I am spending Christmas and New Year in Miami, so as a change of venue, here are some pictures that I took on a walk around Little Haiti in Miami.
I finish with a frozen iguana that fell from a tree in our garden, it has been there the last three days. Apparently this is normal when the temperature goes below 8C, and it will defrost and walk away when the temperature goes back up!
An indoor skydive is an experience where you lean into a wind tunnel and the gushing wind lifts you up and keeps you aloft. Never having done a skydive from a plane, I cannot say how similar the feeling is to a parachute jump – but I can say that there is an initial moment of dread as you step off the ledge of the tunnel and allow the blast of wind to take your body airborne. This is followed by exhilaration as you realise that the wind is actually keeping you flying, and you can relax and enjoy the experience.
The flight lasted around a minute, and I had two goes. The first had the biggest rush, but by the second I was a little more relaxed and aware of my body shape, so I was able to enjoy the time more. I reckon it is a healthy thing to do, it is always good to get your heart pumping, and you don’t need any strength or skill to do it, just the willingness to release yourself to the experience and a little bravery to take that step off the ledge.
Be aware that one needs to arrive for the skydive, forty-five minutes before takeoff, so that you can be kitted out and do training. During this time, you can watch other people, so you will have an idea what to expect when you go in. Also be aware that the video and photos taken of you doing the skydive will not be the most flattering, unless of course, you wish to be viewed as a fat Wallace and Gromit character!
However, having said that, if there is an element of thrill seeker in you, then you will surely enjoy it, and although you only spend two or three minutes in the air out of the hour that you are there, those airborne minutes are intense.
I attended amongst a group of 10 people, some of us remembered the original album fondly, a couple had read the H. G. Wells book, and a couple had no knowledge of the story. The entry point is a 19th Century tavern, where you can have a drink while you await your fellow travelers. The parties set off in groups of around 15. and you begin by sitting in a small cinema where hologram images set the scene for the story.
You are then brought to a planetarium, and each of you gets an individual telescope, through which you can study the solar system. Through these telescopes, you can see strange substances gathering on Mars’ surface. Your professor reassures you that “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one…”and then we are off into the adventure. Before long, our professor is cinders, and we are led from pillar to post by various soldiers and civilians, helping us to avoid the destruction around us, caused by the Martians.
Eventually we arrive at a dock, where we are shown into boats and virtual reality headsets recreate our journey to London, in the hope of escaping the devastation. Virtual reality has come a long way in the last couple of years and these sections work fantastically well, helped by the rocking motion of the boats and the wind in our face at various points of the scene. Having escaped from the river, we are led to another tavern where we can have another drink (or not) while we wait for our rescuers to bring us on the next section of our adventure.
The second half of the show involves lots more VR, including hiding in a church confessional box and a trip in a hot air balloon. If you remember the album, you will recognize these parts of the storyline, as it does stick quite close to the story on the album. Before you know it, you are deposited back in the tavern for the obligatory photo opportunity and a debrief. The show lasts a bit over two hours and the time flew by. We all thoroughly enjoyed it, whether we were aware of the story or not. There were a few genuinely jumpy moments, and the music was good. I have to say that I was disappointed that they cut the Phil Lynott, Julie Covington duet (however, I was the only one of our party who remembered the track…) but the VR and how immersive it was really made up for it.
By the way, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside, so the ones included are stock ones that I found on the internet. If anyone would like to claim them or wish for attribution, please leave a note in the comments and I will remove or comply as you wish. The venue is Leadenhall Street, quite near to Bank Station, in the city. All in all, it was an excellent evening and Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds is a great addition to the list of things to do in London.
It seems that I was one of the few people who liked The Millenium Dome, as it was called when it was called when it was first built. I had a couple of very enjoyable days there at the start of the century. So, when I was given the tickets to walk over the roof of it, as a birthday gift, I was delighted. It’s called the O2 arena now and the walk over its roof is “Up at the O2” with a tagline of “Get over it” – which might be a reference to how unpopular the venue was when it was opened.
The tours run every 15 minutes from roughly 10am until 10pm, although the start and finish times do vary from day to day. You can book them a long way in advance, but I would recommend waiting until you have a good idea of what the weather will be like before booking. They run whatever the weather, rain or shine and only cancel if there are gale force winds or if there is lightning within 5 miles.
It was a lovely sunny October day, the 30th, on the day we did it and although I’d imagine it would be an interesting experience in a thunderstorm, I suspect it would not be as pleasant. The walk up and down is quite steep at times, 30% maximum gradient, but the path is wide, and you are hooked up to a safety harness, so the journey to the top and back did not feel dangerous at any point. There are grips to hold your shoes on the steepest parts, but I bet the surface becomes quite slippery in the rain.
