30 December 2012

Stone piles, cream tea and no baths in Bath…

2012; first year of travelling since 2001. Now, I already want to plan the next trips for 2013.

Last trip for 2012 was during the autumn mid-term break. A road trip around south-west England. The only plan made was hire a car from Heathrow Airport. Destinations in mind were Bath, Stonehenge, Lands End, and Devon coastline. Any place between was a bonus. By the end we drove through eight counties in four days. Pretty decent effort I thought.

31 October 2012

Big city, JCS and ready for the next trip...

From Paris to Holborn. Song reference, anyone?

Recently my travel exploits have been the following:
Catch one First Great Western train.
Catch a second First Great Western train.
Make way across the platform concord, down the steep escalators to the first London Underground line. Ride for five stops.
Change to the second London Underground Line. Ride two stops, get off.
Walk to destination.
Repeat process in reverse.

21 October 2012

No more photo synonyms but check these travel shots out…

The Photographic Society of America defines a travel photo as an image expressing the feeling of a time and place, portraying a land, its people, or a culture in its natural state. My travel photos are images of anything interesting at the time!

Snapshots of England –seen but BIGGER!
The coolest tree in Hyde Park.
Guard at White CastleTower of London.
Lion guarding Buckingham Palace. Roar, he looks intimidating!
Buckingham Palace through the gates.
Union Jack flag at Windsor.
Big Ben in lego – should go and see the real thing soon!
Legoland, a place for children and kidults J
Secret squirrel hanging by my house, in Cookham.
Tower Bridge view from Tower of London. This is NOT "London Bridge" people.
Tiny window to shoot arrows out of at Windsor Castle.

15 October 2012

Click-click, photographs and travel shots from Africa to your screens…

Travel photos capture landscapes, people, cultures, customs and history of the place visited. Do the below follow this guideline?

Snapshots of Egypt –seen but BIGGER!

Medieval fort made from stones of the ruined lighthouse -
one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – at 
Great pyramid and the great Sphynix.

Propaganda of a Pharaoh at Philae temple.
My favourite – temple of Edfu, dedicated to the god Horus in Luxor.

Abu Simbel – temple of Hathor and Nefertari.
Group photo at temple of Hatshepsut (aka Hotshitsoup or Hotchickensoup) – the first female pharaoh.
Colour still visible on the walls at temple of Anubis.

Pyramids of Giza.
Camel – zoomed to try and see the three eyelids!

Pyramid – up close and personal.
That's me pointing the camera straight up, can't even see the top!

29 September 2012

Prints, Polaroid’s and travel snaps right here…

Travelling and taking photos go hand in hand. 

To get the best photos you need to invest in a quality camera. My little Samsung is overtaken by new DSLR quality cameras. These cameras turn images into a professional style even when taken by an amateur photographer (like me) with no prior knowledge!

I got my eye on the Olympus PEN camera range – as featured in Glamour UK. The fact it comes in purple; of course I want it. Viewed the camera in a Jessop store and my first thoughts: little bigger than a standard digital camera, yet compact, super fast focus, fast picture taking (my camera is so slow), two interchangeable lenses and more affordable than the other original brands out there. It's final, I want one now!

Snapshots of Turkey –seen but BIGGER!
Colourful lanterns in the Grand Bazaar. Popular souvenirs – complicated to ship home. 
German fountain at Hippodrome of Constantinople. 
Blue Mosque entrance.
Hagia Sophia "Church of the Holy Wisdom of God" – the best site in Istanbul. 
Food market at Bursa.
Ephesus ruins. First shot out of the hundreds you take from this point forward.
Temple of Artemis – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – at Ephesus. 
Akropolis ruins next to a purple flower tree in the mountains by Bergama. 
What's left of Troy.
Memorial at Chunuk Bair on Gallipoli peninsula - "Their name liveth for evermore".. 

23 September 2012

Photos, snapshots and travel pictures galore…

With the next travel destination unknown (for now) a change of post style is looked-for. Just to shake things up a little.

