About Julie McNamee
Born in Belfast and now living in London, Julie McNamee is involved in internet marketing as a day job and blogging as a hobby. She's interested in all things quirky and Fortean, as well as art, photography and theatre. Her blog Quirky Travel, specializes in London and Paris top tips and off the beaten path information with subjects such as London film locations and unusual Paris museums.
Latest Posts by Julie McNamee
Britain at War – Closed January 2013
The Britain at War Experience in Tooley Street is a London museum I never got to visit. If you haven’t visited you’ve left it too late as well because as of January 2013 it closed for good – the redevelopment of London Bridge station put paid to it. The exhibits however have been bought by an organisation called the Bay Trust, so they may well pop up somewhere else in the near future. One exhibit I hope doesn’t disappear is the V2 rocket strapped to the side of the building and visible from Platform 1 of London Bridge station. It surprised the hell out of me when I first it from the station, I tell you.
The very surprising V2 Rocket at London Bridge. Here’s a video of the Britain at War Experience.
One of the best things about urban life is spotting new street art and just because Banksy’s art is now more well known for its monetary value than anything else there’s a ton of other stuff waiting to be uncovered. I was touched by this little illustration. (Can’t remember where I saw it, though).
Death to Traffic Lights
The George Inn off Borough High Street in Southwark is the only galleried inn left standing in London (fires, bulldozers and World War Two bombings have put paid to the rest) and was a major stop-off for the horse-pulled coaches coming to London in the 17th century.
The George Inn, Southwark
It’s owned by the National Trust these days, but don’t let that put you off – it operates as a normal pub. The ubiquitous Charles Dickens gave it a short but sweet mention in Little Dorrit “if he [Tip Dorrit] goes into the George and writes a letter”.
Decoration at Cross Bones Graveyard
Above is a recent photo of one of the newer decorations added to the gates at Cross Bones Graveyard, where the remains of thousands of prostitutes, children and the destitute lie. A monthly vigil is held at the site in memory of these unfortunates. The International Union of Sex Workers hope the graveyard will be “…the first World Heritage site dedicated to sex workers… a permanent garden of celebration and remembrance to honour their lives.” Read more about Cross Bones.
Senate House – University of London
The wonderful thing about a good guided walk is the research put into it and even if you only come away with one or two new things it’s been worth it, in my opinion. Yannick Pucci puts a lot of work into his walks and I think I can say that everyone who was on the Art Deco Bloomsbury tour one blustery Saturday was well satisfied with the tidbits learned.
This photo is of one my favourite buildings, the Senate House, administrative centre of the University of London and I’m sure Yannick won’t mind me saying that this was intended to be part of a much larger site. At 370m in length it would have completely changed the character of this literary part of London. The scale was pulled back when critics like George V said it would look too much like a battleship. Read this article for images of the beautiful detailing on the inside of the building.
The Oldest Coffee Stall in London – Syd’s
Another tour guide I go out with regularly in London is Ken Titmuss. aka Old Map Man. He introduced me to a couple of local gems on his Shoreditch walk. There’s Syd’s coffee stall that’s still run by the same family (above)…
…and a 500 year old morgue that looks like a garden shed:
Shoreditch Morgue dating from 1500. Yes, that really is a morgue – and it has a connection with Jack the Ripper. More on these two anachronisms in a later post.
As long as you’ve got the energy to cope with the crowds, you never do tire of London :o)
There are many things which make America a wonderful country (I’m not an American by the way, just to clear that up at the outset). These include the stupendous beauty of large swathes of the country, the genuine friendliness of the people, and the easy accessibility of really good hamburgers.
While all of these were good reasons for me to look forward to our recent two week drive through the American west, another key attraction for me was the choice and variety of great American beer (by which I mean beer that tastes of something, not the ubiquitous flavourless carbonated p*ss which continues to try to take over the world) served in friendly and interesting bars.