The podium at the top is big and provides beautiful panoramic views of the city skyscrapers and of the Thames east of London. The only cameras you are allowed to bring are those that will fit inside your zipped pockets. They do have gilets with zipped pockets, that they will lend you, if your jacket does not have zipped pockets. The pillars do make it a bit difficult for someone of my limited photographic ability to get photos that do justice to the views. The maximum group size is twenty and our guide, was very helpful with lots of information and offers of picture taking.
Hidden City Adventures provide an option of three treasure hunts taking you around different parts of London, guided by clues sent to your mobile phone. The one we chose to do was Moriarty’s Game, a Sherlock Holmes type mystery that led us around Fitzrovia and Mayfair.
The walks are set in the real world and do involve you interacting with various people along the way -such as going up to a barista in a certain coffee shop and telling them that the white knight sent you (not an actual clue, by the way!). It will involve real detective work and the clues are quite challenging, but this all adds to the sense of achievement when you actually figure them out. You should think of the experience as a day out, rather than a brisk walk, because although we covered a distance of 3km, it took us around three hours with breaks for drinks or snacks as we sat and worked on the various clues.
The games have been set up with great care by people who are interested in London because they bring you through surprising areas and spaces that you would not otherwise see. I have lived in London almost my entire life and there were some places that I didn’t realise existed right in the heart of town. I would say, that it is a social activity – best undertaken with at least two or possibly a small group – as working out the fiendish clues together can be a fun, bonding experience. Also, you should be aware that you will need to add the cost of stopping for coffee or drinks, two or three times during the walk, to your budget for the day.
Having said that, this is a great day out, it involves a small amount of exercise, that you can take at your own pace. It has great puzzles that will stimulate your brain. It is a good social activity, that involves interacting with both unknown people and members of your group, you get a nice sense of achievement when you complete it…. and most of all it is fantastic fun!
Highclere Castle is the home of the Earl of Carnarvon, a Grade I listed building, and Grade I listed garden, in Hampshire between Newbury and Andover. It is a beautiful, historic building in its own right and has added renown because of its use in many films and TV series, probably most famously Downton Abbey. If you know these films or watch the TV series, you will recognize the building as you drive up the long sweeping drive to the car parks.
The walk up to the house from the car park is also recognizable and there was a constant queue of people having photos taken at the famous front door.
When you book, you need to be aware that there is no photography allowed inside the house, however the interior decoration is both sumptuous and recognizable. You certainly do have the feeling that you are walking around a film set rather than a family home. The views of the gardens from the windows of the house are equally attractive, which is a testament to the talent of Capability Brown, the famous 18th Century landscape gardener, who designed the ground in the 1870s.
The house is full of historic interest too. It was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers in the first world war, a storyline used the TV series, if I remember correctly. Before that, it was here that the discussions were held, that led to Canada becoming an independent country. There is a Canadian Maple tree in the front garden, donated by the Canadian embassy, to commemorate this. The building also holds a notable Egyptology Museum, as the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, funded the dig that exhumed the tomb of Tutankhamun. His interest also led him to purchase many other ancient treasures from that part of the world.
The day I went to Highclere was a more expensive tour than the basic entry day and although this did not appear to give a great deal more (a couple of extra rooms, a personal guide and a talk) in terms of access, it did limit the number of people in the grounds and castle to under 200 through the whole day. On a normal open day, they can get over 1100 people, so I’d imagine that queue for photos at the front door becomes very long.
There is a café and bar, and you can order afternoon tea on the lawns. It is about an hour from London by car and roughly the same by train (a £20 taxi ride from the station). I spent about 4 hours there wandering the house and gardens and the time passed very quickly, so with the travelling times, it was a full day out – and a day well spent.
Falconwood to Grove Park is one of the shorter walks on the ring, I’m not sure how come it measured 9k on my app, when the ramblers site says they did it in 7.1k. I think they followed the direct route from the station to the footbridge whereas I followed the signposted path, which I have to admit looks a little more circuitous on the map. Start by walking in Eltham Park North, which changes to Eltham Park South once you cross the brutalist footbridge over the busy A2.
Next, we have a section of suburban streets. A typical London mixed income area, some posh houses and schools, with some modern new build, low rise blocks of flats, Eltham would be considered a reasonably well-off part of South London. Its big claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Bob Hope. Conduit Meadow here. held the spring that fed the river Shuttle, although it is not visible here, and it provided the water for the nearby palace.
As the houses become older, the street names become more interesting, and we enter Tilt Yard Approach. This is a hint that we are arriving at a place of historical significance and sure enough as we go down the hill we see the walls and moat of Eltham Palace.
This is a fantastic historical building. Now cared for by English Heritage, both the house and gardens are a treat to visit. It has great architectural items from two very distinct historical periods. It was the country residence of the Kings and queens of England from the 14th to 16th century and then in the early 20th Century it was bought by the Courtauld Family and is one of the beautifully preserved Art Deco buildings in the country.
Past the Palace we go along King John’s walk, which is now a lane of stables and riding schools. It has a lovely juxtaposition of old and new with horses grazing before a classic London skyline. There are also some nice ornate wrought iron gates along this walkway. It also passes a large house, named Fairmont, that was once the home of the cricketer W.G. Grace.
