The BT Tower, London

The BT Tower from Rathbone Street

When I arrived at Charing Cross on Saturday morning, I had an hour to kill before the meet up at Ping Pong.  I decided to walk from Charing Cross station to Goodge Street and walked past Trafalgar Square (where they were setting up for the Chinese New Year celebrations) and up Tottenham Court Road.

You might wonder why I have no photos of that portion of the walk.  Well, in 1993, I stayed with my uncle for three months in his flat on the corner of Old Compton Street and Tottenham Court Road.  I can tell you now, there was no better place to be at 20 years old than in the dead centre of London and it was an amazing time.  So I wasn’t taking photos when I walked up Tottenham Court Road; I was watching the ghosts of the past and observing the places where the Marquee Club and the London Astoria used to be.  Thank goodness The Borderline is open in Manette Street otherwise I might have gotten very sad indeed!

The BT Tower Over the Duke of York

So back to the subject of this post! I walked down Manette Street and past Soho Square, across Oxford Street and into Rathbone Place.  I came to a fork in the road and had to carefully select the right road to take… I had to choose the one that would give me the best view of the BT Tower. 

The BT Tower and the Duke of York

I love towers and buildings.  I can’t really explain why because I had a fascination with tower blocks long before I worked in property management and construction.  It was the first time I recall seeing the BT Tower and to me, it is just beautiful.

The BT Tower from Goodge Street

Mo from Fresh Eyes on London mentioned the other day that they had recently removed the satellites from the BT Tower, so maybe that is why it is looking so pretty?  You can check out Mo’s 2008 photo of the BT Tower with the satellites still installed.

The BT Tower

So what do you think? Striking, eye catching and impressive?  Or just an eye sore?

A Day at the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum exterior  The Natural History Museum exterior detail

The Natural History Museum ceiling detail  Diplodocus Natural History Museum

Tyrannosaurus Rex Natural History Museum  Dinosaur Natural History Museum

Diplodocus Natural History Museum  The Natural History Museum ceiling detail

Stephen and I spent a day at the Natural History Museum on Tuesday with my friend Bonny and her son Matthew.  We haven’t seen each other in months so I decided to leave my camera at home and focus on being sociable instead.  Thankfully, I still managed to snap a couple of photos using the trusty Instagram app on my iPhone. 

Check out my interview at London Living!  I was asked five questions as part of their London Grilling series. 

Llyn Padarn, Llanberis, Snowdonia

Llanberis Lake Wales

Exploring castles is hard work and we had explored both Beaumaris and Caernarfon castles in one day!  We took the scenic route back from Caernarfon to Betws-y-Coed and decided to take a rest at the beautiful Llyn Padarn in Llanberis.  Llyn is the Welsh word for lake.

Wildlife at Llyn Padarn Llanberis

We found this area quite enchanting.  There were sheep seemingly roaming wild (although I have no doubt they belonged to one of the neighbouring farms) and there were beautiful swans in the water.

Llyn Padarn is a glacially formed lake and it is linked to Llyn Peris at its south-eastern point.  It is close to the town of Llanberis.

Slate Mountains Llyn Padarn

Llyn Padarn is located in Snowdonia, an area of incredible natural beauty in north west Wales which was designated to be a national park in 1951.  The landscapes and vistas were breathtaking at times and the area is popular with hikers, walkers and climbers.

There was one slight blemish on the landscape and that was the evidence of the heavy slate mining that took place for almost two centuries until the late 1960s.  Thankfully, the nearby Dinorwig Quarry closed in 1969 and all that remains of the local industry at Llyn Padarn is the National Slate Museum

Llyn Padarn Llanberis

We were fortunate to spot the Llanberis Lake Railway train making its way along the track on the northern bank of the lake.  Next time we visit Snowdonia (and I have no doubt that we will return) we’ll make sure we take a ride on the railway and visit the National Slate Museum and Padarn Country Park too.

Llanberis Lake Railway

If you click on the photo above, you will get a better view of the train.

The Ruins of the Abbey of St Edmund

Wall of Abbot's Garden and Dovecote

The Abbey of St Edmund was not a just building but almost a town in itself.  The ruins lie sprawling over a massive area and you can see the remains of not only the church but also of the infirmary, dormitories, cloisters and priory.  It is obvious that the abbey was quite magnificent and it is heartbreaking that it fell victim to Henry VIII’s notorious Suppression of the Monasteries in 1539.

In the photo above, you can see the remains of the garden wall of the abbot’s garden (left) and the dovecote (or pigeon house).  The abbot lived apart from the other monks in his own palace but the abbot’s palace is now completely demolished. 

