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A little over a year ago, I went on a city break to Nuremberg, Germany. You may have already read my posts about Nuremberg Trials Courts and the museum at the former Nazi Rally Grounds. This post covers the main cathedral building in Nuremberg (St. Lorenz) and the National Museum. I spent nearly a day at the National Museum, and visiting St. Lorenz was done in about thirty minutes, but some people may wish to spend longer.

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St. Lorenz is dedicated to St. Lawrence. It is a medieval cathedral and was damaged in World War 2. The building's artwork was donated by wealthy citizens and remains. The church can be visited daily from about 9:00am until 5:00pm with reduced hours on Sunday.  

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If you are planning to visit the National Museum, I suggest picking the areas of the museum that you wish to visit first as it is not possible to see everything. You can make a day out of it, but it is a lot of walking and information overload. The museum is on several floors with some outdoor areas. I did walk through most of the museums, but there were some areas that did not interest me. The museum is built around a Carthusian Church. The collections range from paintings, musical instruments, armoury/weaponry, prehistory/ancient history, Late Middle Ages, Renaissance, science, medicine, fashion/clothing, everyday culture up to 1700, art, folk museum, middle ages, and toys.

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I spent the most time in the prehistory and ancient history sections as I find it fascinating. These include ranges of pottery, stonework, and gold items buried in hoards, as well as items found in burials. After that, I did browse through the Middle Ages and Late Middle Ages and the Carthusian Church (which mainly contained sculptures). I am not really into religious artwork, but they did have a nice selection of books that were beautifully decorated and illustrated. One of the stars of the show was a gold ship.

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I walked around the other exhibitions as well, including the art gallery and folk art. I enjoyed the folk museum section with its replica life-size German buildings filled with furniture. The art included everything to the modern day.

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I didn't get to make it to the toys area, which is a separate building. The bloke was tired and the museum was a little bit like a maze; even with following the map, it wasn't clear where the exits to other exhibitions were. It took us a little longer than anticipated to find the way to the folk museum section, for example. However, this did mean that we were able to walk through most areas to get a flavour of the musuem. Of course, some areas I had zero interest in so could ignore them and spend my time in another area.

Have you been to Nuremberg and paid a visit to the museum or St. Lorenz cathedral? What did you think?

Before Christmas, a little over a year ago, we explored Nuremberg Christmas Markets and Rothenberg-ob-der-Tauber. In addition to shopping and Christmas Markets, we explored the other attractions that the city has to offer. One of the major attractions, although not mentioned in my guide book, is to explore the Nazi Party Rally Grounds and the museum on site. The museum gives insight into this era of history and details of the major events and ideals which started the second World War. It's an emotional experience, and I feel that it is an important and educational one that visitors should not miss if they wish to understand history and the the decades in between the two World Wars, which ultimately led to the second World War.

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The museum has exhibitions on how Hitler wanted to be portrayed, the importance of architecture and the role it played, how the masses were influenced by Hitler and his ideals, and a visual representation of an estimation of how many groups (including Jews, homosexuals, Communists, Romani, ethnic Poles, political prisoners, people with disabilities) were murdered by the party.

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Portraits of Hitler based on how he wanted to be portrayed and all released images of him had to pass certain aspects; various Nazi Party propaganda and images of Nuremberg and the Rally Grounds during the height of the party; 'My Struggle' or 'Mien Kampf' signed by Adolph Hitler; Albert Speer's architectural drawings; video/audio from the Nuremberg trials

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Representation of the number of victims taken to concentration camps and killed; Nazi toy soldiers

Nuremberg was the centre of the Nazi (National Socialist) Party, and the first rallies were held here in 1927. The grounds acted as a community with many events for everyone, including the young members of society. It was quickly adopted as a way of life and engrained into society for a variety of reasons that can be read in more detail at the museum. Albert Speer engineered the grounds to show off the power of the party and Hitler; the museum goes into how this was achieved using architecture and other methods (light, banners, sound, etc). 

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Lake and Congress Hall

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Zepplinfield

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Inner courtyard of Congress Hall

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Congress Hall

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Documentation Centre - museum. This is where the tram stops for the rally grounds

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Great Street

The Nazi grounds include the Zepplin field (named after a Zepplin that landed there in 1909), stadiums, Congress Hall, a zoo, cafe, swimming pool, an exhibition space, and a lake. The zoo was opened in 1912 with the help of citizens and was maintained throughout the war. It contained over 193 species. Albert Speer designed the grounds with the 'Greet Street' in mind. It was 60 metres wide and over 2,000 metres long, laid with granite slabs, and was aligned with Nuremberg Castle to show significance of the Nazi Party to past imperial Germany. (This glorification of the past imperial days of Germany was one of the psychological desires that Hitler played upon to capture and form his community of followers.) The street would be flanked with tall towers to portray the importance and power of the party.

