Tag Archives: City

Nottingham, England – Impressions

Part of the England’s East Midlands, Nottingham is just over 200km north of London. It’s steeped in the legend of Robin Hood and is surrounded by Sherwood Forest to the north. The city gets its name from an Anglo-Saxon chieftain named Snot, who ruled the area of Snotingham, meaning the homestead of the people of Snot.

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A week ago, I was in Norwich for a couple of days, and after a short week at work, I headed north to do the same in Nottingham.

Robin Hood Statue
It’s impossible to think of Nottingham without at some point thinking of Robin Hood. While there’s no actual proof he was a real person, it’s believed the name was a local reference to bandits in general. A legend grew around the character, spawning books and movies and growing a host of folklore about his Merry Men, his lover and nemesis, the Sheriff. The statue is in place outside Nottingham Castle.

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Sky Mirror
Situated outside the Playhouse in Wellington Circus on the Northside, the 6-metre diameter circular stainless steel mirror weighs nearly 10 tons. Its surface is said to reflect the ever-changing environment. A similar but somewhat larger 11-metre mirror was installed at the Rockefeller Centre in New York. With others in Monaco, Saint Petersburg and Tilburg, the Netherlands.

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Arboretum
Arboretum was the first designated public park in the city, opening in 1845. As the town grew around it, the neighbourhood took on its name. Past the lake and carpet bed, along the path with the Aviary to the left and Victorian flower garden to the right, the Arboretum opens into a pleasant grassy park lined with trees. Other features on the Arboretum include a formal garden, a Chinese bell tower, and a Bandstand. However, the latter was cordoned off for special events. A pleasant stroll on a cloudy afternoon.

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Theatre Royal Nottingham
The grand theatre in the heart of Nottingham is connected to the Royal Concert Hall. Like its namesake in London, it regularly attracts major touring dramas, opera, ballet, West End musicals and even an annual pantomime. It can seat 1186 people over four floors.

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Nottingham University
While not as sprawling as the universities of Oxford or Canterbury, Nottingham’s University takes up a fair chunk of the north side of the city.

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Old Market Square
At the base of the steps leading up to the city council chambers is one of the largest paved pedestrian squares in the UK. It was originally the centre point between the Norman town of Nottingham and an old Anglo-Saxon town called Snothryngham (the original spelling), where a market square was formed. It was also the site of the Nottingham Goose Fair between the 12th century and 1928, when it was moved due to space limitations. The fair has gathered in October every year for most of those 700 years, although it was cancelled in 1646 due to the Great Plague and during both world wars. It was also cancelled last year for the COVID pandemic. In 1764 it was notable for the cheese riot that occurred due to the significant increase in cheese prices from the previous year.

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Motorpoint Arena and National Ice Centre
The Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham is the sister Arena to the one in Cardiff I visited 18 months ago, before the world got strange. It is also used as a concert venue, although I didn’t go inside this one. Connected to it is the National Ice Centre, UK’s first twin Olympic-sized rink, and where Nottingham-born Olympic champions Torvill and Dean first developed their love for skating.

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Nottingham Castle
Built-in 1068 by Willian the Conqueror and originally a wooden structure, it was replaced by the more defensible stone castle. Then by 1651, it was largely demolished except for its walls and gates.

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20 years later, a ducal palace was built on the site, only to be burned down by rioters. It was then rebuilt and became the art gallery that stands there now. During my visit, it held a display on three of Nottingham’s most rebellious and bloody episodes, a creative gallery and the museum of the Mercian Regiment.

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The castle, ducal palace, and the art gallery were all perched atop a bluff of Triassic sandstone riddled with caves and underground passageways. It was through some of these tunnels that various acts of violence were brought against the castle and palace. During my visit, I went down into some of the caves and tunnels beneath the gallery on a cave tour.

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Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
Nestled at the base of the Castle walls, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem claims to be the oldest inn in England dating from 1189AD, the year Richard the Lionheart became king. However, there is no documentation to verify this date. Several other inns across the country claim the same honour, including several in Nottingham. But, after I visited the castle, I had to pop in for lunch, because maybe it is the oldest, perhaps it’s not, but the Fish and Chips were good.

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Nottingham Contemporary
Near the National Ice Centre is a contemporary art space with large sprawling rooms, sparsely decorated with art. This one is from a Brazilian artist and contains several large pieces, along with many wall hangings. It was only a quick visit as there was honestly not a lot to see.

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National Justice Museum
The museum is housed in a former Victorian courtroom, prison, and police station, and details the historical process where people could be arrested, tried, sentenced and executed. A visit to the museum often starts with a court trial with several audience members playing roles. This little role play is designed to show how cutthroat the system could be.

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Beneath the courtroom, are several floors of cells, which get steadily worse the lower you go until at the bottom they are little more than dark, dank caves where prisoners were held. The prisons were separated into men’s and women’s gaols, with the men doing more hard labour, while the women did more menial labour.

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The back courtyard has a set of gallows where a mock hanging takes place, although the ‘prisoner’ (a member of the audience) gets saved by a writ from the king. The back courtyard only held a small number of hangings at the time as most were held on the front steps, so locals could watch.

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Impressions
Nottingham is smaller than many of the other cities I’ve explored and has perhaps more of a common township feel than a magical place where legends were born. Yet, I still enjoyed exploring another of England’s historical locations.

