Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Olympic Update - Open Weekend This Weekend

To celebrate the London 2012 opening ceremony being just over a year away, LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) are supporting events this weekend that make up the Open Weekend, with activities in London and around the country taking place from this Friday to Sunday 24 July.

Here in the capital there will be an 'Outsiders Guide To The Olympic Park' which will take visitors on a floating tour around the Olympic Zone over the weekend, which has been organised by Create London, who are also putting on a series of films onboard their special floating cinema, 'Portavilion 2011'. They're also organising one of my favourite London activities - a treasure hunt called 'Search Party', with clues leading people around the the East End to arrive at a secret party in the early evening. For those who struggle with the hints and lose the thread along the way the organisers only have this to say however, 'Oh dear… then you shall not go to the ball after all! But never mind - you’ll have had fun en route'. I'm not sure I'm entirely happy with that response - other events I've been to in a similar vein have had a contingency plan if their clues aren't as straightforward as they might be, however if you're up for the challenge of the 'Search Party' I would sign up soon because I imagine the available places will disappear well before Saturday morning - these things can be incredibly popular.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Time Out London - 101 Things To Do In London

Published last week is a rather useful piece on the Time Out London website, where they provide ideas of various things to see and do in London across a range of areas such as dining, shopping, cultural highlights and museums, entitled '101 Things To Do In London' (you'll notice a button linking to it on the right side of the blog).

Why am I talking about it on my blog? Well as part of this piece they picked out ten London bloggers to each contribute ten unusual ideas that would take visitors to places a little of the beaten track - and one of those bloggers was me! If you go to the 'Bloggers' Picks' tab, you can see my suggestions (which include  Abney Park Cemetery over in Stoke Newington, my local theatre - the Theatre Royal Stratford East and my favourite local eatery, Londek) as well as suggestions from several of my contemporaries such as Cate Sevilla, London Is CoolTiki Chris and the boys and girls from the Londonist.

If you're struggling to think of something new and interesting to do in London cast your eye over this article for some great ideas. You can also contribute your own suggestions on Facebook, or on Twitter using the hashtag #ultimatelondon.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Transformers: Dark Of The Moon - Movie Review

Oh dear, oh dear. Much against my better judgement I visited the cinema earlier this evening to see Michael Bay's latest attempt to revitalise the Transformers franchise, in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.

Where to start with this sci-fi movie? Well it's overly long for a start, mostly incoherent in terms of the plot and it has cardboard cut-out characters that you could push over with a tap of your finger. Of course, being aimed at the male teen audience one of these is a blonde bombshell, and Sam Witwicky's current love interest, Carly, played by fashion model turned actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Unfortunately she should have stuck to modelling - she delivers her lines as if she's reading them off the back of her sleeve and her one expression is 'pouty', which she is admirably suited to given her unfeasibly large lips... Both Leonard Nimoy, and amazingly Buzz Aldrin, the old Apollo astronaut, also feature - given their equally corny dialogue (which to give them their due were delivered with rather more conviction than Ms Huntington-Whiteley's) these guys are obviously desperate for money - no-one with any self respect would have gone anywhere near this hot mess of a movie. And don't get me started on the moustachio-twirling bad guy played by Patrick Dempsey (who frankly should know better).

OK, the cars are shiny and the special effects are impressive but many of the set-pieces are laughable - in scenes that would have turned any normal human body into mincemeat, time and again the main characters walk away with barely a scratch. I'm also most unimpressed by their 'borrowing' of classic lines from Star Trek movies through the medium of Bumblebee's recorded speech - movies which stand like giants above this fiasco of a piece. Avoid at all costs, even if the only other movie showing at your local cinema is Cars 2!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Museum of London

London's iconic modern
architecture in miniature
I will freely admit that my favourite London museum is the Museum of London on London Wall in the City. While we have grand museums in the centre of town that cater to all sorts of tastes and interests, it's this 1970s building that really excites me every time I visit. As you might imagine, the Museum of London is entirely dedicated to the history of this wonderful city of ours, all the way from its origins as an Iron Age settlement, through the Roman era when, as Londinium, it was a major commercial centre in this most far-flung outpost of the Empire, right through to the modern day (as an aside, you may not be aware that for the most part the boundaries of the ancient city are mirrored in the modern-day extent of the City of London).

Monday, 11 July 2011

Crystal Palace Park

The terraces and TV transmitter
Right in the north western corner of the London Borough of Bromley you'll find Crystal Palace Park.

From 1854 to 1936 this park on Sydenham Hill contained the Crystal Palace, originally erected in Hyde Park in 1851 to house the exhibits of the Great Exhibition which, instigated by Prince Albert, brought together the finest manufactured goods from all over the world for the people of London and the wider UK to marvel at. In 1936 a small fire in an office erupted into a major conflagration which consumed the entire building within a matter of hours. The Palace has left its mark however, as the ornamental terraces as well as  a few of the statues which graced the tops of the ballustrades outside the building remain. Included amongst these statues are some rather impressive sphinxes, two of which now guard the entrance to the buildings beneath London's largest television transmitter which dominates the skyline at the eastern edge of the park.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow

Over in Walthamstow Village, the area's historic centre, you'll find the Vestry House Museum, the borough's main museum and home to the Waltham Forest Archives and a Local Studies Library which has a wealth of material on the history of the area since Roman times.