It was a grey, cold and cloudy day on the day we visited, so do click on the photos to see more detail.

The buildings above were located on the edges of the complex, between the abbot’s palace and the church.  I think they may have been the monks' dormitories.

Northern Transept of Bury St Edmunds Abbey

The Abbey of St Edmund was built on a cruciform plan in the early 1100s.  In the photo above, you can see the north transept of the abbey with the St Edmundsbury Cathedral peeking out to the west.

The Apse of Abbey of St Edmunds

This is the east-facing apse of the abbey where the shrine of St Edmund was located behind the high altar. 

Do click on the photo below to see the 19th century historical marker. It looks like these plaques were installed in 1842 and I find it interesting that the ruins would been as inspiring to visitors 170 years ago as they are today.

Observance of Magna Carta Bury St Edmunds Abbey

In 1214, it was at the altar of the Abbey of St Edmund that 25 barons swore to obtain the ratification of the Magna Carta from King John.

North Transept of Abbey of St Edmunds

This is the north transept of the abbey taken from inside the church.

Priors Garden Walls at Bury St Edmunds Abbey

This is all that remains of the walls of the prior’s garden.

The Chapter House at the Abbey of St Edmunds

The chapter house is one of the more exciting parts of the ruins for it is where the remains of several of the Abbey’s abbots are located.  A manuscript discovered at the end of the 19th century revealed that eighteen of the abbots were buried in the chapter house and the coffins and remains of five of the abbots were revealed to the public in 1903. 

The Graves of the Abbots Bury St Edmunds Abbey

Thankfully, the coffins were closed again and today, you can see the five graves.  In the photo above, I have featured the grave of the abbot Samson who lived from 1182 to 1211.

Old and New St Edmunds Abbey

One of the strangest aspects of the ruins is that houses have been built right against them.  I think this reveals the selective nature of the decline of the abbey and it is strange that it was allowed to fall into such a state of ruin while the houses and  St Edmundsbury Cathedral remain.

During Henry VIII’s reign, the cathedral was known as St James’s Church and it was located within the precinct of the abbey.  It was first built in the 12th century but was largely rebuilt in 1503.  At the time of the Suppression of the Monasteries, St James's Church was a parish church, which I believe is linked to its survival. It is now a Church of England cathedral.

Houses built against ruins at St Edmunds Abbey

Events: A Place at the Table and Hidden London

I’ve attended two very different events in the past two days and just wanted to tell you about them before I pass out! I’m strangely tired for the third week of the year but January is always pretty busy for me.

Daedalus Theatre: A Place at the Table

A Place at the Table

A Place at the Table is a powerful theatrical response to the on-going troubles in Burundi, Rwanda and the African Great Lakes Region. Featuring an all-female cast, predominantly from Central/East Africa, this intimate, immersive production explores the shockwaves from the 1993 assassination of Burundi’s President Melchior Ndadaye backwards through colonialism to ancient legend and forwards to the Rwandan genocide and the continuing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

You may or may not know that I (try to) do a lot of reading and writing about the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia.  When the Aegis Trust sent me an email to let me know about this production, I immediately bought tickets and last night, we went along to the Southwark Cathedral to watch it.  I was blown away to discover that despite knowing so much about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and how the situation there spilled into the DRC, I knew next to nothing about the historical and current situation in Burundi.

The play takes the format of a United Nations Security Council hearing and is supported by original footage and photography.  Eye witness testimony is brought to the table through the technique of verbatim theatre.  Many people have remarked that this technique does what politics and the media fail to do.

This is a powerful and extremely disturbing play but one that is essential viewing for anybody interested in the situation in the Great Lakes region of central Africa.  There will be two more performances at Southwark Cathedral (tickets) this week followed by a performance at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre on Friday (tickets).

Navigating Hidden London

Tonight I went to an event at the London Transport Museum called “Navigating Hidden London”.  It was an interview with David Long, author of Hidden City: The Secret Alleys, Courts and Yards of London’s Square Mile and was conducted by Matt Brown, editor of the Londonist.  If, like me, you are crazy about London’s secret alleys, courts and yards, then you really should get his book.

He gave a wonderful quote which went something like this:

“It is one square mile and at the age of 50, after 30 years in the city, I am still finding new alley ways”.

After hearing David and Matt speak, I have pinpointed the following areas for future exploration:

- Star Court (or was it alley?) to see the Parisian-style pisoire
- The Barbican, especially Chiswell Street and the remains of St Giles

- Passing Alley in EC1
- One New Change
- Fen Court with the abolition of slavery installation art
- Wardrobe Place

How exciting!

I also met up with Pete from The Londoneer who was very excited as he had spent the afternoon at the Olympic Village.  Look out for photos on his newly re-designed site!

