Archive for August, 2018

Part 1: USA again – New York City to Orlando, Florida.

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

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November 17, 2017. West Harlem, New York City to Beacon, New York State, USA. 

We were back in the USA again and Ev and Steph had arranged another adventure for us. This involved hiring a car and going to upstate New York for a couple of days.

In the morning Ev and I picked up the Chevrolet Cruze from Hertz and then returned to get Steph and Thea.

Then we headed north, to Sleepy Hollow, on the east bank of the Hudson River.

Sleepy Hollow is best known for ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ a short story by Washington Irvine. This tells of the fictional character The Headless Horseman, who rides through the town of Sleepy Hollow searching for his head. Set during the American Revolutionary War, traditional folklore tells of a Hessian artilleryman who was decapitated during the Battle of White Plains.

He was then buried in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Reform Church in Sleepy Hollow. Each Halloween night his ghost rises from the grave and goes searching for his lost head.

For lunch we visited the Peekskill Brewery and then drove to Bear Mountain.

Bear Mountain is only 393 meters high but we got great views of the Hudson and New York City. It was traditionally known as Bear Hill which is more apt considering its height.

In the evening we went to the Great Jack O’ Lantern Pumpkin Blaze at the Van Cortlandt Manor, Croton-on-Hudson.

This is the Halloween event in the Hudson Valley. It runs for 45 evenings, with over 10,000 hand-carved illuminated pumpkins, all in an elaborate walk-through experience. There was even a 6 meters diameter, fully functioning carousel.

This is all set in the estate of the Van Cortlandt Manor. Built in 1665, on a tract of land granted to Stephan’s Van Cortlandt by King William III.

Our accommodation that night was in an Air BnB in Beacon, New York State. It was comfortable, warm and gurgled.

The gurgling came from the very effective central heating that ran through the house. 

We were glad of the gurgling as the temperature got to -7°C overnight. 

 

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November 18, 2017. Beacon, New York State to West Harlem, New York City, New York State, USA. 

The next day, apart from being cold, was wet.

After a late breakfast in Beacon we visited the Storm King Art Centre. This is an open air museum located near Mountainville and contains what is believed to be the largest collection of contemporary outdoor sculpture in the United States.

This is all set in a 200 hectare estate that was owned by a successful business man, Ralph E Ogden and opened in 1960.

It was dark by the time we were on the road back to New York and it was raining. 

It was one of the hairiest drives I have ever done. 

The roads were crowded and slippery, but that wasn’t the issue. My biggest problem was I couldn’t see the lane markings. 

Strangely they don’t use either ‘cat’s eyes’ or reflective tape, so you have no idea where you are. 

This combined with the undisciplined US drivers, who pass on either side, makes for a heart-in-mouth ride. 

I was glad to reach NYC two hours later. 

 

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November 19, 2017. Harlem, New York City, New York State, USA.

On Sunday we walked to the Greater Refuge Temple – one of the famous Baptist Churches in Harlem. 

It was a random and chaotic service of singing, dancing and a thousand renditions of ‘Praise the Lord’

This total gospel frenzy, at least for us, lasted just over two hours. And it looked like it was set to go on for at least two hours more

I wondered if Jesus of Nazareth could ever imagine how his words were interpreted and delivered 2017 years after his birth. 

My photography was cut short by one of the many attendants. I think he felt that my camera was a bit too professional looking. 

And I didn’t even have the big lens fitted. 

November 20, 2017. Harlem, New York City, New York State, USA. 

Evan went off to work and we stayed in Harlem and had a planning day. 

I worked on organising our time in Florida while Thea had the more daunting task of planning our South American trip. 

November 21, 2017. Harlem, New York City, New York State, USA. 

Another day of planning and for a break, a walk around Hamilton Heights.

This neighbourhood, in the northern part of Manhattan, is bounded by 135th Street to the south, Riverside Drive to the west, 155th Street to the north and Edgecombe Avenue to the east.

The name derived from one of the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, who lived there for the last two years of his life.

