Home and hosed

Actually, we landed last Friday morning, but I’ve had such a busy week there has been no time for blogging! I wanted to take a moment to write down my ‘tops’ before they disappear out of my brain.

Top day: Can I nominate them all? Lots of people have asked me what the highlight was, and it’s too hard to choose. Everyday was amazing and different and fun.

Top journey: The drive from Aberdeen to Edinburgh. Lovely countryside, lunch in St Andrews (and a cathedral and castle), a Pictish hill fort. This day had it all really.

Top town: It’s a pretty close race between Durham and York. York wins by a nose – it has a great vibe, with a very well preserved city wall, and free city wi-fi. We had two very happy days there.

Top castle: My favorite has to be Conwy in Wales. It was a great ruin to climb all over – you can take the 100s of steps up to the tallest towers for fantastic views of the city.

Top cathedral: That would be Wells, hands down. It has an amazing scissor arch that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Top accommodation: Langley Castle. An actual bona fide 14th century castle! So cool.

Top meal: I had a delicious lamb shank at Hotel Noir in York. Mmmmm, yum. Expensive, but worth it.

Top ‘doh’ moment: The day I realized, 1 hour into a 3 hour drive, that I’d left my wallet at the hotel. So a 2 hour detour back to Bournemouth before we got to Glastonbury.

Top purchase: Well, the iPads of COURSE!

We really did have the most amazing time. There were no difficult or horrible moments, nothing really went wrong, we got along very well and had immense fun together. We had a budget and we stuck to it, but still did everything we wanted to do. We didn’t deny ourselves anything because it was too expensive. The trick was that we saved hard and had plenty to spend. We even managed to bring some money home!

And of course, we’ve already started planning the next visit – it’s the only way we can feel okay about all the cool places we didn’t get to see.

Day 21: Hampton Court Palace, and home

We decided to use our last day in London exploring Hampton Court Palace, 30 minutes from London central by train. This was the palace Henry VIII and his various wives, and the Edward VI (the boy king), William III of Orange and Mary II (England’s only co-regents), and Charles I and II. After this, Hampton Court fell out of favor as a royal palace and they lived elsewhere.

It’s a big place and very well preserved, but so different from the other royal dwellings we’ve seen – they’ve all been huge castles. The palace is quite dainty by comparison.
It was a lovely spring day in London today, so nice to just wander around and soak it all in before we went to Heathrow for the long journey home. We’ve had a great time, but we are definitely ready for home – family, familiarity and a comfy bed!

Day 20: Riding the Rails

We didn’t do any sightseeing at all today – just hung around London and rode around exploring on the Underground. We managed to collect some Light Blues and our last station (Marylebone) in the morning. We had lunch with our friend Phil at a local pub. Phil moved to London from Christchurch a few months ago, and seems to be having a great time here.

The afternoon was more Monopoly, with a lovely break at the Tower Bridge for ice cream and a sit down on the banks of the Thames.

We had dinner at the same place we did last night and met Maggie again after class. We went to a toy store on Oxford Street that has five levels! One level is devoted entirely to Lego. Awesome.

Even though we didn’t really do much, we arrived home exhausted and grateful to sink into bed. Home tomorrow! There is much packing to be done.

Day 19: St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey

We were out of the flat early again this morning. We stopped on our way to collect Bond St, then headed for St Paul’s Cathedral. The original church on this site was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 (though it was already in ruins after the Reformation). The current cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1669. Its also his final reseting place. The crypt below the cathedral contains the tombs of Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. They are huge monuments.

Because it was built from the ground up in the 17th century, this church looks quite different from all the Norman and Gothic churches we’ve seen. The columns are square rather than round, and the ceilings are arched rather than vaulted. I’m imagining that Wren was very fashion-forward with his design.

