1 Feb 2014

Kindle Paperwhite vs Keyboard

I bought a new Kindle. I have a perfectly good Kindle Keyboard but about two weeks ago I bought a brand new Kindle Paperwhite (2013 model) on a whim. It was quite an indulgence to upgrade when there was nothing wrong with the old model, but I’ve been pretty pleased with the new one!

Kindle Keyboard and Paperwhite

If you’re considering a similar upgrade you might be wondering whether it’s worth it. Here’s what I’ve found:

Pros:

  • The backlight! This of course is the biggest advantage the Paperwhite has over the Keyboard. Brilliant, even coverage which is easy on the eyes, and you can turn it off completely if you don’t need it. It’s quite powerful too – I’ve haven’t needed to turn it up any more than 50% so far.
  • The touch screen is quick and intuitive.
  • Navigation, page turns and functions (eg dictionary look up) are much faster and more responsive.
  •  It’s really nice being able to browse your books by cover.
  • It’s smaller and lighter than the Keyboard, but the screen is bigger.
  • The type is darker and clearer. (I read in a forum that some people had compared demo model Paperwhites to their Keyboards and found the type to be blocky and inferior, but I think the demos must have just gone a bit wrong from being handled too much and too roughly in store.)
  • You can get cases that work like iPad covers – open it and the Kindle wakes up without having to press any buttons!
  • It can roughly calculate how much time it will take you to finish the current chapter, as well as the rest of the book.
  • I thought I’d miss the page turn buttons from the Keyboard but you get used to turning pages by touch pretty easily. Sometimes it’s even better than the buttons, eg if you’re eating a sandwich and only have a spare knuckle.
  • You can look at multiple word phrases in the dictionary much more easily now.
  • Collections now appear in alphabetical order rather than recently accessed.
  • Authors are now sorted alphabetically by last name, instead of first name. (Although this could have had something to do with me cleaning up a lot of my collection’s metadata.)
  • The Page Flip feature isn’t quite as seamless as thumbing through a few pages in a real book, but it could come in handy.
  • I haven’t really used it yet but the Vocab Builder sounds like a nifty extra.
  • I scored mine $20 cheaper at Target than Big W (AU$159 vs AU$178 for the Wifi model). :)

Cons:

  • I had to upgrade my firmware to 5.4.2 to get my Mac to recognise the Paperwhite without resetting it every time. I don’t like the way collections are now somehow synced but luckily I haven’t had the grey ghosting issue other people have complained of.
  • The Kindle Collections plugin for Calibre doesn’t work with the Paperwhite so when I was setting it up with my content I had to file everything manually (but you only have to do that once and then you’re good to go).
19 Jan 2014

Top 10 Parks and Gardens in London

Oh dear! It’s nearly a year since I started this series and I’m afraid I haven’t made much progress in that time. It’s difficult to maintain a blog while travelling but it turns out it’s even more difficult during the every day routine of “normal” life! Time to smash the rest of this thing out before our time living in London is an all-too-distant memory!

London can at times feel like an overwhelmingly large jungle of grey buildings and grey weather but it’s actually “the greenest city of its size in the world”(ref) with parks, gardens and other green spaces covering almost 40% of greater London. Before we moved there we’d heard that when the sun comes out and the temperature rises above 24ºC Londoners flock to those green spaces and strip off to sunbathe. I never really believed it until I finally witnessed it for myself, and I think it’s great. I love the fact that they embrace sunny weather so enthusiastically and it fills the parks with a fun and cheerful atmosphere. A good spring in London, when you get that first relief from the cold, dark grip of winter, is is wonderful thing to experience. Here are some great places to do it!

1. Hampstead Heath
Our old local! Duck ponds, bathing areas, grassy hills, tree-lined paths and terrific picnic spots. Kenwood and Kenwood House are just to the north of the Heath too.

Hampstead Heath

2. Golders Hill Park
The park itself is not the most picturesque in London but it does have a kind of free open air mini zoo with deer, rhea, lemurs, mara, birds and butterflies which is great for the kids.

