Niche Museums

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Reserva Cerro AncĂłn

Where else can you take a jungle hike in the middle of a city and see a wild sloth in a tree?

Areas of Panama were placed under US jurisdiction as part of the Panama Canal Zone between 1903 and 1977. Ancon Hill is a 200m hill in the center of Panama City that was used as a US army post during that period. The area was largely undeveloped and became a reserve after being handed back to Panama - albeit with a very prominent Panamanian flag at the top of the hill.

It takes about half an hour to hike to the top - but in practice it takes longer because you will want to stop and admire the sloths. We saw sloths, toucans and coatis and apparently there are also nine-banded armadillos and Geoffroy's tamarin in the reserve as well.

Website | Wikipedia

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Reserva Cerro AncĂłn, Panama City, Panama - Map

21 December 2019

Bank of England Museum

The Bank of England really wants you to understand quantitative easing. Their museum has multiple displays on the subject, plus two interactive games - one of which sees you attempting to sail a boat through stormy financial waters, applying quantitative easing in an attempt to keep inflation to the magic level of 2%.

More importantly though: they have a real gold bar in a cage, which you can both touch and pick up to see how heavy it is!

Website | Wikipedia

Bartholomew Lane, London, EC2R 8AH, United Kingdom - Map

20 December 2019

London Mithraeum

This temple of Mithras was a sensation when it was discovered during post-WWII redevelopment in 1954, bringing widespread attention to London's Roman heritage.

The ruins were subsequently dismantled, stored in a builder's yard and then clumsily reconstructed in 1962 outdoors a hundred yards from their original site with, as the Guardian put it, "all the mystery of a suburban front garden".

In 2010 Bloomberg purchased the site that included the original location to use as their European headquarters. They decided to restore the Mithraeum to a new custom space seven metres below the surface, and attempted to recapture the atmosphere of the mystery cult of Mithras.

The Mithraeum is free to visit, and is presented with a short light and sound experience complete with Latin chants and shuffling feet. The way they recreate the original pillars using shadows is a very neat touch.

Website | Wikipedia

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12 Walbrook, London, EC4N 8AA, United Kingdom - Map

19 December 2019

Museum of Funeral History

Tucked away in the basement of Thomas Treacy funeral directors in London Clerkenwell, this eclectic museum combines displays on the history of funerals in London with information about funeral traditions around the world.

The museum was opened in June 2017 by a local historian who works at the funeral home. Most of the exhibitions are text and photographs, but the written descriptions have a lot of personality and make for an entertaining half hour of exploration.

Did you know that Fred Baruch, creator of the Pringles tube, requested that some of his cremated remains should be buried in a Pringle's container? Or that the classic red telephone box was modeled after the mausoleum of John Soane in the St Pancras old churchyard?

This museum is just around the corner from the Mail Rail so we combined our visits.


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29-31 Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell, EC1R 4SL, London, United Kingdom - Map

18 December 2019

Mail Rail

The London Post Office Railway (rebranded Mail Rail in 1987) was conceived in 1911 in response to congestion on London’s road networks, and opened in 1927 as the world’s first electric railway with driverless trains.

At its peak the railway carried 4 million letters a day across 22 miles of narrow gauge underground track spanning a distance of 6.5 miles from Paddington in the west to Whitechapel in the east.

The railway stayed in operation for 76 years. It closed in May 2003 over cost concerns: the railway was 3-5 times more expensive than road transport for the same task.

Urban explorers published illicit photographs of the network in April 2011 showing it to be largely in good condition. In October 2013 the British Postal Museum & Archive announced plans to open parts of the network to the public, and on 5th September 2017 opened an attraction featuring new custom passenger rail cars running through the tunnels.

During its lifetime the railway was strictly for mail only. As a result the new passenger carriages are a very tight fit - bags need to be left in a locker, and if you’re claustrophobic you may have second thoughts! The ride lasts 15 minutes and includes numerous stops with well designed video presentations projected onto the walls outside the carriage.

