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After our visit and a lunch break at Bushmills Distillery along the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland, we drove down the road and stopped off at Dunluce Castle. The location of the castle has been fortified for many years, and it was the location of a fort before a castle was built on the site in medieval times. This castle is also used in the television series "Game of Thrones", so you may recognise it from that.

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The current castle dates between the 15th and 17th centuries; the family (McQuillans) who owned the castle controlled the sea and region of north Ulster. Some of the stones from Giant's Causeway have been used in the building of the castle. 

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The castle was taken by the MacDonnell family in the late 1500s, and many Scottish settlers lived there. During the Irish rebellion in 1641, the castle was taken over and the town of Dunluce was burnt to the ground. The castle was completely abandoned in the 1680s, and this is why the town no longer exists. 

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Dunluce village was a busy 17th century village located just outside of Dunluce Castle. There is no visibility of that village now as it has been covered by fields. The car park for the castle was once the centre of the town (the diamond). Archeological finds from the village are on display in the castle.

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The inner ward area of the castle is across a small bridge. The entrance building and some ruins around it that lead to the bridge form the outer ward. A pathway leads underneath the bridge to go down to the sea.

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View while crossing the bridge

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Columns near southeast tower

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Manor House

The castle is built on steep rocky hills on the sea. A rumour about the castle is that the kitchen fell into the sea in the mid-1600s, and the castle was abandoned afterwards. Part of the castle did fall into the sea, but information boards at the castle claimed that it was unlikely that the part of the castle that fell into the sea was the kitchen.

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Upper ward

The sea cliffs and caves around and limestone under the waves creates a unique sea environment. Basking sharks or dolphins are meant to be seen if one is lucky, but we did not see any on our visit.

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Sea views from castle

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After enjoying a look around the ruins, we left the castle and admired the views from the adjoining hillside. 

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There are a few picturesque points to get a photograph of the castle from. We were fairly lucky with the weather as we did not have rain, and we did not have to contend with large groups of others visiting the castle.

The quiet town of Ballycastle is where we stayed for the night along the Causeway Coast after our visit to the Dark Hedges. We ate dinner at The Diamond Bar; this is located in the town square (or diamond, as they are known in Ireland) and afterwards walked down Quay Street, a leafy street with large Victorian houses. This street led down to the harbour where we enjoyed views and walked onto the sandy beach. I found some pretty shells and rocks.

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Ballycastle, visited by Vikings and others from the sea in old times, became a popular and thriving town in the industrial age. Coal mining, salt, soap, glass, and bleach works (linen) were produced here as well as other items.

Ballycastle is only one of two locations in Northern Ireland for coal mining, and it is believed to have begun in the 1400s and stopped in the 1950s. The company had houses constructed for the miners, and the coal was exported to Dublin by boat. To attract men to the area to the mines to work, the owner actually bought large supplies of grain to make bread and offered loaves to his workers for half the price. 

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Ballycastle

The next day, we visited Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and Giant's Causeway before arriving at Bushmills Distillery. Bushmills Distillery, located in Bushmills along Giant's Coastal Causeway, is the oldest distillery in the world. The company is owned by Diageo, who also make the drink Bailey's Irish Cream. Whiskey is distilled here, and they operate tours of the distillery as well as having a restaurant and gift shop on location. We had lunch at the restaurant while we waited for our tour.

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Bushmills Distillery

We took a tour of the distillery, but photographs were not allowed. We saw the entire process of the whiskey production from grain to liquid/vapour to heating and then bottling. The bottling and packaging was the most interesting as we could watch the bottles be filled, labelled, sealed, and packaged into boxes by smart conveyor belts and machinery that would push the bottles into certain areas and line them up for boxing and wrapping.

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Bushmills Distillery

We were also shown to a room where we could see the effect that the wooden barrel has on the taste and colour of the whiskey. Barrels are reused after they contain other alcoholic drinks, and each type of wood produces a different taste. One display also showed different lengths of time of whiskey in a see-through barrel. As the years progressed, the whiskey in the barrel became less because it does still evaporate. This is why older whiskey is a little more expensive.

After our tour, we met in the bar and were given our vouchers for a free glass of whiskey. Unfortunately, I cannot seem to locate any photographs of our whiskey glasses. I had one of the easy-going selections, and we also received mini bottles of honey whiskey for free.

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Bushmills

After the visit to Bushmills, we drove down the Causeway Coastal Route to stop off at Dunluce Castle.

Giant's Causeway

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After our morning excursion to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Northern Ireland, we made our way down the coast to Giant's Causeway, an area of beauty with natural basalt columns that were a result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The area is a UNESCO World Heitage Site. It has been painted and photographed many times over the years. We received an audio guide tour that told us about the history of the location, the legends about it, and tours and lives of tourist guides in the old days.

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The tour started at the top of the hill, outside the new Visitor's Centre, and the first audio guidepoint was here. We had a view looking down a paved road at an oddly-shaped green mounds along the cliffside. Along the sides, we could see some of the oddly-shaped basalt columns disappearing into the sea.

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One of the items of interest was pointed out to us by the audio guide. Off to the left and as we were descending the hill to the cliffs is a rock shaped like a camel. 

