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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The Dead Centre

I guess that cemeteries are not high on the must-see list for many visitors to London, or any other city for that matter.  However, there is so much history to be found, especially in a very old cemetery like Highgate Cemetery.

Yesterday began very quietly after our long day in Paris on Wednesday.  We set out after lunch on the Underground and then a strenuous uphill walk followed by a stroll through Waterlow Park where we enjoyed the colourful autumn scenery.

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There are 2 parts of Highgate Cemetery – the East and West sections and there are separate admission charges for each. The older West section may only be visited as part of a group tour so we opted for the East section.  This was a self-guided walk with the aid of a small leaflet which highlighted some of the more well-known graves, including that of Karl Marx.

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Almost directly opposite is the grave of a Mr Spencer.  A quirky play on words – Marx and Spencer!

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The naturalised woodland, which in places is quite wild, lends an interesting air to the surroundings.

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Paris Scrapbook

How do you spend 11 hours in the capital city of a foreign country that you have never visited before?

Well, do your research beforehand, canvass opinions and experiences of others, choose a few particular things of interest and restrict your movements to a relatively confined area.

An early start, 2.5 hour trip on the Eurostar and we arrived at Gare du Nord station by 9.15am local time.

We bought daily Metro passes, strolled around Montmartre, had brunch in a local cafe, rode the funicular, visited the Sacré-Cœur and saw the Moulin Rouge.  Then it was time to head closer to the Seine to some of the other points of interest.

The Arc de Triomphe was the first thing we saw as we emerged from the Metro subway.  A mix of short trips on the Metro combined with lots of walking took us down the Champs-Élysées, on to the Musée d’Orsay then a river cruise on the Seine.  Dinner and a walk back to the station rounded off a very full day and we were back in our London accommodation almost 18 hours after we had left it.  Wow!!

Here is a taste of what we saw.

Sacré-Cœur

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The rear – where the cleaning regime is not so rigorous.

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View from Sacré-Cœur to Montmartre.

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The iconic windmill atop the Moulin Rouge

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Arc de Triomphe

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Champs-Élysées

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Part of the interior of the Musée d’Orsay

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Paris viewed through the face of the clock window in the Musée d’Orsay

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River view

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Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris from the River Seine

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Another river view

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Musée d’Orsay from the River Seine

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The Eiffel Tower from the River Seine

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Cafe Joly – where we had dinner.

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When selecting the photos for this post, I noticed the effect of the light, particularly the shots near the river.  It is easy to understand the fascination this has provided for generations of artists and their quest to capture it.

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No Plans

It is important to have some days with no plans and Tuesday was one of those.  This was partly because we were knew we were taking a day-trip to Paris on Wednesday and did not want to be tired before we set out.

When we arrived here in London, I made a ‘to do’ list in my notebook.  This was not an exhaustive list set in stone that we had to race through to complete.  Instead, it was about keeping a record of things that were of interest to us and a reference of what we may (or may not) do.  Some things have been deleted due to timing, weather or lack of interest while others have been added as we have discovered them along the way.

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After a slow start to the day, we caught the train to Tower Hill station near the Tower of London.  A short walk to the Tower Bridge gave us the perfect vantage point to see (and hear) the 62-gun salute fired at 1pm from Tower Wharf to celebrate Prince Charles’ birthday.

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Why 62?  Well, the ‘standard’ is a 21-gun salute but there are an extra 20 fired because the Tower of London is a Royal Palace and a further 21 because it is located in the City of London.

 

It was time for a late lunch and we found The Counting House, located in the heart of the financial district of the City.  It is a former bank and now, a specialty pub.  The old banking chamber has been magnificently restored. We enjoyed our meal before another short train ride to the West End.

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Within a day of arriving in London we discovered that the movie, Paddington 2 was due to be released in the UK on 10th November, so I quickly added that to my ‘to do’ list.  Where better than to see the film than the very city in which it is set?

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Whilst we could have headed to any suburban cinema to see the film, I decided on a somewhat different experience and we went to Picturehouse Central, a short walk from Picadilly Circus.  Our timing was immaculate as the next screening of Paddington 2 was in about 40 minutes.  The tickets are not cheap at this location but it was worth it for the experience.

The whole ‘package’ included a downstairs coffee shop, upstairs restaurant and bar.  As well as the usual offerings of popcorn and other snacks there was an opportunity to purchase unpackaged, serve yourself lollies.

A couple of views of the interior.

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The lolly bar.

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There were so many choices but we agreed on a selection to share.  It was good to see that the containers provided were various sizes of paper cups.

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Once in the cinema, there are comfortable, reclining seats.

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Paddington 2 was an excellent movie and, in my opinion, almost better than the original.

A fun, impromptu day.

 

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Against the Railings

On our previous visit to London we walked past Buckingham Palace and took a photo or two.  However, I found it the building quite featureless and bleak.

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We did not consider watching the changing of the guard as, by all accounts, it is very crowded and you have to arrive well ahead of time in order to get a decent view.  I felt that our three days in the height of summer could be better spent.

However, after doing plenty of research we decided to take a look yesterday.  We arrived about 45 minutes before the procession was due to begin and found that there were already some people milling around outside the palace gates and on the steps of the Victoria Memorial.  There was plenty of clear space at the railings so we chose our spot and settled in.

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It was a clear and sunny autumn day and the crowds built up to the extent that they were several people deep in front of the palace railings by the time the ceremony began.

We were rewarded with perfect views of the entire proceedings on the forecourt.

The guard in front of his sentry box.

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The Old Guard ready and waiting.