The next stop was Westminster Abbey. It’s a strange place. Ostensibly, looks very like many other cathedrals we’ve visited. But this cathedral bristles with historical figures. It was first built in 1065, and then remodeled several times in the next 500 or so years. It contains the tombs of Edward the Confessor, Edward I, Henry III, Richard II, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Queen Anne and a vast assortment of other royals, poets, statesmen etc etc. The effect is a packed jumble of monuments and tombs that span 1000 years. You can’t move without standing on someone important!

We wandered our way up past 10 Downing Street to Trafalgar Square, and went to the National Gallery. This contains some of my favorite art works – Sunflower by van Gogh and Madonna of the Rocks by Da Vinci, as well as Cezanne, Monet, Renior, Raphael, Rubens. It’s pretty stunning stuff.

And then, more! We went to the top of the world – on the London Eye. Amazing views of the city from a giant ferris wheel, 135m up. It’s pretty freaky, but very cool.

We retired to our room for a rest, and then just as we were starting to think about dinner, Maggie called to see if we wanted to meet her – she’d just finished her class at University of Westminster. We met at Oxford Circus for dinner and more excellent conversation.

St Paul’s from the Millennium Bridge


Riding the rails


Day 18: Tower of London

We intended to be out of the flat early this morning, and we were hurried along by a fire alarm at 7:30am. We grabbed our gear for the day and left. I noticed that only two other people actually left the building!

We popped down to the local Starbucks for coffee, and concocted a plan to entertain ourselves for the morning on the trains. We’ve decided to visit as many of the 26 place cards on the Monopoly board as we can – 22 streets and 4 stations. I’ll take a picture of each one and post them up on a separate page. It’s a great way to see all different parts and it keeps us occupied when we are waiting for attractions to open in the morning, and after they close in the afternoon.

So we went Monopoly hunting for a couple of hours this morning, and then landed at the Tower of London. We did a power-visit of the castle complex. It’s very much like the other castles we’ve visited – so good to complete the story by seeing the place in which so much history has taken place.

Next stop was the British Museum. It bemused Stephen to note that, 30 minutes into our visit to the Museum, all we’d managed to find was the coat check, two cafes, the New Zealand collection, and a toilet. That’s what happens when Bebe is in charge of the map.

The British Museum building is magnificent, and the collection is staggering. There are treasures from every corner of the world. every time I visit, I can’t help but be reminded of Britain’s colonial past – the museum is a collection of everything they have taken from others as they pillaged their way around the world in the past. On the other hand, it has collected in one place and preserved thousands of years of human history. It’s overwhelming to see it all together like that, but also very enlightening.

We went back to our room for a sit down and did some laundry, and then went back out again, for coffee and dinner with Stephen’s friend Maggie. It was nice to hang out with someone other than each other, and Maggie was great company.

The White Tower, at the Tower of London. Built by William the Conquerer in 1078, and a prison for Richard II and Edward V amongst others.


View of the Reading Room, British Museum


Day 17: Cambridge – London

Our destination this morning was the Supadance shop in Wessex, on the outskirts of greater London. They sell ballroom and Latin dance shoes. In New Zealand, if you want dance shoes, they will come from England, from this shop. That makes them very expensive in New Zealand, and much cheaper at the shop in Wessex! We got shoes for me, Stephen and Bronwen for the same price that we’d get one pair in NZ. Bonus!

From there we skirted around London on the ring road and dropped the rental car off at Heathrow. So long Juke, you were fun.

And then we were off for our London adventure. The hotel we had initially booked was unavailable, so the hotel had offered another place. It took 3 hours, 2 tube changes, 2 light rail changes and a 15 minute walk (carrying our packs!) to get there. Not exactly central. I climbed the three flights of stairs to our room with trepidation. It looked more like a suburban flat than a hotel apartment. As soon as I saw the place I said no. It was dirty and old and very clearly not a hotel. We turned around, and high-tailed it outta there. We regrouped at the local pub and found a hotel apartment close to the tube and right by Kensington Gardens. Fab!

