Natural History Museum London Out of Hours

Natural History Museum London Out of Hours

Last week I was lucky enough to spend some time in the Natural History Museum in London with no-one else around. It’s one of my favourite places to visit in the UK and even better it is completely FREE.

If you do want to take a look around I would recommend going early in the morning to avoid the crowds. I would also recommend taking a look online and time your visit so you can attend one of  the special sessions such as NATURE LIVE which run daily. At these short talks you can hear from the researchers and curators who work behind the exhibitions on display with the collections.
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There is so much more to the museum than dinosaurs but it wouldn’t be right to feature a blog post without  a picture of Dippy.

Speaking of collections, you wouldn’t believe it from the empty looking main hall in the photograph below but there are over 70 MILLION specimens held in the museum. 70 MILLION. Can you get your head round a number that big? I can’t. These range from giant squid to tiny specimens on microscopic slides.

I had a spare 30 minutes to take the ‘spirit tour’ at the museum which was fantastic but be warned it can be a bit gruesome (see the photo of the partially digested squid head found in a sperm whales stomach below – I would love to have one of those on my mantelpiece). I learnt a lot more about the museum from the trail and the guide was able to answer questions about the specimens and collections. The tours run daily and give a peek into some of the specimens in the museum. The giant squid was impressive but seeing some of the original specimens Darwin collected on the Beagle voyage was very special.
I also learnt that the museum uses flesh eating beetles to clean the bones of specimens and I saw a jar of sperm whale eyes. It would be a great visit for a Halloween trip.
Beyond the exhibitions that make you go WOW, OOH and EWW. The museum is also an active research institute partnering with universities around the globe to answer some of the big scientific questions from understanding complex ecosystems to investigating the fundamental geological processes that shape our planet and solar system. These questions are being answered through use of the museum collections, expertise and resources.
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Darwin watching over the main hall.
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The Earth Hall. Unfortunately the escalators weren’t working so I couldn’t travel through the Earth.
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A partially digested head from a Sperm Whale’s stomach of course.
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Disco rocks are found on the first floor of the museum.
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This was my favourite exhibition in the museum which is the Images of Nature gallery. There are some beautiful drawings, paintings and visualisations of nature.
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I was visiting the museum for Universities Week 2014 so there were lots of pop-up exhibitions going on including a volcano on the lawn.  
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A view of  of the main hall from above
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At the very top of the hall is a section of trunk from the giant sequoia tree. It’s HUGE and this tree was over 1300 years old when it was felled. 
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The museum is far to big to get round in one day. I’ve been a number of times and still haven’t seen most of the building. I’m glad I wandered up to the top of the hall to see this ceiling though.

I really enjoyed  the ‘Treasures’ exhibition too and you can explore that online. It’s a small exhibition but each of the exhibits in this collection are of mind-blowingly huge significance. This includes a first edition book of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species published in 1859 and the oldest UK lion skull since the extinction of wild cave lions. I didn’t even know these were a thing.

If you walk through the doors of the Natural History Museum I think it’s impossible to walk out again without saying ‘Wow, I never knew that’.

The museum is open every day from 10 am and is FREE!

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The Cruickshank Botanical Gardens

The Cruickshank Botanical Gardens

Today I took a stroll through the beautiful Cruickshank Botanic Gardens in Aberdeen. The gardens are free to visit and open every day in the summer from 9am until 7pm. More information about the gardens including an interactive online map for those not lucky enough to be in Aberdeen can be found here.
 
If you visit the gardens during the week you might catch a glimpse of some of the researchers working in the greenhouses. There’s lots of active research in soil and food sciences at the university going on and you can read some more about it here.
 
There’s a cafe sci talk on soil science later in the year too!
And just to prove that the gardens are in Aberdeen because you might not believe me….
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There are benches in the garden where you can sit and have some lunch so they are perfect for a picnic on a sunny day!

 

A visit to Bioparc Fuengirola!

A visit to Bioparc Fuengirola!

I visited  Bioparc Fuengirola on a trip to Spain in May 2014. I went with my family and it’s a great place to visit for a few hours. I think we spent about 3-4 hours there but you could do the whole thing in two hours or so!  It’s easy for prams to get around and we saw lots of family groups with young kids and grandparents in tow.

I would recommend taking the lemur tour which runs hourly from the big Baobab tree and is on a first come, first served basis. You don’t get many chances in life to get close to lemurs!
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The plant life, layout and design of the park is great. I like the way they have used bamboo and wood to create the enclosures. My dad made friends through the glass with this Fulvous Whistling Duck.

