Posts from the ‘Museum’ category

Living Happily Ever After in Copenhagen

Today’s Itinerary:

  • first – coffee. Then, pastries.
  • then, a visit to the National Museum
  • find our where Princess Mary lives
  • climb the golden stairs of the spire of Our Saviour’s
  • see the city from a different height at Tivoli Gardens

As the Danish say,

Laziness is the devil’s pillow

So let’s get started!

We begin our day with a fresh coffee from our hotel – the very centrally located First Hotel Kong Frederik. The coffee is from Nespresso coffee pods, and it completely free for guests – very helpful for our early morning start. Have a look below at our photo and check out all the celebrity guests who have stayed here, including John Malcovich, Sting, Dire Straits, and Robbie Williams. A definite celebrity tip.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Next, we head down cobblestone streets of the Strøget, purportedly the world’s oldest and largest pedestrian walking street. There’s a surfeit of excellent bakeries and patisseries here, and the variety will make your mouth water as your jeans already begin to feel a bit tighter.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Grab some breakfast, and march on down to the National Museum.

The national museum of Denmark, it contains from all the back in the Stone Age, through the Viking Age, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and up into contemporary history.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

There’s a wealth of treasure here, as one would expect from a Viking empire, including this incredible, 3,000 year old piece – the Sun Chariot.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

We’re off to pay a visit to Princess Mary, who found her Prince Charming in a little pub in little old Sydney, Australia.

Photo by Mikkel Rask, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Mikkel Rask, Licensed under CC.

During the Sydney Olympics, Mary found herself chatting to a nice man who called himself “Fred”. Romance bloomed, and eventually, and we’re sure to her immense surprise, “Fred” revealed himself to be Prince Fred  – specifically, Prince Frederik of Denmark, and heir to the throne.

Well.

Mary and Fred were engaged by 2003 and shortly after, in a story to warm everyone’s hearts, Frederik was lucky enough to marry the love of his life.

See – if you wish upon enough stars, dreams do come true – even for Prince Charming.

Mary now lives in Amalienborg Palace, and there are guided tours throughout the apartments. Make sure to try and spot the polar bear skin rug, and if you look close enough you might even seen the ghost that haunts these halls…

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

It’s lunchtime! We weren’t lucky enough to get a table at Noma, currently ranked as the world’s best restaurant, but there are plenty of foodie delights to be had in Copenhagen. Try some “smooji” – Danish tapas, or have dinner at one of Copenhagen’s many Michelin-starred restaurants.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Walk off lunch by heading down to Nyhavn, home to brightly-coloured heritage fishing buildings.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

From here, we can take the long walk to see the tiny Little Mermaid statue that is both world-famous and rather a bit of a let down.

Although very famous, and an iconic representation of Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid statue is probably best viewed as an excuse for a nice walk, than an attraction in and of itself. In reality, it is quite small and, although pretty, on a tight timeframe does not really warrant the effort.

By all means, go if you must. But we’re taking a cruise.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Christianborg Palace. Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Ahh Noma. One day we’ll eat there! Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

After our cruise, we head towards the Church of Our Saviour. Ascending the steps up the spire, we’re soon out in the brisk Danish air and whirling around to catch 360° views of the city of Copenhagen. Be warned, for the vertiginous views and relatively tight climb may not be for those who struggle at height.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

We are almost on top of the ‘grungy’ neighbourhood of Christiania. If you’re interested in counter-culture, natural practices, or street art, you may wish to visit but make sure you follow the rules. Locals will guide you around and you can see many of the original buildings, that were built by their residents, still standing today.

Finally, it’s time for the real treat.

Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest amusement park in the world, after the first oldest amusement park, also in Copenhagen! The park opened on August 15, 1843, and with 4.033 million visitors in 2012, ranks fourth in most-visited amusement parks in Europe.

We went to the Tivoli Gardens as an afterthought, thinking that this theme park could only really be suitable for kids.

We were wrong.

It was a blast, and we realised, high above Copenhagen, swinging around in the air with the city all around us, that there’s still a little kid inside all of us.

Don’t make our mistake of going only three hours before you leave Copenhagen, and in fact, you may want to spend the evening there when the neon lights come on and the park becomes a carnival.

Photo by Stig Nygaard, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Stig Nygaard, Licensed under CC.

The Hague is not your Conventional Day Trip

by Jacob Aldridge

Our Dutch friend and guide Luke has a message for you – don’t come to Amsterdam and waste your entire time sitting in a city coffee shop.

Head out and see the countryside as well! So he’s taking us to The Hague.

The Plein - main square of The Hague (Den Haag) Netherlands Holland

The Plein – main square of The Hague.

Today’s Experience

The Hague (Den Haag) is a 1 hour train ride from Amsterdam’s Centraal train station. Today is the Spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and as we coast through the Dutch countryside Spring is certainly in the air.

A green town … and springtime colour welcomes us to The Hague’s most famous building, the Peace Palace.

Front view of the Peace Palace, The Hague

Exterior of the Peace Palace. The winning design actually had two towers, but was adjusted to meet the budget.

Built with more than a million dollars from the American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the Peace Palace was built to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration which had been created as a means to prevent future wars.

Designed by competition winner Louise Cordonnier in the Neo-Renaissance style, it officially opened in 1913… just a year before the worst war in history erupted across Europe.

It remains in active use, now managed by the United Nations and also home to the International Court of Justice. Our tour guide takes us through history, architecture, and world politics in under an hour – impressive! This is a beautiful building, and one still in active use (although Carnegie et al would hope for a day when its function is no longer required).

A 360 Degree Painting

The Hague is a beachside town, although it’s too long to walk today when the ocean water is likely too cool for all but the most brass of monkeys to swim in.

Instead, Luke has offered us a 19th century seaside experience that will blow our 21st century minds. So we enter a small, round building at Zeestraat 65, walk down a corridor past a few nondescript paintings, and then step up into…

The Mesdag Panorama.

Full view of the Hendrik Mesdag Panorama, The Hague

Click to see a High Resolution version – and remember, this isn’t up on a wall, this fills the entire room!

Before there were motion pictures, there were these: paintings wrapped around a room, 14 metres high and 120 metres (360 feet) long. The advent of film saw Panoramas, and the circular buildings crafted to house them, drop in popularity. A century later, it makes these all the more remarkable.

And the Mesdag Panorama, painted by Hendrik Mesdag, is an excellent example, showing the seaside from the Signpost sand dune in 1881 – just before a large and ‘modern’ pier turned the fishing village into a holiday resort for the regions wealthiest citizens.

Close up section of the Mesdag Panorama - can you see where the painting ends and the sand diorama begins?

Close up section of the Mesdag Panorama – can you see where the painting ends and the sand diorama begins?

It captures the artist’s favourite spot at a pivotal moment in the industrialisation of his country. And for us, we are confronted with this painting in the round, naturally lit from a skylight that also adds mood lighting every time a cloud passes over.

I can’t resist buying a print from the giftshop; but can you see any souvenirs that even go close to capturing inside that dome?

Before MC Hammer, there was MC …

If it’s experiential artwork you want, says Luke as he walks us through the main square after lunch, then you’re going to love the next place.

He’s taking us to the former Queen Mother’s residence, the Lange Voorhout Palace, now a museum dedicated to the surrealist graphic artist MC Escher.

Here we have a chance to see some of his most famous works…

MC Escher's famous drawing of two hands each drawing each other

Look familiar? Stop: Escher Time!

MC Escher's famous drawing of himself, with the perspective of a crystal ball

Now THAT’S a self-portrait. Almost worthy of Van Gogh, don’t you think?

Some of his earliest geometric works blown up to the size of rooms! And, on the top floor (after several rooms that fill us in on Dutch royal family history as well) there’s a chance for all of us to place ourselves inside some of the most famous illusions.

Recreate the famous MC Escher mirror ball drawing for yourself

Can you see yourself here?

There’s also a chance to appreciate the chandeliers by another Dutch artist Hans van Bentem. Yesterday we were admiring the intriguing art of Vincent van Gogh – today we learn that Dutch art didn’t stop experimenting after his death.

Amazing chandeliers in The Hague

There are skulls and globes and plenty of others – we thought the dove of peace was fitting!

And then, we’re on the train back to Amsterdam. The city buzzes, but we have one eye on the upcoming weekend exploring yet another European gem: Copenhagen.

Inside Amsterdam Centraal (Central) Train Station at night

Amsterdam Centraal Train Station – easy airport access

Fake tulips at the Amsterdam airport

The tulips I like best are your tulips in the dark.

Alter Your Perception in Amsterdam

by Jacob Aldridge

Amsterdam offers many different ways to alter your perception on the world.

We’re sticking with the completely legal ones: impressionist art, and dutch beer. Mostly.