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All along the wooden fence on our way down the hill were millions of caterpillars or fuzzy worms that had just hatched and were crawling all over the place. Many had made some sort of webs. Steer clear of the wooden fence by the coast when visiting in early June if you dislike the fuzzy creatures. I did not mind them, but there were so many. The wooden fence was literally crawling with them.

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The stone mounds on the way down the hill were interesting and one can easily see that these rocks were a result of a volcanic eruption and had cooled in circular lumps. The audio guide had a piece on this, but I cannot remember what it said about the rocks and their shapes.

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As we came around the corner of the mounds, we saw Giant's Causeway unfold before us in all its glory. Quite a few tourists were already climbing over the stones and admiring them.

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While we descended and walked toward the causeway. we were told about the legend of the giant who built Giant's Causeway. The giant, Finn McCool, lived with his wife on the coast and learned that he had a rival in Scotland. (The rock formations also appear in Scotland.) The two giants decided to have a fight, so Finn constructed a causeway from large stones to Scotland. While he was on his way to meet the giant, he saw how large he was and ran back home. Finn asked his wife to help him hide, and she disguised him as a baby. When the Scottish giant saw the size of the sleeping baby, he assumed that the father must be much larger and ran all the way back to Scotland, tearing away much of the causeway.

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We climbed over the stones, and I took several photographs. The stones are amazing and made out of columns. Some of them are stacked higher than other ones, and these can be climbed upon. The stones finally disappear into the sea with waves crashing up onto them.

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The hills above the causeway also have stories about them which relate to the giant's story. An organ and the back of the giant's grandmother can be seen in the hillside. I saw the organ but could not find the grandmother.

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One of the trails appears to have been cut out of in between columns of stone. Visitors can walk the causeway trail.

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In the giant legend, Finn McCool loses his boot on his run back home from Scotland, after seeing how large his rival is. A boot-shaped rock remains on the beach and is called "the giant's boot", and a photograph is below. A good photo opportunity is to have someone sitting on/inside the boot.

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Next, I will be publishing my post and photographs of Bushmills distillery, located just down the road from Giant's Causeway.

John Wesley founded a chapel and built a house in the late 1700s, and this became the birthplace of Methodism religion. The museum and chapel are free to enter, and there is a small cost for a guided tour of the Wesley home. The new chapel was built in Wesley's time and it replaced a smaller one at the same location. Across the street is Bunhill Fields cemetery, which I wrote about here, and you can also see more photographs of Wesley's Chapel.

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Wesley's Chapel Interior

John Wesley built the house in 1779, and it is an example of a London Georgian house. The house is opposite the chapel, and across the road is Bunhill Fields. (Bunhill Fields was the resting place of many non-Church of England people.) 

I took a guided tour of the house. Wesley lived here for the last decade of his life. Normally, he would travel the land to preach his religion to others, but he returned here in the winter months. His staff and other preachers stayed here as well, and I believe that there were six or seven who stayed here. The house contains many items from Wesley's time and other items that he owned. The upper floors have rooms that look over Bunhill Fields. 

Some of the furniture included an early exercise machine that Wesley could use when he was not traveling around on horse-back to keep in shape, and a chair that you could sit in backwards that had a desk attached to it.

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The Museum of Methodist is located in the chapel's crypt, and it contains several items that belonged to Wesley. The family bible, pictured above, is particularly worn from use and survived a house fire. There's also the last pen Wesley used and stumps of large trees that he preached under around the country.

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Out the back of the chapel is where Wesley is buried, along with some of the other preachers. This area is inside a small courtyard with modern offices surrounding it.

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It's amazing that the beginnings of this major Christain religion started in this small area of London many years ago, and the history is still there.

Ulster Transport Museum

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After a visit to the Ulster Folk Museum (covered in my post here), we paid a visit to the Ulster Transport Museum, which is located on the same site as the Ulster Folk Museum. Ulster Transport Museum has an exhibition dedicated to the Titanic as well as additional displays for everything related to transport: trams, buses, horse-drawn vehicles, trains, cars, and planes. As Belfast is home of the DeLorean car, which was famous in the Back to the Future films, there is naturally a display dedicated to these cars in the musuem.

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The most impressive exhibition is the Titanic exhibition. Visitors could see artefacts that had been taken from the sunken ship before it was illegal to take them, a model of the ship, ship blueprints, and many other bits and pieces. The items taken included a soup bowl and a porthole, shown below. I wonder how many people on the ship looked through this on their voyage across the Atlantic. On display in the cabinet is also a water bottle, part of the engine telegraph, and part of the hull.

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A display of steam engines, trams, buses, fire engines, and horse-drawn carriages was in one area.

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Buses

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Fire engines

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Tram

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Horse-drawn wagon

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Horse-drawn wagon

I photographed the old typeface painted on the sides of the horse-drawn wagons. 

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Vintage typeface / font

The next section is dedicated to cars.

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Various classic cars

The DeLorean exhibit was the most detailed. This included a prototype of the DeLorean, a DeLorean without the body work on top of it, and a complete DeLorean.

