Take a trip into space at London’s National Maritime Museum!

Our famous astronaut Tim Peake may be back from space now, but you can take a trip there anytime at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.  Their exhibition Above and Beyond has lots of fun interactivity and is definitely one to put on the list for the school holidays. 

The posters as you approach are very cool and the enormous sign as you enter really makes you think – could humans be setting foot on Mars in the lifetime of our children? 

Before I ventured into space, I had a lot of fun flying with birds. It’s hard to describe this interactive experience but you stand on a spot in front of the screen and you are linked to a bird on the screen, flying across a landscape.  You stand with your arms out like wings and if you don’t move them properly the bird will crash – well it goes red for danger and you need to move sharpish to get it back on track. I found it quite compulsive and loved the scenery too. It’s best if you have a small group or family as you can fill up all the spots and ‘fly’ together. It also taught us why birds fly in a V formation as there are nuggets of education built into every section but without being too obvious. 

  Hopefully these photos will help give you a better idea of how it works:

Lots of educational info 

Looks like a skier!

Here we are flying along 

I didn’t swoop properly  – that’s me in red on the left – oops 

Oh dear, my fellow flyers aren’t keeping up either! Great view tho’..

There are lots of educational points thrown in where we see women scientist on screens, making it more inclusive and inspiring for girls visiting.  We even had a girl mini astronaut visiting with when we were there! 

She looks ready for space

I loved the Space Elevator which takes you up tin just a few seconds to way beyond the earth. Join me on my journey:

Take off bay

Going up 

Heading out 

10,000 miles from earth…

Now we are in space

You can design your own full throttle jet and then test fly it through a tricky obstacle course, which I have to admit I was really bad at!  You can see the planes of the future, hear how scientists are pushing the boundaries. There is so much to enjoy and make you think.  How about seeing the world’s lightest metal?  It’s 100 times lighter than Styrofoam and yet is incredibly strong so could change how we build cars, airplanes and even homes.  How about the incredible shrinking satellite where you can see how these once sizeable pieces of metal is now something you could easily carry in your hand.. 

Sit here to test out jet you have designed!

I should have mentioned the shop earlier as they do have great things for sale but the best bit for me was having my photo taken as an astronaut!  This goes well with my Mars passport from inside the exhibition. 

Ready for take off!

See you on Mars! 
Isn’t this a great T-shirt!

So, with the school holidays upon us, it’s well worth taking your family to Greenwich as there is so much to see and do there.  There’s the Cutty Sark and the Greenwich Meridian and the Royal Observatory as well as the National Maritime Museum which has more than just this one exhibition.  It’s a full day out and great fun if you take the Thames Clipper there to enjoy see the Thames all the way from central London. 

Check out  these great places to visit in Greenwich
Bye for now

My top 3 favourite London events of 2014

How to chose a top 3 when it’s been such a busy year in London?  Looking back through my photos it became clear very quickly that the Tower Poppies, Spectra London and the Tall Ships in Greenwich were easy winners. Have a look and see why……

The Tower Poppies was a powerful and moving art work created to remember the 888,246 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the First World War and there was one poppy for each of the fallen. I went to visit on 4th August 2014 which was one hundred years to the day that Britain entered the war. The installation was called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red and millions of visitors have come to marvel at the sight and reflect on the loss of so many soldiers. 

The red poppies begin to spread

The ‘Wave’ takes shape

I returned on 28th August as a volunteer to plant 120 poppies and the fields were growing rapidly. It was a privilege to be a part of this amazing project.

We planted this section

A moment of quiet reflection for a Beefeater

I returned several times before the 11th November when the last poppy was planted to see the red spread and the moat of the Tower of London completely fill with poppies. 

The poppies have all gone now, sold to raise money for charities supporting servicemen and women. Every one of the 888,246 was sold and I was lucky enough to be able to buy one as a lasting memory. 

My poppy in a box which I will be giving to my mother for Christmas

The tall ships setting sail from Greenwich was a great sight in the summer sun.  They had been gathered along the Thames for the Tall Ships Festival and then one bright sunny September day they all put their sails up and nearly 50 ships of all shapes and sizes set off to sea. It was a brilliant sight and I especially loved moment when the galleons hoved into view and I was transported back to Tudor times! Enjoy the parade:

My 3rd top London event was Spectra London, an incredible light display which took place from 4th to 11th August and was another First World War commemoration. 49 massive searchlights pierced through the London night sky and could be seen all across the city. I went to seem them close up and enjoyed a wonderful friendly atmosphere as people sat on the grass and marvelled at this stunning installation and the accompanying soundtrack which perfected suited the warm summer’s evening. It was hard to photograph but I hope these give you some idea of its impact:

Arriving at Spectra next to the Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament in the background

So many other events are worthy of a mention but here’s just a few: the stunning performances of Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo in Romeo and Juliet at the Albert Hall; the emergence of Kings Cross as a glorious station and resurgent area; the Tour de France whizzing through the streets; a great summer; and, the arrival of a huge wooden hippo on the Thames – ok, here’s a  last photo to make you smile:

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2015.
Bye for now,

All at sea in London with Nelson and Turner!

