Ever since I moved to London at the beginning of 2011, I have been trying to complete a project which involved visiting every single Underground station. More specifically, I wanted to visit every station on the Underground map, which included the DLR, the Overground network and the cable car as well as the Tube itself. On Friday 29 November, I finally completed my challenge.
I went to Northfields station, on the Piccadilly line, last and celebrated with friends in a local pub. I felt so happy to have finally completed my challenge, but now I need a new one for 2014. Someone suggested bus stops, but I don’t think that is a particularly good idea…
Back in August, I went up to Scotland for a week on the Caledonian Sleeper train. I didn’t want to go for a standard class cabin as they are for two people and I didn’t want to stay with a stranger. So I decided to compromise – on the way up I went for the super frugal option and sat in the normal carriage (which wasn’t as bad as it sounds) while on the way back I splashed out on first class!
It’s a shame the Caledonian Sleeper goes from Euston, as it’s possibly the ugliest station in London. Still, this didn’t stop me from being excited. I didn’t sleep very well on the way up, but I didn’t mind as watching the sun rise over the Highlands was amazing. I could hardly believe that I’d gone to sleep in crowded London and woken up surrounded by hills and deer.
The train got into Inverness at eight o’clock in the morning which gave me a whole day before I had to go and check in to my B&B. I left my luggage in the station lockers and decided to go on a Loch Ness cruise. This was fun but it was windy out on the loch – I’m definitely glad I took a coat! As part of the trip we also had a look around Urquhart Castle and the Loch Ness Centre, which was a kind of multimedia exhibition looking at the story of Nessie. This was surprisingly well done and fairly balanced, looking at all the possible explanations for ‘Nessie sightings’ in an interesting way. Needless to say I didn’t spot Nessie myself!
Later that day I visited Culloden, which is a short bus journey out of Inverness. It’s essentially just a field, but the visitor centre is excellent. It has an exhibition which is presented on two sides of the corridor, looking at events from the English and the Scottish points of view. There is also a room where you can stand and be surrounded by a filmed re-enactment of the battle, as if you were really there – this was rather frightening!
I walked through Inverness to reach my B&B. It’s a relatively small town and I liked it a lot. Some bits were slightly run-down but there was a Victorian market and some attractive buildings, and down by the river it was really nice. I also took the chance to go to the theatre while I was there. I found out that there was a National Theatre of Scotland/RSC co-production called Dunsinane, a sequel to Macbeth, being performed that week at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness. I enjoyed it even though it took some liberties with the original – such as Lady Macbeth turning up alive and well.
I was hampered during my stay by not having a car. I could have explored much more of the surrounding area if I’d been able to drive around and stop at will. However I managed to see a lot via the train! I had a day trip to Aberdeen, which was very… grey. The Maritime Museum was fairly interesting and I had a look around the Tolbooth and the art gallery.
Back in Inverness, I went to the Gellions pub where William McGonagall once recited his poetry.
I went on a day trip to the Orkney Islands. This was amazing! It involved an incredibly early start and a long coach journey but it was worth it.
We visited the capital of the Orkney, Kirkwall.
I got to see the prehistoric village of Skara Brae, which was just incredible. It has been really well preserved and though you can’t walk through it (or it wouldn’t be well preserved any more) they have made a replica that you CAN walk through so you can picture how it all used to look.
Also on the tour I visited the Ring of Brodgar, which is a stone circle a bit like Stonehenge, though the setting is much more atmospheric, I think. It reminded me of Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ books, in which the heroine goes through a stone circle in Scotland and ends up in the middle of the Jacobite rising – I could almost imagine I could travel back in time with the stones myself!
As the coach went past some of the lagoons which lie between the islands, I could see rusty skeletons of old ships poking out of the water.
Our guide told us that they were old WWI ships that had been decommissioned and brought here during WWII in order to create a barrier preventing German U-boats from getting through. Only, one did manage to get through and sunk a ship, killing hundreds of seamen. Apparently, years later, the widow of one of the men who died was granted her last wish on her death – to be buried with her husband. So her ashes were taken down into the sea. It’s a sweet, but very sad story.
The tour also found time to stop at the Italian chapel. This was a beautiful little Catholic church built by Italian prisoners of war during the 1940s.
I travelled on a lot of trains during my trip. As well as taking the train to the west coast and going on to Skye, I had a ride on the Strathspey steam railway. It stopped at the station which was used on the BBC drama Monarch of the Glen.
The same day, I also went up the Cairngorm Mountain on the furnicular railway. It was freezing on the top, but there were some spectacular views.
I also went to Dundee for the day. It took about three hours on the train, but I was dying to go for two reasons. Firstly, because it was the hometown of William McGonagall. I saw the Tay Bridge (Mark 2) with my own eyes – it was so long and the river so wide that it really brought home just how terrifying it must have been for the passengers who died when it collapsed.
The second reason was to visit Discovery Point, where Captain Scott’s Antarctic exploration ship RSS Discovery is kept. I’m really interested in Antarctica and especially the ‘heroic age’ of exploration. I loved the museum – the ship itself has been sympathetically restored and the exhibitions inside the building have been really well thought out.
You can’t go to Scotland without visiting a whisky distillery. I chose to visit Glen Moray, mainly because it was the only one I could reach via train.
I came back with a lot of alcohol, particularly beer.
I had a great time on the way back in my first class cabin – sadly grey and modern rather than the wood-panelled warmth I always associate in my mind with sleeper trains – but it was great having my breakfast brought to me in the morning!
I didn’t get a chance to go to Glasgow or Fort William, or travel on the famous West Highland Line, but I may be going back next year with my mam. I hope so – I had a brilliant time and I’d love to see some more of Scotland.