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After a visit to the Ulster Transport Museum, we went off to find lunch and then drove off to Carrickfergus to explore the castle, which I already posted about here.

The bloke and I visited Liverpool on the weekend before Christmas. I really like the Beatles, and I have been wanting to do a tour of the Beatles' historical locations. This post covers photographs from previous trips to Liverpool as well as the mentioned tour. There's still three places that I have yet to visit: the Casbah Club, which was Pete Best's house (I've tried to visit it twice, but no one is around or answers the phone) and the houses of Paul McCartney and John Lennon (both owned by the National Trust), and I've also still not been to the Beatles museum in Albert Dock. Keep an eye open on this blog for those visits as I do hope to get to Liverpool at some point this year to finish off the Beatles Tour.

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The Beatles in front of the Liver Building, Liverpool. Photo by Les Chadwick.

We were picked up at our hotel near Albert Dock by Eddie in his taxi cab dubbed "Penny Lane" from Fab Four Tours (http://fab4tours.co.uk). We had selected the three-hour tour (known as 'Lennon'), and although the day was cold and windy, the rain managed to stay away and we had a nice day for the tour. Our first stop was outside the impressive and imposing red-stoned Liverpool Cathedral. The size of this building is unreal, and it is one of the world's largest cathedrals. We were given a short history of it and told to visit it and climb the tower for good views. (We'll have to do this next time.) The cathedral did play a smart part in Beatles history. A young Paul McCartney failed his audition to become part of the choir here, but he did perform at the cathedral after becoming famous. 

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Liverpool Cathedral

Our next stop was not far away; it was located just down the road from the Radio City Tower. We stopped at a common-looking three-floor Georgian building. This is the Mount Pleasant register office, where John Lennon married his first wife, Cynthia Powell in August of 1962. We were told that the Beatles manager Brian Epstein purchased the building to avoid word getting out that Lennon was married. The Beatles were starting to become famous then, and they were well-known in Liverpool by this time, and Epstein did not want any harmful press circulating that he thought may alienate fans of the group. John and Cynthia met at Liverpool Art College, and she ended up pregnant with their son Julian, which prompted John to propose.

John's legal guardian (aunt Mimi) did not approve of the wedding, so she did not attend. George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John's married aunt/uncle, and Brian Epstein were in attendance; Epstein was best man. Although Ringo Starr had recently joined the band, they did not know him well enough to allow him to attend. No photographs were taken of their wedding because Epstein did not want the word to get out about the wedding. After the wedding, they walked up the street to Clayton Square and had their wedding meal at Reece's restaurant, which was the same place where John's parents had had theirs. The wedding was kept secret. John had to perform with The Beatles in Chester that evening.

As no photographs were permitted, Cynthia later drew an image of her wedding day in the register office. In the drawing, a man on a road drill is outside the window and behind the registrar. The wedding day was extremely noisy with these roadworks going on outside that no one could hear what was being said.

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Mount Pleasant register office and Cynthia's drawing of the wedding day

After John and Cynthia were married, Brian Epstein gave them the keys to one of his houses to use so that the wife and baby were kept secret. Previously, the house was used by Epstein for his encounters with male friends. It was not in a nice area of Liverpool, and the riots happened near to here. However, it is now one of the most attractive streets in Liverpool. It is a cobble-stoned street, and it has been used in films, television, and commercials. The house is 36 Falkner Street, and in the photograph below, it is the one with the red door. Cynthia and John were very happy here, and she had her baby Julian here. John wrote some of his early songs here, including "Do You Want To Know A Secret".

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Falkner Street 

Just before we went to 36 Falkner Street, we had a quick stop at John Lennon's birthplace, a Liverpool Maternity Hospital (located at Cambridge Court), which is now a part of Liverpool University. Yoko Ono, John's second and last wife before he was murdered in new York City, had the plaque put up. In these years, German World War 2 bombings were common in Liverpool, but on the night when John was born, the bombings ceased. John's mother's name was Julia, and her husband Alf (John's father) was always at sea. John did not know his father well as he always decided to stay away. His mother eventually got tired of him being away and had affairs and fell in love with other men, and John actually had a secret half-sister from one of his mother's relationships. The half-sister (named Victoria) was born when John was very young, and Julia's father made her give the baby up for adoption. Later and when Julia eventually remarried, John's aunt Mimi made Julia give her John to take care of so that he could have a stable life.

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Maternity Hospital

A short drive away, we drove past the pub Ye Cracke, located on Rice Street near Hope Street. This pub was frequented by students at the Liverpool Art College. John, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Cynthia frequented the pub, and it was a busy place. Inside the pub are meant to be photographs of the Beatles. We were shown a photograph of John standing outside the pub, and the door design, window text ('Houldings Beacon Ales') and tiling has not changed.

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Ye Cracke

Our next stop was at Liverpool Institute, where Paul McCartney and George Harrison went to school. The building was meant to be demolished, but Paul McCartney and producer George Martin managed to save it. It is now the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. Paul does often visit the institute (and Liverpool), and he shakes the hands of graduates. Next door to this was the Liverpool Art College building where John Lennon attended. They did not know each other at the time. The Liverpool Art College is currently under scaffolding as it was recently acquired by McCartney to expand the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.