Leaving the lengthy dialogues behind (for a while, they'll be back); I can focus on the best part of travelling: travel photos of EVERYTHING you see.

And here we go, the first photo post edition:

Snapshots of Phuket –seen but BIGGER

Jandal (thong or flip flop) tan-line feet in The Beach Koh Phi Phi sand. 

Monkey Island – feed the monkeys but hold onto those valuables these guys are little thieves. 

Phi Phi Don Island umbrellas.

First and the tastiest local cuisine from the Baan Yuree resort in Patong. 

Big Buddha – pretty big!
Patong beach – just after a thunder storm and intense rain down pour.

Favourite flowers – Frangipani floating in water.
Lightening fork from resort balcony in Patong.

Frog in the hole at Dino Park, Karon
Snorkling in the clear water next to an island paradise backdrop.

19 September 2012

French Quarters, Pesto Snails and the Wall of Love…

I've been lucky in my travels in the five months since leaving Wellington. Going to Thailand, Turkey, Egypt, Scotland and now France. Having a friend living in Paris decided this trip. The last time we saw each other was in 2009! Timing was also a factor. Wanted to stay in London for the Olympics and started work after the August bank holiday. Left with a two week window of opportunity and after some organisation and fund arranging, Eurostar was booked for a 5 night holiday in the city of lights.

Confident that I had everything packed, a blonde moment intervened; "do we need passports?" The reply: "Lol you're leaving the country!" In my head catching a train to Paris was the same as catching a train to Scotland. Going into Scotland I thought my passport would get checked. After the blonde moment I realised Scotland is; still, United Kingdom. Passport went straight into the handbag.

Arriving at St Pancras International, the first order of business before buying Euros was buying DK Eyewitness Top Ten Paris guidebook. Quick stop in WH Smith; the task is completed. Spotted back in New Zealand and breaking away from the norm of Lonely Planet guides a collection began. I have London, Egypt and Turkey books.

Instead of the top ten for Paris we had a top eight. The two highlights missed for the top ten were Musee d'Orsay and Musee Georges Pompidou.

Tour de Eiffel: Waited the 50-minute Sunday morning queues to get to the top. Start at Esplanade du Trocadero, walk past a spectacular fountain (with water cannons) and cross the bridge to begin all viewpoints. If you prefer pictures with both the tower and the sights from above go to Montparnasse Tower observation deck or Galeries Lafayette department store roof top (has amazing strawberry and frozen yoghurt tubs). Parc du Champ de Mars was my favourite area. You can find great reading in the day and evening picnic for the light show spots.

Sacre-Coeur: Steep walk up on the hottest day EVER. That was tough. Nick-named the wedding-cake-church, the view from the steps leading to the entrance is impressive, and you can see why so many artists were inspired by living in Montmartre. Saw the best gargoyles too! Go around the back and follow the crowds to the Place du Tertre, but don't buy anything…the art is high priced.

Notre-Dame: Arriving mid-morning was well planned, quiet and lines for the bell towers only. Look out for the headless statue at the front and the green priests behind walking down from the tallest tower. Set in the cobblestones by the main entrance is the Bronze Star marking the exact location of point zero of French roads. Reading about the star waiting to board the train it was added to the list of things to see. Missed the star the first time, but found the second time.

Arc de Triomphe: After walking the entire length of Avenue des Champs-Elysees, and ducking down some Parisian side streets, we made it to the end. Arc de Triomphe is what you expect; the reliefs up close are amazing and there is an eternal flame marking the tomb of an unknown soldier. A walk around once and under and tick off the list.

Pantheon: Being on a tight budget I chose to skip this. My travel buddy on an EU passport had free entry everywhere. Off she went inside to take the token photos of famous tombs. I sat on the stairs taking photos of different angles of the huge Pantheon architecture. Luxembourg de Jardin down the street is littered with statues, flower beds, a pond with toy sailing boats and tanned Parisians. Spend an afternoon here relaxing and enjoying life. North of the garden is Saint Sulpice a pretty (free entry) church with a grand lion fountain in the front. All three of these places are close together to see in one afternoon.