Until next time,
The World Wanderer

Norwich, England – Impressions

About a hundred miles to the North East of London is Norwich, which until the 18th century was the second-largest city in England. The town was founded in about the 6th century as Northwic (North Farm) and over time has become Norwich, with a silent ‘w’.

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In its early years, Norwich was a bustling trade centre even while being raided and burnt in 1004 by the Viking king of Denmark. Wool was Norwich’s primary trade good, which was said to have made England rich and funded many churches in the region. Norwich has more medieval churches than any other city in Western Europe north of the Alps.

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So, taking a couple of days off, I caught the train out of London and, after dropping my bag at my hotel, set about exploring the city.

Cow Tower

Skirting north along the River Wensum, I discovered the Cow Tower nestled on one of its bends. The late 12th-century artillery tower was built to defend the northeastern approach to the city from the local English rebels and the French. The weapons of choice on the defensive building were hand cannons and bombards.

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City Walls – Barre Gate and Magdelen Gates

Continuing along the river, I found two different sections of the seven-metre wall that once surrounded the city. Norwich had twelve such fortified gates and boasted the longest system of urban defences in Britain. I did find other scattered bits throughout the city. An artist’s impression can be found here.

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Dinosaur Art Trail

As I walked towards the centre of the city, I discovered a two-metre tall, brightly painted T. rex on the side of the road. Littered throughout the city are 21 of these sculptures, of which I may have found about 10. They are part of the GoGo Art Trail in Norwich, which has included hares and dragons in previous years, with woolly mammoths next year.

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Elm Hill

Just north of the city centre is a historical cobbled lane that dates back to the Tudor period between 1485 and 1603. The lane’s name is from several Elm trees that once grew in the square at the top of the road. Due to Dutch Elm Disease, the tree in Elm Hill is no longer an Elm tree.

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Tombland

At the bottom of Elm Hill lane is Tombland, the location of an ancient Anglo-Saxon marketplace. While today it is a popular restaurant area, it also houses a pair of old gates into the courtyard of the Norwich Cathedral.

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Norwich Cathedral

The cathedral is one of the most complete Norman Cathedrals in England. Some parts were sectioned off for an exhibition called Dippy on tour, the cast bones of a Diplodocus dinosaur. The display had closed by the time I popped by, but a choir was practising at the other end. While we couldn’t take photos of the choir, the cathedral’s acoustics gave their voices an awe-inspiring sound.

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Norwich Castle

The castle at the centre of Norwich is perhaps the most untypical looking castle I’ve seen in my travels with its distinct cubic shape. (Although during my trip to Nottingham the next week, I found another just like it). Its construction was ordered by William the Conquerer late in the tenth century. The castle was used as a prison from 1220 to 1887 before being converted to a Museum. Unfortunately, during my visit to the city, the castle had some of the original medieval floors and rooms being reconstructed, and I couldn’t visit the site.

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Plantation Garden

Also known as the Secret Garden, the Plantation Garden was established more than a hundred years ago in an abandoned chalk quarry beside the Roman Catholic Cathedral. The garden is a spot of serenity in the city includes a huge gothic fountain, a 10-metre long Victorian-style greenhouse and a medieval terrace wall.

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The South Asia Collection – Old Skating Rink Gallery

Not far from the centre of the city is a large restored Victorian roller skating rink with a dramatic arched wooden roof. It originally opened in 1876 but barely lasted a year. Over the years, it has been a Vaudeville Theatre, an American tinned meat sales building, a Salvation Army citadel and a builder’s merchant. In 1993 it was bought for the South Asia Collection and converted to an art gallery and shop. Unsurprisingly, it now holds an extensive collection of art from Southern Asia.

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The Museum of Norwich at Bridewell

Hidden away in a small building near the central city, the museum tells the story of Norwich’s industries and the people who lived and worked there. The period stretches from medieval to modern and shows how the city adapted to changing fortunes through the textile trade, shoes, chocolate, and mustard production.

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Impressions

I was surprised to find a city of art, numerous gaming stores and many many churches, along with quaint old Victorian lanes and plentiful history. It was a nice place to explore for a couple of days.

Until next time,

The World Wanderer

Liverpool, England – Impressions

Two hours by train north of London, Liverpool is known for its culture, primarily its musicians have produced more no. 1 singles than any other city in the world. And, of course, it’s the home of The Beatles.

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Liverpool is the fourth largest city in the UK by population, and after London, it has the second-highest number of Art Galleries. It’s also an important port similar to Bristol to the south and was heavily bombed during WWII.

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After arriving in the early afternoon, I dropped off my bag at my room and set out to explore in the 32-degree heat. I quickly located the Walker Art Gallery and headed inside in the hope of finding some cooling. It was cooler but not as air-conditioned as I’d hoped.

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While not huge, the gallery still had plentiful exhibits, from the room full of ancient Roman statues and imprints to collections of ceramics, and of course, paintings from many different styles, old and modern.

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After my wander around the gallery, I began exploring the city, including the County Sessions House. The Victorian era building was originally the city courthouse, then the Merseyside Museum of Labour History, and now the staff offices for the Walker Art Gallery.

