What Did it Cost?

As with each of our previous trips, the final job is to tally up the cost.  This time I kept a running total but this did not necessarily influence our spending.

The grand total for 28 days and nights was $13,613.54 which was proportionally slightly more expensive than our previous trip UK trip 3 years ago.  However, I am still very happy with the outcome as the airfares were  a greater percentage of the total since the trip was for 4 weeks rather than 6 weeks and I am sure that prices have increased in the intervening time.

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This is how it was broken up.

Airfares $     3,655.32
Accommodation $     5,307.80
Insurance $         226.97
Transport $     1,099.37
Food/Drink $     1,451.42
Sightseeing/Tours/Events $     1,461.13
Souvenirs/Gifts $         60.87
Other spending $         350.66

It is interesting to see where the money went.  Once again, accommodation was the biggest single cost.

Transport was trains to Wales, Paris, Brighton and Cambridge as well as our Oyster card credit in London.  This category was proportionally much less than or previous UK trip as there were no hire car costs.

Food and drinks included everything that we ate or drank from restaurant meals, drinks at the pub, groceries to an occasional ice-cream or cup of coffee.

Sightseeing etc was made up of admission costs as well as various movies and shows.

We do not need souvenirs to remind us of our trip so this category was very modest.  I bought a jigsaw puzzle which I will enjoy sharing with other family members, a CD from a concert we attended and small gifts for our granddaughters.

The final category of ‘Other’ was a birthday gift as well as a couple of scarves for myself and a new lens for my camera.

The trip was several months in the planning and we had pre-paid a total of $10,130.74 (about 75% of the total) before we set out.

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Cambridge – Colleges and Cold

The last two nights of our trip were spent in Cambridge.  We had visited Cambridge during our last trip in the northern summer of 2014 and took a punt tour on the River Cam on a glorious sunny day (you can see the photos here) so the focus was slightly different this time.

It was about an hour and a half trip  from London on the train.  We arrived on Tuesday afternoon and had time to arrive at our accommodation, change and freshen up before setting out again.

Our destination was King’s College Chapel as we wanted to attend Choral Evensong.  The service was scheduled to begin at 5.30pm, by which time it is dark at the end of November.  We had a brief wait in  short queue in the quadrangle before we were ushered into the chapel.  This was most welcome as the weather was cold and drizzling with rain as well as being dark.

King’s College Chapel is the venue for the annual BBC program “A Festival of  Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College” which is also broadcast in Australia so I was familiar with the view and layout of the interior of the chapel, however, nothing prepares you for the reality of actually being there.  Naturally, there are no photos permitted, however, here are a few that I took of the exterior during daylight hours.

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We also managed to squeeze in a couple of meals at beautiful historic pubs.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos.  The first one was The Free Press which is tucked away in a quieter corner of Cambridge.  It was the perfect spot for dinner after Evensong at the chapel.  Since it was well after dark I could not take a photo of the exterior of this historic pub so here is one with compliments of the internet.

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Grantchester is a tiny village outside Cambridge which we visited the next day.  We caught a bus to the urban fringe of Cambridge and then walked a couple of kilometres to Grantchester where we had a late lunch at the Red Lion.  Once again, I had to resort to the internet for an image as I had chosen to take a break from photos.  The thatched roof was of particular interest.

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On our final day we had a real taste of winter as the temperature struggled to 3C.  We rugged up and took a stroll around a few streets in the heart of Cambridge.

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There was even an historic windmill in the backyard adjacent to the rear of the property where we were staying.  Apparently it is over 300 years old and had fallen into disrepair but is being restored by the current owners.

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It is also worth noting that the temperatures dropped significantly during our 4 week trip with the second half of the month barely reaching double digits and the last few days were particularly cold.  It was time to go home!  In fact there were very light snowfalls in London within 12 hours of our departure.

The short days and cool weather were part of the reason that we chose November to visit London.  It was a completely new experience for us as each of our previous trips to the northern hemisphere have been during the summer.  As with everything, research and planning are the keys to success.  We were not bothered by the shorter days because most of our plans for for indoor activities such as galleries, museums and shows. The few outdoor activities were easily accommodated in daylight hours on a number of bright, sunny days with which we were blessed.