This area, like much of northern Manhattan is changing, with a shift of demographics from black to white residence. This is interesting, as back in the 1930s and 1940s the population change was in the other direction.

In the evening we took the subway into into Union Square to meet Evan for a drink and then dinner. 

He had planned to go to his monthly Motion Graphics Meet-up but decided to stay with us, as he had worked late. 

November 22, 2017. Harlem, New York City, New York State, USA. 

More planning and a walk to a new coffee shop about 15 minutes from West 127th Street. 

Evan finished work at 3pm, as the next day was Thanksgiving. It was a public holiday for the next two days so it was decided it was ‘almost Friday’ so we went to the Harlem Hop House for a drink and dinner. 

 

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November 23, 2017. Harlem, New York City, New York State, USA. 

It was Thanksgiving in the USA and a public holiday for many. 

We took the C train to 67th Street to watch the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

I remember visions of the Joker’s Parade from the 1989 Batman movie. 

Staring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson the opening scene has a similar character to the Pillsbury Dough Boy floating menacingly down the Gotham City Streets. 

However they didn’t throw any money at the crowd in this parade.

The parade lasts for about two hours and features many of these floating characters. There’s a combination of cartoon and marketing inflatables. 

Interspersed with these are high school marching bands, from across the US, plus representatives from local law enforcement and emergency services. 

There are also floats with local celebrities. 

I didn’t recognise any of them. 

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade started in 1924 and is the world’s largest parade. It has been televised by NBC since 1952. At the first parade there were over 250,000 people watching. It was such a success that it has been held every year since.

The First Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims, as a harvest festival, in 1621. It was attended by 53 Pilgrims and, ironically, 90 Native Americans.

George Washington made a proclamation to Congress in 1789 and in 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared the day a federal holiday.

After the parade we returned to E & S’s for a Thanksgiving lunch. 

This was a mammoth affair.  

Preparation started at 2:30pm and we eventually sat down to eat at 5:30pm. 

It was a bit like Christmas Day in Australia.

November 24, 2017. Harlem, New York City, New York State to Orlando, Florida, USA. 

This was our last morning in NYC as we were flying to Orlando, Florida in the afternoon. 

We caught the bus to La Guardia. 

Miraculously my Met Card ended up with just 50 cents on it. Unlike our last trip to the Big Apple, when I finished up with an unusable credit of $20 still on the card. 

As usual we were early for our flight so we went to find a snack at La Guardia airport. 

There were 41 beers on tap at the Prime Tavern, but unfortunately for Thea, no snacks. I had an espresso.

What a wasted opportunity. 

The entire food hall at La Guardia was fitted with iPads. You could order and pay for food and beverages as well as check your flight status. 

There were many other ‘buying opportunities’ built into the apps that were displayed on the home page. 

Well, we were in the US of A. 

The population size of the American east coast becomes a reality when you fly from New York to Orlando. For almost the entire 2.5 hour flight, the lights from the densely populated coastal areas were constantly flickering. 

We picked up the Mazda 3 from Hertz and that was relatively easy. 

We then proceeded to get completely lost finding our hotel, the Sunsol International Drive. 

What should have taken 20 minutes took 45. 

Then checking into the hotel was a complete disaster.

The hotels internet was down and had been for four hours. This meant that we couldn’t check-in as normal and they wanted us to get cash from a nearby ATM to pay for our two night stay. 

We weren’t about to do that if there was no internet.

It was a stand-off.

In the end we cancelled the reservation and drove around the corner to the Hilton Garden Inn.

By this time it was just before 10pm and their kitchen was closing at 10, so we very quickly ordered a meal, even before getting our bags from the car.

What a night.

 

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November 25, 2017. Orlando and Disney World Magic Kingdom, Florida, USA. 

Disney World Magic Kingdom was opened in 1971. It’s based on the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, that was opened in 1955. 

It was conceived by Walt Disney but did not open until after his death in 1966.