The Church of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich

The Church of St Peter Mancroft Norwich

When you visit the East Anglian town of Norwich in Norfolk, the first thing you notice is the beautiful 15th century church in the centre of town.  The Church of St Peter Mancroft lies on a slightly elevated position next to the market and opposite the Norwich City Hall.

The church was built between 1430 and 1455 but it has a Norman foundation and a church was first built here in 1075 by Ralph de Guader, Earl of Norfolk.

The Church of St Peter Mancroft in Norwich

We spent a whole day in Norwich during our recent trip to East Anglia, so think of these photos as “before” photos.  We took some stunning photos when night fell later on in the day.

Abbey Gate and Norman Tower, Bury St Edmunds

Abbey Gate - Bury St Edmunds

In December, we spent a week at Swilland Mill in Suffolk and visited the historic town of Bury St Edmunds.  The primary attraction was the ruins of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds which was once one of the richest Benedictine  monastries in England but which fell into ruin following Henry VIII’s Suppression of the Monasteries in 1539.

Abbey Gate detail

Today, Abbey Gate and the Norman Tower are the only two surviving buildings which could give an idea of the magnificence of the Abbey of St Edmund. 

Abbey Gate close up

The Abbey Gate is the entrance to the Great Court.  The original gate probably stood slightly to the left but it was damaged in 1327 when the townspeople revolted, plundered the abbey and kidnapped the abbot. 

Abbey Gate closeup

The existing Abbey Gate was rebuilt in 1347 and is quite beautiful.

Inside Abbey Gate - Bury St Edmunds

It has battlements, a portcullis and arrow slits in the walls.

Inside Abbey Gate

It is just a pity that for all its defensive features, the Abbey Gate provided no defence when Henry VIII went on his rampage against the monasteries.

Abbey Gate Wall

The Norman Tower and Gatehouse lies further to the south of Abbey Gate, on the other side of the present-day St Edmundsbury Cathedral (dedicated as the Cathedral Church of St James and St Edmund).

The Norman Tower

Norman Gate was built by Abbot Anselm between 1120 and 1148 and it was the principle gateway into the abbey precinct.  The belfry is still in use today and serves the cathedral.

Entrance to the Norman Tower and Gatehouse

The Norman Tower and gatehouse is four-storeys high and is virtually unchanged from its 12th century state.

The Norman Tower and Gatehouse Bury St Edmunds Abbey

How magnificent is that?  I love Norman architecture.  Next time I will take you through the ruins of the abbey.

The Sound and Vision Exhibition, Hall Place

Berliner Gramophone Hall Place

One of my favourite sections of Hall Place was the Sound and Vision Exhibition which takes visitors through a history of home entertainment.  I found it fascinating and it appealed to my love of history, media and television.

The revolution of home entertainment began with Thomas Edison’s patented phonograph machine, followed swiftly by Emile Berliner’s invention of the gramophone, both occurring in the late 19th century. Guglielmo Marconi’s innovations in wireless technology during the 1890s changed the face of communication worldwide, especially during World War I as parties were able to communicate across great distances first through Morse code and later using voice technology. The ability to transmit soon turned into the birth of broadcasting and the British Broadcasting Corporation was formed on 18 October 1922.

While Edison and Berliner succeeded in bringing music and entertainment to people’s own homes, that was nothing compared to the advent of radio which brought news of a world war into people’s living rooms. It may surprise you to know that the father of television, John Logie Baird, had all but perfected his invention by January 1926 and the BBC began transmitting and producing programmes throughout the 1930s. This service was suspended during World War II and television services resumed in 1946. Television went on to win the battle to become the world’s number one form of entertainment and the rest, as they say, is history.

The exhibition features excellent examples of vintage phonographs, gramophones, radios and televisions and runs until March 2012.  It is a small exhibition so I wouldn’t suggest going all the way to Hall Place just for this, but I definitely think Hall Place has enough to offer to entertain visitors for an afternoon.  As with the rest of Hall Place, entrance is free.

Sound and Vision Exhibit at Hall Place

(Click the photo above for a better look!)

2011: A Year in London

At the end of 2010, I began to feel that something was missing from my life in London and, by extension, from Emm in London.  I felt that although I still lived and worked in London, life was getting in the way and this wonderful city was passing me by.  My resolution for 2011 was to do at least one London-based activity a month and I have to say, it was a resounding success.  In 2011, I fell in love with London all over again and I can begin 2012 knowing that I will continue to explore, research and marvel over this wonderful, quirky, historic city.