- Coors beers (Tripwow)
And I’m delighted to say that I wasn’t disappointed – while I didn’t exactly adopt a rigidly scientific approach, I did manage to sample a reasonable number of brews across four states, some of which had me vaguely wondering if emigration to the US could really be that complicated.
By way of background, I’m not a beer techie, so I haven’t really got much to contribute on brewing processes, cask versus keg, chilled versus room temperature – all those things proper beer geeks get really worked up about. In the UK, I really like British ales, which I think suit our climate and temperament, regardless of whether they come from a national producer or a local micro brewery. However, in the US, most of the draught beers I drank came from local breweries, serving their local area, and happy to do so. Much of what I drank was pale ale, for the very simple and (to me) compelling reason that I really really like pale ale, and it was my holiday.
Rocky mountain oyster stout Wynkoop Brewery
We kicked off in Denver, which as the city in which Coors is based, has a long beery association. I managed not to drink any Coors at all while I was there (with one exception noted later) but we did visit the Wynkoop Brewing Company for a long lunch.
There are lots of local craft breweries in Denver – the Wynkoop is one of the oldest. The choice of beer to accompany lunch was a tough one. I started with Silverback Pale Ale, which was an excellent pint and beautifully hoppy, but reasonably strong at 5.5%, so in the interests of staying awake for the afternoon I switched after a couple of pints to Railyard Ale, an amber beer which was marginally lower in alcohol. Railyard is apparently one of their most popular session beers and I can see why – easy to drink and tasty without being the strongest flavoured beer in the world.
My other half went for a three taster flight – Wixa Weiss, Patty’s Chile Beer, and Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout. The Wixa Weiss had (Julie said) aromas of banana and tobacco, and the chile beer had a definite chile flavour without any of the heat. Interesting and slightly weird but wouldn’t fancy spending an evening supping it. The stout did in fact contain Rocky Mountain Oysters (aka bull testicles) and apparently began as an April Fool joke on YouTube but stayed on the menu as a result of customer demand. I’m not a big stout fan but Julie liked it – coffee and chocolate, she said, and no apparent testicle flavour. (Editor – for more strange beer flavours, see 10 Strange Beer Flavours). The Wynkoop Brewery is well worth a visit, not just for the beer – people are very friendly and it’s a beautiful old building in a converted warehouse near the railway station.
Gunnison Brewery (http://www.gunnisonbrewery.com)
Next beery highlight was in Gunnison, a small Colorado town up in the mountains, and home to both the Western State Colorado University and to the Gunnison Brewery, a tiny brewery operating on a site in the town main street, with a bar restaurant attached. They brew small amounts of high quality stuff, using (they say, and I believe them) local ingredients when they can.
We called in for a couple of pints before dinner across the street, and liked it so much we came back after dinner for more. In hindsight, we should have eaten there too – if their burgers were as good as their beer, we would have had an amazing meal. Highlight for me was Apollo’s Remedy, an American Pale Ale, which was one of the best beers I drank on the whole trip. Refreshing, tasty, hoppy, served in a friendly bar full of what looked like a mix of students and locals – lovely stuff indeed. My only regret is that, given that the Gunnison Brewery is so small (albeit perfectly formed), I’m not likely to see Apollo’s Remedy in my local in north London anytime soon.
Durango steam train (Wikipedia)
Heading on from Gunnison, we hit Durango, a self-consciously old western town but home to a number of local breweries. I was slightly hamstrung by the fact that our accommodation, very comfortable as it was, was about 12 miles out of town, and I was the only driver, so my beer consumption was limited.