Amsterdam canals in the summer

Amsterdam: Like Venice, only pleasant

Today’s Experience

The Netherlands (aka Holland) may be a tiny country, but it leaves a large footprint across world history. Whether you’re schooled in art, corporations law, or maritime warfare, you’ll bump into this lowland super power. Fellow everydaydreamer Luke has offered to be our local guide today, and he’s offered to give us all a ‘Taste’ of the culture.

Our schooling begins at the Rijksmuseum, Holland’s national museum. Would you like to pose in front of the 8 foot high “i amsterdam” sign nearby?

i amsterdam / i am amsterdam sign near the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam the Netherlands

i amsterdam. Get it? Get it?!

How are you feeling about all these museums? We could load ourselves up and try to fit every piece into some kind of artistic school or historical context. For a far more pleasurable experience, how about we wander through and decide to only inspect those that catch our eye?

Like this one …

Queen Beatrix portrait by Andy Warhol, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands will abdicate next month; here she is in a portrait by Andy Warhol!

or this one?

The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, by Johannes Vermeer.

The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, by Johannes Vermeer.

Isn’t it interesting how many of the eye-catching paintings come from artists we’ve heard of? Perhaps that means we’ve acquired several centuries of artistic taste!

Of course, many of the best pictures, like this one, are bound to be eye-catching because they take up an entire room! What I love about ‘The Night Watch’ by local boy Rembrandt is that next to it is a copy made by a student … which reveals that two sides of the painting have been cut off at some point since then!!

Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch' (actual title, 'The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out').

Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ (actual title, ‘The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out’).

House of the Smiling e

After Guinness in Dublin last week, we can proudly declare that it’s never too early to explore the Heineken Experience. Walking along the canals – WATCH THE BIKE! – we’re beginning to wonder if a brewery tour is worth the time? Luke can sense it:

“When I moved to the city, I never wanted to come here. Some friends were in town one day last year and made me come – it was so much better than I thought. Now I take everyone here.”

Historical Heineken poster ad, with a creepy guy smiling.

Not all Heineken ads are green … but most are amusing.

And he’s right. The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam is not like any other brewery tour we’ve done. Groovy green chill out rooms, a fine history piece to rival even the Guinness Storehouse … even the obligatory explanation about how beer is made has been jazzed up with a 4D ride!

We could stand up here enjoying our free Heinekens for ages … but there’s a free canal cruise included in the tour!

View of a Heineken beer from below.

Bottoms up? Amen to that!

Amsterdam Canals

Heineken has taken the ‘Exit via the Gift Shop’ mentality to the extreme. To get to their gift shop, closer to the centre of town, they give you a free canal ride. You can even buy Heinekens on board!

Onboard the free Heineken canal cruise in Amsterdam

We could say ‘buy beers on board’, but what other brand do you think they would sell!

The miles of canals that make Amsterdam famous are almost all man-made, necessary irrigation channels for a nation largely below sea-level. They have also enabled a wealth of trade – note the hooks high up on the multi-storey houses used to load goods (and, more recently, couches and bulky refrigerators) off of and onto boats.

Let’s duck up to the gift shop for the free gift – Heineken aviators! – then explore the streets. It’s a flat, easy walk as Luke points out some buildings of interest. You can see why so many locals eschew the new fangled motor car in favour of bicycles.

What’s the Matter Mary Jane?

  • If you want to try some of the other mind-altering substances Amsterdam is famous for (and I’m explicitly talking about marijuana and hash here) Luke recommends Abraxas – for their range of products whether you want to smoke marijuana or eat a hash brownie or cookie, plus their friendliness and good English for beginners.
  • HOWEVER, be aware that new ID laws have now come into effect – even in Amsterdam – in an attempt to restrict pot smoking to Dutch residents only.
Abraxas Coffee shop in Amsterdam, sells marijuana and hash cookies hash brownies and earl grey tea

Not in ANY way related to the Harry Potter books or films. In case you were wondering.

Van Gogh

We will certainly return to Amsterdam next time we swing through Europe, to take in more of the museums, but Luke wants to ensure we see his favourite: Van Gogh!

Vincent van Gogh’s life of woe is reasonably well-known – he cut off his own ear due to mental illness, a difficult life that made him famous in death. He only sold 1 work during his life – a waste of talent that, thankfully, kept so many of his works within his extended family who were later able to create the comprehensive museum we’re now visiting.

Luke’s secret is to hang near the staircase in the centre of the rooms. Impressionist art – where Van Gogh is most frequently defined – is designed to be seen from afar. Too many art tourists get up close, better to see each brush stroke while missing the overall effect.

The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh (1885)

The Potato Eaters (1885) is probably Van Gogh’s first ‘masterpiece’. It hints more at the dark and moody Dutch style than his later impressionist work, though the broad brush strokes are already evident.

You can see van Gogh in all the famous museums of London, Paris and New York. But nowhere else will you be able to walk through so many of his works, organised chronologically so you can see his experiments and the evolution of his style.

There is also the piece he was working on when he died – maybe. Of the many museums in Amsterdam, Luke has picked two great ones for today.

What Field with Crows (1890).  NOT Vincent Van Gogh's last painting.

Wheat Field with Crows (1890). Thought for many years to be his last painting, this is now discredited. I personally believe it’s a self-portrait, but that’s probably Abraxas talking.

Red Light Nights

After an easy pizza dinner at La Perla, Luke takes us towards Amsterdam’s oldest cathedral … in the heart of the Red Light District!

We know we’ve arrived when we find our thoughts interrupted by banging glass – it’s the ladies of the night, behind protective screens, trying to gain our attention (and our custom).

An Amsterdam prostitute or lady of the night in the red light district Amsterdam

Knock knock, who’s there? The world’s oldest profession. Photo by Vin Crosbie, CC License

You can readily paint a two-dimensional picture of The Netherlands’ approach to issues like drug decriminalisation and prostitution. You can argue it’s an approach that encourages our base temptations, or that it brings to light (and safety) choices that will happen regardless of the law.

Imagine being the town bike in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam: It’s all Bikes and Canals

Reality probably sits somewhere in between. There’s much to be said for not hiding this…by midnight, however, when the inexperienced drug takers and those who’ve just had too much dutch beer head into this district, it becomes clear why Dutch officials are adding restrictions to their laws.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Luke has us using the Holland Pass to save money. Loads of cities have these, and they’re often a rip off because they include sights you don’t want to see and not the ones you do want to visit! The Holland Pass seems pretty good – we even have some tickets left for our day trip to The Hague tomorrow.
  • Despite appearing to be old v new, the automobile and the bicycle were actually invented close together in the mid-19th Century.
  • Water is not allowed into the Van Gogh museum. Which sucks when you’ve been walking all day!

Do you have any great perception-altering experiences of Amsterdam? Share them in the comments below or with the followers on our Facebook page.

Roadtrip Northern Ireland: Giants, Rope Bridges, and a City Divided

by Jacob Aldridge

We’ve hired a car for today in order to head from Belfast to the very top of Northern Ireland. How far north is that? Well we’re going to a stand on a rope bridge from which you can see all the way to Scotland.

And then we’re going to visit the bullet holes that inspired a U2 song.

Today’s Experience

It’s an early start out of Belfast for the the 90 minute drive up the A26 to Bushmills, a town know for its Whiskey and famous for a causeway you could never take a boat on.

A natural wonder, we were disappointed when planning our drive to discover that the Giant’s Causeway is surrounded by cunning strategies to separate you from your money. Access to the park is free, but they don’t make it easy! In this instance, you have several options:

  • Pay £8.50 each for parking at the visitors centre (and entry to the centre)
  • Park in town, either free or a few pounds depending on the day, and catch a local bus out to the site
  • Park for free on a nearby street – except, there are no nearby streets with parking. It’s at least a 20-30 minute walk from the nearest legal and safe park up to the Causeway

Of course, we have a plan even more cunning than the National Trust: we’re going to park at the Visitor’s Centre … before they open.

Walking the Giant's Causeway national park just after sunrise

The other advantage of an early arrival? Avoiding the crowds.

Look, some people are blown away by the forces of nature that have created these hexagonal stones, extruded side-by-side from the earth and calmly treading a path from the cliff face down into the sea. Before your visit, be aware that they call this the Giant’s Causeway not because it’s particularly giant, but rather because in folklore it was built by a giant.

Person standing on top of the Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

Of course, from the right camera angle everything can be made to look giant.

So some people will want to spend hours here, sitting by the sea and watching the changing tide. If that might be you – just pay for parking and enjoy! Others may it find it … underwhelming, and make it a twenty minute experience at best.

If you’re worried that might be you, check the tide times, and go at low tide when these marvels of nature are most visible.

Rope a Dope

The tale of the Giant’s Causeway involves battling giants – Finn McCool in Ireland and Fingal, who lived across the sea in Scotland. Having spent the past days travelling around Ireland, it’s easy to forget just how close these two islands are. How close?

