Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Scoop

You saw it here first, the brand new Monsoon Clipper moored on the south side of the Thames. This is one of the 4 commuter catamarans built in Australia using MDR's design and shipped over to London on decks of 2 cargo ships. Two more catamarans will be delivered later this year.

Osterley Park

The approach to Osterley House from main entrance.

Feast of the Senses

Today's visit to Osterley Park (1 hour by tube from Tower Bridge) was all that it promised and more, sweeping vistas, idyllic scenery, stately buildings and good weather. The house is a true showpiece, retaining most of it's original furniture, interior decoration, soft furnishings, ancient coin collections, swords and silverware. For those who appreciate symmetry and minimalist interiors Osterley House is for you.

Whilst touring the house, a cross-eyed, slightly hyperactive National Trust volunteer latched onto MB and insisted on accompanying her through the grand hall, he loftily pointed out the mirror image arrangement of the furniture and offered his opinion that it was all very obsessive. MB responded by telling him how much she was relishing the symmetrical arrangements and even offered up her old chestnut of "symmetry is everything" which she used to great effect with her staff when running her own business.

The property also produces fresh produce which is sold at their very own farm shop. The produce is also used in the on-site cafe and MB enjoyed a very nice courgette, goat cheese and mint crumble for lunch.

If you're ever in London you won't be disappointed by a visit to this property, it really has something for everyone.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Last Day in London

After 5 wonderful weeks in the UK, MDR & MB commence the return journey to hot and steamy FNQ tomorrow (via Hong Kong).

MDR is presenting a paper today at a Fast Ferry conference, then attending a conference dinner sans MB, so MB will squeeze in one last British fix at Osterley Park. According to the National Trust website MB can expect a magnificent neo-classical house with fine Adam interiors, landscaped park and 357 acres of 18th-century gardens.

The gardens should be particularly splendid with the autumn colours just starting to appear. MB promises to take lots of photos.

The Tube

These Brits are very self-deprecating, even putting up signs criticising the underground railways. MB thinks the Tube is just spiffing, what-ho.

Arty Farty London

Spotted this queue near Trafalgar Square today, folks waiting to go on a "journey" through some shipping containers. Not sure what it was all about,
didn't venture any closer.


MB dropped into All Hallows Church this morning at Tower Hill, the oldest church in London. It has an interesting crypt musuem where parts of the original Roman temple that stood on the site have been excavated. There is also a small chapel in the crypt but probably the most surprising exhibit was the crows nest from the Sir Ernest Shackleton's last Antarctic expedition on the "Quest".

Mum's the Word

Big day for MB today, went to the matinee at St Martin's theatre to see The Mousetrap, as you can see from the photo it's a very long running play, 52 years to be precise.

MB was lucky to make the play as she'd taken a trip in the morning on a Routemaster Bus to Paddington. These are the old double decker London buses with the open doorway in the back, much more fun. Anyway the plan was to walk back via Oxford Street but the pull of all those department stores was too much and caused a last minute panic. MB took the Tube to Leicester Square but of course couldn't find the theatre when she emerged disoriented from the underground, started asking for directions, first person she asked turned out to be a fellow Aussie, next one was a shop assistant (Polish?), MB had to find the 7 Dials, luckily the shop assistant knew where that was as she had never heard of the theatre. MB finally made with a minute to spare, bothered and breathless as the ticket stated no late entry.

The play was very charming and the performances were stellar, very polished indeed. At the end of the play the audience was implored to keep the secret of whodunnit to ensure the longevity of the show.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rugby World Cup, France 2007

MDR is pretty chuffed as he can watch the games live without having to get up in the wee morning hours.

MB has finally booked into a live show "The Mousetrap". This live stageshow has been running continuously for 54 years!

Sunday, September 23, 2007


I wonder if the locals ever get sick of all the green? Catching my breath after hiking up this grade V hill - Sir Edmund would be proud! That's the town of Dunster in the background where we stopped for a home made Exmoor Pasty and hot coffee. En route to Conygar Tower and then back to Minehead with MB. Hiked about 5 miles this day. Apart from the amazing scenery, it was great to get some private time with MB for a chat.


Only back in Hong Kong for two days now and still dreaming of rural England. Was going though my photos and found this one above - by far my favorite. It's in the Exmoor forest just a few miles inland from the port town of Lynmouth.

Must have been full of Brown trout but didn't get the chance to "wet a line".

The whole Minehead, West Somerset, Exmoor area was just beautiful. Weather also was perfect and I really enjoyed the trip. I would definitely go back again.