But a couple of highlights were the Jackrabbit Pale Ale at the Carver Brewery Company and a pint of Ska Pinstripe at the Olde Tymers Cafe. Carvers is the sort of place I wish was round the corner from where I live – great range of beers, excellent food (my rodeo buffalo burger was fantastic) and very friendly staff. The Jackrabbit ticked all the pale ale boxes on a hot day- I could quite happily live there. The Pinstripe, an amber ale, went very well with my Cobb salad in the Olde Tymers. My main regret about our visit to Durango was that there were so many other microbreweries we didn’t visit – but we’ll be back some day and we’ll stay in the centre of town…
Dam Bar and Grille (with replica dam)
We spent a couple of days near Lake Powell, in northern Arizona, where I found the best beer of the holiday, Lumberyard IPA. Lake Powell itself we decided we could take or leave to be honest, in comparison to some of the other great places we visited, but Page, the local town near the lake, was a very friendly place with a couple of good bars and at least one really excellent Mexican restaurant.
I found Lumberyard in the Dam Bar & Grille, in the centre of Page and all I can say is, if you ever visit, have the baja burger and fries and a pint or two of Lumberyard IPA and you will leave a better, happier and more spiritually uplifted person than you arrived. Best burger of the holiday plus the best pint – what more can I say? Lumberyard, brewed in Flagstaff, Arizona (another very fine beer town), was probably the hoppiest, bitterest beer of the holiday (my other half wasn’t keen on it for this reason) and pretty strong with an APV of 6.1% but I l loved it. I was even happier when I found out they served it in the Lake Powell resort where we were staying, thus removing the complication of the car.
I’ve restricted myself here to thoughts on the local draught beers we tried but there were lots of other good beery things on our trip – the first pint of orangey Shocktop on arriving late at night at our hotel in Denver to find they’d screwed up our reservation, the off licence in Page where you could assemble your own 6 pack from a huge range of bottled craft beers, the consistently good Coors Blue Moon Belgian White beer (though I know the purists aren’t keen…) and finally Uinta Wyld Extra Pale Ale, a lovely Utah beer which we never found on draught anywhere but a few bottles of which actually made me want to visit Mormon-dominated Salt Lake City.
I’m not an uncritical admirer of the US, and I wouldn’t claim after a couple of holiday there to know the country well. But I do know there are lots of things that Americans are good at and one of them is beer. E pluribus cerevisia.
We were lucky enough to get to see some fabulous National Parks on our latest road-trippin’ holiday in the U.S. – lucky because two of the best closed with the government shutdown just a few days after we’d visited…
The one that knocked our socks off was Bryce Canyon. It’s a magical place where fairy folk and wicked queens most likely frolic; and where a painter with a fondness for red and an avant-garde sculptor must surely have been let loose a long time ago. (NB look out for the two tips at the end).
Bryce Canyon Mythology
The Paiute Indians who inhabited the area after earlier tribes like the Fremont and the Anasazi had moved on, found a way to explain the existence of the weirdly-shaped red rocks.
They believed that Legend People (To-when-an-ung-wa) used to inhabit the canyon. These people were animals, lizards and birds who looked human and were bad because they used up too much of the land’s resources. Because of this unacceptable behaviour, the mighty god Coyote lured the Legend People to what was supposed to be a celebration banquet, but instead turned them to rocks.
These would-be banqueters became the hoodoos that now make Bryce such a special place to be in, and the manner in which they’re clustered together near the rim reflects the panic that ensued when the Legend People realised what was happening to them. The red of the hoodoos is the war paint they were wearing at the time of their transformation.
The name the Paiute gave the area is a very suitable Agka-ku-wass-a-wits (red-painted faces). Or it may be
What’s a Hoodoo?
The word hoodoo, according to this post, was brought to America by black slaves who used it to refer to something approximating a jinx. It was picked up by Native Americans from fur trappers who were using it to refer to evil spirits or forces.
The formation that is a hoodoo is a totem-like column of soft stone that has survived only because it’s capped by a ‘hat’ of harder stone. It’s been shaped over millions of years by the vagaries of the weather.
Queen Victoria Hoodoo (www.geo.de)
As in all these places many of the limestone hoodoos of Bryce Canyon have been given names, including:
Wall of Windows
The Hat Shop
Visitors and Settlers
Dutton and Powell
The Paiute were still living in the area when they first explorers and settlers arrived, including geologists and explorers Captain Clarence E. Dutton and John Wesley Powell. Some of the Paiute names for area features have stuck, apparently because of them:
Paunsaugunt: home of the beavers. (A plateau above Bryce.)