One of the interesting features of Disney World Magic Kingdom are the ‘Utilidors’ or tunnels that join each of the kingdoms. There were designed so cast members could move from area to area, without being seen by the visitors. Their creation was ordered after Walt Disney spied a cowboy, from Frontierland, walking into Tomorrowland.

He disliked the idea of a character from the past visiting the future.

In 2016 Disney World Magic Kingdom hosted over 20.3 million people, making it the world’s most popular theme park. 

To get to the park you can use either the monorail or a ferry boat. We decided to use both and arrived by monorail and departed by the ferry.

Magic Kingdom is divided into six themed lands. 

Main Street USA, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Liberty Square and Tomorrowland. 

Everything is ‘Ooooooverthetop’

We managed to get around them all and even had time for a reasonable Italian meal at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant. 

We tried to make it dinner but everything was booked out in the evening. 

It ended up being a late lunch at 3:30pm. 

The entire park is based around Cinderella Castle, which seems to dominate. 

This is surprising, considering it is only 58 metres tall. 

It’s grandeur is achieved by the use of ‘forced perspective.’ Each successive story of the structure is built progressively shorter, which makes it look bigger.

Part 2: Back to Britain – Burton Bradstock to Gatwick Airport.

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

November 6, 2017. Highbury, Greater London to Burton Bradstock, Dorset, United Kingdom.

After a coffee, pastry and an excellent fresh orange juice, at a nearby café (It was outrageously expensive at our hotel) we headed to Burton Bradstock to stay with our friends Pat and Graham. 

For some unknown reason the TomTom took us right through the centre of London. 

We had a break in Bournemouth and then continued on. 

It took us most of the day and we didn’t arrive until after 5pm. This was partly due to the fact that we couldn’t find Pat and Graham’s house. 

The last time we visited was in the summer of 2012 and it was very light in the evenings. 

Now it was pitch black and we couldn’t recognise anything.

Added to that our travel phone didn’t have coverage in the area.

Thea went into the local pub for directions but they were in the middle of renovations and there were no locals there to help, only tradies.

One of the painters lent Thea his phone and we made contact with Pat and Graham and got directions from them. 

 

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November 7, 2017. Burton Bradstock, Dorset, United Kingdom and Portsmouth Dockyards.

Pat and Graham had arranged for us all to visit the Portsmouth Historic Dockyards. The dockyards are part of HM Naval Base in Portsmouth and managed by the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

The museum in Portsmouth was first opened in 1911 and houses many artefacts including historic buildings and the warships HMS Victory and HMS Mary Rose.

HMS Victory is best known as being Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Built in the Chatham Dockyards in 1759 and launched in 1765, she was moved to a dry dock in Portsmouth in 1922.

It was on the Victory that Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson was fatally shot. There is a spot on the deck that marks the exact place where he fell. On that day the Victory lost 57 men and another 102 were injured.

HMS Mary Rose is a Tudor-era warship built during the reign of King Henry VIII. Laid down in 1510 and launched in 1511 she saw action against in France, Scotland and Brittany.

She was sunk in the Solent, near the Isle of Wight in 1545, while leading the attack on the galleys of the French invasion fleet.

The Mary Rose was discovered in 1971 and salvaged in 1982. The exhibit, which is housed in a large building, contains thousands of artefacts that were recovered after she was raised.

 

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November 8, 2017. Burton Bradstock, Dorset, United Kingdom and Isle of Portland.

This was the first clear sky day in some time and we were off on another adventure, this time to the Isle of Portland.

Portland is just off the Dorset coast, near Weymouth, and joined to the mainland by the Ferry Bridge.

The main significance of Portland lies beneath surface.

Portland Stone has been used in many famous buildings in both England and around the world. Buckingham Palace (1850), St Paul’s Cathedral (1675), the Palace of Westminster (1347), Tower of London (1349) and London Bridge (1350) as well as the United Nations headquarters in New York (1952).

The stone from Portland has been used as a building material since Roman times and was being shipped to London in the 14th century.