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Along from the Walker Art Gallery is the World Museum, which opened in 1853 and became one of the great British museums. It suffered extensive damage during World War 2, burning down after a bomb landed on the library next door. After I visited the art gallery, I decided to explore the city more before coming back to look through the exhibits but never made it. Headlining while I was in town was an Exhibition on AI.

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Wandering down towards the docks, I discovered the Royal Liver Building with its two spires, one at each end of the building; this end is facing the river. At the top of the spires are Liver Birds, mythical creatures that watch over the city. It is said that if they were to fly away, Liverpool would cease to exist, so the birds are chained to their perches just in case.

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Near the Royal Liver Building is the Titanic Memorial, a granite monument commemorating the 244 engineers who lost their lives in the Titanic disaster in 1912.

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Heading along the docks, I took a walk around the Royal Albert Dock and found the Jellybean mosaic of The Beatles I’d seen in my first brief visit to Liverpool several years ago. I then crossed back into the main commercial area, where I stopped in the heat for a sly cider or two to help cool down. After finding something to eat, I decided to change my accommodation and settled into my new, cooler and quieter place for the night.

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The next day, after finding a local place for a Full English Breakfast, I headed for my booking at The Beatles Story. I spent the next 90 minutes listening to the Beatles’ story from beginning to end on the provided audio device while walking through rooms dedicated to parts of the story. For the story, they recreated the Cavern Club, where the band began, along with their first recording studio.

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While The Beatles were from my mother’s era, I still knew a fair bit about them, and this tour just filled in a lot of gaps. Afterwards, I enjoyed a coffee and scone in the cafeteria before heading on for my day. I headed into the main commercial area for lunch before exploring the city some more.

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On the East side of the central city, in an area known as Ropewalks, I found St. Lukes Bombed Out Church which, on May 6 1941, was struck by an incendiary device. The ensuing fire lasted several days before it left only a stonework shell of the building. It is now a memorial to those who lost their lives in WWII.

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A block along from St. Luke’s Bombed Out Church is Liverpool’s Chinatown, the first established Chinatown in Europe. I have to admit, other than the rather grand gateway, the area is a little underwhelming. Perhaps it was just timing, as none of the restaurants were open Friday afternoon.

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I then worked my way back to Matthew Street, home of the infamous Cavern Club, before finding a perch and a cold cider.

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Then it was back to the docks to the Museum of Liverpool, where I spent the next hour strolling around exhibitions relating to the Blitz of Liverpool, the history of the region from Ice Age to present, the overhead railway that once ran the length of the docks, and a gallery on the city soldiers.

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Back in the heat, I attempted to get to the Liverpool Cathedral, its tower visible from across the city but ended up in the Cains Brewery Village and Baltic Market area instead. It’s a large area of bars and food outlets, including several box parks. After a quick look around, I continued on.

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On finally reaching the Liverpool Cathedral, I felt a little humbled by its size. For a start, its design is a more modern red brick instead of the gothic styles of other cathedrals I’ve seen. It was huge. This side height is 36 metres, while the central tower beyond is just over 100 metres. It is the longest cathedral in the world at 189m.

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Final Impressions

Liverpool was a fun couple of days away from London in a city with many sides. There are so many things to do, hidden museums and galleries and, of course, Beatles sites everywhere. It’s definitely worth the visit.

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Until next time,
The World Wanderer

Oxford, England – Impressions

If you were to draw a triangle with points on Bristol, Birmingham and London, somewhere near the middle would be Oxford. At 90km west of London, Oxford is best known for its university, the oldest in the English-speaking world. The town and university are so similar to Cambridge that the pair often group under the name Oxbridge.

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Oxford was first settled around 900AD at a ford in the river, which the Saxons used to cross oxen. Like Cambridge, the city is very much a student city, with college buildings dominating the landscape. Oxford has a reputation as a party town, and soon after my arrival midday on Saturday, I noted many girls in their 20s were all dressed up to party. All afternoon, in various parts of the central city, I noticed more of them in different stages of drunkenness, but not so many guys.

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My first stop in the city was the Oxford Castle and Prison, which I’d booked ahead to ensure a spot. Unlike other castles in the UK, Oxford Castle has very much been integrated into the surrounding buildings and is not as grand as others I’ve visited.

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The hour-long tour took us to the top of the remaining watchtower, giving expansive views across the city and surrounding landscape.

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As the tour dove next into the lower chambers, I learned that the military value of the castle waned during the 12th and 13th centuries, after which it became more of a prison. And while digging the prison, they discovered an old chapel crypt thought to be from the original structure.

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During the Victorian era, authorities discovered that the prisoners were better fed and sheltered than many in the city, so they introduced a series of hardships. There were tales of up to sixty prisoners jammed into a single room and forced to sleep standing in ankle-deep human waste. Others were forced to turn great wheels that pushed water up to the top of the tower, only to trickle back down again. However, for those who could afford it, exclusive rooms were available with great fineries and clothing to help them enjoy their stays.

There are plenty of architecturally impressive buildings throughout central Oxford, but in my mind, not as many as Cambridge. Indeed, the central city felt less majestic than that other city, Cambridge. There are still some fine pieces, such as the Tom Tower – a bell tower that stands above the main entrance to the Christ Church,

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Or the Town Hall, which is currently closed to the public.

