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Manor Farm (Ruislip) & Ruislip Castle

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Not too far from where I live is Manor Farm (in Ruislip) and the remaining earthworks of a motte and bailey castle on the same site. Manor Farm has a 700-year-old barn which is considered the oldest in London. Once a month, a traveling craft and food market (known as Duck Pond Market, and they are based around west London) turns up at Manor Farm. A craft shop, tea room, and library are also located on the site. Several information points have been put up to explain the history of the site and the buildings on the site, and this information was helpful in my wanderings around the area.

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On site at the modern-day entrance from Ruislip High Street is the horse pond. It was known as the 'Horse Pool' in Elizabethan times and was one of the busiest places on the farm because the horses would be brought here to drink and cool off. Nearby was a blacksmith's workshop. The barns in the image above are the Cow Byre, and they date back to the 19th century. The Great Barn is next to them on the other side with the inner courtyard, stables, a pig stye and granary. The original burnt in 1976 and was rebuilt a few years later. Upon rebuilding, flint was discovered as was what could have been foundations of an early building, such as the guest house for the priory that used to be on the same site.

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The farm was a working farm and the land around it was farmed until the 1930s when the land was sold by King's College, Cambridge. It was sold and developed into a large housing estate due to the location of the rail station at Ruislip Manor. 

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This brings us to the Motte and Bailey (or castle) site. From 1087-1888, the priory was here. It was built by monks on the site which may have been an earlier motte and bailey castle. A new manor house was built in 1506 on the site of the priory, and the remains of the priory were completely demolished in 1613. The northern part of the moat was filled in in 1888. All that remains today of the motte and bailey are earthworks. The mound of land can be seen with a grassy moat surrounding part of it.

This brings us to Manor Farm House.

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The Manor Farm House was completed around 1508. The lordship of the manor was passed on to King's College, Cambridge in 1451. However, they wished to have more comfortable lodgings than the old priory, so a new manor house was built. Manor Farm was also used as a court until 1925.

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Manor Farm House is now a museum and cultural site that can be visited. Entrance is free, and it's actually a fairly interesting place to spend an hour. The musuem also describes Ruislip's history, such as how it got its name and what it means - a question I have wondered. (For you're information, it is two words combined: "rush" and "leap". It was a place to leap over where rushes grow. However, it's not really pronounced like that anymore and sounds more like Rice-lip.)

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Manor Farm House is also important because of a discovery found when work was being completed on the house. It has the oldest in-situ wallpaper of any building in the UK. The wallpaper was even discovered in an old newspaper advertisement, so they could trace the manufacturer and the pattern. The wallpaper in these days was meant to mimic wooden wall panel carvings. This is probably how wallpaper started (to mimic wooden panel interior carvings) before evolving into what it is today.

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Further down the hill is a ditch and bank, which was dug. This was probably the boundary betwen the park and the Saxon village of Ruislip. The park was the woodland for hunting animals, and it was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. Prehistoric fint tools and Roman and medieval pottery were discovered near, and the earthworks date at least 1000 years but are more modern than the other discoveries.

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Have you been to Ruislip Manor Farm House, the Great Barn, or this area of London before?

Nearly twelve years ago, I visited Caernarfon Castle with my parents and cousin. To this day, I still claim that it is one of the best castles that I have ever visited, and the scale of the site is enormous. Although it is a ruin, it is well-preserved, and the walls and most towers and rooms are accessible. The castle also has fantastic views over the sea and over the old village. I have fond memories of walking around the walls, which were on different levels, and shouting below to my family if I saw them below (we explored most of the castle on our own). There were many steps to climb, so you really need to be in top shape.

The castle was constructed from the late 1100s and it saw a lot of action and fighting here. It fell into ruin in the 1400s when castles were seen as less important.

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I can't believe that it's been so long ago, and I wonder if the castle still looks the same. When we visited, we had beautiful warm weather, and there were not too many people.

