Posted in London, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

A visit to Parliament

I had never thought of visiting parliament before, in fact I wasn’t aware that it was open to the public so when I was invited to take a tour I was quite intrigued.

I’m not really much of a fan of politics and was a bit worried that I would find it boring if I didn’t know what they were talking about but there was actually so much more to it than just politics. For a start the actual building is amazing, from floor to ceiling it is full of intricate details, ornate decoration and historical paintings.

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I never normally opt to join in with tours as I like to just explore by myself but our tour guide Daniella was full of information, facts and amusing anecdotes. She really brought the subjects to life so as you are walking through you could imagine the queen in her robing room sitting on a sofa by the window rather than on the throne that has been sun damaged over many years.

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The Royal family play a big role in Parliament and since watching The Crown and Victoria on Netflix I have become much more interested in the history so found it all really interesting.

It felt very strange going into the house of commons after seeing it on TV for so long, it looks so much smaller in real life! I was really impressed with how much you get to see on the tour – not so impressed that I wasn’t able to photograph it all though! (you can only use a camera in the main hall and St Stephens hall) I mean have you even visited somewhere if you don’t have photographic evidence? I was going to request images of parts of the building that I wasn’t allowed to photograph but I think it is nice to leave it to you all to visit yourself as it is so much better in real life!

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Westminster hall is the oldest of the parliamentary estate and has played a central role in British history. There seems to be a lot of work going on so we couldn’t really appreciate its magnificence and many smaller details were covered up.

I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone interested in architecture, art, history or politics and you can finish off the tour with a trip to Voice and Vote: Women’s place in Parliament exhibition which features unseen historic objects, pictures and archives from the parliamentary collections, this will be on until 6th October.

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For quite a small exhibition tucked away in the corner of Westminster hall, there is loads to see about such an important subject. Although the tour of Parliament has a fee, this exhibition is free entry so great to take the kids over summer, especially all those budding politicians!

Have you ever visited Parliament before?


 

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized

Imperial War Museum North

While in Manchester we noticed that the Imperial War Museum was not too far from our hotel so decided to take a trip down by the river and pay it a visit while also getting a chance to explore the quays.

The imperial war museum north is the newest of five branches and was open in 2002. It has very impressive, modern architecture but doesn’t have the stunning entrance of it’s London Counterpart.

As you enter the museum there is a large seating area, shop and café where you can get a bite to eat or just relax after walking around.

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The main exhibition space is upstairs and although everything is in one large space, it is split into mini exhibitions and goes through a timeline of conflicts in Britain and the commonwealth.

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As well as life sized vehicles on the floor and hanging from the ceiling, the space is filled with memorabilia from the time, including posters, letters, clothes and weapons. There are also hands on activities designed specifically for kids. I really liked the idea of the trench stenches, although I wasn’t quite daring enough to have a sniff myself!

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Although there are little videos you can watch in different rooms, every hour there is an audio-visual cinematic display that takes over the whole space. It is a real immersive experience and you can either sit and watch it on the benches around the middle of the space or continue walking around while taking it in.

I find these performances really interesting as they are like watching documentaries and include recounts and stories of people that were around during that time in history. Each show is different so you don’t have to worry that you are listening to the same thing if you are still around when the next film starts.

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I really liked the Imperial War Museum North, although it is nowhere near as big as the London Imperial War Museum, I actually like that I was able to take it all in within a couple of hours rather than choosing certain sections to visit. There was also a really good exhibition in an adjacent room about the conflict in Syria but I think this is now finished and will be replaced in July with a different show.

The Imperial War Museum North is free to visit and it is situated in a lovely space around Salford Quays, about a 15 minute walk from Old Trafford football stadium.

Posted in Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

Keukenhof gardens – Amsterdam

Keukenhof gardens are situated in Lisse, 30 minutes from Amsterdam airport (a bus service runs continuously during opening hours) and are open to the public annually so visitors can see the amazing flowers that have been grown across the 80 acres of land.

The beautiful spring gardens are open for 8 weeks each year between March and May. I visited at the very end of April and everything was in full bloom. It was a pretty miserable day, raining on and off throughout, but with it being spring you never can tell what the weather will be like! This however didn’t put anyone off visiting, it was heaving with people and the amazing displays certainly brightened up the day.

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The history of Keukenhof

In the 15th century the Keukenhof estate was owned by Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria (Dutch – Jacoba Van Beieren.)  She decided to use the space to grow herbs and vegetables to take back to her castle which is where the name originates from: Kitchen garden.

The Countess lived a very eventful life. She was born in France in 1401 and between 1417 – 1433 became the ruler of Holland, Zeeland and Henegouwen. During her short life of 35 years she was married four times, spent a couple of years in prison, was exiled to England and after being forced to abdicate she withdrew from public life. She died of Tuberculosis not far from Keukenhof a few years later in 1436.