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Zepplinfield

Hitler would have come out the back doors of the grandstand and went to the front and stood to address his crowd on the Zepplin Field below, which is larger than 12 football fields. With the structure around him and his height, the atmosphere and the whole experience of this place would have made him seem very powerful. In 1938, the "Cathedral of Light" took place here, which beamed floodlights into the sky and was probably spectacular.

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Zepplinfield

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Zepplinfield - speaker area

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When Germany lost the war, the US held its victory parade at this grandstand, and the giant swastika was blown up. The towers on both sides were removed because they were deemed unsafe. The US were stationed here until 1994. Today, the grandstand and track outside it is used as a racing circuit (Noris ring) and for concerts.

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Nuremberg trials courthouse

After exploring the grounds, we headed back into Nuremberg and got the subway to the court house where the Nuremberg Trials were held. The trials are of high importance in the world criminal justice system. The trials included representatives of different Allied countries (US, Britain, Russia, and France) whose purpose was to oversee the trials to determine if key individuals of the Nazi Party were guilty of crimes. These crimes were categorised into war crimes, crimes against humanity, and participating or planning crimes against peace. The trials were the first to be recorded with video and sound. We saw a little bit about the trials, including some original documents and recordings, in the Nazi Rally Grounds museum.

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Nuremberg Trials court room

We had an English guided tour of the museum at the Nuremberg Court House, and the guide highlighted some of the important aspects of the trials and those involved and the outcomes of some of those captured and their sentence. We then saw the interior of the famous room where the trials were held. As this court room is still used today, make sure to visit it outside of work hours to avoid disappointment.

Where to See Christmas Lights in London

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This post focuses on a walk around west London in order to see Christmas lights, windows, and decorations. Many of the displays and decorations change each year, so it's always worth a walk around to see the new decorations. The walk that I normally follow is described in this post, and the walk can be completed in an afternoon. The best time is to plan to be around Oxford or Regent Street at 3:30-4:00 as London starts to get dark at about 3:30.

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Factor in a little extra time for doing a little bit of Christmas shopping or grabbing a hot chocolate and mince pie. This walk assumes that you start at Covent Garden and finishes around Green Park. I've captured a map from Google and plotted the route using red lines.

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I started just before 2:00 in the afternoon at Covent Garden, although you could start at Waterloo train station and go to the Christmas shops along the Thames before walking across Hungerford foot bridge to Covent Garden. Each year, South Bank on the southern bank of the Thames (above Waterloo Station) hosts a small Christmas market and food market. There are also amusement rides and entertainment in the evenings.

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Back to Covent Garden. I recommend seeing Covent Garden when it's still light as many of the decorations are outside. The interior of the hall does contain decorations as well, but it's dark enough to still see any lights. Covent Garden is easy to access from a number of tube stations; we walked from Holborn (Central and Piccadilly lines), but I've typically used Charing Cross station (Northern line) before we moved. There's also Covent Garden station (Piccadilly line).

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Covent Garden (stop 1) has many decorations to see. Look out for the large Christmas tree, the decorations inside the covered market hall, the annual Lego sculpture, a giant reindeer decoration, and real reindeer. The real reindeer are only available to see at certain times.

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An optional diversion is to walk north of the market into the area known as Seven Dials (stop 2). To get there, start at Covent Garden north and go from James Street to Neal Street. There are a lot of smaller shops along here, including a nice shop selling teas and shops selling make-up and skincare products. At the top of the street is London's largest science fiction/fantasy/board game shop, Forbidden Planet. Then head back down Monmouth Street to the roundabout where the seven streets meet, giving the area its name. The area always has its own Christmas lights. 

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When you have returned to the top of Covent Garden, turn right to King's Street. At the end, turn right up Garrick Street. You'll notice a shop selling sweets from America and other countries across the road and a small alleyway with the pub "Lamb and Flag" at the end and virtually across from it. Follow this road to the end, then wait to cross on Cranbourn Street. (You'll see a statue here dedicated to Agatha Christie). In front of you is Leicester Square underground station. 

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Continue walking past the station and into Leicester Square (stop 3) where the cinemas are located. You will also see the square itself, and a Christmas market with a few games is normally set up inside along with a ferris wheel. Some decorations are normally hung from the trees here.

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From Leicester Square, make your way through the square to the far side and down the small alley known as St. Martin's Road, which leads to Trafalgar Square (stop 4). Trafalgar Square is the location of London's largest Christmas tree. Each year since 1947 as a recognition of support during the second World War, Norway present England with a Norwegian Spruce Christmas tree. Trafalgar Square is home to the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. The church in the square, known as St. Martin-in-the-Fields, is charming and does have Christmas carol singing on select evenings. After seeing the Christmas tree, head back to Leicester Square.