Paria: muddy water of elk water. (The river running through it.)
Panguitch, water or fish. (A nearby lake.)
Yovimpa: point of pines. (An area above the canyon – there’s an excellent view from Yovimpa point that many visitors miss – including us…)
Serious People, the Bryces (dailykos.com)
One of the first Mormon settlers in the area and the man the canyon came to be named after was Scottish shipyard carpenter Ebenezer Bryce. He built a track to help transport the timber he was harvesting in the area and the visitors who used it began to call the canyon at the end of the track Bryce’s Canyon.
It may be apocryphal, but Ebenezer is said to have told an admirer of the hoodoos, “It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow”. Even though he and his family moved away from the area to Arizona, his name will always be associated with the place.
The Canyon isn’t his only claim to fame – he designed the oldest Mormon chapel still in continuous use, Pine Valley Chapel, even though he had never designed one before. He did it on the condition that he was allowed to build it like a ship.
3 Tips for Visiting the Canyon
An excellent hike is the Navajo Loop combined with the Queens Garden Trail. It took us about 1.5 hours and we’re not spectacularly fit (to put it mildly). BUT start at Sunset Point and end at Sunrise point – not the other way around. The slope up to Sunset Point is fierce. Early morning is better as it gets quite crowded near the points, and not everyone seems to agree with me that it’s nice to appreciate magnificent areas like this quietly. Plus the light’s better at this time of day.
If you’re attending the ranger’s astronomy evening, check beforehand how many telescopes are likely to be used that night. Although we had expected eight, there were only two on the night. The queues for them were enormous.
Ruby’s Inn Best Western has microwaves in each of its rooms and there’s a very decent supermarket on site if you have had enough enormous on-the-road meals to last a lifetime.
Top 3 Photos: Strange and Weird Bryce Canyon - Photo by Quirky Travel
El Colacho. Pic credit The Guardian
This Spanish custom has been around since 1620, and involves the unusual activity of ‘baby jumping’. Originally, the festival was intended to keep the devil at bay, where jumpers wearing devil costumes run down the street, leaping over babies laid down on mattresses.
As you might expect, injuries occur from time to time, but the festival remains a popular one and is unlikely to be disbanded any time soon.
Monkey Buffet Festival Pic Credit www.festivals-holidays. com
Monkey Buffet Festival
This particular festival is fairly young – only starting in 1989 – but has since proved to be a great money-maker to the local economy in Lop Buri, Thailand, attracting thousands of interested onlookers each year.
In this particular town, Macaque monkeys have free reign all over the town, often stealing food, clothes, and generally being pests. Rather than trying to stamp out this annoyance, however, the locals honour the monkeys each November by putting on an enormous buffet spread for them, consisting of cakes, candy, and fruits.
The monkeys converge on the tables and cause quite a stir, with thousands of tourists and locals attracted to watch. It is certainly an interesting way of celebrating these mischievous monkeys, and an entertaining one at that.
Blackening of the Bride. Pic credit www.smashingtops. com
Blackening of the Bride
Most brides like to look as pristine as possible before, during, and after their wedding, and that is what makes this particular custom so interesting. The blackening of the bride is a Scottish tradition that involves friends and family covering her in mud, fish sauces, syrup, spoiled milk, feathers, and all sorts of other nasty things before the wedding. In the Orkneys it’s the groom who’s the victim and occasionally its both bride and groom.
One idea behind is that if the couple can take such humiliation, then all other issues they might face in their marriage will feel insignificant by comparison. Consequently, it is said to lead to a happy marriage for them, allowing them to overcome any and all problems with ease. [Editor note: Another theory is that it helps keep the faeries at bay :o)]
Bullet ants ritual. Pic credit Oti the Lis
Bullet Ants Coming of Age Ritual
There are a host of different coming of age rituals from around the world, none more unusual than that endured by young men of the Satere-Mawe tribe in Brazil.