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Liverpool Institute

Outside of the institute is a sculpture by John King, called 'A Case History'. It was placed in 1998 as it won the competition. The artwork features several pieces of luggage, and some of these contain plaques with the names of famous people who studied at the institute. The names include the Beatles and former Beatles, but a couple of the items from the sculpture have been damaged or stolen.

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'A Case History' by John King

We then headed to another part of Liverpool (Welsh Streets, Dingle), where the council have decided to force people to move out so they can gentrify/regenerate the area with new housing. In the middle of this is grafitti "European City of Culture?" on a wall amongst the abandoned houses.

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Welsh Streets - Dingle - Liverpool

The abandoned buildings have been used in television programmes. Around the corner of this and on Madryn Street is Ringo Starr's childhood home at number 9. And at least one resident on this street has resisted and not moved out. Apparently, the council have now claimed that some of the buildings will be kept as is and some of the buildings will be torn down and new homes will be built. Apparently Ringo did not have any memories living at this house, and he did not live here for too long. Although boarded up, Ringo's house is covered in doodles left by fans. Apparently the resident who lived across the street from this house before being forced out, was a big fan of the Beatles and had 'Beatles' put into the brickwork (pictured below).

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Ringo's childhood home

Ringo's house above had six rooms, but his father and mother separated when he was very young. The house was too large for the family, and Ringo's mother found another family who wanted to swap from a smaller house to a larger house. This resulted in Ringo and his mother moving to a smaller and cheaper house, 10 Admiral Grove, which is basically around the corner from the old house. We were told that the lady who lives in this house is a fan of the Beatles and has many Beatles items in the front room. She also has many stories about the Beatles and those who visited the street.

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10 Admiral Grove

Around the corner is where Ringo went to school, and we were also told that many celebrities went to the same school. On the corner of Admiral Grove is the pub immortalised as the album cover of Ringo's album "Sentimental Journey". In the photograph below, you can see Admiral Grove just to the right of the pub where the fencing is. Houses did exist where the fencing was at one point, but they have been torn down and the terraced housing and Ringo's childhood home starts on the other side of the pub in this photo.

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Sentimental Journey

Our next stop was a little bit of a drive away, and this was a visit to Penny Lane, the road made famous by the Beatles' song "Penny Lane". We started at the top of the road first, where we got a photograph of the Penny Lane road sign. Some of the signs have been replaced as the council was getting fed up with fans stealing the sign. To deter this, they painted on the walls. This has become a magnet for fans to doodle on.

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Penny Lane

We drove to the other end of Penny Lane where the lyrics in the song make sense - "the shelter in the middle of a roundabout", the bank, the barber where Paul and his brother had their hair cut, and the fire station.

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Penny Lane - shelter in the roundabout

Paul McCartney, who wrote the song, had fond memories of his childhood here. John Lennon also knew the area well as it was not far from his home. John would have also used the same barber. The barber shop was run by an Italian, but it's changed since then. Visitors can go inside the barber shop and have a look around; a small charitable donation can be made, and this goes to a Linda McCartney cancer charity. Images of the Beatles and old photographs of the shop and Penny Lane can be seen in the barbershop. We were also shown a child's 'seat' (wooden board) that belonged to the shop in the older days when the Beatles would have been children.

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Penny Lane barber shop

I took a photograph of the cab we had, "Penny Lane", on Penny Lane!

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Penny Lane

On the way away from Penny Lane, we passed the fire station, which is also referenced in the song lyrics.

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Penny Lane fire station

The next stop was Paul McCartney's childhood home, and this was not too far away. This is located at 20 Forthlin Road. The property is now owned by National Trust, and it can be visited. The road does get quite busy in the high season, but it was not too busy when we visited. Apparently our taxi driver just missed seeing Paul McCartney drive to his childhood home and speak to visitors outside the window, though he did say that he had taken Paul's brother on taxi journeys around Liverpool.

The house has been refitted to look like it was when Paul lived there. Luckily, Paul's brother was interested in photography, so many photographs of it were taken so that they could make it look like it did when Paul lived there. Paul's bedroom was the one above the door. The house is only open from March and closes for the winter months, so we did not visit it on this trip.

This house was a sad one in a way. Paul's mother had wanted to move into a new house for awhile, and she finally was able to move into this nice house but died a few months later.

The house was purchased by the National Trust because of the important history in song-writing that was made here. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote some of their songs together here, and Paul wrote songs here as well. "When I'm 64" is one of the songs that Paul wrote here.

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Paul McCartney's home

After visiting Paul's childhood home, we rode over to "Strawberry Fields", which John Lennon wrote a song about. The fields may have been used for strawberries at one time, but a gothic-style mansion used to exist beyond the red gate. The mansion was an orphanage when John Lennon was a child, and he did not live far away from here. This was one of the places that reminded him fondly of his childhood. Unfortunately, the mansion/orphanage burnt down. Fans of the Beatles stole pieces off of the red gates, so fake ones have been set up in its place. There are plans to create a visitor's centre here so that visitors can easily park in the area as this is just off the road at the moment and is not easy to access.