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From Leicester Square, walk to Piccadilly Circus (stop 5). The directions are to turn left and walk past the Swiss glockenspiel (clock), which chimes and plays at certain times in the day. Keep walking past the large fountain featuring raising horses, which is known as the Four Bronze Horses of Helios. On the opposite side of the road is the large building Trocadero which was a fabulous multi-floor gaming building in its glory days but was shut a couple of years ago and is now virtually empty. There are lights along this small stretch of road as well, and they are giant snowflakes (at the time of writing this).

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Straight ahead is Piccadilly Circus and the statue in the middle, known as Eros (cupid). You will also see the radiant glow from the advertising board next to it. Typically, the statue of Eros features decorations. In a previous year, it was a snow globe. Last year, it was a pile of gifts. This year, I did not notice any decorations, but they may not be up yet.

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Once you have seen all that you want to see in Piccadilly Circus, the next stop is to locate Piccadilly Street (stop 6), which is one of the streets from the Piccadilly Circus roundabout. Regent Street is the busy street with the golden-coloured rows of buildings that curve around to the right. Piccadilly Street is the street immediately to the left. Cross the road to head down this street.

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Piccadilly Street has several nice shops and cafes along it. The first stop is St. James Piccadilly Church (stop 7) where many market stalls are set up. Feel free to have a quick browse here for Christmas gifts. You will then pass the BAFTA (British Academy of Film & Television) building, Princes Arcade (a small covered street for botique shops), and an excellent book store known as Hatchards. Next to the bookstore is Fortnum & Mason (stop 8) department store. Look at the window displays, which are always amazing during Christmas. Also, feel free to step inside to the food hall and other areas for gifts. The Parlour on the first floor is excellent if you wish to take refreshments, ice cream, or afternoon tea. (You can read my review of their afternoon tea here.)

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If you are lucky to arrive at the right time, you may see the giant clock display on the fascade of Fortnum & Mason. The chimes play and the figures move on the hour. After leaving the department store, cross the road to the other side. In front of you is the Royal Academy of Arts. Next to it is Burlington Arcade (stop 9), and it is worth a view as it is decorated for the holidays. Feel free to buy macaroons at Laudree, which is at the entrance of Burlington Arcade. When you're done, turn around and head back the way you came but do not cross the road.

Once you have returned to Piccadilly Circus, turn to the left without crossing the road. Regent Street (stop 10) is in front of you. This is a busy street with large buildings that curve to the right. Excellent photographs can be taken down the street from near where the underground entrance is located. This street always has pleasant lights, and there are new lights this year.

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Walk down Regent Street to stop in some of the shops. In my view, the right-hand side of the road is probably the best bet, but both sides of the road offer good views and shops. Hamley's Toy store, Molton Brown, Ferrari, and a large range of clothing stores are available. Hamley's Toy Store (stop 10) is located on the right-hand side of the road and is always popular at this time of year with visitors and its window displays. 

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Keep your eye open for a small road on the right, just past Hamley's, known as Foubert's Place. Turn onto this road and walk down a couple of blocks to Carnaby Street (stop 11). This is a street not to miss. The Christmas lights will be instantly noticeable, and I love Carnaby Street's Christmas lights. They are different every year; this year's are giant pink party disco balls. Carnaby Street is worth a look around with some nice shops and restaurants in Kingly Court, which is a right turn onto Carnaby Street.

If you have been to Kingly Court, turn left and walk up Carnaby Street. Another gem is Choccywoccydoodah (stop 12). To get there, turn right on Foubert's Place (opposite the direction of Regent Street) and about two blocks and on the corner is Choccywoccydoodah. The chocolate shop is normally popular, but the gift shop at the front has many amazing chocolate sculptures and cakes. This may be a good idea for gifts. They also have a small cafe upstairs, but there's always been a queue when I've walked past.

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Once you have visited Choccywoccydoodah, walk back the way you came to Carnaby Street. Turn right, which is actually Great Marlborough Street. Here you will find the back of Liberty department store (stop 13) and its chocolate shop. It's worth a visit to the department store, but the store is a little difficult to navigate. Before entering the store, turn your back to it and take some photographs of the Carnaby Christmas lights. This is my favouirte angle to view the lights.

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Make sure you view the front of Liberty department store in order to see the window displays and the decorations on the front of the timber-framed building. They normally have Christmas trees and lights. The best view is to cross the road onto Argyll Street.

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When you've finished at Liberty, head up Argyll Street until you come to Oxford Street (stop 14). You can turn to the right and walk up Oxford Street to look in shops if you wish, but the tour continues with turning left toward the underground station. This is probably London's busiest area, so head past Oxford Circus underground and cross the road. You should be at the section of Regent Street and Oxford Street now, and this area on the south side of Oxford Street and right-hand side of Regent Street (looking south) is good for photographs.