Pat and Graham, like Thea and me, enjoy walking, so no sooner had we arrived than we set of on the historic Portland Island walk.

Our first stop was the Portland Bill Lighthouse. Built between 1903 and 1905, its light warns passing ships of the hazardous Portland Bill. This narrow promontory is at the southernmost point of Dorset, a coastline that’s famous for the number of ships that have come to grief there.

We walked along the coast and then to Yeates Incline and the Merchant Railway. The railway, started in 1826, was designed to move Portland stone from the quarries to the coast for shipping. It was originally powered by horses but later replaced by the steam engine.

Then we found the Tout Quarry Sculptural Park, with its strange collection of free-standing and relief sculptures.

Our final stop was at St Georges Church which was built between 1754 and 1766.  It was built to replaced the dilapidated St Andrews Church, which was Portland’s first parish church.

We ventured inside and were greeted by a very enthusiastic caretaker. He insisted that, as a visitor, I should ring the church bell.

He warned me not to hold on too tight as I might be taken up into the bell tower – he was right.

 

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November 9, 2017. Burton Bradstock, Dorset, United Kingdom.

We decided to walk into West Bay from Burton Bradstock. This wasn’t along the road but over the fields. Graham described it as the ‘Trespass walk’ as we were illegally crossing some of his neighbours’ land.

No-one seems to care, as there were gates and tracks to make it easy.

In West Bay, Thea and Pat had a traditional ‘Cornish’ pasty for lunch. But it was really a ‘Dorset’ pasty, as we weren’t in Cornwall but Dorset. 

Pat and Graham lead a very country life and part of that involves keeping pigs in their back yard. The pigs are collectively owned and cared for by the villagers of Burton Bradstock.

They aren’t pets but food.

Each year the village decides what breed of pig to keep and at the end of the year they are slaughtered and butchered. This keeps everyone in enough pork for the following twelve months.

This year’s breed was an Iron Age and Berkshire cross. They were due to be ‘realised’ in the next few weeks and Graham was frantically trying to find a butcher. It was getting towards Christmas and they were all booked up.

Obviously they weren’t the only village in the area to have livestock it seemed.

 

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November 10, 2017. Burton Bradstock, Dorset, United Kingdom and Kingston Lacy House.

After the more relaxing time we had the previous day we were back to exploring English history. 

Graham had booked for us to do a tour of Kingston Lacy House – that didn’t eventuate.

When we arrived, the car park was filling up with people, so we just followed the crowd and joined in. This turned out to be the Kingston Lacy National Trust walk, not a tour of the house. 

It took us through part of the estate and the surrounding area. The grounds consist of 164 hectares of gardens and 159 hectares of park and ornamental land.

It turned out to be a good mistake, as the guided walk was interesting and gave us some more exercise.

In the afternoon we then did a tour of the house.

Kingston Lacy is a National Trust stately home, built in 1662, it was for many years the home of the Banks family. Between 1835 and 1838 the explorer and adventurer, William John Banks (1786 – 1855) extensively renovated Kingston Lacy. He faced the original brick with stone, added a chimney at each end and lowered the entrance to the basement level to create a new, grander, portal.

Within the house was ‘Exile’ an exhibition about the LBGT movement, William John Bankes and Kingston Lacy House.

Banks was an avid collector and a student of ancient Egypt. He was also gay, which was illegal at the time.

In 1841 Banks was exiled from England due to homosexual indiscretions, having been caught in compromising circumstances with a guardsman in Green Park, London.

Sodomy was punishable by death so exile was his only option.

Unable to return to Kingston Lacy, Banks continued to collect art and commission great works, which were then sent back to the house.

His last 14 years were spent in Europe, although it is believed that he did return from time-to-time to inspect his beloved home.

November 11, 2017. Burton Bradstock, Dorset to Newport, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom.

After a very pleasant few days we left Pat and Graham and headed off again.

It was just under two hours from Burton Bradstock to the ferry terminal in Southport. 