This ritual isn’t complicated, but it’s certainly both painful and a real test of character. For 11 hours, the youngsters put their hands in gloves filled with bullet ants – critters with the highest rating on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index as you can get. These ants get their name because their stings feel like you are literally being shot with a bullet, so you can only imagine what it’s like having to endure relentless stings like this for eleven hours.
If you endure this, you can truly call yourself a man.
Tibetan Sky Burial
Different cultures bury their dead in various different ways. In Tibet, the sky burial is common. With this ritual, the deceased body will be marked with a series of cuts and then positioned on a high mountaintop where it is exposed to the local animals and elements. The ritual is known to show generosity and a way of giving back to nature, just as we, take advantage of nature’s bounty ourselves.
This is a guest post by freelance travel writer Cheryl Brown.
Christie’s in South Kensington, London will be holding a one-off sale of unusual items in their “Out of the Ordinary” auction on September 5th 2013. As the items are open to the public to view, I went along yesterday to take a few snaps.
There’s a lot of great stuff in the salesrooms, and here a few of the photos that worked out:
This very Fortean stuffed two-headed calf dates from the second half of the twentieth century and was made to demonstrate polycephaly (having more than one head).
Well, it isn’t actually from the real Titanic. This is a copy used in the 1958 film “A Night to Remember”, starring Kenneth More.
Chaise Madame chair
Denis Copen-designed anthropomorphic chair.
Chaise monsieur chair
And here’s the bloke version!
Cygan is an Italian humanoid robot made in 1957 by aeromodeller Dr Ing Fiorito from Turin. He made an appearance at the Windmill Theatre in London in 1958 and opened the British Food Fair of that year. In the 1970s he was sold to a Ford car dealership who named him “Moto” and after that stint found his way into a private collection. He used to be able to walk and turn around, but doesn’t have the facility to do that any more.
Bearded Lady painting
Hélène Detroyat painted this intriguing image of a bearded lady.
Vivienne Westwood hats
The incomparable British designer Vivienne Westwood created the buffalo diamante-horned and bicorne hats pictured above, as well as two cowboy hats that are also being auctioned.
Silvered bronze skeleton
Derek the skeleton (that’s what I’ve called him, anyway) probably comes from Germany and was made in the second half of the twentieth century.
Hiroshi Furuyoshi painting
This extremely realistic and ever so slightly disturbing was painted by Furuyoshi in 2012.
Cave bear skelton
The cave bear died out 27,500 years ago but fortunately we have really well preserved skeletons like this one, simply because the creatures liked to hide out in caves.
Map of Paris, 1739
This enormous birds-eye map of Paris shows buildings such as the Tuileries palace and Bastille prison that no longer exist.
The image doesn’t do justice to the colours of this magnificent peacock.
Which is why I’m very pleased to tell you there’s a music venue and restaurant in this inner city area of London where you find peace and quiet, excellent music (and the odd comedy gig or two), if you need it. It’s called The Forge and Foundry.
Just off the main drag that is Camden High Street, The Forge is an arts venue that was opened in 2009 by musicians Adam and Charlotte Caird. It’s an environmentally friendly place designed by Camden architects Burd Haward specifically designed for “small ensemble playing” according to their website. The centre specialises in jazz and classical music.
The restaurant is a separate entity in the same building, and it’s called The Foundry – tables can be reserved to watch the events in the adjoining Forge with food supplied by The Foundry.
We visited on a Friday night, when most of Camden’s pubs are filled to bursting with punks, hipsters, tourists and 14 year olds and were pleased to find a little cool haven of tranquility (it was a stiflingly hot day outside).
It’s a beautiful space with wood-clad walls and photos of jazz cats that I’m afraid I didn’t recognise, with very listenable-to jazz being played (not that improvisational stuff that drives a person insane after five minutes listening to it.)
