The best theme park in the world – Puy du Fou

Puy Du Fou

As I work with some great theme parks, I am a member of the Themed Entertainment Association.  One of the benefits of membership is their organisation of visits to some of the best the world has to offer, to see what they do and how they do it. And I have just come back from Puy du Fou, and can safely say that it is, without doubt, the best theme park in the world.

It’s a total one of a kind and without any of the conventional rides you associate with other theme parks. It draws in the local community, trains all its own staff through its academy,  creates everything internally (even the shoes and costumes) and delivers spectacular, emotive and beautiful shows that you have to see to believe.

It’s been created by Phillippe de Villiers, the father of Nicolas de Villiers who runs it today (and who showed us around). The control Nicolas still exercises is phenomenal. It’s not like any other brand.  If anything it’s a little like Google in the way they controlled their growth in the early years but this has lasted for 35 years already. He even interviews the shortlisted kids for the academy and watches every Cinescenie to be able to feed back to the managers where they could do the show even better. The level of detail they manage is unbelievable and even the back stage areas are immaculate.

We had a totally jam packed 48 hours and got to see behind the scenes of nearly every show. Here’s a summary of the best of them.

The Vikings

The first show I saw there and an amazing introduction to life at Puy du Fou. It’s filled with eagles, horned beasts, vikings and marauders, all backed up with huge explosions, gigantic flames and boats magically appearing from stage left and under the water, with the performers disappearing with it. Animals everywhere and a large cast. It’s an amazing start and an even bigger ending.

The Knights of the Round Table

It’s a story of Excalibur with Merlin, mermaids, sword fights in the water, horses walking out of the huge hidden caverns underwater and probably the simplest of the whole lot we saw. It’s great fun, has the best safety warning I have ever seen (hilarious) and I saw it twice.

The Secret of the Lance

This is a huge show that just keeps on growing. Spectacular horse riding, massive sword fights and jousting and flames everywhere. Then a disappearing castle, another HUGE castle that moves and rotates and amazing sounds and effects everywhere. There are things going on all over the place and we were lucky enough to get to see behind the scenes here. It was sooooo good, that a few times during the show I felt myself becoming a bit emotional.

Triumph’s Sign

This is a huge great roman spectacular played out in a purpose built amphitheatre that seats over 7,000 people. Again, it starts off quite small and then just grows and grows. The cast is huge and varied and whilst the story is their own version of history, it’s still truly amazing. Just look at the pictures.

Richelieu’s Musketeer

I saw this one twice too. It’s the only inside show and simply massive. Perhaps a little hard to follow in french, but I found it far more enjoyable to just watch the show and ignore the story. It’s breathtaking but you aren’t allowed to take photos, so this is a sneaky one of the set, just as the flamenco dancers start going crazy. It’s quite reminiscent of Riverdance with horses and water and swords and explosions and…..

Puy du Fou has a huge indoor show called Richelieu's Musketeer with a massive stage and even bigger cast.
Puy du Fou has a huge indoor show called Richelieu’s Musketeer with a massive stage and even bigger cast.

The Phantom Birds’ Dance

Now this was a real highlight. Again I saw it twice from two different seating positions. The first time from down in the pit gave a great view, but the second time, right at the back at the sides gave you far closer access to the birds. The show itself is incredible with beautiful, haunting music and a cast of over 170 birds. If you are going to sit at the very back, it’s probably best to shuffle forwards just a little so you don’t get pooped on by a vulture, like I did. There is simply noting like this anywhere in the world. It is totally breathtaking.

 The Organs of Fire

This was the first night show I saw and can only be described as breathtaking (I’ve used that a lot haven’t i!). It starts with a lone violinist emerging, her dress lighting up and her floating around the lake playing music until she meets the pianist, who does the same. The orchestras appear, huge fountains emerge and an even bigger organ suddenly appears to add to the music and the gigantic party. I thought it was the biggest show I’d ever seen, but I hadn’t seen Cinescenie at this point!

The Cinescenie

Now this show breaks record after record. It’s the largest permanent show in the world with a nightly cast of 1,500, all of whom are volunteers. None of them get paid. There are 3,400 of them trained to play their roles and it’s held 28 time per year in front of a crowd of 14,000. For the volunteers, it’s a huge social and cinematic event and they train all year. It’s so popular that there are over 1,000 on the waiting list to volunteer and you can’t buy tickets for the event for another year. I won’t say too much about it but it is simply massive, incredible and beautiful (and hard to photograph). I have again, never seen anything like this. It started at 10.45 pm and went on until well after 12.15, so it’s a good long show too. It’s worth it for the fireworks alone.

