Friday, July 30, 2010

29-30 July 2010 North from London to Nottingham M11, M25, M1.

Zara our Hostess at Plumstead saying farewell

The Woolwich Ferry across the River Thames

Newtons Lane Cossall nr Ilkeston Derbyshire

Duck and ducklings on the Nottingham Canal

Fisherman on the Nottingham Canal

Renta a van looking the worse for wear, someone should have told these chicks that they don't fit in multistory car parks when the height limit says 6'6"!

The last couple of days have been overcast and cool but with little rain.

We left London on 29th July heading North to meet a long lost cousin who we missed when were previously in Nottingham, Ann Wilcox. Ann is my mother's brother's daughter and lives at a place called Gotham but it is pronounced Goatam unlike in the Superman movies. Oh, and it's not a city , it's a village.

We left Plumstead and hopped onto the Woolwich Ferry across the Thames and on to the M11 to link up with the M25 and thence onto the M1. The ferry is useful as it meant we didn't have to go further into London to cross via the tunnel.

We spent the night at a Premier Inn near Northampton which cost $59 for the night only. We make our own breakfast which saves about %15.

The next morning we again headed north on the M1 and went to visit the place of Mick's birth, Newtons Lane Cossall near Ilkeston in Derbyshire and he had a nostalgic wander around the area. Unfortunately the street where he was born has been bisected by a bypass, the A6096, which has completely spoiled the tranquility of the place. Still, that's progress for you I suppose. he recalled a English nursery rhyme they used to sing when they lived there:

Baa Baa a Black sheep have you any wool
Yes Sir, yes Sir 3 bags full,
One for the Master
One for the Dame,
And one for the little boy who lives down Newtons Lane.

(That was me!)

The Nottingham Canal, which is not Narrow Boat navigable, is now across the other side of the bypass but is still a nice place to wander and Mick had a long chat to a lone fisherman who happened to be fishing there.

Then onto our nights accommodation near the West Midlands airport for the night. Another Premier Inn.

And another great meal of slow cooked Lamb Shanks and Pork Ribs.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

28 July 2010 London to visit niece and final tour

Mick Lyn and Whitney (Kristen's husband)

Mick and Kristen (Lyn's niece)

Lyn Mick and Kristen

Kristen and Lyn

Some strange things are seen in London. He's making money playing tunes on a Witches Hat

This man is giving away free publications

St Martins Church in Trafalgar Square

London has it's protesters - these are protesting against the Afghanistan war, Britain has lost many soldiers there, and continues to do so

Lyn went to Carnaby St and didn't see Twiggy

No 10 Downing St. You can't get near it now.

Decent looking crash barriers in Westminster

No problem seeing these vans

How do they do this? Boat in a bottle in Trafalgar Square.

The only thing on the agenda today was to visit our niece, Kristen, from Australia, who is over here working at the London School of Economics (LSE). Kristen is Lyn's brother's daughter.

Since our weekly passes had expired, we bought a day pass each to cover our travel for the day.

We met Kristen near the LSE and were soon joined by Whitney, who Kristen met and married whilst working in Canada. Kristen is a busy girl and a daughter of whom her parents are, justly, very proud!

We hadn't seen Kristen for several years and it was a lovely reunion. We hadn't previously met Whitney and Mick got on with him famously sharing their life's stories and history.

After an all too brief get together with coffee and sandwiches, Kristen had to get back to work and we said our goodbyes.

We then decided to have one final look around the city of London and decided to catch buses of which there were many. An advantage if this is you don't have to ascend and descend hundreds of stairs as with the tube. After a solid week of touring London our legs and feet have just about given out.

We went to Carnaby street to have a look and found it a very trendy place to buy clothes if you happen to be a size 6 to 8, otherwise forget it.

We then went up to Oxford Circus to take in the bustle, then another trip down to Westminster to have a close look at Big Ben, although that is a bell, not the tower as some people mistakenly think. The tower containing the bells, is known as St Stephen's Tower. The bell first rang in 1859.

After breathing it all in for a final time we headed home to Plumstead for the last time.

There is some bad news though.

During the evening Lyn had a rather nasty fall when tidying our attic accommodation in readiness for moving on and almost fell down the stairs. (There are 40 stairs up to where we sleep). Mainly because of the shock, she was very upset for quite a while and was worried that she may have damaged her knee replacement. She hit the door with her shoulder also which had a large welt across it.

After Mick had calmed her down we set about checking if there was any permanent damage and luckily, apart from a few scrapes and bruises, there appeared to be no permanent injury so she was very lucky.

Sadly, we say goodbye to London today as the hectic pace has finally caught up with us both.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

27 July 2010 Buckingham Palace and The Mews

Mick at Charing Cross

Buckingham Palace

Queue to get in to BP

BP visit sign

Ticket Counter

Guards band preparing for changing of the guard

The Queen kindly took this picture of us having tea and scones in her cafe.