Oxford Street does have different lights some years, but the past couple of years have seen fold and pale blue orb lights. Continue to walk down the street and also check out the lights on Debenham's, John Lewis, Boots, House of Fraser, and other shops. Oxford Street has so much to offer in terms of shopping. The windows are worth checking out too.

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Before going too far up Oxford Street, make sure you do not miss St. Christopher's Place (stop 15). This little alley is hard to see if you do not know it is there. It's located next to The Body Shop, and look out for the angel with wings holding an orb high up (pictured below). This fellow is always in place, and the alley is so small that only one person can enter or leave at a time. Don't worry, though, as the street does open up once you enter from Oxford Street. Glance down the street and you will see Christmas decorations and a small parade of shops.

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After you have looked around, head back to Oxford Street and turn right. Soon, you will come to Selfridges department store (stop 16). Have a look at the window displays along the front of the building. The largest and most-featured display is the last window on the corner of the building. Marks & Spencer's across the road and next to Selfridges also has nice Christmas lights. Make sure that you cross the road to get some photographs as the Christmas lights and decorations are above eye level upon Selfridge's. Make sure that you have a look inside and stop in the food hall if you wish.

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Once you've looked in Selfridge's, cross the road to be on the opposite side on Oxford Street and walk up to Bond Street station. Walk just past the station to find South Molton Street (stop 17), which is covered with Christmas lights and contains a pedestrianised shopping street. Continue walking down this street to the end where you come to Brook Street. Turn left and then turn right onto New Bond Street (stop 18)

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You are now heading into Mayfair (stop 19), and the shops and window displays with high fashion brands are beautiful along here. The street is also covered in Christmas lights. Stella McCartney's shop normally had a lot of lights, and feel free to walk around around this area. For Berkeley Square, turn left onto Bruton Place.  

Continue walking south on New Bond Street where it eventually joins Piccadilly Street. You will be near the Ritz and Green Park station if you cross the road and turn right. 

This covers my Christmas lights and decorations tour of west London, but I have not covered everything. Winter Wonderland, Harrods and Knightsbridge also have nice lights and displays.

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If you do not mind the walk, continue past Green Park station until you come to Hyde Park Corner Station, right after Green Park on the left hand side. Cross over the road to the entrance to the station and you will soon see lights and the Christmas market for Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. This is always busy, especially at the weekends, and you can spend almost a day here on its own. There's a Christmas Market, food and drink stalls, rides, ice skating, and many other attractions. Last year, I went to the Ice Sculptures and Ice Bar.

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To see Harrods (for the windows), continue walking past Hyde Park station, but make sure you cross the road as the road forks here and you'll need to turn off at Brompton Road after Knightsbridge station. 

Harrods and Winter Wonderland are both on the Piccadilly line if you prefer to get the tube from Green Park station.

Let me know what you thought of the London Christmas lights this year.

After visiting Bath Christmas Markets, I had most of a day to spend in Bristol to do some shopping and watch  the latest and last film from The Hunger Games books. I stayed in a hotel in central Bristol, but I still didn't get to wander around all of the city as there just was not enough time to fit in everything.

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We arrived in the evening and headed out for a night showing of the film at Cabot Circus. I took some photographs of the Christmas lights and a small Christmas market in Bristol on our way to the cinema.

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They were also selling the chocolate tools and other chocolates that I saw when I went to Nuremberg Christmas Markets last year, which I covered here.

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The next morning, we headed straight to St. Nicholas Market off of Corn Street. This covered market has a little bit of everything, and this was not my first visit to the markets. 

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There's a little bit of everything, and one of the highlights is the food markets toward the back. These can get quite popular with locals. A photograph of some of the food stalls is below, and the food smelled so good. We would have had something if we had not had a buffet breakfast at the hotel.

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I bought a Himalayan salt lamp at St. Nicks. I've actually been wanting to buy one of these salt lamps for a long time as I love the glow produced from them, and they are also meant to improve air quality. If they do live up to the hype, then that's a bonus, but I love the calming pinkish-orange glow.

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We walked around the shops at the Galleries mall, which is a shopping centre that I've known in Bristol for so many years now. This is the cheaper part of Bristol, but there's still quite a few shops to visit here that are worth visiting. On the other side of the Galleries is Broadmead, where the Christmas market is located, and Cabot Circus. This whole area of Bristol has been re-generated in the past few years.

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After visiting some of the shops, the rain started to pour. Before leaving Bristol, we decided to get some food. I wanted to visit Zero Degrees microbrewery and restaurant. It's hard to believe, but my last visit was in late 2004 or early 2005, so that was ten years ago. I last visited with colleagues when I worked in Bristol, and since then, they have expanded and opened a branch in Reading before opening others in Cardiff and Blackheath. Pizzas were always on the menu, and the pizza 'flavours' were a little unique in those days.