The TEA Team

Being with the TEA gave us an all access pass to the whole site and the team that created it. It was a huge privilege and worth the membership in its own right. For only three days away it was completely exhausting, but to be able to get to see this place was worth it and i’ll be back to do it again.

A few relaxing drinks after with the TEA party
A few relaxing drinks after with the TEA party
The Land Train that takes you around the park
The Land Train that takes you around the park

Are you watching Nottingham?

It does however make me sad when I see references to knights, castles and even Robin Hood himself that my home City of Nottingham, can’t even get an attraction out of the ground to recognise our most famous son. The French have delivered a genius show that would draw in millions of visitors if it was created here.  Nottingham still hasn’t delivered a single thing. So, Nottingham, please take note. Puy du Fou turns over €74m and is very profitable, filling every hotel for miles around with it’s 1.9 million visitors per year. A little of this would go a long way.

Where we stayed

The accommodation offer is quite new, but growing fast. They may look like simple tents, but they house a fabulously well equipped four poster bedroom with wet room, two bunks for kids and even decent wifi.

The tented village at Puy du Fou which is a beuatiful hotel room in disguise
The tented village at Puy du Fou which is a beautiful hotel room in disguise

Summary

If you have kids you have to come here. If you don’t come anyway. It’s amazing, awe inspiring and unique. It’s the best kept secret and the best theme park in the world. And it’s my new favourite.

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Tesco and Robin Hood – Rob from the poor to give to the rich

Tales of Tesco Hood
Tales of Tesco Hood

I have written before about empty shops in cities and what I believe is the solution. Flexible rents for start-ups and some understanding in the payment of business rates. The latest move reported by the BBC that Tesco were to take over the former Tales Of Robin Hood site in Nottingham, proves it’s still not being addressed in any effective way.

As one of those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of the presentation from the Bass Museum team who did have plans for the site, this is a real shame, but no real surprise. That proposal was so flawed as to be embarrassing.

So why would Tesco move in and not look for longer to find a decent alternative tenant?

Let’s say that the rent on the site would be £100k per annum and as we know, Tesco own the head lease. After six months empty, they will have to pay a full business rate, which adds another £41.5k to their bill. So, for them to leave it empty, costs them £141.5k per year. Therefore, as long as they lose LESS than that as a Tesco Express store, then it’s worth them opening it.

In effect they are being incentivised by the system to open up all over the place.

Surely it would be better for the long term good of the city to have some retail diversity?

Or maybe a Robin Hood attraction, or even a permanent exhibition.

Let’s set the Sheriff of Nottingham on ’em.

Thanks to the somewhat out of date Nottingham Tourist Guide for the image.

Robin Hood movie review and trailer – Nottingham Gala Premiere

Russell Crowe as Robin Hood in the new movie Robin Hood that premiered tonight in Nottingham's Cornerhouse Leisure and entertainment complex
Russell Crowe as Robin Hood in the new movie Robin Hood that premiered tonight in Nottingham's Cornerhouse Leisure and entertainment complex

This a story hot off the press as I have just arrived back from the gala premiere of Robin Hood held at the Cornerhouse in Nottingham City Centre. The film stars Russell Crowe as our hero Robin and Cate Blanchett as Lady Marion Loxley. She played a simply superb part and whilst this wouldn’t be the sort of film that would normally get Oscar nominations, I thought she played such a strong part that i’d be surprised if she doesn’t feature amongst the nominees.

The film itself is a long and epic affair painting the history of Robin Hood before he was outlawed. As such, it’s a prequel before the sequel. As scene setters go, it is one of the most enjoyable films I have ever seen. I have read a few early reviews that have been mixed, but this has to have come from film hardened critics and not the general public like myself who will be enthralled by the story, amazed by the cinematography and drawn in by the plot.

When we started working on the brand values for Robin Hood as part of the Sheriff’s Commission, we wanted him to be a strong, fearless character with huge integrity. So he fitted the character of our City. Crowe has done this in spades. What we couldn’t have expected (but what we really, really hoped for) was Cate Blanchett to play a strong brave and independent thinking woman. She certainly delivers this and more.