Deer, Golders Hill

3. Richmond Park
E-nor-mous! Great for cycling. Not as verdant as some other parks, more of a dry, yellowy colour. Wild deer roam around the place. When you’re finished you can get a cracking cup of tea at The Dysart Arms on the western edge.

Wild deer, Richmond Park

4. Regent’s Park
Beautiful green park just north of central London (near Lord’s Cricket Ground) with a boating lake, Queen Mary’s Gardens and the London Zoo. I found it funny that it’s fine to drink alcohol in the Gardens but you might get reprimanded by a bobby if they catch you kicking a ball around, since it’s more likely to be the opposite in Melbourne. ;)

Regent's Park

5. Primrose Hill
Just north of Regent’s Park and offers a spectacular view of the London skyline, particularly at dusk.

Primrose Hill

6. Kensington Gardens
One of London’s most famous gardens, and I think more picturesque than Hyde Park which is just to the east past a body of water called the Serpentine. Kensington features a Palace, memorial statues and a modern art gallery.

Kensington Gardens

7. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
There’s an entrance fee to visit Kew Gardens but it’s worth going to see its beautiful old iconic greenhouses – I particularly liked the ones with giant waterlilies. It also features lots of different types of garden styles from all over the world.

Palm House, Kew Gardens

8. Parkland Walk
A wonderful escape from the hustle and bustle of London – even though it’s still quite central you’ll feel like you’re following a trail in the countryside. The walk follows an old disused railway line – my favourite route is from Finsbury Park to Highgate. Once in Highgate, you have to visit the beautiful old cemetery.

Parkland Walk

9. Crystal Palace
Probably not in the nicest part of town but I have a soft spot for it because of the bizarre collection of dinosaur sculptures. Made in the 1850s, they were the first dinosaur sculptures in the world and based on research pre-dating Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and are interestingly inaccurate by today’s standards.

Iguanodon, Crystal Palace

10. Little Venice
Not a park per se but a beautifully picturesque area nonetheless. I spent many of my lunch hours wandering along the canals past longboats. (Specifically, laughing along to Ricky Gervais’ podcast and old XFM show, so the two are somehow intrinsically linked in my mind. :)

Little Venice

Of course there are many others – St James’ Park, Greenwich Park, Victoria Park, Holland Park, London Fields… which is your favourite?

More Top 10 in London:

9 Jul 2013

Crochet caterpillar

What’s this? A resurfacing and temporary change of topic! I’ve been absent for a couple of months, busy with daily life in Melbourne. One of the things I’ve been getting back into is knitting and crochet. And today I’m posting my first ever crochet pattern!

First, some back story.

My parents’ dachshund Lucy has a beloved toy caterpillar that she uses for stress relief: whenever she feels sad or overwhelmed (for example, when she doesn’t get quite as many snacks as she’d like, or the latest visitor has stopped patting her) she pulls out the caterpillar, climbs on top and starts chewing its face. When she’s done she falls asleep on top of it.

Lucy Lucy's caterpillar

She’s destroyed several of these caterpillars by now but the shop Mum and Dad used to buy them from doesn’t stock them anymore. They’ve tried buying other caterpillars but they’re too big or not quite right, and Lucy still goes back to her favourite which is starting to look rather worse for wear. So I decided to crochet her a replacement!

Caterpillar side

Here is the pattern if you would like to make your own. (It assumes you already know how to crochet in the round.) Please let me know if you spot any errors so I can fix them!

click for the pattern »

14 Apr 2013

Top 10 Markets and Shops to Browse in London

Two of London’s most popular shopping streets are Oxford Street and Regent Street but they’re far too crowded for my liking and simply to be avoided at all costs around Christmas. If you want to do some good solid “high street” shopping visit Westfield first thing on a Saturday – it will be much less congested and you won’t have to queue as long for change rooms.

For something a bit more unique or independent I would recommend checking out the following. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything these markets and shops offer fantastic window shopping opportunities!