There are many reasons to visit Greenwich – the Cutty Sark, the world’s meridian, the painted hall, the Queen’s House and the permanent collections at the National Maritime Museum are a few of them. Now there are 2 more great reasons as the National Maritime Museum has opened its Nelson Galleries as well as a wonderful exhibition about Turner, one of my favourite painters. I was luckily enough to be shown around by the Curators for both exhibitions which is a privilege so if you ever see one advertised, do book yourself onto it for the inside track you get, bringing the exhibition to life. 

Firstly Turner whose work is dominated by the sea but this is first time that an exhibition has explicitly featured this, so ‘Turner and the Sea’ is very welcome. We can see 100 paintings from his first exhibited work through to his latter masterpieces. Accompanying paintings show his influencers, particularly the Dutch sea painters the van de Velders.

The sea was also a dominating influence on Britain at that time with fears of invasion and the growth of the navy which makes a neat link with the Nelson galleries which I feature below. We see his work grow and develop as the exhibition takes a chronological approach. The display gives the viewer plenty of space and light to enjoy the sections and themes and to admire the brilliance of his work. 

His first exhibited piece from 1796 – Fishermen and the Sea

His most famous – the Fighting Temeraire 1839

His beautiful take on Venice 1834

The extraordinary Battle of Trafalgar 1823

Turner felt a great affinity with the working man and many of his paintings feature sailors, and dock workers. 

Keelmen Heaving Coal by Moonlight 1835

Turner never went anywhere without a sketch book and to me these are every bit as impressive as the finished works. One room has several cases showing these books as well as preparatory works.

A ‘sketch book’

This final room has a breath taking collection of his final seascapes which caused considerable controversy at the time with a great deal of sniping from the critics. To our eyes they look as if they could be from the 20th century not the mid 19th, as he was painting beyond the rules and conventions of his time.

The impressive final room

Staffa, Fingal’s Cave 1832

This is one of his last paintings before his death in 1851. The Turner bequest left his work to the National Gallery, subsequently to the Tate and over 20,000 pieces were donated and are kept for us to enjoy.

Snow Storm- Steam-boat off a Harbour’s Mouth 1842

You’ll need a good rest before heading to the Nelson Galleries and there are plenty of good places to eat in Greenwich, including an Eel and Pie shop if you are feeling brave enough for this east London speciality! Back in the National Maritime Museum, up on the top floor, is a new set of galleries dedicated to Horatio Nelson, one of Britain’s greatest naval heroes who won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the subject of the wonderful Turner painting photographed above. Sadly he died as the battle was won but the nation was extremely grateful and his legend lives on as we enjoy Trafalgar Square in his honour and visit his tomb in St Paul’s Cathedral

The impressive and nautical entry to the museum
The galleries take you through Nelson’s life but also gives the visitor an intriguing insight in the times Nelson lived in. The exhibition is called Nelson, Navy and Nation and all three elements are explored for us in fascinating detail. We learn about life on the battle ships and not just for the officers, and the lasting impact the victory had on the nation. The collection of ‘tat’ that was made to celebrate Trafalgar and Nelson’s previous victory in Egypt is fun to see, from mugs to wallpaper his face was on everything and it feels rather contemporary in nature but our celebrity obsessions are nothing new. 
The high point for me is the return of Nelson’s jacket from France where it’s been on loan awaiting the new gallery.  We are so lucky to have the jacket he was shot and killed in and you can see the bullet hole is the left shoulder where the French sniper’s bullet entered and lodged in his spine, leading to his death at the age of 47. He was a slight man and the jacket has an elegance and a poignancy as a unique historical garment. 
We also learn about British society in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and how the popularity of the navy waxed and waned and the sheer scale of the dockyards, especially at Portsmouth which were the biggest industrial complex the world had ever seen. At the more personal level, we see the love tokens exchanged before sailors went off on their perilous, long and unpredictable journeys and the letters sent home.  Contrary to popular myth of the King’s shilling, most sailors were not press ganged, except during war, as the work was attractive with generally good conditions. These were skilled men so captains would not want random men pulled off the street to be manning their ships. However, with an official entry age of 11, some were not so much volunteers as volunteered!  For those further up the social scale, the navy was seen as a respectable profession for a gentleman. One other unexpected piece of information was the number of women on board these ships, some for the obvious reasons but others accompanying their husbands.