There’s a bit of humour, some great historical placement, no real attempt at regional accents (apart from a bit of Welsh thrown in) and a good balance of action without it being ever gory or blood thirsty. The photography is just stunning. as they camera flies you through the valleys of the South Downs and the Woods of Nottinghamshire, you will be spellbound.

I think you know what you can expect with Ridley Scott and this certainly doesn’t disappoint. I loved it. I’m going again at the weekend with my family and I hope you do to. To whet your appetite, here’s the trailer.

The New Robin Hood film is coming

I’m working on the brand for Robin Hood with the City of Nottingham and we’re trying to define what his values are all about. What does Robin Hood mean to the current generation growing up and how does that differ from any of our own perceptions.

Many see him as a movie character and even then, everyone has their favourite from Kevin Costner in Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves to Robin Hood Daffy.

Whichever is your favourite, this latest version with Russell Crowe looks like he’s being painted as a real tough guy, fighting on Nottingham beach.

What were the 17 learnings from the USA Trip?

Tim Garratt, of Innes England and one of the team from the USA trip has written up the initial findings, using the learnings from architect Daniel Liebskind as the model on which to present.

How do we summarise the whole trip, what we learned and how we can transfer it to Nottingham?

This short presentation that was delivered to the full Sheriff’s Commission on Friday is the start point.

Comments to enlarge the discussion are very welcome.

Good luck to the Nottingham Hoods

Tonight sees the first big game of Nottingham Hoods basketball team. Set up by Lee English, it is Nottingham’s newest sporting club and was established to get kids off the street and ‘balling’ rather than causing trouble.

Lee’s a great bloke and I wish them every success tonight against Worcester Wolves at Nottingham Wildcat’s Arena. You can buy tickets and find out more about Lee’s fabulous project here.

This is the banner that you’ll see hanging at one end of the arena and is here as we were unfurling it in the office. Its quite big, like lots of Lee’s player.

Come on you Hoods.

Good luck to the Hoods tonight
Good luck to the Hoods tonight

Update with a match report from Steve Braker on his Facebook page

Hoods win at home

Nottingham Hoods 70
Worcester Wolves II 60

Nottingham Hoods made there home debut with a crowd of over 300 shouting them on, and didn’t let them down.
Hoods introduced 2 new signings to there national league basketball campaign in Tom Wade & Tobias Benjamin and they played there part asked of them in providing the Hoods with there first home win that the crowd had come out to see.
Hoods took control from the very first tip, led by the ever reliable Captain Guy Renton on his birthday and with outstanding support from Anthony Scott, Bruce Lauder, James Gardener & Kirk Davis gave the team a lead that they would never relinquish and went into halftime up by 34 – 27.
The Wolves came out in the second half looking to turn round the deficit but could not break down the resistant defence from the Hoods and ran out of steam for the Hoods to record the home win.

Top scorers for the Hoods
James Gardener 22 points, Guy Renton 16 points, Kirk Davis & Tobias Benjamin 8 points

The Hoods are next in home action on October 24th at the Wildcats arena with a 7.30pm tip when the visitors are Birmingham Mets.

The Sheriff of Nottingham in USA – Part Seventeen – Off duty in New York

Our last day in New York and its our first free time since we arrived eight days ago and we’re flying through the night home tonight, giving back our five hour time difference in one six hour flying stroke. It’s a typical British Autumnal morning and I feel very much the Englishman in New York. Its dauntingly big and there’s too much to learn from in too short a time.

I wander up to the Wholefoods Market on the corner to buy my breakfast as I am up early and debating whether to take off on my own for the day or stick with the group. Wholefoods are the people that Tesco said they were taking on with their Fresh & Easy concept that they thought would capture the hearts and wallets of New Yorkers, but has so far, pretty much underwhelmed them.

Wholefoods Market - A beautiful store for New Yorkers
Wholefoods Market - A beautiful store for New Yorkers

Well, I have to report that having not seen the Kensington branch of Wholefoods, the one I saw on Second Avenue in New York was stunning. It looked welcoming, yet urban, the food looked beautiful and the staff members I spoke to were educated and interested, with one of the team on the till having spent time in the London Kensington store, helping with staff training. Can you imagine Tesco sending there checkout staff from Victoria centre being sent across to New York to show the Fresh & Easy staff how to be surly and cause unnecessary queues to wind people up in a hurry. Maybe they could just show them how they can tell customers that they can only use this queue if they’re buying Lottery, despite no-one else in the queue and people stacking the full length of the store at the self service tills?