This is the penultimate blog entry for the trip with a final one tomorrow with the all important financial wrap-up.

Thanks for coming along for the ride and I hope you have enjoyed reading about our experiences.

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Meet the Mews

Since we were going to be staying in London for 3 weeks we gave considerable thought to our choice of accommodation.

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After plenty of research we decided on this Air BnB located in a mews between Paddington and Hyde Park.  The central location has been very convenient for our various adventures which have mostly been in and around central London.

The definition of a mews house as described in Wikipedia:

Mews is a primarily British term formerly describing a row of stables, usually with carriage houses below and living quarters above, built around a paved yard or court, or along a street, behind large city houses, such as those of London, during the 17th and 18th centuries. The word may also refer to the lane, alley or back street onto which such stables open. It is sometimes applied to rows or groups of garages or, more broadly, to a narrow passage or a confined place. Today most mews stables have been converted into dwellings.”

At the end of the mews where we are staying is the only remaining working stables in central London.

The view from outside our front door.

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A close-up of one of the neighbours.

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Looking up the mews in the opposite direction.  There are many and varied plantings but virtually every property has a large potted olive tree which provides a unifying theme.  Judging from size of the trunks, some of these trees are quite old.  Many of them had good crops of olives on them.

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The autumn foliage adds a pretty contrast.

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We noticed this reminder of ‘home’ in a protected spot at the top of the mews.

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The presence of the olives and callistemon thriving in and inner London mews was certainly a view that we did not expect to see when we came here.

We are off to Cambridge today so more about that tomorrow.

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Cruise to Camden


As the end of our London visit approached we reviewed our ‘to do’ list.  It was a diverse collection of shows, museums and other experiences which we had discovered through a variety of sources.  One thing which we were yet to do was a trip on the narrowboat from Little Venice near Paddington Station to Camden via the Regent’s Canal.

We had intended to do the trip on our last visit but after catching the train to Camden and seeing the market we could not locate the departure point for the narrowboat so ended up making our return journey on the train.  I wrote about it in this post from 2014.

In order to avoid the problem of locating the departure point at Camden we decided to take the boat from Paddington and do a return trip as we were not particularly interested in spending time at Camden.

We walked alongside the canal from Paddington Station.

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Until we reached Browning’s Pool which is so named for the poet, Robert Browning who lived in the area.

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It was a clear, sunny day but quite cold.

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We had some free time until the next departure so we walked along the towpath and saw the many vessels moored along both sides of the canal.

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Gliding along the serene waters of Regent’s Canal en route to Camden.

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Arriving at Camden.

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Our plan to simply do a return trip was thwarted somewhat as we were advised that there would be a stopover of about 35 minutes.  By this time it was bitterly cold and all I wanted was to be warm.  As with our previous visit to Camden, it seemed to be a seething mass of people shuffling around dozens of food stalls which fill the area immediately surrounding the mooring.  A little further afield, the markets were equally as crowded with people and stall selling things that were of no real interest.

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The return trip completed our cruise to Camden which was picturesque despite the cold.

It was now after 3pm but we still had one more activity for the day.  Thankfully, it was indoors.  We made our way to Craven Street near Trafalgar Square.  36 Craven Street, known as ‘Benjamin Franklin House’ is the address of the only surviving residence of Benjamin Franklin.  We had booked to see the Historical Experience which is presented using a combination of costumed actors and video in various rooms of the house.  This focuses on the period of 16 years which Benjamin Franklin spent in London and was most interesting.

This brought our London sightseeing pretty much to an end apart from a return visit to the Imperial War Museum where we saw all of the exhibits relating to the Great War (1914 – 1918).




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A Suburban Stroll

Although Notting Hill and the famous Portobello Market are located relatively close to where we have stayed in both of our trips to London, we had not visited the area until a few days ago.