Bath 20 & 21 September 07: Arrived in Bath around 2pm on 20 September and promptly visited FishWorks for lunch and enjoyed beautful fresh seafood cooked simply and properly, unfortunately their fryer was broken down so unable to sample the whitebait. Rick Stein recommends this restaurant, and the trio were not disappointed.

In fact the next day, while Grace was cramming in some more shopping, PB & MB called FishWorks to inquire as to whether the fryer was repaired. Fortunately it was so they went back for a scrumptious taramasalata and whitebait & aioli lunch. PB also sampled some Fin De Claire Oysters from France, pronounced them surperb.
Funnily enough this restaurant was not listed in any of the eating out guides at the Hotel and it was even quite difficult obtaining their telephone number, turns out their number is only listed in the fishmongers' index in the telephone directory.

Bath Water

Would you believe MB & PB each paid 50p to drink a glass of lukewarm water from the hot spring? Tasted like rotten eggs. Still waiting for the health benefits to kick in.......

City of Hot Springs

Thurs 20 Sept: The team were up bright and early for a large English breakfast at the Villa Magdala in Bath. Only a short window for brekky - 8:00am to 9:30am, MB & PB amazingly were the first starters for breakfast, however Grace needed some more sleep to fortify herself for her last shopping foray.

After breaking their fast PB & MB strolled accross the Pulteney bridge (a bridge with shops along each side, very European) to the city centre to make the 9:00am opening of the Roman Baths, again the pair were first off the starting block.

The Baths are a must see for anyone even remotely interested in history. This is a huge complex with fascinating excavations. The hot springs are still feeding the main roman bath via the roman built pipes and drains, they sure built for the long term.

Bath is a very beautiful compact city filled with Georgian sandstone buildings, lovely avenues and traditional gardens. Traffic though was chaotic and very challenging, even with the satnav. Alas the trio had to leave at 1:30pm to make it to Gatwick in time for the Hong Kong flight.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cleve Abbey & Sour Apples

The Flab Three also visited Cleve Abbey whilst in Minehead. A 13th century monastic site, complete with Cloister buildings, one of the few sites remaining in the UK where one can see these features.

Next to the Abbey were what looked to be some abandoned apple trees laden with fruit so the team collected some likely looking apples to make an apple crumble that evening.

MB cooked them up that night but were they sour or what! Not the culinary, fresh harvested wild food delight the team were hoping for.

Minehead to Dunster Circuit

Whilst in Minehead PB & MB managed to do one of the South-West coasts walks from Minehead to the neighbouring village of Dunster, an easy five mile circuit via Conygar Tower on a small hill overlooking the village. Dunster retains it's very medieval charm with a 17th century circular yarn market in the village square. The local deli also makes a super Exmoor Pasty, highly recommended. Very lucky with the weather in Minehead, warm and sunny with only one cold, windy day while staying there.

Butlin's - Industrial Strength Holidays

This sums up for MB the major recreation at Butlin's. Perhaps a bit unfair, there are lots of kiddie activities too, mini theme park, heated pool and water slides etc.

PB remembers Butlins being featured in the 70's movie "Tommy". Judging by the size of the resort MB guesses it's a major institution in holiday making in the UK. There are hundreds of rooms, arranged in very utilitarian low rise blocks that resemble a gulag (Thanks SB). The restaurants are huge and look just like school cafeterias.

The entertainment "tent" is where it all happens, bars, clubs, pool halls, gaming machines etc. The team visited the on-site Irish pub one evening for a trivia night, however only karaoke was on offer, much to SB's delight. SB got up on stage and did a stirring rendition of Shania Twain's "Gonna Getcha" (?). The other attraction in the bar was a Maygay Poker machine, 10p wagers with the possibility of a £5 jackpot. MDR is of the opinion that all prospective male guests at Butlin's should not visit unless they have had a very close crew cut.

The timeshare apartments are a new development in one corner of the complex. The team were one of only 2 or 3 parties staying in the timeshare block, this ensured the concierge staff were extremely friendly and helpful. PB & SB borrowed a playstation and trivia quiz game with 4 handsets and the Trivia Challenge was on. MB has been the unchallenged queen for 2 years and managed to hold on to her lead by winning the first game, but was upset by SB winning the next game. SB won again the following night so the mantle has now been passed to him.

The depleted team (minus MDR & SB) decided after 5 days at Minehead to return to London via Bath, overnighting there. Grace had been there a couple times before with organised tours and declared Bath only had really boring old stuff. However she very graciously agreed that PB & MB should check it out.

Exmoor Sojourn

PB & Grace arrived in London on 10 Sep, very rested after their business class flight on startup Oasis Airlines. After a few days with MB & MDR in Bermondsey, the team, with the late addition of SB from Cologne, drove in a convoy of two rental cars to Minehead in West Somerset.