Apparently John was so besotted with this mansion from his childhood that he was drawn to an exclusive apartment building in New York City because it looked similar and reminded him of home, so he worked at getting an apartment there with his wife Yoko Ono. This was the building he was later shot outside of.

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Strawberry Fields

After the visit to Strawberry Fields, we drove a few blocks away to the house (Mendips) where John Lennon grew up with his aunt and uncle, after he was placed in their care. The house was placed onto the housing market, and Yoko Ono purchased it and gifted it to National Trust to keep John's memory alive. Also, song-writing history was made here as John did write some songs in this house. Many of John's friends lived in the houses around here, but the area has also been built up. John would have been able to see the top of Strawberry Fields from this house. 

Unfortunately, John's mother was hit by a car not far from this house. She was on her way to see John and John had gone out. She stayed to have tea with Mimi and later in the evening happened to meet one of John's friends who lived around the corner. He walked her to the crosswalk to cross the road, which was not busy in those days. Unfortunately, a driver who was drunk hit her as she was crossing the road and she was killed. We were shown where this happened, which was not far from the house.

John's house has a blue plaque because he has been gone for twenty years. Like Paul's house, it is owned by National Trust and not open in the winter months. 

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Lennon's house - Mendips

The next photograph is of George Harrison's childhood home (12 Arnold Grove), which I went to see in last summer on the way home from Liverpool. I was interested in seeing this house because George Harrison is my favourite Beatle. I have read online that the person who lives at the house currently does not like the publicity and the distractions caused by Beatles fans visiting at all hours and even trying to enter the house, so I was careful that we parked a couple of blocks away, and I quietly made my way to this small street and got a photograph. A few children were playing in the street, but it was a quiet cul-de-sac, and the front door was wide open.

This house had small rooms, and George Harrison's parents had four children. George was the youngest, and he was born during the bombing in 1943.

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George Harrison's child home - Arnold Grove

Getting back to the taxi tour, the next place that we visited after Mendips was the third house that George Harrison lived in. (The second house that he lived in is in the Speke area of Liverpool, but it is quite rough and it was also not a nice place when he lived there and his parents tried for awhile to get to move to a new location.) The house below is also lived in by someone who would rather not be associated with the Beatles.

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George Harrison house

After this visit, we were taken to Woolton. This is where John Lennon and Paul McCartney visited the cinema. 

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Woolton cinema

We stopped a little further along in Woolton where there's a picturesque church (St. Peter's). In the cemetary here are references to lyrics in the song "Eleanor Rigby". John and Paul would have hung out with their mutual friends in this church yard. Although Paul said that the name "Eleanor Rigby" was made up, it is thought that it actually referenced the lady buried here. Perhaps he did not want the place to become a Beatles pilgrimage and destroyed by this fame. Although Eleanor Rigby was married, she kept her maiden name and was known by both names in the village. the "Father McKenzie" may have been a name on another grave.

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Eleanor Rigby

Across the street from St. Peter's Church is the church hall. John Lennon and Paul McCartney met here at the church's garden fete. They were introduced by a mutual friend. John was a member of the Quarry Men band, and the mutual friend mentioned the fete to Paul and asked him to bring his guitar. By the end, Paul and John were friends and respected each other's music ability. A plaque on the hall commemorates this event. Our driver gave us a CD with information about this meeting.

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Woolton church hall where John and Paul met

This concluded our tour. However, we had been to Liverpool before, so the remainder of this post will be photographs of other places with Beatles fame that I have visited. The photographs below show the Cavern Walks shopping centre, where there is artwork and sculptures dedicated to the famous band. Outside in the street (Mathew Street) is the pub district of Liverpool. The pub called 'The Grapes' is where the Beatles would have a drink before playing at the Cavern Club across the street.

The original entrance to the Cavern Club was next to the entrance to where this shopping centre is today. The artwork and statue of the Beatles in the shopping centre were created by Cynthia Lennon.

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Cavern Walks

We went into the Cavern Club. I've been a few times before, but I had never seen the Beatles guitars and drum and the contract with the Beatles signatures. This display contained information about the instruments.

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Cavern Club - Beatles display

We visited just before mid-day, and a band was practising. They were singing Beatles songs, which was appropriate. We had been the first people in the club, but a small crowd turned up to listen to them practice while we were there. This bit of the Cavern Club is what the stage would have looked like at the time of the Beatles, but the Cavern Club is only a quarter of its original size. The area where the Beatles performed no longer exists as it was torn down. Actually, the club is more popular now than when I visited in 2007, and one area is a large gift shop with Beatles merchandise.

The walls and ceiling were filled with grafitti from Beatles fans or simply tourists wishing to leave their mark. Other bands have played here, and there's a wall of bricks outside with the names of other musicians who have performed.

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Cavern Club stage

I have a few shots of the exterior of the Cavern Club, and a statue of John Lennon is located across the street from the entrance.