1. Camden Lock
There are actually several markets in Camden. If you exit the Camden Town tube station and head north along the high street you’ll see lots of alternative fashion shops, Camden Market (good for funny/band tees), Camden Lock Village (places to eat and cute little shops), Camden Lock Market (hand made gifts) and then you can descend into the bowels of the sprawling Camden Stables Market with oodles of vintage and second hand shops (books, clothing and knick knacks) along with eateries (which probably aren’t amazing but they are atmospheric).

Camden Lock Market Camden Stables Market Knick knacks at Camden Stables Market

2. Spitalfields Market
One of my favourites. It’s big with lots of variety and stalls can feature anything from tshirts and leather-bound notebooks to handmade jewellery and nifty upcycled items. The market is also surrounded by permanent shops and restaurants which are worth a look.

3. Sunday UpMarket
Since this one’s only a short walk from Spitalfields you can hit two markets in one day. There’s even more of a focus on handmade items at the UpMarket and there are lots of great international food stalls as well. I’m a sucker for the sweet treats at Kooky Bakes!

4. Borough Market
Borough Market is London’s famous foodie market. Grab a Monmouth coffee and go for a wander admiring bountiful tables of baked goods, giant cheeses and shining vegetables; shelves of fancy beers; butchers selling specialty meats and shops offering gourmet European food stuffs.

Borough Market F. Cooke, Broadway Market

5. Broadway Market
A smaller market than some of the others on this list but no less worthy or interesting. Stalls line the street and feature lots of different delicious foods, from cheeses and pastries to exciting international dishes. Or if you prefer, you can go ultra British with a visit to F Cooke for eel, pie and mash.

6. Greenwich Market
Half the fun of visiting Greenwich Market is the journey there! While you can do it by tube and DLR the more scenic option is to ride a Thames Clipper down the river – you don’t get a tourist cruise commentary but it’s a much cheaper way of enjoying the same view. The market itself is half delicious food stalls and half crafty/independent traders. It’s not huge, but once you’ve finished having a look around you can grab some food to take up to Greenwich Park to enjoy.

Greenwich Market Liberty

7. Liberty
Liberty is a gorgeous Tudor-style half-timbered building housing a luxury department store. My favourite two sections are those for stationary and yarn. It’s a wonderful place to browse lovely things while soaking up the atmosphere of a beautiful old wooden building, complete with creaky stairs.

8. Design shops at Southbank
There are a couple of clusters of contemporary design shops along Southbank that are full of great gift ideas and interesting items to browse. Some, such as Jianhui‘s jewellery store, can be found at Gabriel’s Wharf, and if memory serves I think the others are along the first floor of the OXO Tower.

9. Columbia Road Flower Market
Visiting the Columbia Road Flower Market is almost like stepping back in time to a bygone era of London’s past. It can be incredibly crowded, which I don’t like, but it’s worth visiting once to see it in action (and/or if you like flowers!).

Columbia Road Flower Market Icecream sundae, Harrods

10. Harrods
I find it difficult to believe that anyone actually buys anything at Harrods. Not only is it amusingly expensive but it’s usually crammed with tourists that are clearly just there to window shop. Which is fine! I recommend doing it, at least once: it’s a surreal experience. My favourite room was full of fossils and geodes with price tags featuring lots of zeros. Plus you have to go to the Ice Cream Parlour for a giant sundae!

If you can’t get enough of markets there’s also Covent Garden and Portobello Road, which are nice, they just don’t make my top 10. Leadenhall Market is worth visiting to admire its history and architecture but I don’t find the shops particularly interesting. I was quite keen to go on the guided tour of Smithfield Meat Market but never worked up enough nerve to brave the 7am starting time! If window shopping exclusive stores is more up your alley Fortnum & Mason is beautiful, in a look-but-don’t-touch kind of way (especially the produce section).

Tins at Portobello Road Market Leadenhall Market

More Top 10 in London:

12 Mar 2013

Top 10 Paid Things To Do in London

I’m alive! Moving back into our flat in Melbourne and applying for jobs have taken priority over everything else during the last month but I hadn’t forgotten about finishing this series.

There are enough fantastic free activities in London to keep you busy for a week-long stay, but if you don’t mind spending some cash there are even more things you can add to your itinerary.