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Then there is the Carfax Tower, the only remaining part of St. Martin’s church, demolished in 1896 due to increasing traffic problems in the city.

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It is the tallest building in the centre and an excellent place to get a bird’s eye view of the city, which, of course, I did.

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Past the University Church of St Mary the Virgin is the Radcliffe Camera, perhaps the most distinctive building in Oxford with its round shape. The word ‘camera’ in Latin means room or space; the Radcliffe room is a part of the Bodleian library and houses the Radcliffe Science Library.

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The Bodleian Library is the second largest library in the UK, holding 11 million volumes on 190km of shelving, with 5km more being added each year. It’s a legal deposit library and can request a free copy of every book published in the UK.

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On Sunday, I had pre-booked a couple of museums after missing out in Cambridge. After scouring the city for a full English breakfast, I headed to the Ashmolean Museum.

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The Ashmolean is a classic art and archaeology museum with many exhibits and tens of thousands of items on show over several floors. From ancient Egypt, Persia, to the Roman Empire, from mummies to silver platters, to exquisitely carved blocks of marble. I wiled away 90 minutes skimming many items, and I still didn’t see everything.

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Then after a quick lunch, I headed to the Museum of Science History. Compared to the vast space of the Ashmolean, the MSH is but three medium-sized rooms, with various exhibits such as a collection of Islamic astrolabes, a collection of watches that tell stories, and the history of typhoid, to name a few.

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Once done, I headed to a pub for a cider and to wait for my train back to London.

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Overall Impressions,
After visiting Cambridge first, I expected to see more similarities between the two cities. Yes, there are colleges in both, grand architecture, and plenty of students. But Oxford reminded me more of York than Cambridge, more of a party town than a Mecca of education, even though it’s that too. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time in Oxford. I was more prepared and got to see more that it had to offer. Well worth the visit.

Until next time,

The World Wanderer

Cambridge, England – Impressions

Less than 100km north of London in Cambridgeshire is the small city of Cambridge well known for its prestigious university. With the UK summer packing up after only 3 weeks of sunshine, I headed out of London for the weekend to explore this piece of England’s history.

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Cambridge is very much a student city with 20% of its population attending one of the two collegiate universities in the city. Young people swarm like well educated flies all over the city, whether playing sport in the myriad of parks, flying past on scooters or bikes, hanging in groups around the central city, or later in the evening, in lines trying to get into bars.

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One of the first thing you notice about the city is the architecture, but it’s not just the grand gothic style of King’s college or the myriad of churches around the city. Cambridge has a modern style mixed in with the more classic ones.

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As my visit was only for the weekend, I spent much of Saturday exploring the various locations of the city with the intention of taking in some of the museums prior to my Sunday return train.

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The collegiate University of Cambridge, founded in 1209, consists of 31 separate colleges. It’s the second oldest university in the English-speaking world, with Oxford University the oldest. Each of the colleges have multiple grand buildings spread through the central city. The building above is the King’s College Chapel.

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Across from the college is Great St Mary’s, a small 15th-century church with a climbable tower and a viewing platform offering panoramas of the city, including this view down onto Cambridge Market Square. The market had many different food stalls, most with lines of eager people waiting to sample their delights.

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North of Great Saint Mary’s is Trinity Street, running alongside Trinity college, an architecturally pleasing span of road leading to the north of the central city, and St John’s college.

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The street ends at the Round Church, a landmark church built in 1130 and only one of four remaining medieval round churches still operating in England.

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Not far from the Round Church is the River Cam, a place popular for punting tours. A punt is a flat bottom boat pushed through shallow slow moving rivers with a punt pole. The River Cam cuts its way along the west and north sides of the central city, most of it used for punting.

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A walk along the river led to one of the many parks littering Cambridge central city, some with interesting names. This one is Parker’s Piece, while others are called Christ’s Pieces, Midsummer Green and Jesus Green.

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The river leads past various bridges, many unique in their build, such as this one, called the Mathematical Bridge. Its a footbridge crossing into Trinity College, built from straight beams in a mathematical precise shape.

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On my wanders through the city I discovered an odd clock in the wall near King’s College. It’s called the Corpus Clock and is also known as the Grasshopper Clock due to the mechanical grasshopper that walks along the top, ‘eating time’. The clock’s time is only correct every 5 minutes and is supposed to reflect life’s irregularity.

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On the second day of my stay in Cambridge, the rain was supposed to come, so I intended to take in some of the free museums around the city, such as the Fitzwilliam Museum above. Unfortunately, due to COVID, to maintain social distancing there is limited space in each, and pre-booking is required. Unfortunately, they were all booked out, so after a relaxing morning, I found my way to a cafe serving a full English breakfast, before heading back to London.

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Overall Impressions
Cambridge is a wondrous city to wander around with eye catching architecture at every turn. It felt small wandering around the central city, but with plenty to see. It’s a shame many indoor attractions were booked out, but it will inspire me to book ahead on my next trip, to Oxford in a couple of weeks.

The World Wanderer.

Cardiff, Wales – Impressions

In late January 2020, I headed across to Cardiff for a concert and decided to stay for a couple of days to explore the city. As it’s winter, and Southern Wales, I was expecting rain, and I was not disappointed. But I’m waterproof, and a bit of drizzle wasn’t going to stop me enjoying my stay.