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Cavern Club

It may have been a little too early for cocktails before mid-day, but we decided to have one anyway. The Cavern Club serve Beatles-themed cocktails; each one of four cocktails is named after a Beatle. The one that appealed to me was the one named after my favourite Beatle, George. The cocktail "My Sweet George" contained Vodka, Triple Sec, orange juice, and Archers. The bloke had the "Ringo's Rum Drum", which contained rum and orange juice. "Lennon's Long Island" and "Macca's Magical Mystery" were also on offer. 

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Beatles cocktails

The following photograph shows Mathew Street as it currently looks (summer 2014).

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Mathew Street

This concludes the Beatles post for now, but check back for an update as I still want to see the National Trust Houses, the museum, and Casbah (if they ever answer their phone/emails). I plan to see them at some point this year.

Note that this post is not an endorsement.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber at Christmas

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Before Christmas, I visited the town of Rothenburg ob der Tabeur in Bavaria, Germany. The town is a well-preserved medieval town with the majority of its city walls intact. The town is located about the river Tabeur, and there are stunning views. Cobble-stoned streets lead off to picturesque buildings and towers. 

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I had a day trip here from Nuremberg, and we parked at one of the western entrances and walked into the city walls and into town.

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We came to the market square and went into several shops as the Christmas Market stalls were not yet open.

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I admired the beautiful architecture.

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We walked down the hill from the main street and popped into a few of the shops.

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The following photograph shows one of the most beautiful locations from Rothenburg ob der Tabeur, at Kobolzeller Steige and Spitalgasse. I had to take several photographs. This was in the morning, but the area was still busy. I visited Rothenburg on a Monday, but I have been told that the town can get extremely crowded, and weekends may be one of the busy days. The town is particularly busy with Japanese tourists, and it is twinned with one town in Japan.

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I loved the hidden areas of this town. Walk down any street, and there was always a surprise waiting for us.

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The Christmas Market opens from 11:00 in the morning, so we headed up to the market square, taking in the beautiful buildings. This town was lucky to have not been destroyed during World War II. It survived for a number of reasons, but one reason we read was that an American soldier or commander was familiar with it as his mother had a picture of it, so he knew it was important to keep it from being destroyed.

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Nativity scenes are quite common in Germany, and the Christmas Market area in Rothenburg had their own display.

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We visited the Kathe Wolfahrt shop, which is one of the largest in the world. Kathe Wolfahrt sells Christmas decorations. This one has a Christmas museum inside it, so we popped in here to have a look before the Christmas market opened. We learned about the history of Christmas decorations.

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Photographs were not allowed inside the museum or the Kathe Wolfahrt shop, unfortunately.

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We had lunch at one of the hotels in Rothenburg and ended up being the only diners. The food was nice, and I had chicken in mushroom sauce with another item that the Germans call "noodles", which may have been potato and batter/flour.

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After the meal, we browsed around the Christmas market.

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I had a mulled punch (non-alcoholic punch can be bought, and it's really meant for children). This came with a biscuit.

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After the browse around the market, we went into the City Hall in the market square. For a small fee, one can climb up the tower to have a good view over the picturesque town.

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Rothenburg ob der Tabeur is well-known for its festive fried and battered treat, the snowball (schneeball). Traditionally, this is covered in powdered sugar, but other varieties can also be purchased, such as chocolate. The dessert does not taste that great as it's just pastry crust and does not have much flavour.

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I loved the little details on all of the buildings.

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There are so many beautiful areas to this town. 

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In the afternoon and after we browsed the Christmas Market, we had a walk around the city walls. This takes the majority of the time, and half a day is needed to just walk the city walls. I'll be covering this in a later post. 

Rothenburg was one of the most beautiful towns that I've visited, and it reminded me of several of the small towns that I have visited in Alsace-Lorraine.

Nuremberg Christmas Market

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After Thanksgiving, the bloke and I jetted off to Germany to spend a few days visiting Nuremberg and its famous Christmas market (Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt). We arrived on Friday evening, the opening day of the Christmas market. We headed into the city's main square (Hauptmarkt) after dropping off our luggage at the hotel. As it was the opening day, the market was exceptionally busy.

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On the way to the main square, we walked through Ludwig Platz where we saw a living nativity with donkeys, goats, an alpaca, and a camel. The Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus were not living, of course. We saw the animals here almost every day that we walked past the nativity, though they do take them away at night.

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The Christmas Market in Nuremberg consists of the main market, a children's market, and a sister city market. The sister city market is based on Nuremberg's twinned (sister) cities, and each has its own market stall that specialises in its country's products off of the main square. For example, shortbread and whisky were available to buy in the Glasgow stall. American sweets were available from the Atlanta, Georgia stall.

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The Christmas market is huge, and it took us about half of a day to go through it and see everything. We did visit it a few times over the few days that we were there, but we had a proper look around all of the stalls on one of the weekday mornings when the market was quieter.

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The market gets incredibly busy as the day goes on, and dusk is the busiest time to visit the market. At times, such as the weekend and the opening night, it was too busy to browse. I do not enjoy browsing busy places as it is impossible to have a proper look.

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The fountain in the Hauptmarkt is called Schöner Brunnen, and during the Christmas market, all but one side is surrounded by stalls. A gold ring is located on the railing of the fountain, and turning this three times will make wishes come true. The fountain was always surrounded by tour groups during our visits to the market.