Thursday is a half day at the markets so many stalls were not trading and it is much quieter than in the summer months.  I was not particularly disappointed as I was not that keen on the idea of jostling hordes of people nor the actual stalls as shopping was not really high on my agenda.

We both enjoyed wandering the streets, observing the buildings and soaking up the atmosphere.

Here are some of the photos from our day out in Notting Hill.

Multi-coloured buildings.

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Market sellers in a laneway.

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Bright colours abounded.

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An entire bookshop of cookbooks.

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Remembering the film, ‘Notting Hill’.

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The bookshop.

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After all that sightseeing it was time for a late lunch. The exterior of the Churchill Arms is bedecked with greenery and flowers and inside is crammed with Churchill memorabilia.

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The excellent Thai restaurant located within the hotel is in a conservatory-style area which is also overflowing with indoor plants which lends a tropical feel.

Notting Hill is an interesting locality and seems to have something for everyone.


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By the Seaside

Ever since I was quite young, I have been fascinated by the description of English seaside resorts which I have gleaned from books.  I imagined that Brighton would encapsulate this fantasy and yesterday I had the opportunity to test my theory.

The day promised to be sunny but quite cool.  In fact, it was cold yesterday morning – minus 1C at 7.30am as we walked to the station to catch the train to Brighton.  The overnight minimum had been minus 3C a few hours earlier and this was evident as we left the glass and concrete of central London.  At 9am the frost on some of the railway embankments and low-lying fields was still so heavy that it looked like a dusting of snow.

Once we arrived at Brighton, it was about 15 minutes walk to the beach.  This was the stunning view from the promenade.  I certainly was not disappointed.  It was a glorious day and the gravelly beach and the pier were exactly as I had expected.

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We walked along the pier and although there were not too many people I could imagine the throngs of day-trippers enjoying the warmth of a summer’s day.

Just a couple of the many fairground attractions.

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Not the White Cliffs of Dover but similar geography – looking east from the end of Brighton Pier.

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Holiday accommodation on the foreshore.

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Some of the architectural detail on the pier.  This is part of a central dividing ‘wall’ which extends along the majority of the length of the pier.  There are various open sections where you can cross over from one side to the other.  We discovered that it is functional as well as decorative because although there was virtually no wind the protected eastern side was significantly more pleasant than the western side.

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These hardy people didn’t seem to need any protection.  We caught sight of them just as they were entering the water.  By this stage it was just after 11am and the temperature had soared to a balmy 6C.

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However, there is much more to Brighton than the beach.  We headed for the area known as ‘The Lanes’ – some of the oldest area of Brighton.  It is a couple of blocks back from the beach and consists of numerous lanes and alleyways.  Some are barely wide enough for 2 people to pass comfortably.  By this time the crowds had increased considerably as more people took advantage of the clear and sunny Saturday to get out and about.

Here are a couple of photos I managed to capture before we retreated to a Spanish restaurant in one of the lanes.

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After lunch we made our way back towards the station.  It is an uphill walk but thankfully, not too steep.

Our final stop was at the Brighton Toy and Model Museum which is located in the arches under the station.  The ‘0’ gauge trains are run on limited days each year due to the number of volunteers required as well as consideration being given to the actual trains.  We were delighted that our visit happened to coincide with one of these days.

While we enjoyed all of the displays, it was the trains actually running that captured our imagination.

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It was not all about the trains.  There were amazing collections of toys dating back about 100 years.  Soft toys, Meccano, model cars, puppets, doll houses and more are lovingly displayed.

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We certainly did not see everything that Brighton has to offer but it was an enjoyable and fun day.

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Lights of London

Once we knew that we would be visiting London in November, one of the things that was definitely on the agenda was viewing some of the displays of Christmas lights.  A bit of reading revealed that most of the retail precincts would have full displays by the middle of November.

As you would have gathered from yesterday’s post, our evenings have been pretty well occupied for the past week so tonight was the night to see the lights.  I did have some reservations about the wisdom of my decision as not only is it Friday, but it is Black Friday as the retailers try to emulate the Black Friday sales that occur in the USA.  Thankfully, it does not seem to have gained an enormous following here and although there were lots of people, it was not totally frenetic.