Rear of Buckingham Palace

Rear of Buckingham Palace

Russian visitors leaving Buckingham Palace

Bird in the BP Lake

Australian State Coach

Tack room at the Royal Mews

The Golden State Coach

Lyn at the rear of the Golden State Coach

Jasper the horse

Diana's Memorial Walk Sign

Grey Squirrel in St James's Park

Lyn Buying our Ice Creams in St James's Park

Mummy Mute Swan and 4 Cygnets.

Lyn at a Tube Station

It was a sunny morning as we headed off to try and beat the queues for the first day of the open house at Buckingham Palace. Since we already had our ticket vouchers by pre-purchase, we planned to avoid the walk up ticket queue.

As usual we hopped from train to tube, swapped tubes and arrived at Green Park nice and early. We have never had to wait more than 10 minutes for any train, bus or tube. In fact we mostly hop off one and onto another with barely a pause. It's a really amazing transport system and our weekly ticket cost $47 pounds. By the time our week is up we will certainly have got our money's worth.

Emerging from the tube station we had to cross Green Park which is a lovely grassed and treed area of several acres behind Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty certainly has a lot of land.

When we arrived at the ticket entrance everything was well organised as you would expect with no shortage of staff to guide and assist. We found the correct queue and after about 40 minutes found ourselves at the counter where we swapped our bit of paper, which we printed out when we pre-booked, for proper tickets and very nice tickets they were too.

Our allotted visit time was 10.45am so at 10.30am we joined the entry queue for that slot. There were about 100 people per slot.

At about 10.50am a lady came to tell us about the finer points of the visit and we then went in to find an airport style security checking centre. After passing through security we went to a counter where we were issued with Ipod type players which, coupled with headphones, provided a commentary of what we were looking at.

The commentary provided details of most of the significant features of the State rooms and their contents. In addition we could push extra numbers in on command to get more detail. It was very well done.

There was no hurry and we could linger as long as we liked at any point of the tour. The paintings in many of the rooms were pretty special and some of them had numbers which could be keyed in to our device to give us expert commentary. There was a very large Rembrandt, among many others, which Mick thought was pretty special.

Lyn wasn't much interested in the pictures but was fascinated by the decor of the State rooms and the huge chandeliers of which there were many. Lyn was in awe, just amazing how big and ornate the rooms were. Not cosy at all really, but then again we didn't see her private rooms. No plasma's TV's in that part of the Palace. One on the State Rooms we visited was the Ballroom which is where Her Majesty bestows various honours upon her loyal subjects, we sat and watched a short film of her awarding these honours.

All in all a very special place to visit and we were lucky to be here in London when the tours were on. Pity it is only available when the Queen is on her holidays as it would have been nice to catch up with her. The Queen has just set off on her summer holidays, for a cruise around the Scottish islands.

After the tour we went into the gift shop where they had some very nice items. Lyn couldn't help herself as usual and came out loaded with stuff.

After the tour we exited the palace into the garden where they had set up a restaurant where we sat and had tea and scones with strawberries and cream.

Just lovely.

With no pressure to leave, we wandered down the path to the exit, which was at the opposite side of the grounds from the way we came in. It was good job we didn't have a car parked outside (as we would have in Australia) as it would have been quite way to walk to go and get it!

On our way out we spoke to a young lady who was part of the staff of helpers and guides who, incidentally, are all dressed in smart uniforms. We asked her if she was a volunteer and she said no, she was being paid and she was on her summer break from Uni. The money she was getting was a great help in paying her Uni fees.

It was then out of the exit gate and around to the Royal Mews for a visit. The Royal Mews is where they keep all the coaches, cars, horses and equipment plus has quarters for the many staff who maintain all of the above.

The term Mews comes from the times when the buildings were used to keep the kings falcons when they were mewing which means losing their feathers as in moulting.

Today, the term Mews now means a set of stables, often converted into dwellings.

Amongst the many coaches we saw, one was built in Australia at a cost of $620,000 and given to the queen as a gift (good to see Australians taxes are being spent wisely). It was a beauty and has electric windows, hydraulic independent suspension and heating (not sure how the heating works since it obviously doesn't have an engine). No Simon, it doesn't have low profile tyres and a hot exhaust!

The stables where beautifully clean but there only 2 horses in residence as the others were out for the changing of the guard I guess. One was a Cleveland Bay which is a unique British carriage horse of the breed that took Princess Dianna to be married and the other was a Windsor gray (not a breed) that is used to pull the monarch's coach.