An Afternoon at Tintern Abbey, Wales

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Many years ago, I visited Tintern Abbey. In fact, I have visited it twice now. My first visit was in July of 2005, and the photographs in this post date from that visit. Tintern Abbey is located in Monmouthshire in Wales, close to the border of England. I visited the abbey after visiting Chepstow Castle, which is only a few miles away. Both attractions can be easily-visited in a day.

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Tintern Abbey was founded in 1131 along the river Wye. It was only one of a couple of Cicestcian order monasteries in Britain. The monastery would have been its own little community, and the site did change a lot over the years. The existing ruined structure of the abbey actually dates from the end of the 1200s. The site was a successful monastery until it and all of the monastaries were dissolved by Henry VIII. It became a ruin shortly after that time, and the lead was removed from the roof and sold.

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Due to the Wye valley's beauty, tourists often visited the area, and the ruins were one of the attractions to visit. The ruins were used and romanticised about in fine art, poetry and in books. This brought people in to look at them and for the ruins to be better-preserved.

For the first time this year last Sunday, the weather felt like spring. In fact, this year is already flying past and we will soon be in April in a couple of weeks. Last Sunday, the bloke and I headed back down to near Basingstoke in Hampshire (where I used to live) in order to meet a group of friends for Sunday roast lunch at a pub. Because of busy schedules, we booked the day toward the end of November. One member of the group is going back to China this week for approximately a month, and the others are particularly busy with their young children. Seeing everyone again was very nice, and we had the loveliest weather on Sunday to top it all off.

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The day before, one of my university friends from America flew over for work and seminars. We met up in the evening, and I would have invited him to lunch if I knew we would be able to get an extra seat on the reservation. Every visitor to the United Kingdom must experience a traditional pub Sunday roast. 

The pub we visited is located in Odiham in Hampshire, and it is called "The Waterwitch". It's located in a beautiful listed building from the 17th century with little nooks and wooden beams and a lot of natural light. Each litttle area was decorated in its own style with a different beautiful wallpaper section that was either vintage or country-themed. I loved some of the wallpaper patterns here. 

The pub is also located along the Basingstoke Canal and has a beautiful and large garden at the back. I lived in Basingstoke for ten years, and I regret that I had never walked along the Basingstoke Canal or paid a visit to this pub. We actually did not eat out too often, but we were located in the centre of Basingstoke so always opted to dine on our doorstep.

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The bloke and I are always the first to arrive. I hate being late, and 'on time' means ten or fifteen minutes early to me. When everyone did turn up, we opened the Prosecco to celebrate my citizenship that I received a few days prior to our get-together.

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I also ordered a cheeky cocktail, which was called "Winter"-something. I forgot the name, but it contained cranberry, Vodka, and another type of juice. It was refreshing.

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I ordered the roast turkey, and the bloke had roast beef. Two of my friends are vegetarian, so nut roasts and alternative vegetarian options were catered for. The other two ordered fish dishes. The roasts came with all of the vegetables and were tasty.

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To start, I had a tomato soup, which I had started to eat before I realised I should take a photograph, and I also had the 'chocolate dream' for dessert.

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During lunch, one of my friends mentioned that he and his girlfriend intended to go for a walk after lunch. I invited myself along because a walk is always a great idea. I didn't even know there was a canal behind the pub, and a castle was mentioned. At understanding castles and a canal walk was in order, I was 'in'. I did not have shoes suitable for walking in the mud, but I love walking and castles, and I just wanted to get out and enjoy this beautiful spring day.

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The first glimpse of Basingstoke Canal included seeing many visitors rowing boats and a walking trail along the side of the canal. A map of the walking trail is located at the bottom of this post. We had a leisurely stroll along the canal for approximately half an hour before we arrived at Odiham Castle. We saw many visitors in the row boats, fields of sheep, ducks, spring flowers sprouting, and an abandoned and rusty old canal boat.

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At North Warnborough, we passed a few back gardens of houses and came to a lock where swans were swimming and where we saw a pony and a horse. A lot of people were giving the horse attention.

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We walked for another couple of minutes before we saw a glimpse of Odiham Castle in the spring sun. 

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Upon arriving at the entrance, we saw that we were not the first visitors. A local company conducts canal boat charters to/from Odiham Castle, and they were stopped in front of the castle to have a look.