I have my friend Elisa to thank for persuading me back to Amsterdam. She’d never been; I had spent a few days there when I was a student, having travelled over on the ferry from North Shields. Perhaps I still wouldn’t have gone back if it hadn’t been for the reopening of the Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam’s national art museum that had just undergone a ten-year refurbishment.
Unlike last time, I was to travel to Amsterdam by plane; I came up to Newcastle on the train the day before. Elisa picked me up at an unearthly hour the next morning; we drove to Newcastle Airport, parked the car in Car Park K (“K for Kardashian”) and began the tedious process of checking in, leaving our bags and navigating the maze that is the airport. I couldn’t decide whether I was horrified or impressed at the number of hen parties already dressed in matching pink T-shirts and accessories.
Though we felt pretty tired, we did recognise the advantages of getting such an early flight. Even after we’d landed, got the train to the city centre, taken the tram to our hotel and then packed, we still had most of the day left. The first stop was the aforementioned Rijksmuseum – I’d said that I would only go to Amsterdam if we could go here!
I was impressed by the building: it was huge, and stunning. There was a bit of a queue to get in, but once inside, there was lots of space and a huge amount to see. The great attraction is Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ but there are lots of other paintings from the likes of Vermeer and Van Gogh. There is also a modern art section, which I found rather bizarre, particularly the ‘womb tomb’, a brightly-coloured, coffin shaped, fluffy object with a hole in the middle.
I got separated from Elisa and ended up wandering around the ground floor – which had the medieval art and the costumes – on my own. When I got back to the foyer she’d been sitting in the café with a glass of wine, having given up on the museum some time ago.
We still had plenty of time, so we decided to head to the Heineken Experience. Now, this was not somewhere I would have thought of going; I’m not the biggest fan of Heineken, and it would never have occurred to me to go here. Elisa wanted to, though, and I’m so glad she did, because I loved it! There was so much to see and do. The experience began with a short exhibition on the history of Heineken, followed by a look at the old brewing equipment and a look at the creation process. We got to taste some Heineken and then experience a kind of interactive presentation where you could ‘be’ the beer on its journey from creation to bottling!
The best bit, though, was when – slightly tipsy by now – we reached the interactive part of the experience. We got our photo taken on some Dutch bikes against a background of an Amsterdam street, and sang along to a music video showing us on a canal boat – which I promptly emailed to my mam!
We then had a free canal boat ride up to the Heineken Brand Store. Obviously this is all just a big ploy to get people to buy Heineken products, but it was fun nevertheless! We had a great day altogether, actually. It ended with drinks and Chinese food and frozen yoghurt covered in lots of amazing toppings.
The next day, we had planned to go to the Anne Frank House. Elisa set the alarm on her phone, but unfortunately hadn’t realised that it was still on UK time. So by the time we got up and went out, we were an hour later than we should have been.
Still, it was such a lovely morning that we took our time getting to the museum, having a slow walk along the canal with bagels. When we got to the museum there was a massive queue, as expected, but although we had to wait an hour, it didn’t seem that long. The museum is small, but as moving as I remembered.
Later we visited the Sex Museum. Again, this was somewhere I had already been, although it was just as entertaining this time around. The moving flasher in the foyer was still there, and I recognised several of the exhibits. This museum also has one of the fanciest bathrooms I have ever seen – it is inspired by Mucha and the Art Nouveau movement and the sinks are shaped like flowers. Afterwards we went on a canal boat trip which was really relaxing. We went for a walk in the evening, had some tea, and then went back to the frozen yoghurt store – naturally.
We didn’t have time to do anything the next day, as we had to go to the airport. I would definitely go back, though – even after two trips to Amsterdam, there’s so much to see and do there, and it’s such a lovely place, that I’d be happy to see it again.
I visited the Normansfield Theatre in the Langdon Down Centre a couple of weeks ago to attend a performance. I reviewed the production here, but I wanted to post something on the theatre and the building itself, as it has a history much more interesting than most.
The centre was founded as a private home and hospital/care facility by Dr. John Langdon Down, who specialised in the care of people with learning disabilities. Many had the condition which now bears the Doctor’s name – Down’s syndrome. Langdon Down’s approach was radical for the time, with his emphasis on education and sympathetic care.
The theatre itself is utterly stunning. It’s rare to find such a beautiful surviving example of a private Victorian theatre; completed in 1879, it was built as an entertainment venue by Langdon Down as somewhere for his patients and students to explore drama and music. The performance I attended was a music hall-style revue telling the story of Langdon Down and one of his patients, James Henry Pullen, whose incredible creative ability is still evident in the ‘Giant of Earlswood’ which is still on display in the Centre, and the stunningly detailed ships he constructed from wood, on display in the museum.
The other week, I headed down to Dulwich Picture Gallery to check out the exhibition An American in London: Whistler and the Thames. The exhibition, which runs until the 12th of January, looks at Whistler’s early paintings of London and the Thames, alongside other photographs and artworks of the river at this period. I loved looking at the river and how it looked in the mid-nineteenth century. I also loved Whistler’s pictures, particularly the Nocturnes.
The exhibition has been designed to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the accession of King George I in 1714. It examines the Georgian age in all its chaos, innovation, prosperity and poverty. The first section looks at life in Georgian Britain, showing how the legacy of the Georgians is all around us in the architecture, culture and literature of our time. The remainder of the exhibition is divided into sections, looking at the architecture and urban culture of the period, the role of shopping and consumerism, and leisure pastimes including theatre and sport. It is a superbly informative and fascinating exhibition, and I strongly recommend paying it a visit. The exhibition runs until 11 March next year.