We went for the four small plates menu (four for a tenner) and had healthy tid-bits like chicken goujons, feta and watermelon and crab salad (too much cold potato in it for me, but that’s just me and cold potato). Normal sized main courses are available, too. The food was very good and washed down nicely with a very good pint of Meteor white beer.
The event we were here to see was the Kirsty McGee Trio, part of a summer female artists festival, so we moved on into the music venue part of the building (past the only indoor living wall – 6.5 metres high – in the UK, apparently).
Kirsty’s mix of blues, jazz and folk (all written by herself) was beautiful and atmospheric. In fact, she’s such a good song writer than Danny Boyle has featured one of her tunes has featured in his recent film, Trance.
It was a quiet audience to suit the venue but we were appreciative, and speaking for my husband and I anyway, we had a great, chilled out evening after a long work week. The cocktails we had after the beer might have helped …
(Disclosure – we were given tickets to the gig, but paid for our own food and drink. And we’ll definitely be back on our own expense account!)
Scarecrows of course…
They’re just some of the many carefully crafted bugaboos that have made their appearance in some of the scarecrow festivals held in the UK over the past few years.
I’ve been disappointed to find out that there’s no folk history aspect to all of this scarecrowing (all the festivals have come into being relatively recently) but they all do a power of good for their local communities, raising money, morale and no doubt some deadly competitive instincts.
Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival
This year’s festival runs from 10th – 18th August and festivities include following a trail of scarecrows round the village; identifying them and finding clues; enjoying tea and buns in the village hall and daily prize-giving for the lucky trail winners.
It’s an event that’s growing in popularity every year, attracting thousands to the small village of Kettlewell in the Yorkshire Dales. Let’s hope it’s not rained off this year, as was Britain’s other scarecrow festival last year – the Muston Scarecrow Festival…
Muston Scarecrow Festival
This too is a Yorkshire event and it’s on at the moment (running until 4th August), so there’s still a little time to get there.
It’s so popular after recent coverage on the BBC that their website isn’t working as I write, but presumably that won’t have an affect on the number of visitors.
Wray Village Fair and Scarecrow Festival
Scarecrows are just a small part of the annual festival that has been taking place in Wray in Lancashire since 1894. A giant scarecrow parade, car boot sale, classic bike and car gatherings and a vintage market are just some of the events that take place over the May Day weekend.
Urchfont Scarecrow Festival
The Urchfont festival in Wiltshire, in common with all of events mentioned on this page, use the scarecrow trail idea as a way of raising funds for local amenities. This one, held annually in May, originally began as a way to raise money for a new village hall, and this year (2013) they raised a massive £37K+ for various causes.
Harpole Village Scarecrow Festival
This enterprising lot in Harpole Village, Northampton, have an open top double decker bus touring the town, and this year they’re featuring a geocaching route too. Games and stalls galore and a novelty scarecrow themed bicycle ride around town are planned for this September’s festival.
Kettlewell Cork Man (http://blog.gessato. com/)
16 days and 120,000 visitors after it opened in 1873, Alexandra Palace in North London burned down.
The newly rebuilt Palace opened again 2 years later. The Palace along with its gardens perched on a hill high above London was an enormous public recreation ground and the place where the first public television transmissions took place.
And then large parts were ruined by fire again in 1980.
The Palace re-opened in 1988 and Alexandra Park and Palace is now a major music and corporate event venue. It also hosts a weekly farmer’s market, it’s home to a very popular ice-rink, has a great pond for duck-watching, and has one of the best views in London. And it’s a wonderful building.
Ally Pally is celebrating its 150th anniversary on Sunday, and I for one will be popping along to see what’s happening.
Ally Pally from the air (Wikipedia)
Alexandra Palace (http://buttonsandbeeswax.com/)
The view from the Palace (geograph.org.uk)
Alexandra Palace Park (http://northernheightsblog.wordpress.com/)