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Upon entering the square, visitors will see a large gold tinsel angel. This is one of the symbols of Nuremberg. The golden tinsel angel is made of thin metal and is made to be a tree topper. It is a symbol of the Christkind, translated Christ Child. The Christ Child is a Nuremberg tradition. She is a giver of gifts and became a tradition for the market in the early 1930s.

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Every year, young women between the ages of 16 and 19 can enter the competition to be the Christmas Market's symbol, Christkind. In this tradition, they open the Christmas Market each year with a speech and also visit the market nearly every afternoon. The ChristKind is popular with children, and every child and some adults wanted their photograph taken with her.

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Another area of the square, in front of the Church of Our Lady, is sectioned off and contains the antique nativity scene.

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One of the most popular items for sale are Christmas ornaments and Christmas craft items. Some of these are so beautiful but also so fragile as they are made of delicate glass. I loved looking at them, but I am put off buying them because I am afraid that they would not make the journey back in one piece, and if they did, I would be worried that they would break in storage or fall off the Christmas tree.

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One tradition is the pickle tree ornament. Each year, the pickle is hidden on the tree. When the child discovers it, he/she will receive a special prize. The size of the pickle varies. For younger children, the pickle is larger so that it is easier for them to find. As the children get older, the pickle becomes smaller and more difficult to find.

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The market stalls were covered in ornaments. It was impossible to see all of them. There were so many that I loved.

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In addition to the traditional glass ornaments, visitors could buy ornaments that were cookies baked and then painted into Christmas designs. I remember making these types of ornaments when I was younger. 

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Food is also popular at the Christmas market. Sausages, candy apples, chocolate, gingerbread, and Christmas cake were all popular. Nuremberg is most known for its special Nuremberg sausage and gingerbread. I had some gingerbread, and it was nice, but it was not the type of gingerbread that I am familiar with. A mulled wine drink is also popular, and this goes well with the gingerbread. Gingerbread, known as lebkuchen, dates from medieval times.

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One of the most interesting stalls sold chocolate items that were shaped like tools and other everyday items. At first, I thought that these were antique items because they did look real. However, all items were made from chocolate with a dusting of cocao powder to make them look 'worn' and slightly rusty. Scissors, wrenches, faucets, bottle caps, horseshoes, clothes pegs, cameras, locks, keys, and scissors were some of the items. 

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I also had a wander to the Christmas Children's Market, which was extremely popular with school groups of children. A small ferris wheel, carousel, and other games and crafts were available for the children. Children could make their own candles or ice and decorate their own gingerbread. Between the two markets is also a nativity trail with some nativity scenes. A large model train set with a few running trains was also at the far end of the Children's Christmas Market. Each of the market stalls in the Children's Christmas Market had a decoration on top of it. These varied from a family of bears making treats, a family sitting in a Christmas room, snowmen, Santa and reindeer, and a group of bakers.

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Snowglobes were a popular item in the Christmas markets.

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A couple of stalls also sold a large range of dollhouse items.

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The best architectual structure (and oldest) was Frauenkirche, Church of Our Lady. Visitors could listen to church services here, and they had special advent services. Visitors could also climb up part of the way to the balcony to have an elevated view of the Christmas market, and this is the balcony that the Christkind stands on for the opening ceremony of the Christmas Market every year. At noon each day, the clock on Frauenkirche moves and little figures move around the clockface.

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I took a few photographs from the balcony of Frauenkirche. The market was not the busiest at this time but the crowds were growing.

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Another traditional item to buy at the Nuremberg Christmas Market at the prune men (Zwetschgenmännle). These little men and women are made from prunes and have a walnut head. A few stalls around the Christmas Market were selling these novelty items.

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There are many different designs for the prune men, and a few of my photographs are below. They are said to bring happiness and luck.

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Springerle is another Nuremberg traditional food. It is an embossed white biscuit design, and it is translated to "little knights". This cookie is from Renaissance times, and it is made with egg white and anise. Some of the deisgns have been coloured, otherwise they are simply embossed. I did try these, and they are a wafer-like biscuit with a slight anise taste. A few of the different designs can be seen below.

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Nutcrackers were amongst the popular Christmas crafts.

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Around the Christmas area (though not inside the actual market square itself) and main streets were a couple of different buskers dressed as Santa with small, cute dogs. 

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Last but not least, a twenty-minute dash around the Christmas Market and streets of Nuremberg is possible in the German post (Deutsche Post) stagecoach. The men driving the horse would blow a horn to signal the approach of the carriage as we were taken around the market, and everyone would stop to look. I felt like a celebrity for those twenty minutes.

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Also, if you love postcards and stamps like I do, do not forget to visit the special Christmas market stall for German Post. This is located across the road from the fountain. Tickets for the stagecoach rides mentioned above can be purchased here as well as stamps and postcards. Even if you have written your postcards, stamped or not, you can take your postcards here to receive one of two special Nuremberg German postmark stamps. I went back to this stall several times to receive the special postmarks.

Last but not least, I have put together a list of tips for visiting the Nuremberg Christmas Market. The list below mentions good points and what to avoid.