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We walked up Christmas Steps in order to get to ZeroDegrees.

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First, we ordered garlic doughballs to start. These were delicious and we had garlic butter and oil to dip them in.

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We also ordered cocktails. I cannot remember what we had now as it's taken me a couple of weeks to write this post (and so much has happened since then), but they tasted nice. Of course, this place started as a Microbrewery and was probably a trend-setter in this genre of restaurant. I don't drink beer or ale, but for those who do, I recommend ordering this. They also offer flavoured beers.

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The pizza 'flavours' have gotten more traditional and less wacky, and there's more on the menu than I remembered from ten years ago. I ordered the "American Hot", which seems to be a standard of my favourite pizza, which was always the toppings I orded in America (minus onions): pepperoni and jalepeno. I love onion with this too, and do bear in mind that the hot peppers are chilis and not jalepenos.

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The bloke is not a fan of pizza, so he ordered sausage and mash.

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I loved the lights on the ceiling, which reminded me of marbles. We also had an amazing view from our seat which looked down Christmas Steps.

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I had a nice time in Bristol but wished that I had gotten to do a little more wandering around some of the areas that I did not get to. Cribbs Causeway would have also been nice to get to. ZeroDegrees is okay for a venue, but the food was not as good as other restaurants.

The day after Thanksgiving, I headed out early to drive to Bath to go to the Christmas market and to have lunch at The Pump Rooms. Each year for a couple of weeks from the end of November, the Christmas Market comes to Bath. I lived in Bath for over two years and I remembered that I enjoyed walking through the market on my way back to my flat. This was ten years ago now, and in those days, it was not quite as busy as it is today. There are a few more stalls compared to previous years, and I used to make a visit each year after I moved away from Bath. However, I had not been for the past two years and the last time I visited the market was in 2011. 

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The market was busy, of course, but this was not the busiest I've seen it. Saturdays are too busy, and I remember how difficult it was to navigate the markets close to ten years ago on the weekends. For those planning to go, remember to visit during the week and note that the market is quieter in the morning.

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I used to park in Royal Victoria Park, which used to be free and behind where my flat was. Now, they charge for parking there, so I use the parking next to the park and the mini golf. This year was the first year that I have also noticed an ice rink come to Bath. (It's located in Royal Victoria Park opposite the Royal Crescent in case you're curious.)

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We started at the lower part of the markets and walked our way up, trying free samples of cheeses, chutneys, jams, brownies, and alcohol. I bought some marshmallow Vodka, cheese, brownies, fudge, and macaroons. I always end up buying cheeses from the company (pictured below), and they make a good mature cheddar.

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A nice fudge shop is located just outside the cathedral, and Bath is also famous for its 'Bath buns'. (Despite living in Bath for over two years, I've actually never tried one!) 

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Sally Lunn's is a cafe that serves the traditional bun, and it's very much a touristy attraction, but I've never been there. I keep telling myself to visit next time I go to Bath, but I have not got around to it yet.

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This year, they were also selling mulled wine or hot apple drink at the market. Had I not eaten before, I would have bought some of it.

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For the first time, we also noticed the chocolate tools and other chocolate items for sale at a Christmas Market in the UK. The first time that I saw these was in Germany last year when we went to Nuremburg Christms Market, which I covered here. These are very much a novelty item. In Nuremburg, I bought a chocolate wrench, but it ended up breaking in my luggage on the way back to England.

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We also bought a wreath, but it was a Christmas wreath we bought and not one of the pretty ones pictured below, but these were so tempting to buy as well.

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Every so often, a group of carol-singers would sing outside Bath Abbey.

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We had lunch in The Pump Rooms. I'd reserved a table for us as this venue was another venue I had never visited despite living in Bath for over two years. The Pump Rooms were mentioned in Jane Austen's books as she was a frequent visitor to them when she visited Bath. Also, they are next to the Roman Baths attraction, which I have visited a couple of times. The waters are meant to contain healing properties and made this spa town famous with Victorians and also with people seeking treatment in its hospitals that used the water.

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To start, I ordered one of the Christmas cocktails, a Christmas martini. It was meant to come with a mini mince pie, but it did not.

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We had the set Christmas menu, which we could have as a two or a three-course option. To start, I had the leek and potato soup which came with a cheddar and thyme muffin and croutons. 

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The bloke had game pâté which was served with grilled sourdough and chutney.

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I had free range turkey, served with cranberry sauce and a Bath sausage while the bloke had the braised brisket of beef with mushrooms and bacon.

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Our mains were served with carrots, cabbage, and roast potato. I admit that after having turkey the day before for Thanksgiving, I was a little 'turkied' out! It's not my favourite meat as it can be a little bit dry and not have that much of a taste.