Hotel des Invalides: The walk towards the hotel off Avenue des Champs-Elysees covers Le Grand Palais, Petite Palais and across Pont Alexander III to the final destination. At Les Invalides you can enter into a courtyard but beyond that are several museums and the tomb of Napoleon. We saw the courtyard and the impressive sun dial. Skipping these museums we made the journey back to Champs-Elysees.

Saint Chapelle: I skipped this church, instead sat in the leafy courtyard opposite for a coffee break. Concierge next door I did visit. Buy a ticket that gives entry into the St. Chapelle and the Concierge. Concierge hosts a reconstruction of Marie Antoinette's cell in the exact location before the, you know - the head chopping business. The jail cells are creepy and you learn a lot about the process of ferrying prisoners from the Justice courts next door to sentencing and death.

Musee du Louvre: The underground entrance is much faster. No one in sight. Saw Starbucks and grabbed a quick breakfast. Big mistake, in a split-second load of tourists appeared and the queuing began. We managed to walk the opposite way round from the crowd starting in Richelieu wing on Napoleon Hall floor. Go to Tuileries garden for a bite to eat.

You can see Paris in four days. Maximum of seven days could include the outer borders and a day trip to Versailles. A second trip is due to Versailles and Euro Disney; next spring maybe?

And, voila:

P is for parle-vous François? Not me. Best to travel with friends who can! French appreciate you knowing phrases, better yet knowing the correct pronunciation. If no luck there, say you're from New Zealand!

A is for amour: Or aroha. There is a small park in Montmartre with a concrete wall tiled known as the Wall of Love. "I love you" is written in different languages of the world. Took a while to find the words in English, trust me they are there. Yet didn't take as long to find the Maori phrase: Ke te aroha au I a koe.

R is for really cheap tour. The friend tour gives you handy tips from baguette prices, metro routes and exploring areas of Paris unknown to the masses. Shout them some wine and you are good to go. On one friend tour we explored the Jewish quarter of Marais, a short walk from St. Paul metro station, for the best Falafel Kebab ever. Ate the kebab in Place des Vosgues garden, next to Victor Hugo mansion, and soaked in the evening sunshine next to a fountain spraying a cool mist that just reached me. Walking the surrounding streets we spotted a Pandora shop. Popped into the shop to buy a silver suitcase charm was a lengthy wait, but worth it. One side displays a palm tree and DK (trawling the internet it's the international code for Denmark, the origins of Pandora). The side of interest was the word Paris and a teeny Eiffel Tower.

I is for I like snails! Surprised? I was too. Snails covered in a basil pesto sauce made the experience very pleasant. Dining in Paris is a foodie's haven, ranging from street stalls to Michelin Star restaurants. Searching for local spots away from the tourist traps failed. Walking down side streets away from tourist spots proved many restaurants do close for the summer. Try the Latin Quarter near St. Michel where there are a wide range of restaurants, some boasting 3 course meals for €13. Also went to McDonalds for a Royale with cheese. Fans of Pulp Fiction will understand!

S is for sun sun sun. Nothing could prepare me for the heat. Forecast showed 38 degrees. At the hottest part of the day temperatures reached well over 40 degrees. HOT! Best summer feature Paris has to offer is a beach. During August a stretch of road transforms into a beach, sand and all. Plenty of water stations, mist and sprinkler zones and massive beach chair hammocks. With entertainment, sand castles, ice creams and lots of people you will soak up the atmosphere and believe you were at the beach.

25 August 2012

Summertime in London-town, Olympics and Getting Lost...

Summer, Autumn, Spring & look back to Summer. This is how I like to spend the year.

Hello London. Full of firsts, now where do I begin? How about the very start…

First trip to London on the First Great Western train to Paddington was straightforward. Travel card purchased for the national rail, bus and underground was put to good use. First few times on the underground were interesting. First ever destination Tower Hill! 

The “tube” is user-friendly; I guess it has to be for the millions of tourists that visit the city. First few times on the tube were usually off peak and relatively calm, but you adjust to the chaos…eventually. Now its second nature, knowing what line goes where, the direction of the lines, the exits, the platforms, where the best spot to stand is to jump on fast. It’s a mission at times. One that I’ll be living from now on.