Okay, that’s me being cynical and comparing the natural service culture we saw everywhere in the US. In the UK, we assume that it is insincere and below us to be polite, helpful and interested. We seem far more comfortable in being snotty or trying to catch our customers out than helping them enjoy their visit. This is a training issue we discussed an awful lot whilst we were away and whilst we don’t want ‘have a nice day’ all over the place, we do want to be able to deliver service staff who do just that – serve. It sounds simple, and it is in the US, but with a few notable exceptions, we make it look very difficult in the UK.

So after my early morning breakfast of orange juice and a parmesan breadstick (pretty healthy huh?), sitting in the park, next to the hotel, I watched the New York morning unfold before me.

There’s lots of honking, despite the signs threatening a $350 fine for anyone who does it and the driving is aggressive, the pace is hectic. It almost seems the opposite of how people behave when they get to work, or maybe those in cars are a different breed who never work in service positions? It’s a magical place to sit and absorb the atmosphere. I’m surrounded by New York Sparrows, (or their close relative, ‘cos I ain’t no ornothologist) and I share my bread with them and seem popular amongst them.

Back at the hotel, the others are gathering for the day and I decide to stick with the Sheriff and Adela as they are planning to go to Liberty Island. I know this is probably the cliché of all clichés, but I’ve never been and I wanted to take in another audio tour and see how the trip across compares to my favourite river trip – The Ferry across the Mersey.

The first stop is the Metro station at Lafayette and Broadway which we follow down to Bowling Green. This leads us onto Battery Park and our first view of the Statue of Liberty across the water. As we walk across the park, there is a huge damaged sphere in front of us.

The Sphere is another 9/11 reminder and this damaged relic is from the Plaza of the Word Trade Cetre
The Sphere is another 9/11 reminder and this damaged relic is from the Plaza of the Word Trade Cetre

At first the thought was that it had been vandalised, but when you read the sign in front of it, you begin to understand.

I like the wording of this plaque in front of the damaged Sphere in Battery Park
I like the wording of this plaque in front of the damaged Sphere in Battery Park

Again, the feelings of anger rise up at how this could have happened, but I love the Sphere’s symbolism. Its an even more powerful reminder than the slightly cold but informative hoardings at Ground Zero and its simplicity paints a far starker image in your mind than a display of what’s coming next could portray.

The boat trip with a full audio tour of Liberty Island and Ellis Island is $20 (about £12) which seems like good value. You then travel through a full airport security style search and scan, with everything X rayed and shoes, phone, cameras, belts ad even notebooks in the trays. Its something that is hard to begrudge as the symbolism of peace and liberty that the statue stands for is one that must be under constant terrorist threat.

The short boat ride across only stood out for the fact that it was a great place to photograph armpits and other people’s hands. It was like a class full of the worlds most enthusiastic school children with every hand up for most of the trip.

The Statue of Liberty and lots of hands

The silly thing about these shots, was that five minutes later when you landed, it was easy to get a much better image without the hands in the way and without the crowds around you.

We had a cup of coffee to see off the heavy rain and marvelled again at what exceptionally low prices they charge in these nationally controlled attractions. $1.50 (£0.89) for an almost nuclear strength 3/4 pint of coffee wouldn’t be seen at anything but the lowest of cafes in the UK, let alone with a captive audience on a cold wet island full of tourists.

The audio tour used the exact same digital system as the one at Alcatraz, but was far more dull. The single voice talking you through the history was informative at best, but turgid, if I’m honest. By the time we’d walked half way around the island, it was off and we were reading the signage, which had all the information anyway. But the view close up is perfect.

The Statue of Liberty - in all its green glory
The Statue of Liberty - in all its green glory

We had opted not to take the trip up the monument, which was good as the queue was huge and there was yet another scanning scrutiny. One of the previous blog commenters, Christine from Boston had been helpful in her recommendations and warned us that this was simply not worth the money or the queue, so we gladly took her advice.

So some statto facts about the statue itself. Its 305ft tall from the ground to the top of the flame and was completed in 1886 as a gift from the People of France. It was the tallest structure in the Eastern US when it was built as most of Lower Manhattan was only five stories until well into the 1920’s. She has a 35ft wide waist (like many other people in the US) and a 42ft right arm. Even her fingernail is the size of my forearm and she sees 3 million visitors per year to her very own island.