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Cardiff (Caerdydd in Welsh) is the largest city in Wales, but only the 11th largest in the UK. And, as it’s only a 2-hour train ride from London, it’s not that much of a trip. The first thing I noticed when arriving in the Welsh Capital is the number of covered arcades and malls. It’s a great way to explore the city without going out in the rain too often.

Motorpoint Arena
The point of coming to Cardiff was for a concert. Motorpoint Arena was first opened by Shirley Bassey in 1993. But my concert wasn’t as sedate, I was there to see Megadeth and Five Finger Death Punch. Metal, raw and loud. The venue was large, holding 5,500 on the floor. After a very long wait out in the icy conditions to get in the door, I eventually warmed up and enjoyed the concert. The venue, like most in the UK, is heavily sprinkled with alcohol sales points, although the crowds in London feel a little more raucous.

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Principality Stadium
Also known as Millennium Stadium, it is the home of the Welsh Rugby team and was built in 1999 to host the Rugby World Cup. The stadium in it’s latest form was constructed over another park which has a more sentimental note for me. When I was very young, I would sometimes get up at stupid times in the morning with my father to watch the All Blacks play at Cardiff Arms Park. The Six Nations Rugby was just beginning on the day I came back to London.

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Cardiff Castle
You can’t come to Cardiff and not visit Cardiff Castle, and the best was to see it is on a self-guided audio tour. Beneath the entrance and front wall is a small museum called Firing Line, showing the lives of Welsh Soldiers going all the way back to the Bronze Age. Next to the museum is a long bronze wall depicting scenes from Roman times opposite the actual remains of the Roman wall.

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Beneath the other walls are tunnels used during World War 2 as bomb shelters. They are long, dim-lit and eerie. On the far side of the grassy courtyard is the Norman keep surrounded by a moat. Climbing up to it, and then up its main tower gives excellent views across Cardiff.

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Then along one side of the castle grounds are the Castle Apartments and Clock Tower. The self-tour allows access to some of the rooms in this building to see their lavish designs.

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Roath Street Art
While Bristol is home to Banksy, Cardiff is also a hub of street art. With limited time, I chose to walk out to the suburb of Roath to check out the local street art. 2014 was apparently the big year in the suburb for street art. There are many pieces still evident on walls around the area (although some buildings have since been demolished and the artwork lost).

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But while walking the streets of Roath, I discovered hidden back alleys absolutely filled with the less creative street art. By less creative, I refer to large words in different fonts. Sure, it’s art, but is it that creative?

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The Animal Wall
Just along from Cardiff Castle and near the entrance to Bute park are a series of 15 stone animals ‘peering’ over a wall that has come to be known as the Animal Wall. They were based on drawings from the 1300s, were carved in London, and built into the wall in 1887.

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Bute Park
Once the grounds of Cardiff Castle, Bute Park is 130 acres of landscaped gardens and parkland. It runs from the castle at one end, along to Gabalfa Woods at the other. Scattered throughout the park are various sculptures, many made from tree trunks left just for that purpose. There’s also a rock circle just past the castle, the Gorsedd Stones which were placed for the National Eisteddfod (a bardic arts festival) in 1978.

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Welsh National War Memorial
Completed in 1928, the memorial stands in Alexandra Gardens and commemorates the servicemen who died in the First World War. A plaque was added in 1949 to commemorate those who died in World War 2 also. The memorial houses four bronze statues. The three around the base of the main plinth relate the three services, airforce, navy and army, while the figure on the plinth represents Victory.

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City Hall
To avoid the rain, I popped into the City Hall near the War Memorial and stayed to have a look around. I found my way up to the first-floor landing, which is known as the ‘Marble Hall’. Beyond the marble columns, there are nearly two dozen marble statues around the walls. Only one stands in the centre, the figure of Saint David. There are also various paintings around the halls, while most are landscapes, there is one of Prince Charles and another of Princess Diana.

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Cardiff Story Museum
Situated in the middle of the city centre in the old library building, the small museum tells the story of Cardiff. The museum contains more than 3000 donated objects relating to the life and times of Cardiff from its inception to current times. There’s much interesting information on the layout of the city over the years and a look into the lives of people who live there. While it’s small, it’s an excellent way to get to know the city on a rainy day, and it’s entirely free.

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National Museum and Art Gallery
Next to City Hall is the much larger National Museum and Art Gallery. Like the Cardiff Story Museum, it’s free and is something to do when it’s raining. With many large open halls, and several passageways between, there is plenty to see. The gallery holds many paintings by Claude Monet, along with several from Rodin, Van Gogh and several Welsh artists. The museum has an exhibition on the fossil swamps of over 300 million years ago. There are also photography exhibits from several different artists and a detailed history of the universe from the Big Bang to how Cardiff was formed. I managed to lose about three hours wandering around the halls, but at least I stayed dry.

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Cardiff Bay
With a couple hours to spare before my train back to London, I wound my way down to Cardiff Bay for lunch and a quick look around. Thankfully, today I was treated to the sun, a nice farewell for the trip. The bay area houses Mermaid Quay with its plentiful restaurants and cafes, along with the Millennium centre, The Senedd and the Red Dragon Centre, a movie theatre complex.