Bearings. Yes I have lost mine at times, and I’m sure it’s going to continue to happen. London is massive and I could never imagine how big until you step out onto the streets and explore the size. Losing your bearings, walking in the wrong direction is all part of being in a new city. Thankfully there are signpost maps every few hundred meters showing where you are and what streets, locations are in a five to 20 minute walking distance radius. Not afraid to look at one of these to get going in the right direction!

SO far I’ve explored Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, The Mall, Oxford Street, Angel, London Fields, one-night out in Highbury, Camden Town, Crouch End, one-night out in Shoreditch (with a bus fail that will not be mentioned - apart from that one mention), Kings Cross, Leicester Square and then Holborn where I’ll be working. I have wandered around a few more places when attending job interviews but they don't count because I never had time to actually explore.

This summer was also supposed to be rocking out to Blink 182. Alas, arriving to Brixton to find the show was cancelled was a downer. On the other hand I now know where the O2 Academy is for future events. Bonus.

First stage show in London was at the Queens Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to see the longest running musical, Les Miserables. To be honest, I knew two or three songs (not word for word) and that was about it. In the end? I loved it. The cast were superb in my opinion. The story was fascinating. Especially knowing I was about to embark to the city of Paris at the end of the month. Now I'm looking forward to seeing the new film version to be released later this year.

With summer almost over, it’s been a crazy time. The Jubilee craziness long gone was replaced with Olympic craziness.

Ticketed events and the opening/closing ceremony were sold out long before I arrived. I did go to a few free events such as the Triathlon and the Endurance Swimming. I never would have thought I’d be in a city where the Olympics are hosted. It’s an atmosphere alright. Giant birdcage swing and ping pong tables were set up in Kings Cross. 

Olympic park is massive, not that I went inside…the mall out there was equally massive though! 

Kiwi House was themed beautifully: Moa beer, Weka cider, BBQ, Mince ‘n’ Cheese pies, and relaxed people enjoying sports. I obviously started with the most important feature. Even a gas explosion didn’t stop the organisers who in a day and half had the house back open again. 

Hyde Park had a live set up with free entry to watch any of the four giant screens showing BBC coverage of the games. Now I read a bit about the coverage not being that great. I agree. I chose to view most of the games online and that was fantastic, saw TeamNZ medal ceremonies and the entire NZ anthem, that did not play on TV screens here. I watched Sarah Walker win silver for the BMX racing, in a crowd of TeamGB, we (that being two of us) cheered as loud as we could. I followed the sailing, rowing and BMX a lot and snapped a picture of the fall replay of Kurt Pickard, ouch!

In between all of these events I have lazed about reading in the garden, walking along the Thames, seen a film or two, even caught up on TV shows and loads of writing of course. 

It’s been a great summer but the chapter ends here. Now I join the workforce to earn money…to get back on the road again!

08 August 2012

Castles, Abbeys, Courts and More Castles…

Now it's time for me to talk about my ABCs (Another Bloody Castle). Do I count castles separate from palaces?

The list here is all the places visited in order of my arrival to England:

Windsor Castle - take one.
Before Turkey, Egypt and Scotland, I was officially in England for two days. Day one was a Tuesday afternoon spent lunching in Windsor, sightseeing around the shops and a tour of the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and the Official Residence of Her Majesty The Queen. Its rich history spans almost 1000 years! The Queen was in residence that fine Tuesday, as the flag shows and the tour guide said so. Also saw smoke from a chimney which using our imagination concluded she was sitting by a fire drinking her tea and eating scones.

Magnificent State Apartments furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection. I learnt more about the collection pieces in the state apartments from watching a television programme about all The Queen's current residences. St George's Chapel is one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in England and the burial place of 10 monarchs including Henry VIII. Queen Mary's Dolls House, a masterpiece in miniature (has copies of classic books and art and a garden and plumbing that work!). The Drawings Gallery currently features an exhibition for The Queens Diamond Jubilee, 60 photographs for 60 years.