Tips for Nuremberg Christmas Market:

  • Some of the stallholders are dishonest and rude. I gave money for a glass of mulled punch across from the horse stagecoaches, and the stallholder tried to deny I had given her money even after I kept insisting, and she and her boss were extremely rude to me. I eventually got my money, but I had to make a scene by arguing. Make sure that the stallholder has your full and undivided attention throughout the transaction and force them to make eye contact with you.
  • Prices vary greatly for the same item and change as the market gets busier. Again, some of the stallholders are dishonest and will charge more. Look around first and note the price. If the price is not on display, ask and then continue to look for the best price. Prices can vary greatly fort he exact same item. Also, as I did visit the market several times, I noticed that the stalls changed their prices during busier times. I saw one stall sell one particular item for 2.50, and this price was raised to 3.50 as the day progressed and market got busier.
  • Watch your money and possessions as there are pickpockets. I did not have any trouble, but this was advice given to me.
  • Visit in the morning when it's quiet. The evenings and dusk gets extremely busy, and it's not possible to browse when it's too busy. The market opens at 10:00am, but some stalls open a little later, and the market is relatively quiet then.  
  • Try new things. Sausage, mulled wine, and gingerbread are a few items to try.
  • Get a map of the Christmas Market. A map of all stalls in the main Christmas Market, the Children's Christmas Market, and the International Christmas Market is available in the Tourist Information building on the market square. This is located near the church.
  • Look for prune men. The map available from the Tourist Information centre includes locations of the stalls for the prune men separately. 
  • Get your special stamps and postmarks. For those sending postcards, visit this stall opposite the fountain and receive a special postmark. Postcards and stamps can also be purchased here.
  • See Christkind. She makes an appearance daily at approximately 3:00 in the afternoon on most days. The brochure in the Tourist Information can provide more information as the timing and availability is subject to change.
  • Have fun!

After enjoying our time in the Magical Ice Kingdom at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland this year (read about it here), we headed over to the Bar Ice, where I had a reservation. I think Bar Ice is the same company who run ICE BAR off of Regent's Street, which I went to a couple of summers ago (Nights Out: London ICE BAR). The reservation is for fourty minutes to spend enjoying (and freezing at) the bar. Bar Ice uses the same building as the Magical Ice Kingdom, but I think Bar Ice may have been a little colder.

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Visitors are given jackets and gloves before they head into Bar Ice. This keeps us a little bit warm, and you do need the gloves as the free cocktail comes in a glass made completely from ice.

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The room's walls, tables, seats, and the bar are made completely out of ice. There are a couple of ice sculptures in the room, such as detailing around the wall. This was not as impressive as the ICE BAR off Regent's Street, particularly as we had just come from seeing the Magical Ice Kingdom with its beautiful ice sculptures. We were a little spoiled.

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The cocktails (alcholic and non-alcoholic) had a festive winter theme. I opted for "Cinnamon Sparkler", which contained Eristoff, Goldschlager (cinnamon schnapps with gold flakes), Cosmopolitan mixer, cranberries, limes, and orange. I liked it.

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My partner had either the "Berry Blizzard" or "Jack Frost", but I cannot remember which one. Both of these contained strawberry. His came with a Twizzler straw. 

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Unlike ICE BAR, the ice benches did not have matts to sit on, and I was wearing my dress. I was not about to sit directly onto an ice cold ice bench and freeze. 

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We did not stay long at Bar Ice as my partner was feeling cold. I could have stayed longer and had another festive cocktail, but we decided to leave to beat the rush hour. We also needed to pack and get everything ready for going away on holiday to Germany the next day.

London Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland 2014

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Every Christmas, the area of Hyde Park near Hyde Park Corner tube station is transformed into Winter Wonderland. This tripled in size three years ago to contain new areas, such as a Magical Ice Kingdom and more games and food stalls. Each year, it gets busier and more popular, and I did not go at all last year because I was put off from the crowds the year previously. This year, I decided to go back because it was a few days after the opening of Winter Wonderland for the year and I expected it to be quiet and not popular with crowds of people. I actually went on Thanksgiving, after visiting Christopher's Grill in Covent Garden (Thanksgiving at Christopher's Restaurant in London).

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When arriving at Winter Wonderland from Hyde Park Corner tube station, the first area that one passes through is the Christmas Market. 

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The usual rides are at Winter Wonderland along with new ones, and the ice skating is also available. There are plenty of games and rides to enjoy, and this year there is the Magical Ice Kingdom (featuring ice sculptures) and a special winter/Christmas edition of Ice Bar.

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Food and drink, such as mulled wine, can also be enjoyed.

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These are all available in wooden chalets.

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There are also plenty of photo opportunities with animal sculptures, but there are not quite as many as previous years when people could pose with snowmen and penquins.

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As usual, Winter Wonderland will be popular again this year. To avoid crowds, try to get there early or go during the week. Saturday and Sunday during the day are extremely busy. Transport for London also encourages visitors in peak times to use an alternative tube station as Hyde Park Corner gets congested. Knightsbridge is a short walk away as is Marble Arch.

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