Well from our next spot – the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, ten minutes east of the Causeway – you can actually see Scotland on the horizon!

(Specifically, you can see the Mull of Kintyre – with binoculars, perhaps, you might spot a former Beatle who wrote a song about that peninsula based on the land he owned there.)

This section of Northern Ireland is famous for the salmon fishermen, and the specific position here is dictated by the narrow gap between the mainland and a tiny speck of an island. Salmon swimming close to the shore for protection in this area would force themselves through the narrow gap – and for fishermen, this was like shooting fish in a barrel.

(Metaphorically! That’s a simile people! They actually caught them using nets, it was just as easy as … you know what we mean!)

To tend to these nets and their boats, access was required to the speck of land on the other side. And so every year, when the weather was good, the local men would come here and re-build a rope bridge. Today, fish are not as common in these waters, and the bridge is open all year long for those brave souls who wish to walk across it.

The Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, built by fishermen but now a tourist attraction in Northern Ireland

Looks safe. Right?

If you don’t cross it, it’s still a pleasant brisk walk, and a chance to blow any remaining cobwebs from your mind after our early drive. But it’s not nearly as dangerous as it appears … and if you’ve come all the way to the tip of Northern Ireland, why not cross a small stretch of water and go a dozen steps closer to Scotland?

What do you say? Will you join us on the other side?

Approaching the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Northern Ireland. Don't look down!

You know you want to walk across.

A Town Divided

From the tip of Northern Ireland, our roadtrip takes us south-west – our destination is the town of Derry (often written as Derry / Londonderry). If you’re familiar with the IRA, the actions of the British Armed Forces, or at least the music of Irish super-group U2, then the tale of woe that is Derry’s history may be familiar to you.

It’s an old city, having been granted a Royal Charter by King James I back in 1613 – at which point ‘London’ was added to the name. The original city sits on top of the hill, surrounded by 1.5 kilometres (1 mile) of wall. In fact, this was the last fully walled city to be built in Europe, and is sometimes known as the ‘Maiden City’ because the walls were never breached during the Jacobite wars.

It was those wars at the end of the 17th Century, between forces supporting King James II and those supporting the Glorious Revolution that put William III and Queen Mary on the British throne, that lies at the root of the religious troubles that have plagued Ireland and Northern Ireland.

On one side were the Catholic supporters of James II, who viewed Ireland as separate from England. On the other, ultimately victorious side, were the Protestants, those more closely aligned with London. As these latter men supported the Dutch-born William of Orange, they became (and are still) known as Orangemen.

For Derry, one outcome of the Battle of the Boyne that ended the war in the Orangemen’s favour, was a ruling that no Catholics could live inside the city walls. What followed was three centuries of discrimination – large families being raised in small houses built on the bogmarsh at the foot of the hill and with minimal representation in government. Little wonder it was a spark for the Irish War of Independence, although the Partition of Ireland in 1921 left Derry as a border city – the Catholics, still underprivileged, found themselves living in Ulster and governed by London despite the free Ireland border being located less than a mile away.

The Troubles

This Mural in Derry / Londonderry depicts the events of Bloody Sunday

This Mural depicts the events of Bloody Sunday

It was the simmering tensions that continued which ultimately led to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, drawing incentive from the American movement of the same era. While a majority on all sides were peaceful, this was the start of the period the Irish refer to (with their typical downplaying) as simply ‘The Troubles’.

Walking through ‘Bogside’, site of these troubles, and looking up at the city walls, we are struck by a feeling of separation. The struggles, the cause, and many of the key incidents are memorialised in sets of murals painted on the ends of housing rows. The most famous of these declares “You are now entering Free Derry” – a protest against the UK and Northern Ireland governments that locals feel is so important that the wall remains, even though the row of houses have since been removed.

You are now entering Free Derry - a protest sign backed up by seige action from 1969-1972

You are now entering Free Derry – a protest sign backed up by seige action from 1969-1972

It was here on 30 January 1972 that protesting Catholics were met with force by British paratroopers. Lethal force.

The Free Derry Museum certainly tells this story from one angle, that of the Catholics. It’s a moving experience to stand in this former tenement house, to hear recordings of the shots unfolding, and to see displayed the memories of the 14 people who died – including bullet holes in clothes some were wearing that day.

Perhaps most moving of all is the Civil Rights Association banner, marked with the blood of several victims.

Derry Civil Rights Association Banner from Bloody Sunday 1972, covered in the blood and dirt of what happened

This banner was at the front of the march when the paratroopers opened fire

While the violence of the ’70s and ’80s is, largely, behind us, differences remain. Legally, the city is still Londonderry – 75% of Catholics support a formal change back to Derry, while only 6% of Protestants support the move.

But all is not dire in this town, which is also famous for the Georgian buildings inside the walls where we stop to take afternoon tea. This year, Derry is the first city to be designated a UK City of Culture – the London Symphony Orchestra played here last night; tonight the city will host Primal Scream.

No doubt simmering historic tensions remain … but it’s uplifting to be experiencing a city united and proud of its future, not separated by a wall and a religion.

And it’s an easy 90 minute drive back to Belfast.

A Derry / Londonderry Mural for Peace - hopefully representing the united future of this city

A Derry / Londonderry Mural for Peace – hopefully representing the united future of this city

Want to go? Need to know!

  • It’s possible to hire a car for just one day, and complete this experience while also seeing some of the gorgeous Northern Irish countryside.
  • We are great fans of the National Trust. If you live, permanently or are spending a year or more, in the UK then membership is a great idea as it gives you free or reduced-price access to a range of important sites. Our only frustration (apart from ludicrous parking fees) is that the same can be said for English Heritage – so half the sites you want to visit are within one group, and the others within the other organisation.
  • In Derry, aim to park in Bogside (on the far side of the city, from the river) as it will make your walking easier. The Free Derry Museum is at 55 Glenfada Park and costs £3.

Have you driven through Northern Ireland? Share your experience and top tips in the comments below, and be sure to like our Facebook page.

Best of Belfast: A Titanic Town

by Jacob Aldridge

When God created Ireland, so the story goes, he turned to his host of angels and told them his plans. How he intended to created an Emerald Isle, the jewel of the sea, a land flooded with natural beauty, a merry population, and the greatest beers on earth.

But the angels protested, declaring it unfair that one country should have bestowed upon it so much perfection. “Ah yes,” said God, “but wait until you see the history they have ahead of them.”

We’ve experienced the natural beauty, and on St Patrick’s Day the merriest of people and outpouring of Guinness. Today we head north, crossing the border into Northern Ireland where the beauty remains, but the troubles are closer at hand.

Murals on the edge of Protestant / Unionist Sandy Row Belfast

Murals on the edge of Protestant / Unionist Sandy Row

Today’s Experience

Belfast. Capital of Northern Ireland and an industrial and artistic hub, connected to Dublin by an easy train ride.

We meet Carol, a Belfast local who intends to show us the old and the new, the good and the great, of the city she calls home.

Our first destination is also one of Belfast newest attractions, the Titanic Exhibit which opened to much fanfare in 2012 – the hundredth anniversary of that fateful ship’s maiden voyage.

The Titanic Belfast - an exhibit and an experience

The Titanic Quarter is still being built – keep an eye out for this distinctive building as we go along

We had no idea the Titanic was actually built here in Belfast! And the city have spared no expense in creating this experience – this is no museum of artifacts, this is a multi-storey interactive exhibit that walks us through the journey from turn-of-the-century Belfast to the fateful night of April 15, 1912.

I have to admit – when Carol said we were headed here, I was expecting to spend 90 minutes in a museum (and much of that grabbing a coffee or flicking through the gift shop). Three hours later! we find ourselves debating whether to stay longer in the theatre at the end of the experience, which is showing footage from the discovery of the wreck 1,250 miles (2,000 kms) from its destination New York.

In between, we’ve seen how Belfast’s shipbuilding industry developed, how the luxury liners of the Titanic and Britannic were created as floating five-star hotels, and even been hoisted onto a ‘theme park’ style ride through the construction process!

If you make it to the UK, a trip to Belfast is worth it just for the Titanic.

Inside the Titanic Belfast Ride, Northern Ireland

Riding the Titanic experience.

And it’s only lunchtime. With the aftermath of St Patrick’s Day still upon the city, we’re tempted for something easy, and Carol knows just the spot.

Boojum is the most popular mexican joint in the city. It reminds us of Chipotle in the USA, only the food here is another level of quality above and the friendly staff and five quid burritos make it worth waiting in a queue that stretches out the door.

Australian readers will be impressed to know that they even serve Bundaberg Ginger Beer! We haven’t seen that since we flew out of Sydney after New Year’s – and trust me when I say I’ve missed it.