PB arranged a week in a timeshare apartment at Butlins Resort, a brand spanking new apartment on the waterfront with wrap around views of the waterfront and the pretty town of Minehead which boasts a lovely sandy beach, it could easily be a beach on the Gold Coast if it weren't so cold. The apartment was so new in fact that MB walked not once but twice into the glass sliding door to the balcony, luckily the only damage was a very embarrassed MB.

Minehead is on the fringe of Exmoor National Park and is surrounded by gorgeous small villages so lots of exploring was done. One highlight was a visit to Lynmouth (photo above is of coast near Lynmouth). This village hugs a steep cliff and some enterprising engineers in the late 1800's built a gravity fed water powered funicular railway which carries passengers 500m up a very steep traverse. No electricity or engines are used, the ultimate in eco friendly transport.

The team also loved the village of Porlock, chanced upon an antiques fair there in the local town hall. SB bought some antique postcards of his hometown in Duren. MB found a great un-PC antique postcard from Fiji showing cannibals getting some human bodies ready for the pot. Lots of loot at the fair but alas those draconian baggage restrictions mean it's impossible to buy anything.

to be continued....

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ancient Treasure

Now that the crowds are subsiding MB took the opportunity to visit the British Museum again to soak up some more history in the ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptian rooms. The collections are so extensive and amazing, words and photos can not even begin to do the Museum justice.

One highlight today was seeing the Mildenhall Treasure, along with some other amazing ancient hoards discovered in Britain. One hoard found in 1992 has over 15,000 ancient coins. The Mildenhall hoard, a collection of large silver bowls and platters nearly 2000 years old, was found by a farmer in a field. He cleaned them up and put them on display on his mantlepiece, until they were spotted by an expert and eventually ended up in the British Museum. It's quite a story and even Roald Dahl has written a book about it.

MB was surprised to see some capitals (the decorative bits from the tops of columns) that were originally in the Pantheon in Rome. The Pantheon is the most complete building from antiquity still standing today. One has to feel sympathy for the claims from other countries to return antiquities, those capitals would look much better back in the Pantheon. On the other hand one has to wonder if these would have survived in the public domain to the present day if they weren't collected when they were.

Burberry Fizzer

Professional shopper Grace and MB ventured out to Hackney today in the heart of industrial East London to spend up big on Burberry classics at their factory shop. The prices weren't that competitive and neither Grace nor MB bought a thing. A resident of the tropics means MB can only buy summer clothing and not much of that on offer at all. If only Cairns had a winter, the Burberry winter gear is absolutely adorable.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


The fab four (or should that be the flab four?) went out last night for dinner at a local Rotherhite restaurant called Simplicity (1 Tunnel Road, Rotherhite, SE16 4JJ, 020 7232 5174

MB had spotted this relatively new place while visiting the Brunel Museum recently and we'd also heard good things from the barman next door at The Angel.

Squeezed into our good clothes and headed over to try in out. Nice cozy restaurant and a full house - bit of a surprise for a Tuesday night and probably a surprise for the one waiter. Good modern Brit food with the roast rump of Welsh lamb the standout.

By ten o'clock the team were ready to hit the sack - sadly reminding us that we are not teenagers anymore. Meal for four with a few glasses of wine came to about GBP100 - very good value I thought - and definitely would go back.


At the Tower of London yesterday, the Yeoman guard regales the team with lots of gory stories and a few lame jokes as MDR uses his neck and the side of his face to collect some rays. MDR and PB later collapse in a heap with early stage sun stroke. Ladies cleverly use sunblock and sunglasses - items I'd never even thought of packing for a trip to the UK!

Road or Footpath?

This is one of the streets approaching our holiday rental in Bermondsey, luckily we've rented a tiny Chevy (rebadged Daewoo Matiz)! The yellow lines signify no parking.

Tower of London

The team visited the Tower today and took the tour with a Beefeater guard who very kindly welcomed us Aussies "back home". Learnt about the violent and gory history of the British monarchy, the usual tales of internecine violence that characterise these dynasties.

The highlight of this tour of course is the Crown Jewels collection, a treasure that must rival in value the entire Aussie GDP. Holiday season is over so thankfully the crowds are thinning, the Tower is a huge magnet and more or less compulsory for all visitors.

The Tower is a deceptively large complex, on the Thames, ringed by multiple walls and a large moat, very close the Tower Bridge and surrounded on 3 sides by modern London.

Amazingly fortunate so far with the weather, balmy with clear blue skies. Where's that Sherlock Holmes' pea soup fog that London is famous for?