We decided to catch the tube to Marble Arch and then stroll along Oxford, Bond, Regent and Carnaby Streets and Pall Mall returning to Green Park tube station for the trip home.

Here is a taste of what we saw.

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While I was well aware of the Christmas lights in the retail precincts, I did not know of  ‘Christmas at Kew’.  This is a Christmas lights extravaganza at Kew Gardens which I read about in a magazine on our first day in London.  It is clearly very popular as it runs for about 6 weeks and there are timed entries every 20 minutes from 5pm until about 7.20pm each night.  Since it only began Wednesday night we did not have many dates to choose from and I was fortunate to be able to order tickets for the very first entrance – 5pm on Wednesday evening.  The trail through the gardens is quite extensive and each display seemed more amazing than the previous one culminating in the light and laser show on the Palm House and lake.

These are some of the displays.

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The displays and settings were quite different but both were extraordinary and I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to see them.


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Night Moves

While the majority of sightseeing and travel experiences are daytime adventures, this is not always the case.  Being in London as the winter solstice approaches means that daylight is somewhat curtailed but there is plenty to do after dark.

Part of the attraction of visiting different cities is to indulge in some of the cultural events and entertainment on offer.  In that respect, this trip has been exceptional.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, we were able to research and book some, but not all of the tickets online several months ago.  One of the bonuses of being in one place for an extended period of time has meant that we could add things into our itinerary as we discovered them – sometimes at quite short notice.

Live theatre is one of my passions and I was ecstatic to secure tickets to see ‘The Ferryman’ at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End.  This play, set in Northern Ireland in 1981, has received rave reviews since opening in April 2017 and the season has recently been extended yet again with ticket sales open until May 2018.

The lights of the West End beckon.

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A glimpse of the stunning foyer.

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We both agreed that ‘The Ferryman’ was probably one of, if not the best, play we have ever seen.

On our previous visit to London in 2014 we attempted to take a tour of the Royal Albert Hall, however, it was closed for cleaning and we did not have enough flexibility in our itinerary to go another day.  So, it was back on the list for this trip.  When I was looking up the details of the tours I had the crazy idea that we might actually be able to go to a performance there.  Imagine my delight when I discovered that the autumn season of the ‘Classical Spectacular’ (4 days) coincided with our time in London.

Stunning view as we approached the Royal Albert Hall.

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And the equally impressive interior.

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Ready for the show to begin.

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Guns and cannon for the 1812 Overture – the finale.

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As we were on our way to the Imperial War Museum last week I saw a large billboard near Waterloo Station for ‘Hair’ – 50th anniversary.  For those of you who know how old I am you will realise that I was too young to see the original production.  Nevertheless, I am very familiar with some of the music and was keen to see it.  The venue was a long way, physically and metaphorically from the glittering lights and plush seats of the West End.  The Vaults Theatre which seats about 150 people is a bold and quirky theatre space located in the subterranean world beneath Waterloo Station.

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This was an enjoyable and fun night out and I am really pleased that I saw the billboard.

Our final show for the trip was tonight at Wilton’s Music Hall which is acknowledged as the oldest music hall in the world.  The venue has had a chequered history and was virtually a derelict ruin earmarked for demolition 50 years ago.  After major restoration work it is now an auditorium capable of seating about 200 people.  Some of my early research led me to look into guided tours, but like Royal Albert Hall, I discovered that a better option was to see a show.  ‘Liza Sings Streisand’ was a single night performance featuring Liza Pulman.  We were familiar with Liza having seen her performance as part of ‘Fascinating Aida’ at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014.

Part of the interior.

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About to begin.

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She certainly did not disappoint and I am now the proud owner of a signed CD as well.

Seeing 4 unique performances in vastly different venues has been an amazing experience as none of the shows are likely to come to Australia.

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Wet and Wild

On Sunday we took ourselves off to the London Wetland Centre.  It is difficult to believe that somewhere like this exists in an inner urban area of one of the largest cities in the world.  In fact, it is less than 10km from the centre of the London.