Boojum Burrito & Bundaberg Ginger Beer, Belfast Northern Ireland

Belfast Boojum Burrito & Bundy: Bloody Brilliant!

Having learned that we were shopping in Paris this time last week, Carol has decided to skip over Victoria Square and instead help us walk off a fantastic lunch with some of Belfast’s best historic sights.

We walk past St Anne’s Cathedral and Prince Albert’s Clock, poking our way through alley ways.

The streets of Belfast in the rain

Why would you go to a shopping mall when you can wander through these streets?

In the mid-afternoon, we take the 1 hour free tour inside Belfast City Hall, to learn a little more about the history and admire the interior architecture from this grand erection.

Belfast City Hall on a glorious Irish day

Belfast City Hall on a glorious Irish day

There’s also time to walk past and admire some of the buildings that date even earlier, from when industrial wealth was first injected into this city. The Grand Opera House (at the start of Great Victoria Street) and the Crown Liquor Saloon (further along) are two perfect examples.

It’s an afternoon of walking where we can’t help but notice that there’s a bar or great restaurant on almost every corner. Belfast may have grown thanks to industry, but it’s not “an industrial city” any more.

For dinner, Carol has another fine suggestion – Mourne Seafood. Now, not everyone likes seafood, and even though they have other options Carol didn’t want to make a booking. Alas, when we arrive tonight is fully booked! But not to worry – a local’s secret is that upstairs is the Oyster Bar, which serves exactly the same fresh local seafood (and is actually even a little bit cheaper)!

We end the evening as every Irish evening ought to end, by heading to the pub. Carol has brought us to The Garrick – figuring we might be sick of Guinness (never!) or pining for a bottle of our beer back home. And it doesn’t seem to matter where ‘back home’ is for you – this pub has six chalk boards packed with their beer list.

Oh, we’re going to be here for a little while. And best of all – Boojum is right next door for a feed on the walk back to the hotel!

Boojum Burrito & Bundaberg Ginger Beer, Belfast Northern Ireland

Could we do Boojum twice in one day? Yes – Yes we absolutely can!

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Spending a week driving around Ireland and Northern Ireland is one of the greatest holidays Europe can offer. Just check that your car rental allows you to cross the border – there’s usually an extra fee to do so, and one alternative is to do what we did: hire 1 car in Dublin, another in Belfast tomorrow, and use the train to travel from Dublin to Belfast.
  • Titanic tickets are timed, so it’s best to buy them in advance. Entry is £15 – and you save another 10% if you buy online.
  • Belfast City Hall Tours run at 11am, 2pm and 3pm each day for 1 hour. The Hall itself is open 8.30am-4.30pm, and you are able to poke your head into the grand foyer and look up into the dome.

Have you driven been to Belfast? Is there better grub than Boojum or a nicer pub than the Garrick? Share your experience and top tips in the comments below, and be sure to like our Facebook page.

Guinness and James Joyce – wanderings in Dublin

Our Dublin Itinerary:

  • start the day with the breakfast of champions
  • see one of Ireland’s national treasures
  • mix with the locals at the games they play best

Something smells right.

It isn’t quite the smell of napalm in the morning, but something far more pleasant. As we approach the forbidding gates of the Guinness factory, the air is full of toasty, malty notes. For those of you who have tried Vegemite, this is that smell.

It is a little early for a beer. Ok – it’s nine am. But given the near universal popularity of Guinness, that king of stouts, that lord of dark ales, that meal in a pint glass – we wanted to beat the rush.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

We take a tip from a local and head to the credit card machines on the left once we’re inside the storehouse. That way, we not only avoid the queues, but we also get our free drink voucher for the upstairs lounge if we choose ‘Print Receipt’.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Guinness has been a part of Irish life since around 1778, varying from a porter to a stout to a double stout. Today, it is one of the most popular beers in the world.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

The size and scale of the Guinness Storehouse attests to the popularity of Guinness and the pull it has on the imaginations of visitors to Ireland. Make sure, when you enter, to look up through the many storied heights and try and guess (without being told) what shape the building resembles.

As we ascend, we are recounted the Guinness story, smelling and tasting the raw inputs including the all important water (the reason the factory is located where it is).

Reaching the top floor, we have panoramic views of Dublin, with passages from the collected works of Joyce pointing out icons of the city.

And there’s that complimentary Guinness for breakfast.

It really doesn’t taste as good anywhere else in the world as it does right here in Dublin, from the very source. Slainte!

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

James Joyce’s Dublin

It’s impossible to mention Dublin without conjuring this city’s most storied biographer. Joyce, for all his super-modernist tendencies, also tenderly chronicled the lives of the ordinary characters around him.To get a feel for Joyce’s Dublin;

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

See the Book of Kells

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, in a style of intricacy and dedication that we probably don’t understand in a disposable modern world. The Trinity College Library (also the largest library in Ireland and bearer of the rare title of copyright library) is fortunate to possess these awesome (in the true meaning of that world) manuscripts containing the four Gospels of the New Testament, illustrated around 800 AD.

You can see all of the books online by visiting the digital archive, but you will miss out on the very informative tour that accompanies this permanent exhibition, showing the mediaeval book-making techniques, and even how the monks corrected mistakes in a time without such a thing as White-Out.

Meet the Irish at Temple Bar

Despite starting the day with a Guinness, by mid-afternoon we’re feeling strangely parched again. Luckily, the lively entertainment district of Temple Bar should throw up one or two options for quenching that thirst.

Photo by LenDog64, Licensed under CC.

Photo by LenDog64, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Keith McGovern, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Keith McGovern, Licensed under CC.

Paris When it Sizzles

by Jacob Aldridge

For day 2 of our 3 days in Paris, we start and end in the Montmartre area where we are staying.

In between, we offer five centuries of nudity, and the sweetest Parisian competition imaginable.

Today’s Experience

We’ll power it all with our breakfast and coffee from Boulangerie Coquelicot, on the nearby rue des Abbesses. Scarily, I ordered the regular coffee – and I think I got you the large!

Enjoying a french coffee in Montmartre, Paris France

It’s worth drinking London coffee, just to make French coffee even more magnificent!

Hidden from us but just ten minutes walk away is the Sacre Coeur, the century-old basilica (that’s young!) built atop the highest point of Paris. The cloudless sky means extra heat as we make our way up the hill and through the square of artists offering us caricatures; once we reach the glistening white church we are thankful for the crisp and clear blue morning.

Paris's Basilica Sacre Coeur against a blue sky

Sacre Bleu c’est le Sacre Coeur!

Most people ascend to the Sacre Coeur via the stairs – the streets of Montmartre are a much better option. The grand Romano-Byzantine style makes Sacré-Cœur an impressive construction inside and out; having experience two other churches yesterday, we’re more impressed to note the statue of St Joan of Arc on the exterior façade – and of course to take in both the elevated view and the people-watching.

Did you know Paris has such a power over Japanese love-birds that there is a disease called Paris Syndrome, created when the reality fails to meet the expectations. This article suggests McDonalds as a cure; we suspect that’s the last thing on the mind for this group of wedding brochure photographers.

Asian wedding promotional photo shoot, Sacre Coeur Montmartre Paris France

Not as uncommon a sight as you might think!

We Promised You Nudity

and we plan to deliver, as we head (by Metro this time) to Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre.

If museums bore you, then you need to be aware that you can ‘do’ the Louvre in less than 6 minutes. At least, that’s the tongue-in-cheek world record, where the rules are solely that you have to view the ‘big 3’ – the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

At the other extreme, of course, it is actually impossible to do the Louvre even across all of the 3 days we have in Paris. Some middle ground must be found – so over the next 2 hours, let’s seize this opportunity to take in those most-famous sights (and the crowds surrounding them) and whatever else takes our eye.

The mostly 'armless Venus de Milo in the Louvre, Paris

Don’t mind Venus, she’s ‘armless! #louvre #dad’sjokes #killmenow

Mona Lisa Up Close and No Crowds Louvre Paris

It is possible to photograph yourself and the Mona Lisa without crowds – just be patient.

Canova's 'Pyche revived by Cupid's kiss in the Louvre, Paris France

A heart for Cupid and Psyche.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, well lit and shot from below in the Louvre

The Winged Victory of Samothrace – only one wing is original, can you tell which?

There’s more to the Louvre than classical paintings, of course. There’s the Ancient Egyptology

That is a Grand Sphinx!

That is a Grand Sphinx!

and the architecture, both modern and classic

The Louvre's glass pyramid from inside.

The Louvre’s glass pyramid from inside.

With light streaming in to the painted vaulted ceiling, You can see why this is the Palais Louvre.

You can see why this is the Palais Louvre.

and remnants of the medieval fortress, the original construction on the site

A helmet from the Louvre's time as a defensive fortress in Paris

The foundations and moat can also be accessed during your visit.