The Secret London Walk

I began the year by taking a secret London walk with my friend Kathy.  Using Andrew Duncan’s Secret London: Exploring the Hidden City, with Original Walks and Unusual Places to Visit as a guide, we walked from the area west of St Paul's, past Smithfield Market, through Ely Place and into Holborn. 

We had a really good time exploring and this walk has inspired me to do at least two further walks this year.

Focus on: Graffiti Photo Walk

In February, I went on a Focus on: Graffiti photo walk with Melizza from Sifting Through... Expat Edition.  We had a lot of fun while learning how to use our cameras too.  The photo walk was organised through The Photo School and my resolution this year is to attend at least 5 of their classes or events.

Editors at Royal Albert Hall

In 2011, I officially became a music snob and learned that the only way to watch live music is to attend a concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

We went to see Editors at the Royal Albert Hall in March and it was incredible.  We also went to see PJ Harvey in October and it was equally amazing.  I narrowly missed out on seeing one of my favourite bands of all time, The Cure, at the venue in November but only because I was in no way prepared to pay £150 (each) to see them.  I regret this decision but am happy to say I used the money to buy plane tickets to Munich in March 2012.

Afternoon Tea at the Chesterfield Mayfair

In April, I joined my colleagues for afternoon tea at the Chesterfield in Mayfair and finally understood what the fuss was all about. I loved my afternoon tea experience and certainly want to try out other locations across London this year.

We went on the day after the royal wedding and it was a very exciting time to be in London!

An Endless Afternoon in Camden Town

In May, I spent a long afternoon in Camden Town with my friend Gyda. I hadn’t been to Camden Town in years and it was so much fun to shop, browse and eat on that beautiful, sunny afternoon.

Race for Life

In June, I took part in the Race for Life for the fourth year in a row. This year was in Crystal Palace Park and I managed to take a couple of photos of this historic park.

June was an interesting month too as I attended two book events featuring some of my favourite authors (Garth Nix, Jason Wallace) and I also attended an event on Rwanda: Strengthening Society Through Genocide Education.  It occurred to me that these are opportunities that I would perhaps not have had in South Africa and it made me appreciate living in such a big, metropolitan city like London.

The Alternative London Walking Tour

In July, I went on an Alternative London Walking Tour with Melizza and her husband Greg.  This was an interesting guided walk through London’s East End and the best part about the tour was that it was free!

I took a million photos but, being the bad blogger that I am, never did manage to do a post about the walk.  With street art changing on a daily basis, I imagine that there is no other solution than to go on another Alternative London walking tour in the near future.

An Afternoon in Kew Gardens

We spent an afternoon in Kew Gardens and it was really lovely. Unfortunately, Kew Gardens is such a massive site that we only saw a fraction of what there is to see.

I would definitely like to return one day to see the Japanese gateway and pagoda or the wildlife conservation area.

A London Cab Tour

We went on a fascinating black taxi tour with Graham from London Cab Tours.  On the tour, I learned all about the Queen’s neighbourhood in 5 Things You Didn’t Know About St James’s, London as well as seeing London through the eyes of a cab driver

We also met the City of London boundary dragons and had the privilege of exploring Lincoln's Inn in Holborn on this great tour.

Wandering Down Portobello Road

In October, we were blessed with incredibly warm weather and together with my sister-in-law Sandra, I went to visit Portobello Road for the first time ever. We had so much fun and Portobello Road really is a photographer’s dream. I would definitely like to visit again some time soon!

Art by Offenders Exhibition

In November, I attended the Art by Offenders exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall. This was a fabulous collection of artwork by offenders, detainees and secure patients across the United Kingdom.

One of the best things about London is that there are so many art galleries, museum and exhibitions with free (or very inexpensive) entrance.  In 2012, I definitely want to see more of London’s art galleries and museums.

The Enchanted Palace at Kensington Palace

In November, I met up with a lovely group of expats and bloggers to visit the Enchanted Palace exhibition at Kensington Palace. 

This was a magical display that took us through several centuries of real-life princesses and enchantment in the palace.

Hall Place Gardens

My last London-based activity for 2011 took place at the very edges of London in the London Borough of Bexley. We visited the lovely Hall Place and Gardens and took a peek inside the grand old residence too. 

The remainder of December was dedicated to family and travel as Stephen’s parents were visiting from South Africa.  We had a lovely week in Suffolk (which I shall begin blogging about next week) and we had a fantastic and relaxing Christmas and New Year.

I hope everybody has had a great festive season and is energised and optimistic for the year to come.  I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to each and every person who read Emm in London, visited and commented in 2011.  I am not exaggerating when I say that none of this would be worthwhile without your encouragement, inspiration and friendship.  Here’s to a fabulous 2012!