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The bloke skipped dessert, but I tried the chocolate bread and butter pudding.

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The meal was finished off with tea of coffee, and we should have had a mini mince pie again, but these were not provided for some reason. I cannot complain about the food at The Pump Rooms because it was good, but the service was non-existent. Staff were friendly, but we were just 'left' and didn't get to order other items, plus some of the items were forgotten. Staff should be more attentive to detail and attentive to guests. I do understand that The Pump Rooms are popular, and when we visited, there was a queue of people waiting to get a table as some of the guests are "walk-in". A lot of people were having afternoon tea when we visited at lunch (we had a 13:00 booking), but others were also having lunch.

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After our meal, we continued to look around the shops and I noted what had changed between my last visit in 2011. I noticed that a lot of the shops that I loved that were toward the top of the town had moved down at the bottom, closer to the train station, which used to be the 'cheap' end until it was re-developed. And the cafe in Milsom Place where I would sometimes have a nice breakfast was closed and being built on while a couple of new chain restaurants were now located next door and around the corner.

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After we were done browsing around, we went to Bristol to stay the night. Bath Christmas Market is my favourite market in England because the stalls are unique and sell many items that cannot be bought elsewhere. Some items are made locally, and there are over 170 stalls to look at. The market really does have something for everyone and it's unique items unlike some Christmas markets where they tend to all sell the same type of item. The Christmas market is only running until Sunday the 13th of December, so be quick. Otherwise, you can always plan ahead and visit next year.

Carnaby Street's Christmas Lights 2015

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Carnaby Street's Christmas lights have always been my favourite Christmas lights in London because they are creative and they change to a new theme each year. In the past, they have been robins, Santa, and Rolling Stones (rock and roll). This year's theme is "Christmas Party" and transforms Carnaby Street into a giant dance floor complete with massive pink disco balls and stars. Early each November, Carnaby Street hosts its own shopping party with discounts at the businesses in the area, and this coincides with its Christmas lights switch-on. These lights should not be missed.

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Head over to Carnaby Street to see the Christmas lights before they are taken down in early January.

Earlier this month, we went to Yorkshire for the morning to pick up Merlin. We left very early in the morning so that we could have a look around before our appointment. We certainly picked a dreary morning for a look around as the rain was pretty constant. We stopped off at Thorton-le-Dale and Goathland before driving through the moors to Whitby and then stopping off at Hutton-le-Hole for lunch. All of the villages are located in and near the North Yorkshire Moors.

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Thornton-le-Dale was our first stop, and we arrived at 9:00 in the morning. The rain had eased off slightly, and we stopped here to have a drink and snack. The town has a small creek running along the sides of the main roads across through the middle of the town, and there's a very old tree in the middle of the town. We stopped off at Baldersons Cafe, which boasts a tearoom, cafe, and garden. The cafe is quite spacious inside to accommodate several diners, and a walk-in-bakery is also located next door.

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I had an almond tart and rose lemonade. I loved the almond tart; it was so delicious. I would certainly visit again for a more substantial meal or afternoon tea. According to the information in the menu, this family business started in 1895 and are very popular in the area. In the second World War, they gave out tea and scones to soldiers.

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There was plenty of seating available in the cafe. I assume that it does get quite busy on nice days.

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After the snack, we had a quick walk around, but it was too early for many of the shops to be open. We walked over a bridge to a park area where we saw a pond.

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Ducks were being fed, but they hurried away when they saw us walk toward them.

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We headed on through the moors, and the rain was pouring down then. We decided to stop at Goathland, which is a beautiful area with many sheep and a hotel. There's a lot of walking trails here. I got soaked when I went out to get some photographs of sheep.

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I didn't stay long getting sheep photos, and we were soon off to Whitby. We obviously did not have time to get out and look around, but I've been to Whitby once before and saw the abbey. That was thirteen years ago now, so it would have been good to have a proper look around but we just did not have time. I got some photographs from the harbour.

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Our last stop was Hutton-le-Hole, another attractive village with creeks running through the town on one side and beautiful cottages. We had lunch here at The Crown pub and restaurant, and we enjoyed our meal. The rain was pouring down, and it was also very windy and cold. There was a nice fire inside while we enjoyed our meals. 

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I had chicken with potato dauphanoise, and the bloke had a steak pie. The meals came with vegetables served in different dishes so that we could help ourselves.

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For dessert, I had Eton Mess. This came very well-presented and contained ice cream, whipped cream, fruite puree, and it was topped off with chocolate and shortbread stars.

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The sun actually came out as we were finishing up, so we were able to enjoy it on our short drive a few miles away. I got a couple of nice photographs of Hutton-le-Hole before we left.

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Have you been to any of these villages in North Yorkshire?