As for naked ladies and gents? We’ve got plenty of them

Lady looking directly at the naked archer

Follow the lady’s eyeline…hmmm…

Classic. Stylish. Nude. Painting in the Louvre

Classic. Stylish. Nude.

And just when you think you’ve seen enough painting, sculpting, and architecture for this lifetime, we exit the Louvre for a walk through the springtime Jardin des Tuileries.

Face Palm statue in the Jardin des Tuileries, gardens in Paris France

“PANTS! I forgot PANTS!”

The Sweetest Thing

Who has the best macarons in Paris? It’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves since our ‘Feels Like Home in Paris‘ hosts provided a taster set of macarons upon our arrival.

What is a macaron?

What is a macaron? Ganache filled fantasticness!

We ask ourselves again as we head for lunch at Ladurée, the patisserie that’s been serving Parisians (and tourists) sweets for more than 150 years and (in some versions of history) was the site where the macaron was created; the other contenders today are:

  • Pierre Herme: A deserved reputation, and the most popular choice
  • Arnaud Larher: Absinthe macaron defines Montmartre perfection
  • Pierre Marcolini: Better known as a Belgian chocolatier, and my personal selection

Ultimately, the only winner is this competition … is you – as you choose from flavours that can sound more botanic, or floral, or like the inside of a liquor cabinet, than ganache-filled brilliance. And if you can’t choose a winner (even after a second round)?

Well head back to Ladurée to drown your equivocation in a Saint-Honoré Rose. We’ve ordered one for you in anticipation.

Sainte Honore Rose at Laduree, Paris France

You better claim it now, or I WILL eat them both.

Kick up your Heels

Disappointed that the nudity so far has only been in marble and watercolours? Tonight offers so much more, told through the art of dance at the Moulin Rouge.

The Moulin Rouge, light up in red lights at night in Montmartre Paris

Red Light District, then and now.

There’s no doubt Nicole Kidman’s film helped reinvigorate the fame of the Red Windmill, the Belle Epoque cabaret, the haunt of Toulouse-Lautrec (and it’s a little crass to mention the Australian film, though it seems half the dancers tonight are antipodeans!). But don’t come here expecting Ewan McGregor to sweep you off your feet: tonight is a cabaret, swinging frenetically from “dancey dance” to snake wrestling to laugh-out-loud mime (the latter being a speciality exclusive to France).

And since this is a family website, we can’t show you any stills from the dancing itself – just know that you can expect wall-to-wall topless dancers for most of the numbers in the two-hour main production.

Most of our group have glowing reviews for the Moulin Rogue spectacle – and also suggest that adding on the dinner package to make it a longer experience is definitely worth the extra investment.

Personally, I found the Moulin Rouge to be the most excruciating four hours of my life. Travel is all about leaping into the world with no regrets … but if I could change one thing, I would have skipped Moulin Rouge.

Especially if I could have had another Ladurée dessert instead.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Macarons are best enjoyed fresh – though the ganache filling will keep them moist even as the exterior dries a little.
  • Avoid the Louvre queues by buying your €12.10 ticket online (note: you have to collect this in advance, most easily from the Virgin Megastore on the Champs Elysée). Plan your visit if you wish to experience specific pieces (like the Mona Lisa) without spending the whole day wandering the wings.
  • Reserve your Moulin Rouge tickets online – the show plus a half bottle of champagne is €105; add dinner and attend the earlier performance from €175. Or don’t, I’m just saying.

Calling all francophiles – what are your favourite experiences of Paris? Let all of our readers know in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

London: three days in one

 [Chris writes: It was always going to be tough going up against Jacob’s Perfect Day in London in our informal London competition. I’ve taken the tactical decision to throw not just one of my perfect days in London into the ring – I’m throwing them all in.]

Day One: Epicurean London

The first perfect day in London focuses exclusively on the relatively recent and somewhat surprising revelation – the food in England doesn’t suck!

The Poms have, for years, endured as the world, and the French in particular, snorted and stuck their noses up at even the accidental placement of the word ‘England” in the vicinity of the word “cuisine”. Said the French President, Jacques Chirac;

“One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad”.

Ouch.

France has moved on from Chirac, but I suspect he still speaks for many of us when we contemplate English food. And how wrong we all are.

One only has to look at the constellation of British chefs and cooks dominating the television, the bookstore, the supermarket ailes, and your stomach, to know that this attitude towards British food cannot last long, if indeed it is an opinion still held at all. From Heston to Gordon to Jamie to Nigella to Rick to Antonio to Delia, there is no shortage of chefs promoting new cuisine in the country, and there are truly exciting places in Britain where artisanal isn’t a word artlessly tacked on by a hipster in marketing – it truly is.

We start our morning at one of those places, and my favourite place in London. We’re going to Borough Market.

Food Heaven is Borough Market.

From our London Perfect apartment in Notting Hill, it is a short trip from Notting Hill tube to London Bridge (Central Line to Bond Street, changing for the Jubilee line towards Stratford).

Borough Market has been in operation, in some form or another, since the 13th Century, and possibly earlier. It recently earned a blue plaque as “London’s Oldest Fruit and Veg Market”.

Today, it is spread over several blocks, showcasing fresh and preserved produce made by individuals who make things the old-fashioned way.

It is hard to believe how varied and exciting the produce is at Borough. From specialist cheese producers, to rare breed pig farmers, to the one guy who smokes his own salmon and scallops up near the Scottish border, you’ll not only find the ingredients of your dreams but usually be talking to the person who made them.

There’s lots to eat and drink, so don’t muck about.

First – go to the Monmouth coffee stand and get in the queue when you arrive at Borough. Even if it looks quite long now, it will get longer still at the day progresses.

Once you’ve grabbed your coffee fix, head over to the Jubilee Market to look at food producers selling everything from jams and preserves, to spices, to handmade dips and dukkah, and their own family recipe for salami and smallgoods. Circle back into Green Market for bread, pastry, and don’t forget to grab an empanada before you go.

It Is Always Time For Tea

Tea and the English will, possibly forevermore, be inextricably linked.

Can you believe that, each evening when The EastEnders finishes (a popular soap on television), the surge in electricity is so great that the company must actively manage the electricity supply, even gathering in electricity supply from France.

What is causing this massive electricity surge? Says the BBC;

No other country in the world switches on some many kettles in so short a time.

Each evening around 7 PM, 1.75 million kettles are switched on.

To honour this national obsession, we’re paying a visit to the Twinings store in the Strand.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Thomas Twining, fighting a brave rearguard action against the overwhelming popularity of coffee houses, bought this coffee house back in 1706. In the early part of the 18th Century, tea began to rise in popularity and soon sales of tea from this store eclipsed the coffee business and Twinings was set on the path to tea-time domination.

Here you can buy the regular Twinings tea brands as well as shop from the Loose Lea Tea bar and individual teas for those famous Twinings compartments.

On to Marylebone for Brunch and Cheese

The Providores in Marylebone is one of those places you hear about in whispers and backchannels, because no-one wants to let the secret out – but this place is just too good. You only have to visit The Providores on a weekend for brunch to see the size of the queue and feel the crushing disappoint at forgetting to have booked.

An airy, modern cafe cum restaurant, there are two parts to The Providores – the Tapa Room downstairs, which is a busy free-for-all, and the quieter, slightly more formal dining room upstairs.

Both serve an increbile, eclectic ‘fusion’ menu that showcases the irreverence on the Kiwis and the cosmopolitan spirit of London. Current dishes on the lunch menu is a Smoked Dutch eel with butternut squash star anise puree, edamame, blood orange and macadamia nut salad and Sri Lankan spiced beef short-rib with pearl barley, raisins, almonds, mango chutney and coconut.

Remember to book your place.

Once satisfied, head out onto the Marylebone High Street and wander a bit further up towards Regents Park. You’ll smell our next destination before you see it, and depending on your palate you may love it or may find it slightly offputting.

The first time I entered the Cheese Room at La Fromagerie, I couldn’t quite take it all in. I was found standing in a corner of the room, gazing fondly at a block of Parmesan and inhaling deeply the potent scent of what I think was called ‘Stinking Bishop’.

With cheeses from Buffalo, Cow, Goat, and Sheep, and from all across England, the United Kingdom, and Europe, there just has to be a cheese here that you will find mind-blowing. Brie, Camembert, Aged Cheddar, Pecorino, Ricotta – breathe deeply and you’ll be entranced just like I was.

And before you leave this little slice of food paradise, pop into Patisserie Valerie for a raspberry tart fix.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Breast Milk Ice Cream

Yes – that threw me the first time I read about it too. It is hard to determine whether choosing to sample this particular variety of ice cream goes one the ‘have-to-try-it-once’ list or on the ‘are’you-blooming-crazy’ list.