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Overall impressions
Cardiff is a great small city with just enough of a vibe to make it an enjoyable stay. There is plenty to do for a couple of days in summer or winter. There was more I could have investigated, but due to time and the rain, I didn’t get the chance.

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Next, I’m off to explore Liverpool at Easter,

The World Wanderer

Dublin, Ireland – Impressions

Taking a long weekend in November, I decided to explore the Republic of Ireland’s capital. And, Dublin put on a happy welcome for me with mostly blue skies and sun, although it was still rather cold.

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Dubhlind in Classical Irish means Black Pool, although I didn’t see any black water while I was there. I did, however, come across one rather hungry tree near King’s Inns.

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The city of Dublin officially came into existence in 988 AD, although the Vikings first settled the area 150 years earlier. In the late 1700s it became the second-largest city in the British Empire, but for only a brief period.

The Spire of Dublin
Also known as the Monument of Light, the spire is hard to miss as it stands 120 metres tall at the centre of the city. It sits on the spot of the former Nelson’s Pillar, which was destroyed in an IRA bombing in 1966. It is clearly visible across the city, especially at night, when the top 10 metres light up. This is handy, considering it gets dark at about 4.45pm in November.

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Temple Bar
On the south side of the river, is the cultural quarter of Dublin known as Temple Bar. Originally named after the Temple family, it is now a diverse and popular area, with many bars and restaurants. It was always busy there during my visit, day and night, with plenty of lights and the occasional Leprechaun. There is a great Boxty restaurant about midway down serving the classic Irish boxty dish, well worth trying.

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The River Liffey, By Day and By Night
Dublin is split by the River Liffey which heads out into the Irish Sea across to Anglesea in Northern Wales. The river is crossed by several notable and fanciful bridges – this one is the Samuel Beckett Bridge, beside the glowing blue Convention Centre.

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At night the entire city centre lights up the river in wondrous colours.

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Dublin Discovery Trails
For one of my days in Dublin, I followed 2 of Dublin’s Discovery Trails, from an app of the same name. There are nine different trails to follow, each with up to 15 locations and averaging about 2 hours. Adding to the experience, the app has audio to go along with each location. This allowed me to see more of Dublin than had I come up with my own Itinerary, and I learned more than I would have just by going to the locations. I highly recommend it.

Parnell Square and Remembrance Garden
The Remembrance Garden is in Parnell Square, an arty part of town with the Writer’s Museum and the Modern Art gallery in the vicinity. The garden is shaped like a cross with a sculpture at its head (behind me). It is dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom during more than 7 different uprisings since 1798. Including the Easter Rising and the War of Independence.

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Trinity College
Officially College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, it contains the largest research library in Ireland and is home to the infamous Book of Kells. Some famous people who have studied at the campus were Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker of Dracula fame, Johnathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels fame, just to name a few.

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Guinness Storehouse
While I wasn’t a big fan of Guinness beer before, I was told that it tastes better in Dublin, and that was indeed what I found. They say it has something to do with the water, but who knows. And of course, Dublin is home to the main brewery, and it would be silly not to take a tour. I learned a lot during my visit, of now only how they brewed the beer, but how they prepared the components to how they made the barrels by hand in the old days. The tour climbs several floors around a circular chamber known as the largest pint glass in the world. It includes a tasting and a free pint at the bar on the 7th floor with panoramic views of the city.

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King’s Inns
King’s Inns is a society renown for being Ireland’s oldest professional and education institute, training barristers-at-law. They built the building below at the top of Henrietta Street in 1800. Henrietta Street is the earliest Georgian sweet in Dublin – Georgian meaning it was built during the reigns of the four King Georges.

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Black Church
Located in the north of the central city, the gothic style church gets its name from the local calp sandstone it was built from. When wet, as is visible on parts of the lower sections, the entire church turns black. While it is no longer consecrated, it was said that if you run around it three times at midnight, you would summon the devil.

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Blessington Street Basin

Known as Dublin’s Secret Garden, it was opened in 1820 as a reservoir and was private property. In 1891 was opened to the public where residents of the area could come and relax, and watch the local wildlife. The swan and duck island in the middle was expended due to the ever-growing population of birds.

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Oscar Wilde & Constance Lloyd

Dublin has numerous statues and sculptures around its streets. But, on the corner of Merrion Square, a large green park on the South East of the city, is a sculpture of the great writer, Oscar Wilde, sitting on a rock. The statue of the naked pregnant woman is his wife, Constance. Across the road from the sculptures, is the house where the pair once lived.

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Christ Church Cathedral & Dublina
The Christ Church was founded around the mid-1000s and has stood to this day, although it did go through a series of renovations 200 years ago. Beneath the Cathedral is an extensive crypt, which now serves as a small museum and shop.

Across the road, and now connected by a foot bridge, is Dublina, the Dublin Museum of Viking and Medieval life. It is rated as the best museum in Dublin, and it was an interesting couple of hours spent getting to know the Viking life and the medieval era that followed. I would recommend it.

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Overall
While I spent three days wandering Dublin checking out different parts, there was so much I missed. It was definitely an interesting city to spend a few days, and somewhat…

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Next time, Cardiff in Southern Wales.

The World Wanderer

Bristol, England – Impressions

For the second day of my weekend in the South West of England, I explored the city of Bristol.