The ferry took us back via Ellis Island for a further (dull) audio tour and then back across to Battery Park.

Time was pressing on and we were leaving in a few hours, so we opted to walk back to the hotel along Broadway to take in some more of the atmosphere. A good three miles or so along a dead straight road, took in Wall Street. The signage is as we have all seen it, but the state of the roads and paths were awful. The police presence was massive and the crowds even more massive.

The very scruffy pedestrian entrance to Wall Street with Seaport in the far distance
The very scruffy pedestrian entrance to Wall Street with Seaport in the far distance

After collecting a late lunch in an immaculately clean and friendly salad bar, where you can choose what you want and pay by weight, we sat in one of the City parks and watched a group playing chess with a form of winner stays on. Quite a crowd gathered and you got the feeling that this was a regular haunt for city types and students alike. Black squirrels ran around us picking up scraps and the feeling was far more relaxed than any other place in New York I had seen.

The final walk took in the Bell of Hope and St Pauls Chapel, back at Ground Zero. The Bell was a gift from the Mayor of London to the people of New York and was created by the Whitechapel Foundry, who also cast Big Ben and the bell on Liberty Island. It is rung each 9/11 anniversary and was also rung after the Madrid bombings in 2004 and on July 7th 2005 after the Subway and bus bombings. It’s a very sombre reminder.

The Bell of Hope - A gift from the Uk, in memory of 9/11
The Bell of Hope - A gift from the Uk, in memory of 9/11

The chapel itself is where the firemen gathered and rested during the recovery mission after 9/11 itself. To most, it is the spiritual home of those who lost their lives.

The table of remembrance inside st Pauls Chapel
The table of remembrance inside st Pauls Chapel

It seems like a suitable place to sign off, on what was an incredible trip, full of learnings, stark reminders and world class attractions.

I honestly never thought that the US, would be my thing. I thought it would be too brash. Its big, yes, but it’s so full of genuine people who love our history, curtsey to our Sheriff and respect our country, its impossible to not end up feeling like you’re part of it.

In the words of King Arnie of California. I’ll be back.

The Sheriff of Nottingham in USA – Part Sixteen – Off duty in New York

We’re off duty, we’re finished, we’re shattered and we’ve learned loads. Its impossible to not learn if you’ve seen 31 attractions over 12,000 miles in 8 days. If you manage to not learn here, you shouldn’t be here in the first place. I’ll write out the full conclusions from my own viewpoint and get them on here in the next few days, but first, I’ll wrap up with the last few things we did, in our briefly hectic time in New York.

Having left the Museum of Natural History, we headed off to Seaport, on the east coast of the Island and underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. This is a brash, sprawling shopping and entertainment centre that few love, but hundreds still flock to, in order to shop, eat and drink.

Looking down into Seaport - a huge mall of shops, eateries and entertainment stuff
Looking down into Seaport - a huge mall of shops, eateries and entertainment stuff

This is NOT my scene at all, but it was another to see and tick off. Perhaps to ensure we don’t rip the heart out of the city of Nottingham by overdeveloping the riverside, when this is eventually done and turn it into a vile tourist mecca with shops and a distinct lack of character.

We did stop at a restaurant that looked okay and had the Arsenal game on (replayed in full, but time delayed by five hours) in the background. Being the cultural tourist that I am, this was as much of a draw as the view of the Brooklyn Bridge and the tall ships.

The food portions, were the most ludicrous yet. Being slightly healthy and wanting to avoid accusations of salad dodging, I went for a Caesar Salad with chicken, only to be presented with a family size bowl that had two chicken breasts in it and at least a cubic metre of lettuce. It was simply enormous. I’m not sure if I got much over half way through it before giving up and even leaving some of the chicken. You can see my choice of drink, to give me a real sense of home. I waddled back to the hotel to get ready for our night out.

The salad that beat me - easily!
The salad that beat me - easily!

When we got back to the hotel it was just turning dark and two doors away at a tiny cinema called the Sunshine Cinema, was Charlize Theron, who just happened to be premiering her new film ‘The Burning Plain’ in New York. Either that, or she was just hanging around our hotel, just hoping to get a glimpse of the Sheriff of Nottingham and his men.

Charlize Theron hanging around outside our hotel
Charlize Theron hanging around outside our hotel

It was remarkably low key, with no red carpet, almost no Paparazzi (except Tim Garratt – who got this shot – Thanks Tim) and very few people hanging around. I didn’t bother staying to see her on the way out as we had a date with Little Boots at The Bowery Ballroom.