The TomTom told us it would be 90 minutes. It obviously wasn’t aware of the long queue of Saturday shoppers heading to Ikea, which was just near the docks. 

When we arrived in Newport we didn’t do much, just wandered around and got a feeling for the town.

The area was occupied at least 40,000 years ago by Neanderthals. There are also signs that the Romans were there as well.

After the Norman conquest the French burnt down most of the town in 1377. This was while trying to take Carisbrooke Castle.

 

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November 12, 2017. Newport, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom.

On the Isle of Wight we stayed in the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Newport. This former coaching inn, built in 1693, is in the heart of the old town and opposite the Minster Church of St Thomas that was built in 1854.

Even though it was November 12, not 11, the Brits we’re celebrating Remembrance Day. 

Apparently they celebrate on the Sunday that’s closest to the 11th. 

Straight backs, firm jaws and stiff upper lips were everywhere on both the men and women.

They were all proudly displaying their medals.

The main excursion for the day was to see Osborne House.

Built between 1845 and 1851, Osborne House was the holiday home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. 

It was here that they raised their children, entertained their friends, relaxed and escaped from court life. 

Prince Albert designed the house himself in the style of an Italian Renaissance Palazzo. He even built a replica Swiss chalet to remind himself of his childhood. 

Much of the house’s furnishings were paid for from the proceeds of the selling the Royal Pavillion in Brighton.

There is a big connection to the British Raj and India, especially in the Durbar Room. Built for state functions, it was decorated by Bhai Ram Singh, one of Punjab’s formost architects. The room even has an Indian carpet from Agra.

In 1901 Queen Victoria died at Osborne house and after her death the house was given to the state.

The Governor General’s residence in Melbourne, Victoria is said to have been styled after Osborne House.

You can see the similarity.

Before exploring the house we wandered around parts of the gardens, even down to the private beach. Here Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the children would swim from bathing machines. Queen Victoria’s bathing machine is still on the beach.

Bathing machines were part of the Victorian etiquette for sea bathing. They allowed the bather to change into their swimming costume and enter the water without any hint of skin.

The beach and bathing machine were only opened to the public in 2012.

 

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November 13, 2017. Newport, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom.

The Isle of Wight isn’t very big, only 384 square kilometres, so we decided to drive around.

It was owned by a Norman family until 1293 and before that it was an Anglo-Saxon settlement. And even before that, the Romans settled there in 44BC.

We discovered the Brading Roman Villa, which was established between the 1st and 4th Centuries AD.

It was discovered in 1879 by Mr Munns, a local sheep farmer. Excavations started in 1880 with one of the most exciting finds being the mosaics. There are five on display, which are now protected by a contemporary museum and visitor’s centre that has been built over the site.

We were about half way through the exhibition when a guide turned up and insisted on showing us the rest. 

This was fine, except that he then proceeded to tell us that most of what we had already read was wrong. 

Recent finds had disproved most of what was written there. 

There was also an exhibition of Japanese woodcuts from the 19th century, titled; Japanese Ghosts and Demons. 

We drove to the most south west point of the Island to catch a glimpse of the Needles at sunset. The Needles are a distinctive row of 30 meters high chalk stacks at the very western part of the Isle of Wight.

The name ‘Needles’ comes from one of the rock formations known as ‘Lot’s Wife’ which collapsed after a storm in 1764. The remaining Needles don’t look like needles at all.

The Needles weren’t the only thing worth seeing as there was a vixen warily guarding her den. There was also a group of para gliders catching the updrafts from the white cliffs. 

 

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November 14, 2017. Newport, Isle of Wight to Winchester, Hampshire, United Kingdom.

We arrived in plenty of time for the 10:30 ferry to Southampton and were put on an earlier one, at 9:00. 

Sometimes it pays to be punctual. 

This left us with the rest of the day to explore the countryside around Southampton and Winchester.

Thea navigated around the area with the help of three GPS systems and an analog map.

