Madame Tussauds, Marylebone Road, London

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Apsley House, Hyde Park Corner, London

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Apsley House is the smart, columned building on the north side of Hyde Park Corner. It has been the home of the Wellington family since the 18th Century, and it is open to the public Wednesday to Sunday during the summer months. It is a stunning Grade 1 listed building, and many of the interiors are kept in the style of decoration that they would have had at the time they were built. It is unlikely that there is a better maintained aristocratic home in Central London.

The decoration is interesting, there is some of Roberts Adam’s 18th century classical interior design remaining. It was renovated in the early 19th Century when Wellington was living in Downing Street as Prime Minister. The Waterloo Gallery was added at this time to commemorate his victory over Napoleon, and to this day, there is a banquet held annually on 18th June to celebrate this.

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There is also an amazing art collection, made up of gifts from grateful war allies, or items acquired as the spoils of war during the defeat of Napoleon. There are paintings by Titian, Van Dyke, Rubens, Goya and Velazquez and many others. You can even see the original painting that contained the image of Wellington, that was used on our old five pound note.

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The are many other items of historical interest. It holds the oldest grand piano in England. There are two beautiful porcelain dinner services on display; The Waterloo Meissen Banquet service, painted with scenes of his greatest victories, and the Josephine Egyptian dessert service given by Napoleon to his wife as a divorce gift.  Another highlight is the wonderful 3.5metre nude statue of “Napoleon as Mars the God of Peace” by Canova.

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The property is run by English Heritage, so it is free to enter if you are a member, but chargeable otherwise. The entry fee includes a touchscreen audio tour, this is very informative and there are seats in some of the rooms, where you can sit and listen to descriptions of the paintings and decoration. The no photographs rule is disappointing. The pictures here are from the tiled passageways under Hyde Park Corner.  The building is nice and cool on a warm summer day. It is also surprisingly quiet given its position, right in the centre of London.

If you are looking for a break from the more crowded tourist attractions in central London, Apsley House is well worth a visit.

Bar Americain, Sherwood Street, London

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This is a bar hidden beneath Piccadilly Circus. It is through a quite unassuming entrance in Sherwood Street. There is a café with some tables outside called Zedel, if you go through this café, down two flights of stairs, you will come to a surprising bright French looking foyer with a cloakroom,  a French restaurant called Brasserie Zedel and Bar Americain.

It is a beautiful, low lit, late art deco decorated room. It has lots of dark wood, the marquetry columns are particularly attractive. It has light jazz playing in the background, just audible but not intrusive. The atmosphere is that of a set of a 1940s film noir. The waiters are in suits or formal white jackets.

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The cocktails are very good, the list is classic. The martini was perfect and the whiskey sour was both tart and had a nice kick. They have a good wine list and also a nice selection served by the glass. The tariffs aren’t low, but the price is around what you would expect for somewhere this attractive so central and it is good value for the experience that you receive.

Its the perfect place to meet if you are eating in Brasserie Zedel as the waiters will come to fetch you and carry your drinks when your table is ready. It is also very handy to meet if you are attending the theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue or Haymarket as it within a three minute walk from either.

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A beautiful quiet cocktail bar in a very central position, a lovely place to meet for a quiet catch up or for a quick drink before or after an evening out.

Robots, The Science Museum, South Kensington, London

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Robots is an exhibition within the Science Museum. The Science Museum itself is wonderful. The building is beautiful, it has lots of fascinating things on display, and general admission is free. So it is certainly worth a visit even if are not considering a chargeable exhibition.DSC_2241

Robots begins with a brief history. It counts clocks, orreries and anatomical models as robots, which may not be in tune with how we would define a robot today.  It soon moves on to items we are more likely to think of as robots, with famous examples from old film and TV; it has the one from the 1920s film metropolis. This section was surprisingly nostalgic and it was nice to see the development of the idea of a robot from the early 20th Century.Asimo