After the death of the countess, the land was passed through the hands of several wealthy merchant families and the design of the English landscape garden was created in 1857 and formed the basis of what the park is today.

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In 2018 the park celebrated it’s 69th anniversary and went with the theme of ‘Romance in Flowers’ I thought this was pretty fitting with it being open right before a royal wedding and all.

Benches and bridges

The gardens are huge (we did get lost on more than one occasion) with a large lake in the middle and rivers of water flowing throughout so you often have to walk over small bridges to get around and rest your feet every now and again. There are a total of 280 benches throughout the park and 32 bridges.

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Trees and fountains

For some reason I assumed the gardens would be flat but it was full of rolling hills and enormous trees, even though there were loads of people, there were moments of tranquillity when you strolled through the trees and didn’t notice anybody else around. The calming sounds of the water created an oasis and the there was an array of fountains in different designs to admire. In total there are over 2500 trees in 87 varieties and 15 fountains.

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Sculptures

It is not just the flowers that are on show in the gardens but also around a 100 art objects by different artists dotted about for you to spot on your walks. There is also a maze which we wanted to visit but after realising that the whole park is a bit of a maze we gave up looking for it.

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Restaurants and shops

There are lots of buildings around the park, great to seek refuge when the rain gets too much! The indoor pavilions including Willem-Alexander, Beatrix, Juliana and Oranje Nassau house all sorts, from exhibitions to flower arrangement demonstrations and bulb growing information services as well as 7 souvenir shops and 6 restaurants. The restaurants seemed quite busy and we didn’t eat inside but if you were feeling peckish or just wanted a snack there are pop up eateries all over with everything from burgers to strawberries and cream.

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Windmill

The windmill at Keukenhof is over a century old and was donated to the gardens by the Holland – America line in 1957. Situated at the end of the park, the windmill has great views of the tulip fields across the way. I thought there would be long queues to go up the windmill as there isn’t very much space up there but it moves really quickly as other than looking at the view there isn’t much else to do at the top.

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Child friendly

I didn’t think of Keukenhof as somewhere to bring children as I thought it was just flowers on show and as much as they look pretty they don’t really capture the attention span of the smaller people for very long! I was surprised that on our walk around we came across a large play area, a zip wire, a Miffy house and even a small petting zoo with a variety of animals including pigs, goats and chickens.

Every year the gardens welcome more than a million visitors to Keukenhof and 75% of those are tourists from abroad. Every year the visitor numbers are growing with more people bringing their families and they were recently awarded the Certificate of Excellence from Trip advisor.

Tulips

Although there are lots of flowers on show, with over 7 million bulbs planted every year, the tulips are definitely the stars of the show with their variety of vibrant colours and the neat way they are all laid out.

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The tulip is a Dutch icon but hasn’t always been that way. Here is a story of the journey of the tulip…

The tulip travelled far before arriving in the Netherlands. Tulips were originally found in the Tian Shan mountain region of the north-western Himalaya. Dozens of different types in all kinds of colours still grow there each spring. In the 11th Century the Seljuks, who lived there at that time, took the tulip with them to Turkey, where they drove out the Byzantines. The tulip became a cherished flower in Turkish culture, and is still so today. Sultans organised tulip parties each spring. And the most extraordinary tulips were illustrated in beautiful books. Tulips were also depicted on tiles and other household objects.

Dutch trading, including with the then Constantinople, increased towards the middle of the 16th Century. The tulip was a new flower to the Dutch. Botanists such as Dodeneus and Clusius managed to obtain tulip bulbs and by 1560 the first examples were flowering in Antwerp and Mechelen. Clusius was extremely interested in the tulip, wrote a lot about it and, via his network across Europe, maintained a lively barter trade including in tulips. When Carolus Clusius became Hortus Prefectus, or Director, of the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden in 1593, the tulip was one of the things he took with him. This is how the tulip became established in our country.

The purpose of my trip was to take photos for my project on the production of flowers and after seeing the gardens online I was eager to see it in person and so glad that I made the effort! Although it was just a flying visit I also managed to see the auction rooms at Aalsmeer Royalflora and the press photo exhibition in the city centre so it was quite a productive trip. (I still want to go back and see so much more!)

If you think you may want to visit Keukenhof when it reopens next Spring, it will be open from March 21st – May 19th with the annual flower parade taking place on April 13th. For opening times and prices see the official site closer to the time.

Posted in Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

Aalsmeer flower auction – Holland

 

I recently took a trip to Holland (the hub of the flower industry) to work on my photography project, looking into the production and importation of flowers, and was pointed in the direction of Aalsmeer by the lovely Catie who lives not too far away.