It was a little confusing on some occasions when I was getting instructions from three different female voices.

We arrived at the King Alfred Pub in Winchester in the middle of the afternoon and checked in.

This was another traditional English establishment with old furniture and a large bar. There were many small rooms running off to the side.

We drove back into Winchester to see the famous Winchester Cathedral and have a brief wander around the old town area.

The Diocese of Winchester has a long history dating back to 650. The new cathedral was built in 1079 and is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe, with the longest nave and greatest overall length.

It had a brief revival of popularity in 1966 as a song by the novelty British pop group, The New Vaudeville Band.

Being nearly winter the days were short.

When we arrived back at the pub everything was dark and the door was locked.

There had been a flood in the ‘Gents’ and they had been forced to close for the night.

We were told not to worry, as their sister pub, the Green Man, was just a 15 minute walk away and we would get a discount if we ate there.

They even offered to get us a taxi. 

The food was typical Pub Grub and the service shabby. 

I think they had more guests than they had expected. 

November 15, 2017. Winchester, Hampshire to Gatwick Airport, Crawley, West Sussex, United Kingdom.

After breakfast at the hotel and a coffee in Winchester we headed to Gatwick Airport. 

The long way. 

Travelling through the South Downs National Park. Opened in 2011, it is England’s newest national park, however there have been plans for its development since 1929. Bickering and interminable enquiries delayed it for that long.

When we reached Gatwick finding the Hertz drop off point wasn’t easy. The directions that came with the car were useless and we used three different GPS systems to work it out. 

When we finally got there we complained, as I am sure others must have had a similar issue. 

They didn’t really care. 

Our last meal was at our hotel, the Hilton. It was ok but very expensive. 

I much prefer the English pubs. 

November 16, 2017. Gatwick Airport, Crawley, West Sussex, United Kingdom to JFK, New York City, New York State, USA.

We were up very early for our 6am flight to New York. 

Our flight across the Atlantic was with Norwegian Air, and what a contradiction it was. 

We were told that there wouldn’t be a meal service, and there was. We were told that their movies were great. There wasn’t any, not even a route map. 

After a long wait at Howard Beach Station we caught the A Line to 125th Street, just around the corner from Ev and Steph’s place. 

We were back in NYC. 

Part 1: Back to Britain – Henley-on-Thames to Highbury.

Saturday, August 4th, 2018

October 30 and 31, 2017. Melbourne, Australia to Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom.

Late in the day we caught QF9 to London Heathrow – we were back in Britain again.

On arrival we went straight to Hertz and picked up our rental, another Renault Captur. 

This one was deep teal with a silver roof and a much lower spec that the one we had from Renault Eurodrive. 

It was also a right hand drive and had a five speed gear box instead of six, which made it much easier to drive on the English roads. 

It was only about a 40 minute drive to the Phyllis Court Club, a very posh establishment right on the Thames. 

The room price was reasonable but there was a strict dress code, of jacket and tie for dinner. 

We ate at one of the many pubs in town, which was much more to our liking and suited our available wardrobe. 

To quote from a book on the history of the Phyllis Court Club. 

‘Phyllis Court Club was established in 1906, to provide a headquarters for social and sporting life on the river for those of good social standing. ‘

I am not sure of our ‘social standing’ but we certainly enjoyed our brief stay there.

 

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November 1, 2017. Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom.

With the railway coming to Henley in 1857 the town began to promote itself as a fashionable resort on the Thames. 

It was was originally made famous by the first Oxford and Cambridge boat race in 1829.

Then the Royal Regatta was established in 1839 and held on a stretch of the Thames River, just outside our room at the Phyllis Court Club. 

It became an international event for the Summer Olympics of 1908. The site was also used for the Olympic Regatta during the Summer games of 1948, making Henley the first town in the world to host two Olympic Rowing Regattas.

Henley-on-Thames is a quintessential English village with pubs every few yards and surrounded by fields of verdant green pastures.

Established by King Henry II in 1179, it is now a thriving market town with the Town Hall at one end of the market square and a church at the other.