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Bristol is a busy little city and has been rated as one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations. It was also the port from where the first European since the Vikings to land on North American soil. But, was also the starting point of the Bristol slave trade which took an estimated half a million people from Africa to slavery in the Americas.

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Bristol’s Floating Harbour
Situated on an arm of the River Avon, the Floating Harbour has been sectioned off with water locks to make the water level constant. This has changed the harbour a great deal, it is no longer the great port it once was – that has moved to another location along the River Avon – but is now home to many smaller vessels. On the sides of the port, the warehouses have all been converted to various other uses, such as museums, food halls and bars. There is now also a regular harbour ferry service.

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Bristol Cathedral
Built as an Abbey in the 12th century, it wasn’t converted to a cathedral until Henry VIII’s rein in 1542. The inside of the building was built in the gothic style with a grand choir section in the centre and long Nave to the East. Unfortunately, you cannot climb the towers, as you can in Bath, but the architecture of the insides are far superior to that other cathedral.

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Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Like many of the cultural locations in Bristol, the museum and art gallery is free to the public. It is larger than I expected, and as I was a little short on time, I was forced to rush through many of the exhibits. Over four floors, there was so much on offer: From ancient Egypt to Assyria, dinosaurs, geology, minerals, gemstones, and much more. All this along with art from French painters, a history of silver objects, ceramics and eastern art. Well worth a visit, but give yourself plenty of time.

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Cabot Tower
The tower was constructed, on Brandon Hill, in the 1890s to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol to set foot on the land that would eventually become Canada. The tower is free to the public, offers great 360º views across the city, but can be very busy on the thin sets of stairs.

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M Shed – A Museum of Bristol
Along the banks of the floating harbour, one of the transit sheds on the dock has been converted into a museum dedicated to Bristol. It holds more than 3000 artefacts exploring life and work in the city over the years. It has three main galleries devoted to Bristol Life, Bristol People and Bristol Places. It includes tributes to the likes of Massive Attack, Wallace and Grommit, and other local artists. Like many other cultural areas in Bristol, it’s free.

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Brunel’s SS Great Britain
The SS Great Britain was the largest ship afloat when it launched in 1843. She was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic two years later, it took her 14 days. For 30 years she carried thousands of immigrants to Australia until she was retired to the Falkland Islands to be used as a warehouse and coal hulk. She was scuttled after almost 100 years of service only to be raised in 1970, repaired and towed back to Bristol where she was built. She’s now a museum piece.

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Bristol Street Art
Like many cities around the world, Bristol has its fair share of street art, and not just walls littered with graffiti. Of course, with Banksy as a local street artist, the others have a lot to live up to. I’m not the greatest Banksy fan, but if I had time, I might have taken some of the handful of self-guided tours around the city looking at the remnants of his work. I liked this one, although it’s not one of his.

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Bristol was an interesting and very busy place. I wish I had more time to explore.

Next month, my first trip into Ireland for a long weekend in Dublin.

The World Wanderer.

Bath, England – Impressions

In my ongoing exploration of the UK, I spent a day in the small city of Bath in the county of Somerset in South Western England.

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It was officially made a spa city in 60 AD by the Romans who built the baths and a temple in the river valley. Bath is a pretty city noted for its architecture, but also the golden colour of the stone from which everything is built. The stone, called Bath stone, is a type of limestone found in the region.

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I had initially planned to take the Bath Hop-on Hop-off bus around the city on both routes to get the best views and see the most sites, but due to the rain from Hurricane Lorenzo crossing the region, I made a short, self-directed walking tour instead.

Gregorian Architecture
This is the prominent architectural style in central Bath with many elegant buildings being constructed in this style around the city.

Bath Circus
Circus in Latin means circle, and the Bath Circle is three lines of curved buildings set in a circle around a central circular grassy space. It was apparently inspired by the Colosseum in Rome.

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Royal Crescent
Built about the same time as the circus – circa 1770 it is in a semi-circle with a large park from one side.

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Pulteney Bridge
This bridge is a local landmark crossing the River Avon to join the city of Bath with the Pulteney family lands on the far side. Unlike simple bridges, the Pulteney Bridge was designed with shops across its length on both sides of the street. The bridge stood for 25 years before a flood-damaged the north side which had to be rebuilt.

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Bath Abbey
Built in the 7th century as a medieval abbey church, it is one of the largest pieces of gothic architecture in the West of England. It was rebuilt into a Cathedral in the mid 12th century but was stripped of being a cathedral in the mid-1500s returning again to the status of Abbey. It was reformed once more in the 19th century to its current form.

I took the opportunity to take an abbey tour, including climbing the 200+ steps to the roof. The group stopped off to learn about the bell ringers along with the various mechanisms used to automate them, as monks of the time were rather lazy.

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The Roman Baths
The baths were built over a series of hot springs by the Romans around 60 AD. The hot springs bubble up from deep in the earth at a steady temperature of 46ºC. The baths fell into disrepair when the Romans pulled out of Britain 300 years later. The baths were thought destroyed in the 6th century AD. It was rebuilt in 1200 AD and then entirely redesigned in the 18th century into its current state.