Bartle Frere

MB & MDR stumbled on this statue of Bartle Frere today in a park near Whitehall. For the non-queenslander readers, Mt Bartle Frere is Queensland's highest mountain. Up until today had no idea that Bartle Frere was a person, hadn't given it too thought much really.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


The team decided to head back to The Angel to double check the famed British hospitality. As you can see from the photo it passed with flying colors. GM, extreme left in the photo, gave the team some good advice: "Once you've seen one castle you've seen them all!" Now you know - see one castle and then spend the rest of your time in English pubs - we will be!


Is that dirt under your fingernails MDR?

No one was happier than Grace to find these pre-cooked chicken wings in Marks and Spencers;

Where can I find an overpriced coffee around here?

Bermondsey? Is that somewhere in France? Nope - thats our local tube station - just far enough away from the hordes of tourists and just close enough to be able to walk most places.

Not sure about the curtains in our apartment though!

These new fangled digital cameras are amazing, especially with fill in flash;

This is how the Thames looks after a few pints of cider;

Monday, September 10, 2007


Trouble sleeping this morning so I make an early start with a hike along the Thames path towards Canary Wharf. Perfect weather and not missing the humidity we left behind in Hong Kong. MB does it again and secures a spectacular apartment right on the Thames with a fantastic view of the Tower Bridge.

On arrival yesterday, after a hot shower an a quick nap, we walked up to Hays galleria and scoffed some fresh oysters and a bottle of NZ Rose - an almost perfect start to the holiday. A couple of pleasant pints later at the Angel pub next door (where Captain Cook used to drink before sailing out and conquering Oz) and a roast lamb dinner back at the Riverside pad round out a great day.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dover High Street

MB likes the simple system in the UK where the main shopping area is almost always on "The High Street", as far as she can gather every town (including the suburbs in London) has a High Street. Often when one is asking directions one will be told "it's on the High Street." More or less the centre of the universe.
Thursday 6 September MDR, GM & MB visited Dover which is a 90min drive down one of the motorways. Went in our trusty Chevy (really a rebadged Daewoo Matiz), hard for MDR to go over the speed limit, GM says the car's engine has only 3 cylinders.
MDR & GM were called the evening prior and asked to visit a prospect at the shipping terminal, so MB was plonked down in the High Street to fend for herself. Ambled around town and found the Roman Painted House, an excellent excavation with the interior plaster walls still displaying their frescoes. Only uncovered in the 1990's and one of the best surviving examples outside of Pompeii.
MB was keen to stretch her legs so hiked up a short but pretty steep trail to a disused fort called the Drop Redoubt on the Western side of town. Detoured via the local cemetery interred with many of the souls that perished in shipwrecks off the Dover coast. MB spied one other visitor in the cemetery, what looked to be an amateur photographer taking photos of tombstones, however when she walked past and greeted him, he excitedly pointed out (whispering) to MB a lizard sunning itself on a tomb. MB duly admired the tiny creature and forged on.
After grazing on wild blackberries en route MB emerged at the huge Drop Redoubt fortress and was rewarded with fantastic views, the whole town of Dover is stretched along a valley to the sea and across the eastern side is Dover Castle, a huge fortress which dominates the town. Walked around and down to a picnic area and at this point MDR called, MB was able to give MDR a street name which he typed into Darlene (satnav) and a few minutes later the Chevy chugged up the hill to meet her. Lovely weather so a perfect spot for a picnic lunch, luckily had made some roast beef and horseradish rolls in the morning, so that and a bottle of water did the team for lunch.
A trip to Dover would not be complete without a tour of Dover Castle, a huge complex on the Eastern side of Dover, overlooking the harbour. A major strategic stronghold through the ages. One could spend a whole day here and only scratch the surface. Lots of winding staircases and great views. The main castle (12th century) has massive walls up to 7m thick and the mortar in the walls is filled with what must be hundreds of thousands of flint chips which are as sharp as cut glass, a very ingenious way to prevent marauders climbing your walls.
A great day out and completely unplanned.

Capetown 2009

A very big thanks to SB for getting the ball rolling

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Pinnacle of Fan-ness

MB kept close to base today, Tube strike yesterday caused huge disruptions with tube lines still suffering big delays and the roads are bedlam. Waited until after 10am and hopped on the bus near the apartment (new digs are splendid by the way) to do some sightseeing in Greenwich which is only about 5klm away. Bus ride was nice and quick, about 15 mins.

Visited the Fan Museum, a very small and charming display in a two storey townhouse. If you ever have any questions on fans MB will be able to assist, she saw fans made of wood, tortoiseshell, paper, mother-of-pearl, slate, bamboo, fabric, ivory, whalebone and others too numerous to mention.

