip’ to go fast, the ships were fast and so were named clippers.

Helpful map showing its voyages.

The Cutty Sark is only one of 3 remaining composite construction clippers, wooden hull on iron frame, the others are the City of Adelaide, which recently arrived back in Port Adelaide after a rather long campaign to save it. (It’s not restored, just the hull) and the skeleton of Ambassador in Chile. Adelaide historians had a long campaign to buy and transport the City of Adelaide back to Australia, the ship’s connection with Adelaide (beside its name!) was that it carried a large number of British migrants to South Australia.

The shipping trade was eventually taken over by steamships, the Cutty Sark became a training vessel for cadets and then in 1954 was transferred to Greenwich where she was put on permanent display.

View from the bow, pointing directly to the Canary Wharf skyscrapers.

First Mates' cabin

The Galley


It’s possible to buy a combined ticket for the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory so that’s what I chose to do. King Charles II founded royal observatory in 1675 and if you’re particularly interested in astronomy and the measurement of time, this is the museum for you. Unfortunately I’m not! So it was a bit wasted on me, (hence zero pictures!) but it’s the location of the Prime Meridian so worth visiting just to say you’ve stood on it! My last visit to Greenwich I couldn’t make it up the hill to the Observatory as I was in a moonboot due to the fact that a few weeks earlier I had ruptured my Achilles tendon! That wasn’t going to stop my travelling, I stomped around Europe for a week, it just curtailed the major walking parts!

The Prime Meridian, people were lined up to take their photos with one leg on each side of the line! It took quick timing to get a photo with no-one standing at the sculpture. Looking through the fence on the left, you can see what was known as the 'Millennium Dome' built to commemorate the new century. It never took off and has been converted to a concert venue called O2 Arena.

Looking down from the Royal Observatory to the Maritime Museum with a skyscraper background.

I didn’t visit the National Maritime Museum this time. (Pro tips here. Too many museums at the same time tends to museum you out!) I had been on my last visit and it’s well worth seeing, the chapel is really lovely.