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Odiham Castle is an octagonal castle and is also known as King John's Castle. It was built by King John during his reign. He only managed to build three castles, and he chose this spot as he had visited it in 1204 and it was halfway between Windsor and Winchester. It is now a ruin.

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The castle took seven years to complete and has a two-storey keep (the ruin) and a square moat. It was completed in 1214. The following year, King John either rode from this castle or one at Windsor in order to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede. Last year was a big year for the Magna Carta, so the castle received a couple of plaques to commemorate it.

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The castle suffered damage by the French in the 1200s. It was granted to King John's daughter. It became a prison and it was used as a hunting lodge in the 15th century. In 1605, it was described as a ruin. In 1792, the Basingstoke Canal was built through the castle grounds and bailey.

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The archways and remains of the grand fireplace could be seen as well as the location where the wooden floor beams would have rested.

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The castle is made of flint.

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The castle was free to visit, and we probably spent twenty minutes walking around it and reading the information panels around it. 

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On the way back, we were greeted by the horse. We decided to take a different way back to the pub where our cars were located. Most of the trail along the canal was fine, and we managed to dodge the mud puddles, except there was one large area of mud about three metres long that was impossible to avoid, so the bloke and I did get our shoes muddy. 

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Walking back through the town of Odiham enabled us to see the town and see a different view. I'd driven past and through Odiham before, but we never stopped although I had been tempted to explore it. Odiham has many attractive Georgian buildings.

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One red door had a fantastic doorknob and letter box, and the house was named "Christmas Cottage".

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I was also happy to see the spring flowers in bloom. Daffodils and tree blossoms are common here.

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Right before we arrived at the pub, we passed a couple of residential streets that were named after people who had served in the military and had won medals. I thought this was a nice monument to them.

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When we arrived at the pub, we stepped inside to have a pot of warm tea before parting our separate ways. Although the day was beautiful and I was kept warm by walking, a pot of tea helped to warm me and give me some new energy.

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To enjoy a pleasant circular walk along the Basingstoke Canal to Odiham Castle, you can follow my crude drawing in black line on the map below. This is the route that we walked. We headed clockwise along the canal to the castle and then walked back through North Warnborough and Odiham High Street before returning to the pub.

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Let me know if you know of any nice country walks around Middlesex or London that involve a nice pub/restaurant or afternoon tea as I would love to try them out.

Last Sunday was Valentine's Day. For the past two or three years, I have been wanting to go onto the London Cable Car (also known as the Emirates Air Line) for Valentine's Day, but we never got around to it until this year. The Emirates Air Line has offered chocolates on Valentine's Day for the past couple of years in order to get people to use its services, and I am pretty certain that this did not cost anything extra. Last year, there was even a proposal! However, it's been marketed this year as a proper Valentine's Day event requiring tickets to be purchased in advance at the high price of £25.00 per person. For that price, you get four chocolates (two chocolates each), a glass of champagne each, and a paper viewing guide. Romantic music is also played during the trip, and the television screens show heart imagery.

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As this was ticketed and I thought that the price could only keep going up next year, I purcashed tickets for Sunday (Valentine's Day). I learned a day or two later that all tickets for Sunday had sold out, and some of the Saturday slots had also sold out. At least I can tick this off my London bucket list.

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We were asked to go to the North Greenwich side to take the cable car. This terminal is located a five-minute walk from the O2 and North Greenwich tube station. When we arrived, we got into the queue to take our journey. A lot of people were around, and there was an even larger queue for the public who wanted to take the trip in groups. Many people were asking about taking the Valentine's Day ride, but they did not realise it had sold out. We waited in the queue until someone came to get the groups of couples, two or four at a time. Each couple was led to the terminal to take a private lift to the top where the cable cars unload and pick up passengers.