If you were up for it, we’d head to the Icecreamists shop in Covent Garden and have a red hot go. If it isn’t really your cup of tea (and let’s be honest, that’s probably 99% of you) then we’ll head to another Icecream treasure of London – unconventional too, though not in the same way.

Freggo, located just away from the ridiculous hustle and bustle of Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus, is an icecreamery par-excellence. You really will not be able to think of icecream the same way once you try their Malbec and Berries icecream in combination with a dark chocolate icecream. Yes, that’s wine in icecream and it works. Don’t miss this.

Come the Raw Prawn at Harrods

How are we doing for time? Quick – get in that tube!

Harrods, house of all things gaudy and excessive, happens to also have a very fine Food Hall. If you can get past the crowds and the over the top memorials and the purveyors of perfume, you’ll find yourself in something very closely resembling a playground for grownups.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Look at the size of those prawns!

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Ok – it will be overpriced. But just sit yourself down at that counter and stuff yourself with jamon freshly carved from the bone with a razor-sharp knife by a smiling gentleman in an apron and enjoy it. You only live once.

More Tea, and a moment to regather

By now we’re feeling the afternoon dip hit hard, so it’s time for the citrus pep of a cup of Lady Grey and maybe a moment to catch our breath. At Claridge’s Afternoon Tea, they serve the ‘quintessential’ English afternoon tea, and having been practising the art for over 150 years, we’re sure to enjoy the full experience. As Spencer Tracey once said;

I’d rather go to Claridge’s than to heaven.

The Grand Finale, by the Master of Illusion

As if we have any room left in us by now. But we must, we must find some – a hollow leg perhaps. For tonight we dine at Heston’s.

Dinner, his restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental, is Heston Blumenthal’s first entry into the London market. With The Fat Duck solidly booked out months in advance, Dinner is our best chance to sample the cooking that has earned the self-taught chef three Michelin stars and to trade the Best Restaurant in the World title with Noma and El Bulli, depending on who you ask.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

The restaurant’s dishes are based on Heston’s deep research into historical cooking in English culture, and the dish at Dinner is the Meat Fruit. To all appearances, a mandarin, inside is a special surprise and I won’t be the one to spoil it for you. See if you can guess.

Day Two: Museum London

Not really a foodie? I hear you. Perhaps history and culture is more your thing?

One of the benefits of being an Empire is being able to amass, legitimately or otherwise, enormous collections of historical artefacts and trophies from across the world. England, being a particularly potent Empire, has quite the collection.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Start at the British Museum. Of course, everyone else is starting there too, and there will be a big rush to get inside to the Rosetta Stone first. You can join the rush or head on upstairs to the Egyptian collection instead, and find your inner Indiana Jones amongst the mummies and hieroglyphs.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Next, head to the London Museum. This place is little mentioned by most ‘travel experts’ and yet it tells a definitive story of the history of London, from ancient times through the Blitz, and to the heady days of Beatlemania and beyond, in entertaining and creative ways.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Once you’ve finished the tour you’ll have a greater appreciation for just how central this city has been in the making of the world as we know it today.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Head across the river to the Tate Modern.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

This titan of the art world, made from an old powerplant and solidly sitting across the Thames from the grand dome of St Paul’s, is a temple to modern and contemporary art and will have you up to speed on all your Modernisms and Post-Modernisms and Post-Modern-Pre-Minimalisms in no time at all.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Just near the Tate is the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.There are tours available, but why not come back when there is a play on. Standing tickets near the front of the stage as cheap as chips, although you will be exposed should the weather turn inclement, which in London is ‘frequently’.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Finally, and it is a bit out of the way, but how could you miss the Museum of Natural History. For any adult who, as a kid, fantasised about becoming an archaeologist (so, all of you) this is the Aladdin’s Cave, the Nirvana, the Mecca of dinosaur-nerdery.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Day Three: Countryside London

Food – meh. Museums – whatever.

Are you a nature lover, perhaps?

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

If so, let’s grab the DLR and get on out of London. Head out to Richmond Park, where we can gambol to our heart’s content in a massive greenbelt of forest, rivers, and fields.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

We’ll take time to track down the deer herds that populate the Park, making sure not to get too close – especially in rutting season.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

After we have all the fresh air we need, we’ll make our way to the Petersham Nursery. Not only a nursery full of beautiful flowers like you can only grow in England’s mild and gentle climes, there’s also an amazing restaurant attached. If the restaurant isn’t open, head up to the Petersham Hotel for afternoon tea overlooking the upstream Thames.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

On your way back into London, hop off and explore Kew Gardens.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

There’s an exotic greenhouse there full of endless varieties of butterflies, and the photos you take will be beautiful.

Day Four: Get way out of Town

Your perfect day in London may actually be a day trip out of the city. There are plenty of coach tours to places like Bath, Warwick Castle, Stonehenge, and other little satellites around this city, but why not go self-guided. We’ll have a better time.

One possibility is Canterbury, which is only an hour by train and will fulfil all your fantasies about how a medieval English town may have looked and felt.

Another option, if eclectic and alternative if your thing, is Brighton. Full of people who look at the world a little differently, Brighton also contains perhaps the most incredible palace in all of England, if by incredible we mean ‘absolutely-completely-over-the-top’. Playboy George, Prince of Wales, turned the Royal Pavilion into the most fashionable seaside retreat for high-society members of the time, and it has the the most extravagant chinoiserie interiors ever executed in the British Isles.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Brighton Pier will satiate your need to have a traditional English carnival pier experience, and if the stars align and the planets tilt and the world turns upside down, you may just might just may be able to go for a swim and not freeze to death.

But don’t count on it.

Wow.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

So, there it is. Not one, not two, not three, but four different versions of what might constitute a perfect day in London.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Please tell us yours!

2 Comments

3 Days in New York, Day Two

By Jacob Aldridge

Tuesday starts with our NYC local Steve at the door with great news – there’s bottomless coffee at the nearby Hi Life Bar and grill for breakfast. Plus, the french toast is amazing, and every meal comes with a free side of cinnamon toast and blueberry muffins. The American diner style feels right at home here and (one more cup of joe first) it’s the perfect start to kick off our second New York day.

Hi Life Bar, on Amsterdam Street, New York City. Bottomless Coffee, great cinnamon toast and muffins, and New York's excellent brunch.

Hi Life Bar, on Amsterdam Street. All photos today are Copyright, All Rights Reserved, used here with permission.

Our first stop is the Frick Museum, which we highlighted yesterday. From there, it’s time to go … DOWN TOWN!

Today’s Experience

We’re on the Subway again, this time heading downtown on the Green lines (we let the number 6 pass; it’s the local, and we wanted an express to go this distance) to Wall Street. Back when New York was still called New Amsterdam, a wall here marked the northern edge of the settlement – 150 years later, it became the trading hub of the growing colony. What would the earliest traders, operating underneath a tree, have thought about sub-prime mortgages and a global financial crisis?

Across the road from the New York Stock Exchange (which is actually on Broad Street) is a building most tourists traipsing through here pass right by, the Federal Hall National Memorial. It was on this site in 1789 that George Washington was inaugurated as the United States of America’s first President – and there’s a grand bronze statue of him to mark the spot.

George Washington stares down the New York Stock Exchange. We know which institution America is more proud of!

George Washington stares down the New York Stock Exchange.

The original Federal Hall, which was also home to the Congress that passed the US Bill of Rights, was demolished in 1812. Its 1842 successor is now a free museum dedicated to the earliest national history of this country, including the Bible Washington used for his swearing in.

Lunch time today is another US culinary institution, Chipotle. We get there wandering down Broadway, and past Bowling Green, another historic site although more famous today for the giant bull statue at its apex. The bulls are back on Wall Street, and this anatomically-correct statue is always popular for photographs!

The Statue of Liberty

Our mexican fix satiated, it’s time to see that icon of immigration and New York’s melting pot culture, The Statue of Liberty. It is possible to catch a ferry out to Ellis Island, even organise to climb inside Lady Liberty, but when time is tight on your 3 days in New York the best option also happens to be the free one!

New York downtown skyline, as seen from the Staten Island Free Ferry.

New York skyline, from the Ferry.

The Staten Island Ferry runs from the very bottom of Manhattan along the 30 minute trip to New York’s fifth borough, Staten Island. A vital commuter line, at this time of day it’s also very popular with the tourists who know that this is the free (yes – completely free) way to take a cruise right past the Statue of Liberty.

We grab a seat at the back of the boat, the better to appreciate the receding Downtown skyline as well, and prepare ourselves for the obligatory photograph!

The Statue of Liberty, as seen from the free Staten Island Ferry.

The Statue of Liberty, as seen from the free Staten Island Ferry.

At the other end, there’s a bit of a scramble – we all have to disembark the boat and go around to re-enter for the trip back to Manhattan  There are things to see and do on Staten Island … they’re just not as interesting as the afternoon we have planned.