London Bridge & St. Magnus-the-Martyr

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I have always been a little fascinated by London Bridge. I first knew about it when I was very young and I had won a music record as a prize through school (although this was in the mid-1980s and cassette tapes were available, records were still in use) with children's songs on it. One of the songs on the record was "London Bridge is Falling Down". It was a little catchy tune, and the song has quite a lot of history as it was a children's playing game going back centuries.

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For a long time, London Bridge was the only bridge across the river Thames. The old bridge was built in 1176, but short-term wooden bridges were in place at various times until its construction. To cross the river, many used boat services to take them from one side to the other. The water traffic would have been far greater and congested then than it is today. In those days, London Bridge would have also been very busy and required tolls to cross. In addition, the bridge had buildings built upon it on both sides. The below image of an engraving shows what London Bridge looked like in 1616, and criminals' or traitors' heads were placed on spikes on the gatehouse on the bridge as a warning. These can be seen in the below engraving.

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The current London Bridge is actually a modern construction built next to the old London Bridge. The old bridge was torn down in 1831, and its location was originally next to the church St. Magnus-the-Martyr. Those entering or leaving the city of London did so directly past this church. A blue plaque commemorates this. Can you imagine this fairly quiet area being bustling with so many people entering and leaving the city?

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 St. Magnus-the-Martyr was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, but it was rebuilt by Christopher Wren. The courtyard of the church contains some relics worth noting. One is a piece of weathered wood from a Roman dock. The other is stonework from the old London Bridge.

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The church interior is worth a visit, and it also has a couple of interesting finds, such as four shelves near the door that contain loaves of bread. In old days, the bread was meant to be distributed to the poor after Sunday's service. 

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Also inside St. Magnus-the-Martyr is a four-metre wide model of the original London Bridge in its heyday in about 1400. It was created by liveryman David T. Aggett and donated by the Worshipful Company of Plumbers in 1987. 

I paid the church a visit to see the model of London bridge on a Thursday during a late lunch break. The church is normally open Tuesday-Friday in the afternoon. The website for St. Magnus-the-Martyr will contain more information about its visiting hours. The website is http://www.stmagnusmartyr.org.uk.

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The model shows the buildings on the bridge and figures. Henry VIII can be seen entering the south side of the bridge, and apparantly, a modern-day policeman can be seen amongst the figures.

King Henry II commissioned the stone bridge that would become the London Bridge in the model. The bridge was built up with several buildings and a chapel, known as St. Thomas-on-the-Bridge, and this chapel was frequented by those going on pilgrimages to Canterbury. The chapel was the starting point for the pilgrimages. The bridge took 33 years to complete, and although plots were sold on the bridge for shops and homes, this wasn't enough to recoup the cost of building, so "The Brethern of the Bridge" imposed tolls.

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The bridge was 26 feet wide and 800-900 feet long. It had a drawbridge to allow tall ships to pass and a gatehouse on both ends. In the mid-1300s, it had 138 shops. Public latrines hung over the bridge to empty waste into the river.

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The bridge did suffer fire damage multiple times and the buildings on top probably changed quite often and needed to be replaced when the archways became too weak due to the load on the bridge, but London Bridge was not damaged in the Great Fire of 1666.

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In Tudor times, over 200 buildings were on the bridge, and some of these were seven stories high and overhung the bridge by seven feet and the road, creating a dark tunnel for traffic to pass. The result was that the roadway was only 12 feet wide and divided into two lanes that were used simultaneously by carriages, horses, livestock, and pedestrians. When it was busy, it could take an hour to get from one side of the bridge to the other.

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Scottish rebel William Wallace was the first man to have his head appear on the gatehouse in 1305, and placing the heads here became a tradition for nearly 400 years. Sometimes thirty or more heads would be placed up at a time.

In the mid-1700s, all buildings on the bridge were demolished, and the arches were rebuilt to improve the water flow under the bridge.

I would have loved to have seen the real London Bridge in its heydey, but like most of the old buildings and city walls/gatehouses and churches of old London, it has been lost to time.

On the return from Orkney Islands in 2013, I stopped at the Grey Cairns of Camster. They are located in Caithness in the highlands of Scotland. Scotland is rich in Neolithic history that has not been altered too much, and the Orkney Islands were filled with cairns and other very important sites. (You can read some of my posts on Skara Brae, Hoy Island, Kirkwall/Italian Chapel, Birsay, Cairns and Roussay by following the links.) We'd also just spent the morning at the Castle of Mey, which is on the mainland of Scotland and isn't too far from the ferry to Orkney.

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The Grey Cairns of Camster are located in Caithness in Scotland, an area that was once populated with people who created these Neolithic tombs (cairns). In those days, it was fertile farmland and probably had a large population, but as we learned in Orkney, something happened (we're not quite sure) to cause the climate to change and people left. The area became peat land in the Bronze Age.