The ride ends at the maintenance depot which exhibits historic rail cars and switching equipment. Tickets to Mail Rail also cover entrance to the nearby Postal Museum.

Website | Wikipedia

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15-20 Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DL, United Kingdom - Map

17 December 2019

Alverstone Mead Red Squirrel Hide

Red squirrels are almost extinct in the United Kingdom, due to competition from the invasive North American eastern grays. The exceptions are some areas in Scotland and the Isle of Wight, an island just off the south coast of England.

We spent a while trying to find red squirrels and eventually got lucky at this small hide near the village of Alverstone. The squirrels here are bold, inquisitive and sinusoidal. They have tufty little ears and a delightfully squirrelly nature.

Website | Wikipedia

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Burnt House Lane, Alverstone, Sandown, PO36 0HB, Isle of Wight - Map

16 December 2019

Monarch Bear Grove

This somewhat hidden circle of stones in Golden Gate Park has a history that incorporates druids, press barons, Spanish monasteries and the grizzly bear on the California state flag.

William Randolph Hearst spent several decades building the largest newspaper and magazine chain in the world, starting in the 1880s.

In 1889, Hearst sponsored an expedition to capture one of the last remaining grizzly bears in California. The mission was successful, and a bear was brought back alive and put on display in the city. A bear pit was designed by architect William Polk and the bear - named the Monarch Bear - lived in captivity for 22 years, during which time it was used as the model for the bear on the 1911 version the California state flag.

Following the First World War Hearst and other American industrialists competed to snap up as many of Europe's antiquities as they could get their hands on, taking advantage of that continent's urgent need for cash.

Hearst went as far as buying parts of two ruined Spanish monasteries, which he arranged to have disassembled and shipped over to the United States.

Then the Great Depression struck, and Hearst found himself unable to afford the reconstruction of his Spanish monasteries. One of them - Santa MarĂ­a de Ă“vila - was sold to the city of San Francisco on the condition that it be re-assembled into a museum in Golden Gate Park.

World War II intervened with those plans, and the monastery stones ended up scattered around the park for several decades.

At some point, somebody arranged some of the stones into circles, on the location of the old Monarch bear pit. The site is now known as Monarch Bear Grove and is cared for by members of OBOD - the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.

Most of the monastery stones were moved up to northern California and used to construct a chapter house near Redding in 2005 - but the stone circles in Monarch Bear Grove remain.

Website | Wikipedia

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Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California - Map

15 December 2019

Aye-Aye Island

The aye-aye is an endangered species of long-fingered lemur, and the world's largest nocturnal primate.

Aye-ayes have really interesting fingers: their third finger is used for percussive foraging, where they tap on a trunk to find hollow points. Their long hooked fourth finger is then used to pull bugs out of those hollows. They are notoriously difficult to see in the wild due to their rarity, nocturnal habits and tendency to spend most of their time in trees above the 70 meter mark.

Aye-Aye Island is a small private wildlife reserve which is home to over a dozen aye-ayes, relocated from elsewhere on Madagascar to protect them from threats that sadly include killings based on superstition. Each night guides leave coconuts wedged in trees and bring small groups to the island to watch the aye-ayes enthusiastically devouring them with their long fingers.

Tours can be booked through local hotels - we got ours via the nearby Palmarium.


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Aye-Aye Island, Mananara, Madgascar - Map

14 December 2019

LA Bureau of Street Lighting Museum

Los Angeles has one of the largest and most complex street lighting networks in the world.

In 2015 the LA Bureau of Street Lighting opened a small museum in their head office dedicated to showcasing the history of street lights in the city.

The museum has examples of lighting from multiple decades throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

It opens for 30 minutes once a month, by appointment only.


1149 South Broadway #200, Los Angeles, CA 90015 - Map

13 December 2019

Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park

During World War II the city of Richmond grew from 24,000 to 100,000 people as the four Richmond shipyards ramped up production for the war effort.