This is rated by many in the music industry as one of the best venues in the world and with a capacity of around 575, a superb sound system and a stage that allows everyone on the floor or the balcony to get a perfect view, I’m not surprised.

Victoria Christina Hesketh, or Little Boots by her stage name, was supported by two other bands, ‘The Plastiscines’ who I (with my feeble musical taste and knowledge) thought were ok and ‘Yes Giantess’ who I thought were great. I had chat with them afterwards and despite the fact they come from Boston, they were still prepared to speak to me (unlike many others of the fair city, after me upsetting them last week). They’re in UK on the NME tour soon, so if you get chance, go and see them and tell them I sent you.

Little Boots can really sing. Whether you like her music or not, listening to her live shows the power and range of her voice and how well received she was by the people of New York (and Nottingham).

Again, I have to thank Tim Garratt and his excellent photographic skills for the quality of this shot.

Little Boots, singing her heart out at the Bowery Ballroom
Little Boots, singing her heart out at the Bowery Ballroom

I also got to speak to her road manager and asked him about the tour. He described it as a mini tour, that was far more about PR than finances. Thinking about it logically, at only $15 a ticket and playing to only 500 odd people, they never had a chance of ever breaking even, but I’m sure the people adding images and videos to their Facebook and Bebo pages (and blogs like this) will help her profile no end.

Good luck to her. She is one hell of a live singer.

More later for my last day in the USA, taking in Liberty Island and a walk along Broadway.

The Sheriff of Nottingham in USA – Part Fifteen – New York – Day two continued

Okay, now I know what jet Lag is and I am just recovering from the tiredness of the trip, with lots of catching up on sleep. Maybe four hours a day isn’t enough for me at my tender age?

So, we’ve just left the High Line, which was our last official duty and means that we have seen every site we said we would and more and now we were into ones that we thought could be useful, interesting or just personal favourites.

As we walked off the High Line, there was the most amazing car park contraption right down below us. These are prevalent in New York, but I have worked out some of the numbers and they seem to make an awful lot of sense for parking in a crowded city.

Parking in High Rise New York Style
Parking in High Rise New York Style

The site is only 30metres square and can house over 144 cars. The guideline is that you can park for as little as 30 minutes, but you need to give them around 20 minutes notice to leave, so they can have your car ready. But the parking charges are massively cheaper than anywhere else in New York. If you arrive before 8am, it only costs $14 for the day and $23 after 8am. This encourages people to beat the rush hour and save money.

The other lovely thing that the company who runs it called Edison Parkfast do, is tell the world about their long serving employees. I would imagine, in a normal parking business, a parking attendant would be a fairly transient employee, but whatever these people are doing to keep and motivate their staff is working, as they have over 40 sites around New York and have a very low staff turnover.

This is how to treat your employees
This is how to treat your employees

We then headed towards the American Museum of Natural History, which shows the sheer scale of Manhattan Island as it took absolutely ages on the metro to get there. We walked past the Dakota on the edge of Central Park. This apartment building was built in 1880 and seems to be famous for the famous people who have lived or still live in it. It’s also infamous as the place where John Lennon was shot and killed in 1980.

The Dakota, Home to lots of famous people and the place where John Lennon was killed in 1980
The Dakota, Home to lots of famous people and the place where John Lennon was killed in 1980

Just across the road is the Strawberry Fields memorial, which is remarkable for being so unremarkable. It looks to me like its just a small sign at the side of the path, but maybe I missed the rest.

The remarkably unremarkable Strawberry Fields memorial - seems to consist of a sign, err and that's it.
The remarkably unremarkable Strawberry Fields memorial - seems to consist of a sign, err and that's it.

I was far more impressed with the signage of a very enterprising tramp, who had decided to pursue a policy of honesty in advertising. His simple, clear appeal had people queuing up to have their picture taken at his side (whilst he remained firmly asleep) and almost everyone who did this left him a dollar or two. I guess he only wakes up to pocket the cash and slope off for a beer or two.

But it does have an honest, enterprising and lovable tramp
But it does have an honest, enterprising and lovable tramp

The American Museum of Natural History is huge. Really huge. And seriously impressive as a space. You can guess the scale of the exhibitions by the scale of the reception area.

