Madame Tussauds, Marylebone Road, London

King Kong.JPG

I had forgotten how much fun Madame Tussauds could be. You have to let yourself go, embrace the kitsch, accept the corny, give in to your inner child and play! You are going to realise that enjoyment is a conscious choice as soon as you sit down in the black cab fairground ride that takes you through a potted history of London. If you disapprove of touristy romanticised attractions you should avoid coming here; where even the rats are sanitised. But, if you are new to London, looking forward to what you are going to see over the coming week, then I can see its allure.

DSC_2924

I like how hands on everything is, you can take a selfie with Kim Kardashian, put your head on George Clooney’s shoulder or even look up Marilyn Monroe’s billowing skirt, if that is what takes your fancy. It’s good to go in a group, it’s always fun to discuss how short Tom Cruise is,  how tired the Queen looks, or to try to get your Mum to pinch John Wayne’s bum.

the queen

The crew that work here are friendly and helpful, happy for you to get up close and personal with the figures and to take a photo, if you ask. They are chatty and will share an anecdote, one guy told me that they sometimes have to remove left knickers from Brad Pitt’s mannequin.

DSC_2922

Madame Tussauds is not cheap to visit, but it is possible to get deals, either with your train ticket or as a combination with other London visitor attractions. It is definitely worth looking for these online, you would be very unlucky not to find a coupon somewhere. It is also prone to get very busy, queueing to get in and get around is always a mood dampener, so if you are here in the height of the season try to go early in the day or late in the afternoon. They sometimes have evening openings, look out for these as they are often quieter.

Shrek

There are waxworks from every walk of life here; film and pop stars, historical and political people, sports and science specialists. So if you want to kiss Kylie, hug Hawkins, shimmy with Shrek or berate Boris; this is the opportunity, all you have to do is lose your inhibitions…..and make sure you take a photo!

Advertisements

Hyde Park Corner, London W1.

Hyde Park Corner

Hyde Park Corner has a lot going on, for what is, ultimately, the central reservation of the busiest traffic roundabout in London.

Peace in a Quadriga

There is Wellington Arch in the centre, which used to house the second smallest police station in Britain until 1992, it is now a museum and open to the public.  It is called the Wellington Arch because the top of it used to be crowned by a 40 ton Statue of the Duke of Wellington – the largest statue of a man on a horse that has ever been made. It was moved to Aldershot in 1912 and the arch now has a statue of a winged charioteer driving four horses on it top. This is the largest bronze statue in Europe.

Australian War memorial

The grassed over island also has the Australian war memorial in the South Western corner and the New Zealand war memorial on the North Eastern corner. These are 21st century memorials built in 2003 and 2006 respectively and commemorating antipodean deaths in the two world wars. They are both moving pieces of public art.

New Zealand War memorial

It also contains the Machine Gun Corps Memorial and the Royal Artillery Memorial, two more pieces commemorating casualties of the World Wars. These are both interesting in their own ways. I’m not sure why the Machine Gun Corps is commemorated by a statue of a young man with one hand on his hip and the other on a large sword, but it is beautiful, nonetheless. The Royal Artillery Memorial has more of a Great War atmosphere, it resembles soldiers guarding a tomb, with a cannon on its top.

Machine gun corps

There is also a statue of Lord Byron and a large bronze of The 1st Duke of Wellington sitting on a horse. The equestrian duke statue is a smaller copy of the one that used to be atop the Wellington Arch. The best way to reach the central reservation avoiding the traffic is by one of many underground passageways. These are bright and well kept and have tiled depictions of the history of the area. I can’t believe that I am recommending  visiting the underground pathways to a traffic island, but these are quite interesting in themselves and definitely deserve a view if you have an interest in the history of the area.

Hyde Park

Not only is the junction itself full of interest but, there are many places very close by. There is Apsley House, the home of the Dukes of Wellington, and Hyde Park itself to the north. The wall across the road on the southern edge is Buckingham Palace garden. Green Park is on the east, and the Old St Georges hospital, now the Lanesborough Hotel, reputedly the most expensive in London, is to the west. Plus, of course underneath all this is Hyde Park Corner tube station.

Apsley House

In short, if you are to visit any traffic island in central London, then this should be the one!

An Afternoon on the Bentota River, Bentota, Sri Lanka

NHM3_110

Seneka, our driver, said “I have a cousin who has a boat, for US$10 he will take you out on the river. For another US$10 his brother will show you everything and act as a guide. His English is very good. There is lots to see.” So, we agreed to go.

 

NHM3_111
Our boat arriving to pick us up

 

We had hardly left the shore when we saw a water monitor, at least two metres long, sunning herself in the garden of a riverside house. I was impressed. Our guide was less so “Water monitors, there are many, look in the trees” I looked up, indeed in the branches almost directly above our heads, there they were – just as big. I was less impressed and more nervous now. “Don’t worry” he said “They have no interest in people. Oh look! A chameleon.”