Finally we come to the newest, most interesting, and sometimes creepiest part of the show – the current, cutting edge, design in robots. The variation in looks, ability and use is amazing. There are robots here whose purpose is to play music, to act, to do repetitive tasks, to calm, to teach, and to learn.  Some of these are quite cute, but there are others that are downright strange, and prove the point that there can be something particularly sinister about machines made in the human image. There are about a dozen of these new innovative robots on display and all are compelling in their own way. Some are interesting because the way that they interact and others because of the cleverness of their design.realistic robot

Tickets are £13.50 for an adult and £40.50 for a family of four. This is without donation, I think it is cheeky to add a donation on automatically when charging for entry, either add it onto the price or leave the donation to our conscience. I enjoyed this exhibition, it took me about an hour to go through.  Any longer than an hour and my attention begins to wander, so it was the perfect length.

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Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World, Design Museum, London

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Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World is the opening exhibit to the new Design Museum in High Street Kensington. It is actually 11 different installations exploring issues that define our world in the 21st Century. As you would imagine, with so many totally unconnected exhibits, some work better than others and some are more interesting than others.

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I like the curious robot that comes and stares at you when you look at it. It feels quite aggressive and two separate parents who thought their child would love it, had to deal with them running away in tears after it came right up to their face.

The installation about Grindr and how it changed lives in the 21st Century is worthy, but it is also a bit dry and dull, which is not something I would have expected to report on an exhibit on that subject.

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The Mongolian Yurt is nice, one can sit inside and watch a video about how the city of Ulaan Baator is growing very quickly.  There is an installation about Death Masks. These death masks are pretty and quite creepy.  They are made in plastic with a 3D printer. There are 5 different fictional people with 3 masks each, depicting different states, I don’t know why they have done it, but they are interesting to look at.

The video about dolphins and go seems plain weird, half of it is pictures of sea and boats from a dolphins point of view, and half is of a computer playing the game go. I may have got that wrong, I found it hard to understand, possibly because the point of it just went right over my head.  The exhibit of videos playing in a corrugated shack about the Bolivian ghettos are thought provoking.

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I like the 2 very different ones about recycling clothing. One was about recycling clothing in rural China and the other about a machine that sorts discarded clothes by colour.

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My favourite is the living room furnished with an item from every country in the EU, the view from the “window” is quite chilling.

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The price of entry to Fear and Love is £14, quite high considering the mixed standard of installations, but there is a free permanent exhibition on the third floor, which is excellent and certainly worth a visit.  So, although there are things here that will make you stare and think Why?, there is also a wide variety of subjects on display and everyone is likely to have at least something that will delight them.

The Design Museum, Kensington High Street, London

 

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1970s Olivetti Advertisement at the Design Museum

 

The Design Museum has a new building on Kensington High Street. The setting is lovely, right on the edge of Holland Park. The building itself is, as you would expect, beautifully designed. The interior is bright and spacious, filled with indirect light, the curves of the roof are attractive, the stairs and levels of the building are cleverly arranged to describe a pleasing combination of form and function, the atrium widening as it rises, with built in seating among the stairs on the lower levels and along the walls, further up.

I like the way, that even now, when it is open and in use, it still has the look and feel of the architect design drawings that would have been put on show at its conception. It will be very interesting to see how the building ages, I have great hopes that the clean lines of the wood, marble and glass will hold the elegance that it has now.

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The free exhibition on the third floor is good too, larger and more interactive than it was in the old museum. It is still packed with examples of outstanding design and has many of the pieces that were on display in its old home on the South Bank. The exhibits include the design development of many common household items, for example clocks, phones and headphones from their earliest designs to current iterations.

It will also hold paid for exhibits, currently these are Love and Fear, and Imagine Moscow. However, the permanent exhibition is worth the trip even if you choose not to visit the chargeable offering.  If you go on a fine day, Holland Park is a very pretty park to walk through too, it is well maintained and has nice ordered gardens.

The new Design Museum with regard to its building, setting and free exhibits has to be regarded as a complete success.

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