So 5 hours after leaving our car at the airport, we set our bags down in our tiny but functional apartment. It has a comfy bed, a kitchen, a dining table – everything we need to be happy.

We didn’t stay in the apartment for long – we had a city to explore! First stop was the local curry house for some sustainence. Satisfied, we headed down to Regent St to visit the glorious Apple Store, and then wandered down Regent to Piccadilly Cirus. It was bustling with people, and fancy shops.

We finished our day with a coffee at the Starbucks by the hotel, and then retired to plan our next few days. It’s going to be fun!

Day 16: York – Cambridge

We started early today, up at 6:00 and out the door at 6:30. We were on a mission – the new iPad was due to be released this morning and we were keen to get our hands on one. There was already one person in line when we arrived, and a few more arrived while we waited. By 7:30 there were seven of us, and the line didn’t get a lot bigger than this. So by 8:45 when the store opened its doors, everyone was able to get what they came for. Stephen and I got a black 64gig wifi+4G model each.

We probably didn’t need to line up, but there is something quite fun about standing in anticipation with other Mac geeks waiting for the latest thing. We share stories and compare gadgets and just generally have a geeky good time.

We went to the local Pret coffee shop for the unboxing, and then back to the hotel for set up. Let me tell you, this thing is just gorgeous. It’s light, the screen is oh-so sharp, and it’s blazing fast. I didn’t get an iPad 2 last year (just Stephen had one) so the jump up to the new iPad is huge. And I’m loving it.

We drove from York to Cambridge today – not a very interesting drive and it took us about 4 hours. Cambridge is a stop along the way to London rather than a destination of its own. We are both a little tired so the remainder of our afternoon was spent playing with our new toys.

Ben helps us with our purchase


The first sneaky peak


View from the car driving to Cambridge – cooling towers from a nuclear power plant


Day 15: Whitby – York

We had a leisurely start to the day since breakfast didn’t start until 9am. I was not very impressed with breakfast it has to be said. I usually have muesli, yoghurt and fruit. It lines my belly well and keeps my energy up all morning. They had muesli, but no fruit (except a single manky apple) and no yoghurt. I left the table a wee bit hangry. Not a great start to the day. Luckily while we were out walking down at the beach I found a great little cafe that served a good latte and sandwiches. Hurrah!

We walked uphill to the Captain Cook memorial, along the pier, and then jumped in the car and headed for York. We drove through the Yorkshire moors to get here – very cool. The moors are misty and soft and so different than anything we have at home. Lovely.

York is fantastic. It has a cathedral (but called a Minster, to denote that it’s special). The minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second-highest office of the Church of England, so it’s pretty important. And you can definitely tell as soon as you enter this church – it is obviously more wealthy than any other church we’ve visited. The church is undergoing a £10m restoration at the moment – re-carving the stonework and re-leading the stain glass windows. It’s been going since 2006 and is due to be completed at the end of 2012. It really looks magnificent.

It’s a funny thing really, to completely restore the church, since it will eradicate some of the original work that dates from c1100. It’s great that the church will be seen in its full glory, much as it was when first completed, but it will no longer be the same church as it was then. The restoration involves removing the original stonework and replicating it before installing it in place of the original. Some of the original stonework will be kept, and the rest will be sold to fund the continued upkeep of the church.

The upside of this process is that it provides a training ground for a large group of stonemasons and other restoration experts who will receive their training here and then take their knowledge on to other places. They are being taught how to carve and work on the cathedral in the manner of the workers who first built it. That’s a cool idea.

I’m feeling a bit travel weary today, so the remainder of the day (4pm onward) will be spent lounging in our hotel room and eating. Ahhhhhh.

York Minster


Day 14: Langley – Whitby

We started the day with a Roman fort along Hadrian’s Wall. The wall was built in the 1st and 2nd century as a dividing line between England and Scotland. The Romans successfully subdued the locals in the South, but had no luck with the barbaric Northerners, so walled them off and left them to it.