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The New Guard arrive.

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The Changing of the Guard.

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The band depart.

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Back to work.

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I am glad I had the opportunity to witness the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and I offer the following observations:

It is worth arriving early to ensure a spot where can get a good view.
Be prepared to be squashed against the railings.
Standing on the concrete pavement and pressed against the iron railings in 6C temperature is COLD – even when rugged up, including scarf, mittens and beanie.
It is something I have seen and done – ticked off the list and have no need to repeat the experience.

And the final word from the poetry of A A Milne………

Next, we moved on to something slightly more egalitarian.  An exhibition titled, ‘North: Fashioning Identity’ at Somerset House which we found interesting and at times, thought-provoking.

Just to remind us of the season, there is an outdoor skating rink and large Christmas tree in the courtyard of Somerset House.

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Holiday Days

The last couple of days have been quieter but no less interesting.  We have been having lazy mornings to start the days and doing things that have not really lent themselves to taking photographs.

In some of our research before the trip we discovered Prince Charles Cinema, an independent movie house in the West End.  After perusing the program, we decided to buy tickets to see ‘Cabaret’ on Saturday afternoon.  Neither GMan nor I had seen the film and we both thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  We have now bought tickets to ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ next Saturday afternoon as well.

Today we headed off to the Tate Britain to see an exhibition which was of great interest to us, ‘Impressionists in London’.  The exhibition only opened 10 days ago and I was unaware of it until I read about it in a magazine on our first night in London.  Naturally, I added it to the ‘to see’ list.

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We thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition which was quite extensive and definitely worth the admission cost.  While we were at the gallery we also saw the large body of work by JMW Turner held by the gallery as well as pieces by his contemporary, John Constable.

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It was quite cool today and whilst this photo does not indicate the temperature, it does show that London is well into the grip of autumn.

This evening we attended a service at Westminster Abbey.  Naturally, there are no photographs.  Today is Remembrance Sunday here in the UK and the service began with the Last Post and a minute of silence to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

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Gone to Greenwich

Even though November is apparently the wettest month in London we were hopeful of some fine weather as we had a few outdoor activities on our ‘to do’ list for this trip.  Top of that list was a cruise down the Thames to Greenwich and then some time to explore the attractions in the area.

The forecast for yesterday looked reasonably optimistic so we packed our lunch and set off.  The weather turned out to be better than I could have dared to hope.

A short train trip to Embankment station brought us to directly opposite the pier for the Thames clippers.

Leaving the Tower Bridge in our wake as we headed east.

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A half-hour cruise and we arrived at Greenwich, home to the Royal Observatory and the prime meridian, the National Maritime Museum, the Old Naval College, the Queen’s House and the restored tea-clipper, Cutty Sark.  It was clear that we could not do all of these justice so we chose to visit those things that were of greatest interest to us.

Our first glimpse of the Royal Observatory.

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The first stop was the Royal Observatory which is positioned atop a substantial hill.  We discovered that there was a discount admission ticket which covered both this and the Cutty Sark.

There are magnificent views to be had from the elevated position.

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Some of the interior of Flamsteed House, designed by Christopher Wren and named for the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed.

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The Queen’s House, seen in the centre of the view from the Royal Observatory, is 400 years old and has been used for many purposes as well as being derelict at times.  It has now been fully restored and is now a repository for many historical artworks, including the Armarda portrait which has recently undergone extensive conservation work.

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We also saw this magnificent painted ceiling in one of the rooms.

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Whilst the maritime museum would have been interesting, we decided to forgo it in favour of touring the Cutty Sark.

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Unlike many other vessels which are open to the public, the Cutty Sark is no longer afloat but has been raised and suspended which makes the hull entirely visible and accessible.

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Of course, someone has to steer the vessel.

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An interesting collection of figureheads, including Florence Nightingale and Abraham Lincoln.

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A Change of Pace

Since we have chosen to spend 3 weeks in London, there is no mad rush to cram in a crazy amount of sightseeing into the available time.

Yesterday began by walking a few blocks to a shoe repair shop as I realised that my boots needed to be re-heeled.  The shop was barely a couple of metres wide and GMan and I could just fit into the available customer space.

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Even though it is not exactly the height of harvest season here, I wanted to see what was on offer at the Farmers’ Markets which are located in various parts of the city.  Most are on the weekends but I did find one which operates on Thursdays.  We caught the tube to Goodge Street and walked to the markets which are adjacent to the University of London.  Most of the stalls were selling hot meals or prepared foods but I did buy some apples as well as some vegetables – potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips, beetroot and beans.

We also called into St Pancras International station to print our Eurostar tickets for our day trip to Paris next week.

The day was not all about domestic chores.  We took another trip on the tube – this time to Baker Street – specifically 221B Baker Street, home of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson.  We had attempted to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum on our previous trip in 2014 but were not prepared to spend 3 hours standing in a queue.  You can read the story of that adventure here.

However, this time we were in luck and only had to queue for about 10 minutes.  Part of the reason for the lengthy queues is the fact that the house is quite small and the number of visitors at one time is strictly regulated.  Once inside, we enjoyed the authentic interior and many curios.

Here is a selection of photographs.

The study

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Mrs Hudson’s room

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A couple of the wax figures on display

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Although I am not an afficionado of the Sherlock Holmes novels, I did enjoy the visit to the museum.  Nevertheless, you would have to be a really dedicated fan to be prepared to endure the long queues which appear to be the norm during the summer season.

A bit more grocery shopping followed by dinner and a drink at the local pub rounded off the day.

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