Thursday, September 21, 2017

Farewell to London

We really liked London. Harry wasn't too sure coming in as he has an innate resistance to twitty Brits. But we didn't find too many of those here. What we found was an amazing conglomeration of people from every corner of the globe, many quite young, who are living together in harmony. We spent all of our time in Zone 1, which is Central London, so admittedly it's not a real cross section. But we felt it is a very inclusive place.

Here's an example: A Chinese gate leading into a few streets of a Chinatown, adjacent to an Edwardian (?) building. And the streets were closed to vehicle traffic from noon until midnight.

Then there's the history going back to neolithic times. Today we spent the afternoon at the Museum of London, which traces the city's history from the earliest times, through the Celts, the Romans, the Saxons, the medieval times, the plague and the great fire to modern times. They've dug so many artifacts from the Thames and they were all there on display.

This morning I visited Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and Harry went back to the Tate Modern to see an exhibit of Black Power struggle in America.  The Globe is a recent reconstruction built from plans of Shakespeare's open-air theatre in the round.  They put on a season of plays here every year, about half of them are Shakespeare's works and the others more contemporary.

So we really liked London and here are some of the things that appealed to us....

Elaborate bridges of stone. This is Blackfriars Bridge, probably has been there since Shakespeare's time.

Gorgeous buildings from a couple of centuries ago like this one. I could show you a lot more but this will suffice.

British icons like Piccadilly Circus, red telephone booths, double decker buses and Union Jacks--and tourists. All of these can be found pretty much everywhere. And they're real (I think).

The tube. In fact the whole transportation system. We purchased an Oyster card that lets us travel at the cheapest rate on the underground, the buses, the trams and the river buses. It's a great way to get around the city and each station is different. Some are older, like this one, and some are very modern. Tomorrow we'll take the Piccadilly line all the way out to Heathrow Airport to catch our plane to Spain. We'll be sad to leave this fascinating city, but not so sad to leave the clouds and rain. Apparently it's still warm and sunny in Madrid.  I'll keep you posted.

Oh, one more thing.  They were selling bowler hats at the Museum of London and Harry decided to try one one.  Do you think he looks maybe a little bit twitty himself?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Postcards of London

We took the tube this morning from Gloucester Road Station, a real oldie, to the Tower of London--even older by hundreds of years. We saw some of the history of the kings and the court intrigue. It's all rather difficult to follow or remember.  Inside the moat of the 1,000 year old moated castle is an entire village where the Beefeater guards live along with their families, a doctor, a priest, and others. They're hired by the City I guess to show people around.   

Here are a few postcard views from our tour. The village green, the guards, a horse's armour, the Tower Bridge, and the chapel (where presumably Anne Boleyn attended before she was executed).

Personally I'm more interested in contemporary London with its people heading off to work along with uniformed students....

A view of the Thames and across the Thames from atop the Tate Modern. That's the Millenium Bridge, the only pedestrian bridge across the Thames. Saint Paul's is in the middle, behind old warehouses and modern buildings. In front of this you can see tugs and barges full of containers, plus one of the river buses. We purchased an Oyster Card that allows us to take the tube, all buses, and the river buses. What a deal.  Tomorrow we're going even farther afield, although we'll still be in Zone 1, the centre of this enormous city.

Below you can see some of the older brick and stone buildings we saw from the top of one of the double decker buses, and another view of Saint Pauls, which we'll likely visit tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Meridian Line and intro to London

East Grinstead is on the Greenwich meridian line since it's directly south of Greenwich England, the point on the globe that separates east from west. If you're from Canada you'll know about Greenwich mean time, which is the where the Royal Astronomical Observatory measured the time for decades and set the time signal, which we hear every morning at 10:00 am on CBC in Canada.

This is from their website:  
Essentially, mean time is clock time rather than solar (astronomical) time. Solar time varies throughout the year, as the time interval between the Sun crossing a set meridian line changes. But each day measured by a clock has the same length, equal to the average (mean) length of a solar day. It’s a way of standardising and regularising time so we can all know exactly what time it is for our (or anyone’s) location.
From 1884 until 1972 GMT was the international standard of civil time. Though it has now been replaced by Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), GMT is still the legal time in Britain in the winter, and is used by the Met Office, Royal Navy and BBC World Service. Greenwich Mean Time is also the name of the time zone used by some countries in Africa and Western Europe, including in Iceland all year round.Today GMT is reckoned from one midnight to the next.

