Saturday, 26 May 2007

Van Der Graaf Generator

Van Der Graaf Generator
Originally uploaded by MadeleineS.

The reason we came to London! - and well worth the effort. This is Mike's favourite band and have been for longer than we care to calculate!

They opened with my favourite song - (Childlike faith in) Childhood's End - and continued in storming style for the entire set. This incarnation is saxaphone-free and so the soundspace is filled by Hugh Banton on the organ. A dammed good job he makes of it too. There are many more reviews and better photos elsewhere on the web so I'll not ramble further. Try starting with Phil Smart's site if you're keen.

Ice cream house

Ice cream house
Originally uploaded by MadeleineS.

I called this the Ice Cream House because it looks like it's made from the kind of ice cream my grandparents bought in blocks. This would be mint and strawberry.

It's on the Thames near Richmond. On the Monday morning we took the boat from Westminster up the river and got off at Richmond. My wreckedness from two nights before's experiences had not fully lifted and I didn't really enjoy walking round the town as much as I should have. The cruise was fun though.

We left in plenty time to get confused by the Oyster card system and the layout of Richmond station, end up in the wrong station in the city centre and still get back to the hotel in time to settle down before the evening's activity...

Giraffe drinking a smoothie

Giraffe drinking a smoothie
Originally uploaded by MadeleineS.

This was one of the unexpected highlights of our time London. As smoothies go, this minty fruity one went really well with lunch and a walk along the South Bank with friends - some of whom we'd never met! Internet contacts meeting in "meatspace" for the first time can sometimes be a bit worrying but this was delightful.

We also got to chill out to the 3D IMAX movie about building the International Space Station. That and good company helped focus my my thinking and I realised it wasn't worth staying in the Albion House Hotel if we could find somewhere else. (See Hotel Blues below for the full story.) We found the Mermaid Suites and shifted our stuff that night.

Monday, 21 May 2007

What I did on my holidays

At primary school each year after the summer break we were often asked to write a "composition" called "What I did on my holidays". I could never remember and it would have been pretty dull anyway. Now I'm all grown up I hope things will be different.

I decided to keep a holiday diary of sorts. Turned out to be harder work than I thought. My handwriting has never flowed with ease and I was completely drained by the bad hotel experience in London (see Hotel Blues post below). I did catch up with diary stuff on the train to Brussels and after that it was easier. That deals with the remembering bit, though York and London are a little sketchy, but I guess it will be interesting only if you like the same stuff we do (off-beat art & architecture, strange music, old buildings and science fiction). I've broken up the posting so it's in the order it might have turned out if I'd posted while we were away. York in this post, London next time and then Brussels. Pop back later in the week to see what comes next.

Got to York mid-evening on the Friday. Looked like we'd arrived in hen and stag party land - we try to avoid this in Edinburgh at the weekends - but the hotel was everything you'd expect from a mid-range chain. A decent breakfast on Saturday morning and we were off for a day of sightseeing.

Mike thought a cruise down the Ouze to the Bishop's Palace would be nice morning activity but the company weren't running it that day. We took the shorter trip instead. We saw lots of geese and goslings and the Minster in the distance and poplar trees and old bridges. I liked their newest bridge though.

Bicycle wheel bridge

Turns out York has a "Millenium Wheel" too - not a boat lift or a ferris wheel but a footbridge that's designed to look like a bicycle wheel.

The city was pretty busy it being Saturday afternoon but in among the mixture of quaint old streets and chain stores we found a pub, Lendel Cellars, for lunch and had a quiet pint of local ale that I forget the name of. There was a great poster for their new range of food that got me thinking about the nature of photographic art! (musings on that topic another day)

We did the usual looking a old buildings and eating ice cream in the afternoon. See more of my photos of York on Flickr for a visual version of our day. We got the train to London early in the evening and the Hotel Blues post runs on from here. Good bits of our London visit next time!

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Hotel Blues

Well it's been nearly two months since I posted anything here and it feels a lot longer. We've been back from our holiday for three weeks. (all the tourist pictures are on my Flickr account).

We had a great time except for the hotel we booked in London. The Albion House Hotel in Kings Cross seriously over sells itself on its website. They say it is "contemporary, stylish, elegant, luxurious", however reality is very different.

They say "The Albion House Hotel offers an unobtrusive yet attentive and genuinely warm level of service." They claim to have 24 hour reception when they actually have none at all. There's a grumpy guy eating a take-away in a different hotel in the square who'll give you a key once a departing resident lets you in the front door and you figure out that the dimly lit room on the left is supposed to be reception. This was not late at night but around 8.30pm.

They say "The Albion House Hotel is a brand new boutique hotel, with 13 spacious en-suite bedrooms. " It did seem fairly recently decorated and it may well have had 13 rooms but I didn't climb the precipitous stair case to count them. The room we had was tiny for a so called double. There was just enough room to walk round the bed and no more. There was no space for a chair between the bed and the shelf/desk/dressingtable thing. The only thing to sit on was the bed, which was two small single beds with at zip up the middle. The wardrobe was stuffed full of things so you couldn't hang any clothes. The TV was on top of the wardrobe as the only place it could be positioned. The toilet/shower room had no shelf to put your washbag on and nothing in the shower to lay the soap on except the floor.

The security of the building is worrying and the theft disclaimer in the office amounted to a charter for pilfering. The arrangement of rooms, doors and staircase was scary when you thought about what might happen in a fire. The fire doors seemed to open the wrong way but if they'd opened the other way they'd have been in the path of people coming down the steep stairs. The building really didn't seem fit for purpose.

They say "The hotel situated in a tranquil square..." Midnight was the start of an incredibly loud outdoor party two doors along that kept us awake until three in the morning. There was no telephone in the room to call what passed for reception in order to complain without getting dressed and crossing the square.

Breakfast was pretty poor (stale coffee, white toast, cornflakes) . The watiress couldn't understand the difference between "coffee for two" which we wanted and didn't get and "coffee and tea" which we said more than once we didn't want but did get - I guess that party had kept her awake all night too!

We spent a sleep-deprived Sunday worrying about our stuff and annoying our friends with our troubles but did eventually find a much nicer hotel called the Mermaid Suites just off Oxford Street, for a similar price and moved early that evening. Of course, we lost the money on the first hotel so it worked out costing us double for two of our three nights. Thank you Scott, Emma, Waterloo Station Hotel booking place, and the Mermaid Suites for rescuing our London visit.

Right now I've got that off my chest I need a coffee and some lunch. The good bits will come in the next post!