As with all the lists in this series, this is my personal top 10. The things I’ve listed might not be your cup of tea but they are the things I enjoyed the most during my time in London.

1. Ride on a double decker bus
Price per adult: £1.40 with an Oyster card
The downside of zipping about town on the underground is that it makes it difficult to visualise how all the different areas piece together and you don’t get to admire the view. Try the number 3 bus from Oxford Street, the 211 from Victoria or the 148 from the north side of Hyde Park and get off at Waterloo for a scenic trip through Westminster and over the Thames. Bag a seat in the first row of the upper deck for the best view!

2. Go on a cycling tour
Price per adult: £18-20
I recommend this even if you’re a Londoner! We did the East End tour after we’d been living in London for about 6 months and discovered a host of interesting facts and places we’d never previously come across. Highly enjoyable and recommended.

Double decker buses East End Cycle Tour

3. See a performance at The Globe
Price per adult: £5-39
Even though it’s only a replica of the original theatre, the performances, sets and costumes at the Globe are spectacular. Standing room tickets, the most authentic “seat” in the house, are only £5! If you do choose a standing ticket try to get there early so you can snag a spot right up by the stage – 1) so you’re right next to the action, and 2) so you can lean on it. (Your feet do get a bit tired! Make sure you’re well hydrated as well because after standing still for an hour or two even in the relative cool of a British summer evening it’s easy to feel a bit faint.)

4. Tour of 2 Willow Road
Price per adult: £6
This unique home was designed by architect Ernö Goldfinger in 1939 but it was 30-40 years ahead of its time. It’s still furnished the way the family left it – it’s as if they just stepped out and will be back any minute. You’ll get much more out of a guided tour than a self guided visit but tickets are extremely limited. Make sure you arrive well before your preferred time slot to put your name down. (If you have time to kill after that you can always enjoy a pint at one of Hampstead’s many nice local pubs.)

5. Barbican architecture tour
Price per adult: £8
I got a taste for Brutalist-esque architecture after visiting 2 Willow Road and thus also highly enjoyed a guided tour of the Barbican. I find the Barbican fascinating: it feels like a 1970s sci-fi utopia brought to life, and while so many of its features were made with people and liveability in mind, it remains a somewhat bizarre and almost impenetrable complex. (Demonstrated by how difficult it is to get into the darn place when you’re on your way to the tour meeting point!)

The Globe Theatre The Barbican

6. Visit the Tower of London
Price per adult: £19.50-21.45
I put off doing this for a long time because I thought it would be one of those expensive touristy things that everyone does but isn’t really that interesting. I’m so glad I went despite that misconception because I really enjoyed it! It’s so well preserved (restored?) that you feel like you’re entering a medieval city when you step through the gates. Entry includes a free tour of the grounds with one of the famous Yeomen of the Guard (Beefeater!).

7. Visit Chuchill’s War Rooms
Price per adult: £15.45-17
These are the original Cabinet War Rooms, the underground bunker that sheltered Churchill and his government during WWII. It’s quite amazing to wander through the cramped rooms that many people lived and worked in throughout the London Blitz. There’s also a larger space set up as an interesting museum dedicated to Churchill’s life and career.

8. Tour of Westminster and the Houses of Parliament
Price per adult: £15-16.50 for international visitors (free for UK residents)
It’s best to book online in advance to secure tickets – you’ll need to choose from a selection of available time slots. The Houses of Parliament are such a quintessential London icon and it’s fascinating to take a rare glimpse of the inside. I enjoyed this more than visiting Westminster Abbey.

The Tower of London Houses of Parliament

9. See at film at an Everyman Cinema
Price per adult: £14-16.50
A wonderful experience for watching arthouse and independent cinema. The screening rooms are small and cosy with big comfy leather couches, and they can serve you cocktails and tasty treats while seated. I recommend the ones in Hampstead and Belsize Park.

10. Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum
Price per adult: £10
This spectacular annual photography exhibition is hosted at the NHM. Go first thing in the morning because it gets very crowded!

More Top 10 in London:

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 523 other followers