Even the Reception area is impressive at the American Museum of Natural History
Even the Reception area is impressive at the American Museum of Natural History

There are again, the names of loads of benefactors above the door and throughout the introductory signage, from individuals at one end to Toyota at the other. Whatever we do in Nottingham, we have to find a way to harness the businesses of our region to need to be involved for the kudos they can draw from the association. Without wishing to bang the same cliché out again, they are only going to do this, if what we do is world class!

One of the pride of place exhibits out there is the Willamette Meteorite, which looks like a big lump of pitted metal until you start hearing some of the facts about it.

The WiIlamette Meteorite which weighs 15.5 tons
The WiIlamette Meteorite which weighs 15.5 tons

It weighs 15.5 tons and was formed over 15 billion years ago which is quite a long time, even by universe standards. This piece was bought by the benefactor 100 years ago for $20,000 (around £5,000 then), which seems like a lot until you hear that last year, a piece that weighed just 30lb sold for $1m (around £600k).

The Planetarium, was one of my favourite things of the whole trip, but as with others, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures to show you – and they probably wouldn’t do justice to the panoramic nature of the display.

It was exceptional, right down to the vibrating seats, the beautiful way that our planets history was explained in Layman’s terms by the voiceover of Whoopi Goldberg. A world class voiceover, certainly helps with a world class attraction.

And some of the lovely little cameo pieces around the place are weighing scales, set into the floor, that give you your weight on different planets.

At this point I was feeling a bit of a podge, but was quite reassured to see I had lost around 12 stone, but would need to move to the moon to realise this terrific weight loss. A move to the Sun, would be far more tricky. Partly because it is very hot there but also because my weight would increase 134 fold. I may need some new trousers in order to avoid embarrassment.

I want to live on the moon
I want to live on the moon
rather than the sun
rather than the sun

Still more to come, but I’ll add that as soon as I can and finally end with my conclusions in a few days.

The Sheriff of Nottingham in USA – Part Fifteen – New York – Day two

Sorry, I’m a bit behind, but I’m now at home, at my desk and writing furiously to catch up on all the things we have seen and learned on the last leg of our mammoth trip across the USA.

Our last official day is in New York, and to say I am feeling tired would be something of an understatement. If I was sitting at home with a few days in New York ahead of me, I would be so excited I’d be jumping around like a loon. When you have done six straight 18 hour days ad averaged four to five hours sleep a night, it seems more like hard work.

So, choose your attitude. Look at New York and all its attractions with an open mind. There’s almost too much here to see, but there was one that we all agreed was a real winner and that’s the Highline Project. This is a regeneration project that we could directly learn from and bring to Nottingham. More of that shortly.

I’ll talk you through the day as to how it panned out ad show you some of the sights I saw along the way. In New York alone, I took over 250 shots, so I can only hope to get a brief flavour of the scale and excitement of the city. Oh, and by the way, it does sleep. On our way back from Top of the Rocks yesterday, we tried about three bars to get a drink at around 12ish and they were all closing, so we gave up and went back to the hotel which hasn’t got a bar in it either.

Another early start saw us walking toward Ground Zero. I wanted to see this, not out of some morbid curiosity, but to understand the scale of the redevelopment and see what they had done with the signage and information around the site, in order to be able to compare it with how we convey information to the public during development and building works.

There's a little bit of Nottingham in New York
There's a little bit of Nottingham in New York

First stop was to admire in original Chopper parked up in the heart of SoHo (South Houston), near the hotel. It was lovely to see a bit of seventies Nottingham, alive and well in the heart of New York’s vibrant centre.
We then stopped of at a really grungy looking bar for breakfast called the Cupping Room cafe, which comes highly recommended from friends and having eaten there, it again proves (as did John’s Pizzeria) that in New York at least, appearance can be very deceptive. The food was absolutely gorgeous.

The Cupping House - A perfect place for a gigantic New York breakfast
The Cupping House - A perfect place for a gigantic New York breakfast

I had the oddest breakfast ever of a Mexican Omelette, which came filled with Sour Cream, Tomato Salsa, red pepper, sliced bacon and loads of Chilli spiciness. It also came with the best cup of coffee I have had so far in the entire trip, fresh bread, juice and a mass of home fries. These are a really rough cut potato quarter that are fried (so chips in effect) and gorgeous. A bit slobby for breakfast but on our two meal a day regime, it set me up for the whole of the rest of the day.