Ground Zero

The Sphere in Battery Park, with the eternal flame also in shot. This is a memorial to the 9/11 Terrorist attacks, part of our 3 days in New York experience

The Sphere in Battery Park, with the eternal flame also in shot.

We come off the Staten Island ferry, and head left to Battery Park. The defensive front of the earliest settlements, the most striking feature of today’s park is The Sphere, a sculpture by Fritz Koenig that once stood in the plaza of the World Trade Centre, and was moved here – unrepaired – and placed beside an eternal flame, in memory of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

No trip to New York city is complete without acknowledging that day, and also now witnessing the birth of the new World Trade Centre site. Our next stop, then, is St Paul’s Chapel on Broadway, between Fulton and Vesey Streets. This 250 year old building survived the Great New York Fire of 1776 … and as the oldest public building in the city, it has hosted four Presidents (Washington’s pew is still on display), a future King of England, and played a central role in New York’s darkest days.

St Paul's Chapel New York, from outside on Broadway. Washington's chair inside, among the September 11 memorials.

St Paul’s Chapel from the outside, and Washington’s chair inside

Located just 400 metres from where the Twin Towers fell, St Paul’s was undamaged. It immediately became a focal point for the rescue efforts. Firemen changing their boots would leave one pair atop the fence spikes of the small cemetery behind the chapel. In the days after, those boots marked many of the 343 who entered the burning buildings and did not return.

As we enter this active church, we can see the impact of September 11. For eight months after that day, this was a place of rest and refuge for the Ground Zero recovery efforts. Now it is a memorial – part solemn, as could be expected; part uplifting, as we are reminded of the best humanity can offer through the stories told here; and throughout, you are only one story, one exhibit away from tears.

A note on the boots of September 11 firemen, outside St Paul's Chapel New York

A note on the boots, outside St Paul’s.

At Ground Zero itself, a phoenix has risen. 1 World Trade Center is once again New York’s tallest building, and is just the largest in a complex that will be under construction until 2020. A dedicated memorial is now open.

Insightful Steve suggests an option to liven the mood a little. Two blocks away, from the balcony of the Living Room cocktail bar of the W Hotel, we can see down into the Memorial, and over the World Trade Centre construction site. It’s an opportunity to experience the activity, without having to queue, and over cocktails there’s ample time to discuss the rest of our afternoon.

Shopping or Scenery

Some people come to Manhattan to walk the streets and feel the atmosphere while wearing out their shoe leather. Some people come to Manhattan … mostly just to buy new shoe leather.

If you’re part of the former, Steve has a plan – we’re going to cut across Downtown, and take in the New York City Hall, see the Supreme Court Building, and cross to the centre of the Brooklyn Bridge for another almost-uninterrupted view of the Manhattan skyline.

View uptown from the Brooklyn Bridge.

View uptown from the Brooklyn Bridge.

The alternative, should you wish, is to make the most of some of New York’s most famous bargains. We’re just a few blocks away from Century 21 … and from there you’ll have ample opportunity to wander through Chinatown and the shops of Canal Street. Keep some cash in reserve for tomorrow, however, when we hit up the fancier Midtown … and be prepared to ask yourself this question: Do you risk passing this shop buy??

The sign says "We are probably the lowest priced in the city". What an interesting shop sign!

Down near the WTC – what an opportunity! Probably.

New York’s Best Wine List? (And More Cocktail Secrets)

We’ll all use the Subway to head back uptown, but our destination is only to go as far as Union Square. While famous for its demonstrations, both radical and otherwise, this square was actually named because it was formed as the Union between two streets during the Commissioner’s street Plan of 1811 (that was also the one that created some sharp angles, made famous by the Flatiron building and Times Square).

We have dinner reservations at Union Square Cafe, known by the locals not only for its excellent food but also the wisdom of the wait staff when it comes to matching any of their extensive range of wines to the specific palate and food choices of each diner. Listen to their advice and, as long as your budget stretches beyond $60 bottles of excellent red, enjoy the experience.

After an exquisite meal, it’s tempting to avoid the crowds. But Times Square awaits – what to do? Listen to the advice of our New York local, of course, as Steve guides around the crowds and up to the Renaissance Lounge. Here there are cocktails and bar snacks and all the lights of Times Square, without being bumped around by out-of-towners (or New Yorkers in a rush!).

Looking for a cocktail bar overlooking Times Square New York? The R Lounge is perfect - here's the view and how to get in.

Cocktail Views of Times Square

Hover just right and … yes … we’ve secured the lounge space right by the window, where we can watch the New York evening turn into New York night.

That calls for another round of cocktails I think. And it wouldn’t be proper for me to come all the way to this island, and not order the Red Stag Manhattan. What can I order for you – the Cucumber Gin Martini or the Strawberry Caipiroska? How about the conclusion to our 3 days in New York – you can read about our final day here.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • If you do wish to experience the 9/11 Memorial, entry is currently free but you must reserve a space in advance.
  • Union Square Cafe is now open for weekend brunch – we’ve had experience of walking in off the street (admittedly, early in the evening) and been seated. Haven’t book ahead? If you’re happy to sit at the bar, walk on in and ask – you might get lucky.
  • The ‘R Lounge’ in the Renaissance is another of those little locals-only secrets that amazing travel newsletters like ours keep ruining. Still, even if it gets a little crowded up here it’s still more relaxed than down on street level.
  • There are loads of reasons to cross the Brooklyn Bridge completely and dine in a different borough. I suspect we’ll be back come Baseball season, to watch the Yankees and explore the boroughs that aren’t Manhattan – maybe even some of the State that’s not New York City!

We’re almost through our 3 Days in New York. Is there anything we haven’t visited so far that you want to make sure we add to tomorrow’s plans? Let us know in the comments below, or come start a discussion on our Facebook page.

September 11 Memorial Plaque - May We Never Forget.

September 11 – May We Never Forget.

3 Days in New York, Day One

By Jacob Aldridge

It’s an early flight, but as we descend over Manhattan with the sun still just rising there’s no doubt Alicia Keys and Jay-Z are correct: “These streets will make you feel brand new.”

Our flight from Florida to New York actually takes us into Newark, New Jersey – but from there it’s an easy train journey into Penn Station, right in the heart of New York, New York!

Start Spreading the News!

Overlooking Downtown Manhattan, New York, from top of the Empire State Building

Author Jacob Aldridge overlooking New York City. All photos in this article are Copyright, All Rights Reserved, permission granted by the artist.

Today’s Experience

If the idea of a New York subway ride terrifies you, then we’ve got great news – you’re living in the past, and we’re going to help you face those fears right now! Penn Station is on 34th Street, part of the famous New York grid system that makes exploring this enormous island so easy. We’re staying in an apartment on the Upper West Side, and 96th Street is a long walk from 34th!

View of the East River from the Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, New York USA.

View of the Hudson River from the Upper West Side.

Like the great underground railways of other world cities, the key to New York’s subway success is frequency. No checking timetables, we walk down to the Red line Uptown and two minutes later we’re on an express car north. At the other end is Steve – a southern-boy-cum-New-York-local, and the man behind our magic for the next 3 days.

“Leave your bags,” he says. “The city is meant to be seen above ground, and on foot.”

Central Park

Central Park is a ridiculous oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle where dreams are made, yet this $528 billion real estate opportunity is the beating heart of the city. Our walk through the park, with spring greenery just starting to show in places, takes us past the top end of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. This is an overwhelming moment, the first opportunity to fully appreciate the size of New York (well, really, just the size of Manhattan – we have to remind ourselves this is just one of five boroughs).

Around most of the city, the tall buildings allow you to feel insulated, part of this block, this neighbourhood, this community. Even entering the park, the trees have a similar, insulating effect.

New York city views over the Jaqueline Onassis Kennedy Reservoir, Central Park.

New York city views over the Jaqueline Onassis Kennedy Reservoir, Central Park.

Suddenly, at the top of the reservoir with nothing to block our view … we are confronted by size. By space. By magnitude. Way, way off in the distance, across this expanse of water, are the first of the skyscrapers. Trump Tower. Rockefeller Centre. The pinnacle of the Empire State Building. We know these buildings, we know their size, we know that beyond them, way beyond them in face, is downtown, where more skyscrapers stand, where the World Trade Centre stood, but we can’t even see that far from here.

This city is enormous. And yet, also, so very quiet.

Museum Mile

Steve is just taking us across Central Park right now, and before long we find ourselves on Fifth Avenue. It’s the fancy Upper East Side, and as we turn south toward the city we enter the Museum Mile – a stretch home to many of the city’s (nay, the world’s) best museums.

Our destination is the one museum most travellers miss; it’s the one that offers the most to people like us who like good art … but really have no idea what we’re talking about!