Aalsmeer (also known as Royal Flora Holland) is the largest trade centre for flowers in the world, described as a portal to a world full of scent and bloom, it is open to the public on certain days so they can take a look at the amount of work that goes into ensuring fresh flowers are available in your local supermarket whenever you feel like purchasing them.

A statement from Royal Flora…

FloraHolland is a cooperative venture belonging to the growers of flowers and plants. They bring their supply together to perform a single international trade platform, the largest of its kind anywhere in the world. The members/growers are the owners of this company. We are also a ‘Royal’ firm and have been ever since our centenary in 2011 when FloraHolland was presented with the royal title.

On arriving at FloraHolland we were met with coach loads of tourists queueing at the door which I was quite surprised about because compared to other flower attractions in Holland, particularly Keukenhof, this was not advertised anywhere. As you enter the reception area you can purchase tickets priced at 7.50 euros and receive a map, although this isn’t really needed as the route is very straight forward.

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You are basically on a viewing platform above the market floor in the form of a bridge which you walk the length of the building and back again on the opposite side. It is quite a surreal experience to just be watching normal people go about their daily work and you do wonder if they are aware, or care, that people are watching and taking photos of them. At the same time, for the sheer size of the place, I did feel like I was at one of the wonders of the world and really intrigued by the whole process.

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Along the journey we came across a room that is used for research purposes and was filled with flowers. A guy saw us taking photos outside and asked if we would like to have a look around inside, which we were privileged to do so as it is not open to the public. He explained that they are sent new crops of flowers that haven’t as yet been grown for sale and they test them to see how they react to certain lights and temperatures and give them a value depending on their life span and quality.

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As you reach the other end of the bridge you can see the auctions taking place through the windows, unfortunately they were not in full swing when we arrived but there were still a few people bidding on flowers so we got to observe the process.

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After we had watched the bidding and had a bite to eat in the small café we made our way back down the other side of the bridge. As we reached the end of the viewing platform, there was a room that looked like a museum that gave out some information about the history of FloraHolland through videos and photographs and some statistics on the industry via posters.

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If you are a fan of flowers then this is a great place to visit, it is different to other attractions as all the behind the scenes action is the actual show. There is nothing fancy or put on about it and it is a bit dated but I found it to be a real spectacle and so glad I visited. I also purchased some tulip bulbs from the gift shop so I can think of my trip when they grow in the garden.

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Posted in London, Travel, Uncategorized

National Gallery – Trafalgar Square

The National Gallery is hard to miss as it takes pride of place at the top of the steps at Trafalgar square, with free entry and a vast amount of artwork on show it is no surprise that it is listed as the number one thing to do in London on Trip advisor!

I have visited the National Gallery once before but I was photographing an evening event so didn’t get much time to peruse the rooms. So as I was recently killing some time around the area I thought I would pop in and see what all the fuss was about.

There are some really beautiful pieces in the collection and the gallery is huge, I didn’t actually get a chance to make it the whole way round so will need to make another visit in the future! As you enter on the ground floor there is a map to help you find your way around, these are also dotted around the gallery and as it is a bit of a maze they are quite useful.

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The architecture of the gallery itself is also like a piece of artwork with high ceilings and beautiful ornate windows, it seems like the perfect home for some of the great masterpieces!

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I arrived at the museum as it was opening and there was already a queue outside but as it is so big inside and you can wander as you wish, rather than following a path, you may find yourself as the only person in the room. I imagine later in the day it gets really busy but the rooms are spacious and the seating is pretty fancy compared to the plain benches you normally see in gallery spaces.

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The National gallery is home to over 2300 pieces of art and they date from the mid 13th century to 1900 so more for the lover of classical art rather than the modern stuff. They do however play host to temporary exhibitions if you prefer something more modern. At the moment they are showing Tacita Dean: Still life which is a collection of mixed media including paintings, video and sound, displayed between two rooms. Unfortunately you cannot photograph this collection but you are free to photograph the rest of the gallery provided you don’t use flash.

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I would say whether you are a tourist or a Londoner you should definitely take advantage of the amazing collection of art from some of the most iconic artists of all time. Although I am a fan of modern art I can’t help but marvel at the talent of these artist for what they created during their period.

Which is your go to gallery to see great artwork?

Posted in Lifestyle, London, Travel, Uncategorized

A ghostly walk in the City of London

When I was younger I loved all things ghostly, read the books and watched the horror movies but with age I find that the littlest things can keep me awake at night so I tend to avoid anything gruesome. I have however always wanted to go on a ghost walk around London and with it being on my list of places to visit this year, I couldn’t put it off any longer.