Bisham Abbey
Second day in England we went for a drive around the Berkshire countryside ending up at the Bisham Abbey grounds. Today Bisham Abbey is one of Sport England's National Sports Centres providing world class facilities to Britain's leading sports men and women. The old manor sits in stunning grounds on the bank of the River Thames that one cannot fail to be impressed. 

Now for a history lesson full of Queens, Kings and ghosts:
The name is taken from the now lost Bisham Priory which once stood alongside the manor. The manor was built around 1260 as a community house for two Knights Templar. King Edward II took over the manorial rights when the Templars were suppressed. 

In 1310 the building was used as a place of confinement for Queen Elizabeth of the Scots, wife of King Robert the Bruce. The Queen had been captured during the Scottish Wars of Succession, and was placed in the charge for two years, until removed to Windsor.

In 1335 the manor was bought by William Montacute, 1st Earl of Salisbury. Henry VIII granted the manor house to Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement from him, and it was later bought by the Hoby family, who lived there until 1768. Elizabeth I was a regular visitor in the time of the Hoby family. The ghost of Elizabeth Hoby is said to haunt the Great Hall where her portrait hangs. Legend says she wishes to repent the death of a son which she caused through punishment and neglect.

That afternoon we stopped in for tea and scones (!!) at the Leander Club at Henley-on-Thames. The Henley Royal Regatta is held at the club and has many famous members, including Hugh Laurie.

Tower of London
If you don't know anything about the Tower of London then I am ashamed for you. Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. The Tower has served variously as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.

The Bloody Tower is infamous as a place of torture and confinement. The glass memorial pillow (picture below) represents the pillow used to catch the 20 something decapitated heads executed within the castle walls.

There is also the Bloody Tower mystery of the two little princes that remains unanswered. Did they die by the hands of Edward V's uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester who was declared Lord Protector while the 12-year-old prince Edward was too young to rule? Edward was confined to the Tower of London along with his younger brother Richard. The Duke of Gloucester was proclaimed King Richard III in July. The princes were never seen in public again after June 1483…

Buckingham Palace
No explanation necessary here. I didn't actually go inside the palace. One day soon. The Mall, a ceremonial approach route to the palace, was completed in 1911 as part of a grand memorial to Queen Victoria. It extends from Admiralty Arch, across St James's Park to the Victoria Memorial. The fountain is spectacular. What topped off the memorial for me was seeing the two figures given by the people of New Zealand. Something I was not aware of about the memorial.

Tonnes of touristy photos later, the cloudy typical English day out in London that included a walk through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to the actual destination….

Kensington Palace
What I thought would be a wander around the palace, something similar to the same experience as walking through Buckingham palace, was wrong. Kensington is a museum. One that was merely ok. There is nothing to rave about. Nor comment on really. It was just a very, very small display of Princess Diana's outfits and then a display on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. That's it folks.

Dorney Court
Not far from where I'm staying in there is a garden centre and next door is Dorney Manor. My relatives have been before but suggested it as a place to visit because of its history. Dorney Court is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book: it's the oldest public record and evidence of title to land. In 1542, Dorney, after being handed down many family lines, was sold to Sir William Garrard and ancestor of the Palmer family which still owns and occupies Dorney Court today.

Sir William Garrard served as Lord Mayor of London in 1555. The daughter of Sir William Garrard married James Palmer and Dorney Court was acquired by her husband in 1624. The guide said these relatives have ancestral ties with the late Princess Diana. The property has also been used in many BBC television shows and films, one you might know: The Girl with the Pearl Earring.

Windsor Castle - take two.
Friends wanted to plan a day trip from London to Windsor to see the castle and go to the Legoland theme park. I joined them for the day, already being to Windsor but there was still a lot to see and learn (and with a year pass there was no cost). I learnt much more going back a second time. Using the free audio guide was a better start. I skipped Prince Charles welcome to Windsor and some of the information I was that interested in but overall having the guide made the experience that much more. The castle is truly stunning, I took more photos and angles of the castle I missed the first time and I would go back again.