A brief walk College meadow, past football and cricket training pitches brings you to the nicely named, but less interesting to look at, Quaggy River. This is the end of section 2, and on to Grove Park station which brings you Back to London Bridge. Grove Park has a nice mural to Edith Nesbit, who wrote “The Railway Children”
The World Reimagined is an exhibition of 103 individual, artist decorated globes, set out in 10 trails, in 7 different cities throughout the UK. I walked the City of London trail, which has 10 globes.
The Globes are designed to make us think about our history in an honest way and they hope to inspire us to look toward a fairer future.
The city of London trail was a little over 3km and took around 2 hours. Some of the globes were hard to find and if I’m honest the map wasn’t great. If anyone does the trail and finds the first globe, I would be grateful if they could give me a hint as to where it is. I used the app after the map was less than helpful and when it said “you have reached the globe” it was nowhere to be seen!
The globes on the City of London trail are a lot about slavery, which I guess is actually where a lot of its wealth came from. The stories they tell are interesting and informative. The trail takes you through a part of London that is rich in history and that is also fascinating to walk through today. You will see St Paul’s Cathedral, Bank, Bow Bells, The Gherkin and much more.
The exhibition runs until the end of October, there are 4 different trails in London, as well as trails in other cities including Swansea, Leeds, Liverpool, Leicester and Birmingham.
The world reimagined has a big online element too, with many YouTube videos, and each globe has QR codes that can be scanned so you can “collect” the globes and read information about them, such as the artist and what they represent.
All in all, an ambitious project – the globes and trail are only a part of it. I found it an entertaining morning out, so if you are in any of the cities taking part and you fancy a walk, I would recommend looking up “The World Reimagined”
The Flight Simulator with Virtual Aerospace allows you to take off, fly and land a virtual airplane under very realistic conditions. It is the same machine that is used in pilot training. They have a huge choice of airports from which to take off and land. Because I am a complete novice, I chose to fly from Gatwick to Birmingham, a less challenging route. You can also choose the conditions under which you fly, I’m told that Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong, at night is a good one to pick, this is apparently very challenging and visually spectacular.
Michael was my trainer/co-pilot and I have to say that he really added to the enjoyment of the experience. He patiently described what all the dials did and explained their optimum positions for a smooth flight. He was calm and encouraging throughout the trip, gently reminding me what the array of lights meant and pointing out which ones needed attention at any time. He also made the flight realistic, calling cabin crew to prepare for landing and speaking to air traffic control as I descended.
You won’t need any knowledge to get enjoyment from this experience, I had never even seen the inside of a cockpit before. I imagine it could be even more of a thrill for those with a previous interest in aeronautics. If a friend comes with you, they can also sit in the cockpit, enjoy your flight and applaud on a successful landing.
Virtual Aerospace is in Shoreham-by-Sea which around an hour and a half from London. The airport is about a mile from the station and there is a taxi rank right outside. I chose to walk and it took about 15 minutes. Shoreham is a pretty seaside town and has plenty of bars and restaurants if you fancy turning the experience into a day out.
The makers of Whitley Neil Gins are The City of London Distillery, and on many evenings they host distillery tours and gin tasting evenings. These are held with groups of 10 people or less. When we arrived we were given a welcome drink, ours was dry gin and prosecco, while we awaited the arrival of the other attendees. Once they arrived we were taken to an alcove to the side of the main bar where tables were set up with four gin flights, botanicals and an information sheet.
To start we had a brief rundown of the history of gin and the difference between different types of gin. Then we tasted the first two and chatted about their taste. They will bring tonic or any other mixer you have with your gin. After a few minutes discussion we were brought to the still room where we got to meet the stills. Yes, they all have names and they are spoken about as though they are people. The tour was interesting and lively, because Stephen, who was our guide, was obviously interested in his subject with regard to both history and taste.
We heard how the gin is made and how it is flavoured, then we went back to taste the last two gins. Perhaps I was lucky with the crowd on this occasion, but by the time we were tasting the final gin, our conversation had moved on to more general discussions – about holidays, museums and London life. The atmosphere was relaxed and convivial. There was an amount of background noise, enough that you would notice it, but certainly not at a level that would disturb your evening. The tour and tasting event lasted a little over on hour, and a few of us stayed for an extra half an hour while we finished our tasting flights.
A real bonus was the discovery of the Whitley Neil/London Distillery Bar in Bride Street. There are not many bars that are not rammed on a summer evening in central London. The bar itself is lovely, and it is relatively quiet given its position just off Fleet Street, about a three minute walk from St Paul’s Cathedral. It is underground and down a small alleyway, so not many people will know it is there – however despite this, it is very easy to get to, less than a 5-minute walk from either London Blackfriars or City Thameslink stations. There are also many bus routes that go up Fleet Street. I will remember it for when I am next meeting a gin drinker in the City.