The Guggenheim Museum stands out along the Museum Mile, Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side, New York

The Guggenheim Museum stands out along the Museum Mile, Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side, New York

So we pass, and appreciate the bold architecture, of the Guggenheim. We see the masses of art students sketching on the stairs of the grand Metropolitan Museum of Art (yes, even on a Monday when it’s closed!). And we stop to note a building that’s more house than museum – because that’s exactly how it was originally built.

The Frick Collection, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 70th Street, is housed in the home of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick. A collector of art, particularly European masterpieces in paint, porcelain, and sculpture, after his death in 1919 Frick’s wife and their daughter Helen worked to open the works and the home up to the public.

The Frick Collection is an impressive experience. It is not as overwhelming as a large museum, and unlike collections created by a succession of curators this very much represents the varied interests of one man. The audio guide, which is free with entry, allows you to pick and choose to learn more about the works that impress you most, from Rembrandt to Rodin. While it’s closed Monday, we’ll be back here to take it in later in our trip.

The Frick Collection, formerly the Frick family mansion, upper east side New York City.

The Frick Collection, formerly the Frick family mansion.

If you don’t want to wait, you can take the virtual tour right now. Look for the paintings by American artists – only two of the 137 masterpieces Frick acquired were painted in the New World.

Strawberry Fields and Chocolate Concretes

We could follow Fifth Avenue further down, but Steve is pulling us back into Central Park. We’re crossing over it again, and 27 blocks further south it’s a lot busier here. The buzz of the crowd seems to increase as we approach the west side of the park once more – suddenly there are more people, more bikes, and more touts selling sketches they’ve made and city photographs they haven’t.

Steve reveals why – this is the area of Central Park now known as Strawberry Fields, dedicated to John Lennon who was shot dead in front of his nearby apartment. The focal point is the ‘Imagine circle’, a mosaic almost continually filled with flowers left by fans of Lennon, and those who continue to spread his message of peace.

The Imagine Circle, Strawberry Fields, Central Park New York City. No 3 days in New York are complete without it.

The Imagine Circle, Strawberry Fields.

For lunch, we’re heading to the nearby Shake Shack – for an experience that’s hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t been to a burger joint that was created by a fine dining chef (in this case, Union Square Cafe’s Danny Meyer). Let’s just say, this ain’t McDonalds, the vegetarian option is actually as sensational as the bacon-laden SmokeShack, and you’re a fool if you don’t also order one of the Concretes (frozen custards) as part of your meal.

Muppets and Diamonds

Manhattan has featured in countless films – we’re running a question on our Facebook page about which New York films you think are best. One of our favourites is The Muppets Take Manhattan, so we figured if they’re here … then we must find them!

The WhatNot Workshop, FAO Schwarz New York.  The best New York Souvenir.

Found them! The WhatNot Workshop, FAO Schwarz New York.

So after a longer wander to the bottom of Central Park we find ourselves standing in front of the life-size toy soldiers at FAO Schwarz. Tom Hanks fans will be rushing inside and upstairs – yes, the big piano that featured in the film Big is here … and yes, you can have a turn on it if you want!

Big, the Tom Hanks film, featured this very piano.

You may have to wait for the kids to get off first!

Just some of the WhatNot options at the Make your own Muppet Workshop.

Just some of the WhatNot options at the Make your own Muppet Workshop.
Keep reading to see what I will make – yes, given all of these choices and an infinite Muppet world, I’m chosing to make a WhatNot that looks like me!

When you’re done, we’ll be downstairs at the What Not workshop. What Nots are the Muppets you see in the background – they were the audience for the Muppet Show, and they joined the famous Muppets (like Ernie and Bert) for the wedding scene of Manhattan. This workshop is the only place in the world where you can make your own Muppet.

Yes, we said it … You. Can. Make. Your. Own. Muppet.

The recommended ages of 5-12 are ridiculous – this is totally an adult experience, and before we know it we’re consumed in the debate about whether to go with an oval or pointed nose, and whether to dress our What Not in the Princess Outfit or the Statue of Liberty costume!

Undoubtedly the most awesome souvenir you can acquire on your New York Trip, but not the priciest. For that you have to head two blocks south, and back onto Fifth Avenue. What were we saying about great New York movies? That’s a list that isn’t complete until you add the most fabulous movie of them all, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Outside Tiffany & Co, on Fifth Avenue. Grab your croissant and coffee, and make your own Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Outside Tiffany & Co, on Fifth Avenue.

We’re sure the great folk at Tiffany’s won’t appreciate us saying this, but after you get your requisite photo outside, it’s worth walking inside just to take in this experience. Nowadays, when there’s a Tiffany store on every corner (Tiffany’s Bondi Junction, seriously?) it’s nice to breathe in the rarefied air of the 176-year-old flagship store that started it all.

There’s plenty more shopping down here on street level, but night is falling … and we have an appointment much higher up!

Top of the Rock

Most tourists head to the top of the Empire State Building, the only vista of New York where you can’t see its most famous building (because you’re standing on it!). So we’ll let you in on a little secret – Rockefeller Centre, made famous most recently as the home of TV show 30 Rock, offers a ‘Top of the Rock’ experience where you can head to the summit of this 259m high building…and see it all.

Preparing to enter 30 Rock before our climb to the Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Centre New York

Preparing to enter 30 Rock.

Wow – be prepared for the bracing breeze as you step outside at the top! February in New York is colder at night, and 70 stories up! And then take in the panorama – first, looking out across Central Park where we walked today. Again, the size of Manhattan becomes apparent when even from this view we can barely see the other end of the park.

And then walking around, the geography of the city becomes clearer. Heading to the right, we can see past the Chrysler Building to the East River that separates Manhattan from Queens and Brooklyn. The East River Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge now come into sight, exposing us for the first time to Downtown Manhattan.

Then there’s the Empire State Building itself, lit tonight in Red, White, and Blue. MidTown New York becomes obvious here, the expanse of smaller, more residential buildings that fill the space between the Empire State Building and the towers down toward Wall Street at the the bottom of Manhattan.

View Downtown in New York, from the top of Rockefeller Center. The Empire State Building is lit up.

View Downtown in New York, from the top of Rockefeller Plaza

The brightness of Times Square stands out as we keep moving around, and beyond it over the Hudson River we can see the lights of Jersey – including Newark Airport where we arrived what feels like a lifetime ago. Returning to where we first began, and the night is setting in. Central Park is now most noticeable as an empty blackness in the heart of street and building lights. We feel you New York.

Broadway

And there’s only one more experience to make this day complete, and that’s taking in a show along the world’s most famous theatre stretch – Broadway.

We have tickets to the current Broadway sensation, Newsies. Centring a Broadway musical on a mostly male cast and based on a Disney film whose success is best described as ‘cult following’ was a gamble … and this production is a jackpot!

Times Square Advertisement for Newsies, the Musical. Currently a Tony Award Winning Broadway Sensation, and we loved it!

Times Square Advertisement for Newsies, the Musical

The story of the 19th Century strike by newspaper boys against the capital excesses of the time has struck a chord in the middle of this global financial crisis. But this is not just right story, right time – this is a production that will have you humming the tune to The World Will Know and King of New York before you even realise it.

Our takeaway is also the power of male dance – put a group of guys on stage and dress them in khaki and grey and the audience has no choice but to marvel at the strength and technique these guys have.

Jaws drop. Feet tap. And as the audience empties onto the street at the end of the performance we get a feeling for why this is a city that never sleeps.

We could do anything. Mostly, we just want to play with our FAO Schwarz Muppets!

We could do anything. Mostly, we just want to play with our Muppets! (And yes, that is the Wedding Scene from The Muppets Take Manhattan playing in the background.)

There’s so much more we could be doing, right now. And you can do it, right now – click here to read Day Two in New York…

Want to go? Need to know!

  • New York is serviced by two major airports – JFK (out past Brooklyn) and Newark, New Jersey. You don’t want to spend time in either. Worse still, you do want to allow yourself plenty of time to get to either – public transport is more reliable than a taxi (in case of traffic issues).
  • Get a Metro Card (valid on both Subways and buses) and download a copy of the Subway map. If you’re staying for more than 5 days, just get a weekly card – sure, you want to walk around the city as much as possibly, but having unlimited weekly travel means never having to think about whether you can take that subway ride to squeeze in dinner at that great restaurant people keep telling you about.
  • If you have more time, or museums are a more important part of your travelling, take in the Met. Entry is free BUT they will try to force you into the standard donation of $25. If you can afford that, make the contribution to the future of this institution – but if you can’t, you are able to let them know that and walk right in.
  • Accommodation in New York is not cheap. If you ever meet a New Yorker in your travels, befriend them immediately! (Firstly, because they’re likely friendly and fabulous; prime real estate is a secondary benefit.) Airbnb was actually created in response to finding New York accommodation.

Have you decided which New York movie you love most yet? Tell us over on our Facebook page.