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You can get close to many of the animals in the enclosures. I think the bird enclosure was my favourite. You can walk through and the birds are roaming throughout the space.
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It’s in this area we also saw the famous baby Java mouse-deer also known as SUPER CUTE TEENY TINY DEER. Here’s a picture of one of the parents having a wee (I always manage to capture special moments with my camera). The newborn was hiding in the corner so I couldn’t get a photo. 
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I’ve written about zoo’s and attractions before on my previous blog. I don’t like seeing animals in captivity especially animals like chimps, orangutans, big cats and gorillas. I do know they do play a role in conservation and awareness but I am not sure where the line between exploitation and education is. I’m not an expert in this area and I would like to hear from anyone who can share information about how the bioparc operates and performs on their care of animals and feeds back into conservation efforts. Is there a rating system for zoos?
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There is a striking information point in the middle of the park that shows images of animals housed in small concrete cafés in zoos (possibly Fuengirola zoo) and how zoos have moved on from that era. Still, seeing a tiger pacing up and down its enclosure still feels a bit sad to me.
The parc has many interesting species of ducks, birds, bats (fox bat!) and deer. Various snakes, turtles, tortoises, crocodiles (including a Pygmy one). Also, a Pygmy hippo which was hiding sleeping user a bridge so I didn’t take a photo. There was only one spider at the zoo, like most places they could make more of their creepy crawlie and bug section.
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The parc has lots of trees so is mostly shaded which you will be thankful for if you visit in the summer heat! We used some of the big leaves to shelter from the rain (rain in SPAIN)!
The cafe at the parc is good and reasonably priced for a tourist attraction. I had a bioparc sandwich which had salad, mayo and chicken sandwiched between 3 slices of toast with a soft fried egg poking through.
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The park is easily walkable (5mins) and is signposted from the train station in Fuengirola. The park is open every day other than Christmas but the opening times vary based on the season. See the website for full details.
Special night time park visits run in July and August.
It’s €17.90 for an adult ticket but there are concession and children’s rates available. You can also buy yearly passes to the zoo.
Tycho Brahe’s Observatory

Tycho Brahe’s Observatory

If you ever find yourself near Copenhagen then I would recommend you cancel your plans, hop on a ferry, and take a trip to the tiny, beautiful island of Ven to vist Tycho Brahe’s 16th Century Underground observatory. This island situated between Sweden and Denmark was the home of Tycho Brahe.  A 16th century astronomer and jack of all trades (including alchemist and horoscope writer for the King of Denmark).

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He built what is believed to be the very first research institute and brought together over a hundred researchers from across Europe during the lifespan of the observatory.  He is credited with recording extremely accurate measurements of the stars and planets as he tried to make sense of the origin of the earth and the universe. This is all before the invention of the telescope.

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The museum is situated in the grounds of his castle, Uraniborg (no longer standing) and features a reconstruction of his underground observatory, Stjärneborg. I got very excited. The observatory still has the original plinths for the instruments Tycho and his researchers used to measure the stars. These have been there since the 16th Century, that’s almost 500 YEARS. The instruments are reconstructed to scale and feature some 80s style lighting which makes it feel like a underground science discovery disco.
Climbing underground into the observatory you find yourself in an enclosed rocky space. The observatory features a slightly old school, but interesting, visual presentation about Tycho, his research assistants and discoveries. The shows run every 15 minutes and you need to book a time to visit the observatory at the main museum desk as there is only limited space.
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The top of the reconstructed underground observatory.

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One of the reconstructed measuring instruments on the original 16th Century plinth in the underground observatory of Tycho Brahe.

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Another of the reconstructed measuring instruments on the original 16th Century plinth in the underground observatory of Tycho Brahe.

I felt like a real 16th Century scientist but with no castle. The presentation read short entries from Tycho’s diaries which, although might sound boring, were really fascinating to hear.

Tycho lived on the island of Ven as he was granted it by the King in 1574, which was nice of him. Clearly those were the days to have been a scientist. Although from this descriptor in the gardens many scientists in the 1500s had the same trust issues as scientists today when it comes to sharing their research findings.

The gardens in the museum are beautiful and contain information about medicinal plants that Tycho grew.

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The reconstructed gardens of the Tycho Brahe Museum. You can just make out the underground observatory to the back of this picture. 

The information in the museum is well worth a read and painted Tycho as a rather formidable character who governed the people of the island (there was quite a bit of falling out as he ruled over the island’s inhabitants, farmers and introduced that they had to work for him as well as farming). 
 
Of most interest to me was the information in the Tycho Brahe museum about the close relationship between Tycho and his sister, Sophie Brahe. I’d heard of Tycho’s achievements but not of the involvement of his sister in his observations. Tycho respected his sister greatly and called her his ““learned sister”. He viewed her as someone he could have an intelligent conversation with about his work.  Too often the contributors to great scientific discoveries and observations are not documented with one (usually a man) given the fame, fortune and in this case an island but it was great to see the museum documenting this relationship. 
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The former All Saints Church which contains the Tycho Brahe Museum.

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Me and Tycho.

The ferry to Ven leaves from Nyhaven in Copenhagen daily (more info here) . I would recommend hiring a bike on the island (make sure you get off the ferry sharpish and head up the hill – otherwise you will end up at the back of a very long queue)!
The museums ordinary opening hours for 2014
3 May – 30 June 10:00 – 16:00
1 July – 31 August 10:00 – 18:00
1 September – 29 September 10:00 – 16:00
Also weekends in April and October 10:00 – 16:00
 
It costs 60 SEK for an adult, 40 SEK for a student and is free if you are lucky enough to be under 15.  

The island is called Ven in Swedish and Hven in Danish. It is now Swedish, but was Danish.