The fort (called a mile castle, because there was one every mile along the wall) was quite intact, I’m guessing because the area is quite inaccessible, so no one bothered to rob it out or plow it after the Romans departed. You can still see big parts of buildings, it’s amazing.

From here we headed into Durham for lunch, and a look at the cathedral. This 1000-year-old church houses the bones of no less than two saints – St Cuthbert and St Bede. Not surprisingly, Durham was sacked by Henry VIII and is now, like most cathedrals in Britain, owned by the Church of England. It is a huge place, and allows you to climb the 325 steps up to the very tippy-top of the 66 metre high central tower. it’s the tallest tower in the city, and the views are amazing!

We drove on to Whitby from here, through the Yorkshire moors. They looked as moorish as I was hoping for – lots of heather and mist.

Whitby, a seaside fishing town, is a very cool place. It has a mish-mash of buildings all put together over hundreds of year, and none of them with a plumb line by the looks of them. It’s a every old town, first settled in the 7th century.

Stephen and I were keen to come here for different reasons. I was excited to see the place that James Cook learned his trade, and where the Endeavour was built in 1764.

Stephen was keen to see the abbey where, in 664, a meeting (Synod) of the chiefs of the area and the monastic leaders took place. The two main churches – the Roman and Ionan (Celtic) had different methods of calculating Easter, and they met to decide which one to adopt. They went with the Roman. It decision was about more than just Easter though, it meant that the Roman rather than the Celtic church became dominant in Britain after this time. And this domination continued until Henry VIII split with the Catholic church in the 16th century (during what is now called the Reformation) and created the Church of England. The abbey that stands on the hill above Whitby today is of later vintage (10th century) and was sacked during the Reformation. Full circle.

So that’s your history lesson for today! We had a good poke around Whitby this afternoon, and a lovely Thai dinner before retiring to our truly lovely B&B, tucked up at the top of the 3-story building and very cosy.


Day 13: Edinburgh – Langley

We had a quick walk around Edinburgh this morning before heading out of town. It’s a cool place, but we definitely knew we were in a big city – lots of people and cars. Which is weird because Edinburgh has about the same population as Christchurch, but it feels like a much bigger and busier city – more metropolitan than ours, even before the earthquakes.

Our next stop for the day was Melrose Abbey, founded in 1146 by Cistercian monks. It is the final resting place of a number of Scots kings, and Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried there too. The ruined abbey was lovely – made of rose stone so a lovely pinky-red colour. Like many others abbeys around the borderlands, it was sacked during the 16th century Reformation.

Jedburgh Abbey was just up the road, so we popped in there too. Another lovely ruin, this one had been subject to intensive archeological investigation in the 1980s, so a lot of the below-ground buildings that were ruined and buried have been quite well preserved. This abbey was founded by the Augustinians, also in the 12th century. It suffered the same fate as Melrose during the Reformation. It’s hard to imagine how people could desecrate such lovely places as these.

Something that amazes me about these old buildings is that they continue to be used after they are ruined. Both abbeys we saw today continued to be used as churches even though they were sacked repeatedly. At Jedbugh the church just moved to the most upright end of building and kept going, and at Melrose they actually built a new church and columns inside the buildings over top of the old ones. It looks really weird.

Melrose Abbey. You can see the new columns and ceiling tucked inside the old building


We got to our hotel in Langley with plenty of time for a lazy afternoon. It’s been a busy couple of days of driving, so it’s nice to have days when we don’t do too much. We are truly staying in style tonight – in a 14th century castle, carefully restored and turned into a hotel after WWII. It is very cool. We are staying in one of the fancy rooms on the second floor, accessible by a spiral staircase. It is very well appointed, with a big cosy four-poster bed, our own wall alcove, and a heated bathroom floor. Tonight we live like kings!