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These cairns are over 5,000 years old, and they contain a long chamber (Camster Long) and a round cairn (Camster Round). They have been reconstructed.

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I was able to get inside the Round Cairn on its own, so I crawled inside. I did the same in Orkney in a couple of different cairns, and there's not much room. I literally had to lie down and crawl inside the opening, which consisted of a tunnel for a few feet (or yards) until I came to the chamber opening where there are partitions where the bones were kept.

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Once inside, I took a photograph out through the main entrance/exit. For those who dislike small places or those with mobility or health issues, crawling into a cairn is not recommended.

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Once inside, the tomb opened into the below. Round Cairn has a passage that is 6 metres long that I had to crawl through before the opening. As you can see in the above and below photographs, the earth is black. There was actually a foot of burnt bones and black ash along the floor of the cairn. It is thought that bodies were placed in a sitting position but without leg bones for some reason (1).

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I headed back out to the main cairn (Camster Long), which contains three entrances. Camster Long was thought to have consisted of two round cairns which were later joined by passages. The tomb contained human bones that were mixed with pig, oxen, deer, and horse bones. 

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Camster Long's doorways are fenced, but the fences are open for anyone to crawl inside. Unfortunately, I felt that these were too narrow for me to crawl through and I wished that I was a child again so I could crawl through the very long and narrow tunnel. The passage went on a lot further than the round cairn, so I did not attempt to crawl inside. I actually could not even see where the entrance to the tombs was to see exactly how far that I would have to crawl, but the passageway went on for several meters.

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The image below shows one of the entrances.

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The cairns do look picturesque against the rugged countryside.

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We had a good day to visit as the weather was nice at the cairns, but we'd just come from a rainstorm after Castle Mey, where we had light rain, and entered another one a couple of miles down the road. The Grey Cairns of Camster in Caithness can be visited and they are open to visitors. A large parking area is available, and the cairns can be seen from the road and are located along the road.

1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_Cairns_of_Camster

Over the weekend, I visited French restaurant Balthazar in Covent Garden to indulge in afternoon tea with the bloke. The current theme for afternoon tea at Balthazar is based on British fashion designer Matthew Williamson's autumn/winter 2015 designs. The pastries have been designed to mimic the designer's collection.

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Matthew Williamson's fall/winter 2015 collection is inspired by amethyst and sapphire and other richly-coloured jewel tones. Bright pink, purples, and golds are some of the colours used, and these have inspired Balthazar's head chef Régis Beauregard to create the pastries.

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In addition to the afternoon tea, a glass of champagne or signature cocktail could also be purchased. The cocktail was designed by Matthew Williamson and the bar manager of Balthazar, and it's called the Cosmic Cocktail. The cocktail (the pink one on the right in the image above) contains Campari, Mandarine Napoleon, and a cube of sugar. It is topped up with champagne. 

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Our afternoon tea arrived, served on three-tier plates. On the bottom tier, we had the sandwiches. They included cucumber and pea purée with mint, smoked salmon with crème fraîche, coronation chicken, and egg mayonnaise and watercress.

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The restaurant forgot to give us the pulled ham hock in mini fougasse sandwiches. I had to ask them for the sandwiches.

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All of the sandwiches tasted good with fresh ingredients, and we liked the fougasse (bread for the ham hock sandwiches).

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Scones followed, and we received two plain scones and two fruit scones. Clotted cream and strawberry jam were provided. The strawberry jam was a little too runny and kept sliding off of the scones, but otherwise, they tasted good.

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Last up, we had the pastries inspired by the autumn/winter 2015 collection.

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First up was the choux pastry (eclair) filled with fresh yuzu curd. The top is decorated with a wood-grain effect thin chocolate layer with an additional design using white chocolate.

After this, I tried the bright pink pastry - raspberry and hibiscus baba, which was a light sponge with a fruity raspberry flavour. The top was decoated with fruit (I think it was raspberry coulis) and a white chocolate leaf.

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For the third item, we had a glass decorated with a chocolate bird and raspberries. This is the gooseberry and yoghurt roulade. A mousse-yoghurt was layered underneath raspberries, followed by the gooseberry and a light sponge. I'm not a fan of gooseberry, so this was my least favourite of the pastries and I did not finish it. 

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We then moved on to the almond and hazelnut rocher. This contained a design with a sculptured sugar hard sweet on top to make it appear like a flower bloom. The bottom third of the pastry was covered in cereal flakes. This was my favourite of the pastries and did not taste too rich. 

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The last pastry we had was the macaroon with blueberry and violet consommé jelly and white chocolate Chantilly. 

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The Matthew Williamson afternoon tea is served until February 5. Afternoon tea at Balthazar is served from 3:00pm until 5:00pm. 

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