After Googling London Ghost walks I came across tours by Richard Jones. He has been in the business since 1982 and written 18 books on London and the paranormal so seemed like the perfect person to show us around the haunted sights of the city.

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As expected, churchyards played a big role in the tour and we passed many grave stones with Richard telling us stories of the chilling encounters of the long departed. Dressed as a Victorian undertaker and with the voice of a seasoned professional storyteller he really captured the attention of the audience. I was accompanied by my 19 year old daughter and was a bit worried that we might be alone on this walk but there was a really good crowd of people and Richard’s tours are obviously very popular.

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One of the sights we learned about was The Old Bailey where many men have been sent to their deaths, as well as a court house it also used to be home to The Newgate prison and execution site. The Viaduct Tavern over the road is thought to be one of the most haunted in London, if you buy a drink when it is not busy they may show you the cellar and if you buy a few they may just lock you in there!

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Onto Cock Lane and coincidently this was one of the first roads that prostitution was legalised, it was however made famous by the Cock lane ghost who occupied one of the apartments after William Kent’s wife died in childbirth but was this all a hoax or did people really see her?

A short walk over the road and we reached the place that all Sherlock Holmes fans will be familiar with at St Bartholomew’s hospital. I am more familiar with the hospital after spending many of my teenage years visiting the orthodontists in there. At 15 I remember having an operation and waking up in a room with eight beds but I was the only person there, it was quite spooky and it wasn’t any less spooky on this trip!

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I didn’t realise that there was a museum at the hospital but with it being founded 895 years ago I imagine there is a lot of history to be learnt about it. It is also the only place where you will still find these boxes collecting for the poor. Apparently the money was used to treat the poor in the hospital when they couldn’t afford medical care so it was mostly filled by the poor who were constantly worried about getting sick and not being able to get treatment.

As you leave the hospital towards Smithfield’s market you enter a large grass area which was used as an execution site, many people including William Wallace aka Braveheart faced his death here and it was reported that Bloody Queen Mary would watch from the Tudor building in the photo as she burnt people on the stakes.

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Our tour ended at the last surviving remains of London‘s old Roman and Medieval city wall. It is quite fascinating to see this wall that was damaged in the war with a backdrop of the cities newly built glass office buildings. Reports of ghostly sightings and sounds are often reported in the area.

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I wouldn’t say our ghostly walk was particularly scary but more of a historical lesson. I am usually supportive of old spaces being regenerated but feel a lot more appreciative of the history that is held in certain locations.

I have just touched on a few things that were covered in the tour and although it was cold and tiring on your legs I would highly recommend for anyone interested in the history of the city to take one of Richard’s tours around London.

Posted in London, Photography, Uncategorized

The Photographers Gallery – Soho

Working my way through my list of places to visit this year and I took the first trip to The Photographers Gallery in Soho.

 

The gallery is situated just off Oxford street and stands at 5 floors high, although it doesn’t seem that big when inside the building.

I wasn’t sure what exactly was on show before visiting so it was a bit of a surprise. The two exhibitions I saw were 4 Saints in 3 Acts and Instant Stories – Wim Wenders’ Polaroids.

4 Saints in 3 Acts

Described as a snapshot of the American avant-garde, 4 Saints in 3 Acts is the first exhibition to focus on the photographic dimensions of the ground-breaking American modernist opera. The show was renowned for having an all African-American cast that were recruited from the choirs and nightclubs of Harlem and offered unique glimpses of a largely unknown community. The photos capture the action on stage, behind the scenes and portraits of the classical music performers.

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Many of the photos on display were quite small and with the larger ones you could see the age of them by the wear and tear but this added to the history and story of the photos. A very simple but delightful exhibition.

Instant stories – Wim Wenders’ Polaroids

This collection of work offers a rare opportunity to see the personal and previously unseen polaroids taken by Oscar nominated filmmaker, Wim Wenders. Featuring over 200 images taken between the 1960s and 1980s of his journey across America he captures the people around him, still lives, street photography and landscapes.

 

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These images in particular caught my eye, it seems people were taking photos of their everyday food long before Instagram was around!

Again a lot of the photos were very small (obviously because they are polaroids) but there were also books so you could see Wender’s images close up. There was also a note board so visitors can share their views on the work which is a nice touch for the artists to get feedback.

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On the top floor was an opportunity to be part of the exhibition via Instagram. There was a set up studio area and rails of outfits and accessories so you could take your own photos and share online.

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As well as having work on show The Photographers gallery also has loads of workshops, talks and courses. There is a quaint café on the ground floor and a bookshop in the basement that you could spend ages browsing.

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If you visit before 12 when it is less busy there is free entrance so it is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. The two shows I saw are on until 11th February so I will be looking out for future exhibitions that I can see there!