Of all the coaches we saw, the Golden State Coach was the most spectacular and it was beautifully displayed being drawn by 4 grays (dummy's) with 2 uniformed riders (also dummies) but it looked very realistic. When they need to use the Golden State Coach, they have to dismantle the wall in the building it is in to get it out, which takes about 2 days

Another visit to the Royal Mews gift shop after which we then had to decide which, of the three tube stations in the vicinity we would use to get to the train.

Since we were down near St James's Park, we thought it would be nice to walk along Diana's Memorial Walk through the park which is alongside St James's Park lake. There was a myriad of bird life and quite a few squirrels which were very tame and the tourists were having a field day, feeding them and taking their pictures and enjoying the warm sunshine.

After an ice cream from the van with the mandatory chocolate flake stuck in it, we were off to St James's Park underground station, where we picked up the free evening paper, and started our journey home.

Monday, July 26, 2010

26 July 2010 Thames Cruise Picadilly Circus Covent Garden London Transport Museum

Tower Bridge from Thames River

London Eye from Thames River

River Thames Water Police

Lyn in front of Tower of London

London Buses at the London Transport Museum

Trolley Bus at the London Transport Museum as used in Nottingham as well

Royal Opera House Covent Garden

Lyn in Covent Garden

Lyn outside Covent Garden Tube Station

Street Gymnasts at Covent Garden

Mick and Lyn having dinner at a restaurant at Covent Garden

The odd shower forecast for today so we took our backpack with umbrella and wet weather coats just in case. We hadn't booked anything for today.

We took our usual route to the city and got off the train at London Bridge where we decided to go for an extended river cruise (more extended than the last one).

Many of the river cruise operators work from the Tower of London side of the river so we caught the tube to Tower Hill and walked down to the river.

There we hopped onto a river cruise boat which took us down river for about half and hour and the did a U-turn to return to the same pier. This allows us to get a good view of both sides of the river without having to shift seats. It was good to get additional pictures of landmarks from the river as there is nothing obstructing the view.

Following the river cruise Mick suggested we go and checkout Piccadilly Circus which is a famous road junction and public area where people congregate in London's West End at Westminster in London. It is also the name of a tube station.

Piccadilly Circus is noted for it's video displays on one of the buildings there and also a statue of an archer in the centre of the fountain commonly known as Eros although Mick thinks it isn't Eros at all.

When Mick visited as a child he seems to remember the area being a busy roundabout which it still is despite the congestion tax. He thought the area where the statue is had had more paving added to accommodate the hoards of people who like to visit it.

After relaxing and taking a few pictures, we caught the tube to Covent Garden to have a look at the theatre district. Apparently there are more theatres per square metre than anywhere else in the country.

Covent Garden is famous for the Royal Opera House, restaurants, street performers, theatres, shops, bars and there was also a street market when we were there. It is a sort of piazza as you might find in Italy with large paved areas replacing the roads making it a great place to just wander through, taking it all in. It also has many fashionable boutiques which Lyn thought were a bit too posh for her tastes.

Covent Garden is in the heart of London's West End and is known worldwide as London's premier entertainment and leisure destination. We certainly found it captivating.

Mick also found the London Transport Museum but as Lyn isn't keen on Museums we decided to split up with Lyn going around the shops and Mick going to the museum.

After about 90 minutes Lyn wandered down to the gift shop in the museum to find Mick just coming out. Perfect timing.

Mick found the museum very interesting with heaps of information about the development of London transport in general and particularly the London underground which started in the 1860's.

The first underground lines were built using the cut and cover method since in the 1860's, when the first line was built, there were no tunnel boring machines. This was done manually by digging a deep trench and creating the tube and then filling it in. Later of course the lines went much deeper as tunnel boring machines were developed.

The first trains used steam engines and despite ventilation, the tunnels were a smokey, sulphur filled place to be. Mick couldn't imagine travelling underground in such conditions but apparently it worked reasonably well and was a popular method of transport.

Today of course it is electrically powered with the lines being electrified so it's not a good idea to jump down amongst them. Quite often you can see sparks flying when the trains head off into the dark tunnels.

The current network has 270 stations and 400klms of track. Although it is called an underground (now more commonly known as the tube) 55% of it runs above ground.

Anyway, enough of Mick's museum stuff.

So we both met up and again and after watching some of the very clever street performers, we decided to have a meal there and picked a nice looking restaurant (Maxwells, 8 James Street, Covent Garden) to have dinner.

They gave us a nice table in the window so we were able to watch the people walking by and as per usual in this country,the meal was perfect. (Not to mention that on Monday nights, all their meals are half price, which was a nice surprise).

After the meal we had another walk around before catching the tube to a mainline station and heading home.

Great day.

Pressing invitation to Buckingham Palace tomorrow. Tickets bought so should be fun.