Friday, August 31, 2007

Roman London

MB caught the tube today to Liverpool St to visit the London Museum and the Guildhall Museum. The crumbling wall in the photo is a remnant of the old Roman Wall built in around 200AD. MB would not have found this fascinating site without the help of an excellent Roman London walk downloaded from the BBC website.

The Guildhall Musuem has an amazing art collection and in the basement they have excavated the foundations of a Roman ampitheatre, complete with wooden drains, amazing that the timber has survived nearly 2000 years.

Even more amazing is the fact that the many Roman ruins were only uncovered after the blitz in WWII. The London Musuem also has a fantastic collection Roman artifacts, including some beautiful examples of Roman mosaics, glassware and a complete limestone crypt with a lead coffin. The quality and workmanship has to be seen to be believed.

Last stop was a walk through Spitalfields Markets, lots of interesting antiques stalls, even saw one selling Roman iron signet rings found with a metal detector. Have to wonder though if these are genuine as the seller claims...

Tower of London from Tower Bridge

Yet to see the Crown Jewels, but a visit to the Tower is definitely on the list. Just waiting for the crowds to die down a bit, time is a luxury we're fortunate to have. August is the height of the tourist season and summer school holidays in London, so if you don't get there early don't bother going, unless you enjoy queues. The queue outside the nearby London Dungeon was over 100m long, imagine how it'd be if you were in one of those queues with your kids, nightmarish.

Yesterday was spent looking for a self-contained apartment, once we'd walked across the Tower Bridge, after MDR was told his boss' flat in Westminster wouldn't be available. Self-catering holiday flats are as rare as hen's teeth in London, found a few on the web and decided to inspect two properties, one did not seem to have any on-site manager (still waiting for them to return our call too). The other in Southwark was fine, 150 quid per night, but didn't commit to anything and after some more concerted web surfing found a website that let out privately owned apartments in various locations for short terms. Luckily we found one apartment in a street close to Rotherhithe. It's a larger apartment on the Thames, cheaper too and we've been able to book it from next week, hallelujah brudder!

One of our stops in the quest for the SC flat was a visit to the official London Tourist Information Centre in Regent Street, after fighting the wall to wall crowds we finally made it to this centre, which has an accommodation booking service. When we asked for an SC flat, the Lazy Harridan at the counter asserted that London doesn't have this sort of accommodation, as most folks are only here for short stays and hotel rooms are much better. After some prodding she made a phone call and managed to get a quote for a property in Kensington, which surprised her no end. As this was out of the way for us we asked for other options, but that was it, no other SC holiday flats exist. Complete waste of time going there.

On another note London is gearing up for the 10 year anniversary of the death of Princess Di on 31 August. The media are having a field day, newspapers printing 10 page supplements and getting their knickers in a knot over Camilla's decision not attend the memorial service, she's damned if she does and damned if she doesn't.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Serenity meets Industry

Visited Morden Hall Park today, a lovely National Trust property in South London. After the obligatory couple of kilometres being lost we eventually found the entrance, once inside we were in another world of beautiful grounds, babbling brooks and fragrant beds of roses.
Finally saw some other folks eating blackberries today (there are wild blackberries everywhere which seem to be totally ignored by the locals), when we got closer we discovered they were fellow tourists, Japanese to boot.
After walking through the grounds and the small farm of this rural idyll, we exited into an ugly industrial area, quite a rude shock after the serenity of the park.
To get to this property we took the tube from Elephant & Castle Tube Station, which we reached by bus. The area surrounding this station is really reminiscent of a ghetto, lots of grotty buildings with garage doors protecting grimy little shopfronts and lots of guys loping around in hoodys. Don't think we'll be rushing back there anytime soon.

The Beginning of Time

MB has done it again, upsetting her fellow tourists by straddling the GMT Meridian to get this photo, you can just see her volleys at the top of the pic. MB thought the group of Asian tourists standing on the Line were there for a photo, turns out they were queuing up to get a photo in front of the sculpture at the end of the Meridian Line, then MB shambles over and queue jumps to take this shot. MB was duly ticked off by a feisty Irish visitor, however, after jostling the crowds all day MB confesses she was actually pretty pleased with herself, finally getting the upper hand - shocking attitude really...

MB & MDR chose the Sunday of the Bank Holiday weekend to visit the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, along with about half a million others. The observatory overlooks very expansive grounds and some very majestic naval buildings on the Thames waterfront. The grounds were packed with frolicking folk enjoying the late summer sun.

After a powernap on the lawn the duo returned to their hotel via the pedestrian tunnel which goes under the Thames across to the area west of Canary Wharf, from there they walked the Thames path to the wharf and caught a ferry back to their hotel opposite Canary Wharf.