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At the top of the platform after we disembarked the lift, the bloke rushed me to get on the cable car for some reason (I guess because the staff person was there and the car was leaving), and that left me very flustered (I really *hate* when he does that to me). I rushed to the cable car, but as I arrived to get on the cable car, we were then called over by another staff member. We were given our glasses of champagne, viewing guide, and box of chocolates. I just remembered! No time to think being rushed around! It all happened very quick and too quickly for me to gather any thoughts and get any photographs. We were rushed into the car immediately. (As were were about to get in, my camera battery died too so I had to use my mobile to get photographs.) Talk about really bad timing!

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We sat in the car and were whizzed into the air. I'm not great with heights, but everything was happening too quickly for me to think. We were whisked up in the lift, had to grab our champagne/guide/chocolates, and were rushed into the cable car. Feeling rushed and quickly in the air, I was a little too uneasy about getting photographs. I just remember the wind knocking the car and pushing it around as I was trying to hold onto my champagne and get my mobile out to use it as a camera. 

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In the rush and fear of height, I managed to hit some button on my mobile which cast every photo that I took with a blue filter and I had to stick with the setting until I downed my champagne and could sort it out. I did manage to fix it after about fifteen photographs or so. I was also a little too afraid to really look at what was around me, but the bloke was telling me that he could see the Thames Barrier. I was too frightened of the height to look behind me at that time.

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On the return journey, when I was relaxed with the height, I did see the Thames Barrier in the distance. If my battery had not have died, I would have been able to zoom in to get a better photograph.

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We approached the other side of the river where the end terminal is located, and there was also a queue of people waiting on this side, but it wasn't quite as long.

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We remained in our carriage as it went back the other direction and back to North Greenwich.

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By now, I was very comfortable with the height and managed to look behind me and take photographs and actually move instead of sitting perfectly still in the car.

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On the way back, we also opened our box of Godiva chocolates to share. Neither of us looked at the visitor guide because we wanted to focus on the view.

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I saw some amazing views of the O2 and Canary Wharf. We even pointed out buildings in the City of London and the Shard.

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Seeing the O2 made me think about when the O2 was "The Millennium Dome". Visiting it often brings back those memories of the summer of 2000 when I visited it, and at one time they did keep some old relics of the sculptures in the building. These seem to have been removed at last now as I have not been able to find them for the past few visits. I also thought that the next time I go back home, I will go through my photographs of my visit to "The Millennium Dome" and scan them. Yes, these were the days before digital cameras and mobile phones. Not everyone had a camera, and those who did have one were interested in photograph and/or tourists who were interested in capturing memories. Because cameras wrote photographs to rolls of film using light and chemical reactions, you only had up to 36 shots per roll of film. Hence, we did not take too many photographs. It was also costly to buy and develop film, and you also had to carry it around. I had my SLR (which took excellent photographs and was better to any digital equivelant), which I had to properly adjust the settings (speed and F-stop) for and click and just hope that the photograph turned out well.

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I was happy at being able to appreciate the views now, but I wished that the ride did not come to an end and we could go around one more time.

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But our journey was over. Boo. The journey was supposed to be a longer one of twenty minutes in total on the cable car (ten minutes both ways) and slowed down for us to enjoy the views. I don't actually think it was slowed down, and maybe they changed their mind because of all of the crowds that appeared on the day. It seemed to go very quickly to me, but I didn't time it.

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Also, the price is a little steep for what it is, which I already knew when I booked it, I guess. I was very disappointed at not being able to go last year, so I wanted to do it. I've never been on the cable car, and despite the rush and so on, it was good fun. I just wish that we had not been rushed at the beginning and also wished that it could have lasted a little longer so that we could really enjoy the view. I am a little frightened of heights, and it does take me a short while to get adjusted.

After we finished, we did manage to get a seat at O2 Nando's for late lunch. We got there just in time as well because "Strictly Come Dancing" was on tour at the O2 and it was late in the afternoon. When we left Nando's, we saw a very long queue for it and the show had just finished. So, I guess we planned it right.

Originally, I was going to spend the day at Chinatown and also see the fireworks as the celebrations took place in London on Valentine's Day this year. I didn't get to do it, despite promising myself that I would for the last seven years. Next year is the rooster's year; it probably will not be as fun as the monkey, but maybe it will be the first year that I will see the Chinese New Year in London.

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.

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