After our trip to Hever Castle yesterday, Karen took us to the meridian line in East Grinstead. Above you'll see Harry and I standing right on the line, he's on one side of the globe and I'm on the other. 

We've had a wonderful time visiting with Karen and Ian and today we took the train up to Victoria Station in London to start the next phase of our trip. Karen came with us as she offered to treat us to high tea at Harrod's. It was amazing--more food than we could eat (sandwiches, scones, clotted cream petits fours, wonderful British tea). Here's a photo taken by one of the friendly servers there. Plus a couple of photos of the excesses that are for sale there. It's quite an experience.

I didn't even look at the prices of these treasures (which I'd love to have at my house) knowing they'd be way out of my price range.... considering a pair of kids' suede sneakers were selling for 320 pounds!

Tonight we're in our hotel in Kensington, having mastered the tube and the bus lines, and ready for a tourist day tomorrow.

Monday, September 18, 2017

From the Bluebell Railway to Anne Boleyn's home

The Bluebell Railway line stops just around the corner from where we're staying. It features preserved heritage steam trains that make scheduled runs between East Grinstead to Sheffield Park. It offers special dining car runs and a rail ale night plus other seasonal treats.

We didn't have time to ride the train but we went to take a look and were charmed by the conductors dressed in olden days uniforms. One of them was leading a group of excited school children in a song while they waited to board the train. 

They do a good job of using props and signage of the period so it feels authentic. Here's Harry with his cousin Karen standing in front of the train just as it was getting ready to leave the station.

This afternoon we drove to Hever Castle and Gardens, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. This 700 year old medieval double-moated castle, complete with gatehouse, portcullis, extensive grounds, and its own lake was restored about 100 years ago by William Waldorf Astor.  He also added gardens and a medieval village. It's now run as a heritage site and park.  Here are a few photos of this special place. It features Anne Boleyn's bedroom and a guest room where King Henry VIII stayed during his courtship of Anne.

I took over 100 pictures so it's hard to select but I'll give you an overview.

The gatehouse on the left. Two views of the castle below.

Here's the  portcullis and some interior rooms. The stair treads are made from full timbers cut into shape. The view out the window is towards the Tudor era village built by Astor.

And finally some scenes from the  the gardens built by Astor during the restoration. The most impressive is the large Italian garden on the lake that features statuary he collected from Italy.

Exploring a Roman villa and a sailing harbour

Yesterday Karen and Ian took us on a scenic jaunt to see a few historic sights in the area. We drove on lots of back roads and roundabouts through hedgerows and little villages, past the downs where sheep graze. It's just beautiful country, although it took a while before I could relax with the driving on the left side of the road. I enjoyed looking out the side window but every time I looked ahead out the windshield I'd get startled again seeing cars on the wrong side of the road. Thankfully we're not planning to drive while we're here.

Our first stop was in Fishbourne, where we explored the ruins of a Roman villa, discovered in the 1960s when they started digging up a field for a housing development. They discovered large areas of mosaics dating from the 1st and 2nd century AD. The museum has some 17 rooms worth of mosaic floors under cover and they are apparently the oldest ones found north of the Alps.  They call it a palace because it was also an administrative centre with many ornate rooms. It existed for 200 years before being burned down, possibly by Saxon raiders, and then looted and demolished.

Some of the mosaics were laid down over earlier versions, showing that there had been redecorating done over time. If you look closely here you'll see a second layer of black and white mosaic laid over one with some red in the design.

The area of the mosaics was only a small portion of the ruins. Most of the floors had been damaged by plowing of fields in the intervening years and were unsalvageable. The rooms were marked out with stepping stones and a large area was planted with a formal garden where the courtyard of the palace was.

Here you can see the hedges and the grassy area with some of the more recent houses behind it.

Our next stop was a quay in part of Chichester's harbour. This is on the south coast and it seems a lot of people here enjoy sailing in both dinghies and sailboats. It was a Sunday so families were everywhere, although by the time we got there the tide had gone way out and people were having after-sailing refreshments at a cafe on the dock.

You can see just how far the tide has gone out from these photos.

All the houses along the shore are behind big stone walls to protect them when the tide comes in.

This road where cars were parking has a sign warning that it floods at high tide.

Like all the villages we've seen this one has lovely old houses of brick or stone or occasionally stucco. I am entranced by the buildings here. They're so old and gorgeously detailed with slate or clay roof tiles.

This one has an ornate thatched roof. It's all so very different from the houses in Victoria.