The banks of the Thames is the focal point and where the locals walk their dogs, push their prams, walk, run and relax. 

The town has also been host to the popular TV series of Midsomer Murders and the Vicar of Dibley. 

In the afternoon we made a side trip to Pangbourne, the former home of our friends Rob and Lorraine. It is also on the Thames but much smaller and sleepier. 

 

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November 2, 2017. Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, to Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom.

It was about a 1.5 hour drive to Milton Keynes with most of it on country roads. 

We did stop in Aylesbury, another quaint old market town, for a coffee but the rest was driving. 

I had forgotten just how narrow the English country lanes can be. 

Milton Keynes was created as a ’New City’ in 1967 after the British Government decided that London was becoming too congested.

It is situated in Northern Buckinghamshire and equidistant from Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge.

Milton Keynes was designed with a Modernist approach and often features in design journals in the late 60s and early 70s. Many talented young architects were attracted to work on the project and it became a model for future cities. History has not been kind to the city and it is now seen as rather boring and bland.

Having arrived at our hotel, the Best Western in Milton Keynes, we were told we were too early to check in. 

Two hours too early. 

So we headed to Willen Lake and went for a walk. 

The lake is on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, next to the old town of Willen.

No sooner had we started our walk, than we came across a large hot air balloon preparing to take off. 

We were part of a small crowd that had gathered to watch proceedings. 

We then continued on our walk around the north part of Willen Lake, finishing up in the old village of Willen.

Willen is one of the ancient villages of Buckinghamshire, first named in history in the 12th century. It has a beautiful old church, St Mary Magdalene, which was designed by Robert Hooke, (1635-1703) a compatriot of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and built in 1680.

 

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November 3, 2017. Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, to Hitchin, Hertfordshire, with a side trip to Bletchley Park, United Kingdom.

Bletchley Park was the centre of British and Allied code breaking during the Second World war.

It was at Bletchley Park that the codes were broken for the German Enigma and Lorenz ciphers.

At the height of it’s operation, there were nearly 9,000 people employed at the facility.

Even before the invasion of Europe, by the Germans in 1939, Polish cryptographers had an understanding of the Enigma code. 

It has been claimed that the work done at Bletchley Park shortened the war by two to four years. 

At the centre of the park is the ‘Mansion’ a concoction of architectural styles including Victorian, Gothic, Tudor and Dutch Baroque.

The site was chosen because of its proximity to Bletchley railway station, which was on the Varsity Line connecting Oxford and Cambridge.

It was home to Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician and computer scientist, who worked in Hut 8. He was responsible for breaking the codes of the German Enigma machine. 

Despite his wartime actions he was prosecuted in 1952 for ‘gross indecency’ and subjected to chemical castration.

Turing died of cyanide poisoning in 1954, just days before his 42nd birthday, and was given a posthumous pardon by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013.

His life story is told in the 2014 movie ‘The Imitation Game’ staring Benedict Cumberbatch and directed by Morten Tyldum.

It is interesting to compare the approach the British had to shortening the war, compared to the Americans. The Brits used brain power and code breaking, while the Yanks, also used brain power, and developed an atomic bomb, but then dropped it on Japan.

After our visit to Bletchley Park we went just up the road, to the National Museum of Computing. This houses a rebuilt Colossus computer, similar to the ones used to break the Lorenz ciphers. By the end of the war there were 10 of these purpose built computers.

After the war all but two were broken down and destroyed. The remaining ones were used to try and break remaining code that could be used in gaining convictions during the Nuremberg trials of 1945 and 1946. 

The Colossus is thus regarded as the world’s first programmable, electronic, digital computer. 

We arrived in Hitchin late in the day and got settled into the Lord Lister Hotel. 

The hotel building was constructed in the late 18th century and later became a Quaker school. It was responsible for educating many 18th Century scientists. 

One of that eminent alumni was Joseph Lister, 1st Baron of Lister. As a surgeon he became famous through his discovery of antiseptics. 