The volunteer chappie at the desk looked as if he had the most advanced case of elevated blood pressure I've ever seen, his face and nose were blood red, either that or his skin is transparent. Of course he was a very polite and welcoming Brit, the locals mostly are wonderfully polite and friendly.

The photo shows the gorgeous Orangery at the rear of the museum, sadly not serving meals today. The Orangery is a riot of colour, all walls and ceiling decorated with a mural by Jane Barraclough.

Also got to do a full exploration of the Greenwich Royal gardens including the woods and deer park. 24c today London so the deer weren't very active, all lolling around in the sun. There are squirrels everywhere feasting on acorns, very cute.

Returning back to the apartment at 3:45pm was a bit traumatic, the 15min bus trip took an hour. Looks as if there is a trip to Dover tomorrow, MDR has to do an ad hoc sales trip. The white cliffs beckon.

A Very Nice Drop

It would take a couple of lifetimes to sample everything that's on offer drinkwise in the UK. MB isn't much of a drinker but has been known not to refuse a glass of cider. She has just discovered Pear Cider and is hooked, the fragrance and taste of pear in this cider (made in Sweden) is completely beguiling.

New word for the day "BOGOF" buy one get one free. Just heard this on a report bemoaning the drinking culture in Scotland on BBC radio.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Cabin Fever

MDR & MB have been in London for two weeks now, staying in a very small hotel room and starting to get severe case of cabin fever... Didn't even have a fridge in the room until a couple of days ago. Anyway enough complaining, they are not hanging around the in the room all day, too busy out and about. The Hilton does a great breakfast buffet too! Salvation is at hand today though as the pair have found a serviced apartment nearby and are checking out of the Hilton Docklands. Looking forward to cooking some typical British produce in the apartment, no chips!

Yesterday MB visited Somerset House to see the Gilbert Collection. She read about it in one of the London newspapers, there is some controversy as this museum is having trouble attracting visitors. Sure enough it was very quiet, MB only spied one other visitor while she was there. It houses some fantastic collections, the Gilbert Collection in particular was privately owned but bequested to Somerset House from a British expatriate collector who lived in the USA. MB even had a tour guide for part of the time, the chap who sold her an entry ticket, he was very friendly and loved telling her all about the pieces, it was good as MB got to see things she wouldn't have otherwise noticed. This collection has got be worth more than the entire GDP of Australia, it was astonishing, a huge amount of silver & gold gilt and solid gold ware, including two solid silver sets, with gold gilding, of full size gates from a monastery in Kiev. There was also a huge collection of very rare snuff boxes, micro mosiac artworks and incredibly ornate furniture inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones. Not allowed to take photos there so website link if you are interested:

MB also spotted the home of Twinings Tea in the city yesterday, it's a tiny little shop on the Strand, see photo attached. The shop is hardly more than the width of the double entry doors! However when you enter the shop does go back quite a way. Very charming indeed.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Giant Budgie Spotted at Kew Gardens

Good weather today in London so MB visited Kew Gardens. After carefully studying the bus and tube routes, she decided to take the bus from outside the hotel direct to Victoria station then hop on the train to Kew Gardens. This plan came unstuck however at Victoria underground station, on arriving MB found it was closed for the weekend. Lots of stranded commuters milling around but buses had been put on to replace the train services. MB then had to fight through the crowds to get to a bus for Earls Court tube station, the bus inched along through traffic jams, however it was a good chance for sightseeing, went through the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, saw Harrods and Sloane Square, a complete contrast to East London where MB is holed up, like going from the 3rd world to first world, just by crossing the Thames.

The train from Earls Court was a cinch and in no time MB was in tranquil Kew, with the gardens’ entrance about 200m from the station. These 132ha gardens are the grounds of Kew Palace, which MB understands is no longer occupied and are nearly a haven, being under the Heathrow flight path means a continuous stream of jets overhead. The grounds are dotted with splendid trees and themed areas such as a Japanese garden, pinetum, coppice, a badger sett, woodlands – where I spotted the Giant Ground Budgie, hothouses, etc. etc. There is a fee to visit the gardens which means they don’t become so crowded which is a big plus.
When MB was leaving she got bailed up by an African family dressed to the nines, asking if she’d seen a wedding pavilion. MB replied in the negative but also mentioned the gardens are so huge she could easily have missed it! Beautiful day for a wedding. Return journey by train, no planning just got on the first train at Kew Gardens station and changed at the first station that crossed the Jubilee Line, much quicker getting back.

Landmark day today for MDR, the ferries arrived and were offloaded without incident.