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The baths have a Pump Room beside it as a conference hall and restaurant, while the baths themselves go underground in several large rooms. Tours are expensive, and I chose not to take one, but they take visitors underground to all of the rooms, although people are no longer allowed to bathe in the baths. While I did not take a tour, I did get an up high picture from the top of the cathedral during my tour of that structure.

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The next day I headed up to Bristol for more exploration.

The World Wanderer

Birmingham, England – Impressions

Birmingham is known by some as the second city as it’s the second largest city in the United Kingdom. Situated in the West Midlands of England, Birmingham is just over 200km (125 mi) North West of London.

Although there is evidence of human’s in the area up to about 10,000 years ago, Birmingham, or Beormingahām as it was known, was said to have been established in the late 6th century. And with train tickets from London only £5.50 each way, it deserved a long weekend to explore what the city has to offer. St Martin in the Bullring…

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Bullring and Grand Central
Right near Birmingham Moor Street Station, these two separate indoor malls are joined by a series of sky bridges that cut through the nearby TK Maxx building to make one large indoor mall. The Bullring is named after the major commercial area of the city and is in a distinctive building. The connected Grand Central mall is just as large and is a distinct building of its own.

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Bullring Rag Market
Similar to the original markets which spawned the Bullring commercial region, the Rag Market is an area of fruit and vegetable stalls mixed with clothing and other general knickknacks in small booths. When compared to the upmarket style of the markets in York or some areas of London, you will understand where the name Rag Markets come from. While they certainly are not pretty, there are plentiful bargains here.

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Custard Factory
What’s now known as the Custard Factory, is an area of creative and digital businesses in a set of very colourful buildings that was once the Bird’s Custard Factory from the 1840s. It now contains many small shops, offices, galleries, theatres and eateries.

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Victoria Square
Under the statue of Queen Victoria, this public pedestrian square is surrounded by the Birmingham Town Hall, Council House and Chamberlain Square.

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Saint Philips Cathedral
the seat of the bishop of Birmingham, Saint Philips Cathedral, it is the third smallest in the UK. Compared to the Cathedral in York, it’s tiny, but still contains unique stained glass windows yet only a short 300-year history, including being damaged in World War II bombings.

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Aston Hall
Aston Hall is a villa built in the early 1600s that has been converted into a museum. It is situated in Villa Park, which, for those with a knowledge of sports, specifically Football,  is home to Aston Villa football team and their stadium, right next door. Unfortunately, the villa museum is not open on match days which just happened to be the day I stopped by for a visit.

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Gas Street Basin
An attractive section of canals in the network that flows throughout Birmingham, similar to many other UK cities. The surrounding area contains bars, cafes and several attractions such as the National Seal Life Centre and Birmingham’s Legoland.

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IKON Gallery
While waiting for my entrance time of the National Sea Life Centre, I popped into the local IKON gallery to check out a couple of the exhibitions. The IKON gallery is a world acclaimed art gallery spread over three levels just off the Gas Street Basin area. While it is fairly small, the three exhibitions were an interesting change of pace in this fast paced city.

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National Sea Life Centre
The National Sea Life Centre is an aquarium in Central Birmingham showcasing over 2000 different sea animals from various places around the world, from the Antarctic, across many of the continents. The aquarium is entirely set inside in a four-story building that leads you through a series of displays climbing step by step to the top, before catching a lift, or stairs, into the basement where there is a tunnel through a larger pool. Amazing displays show all sorts of creatures, from sharks to sea horses, penguins to jellyfish.

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Cadbury World
Cadbury World is an exhibition built beside the main Cadbury factory in Bournville which is a town originally built for the workers of the Cadbury factory. The Cadbury World exhibition is only one of two in the world, the other being in Dunedin, New Zealand. The 90-minute long attraction goes through the history of the Cadbury empire and documents many parts of the chocolate making process, including chocolate Easter egg manufacture. It is an interesting place to learn the history of chocolate and the region, and not just for the kids.

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Dudley Castle and Zoo
On the outskirts of Greater Birmingham is the township of Dudley, and on a hill above it is the ruins of the Dudley castle. Dudley Castle was built in 1070 by a Norman knight not long after the Norman conquests. I travelled for an hour out to Dudley to investigate the castle only to find that it was part of a zoo with a steeper entrance fee than I had hoped. And, as it was late in the day and I likely wouldn’t have enough time to make the visit worth the entrance fee, I took a bad photo and caught a tram back to the Birmingham city centre.

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Graffiti Art of Digbeth Walk
On my wanders around the city I noted many pieces of graffiti, but not until writing this did I discover there was an actual walk relating to a graffiti art. I would loved to have spent some time following this around the city as the few pieces I saw were amazing.

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Too Much to See
One long weekend was not enough to get to all the things I had hoped to see. Here are a few things I didn’t get to…

Thinktank Museum – Birmingham’s Science Museum.
Cannon Hill Park – The city’s most popular park spanning 250 acres.
Botanical Gardens – Gardens of a Botanical nature
The Coffin Works – A museum in the process of making coffins.

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Overall Impressions
Birmingham is a large thriving city only indeed second in the UK to London. The central city has so much foot traffic most days it could be considered reminiscent of Brixton or Oxford Street. But it is still different to the larger London, in that it is less cosmopolitan. And, only two hours away by train, it is definitely worth a visit.

The World Wanderer