NHM3_116

And there it was, showing off, changing colour as we watched, becoming less green and more stick coloured as it moved away from the leaves. Dotted along the banks of the river were jetties, some with boats some without. One had a man sitting on it, with a baby crocodile beside him. “Is that a crocodile?” Michael asked. “Oh yes, it’s his pet”. We pulled up. “Would you like to hold him? It’s quite safe” The baby crocodile was thrust into Michael’s hands before he could refuse. I was secretly very pleased my hands were full with the camera at that point.

NHM3_112

“Will they keep him as a pet?” I asked. “Oh no, he will go away before he gets big, we will see very big ones soon” The river is wide but we stayed close to the edge because crocodiles like to be submerged in the shallow water and the shade, away from the afternoon sun. Michael had the camera again and was on the water side of the boat watching out for the crocodiles. I was on the side near the bank. I noticed the boat driver gesticulating at me. “Duck your head down low, now!” Michael said, in an ominously calm, yet urgent, tone of voice. I complied immediately. I looked back as I did so and I was confronted with a Green Vine Snake less than a foot away from my face.

NHM3_113.JPG

I paled, but I did not scream or jump out of the boat. I’m proud of that. Michael leant in  to take a photo. Our guide announced “It’s a Green Vine Snake; very pretty, but it is poisonous.” Michael leant away again. “It’s not interested in us, it mostly eats frogs and lizards.”  I obviously appeared horrified. “Oh look, Bee Catcher Birds” he said pointing upward.

NHM3_117

There were a pair in the tree above our head. They do actually eat bees, they pull out the sting and then eat the rest whole. These larger Blue Tailed Bee Catchers also eat wasps. The wasps in Sri Lanka can be very large and dangerous. His distraction worked. The snake was forgotten.

NHM3_119

The next strange thing was the shop, on stilts, in the middle of the river. Nothing near it, and no customers, but it was definitely a shop. It appeared to sell coconuts, fruit, soft drinks and boxed groceries. It seemed rude to question why it was there, so I didn’t ask. Soon after this we began to see the crocodiles. We saw four or five, but they were hard to photograph, partly because we didn’t want to go too near and partly because they stayed mostly submerged in the cool water – out of the warm sun.

NHM3_114

On the way back we saw Giant Fruit Bats. They really do look like the batman motif when they fly and they are surprisingly big.

NHM3_118

We took a shortcut through the mangrove forest on the way back, which was pretty but eerie. It made us very happy that we had remembered to use our mosquito repellent before we set off.

NHM3_120

We saw egrets, ducks and herons. We also saw a mongoose that was too quick for us to photograph. In total we spent about two hours on the water, we had a fantastic time. It was a great introduction to Sri Lanka, after all this was still our first day there.

Photos courtesy of Michael Jolly.

 

 

 

 

London City Airport, Silvertown, London

london-city-airport

If you are going for a short getaway, this is the place to fly from. It is 20 minutes on public transport from London Bridge to the check-in desks, and it is even less from the city. Once you arrive, unless you are unlucky, it will be no more than 10 minutes from station to airside. This airport really shortens your travel time, important if you are only having a few days away.

When you check in, try to get a window seat because the views of London from take off are spectacular.  The runway is straight in the direction of the city and the planes fly relatively low over town. This provides passengers with a better prospect of the London skyline than the London Eye, The Shard and the Skygarden combined.  If you are lucky enough to have an evening flight arriving into the airport, on your return, you will have an added bonus of the approach into London’s glittering city lights and the glistening river Thames. The takeoff and landing views are worthy of being a London attraction all by themselves.

All in all, London City Airport provides a truly premium experience and should be considered, if you are visiting London and planning a short side trip away.

NHM3_107

Reflected in glory

Yesterday we visited the Recoleta Cemetery where for 200 years the great and the good of Buenos Aires have competed to build the most ornate mausoleums in stone and marble.

I loved the way that with a little care it’s possible to capture a brief vignette of the architecture and stained glass reflected in the glass of doorways used by relatives to visit their ancestors.

These are my favourite photos of the day.

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

 

image

Hobbiton, North Island, New Zealand


Unsurprisingly photogenic!


 This is a well organised tour, the sets look just as they do in the films. You will leave this day with many great photos. We booked by phone in advance because the site says that it is often difficult to get tickets if they turn up at the shires rest. As it happens there were people managing to get tickets on the day as they arrived while we were there and this was on a bank holiday weekend.


 The beer and the cider in the Green Dragon are good too!


Thoroughly recommended.

Whale Watch, Kaikoura

 This isn’t the cheapest of the many tours in Kaikoura, but we enjoyed it and found it to be good value for money.

We liked the fact that if you don’t see a whale, they will refund 80% of the ticket. We reckoned that meant they must be pretty confident and indeed it turned out be the case.

We saw a sperm whale very close, and many many dolphins, also albatross. The guides were witty and informative. They do warn about seasickness and there were some who were but I recommend this trip heartily.