Nelson’s strategic and tactical genius is highlighted and you can explore this through a very impressive interactive game with both French and English fleets so you can experience the battle plans and how they played out.  It had not been all success for him and I was fascinated to read a letter Nelson wrote following a previous defeat in battle where he says he will learn from his mistakes – and he did! 

The exhibition really makes you think about the importance of the Navy at that time to this island nation and the impact that Nelson had on his era. These new galleries will give the visitor a great deal of food for thought and are well worth a visit.
Lots more to report on in my next blog.
Bye for now,

Cutty Sark reopens and joins the London list of ‘must see’

Greenwich is a great place to visit and it has just got a whole lot better!  The beautiful Cutty Sark sailing ship has been reopened and is a new landmark for the area. To offer even more, The National Maritime Museum has added to their already amazing collections with a fascinating new exhibition called Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames. 
The Cutty Sark was the fastest ship of her day and plied her trade around the world mostly as a tea clipper and is the last surviving of these ships.  She has been restored using a great deal of original material which is a miracle given the fire that swept through her in 2007. Luck was on their side that day as a great deal of the original timbers had been removed from the site so survived to be reinstated to make the wonderful ship we can visit.

The restoration has at its heart a glass apron which means you can walk right underneath the golden hull and see the glorious shape of the ship as well as explore the decks and cabins. 

There are evocative tea chests on the lower decks and fun interactive maps where you can try to beat the Cutty Sark’s best journey time but I was 10 days slower! Famous as a tea clipper that name deriving from these ships ‘clipping’ the time taken and you can learn how the trade winds and doldrums influenced their racing times.

On the top deck you can admire the high rigging which once held 32 sails and reaches up 152 feet/47 metres, and see the tiny bunks the crew slept in, Cutty Sark was launched in 1869 when the men were clearly much shorter than we are now!  The wheel, however, is really tall (as you can see in the photo with yours truly)  and I’m sure the Captain would have to stand on a box to reach the top spokes.

The Queen opens the Cutty Sark for visitors on 24th April which must be strange for her as she performed the same act in 1957 as this photo shows. The photo is part of a really interesting slide show with commentary where we learn that a Cutty Sark is a ladies undergarment and it taken from a poem by Robert Burns! 

On our preview day they were still adding the finishing touches but I’m sure by the time the Queen arrives it’ll be perfect. The Cutty Sark is now on my list of recommendations for visitors to London.

My laptop has let me down recently but hopefully I’ll be back posting many more London blogs.

Bye for now,

Fringe madness….

Spent a busy busy weekend outside London at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, an annual treat for me and I was joined by two American friends having their first Fringe experience. They were amazed by it and want to make it their annual treat too! We were lucky with the weather which was mostly dry and even sunny at times so we got to see the city at its best.

We managed 8 shows, a mix of comedy x3, theatre x2 and dance and I squeezed a visit to the Book Festival before they arrived with a friend who lives in Edinburgh. They have about 4 or 5 different festivals all on at the same time so everywhere you turn there is a venue with something interesting showing. The famous Royal Mile running from the castle to Holyrood Palace is full of players persuading you to see their show with flyers and mini performances. It really is a case of so much to see, so little time…….

Back in London we had a visit to Greenwich for the day to see the sights there. The day kicked off with a boat trip from Embankment in the centre out to Greenwich on the super fast Thames Clipper. We wandered around Greenwich,past the Market square through the Royal College and its wonderful baroque Painted Hall to the National Maritime Museum. Lots to see here including Nelson’s jacket – the one he was wearing when he took the fatal shot. And yes, there is the bullet hole. On a more modern note, you can drive the simulator and park your ocean liner in Sydney Harbour but take your turn with all the kids!

After lunch at the famous Trafalgar Tavern we walked up to the Observatory to stand on the Meridian at 0.00.00 longitude and take in the spectacular views over London. The film show at the Planetarium was wonderful if a little sleep inducing so we briskly walked back to the river and took the little known pedestrian tunnel under the Thames. Important not to think about the water above you……. A glass of Pimms at Plateau in Canary Wharf topped off a highly recommended day out. Greenwich is not far but feels out of town and we don’t go there often enough.

Excitement builds as it’s the Notting Hill carnival this weekend and a huge party will be going on all around me. Can’t wait!

Bye for now.