Workers produced 747 Victory and Liberty ships, more than any other US industrial location. Many of those workers were women and African-Americans entering the industrial workforce for the first time.

Rosie the Riveter emerged as a cultural icon representing those women, and the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park commemorates those workers and tells their stories.

On many Fridays home front workers who worked in Richmond during WWII are available to answer your questions.

Website | Wikipedia

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1414 Harbour Way South, Richmond, CA 94804 - Map

12 December 2019

London Silver Vaults

Located five storeys beneath the streets of London, the London Silver Vaults represent the largest retail selection of antique and contemporary silver in the world.

30 shops are located within this subterranean market, most of which have been owned by the same families for more than fifty years.

The complex opened as The Chancery Lane Safe Deposit in 1885, survived a direct bomb hit to the surface building during World War II and started trading in its current retail format in 1953.

Rumored to be the inspiration for the Gringotts bank in Harry Potter, today the stores in the vaults sell a bewildering array of silver items from cutlery to condiment carrying table-top sailing ships.

Entrance is free, you just need to know how to find them.

Website | Wikipedia

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53-64 Chancery Lane, Holborn, London WC2A 1QS, United Kingdom - Map

11 December 2019

The Tonga Room

A 75-year-old San Francisco institution, the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is a legendary tiki bar located in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel.

It was designed in 1945 by Mel Melvin, a leading set designer for MGM on the site of the hotel's indoor swimming pool. The pool was converted into a "lagoon" in the center of the space, and most nights a band performs from a boat in the lagoon amidst periodic artificial rain and thunder. The dance floor and bar itself is constructed from wood salvaged from the S.S. Forester, a schooner that once sailed between San Francisco and the south Pacific.

The Fairmont appear to be deeply embarassed by the continued presence of the Tonga Room but the city of San Francisco have labelled it a "historic resource", frustrating plans to replace it with something better suited to the hotel's upscale aesthetic.

Website | Wikipedia

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950 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA 94108 - Map

10 December 2019

Museum of Dartmoor Life

Opened in 1981, this regional museum occupies three floors of a mill built in 1811 (with an attached waterwheel) and tells the story of 5,000 years of human habitation of the Dartmoor area.

Exhibits include recreations of a Bronze Age hut and a Victorian kitchen, plus information on Dartmoor’s geology, industries and use by the military.

The bottom floor hosts a rebuilt blacksmith's forge and and a collection of historic farming implements and vehicles. The museum also hosts an infestation of Dartmoor Piskies.

Website | Wikipedia

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3 West Street, Okehampton, EX20 1HQ, United Kingdom - Map

9 December 2019


For 220 years between 1633 and 1853 Japan adopted a strictly isolationist foreign policy, with severely limited trade between Japan and other countries. One of the only exceptions was trade with the Dutch through a trading post on the artificial island of Dejima, first built in 1634 to house Portuguese traders but then repurposed for trade with the Dutch East India Company in 1641.

Isolation ended with the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1858 and Dejima merged into Nagasaki through land reclamation, but in 1922 it was designated a national historic site and intermittent efforts began to restore the island.

Today Dejima serves as a museum: many historic buildings have been restored, and the island hosts a scale model illustrating how it was laid out during the Edo period.

Website | Wikipedia

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6-1 Dejimamachi, Nagasaki, 850-0862, Japan - Map

8 December 2019

The Centennial Light

Burning since 1901, this bulb holds the record for the longest burning lightbulb. The Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department maintains the bulb in LPFD Station 6. The bulb was manufactured by the Shelby Electric Company in the late 1890s.

The bulb has been moved at least three times, most recently in 1976 when it was offline for 22 minutes before being installed in its current location.

Website | Wikipedia

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Fire Station #6, 4550 East Avenue, Livermore, CA - Map

7 December 2019

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