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.