We walked on, heading south west and having to zig zag through the gridded road layout. New York is actually very easy to walk around once you work out the system, but the scale is awesome. There are 10m people who work on Manhattan Island. It’s massive. Taking on a walk from one end to the other is a good two to three hour challenge. If you can cope with the walking, there’s loads to see on the way. You can even learn to Cha Cha, by following the simple step-by-step guide that I saw on the floor by a shop called Kate Spade.

And you can learn to Cha cha whilst you walk around
And you can learn to Cha cha whilst you walk around

A few minutes later we arrived at Ground Zero. You can’t really get over the scale of the hole between the buildings. Not in terms of the hole in the ground, but the sheer scale of footprint the buildings sat on. It is actually three times the size of our own market square at 65,000 square metres and our own square is the biggest in the UK.

I found it a terribly sad place to be. The police presence was extraordinary, with a double line of cars outside a building at one corner of the site and cameras everywhere.

The Police presence could only be described as 'noticeable'
The Police presence could only be described as 'noticeable'

I felt a huge sense of outrage at how the lives of 3,000 people could have been taken so brutally, when they were just going to work. The amount of materials posted everywhere offering help and advice to anyone involved or affected, shows how raw it still must be for many and the sense of sadness that hangs over the place is impossible not to feel.

Even now, they're still pulling twisted metal out of the ground at Ground Zero - Its an eerie place
Even now, they're still pulling twisted metal out of the ground at Ground Zero - Its an eerie place

And then, as we were leaving the site, it got worse. Right in front of us were a group of men with diggers, still involved in the site’s excavation in preparation for the new tower and memorial fountains, pulling out twisted metal and loading it into lorries for removal. This must be an unbelievably grim task for those involved, but one that has to happen for the nation to grieve and move on.

I found it very difficult to simply turn my back and walk away, but being in a group with a timetable to work to, I had to. I had been deeply affected by what I saw and what I felt. I had already decided to return the next day, in my own time, to spend some time in St Paul’s Chapel, the spiritual home of the 9/11 workers and survivors. More of this tomorrow.

We then walked on to Chelsea market, a fairly new development of retail and restaurants made from the former new York Biscuit Company factories and bakeries. This has been imaginatively and beautifully restored and has become a vibrant little centre with tourists and locals mingling throughout.

Chelsea market - an amazing use of an old biscuit factory that has real character
Chelsea market - an amazing use of an old biscuit factory that has real character

We stopped for a drink at Ronnybrooks dairy. They present as a really homely Mom and Pop milk bar hailing from the time of theFonz and the 50’s.

My drink of choice was a Lemonata. It’s a sort of lemon and mint ice crush drink that is lovely and refreshing and made in front of you using the juice from fresh lemons and squashed up mint leaves.

Suitably refreshed, it was off to the High Line, which had been sold to us as a concept that would be one of the highlights of our trip.

It was.

You can see from the entrance to one end of it that its still work in progress, but it is already a hugely popular park with the people of the city. In the few weeks since it opened on June 8th, it has already had a million visitors walking, sitting and resting along its lengths.

As you can see from the entrance to the High Line, it's still work in progress
As you can see from the entrance to the High Line, it's still work in progress

The management of the site is by the New York Parks Department. Their officers, have the power of arrest, but they’re still happy to stop and talk and told us about how well received the whole project had been and how little trouble they actually have to deal with on a daily basis. Again, it is immaculate, with not a spot of litter anywhere.

The High Line - A City Park in the heart of the city and built on an old railway line
The High Line - A City Park in the heart of the city and built on an old railway line

The design of the signs and the humour they imply is excellent and must be one of the reasons it is being so well looked after.

Keep it Wild, Keep on the path
Keep it Wild, Keep on the path
Officer Valentin of the New York Parks Department, who polices the High Line
Officer Valentin of the New York Parks Department, who polices the High Line

There are some lovely architectural touches. My favourite was an area that was built over an old railway bridge, where a tiered seating arrangement had turned the streets of New York into a theatre. People were sitting having drinks and sandwiches watching the world go by with the window on the world as a giant screen.

The High Line makes the street a theatre
The High Line makes the street a theatre

The whole thing is currently only around 1/2 mile long, but they are working on the next sections, which could open up another 1 1/2 miles. The quality of the finishing was superb. Detailing, as good or better than anything I have ever seen in the UK and the overall feel of the site was chilled and brilliant.

If we could create this in our city, we would be onto a winner.

More later