There are 2 quite different sections.  The south route is the more naturalised one with pathways leading to numerous bird hides with views of different areas of the wetlands.

Here is a view of the most substantial of the hides, Peacock Tower.  It even has a lift to allow upper level access to all.

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Birds to see.

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The autumn foliage is at its peak.

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Examples of traditional fencing methods.

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Sustainable practices, including rooftop gardens to utilise the rainfall and reduce run-off.

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The west route includes an otter enclosure where we were fortunate to observe the otters being fed.

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There are areas dedicated to wetlands around the world.

Swamp cypress trees from the Gulf Coast.

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Kakadu – complete with crocodile.

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Many of the birds in these areas are listed as vulnerable or endangered and there was information about work the centre is undertaking to prevent their extinction.

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We had a great day in a complete break from city sightseeing.


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More Museums

This is not a strictly chronological post but an overview of some of things we have been doing over the past few days since my last post.

I expect that many other large cities are similar but when I was doing some research for this trip I was astounded by the number and diversity of museums in London.  Apart from the big ones such as the British Museum, Science Museum and Natural History Museum, there is a museum for just about everything you can possibly imagine.  There is everything from cartoons, design, operating theatres, home life, war, transport, banking, Horse Guards, Sherlock Holmes and Florence Nightingale to name but a few.  As the saying goes, there really is something for everyone.

On Friday we started out with the Florence Nightingale Museum which was billed as a ‘small museum located at St Thomas’ Hospital’.  We still managed to while away plenty of time at the detailed exhibits and found it most interesting despite GMan’s initial reservations.  A 10 minute walk brought us to the next one on our list which was the Imperial War Museum.

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The Imperial War Museum was on our ‘must do’ list this time.  We were aware of it on our previous trip to London, however, we spent a full day at the Churchill War Rooms on that trip and felt that we simply could not do justice to any more war-related sightseeing at the time.

The Museum consists of galleries on several different levels and we saw barely half so are planning a return visit in the next week.  The Holocaust gallery was quite graphic and harrowing but is a story that needs to be told.  Even our visit to the National Holocaust Museum in Washington DC in 2012 did not prepare me for this.  I think the other aspect that bothered us greatly was the parallels that can be drawn between the Jews in the lead-up to WWII and the current treatment of particular ethnic and religious groups around the world.  The rhetoric of certain organisations and the way it is fanned by the media is quite troubling when compared to the events in Europe during the 1930s.

After a break away from museums on the weekend we were back to it yesterday as we headed off to the Museum of the Bank of England and the Museum of London.  These are both located in the heart of the financial district in the City of London.  That is not entirely surprising for the Bank of England Museum but the Museum of London is for an ancient reason – it is built partly over the ancient city wall of the Roman settlement of Londinium.

Like the Florence Nightingale Museum, the Bank of England Museum is much more extensive that we imagined.  It is located at the rear of the Bank and traces over 300 years of the the history of the Bank of England.

I had no illusions of the extent of the Museum of London as it is billed as telling the story of the world’s greatest city and its people, from prehistoric times to the present day.  That is an enormous brief and the exhibitions really do live up to the description.  We saw it all but you could certainly spend much more time here.

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Today we ventured a bit further from the centre of London to Shoreditch which is still an inner urban area to visit the Geffrye Museum of the Home, a series of almshouses built in the early 1700s.  They have been used to recreate domestic interiors from 1600 to the present day.  Today was the first day of the special Christmas-themed displays so there were quite a number of visitors.

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Additionally, two of the almshouses have been recreated to represent these facilities in 1780 and 1880.  These are only open to the public via small group guided tours a few times each month.  We managed to co-ordinate our visit with a tour day so made the most of our visit.

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Our timing was pretty well perfect as the entire venue is closing in early January 2018 for approximately 2 years as it undergoes a massive refurbishment, including structural work to ensure that these historic buildings survive for centuries to come.

I did not take any photographs at most of the museums as they are really of not direct benefit.  To me, it is far more important to observe the displays and read the details which we certainly did.

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