Dinner last night was in Chinatown, this meant a tube trip into Leicester Square. Finding Chinatown from the tube station was a real challenge, ended up in Soho, eventually stumbed onto the entrance to Chinatown before MDR & MB came to blows, both frazzled and hungry by this time. An Asahi beer and an iced green tea in a funkly little Japanese restaurant restored both to good spirits.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Windsor Castle

MDR & MB took the train from Waterloo to Windsor today to visit Queen Elizabeth's Windsor Castle, the longest continuously occupied castle in the world. Needless to say this very imposing castle, which dominates the small village of Windsor, is spectacular, surrounded by beautiful green parklands and containing priceless art and plunder. Yes you read correctly, plunder, from vanquished states, mostly in India. The standout for MB was a massive solid gold Tiger's head.

After touring the castle it was decided to visit the giftshop for some postcards. Airline luggage restrictions preclude the Aussie tourists from buying anything substantial. Inside the giftshop MB took a photo of MDR then was pounced on by a surly sales assistant who demanded immediate deletion of the photo due to copyright restrictions and the fact that it was a charitable organisation, she then flounced off before MB could delete the photo (above).

The very charming small village of Windsor which is so quintessentially English was teeming with tourists, reminded MB of Kuranda. Did a walk through the High Street then down to the Thames River, which is much smaller and calmer by the time it reaches Windsor and very picturesque with the white swans following the tourists for food. Windsor is a great day trip from London, approx. 50 minutes by train, highly recommended.

Bank Holiday Weekend coming up so the roads will be chaos, might be best to hang out in London this weekend.

Living off the Land in Rotherhithe

Free day for MDR as ferry delivery now delayed to 30 August.

Decided to explore the neighbourhood and check out the nearby Brunel Museum. Brunel was the engineer who oversaw the construction of the world's first tunnel under a river bed, the Rotherhithe tunnel under the Thames, in the early 1800's. The museum was very small but lively with a boisterous group of school children on holidays doing some sort of extra-curricular activities. The curator was very friendly in a sort of British boffin way.

From the museum we spotted a very charming pub, the Mayflower. On checking found they had a great lunch menu so we ordered a drink and sat down in our snug. Just wanted a light lunch so ordered sandwiches. MB's roast beef on grain bread turned out to be made with slices over 2cm thick and served with mounds of salad, coleslaw and chips, absolutely massive. The rare roast beef with horseradish was superb.
From the Mayflower we ambled up to the local shops, passed Michael Caine's childhood home too. At the local shopping centre a group of three young girls approached us and asked if we could spare them some change for a drink, a very Dickensian moment.
Then the weather started closing in so it was time get back to the hotel. However with the circuitious streets it was hard to know which ones to take to get back, we saw a little hill so up we went. From there we decided to cut through a remnant of woodland as it seemed to be in the general direction. Luckily we found some volunteers doing some good works, asked them for help but they had to get their guru to give us directions. One bonus of going through the woodland was the blackberries, loads of wild ripe berries growing everywhere, a real treat, could be an option when we run of cash in this very expensive city. Some photos on Flickr

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Eagle has Landed

Landed in London late Monday after a chockfull Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong. Our minicab driver (reminded me of Arthur from Minder) gave us a cooks tour of London on the way to the hotel in the docklands. After some bangers and mash in house and a few lagers for MDR the dynamic duo collapsed in a heap. Time clocks are a bit out of whack, both up before 5am each morning so far. Both had a laugh when reading a welcome email from SB at 5am this morning, when SB expressed the hope that jetlag wasn't too much of a problem.

MB's first day exploring London via Thames Clippers to the Embankment, when disembarking encountered Cleopatra's Needle guarded by two sphinxes (as per photo). MB succumbed to some retail therapy, who could resist the shops in London? Then some culture at the British Museum, going to have to go back a few times to take it all in.

Bargain of the day was some absolutely fabulous fresh strawberries and raspberries for sale at the Embankment Tube station, £2.70 for both. So far the only thing that's cheaper than in OZ.... MDR has a free day today so will be doing the tourist thing today.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Cult of the Amateur

MB has just read the very thought provoking New Media article from last Sunday's SMH Spectrum supplement. Rather discouraging to a simple blogger, however MB does feel empathy with Andrew Keen. Isn't this just another symptom of the universal "dumbing down" of every facet of our day to day lives?
We are all, generally, enjoying amazing prosperity with the cult of the celebrity seemingly the pinnacle we all aspire to. The raft of so called reality TV programs is one pointer to this. In reality these programs couldn't be further from the truth, composed and edited to suit some mediocre producer, media company as well as the advertisers who are spruiking stuff we don't need.
Our culture seems to have developed to a point where one is not required to take responsibility for one's actions. This has seeped into our education system and many of our young people are graduating basically as "airheads", those folk who believe that if it's on television, the internet, or published in print, it must be true.
On a day to day basis one is confronted with colleagues, public servants, retail staff etc. who have very little understanding of what they're doing and even worse, so oblivious they don't know their shortcomings and their effect on the rest of us.
Amazingly though the airheads stumble along, no matter how inefficient or inept they are, due is no small part, MB feels, to our relative prosperity. Can't wait for the wheel to turn.......