The Vestry House Museum buildings
The museum, which occupies a network of connected buildings just across the street from the parish church, has a lot of interesting displays that explore various aspects of Walthamstow's past, including information on the museum buildings, which had previous uses as a post office and the local police station (there's even a reconstructed Victorian cell in one of the gallery spaces on the ground floor). You'll also find displays dedicated to Walthamstow's industrial heritage - did you know, for example, that Walthamstow had it's own camera manufacturing company for 50 years, the Ensign company, and that as far back as the 1930s they produced popular camera models in a range of colours? I had always thought that was rather a recent development, but clearly not! There's also an area dedicated to the world's first 'horseless carriage', which was manufactured in Walthamstow. The museum also has a pleasant formal garden with raised beds of flowers at the rear of the building if you want to take a break from local history for a few minutes.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

In Macedonia - The Memorial House of Mother Teresa

As I covered in my blog post a few days ago, Macedonia's capital isn't exactly over-run with good quality museums, however in addition to the Holocaust museum there is one other place, also of religious significance, which is worthy of a visit.

Memorial House of Mother Teresa
Born in Skopje to parents of Albanian heritage from what is now Kosovo, at the age of 18 Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu left her secular life behind to become a missionary, and is now known to the world as Mother Teresa. Built on an open square off Macedonia Street, the Memorial House of Mother Teresa is a remarkable monument to her life and work as a missionary and humanitarian. Built in a striking modernist style on the site of the Catholic church where she was baptised as a child, the building contains a photographic catalogue and important artifacts as well as exhibits which illustrate various aspects of her early life in Skopje - her childhood bedroom is recreated for example. Above the museum space is a light and airy chapel dominated by an unusual hexagonal window, and down in the basement of the building, past a small memorial garden, is a multi-media theatre where visitors can watch documentaries about Mother Teresa's humanitarian works. Even if you're not of a religious bent I'm sure you would find a visit to this building rewarding, although I'm not sure how Mother Teresa would have felt about the profligacy of the Macedonian government in erecting what is clearly a very expensive building in her honour...

Monday, 4 July 2011

In Macedonia - The Matka Gorge

A view along the Matka gorge
Up in the mountains above Skopje you'll find the Matka gorge, which contains a long thin lake formed when the first of three dams was installed to provide water and hydroelectric power to the city below.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

In Kosovo - Pristina

The 'Newborn' art installation
One of the reasons that we chose Skopje as our jumping off point for the visit to the region was its proximity to Kosovo, which we also wanted to see on this trip. A coach from the Macedonian capital to the Kosovan capital of Pristina can be picked up from the central bus station and journeys take two to two and a half hours using the border crossing in the Šar mountains in the northwest of Macedonia (there is a border crossing at Mitrovica, but currrent UK Foreign Office advice warns strongly against taking this route). Coaches leave hourly throughout the day from 9am and, although the journey is rather long and the border-crossing process quite protracted, once you get into the mountains the landscape is beautiful - verdant forests rise up the sides of steep gorges on all sides. It's not unlike the journey from middle England towards the west of Wales in fact!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

In Macedonia - Skopje

I'm spending this weekend in Macedonia, this being the third trip I've taken to the region after having visiting both Croatia and Serbia in recent years.

The 'old bridge' over the Vardar river
Our base for the weekend has been Skopje, Macedonia's capital city and home to a quarter of the country's two million inhabitants. Architecturally, Skopje has some unusual features, mostly due to the devastating magnitude 6 earthquake in 1963 which took many lives and destroyed about 80% of the buildings in the city. As a consequence, for the most part it lacks the range of architectural styles that feature in the other major cities in the region - Zagreb's baroque edifices and Belgrade's art deco masterpieces for example. What Skopje does have, however, are some of the strangest buildings to come out of the late 1960s and early '70s - Janko Konstantinov's 'sci-fi' main post office being a case in point! Given that the city has a significant muslim minority there are also many mosques - in fact I'm sure that my abiding visual memory of Skopje will be of its forest of minarets.

Friday, 1 July 2011

The Future Of The Blog

Just to let readers know that I am leaving for Macedonia and Kosovo shortly. Hopefully I will be able to blog while I'm there but it depends on connectivity - I hear it's OK but we will see.

In other news, from next week there will be no advertising on the Londoneer blog. I will also be reducing the number of commercial events that I cover, in particular those that are 'exclusive'. If a member of the general public couldn't go, I won't be going in future. For some time I've not covered anything very high end and that won't change - £500 a night hotels or £200 a meal restaurants are well outside my budget if I have to pay for them. If you're desperate to read about such places there are reviews online but you won't see them from me.

What that might mean is that the number of posts on the blog per week reduces a little - I'll still be keeping in to at least 3 or 4 however. Blogging can be quite laborious - the post on Wellcome took over two hours in total to write! As I won't be taking any monetary compensation from advertisers any longer and, given that my costs aren't zero (there are annual hosting and domain name costs to consider) if you feel able to make a small donation that would be great. There's a button on the right for that purpose.

As always I welcome comments on posts, so if you feel so inspired please do leave your thoughts on the blog. You can also retweet any posts that you particularly like using the button below each post and I'd really appreciate if you could click the Google Plus button at the bottom of each post which you enjoy - that will help to surface my blog in search results and allow more people to see it. You can also 'like' my Facebook page and also see the answers that I give (mostly on London, blogging and movies) by clicking on the Quora icon.
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