Where possible we like to stay in old hotels or pubs in Britain. Despite the fact they aren’t usually as well appointed or luxurious as the new ones and they rarely have a lift.

It’s their history that’s the attraction.

 

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November 4, 2017. Hitchin, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom.

The morning was cold and wet, which wasn’t a real issue as I had work to do. 

We did get out a couple of times during the day and wandered around the small village of Hitchin. 

It it believed that in 673 Hitchin was the place where the fledgling Christian church first formed in Anglo-Saxon times.

In the evening we visited friends in the area and had a well needed, home cooked meal.

 

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November 5, 2017. Hitchin, Hertfordshire, to Highbury, Greater London, United Kingdom.

We had arranged to have a Sunday lunch in Highbury with Cam, who is the son of our friends Rob and Lorraine.

The pub was in walking distance from our hotel, which was good as it turned out to be a long lunch.

Apart from catching up with Cam, one of the the highlights of the day was to discover that the pub, the W.B. Yeats in Finsbury Park, had Brew Dogs craft beer on tap. 

The night silence was continually punctuated by the sound of fireworks. 

Well it was November 5. 

Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) was a member of a group of English Catholics who, in 1605, was a part of the failed Gunpowder Plot. The group planned to assassinate King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne of England.

He was captured in Westminster Palace on November 5, while guarding the explosives. 

This event has been commemorated in Britain since 1605. First by burning his effigy on a bonfire and then a fireworks display.

One night in Holland and a brief stay in Britain.

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

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September 18, 2017. Berlin, Germany to Oldenzaal, Netherlands.

It was just over 500 kilometres from Berlin to Oldenzaal in Holland. Again we encountered rain and roadworks on the way. This made the trip over six hours, rather than the five the TomTom had estimated. 

We were deep in the Dutch countryside. 

Our hotel was the Erve Hulsbeek Koetshuis and it was surrounded by the Hulsbeek, a large recreational park. This was a Dutch summer resort in ‘the nature’. 

Late in the afternoon we went for a stroll around the Hulsbeek, it certainly catered for a variety of activities. 

It was originally an estate and in the 70s it was transformed into a recreational park. Three lakes were created by sand excavation and the sand was then used to make the De Thij residential area in Oldenzaal.

The Hulsbeek is 230 hectares that’s been set aside for sailing, fishing, swimming, skate boarding, table tennis, basketball, soccer, cycling, rowing and horse riding.

These were a few of sports we identified, there were a number that we couldn’t. 

 

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September 19, 2017. Oldenzaal, Netherlands to Great Bromley, Colchester, United Kingdom.

The Hotel Erve Hulsbee was shrouded in fog when we left. 

It was about a two hour drive to catch the ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich. 

No rain and no roadworks. 

The trip was easy until we discovered the complexities of Dutch roundabouts. They seem to go out of their way to make them difficult to negotiate. 

I got confused and ended taking the same, wrong exit twice. 

We then encountered further problems when we went to check the Renault onto the ferry. 

The customs official believed that our red French number plates were only for cars that were being exported. 

Of course our paperwork didn’t support this. 

After an hour of waiting and numerous phone calls, he finally let us drive on. 

We had no plan B. 

Unlike the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki, the cross channel boat was relatively empty. 

There was gambling but no live entertainment. 

Trucks seemed to be the main cargo and the ‘truckies’ even had there own area. 

It was a much longer voyage than the trip across the Gulf of Finland. 

Six hours as opposed to two. 

We arrived in Britain late in the day and we had to very quickly get used to driving on the left of the road with a left hand drive car.

Thea felt rather exposed, sitting on the right of the Captur, especially as all the oncoming drivers thought that she was in control and looked at her.

That night we had dinner at our accomodation, the Courthouse Hotel. It was a typical English pub and very different to what we had got used to over the last few months in Europe.

Duck Liver Pâté, Deep Filled Pies, Hand Carved Roast Beef, Home Cooked Eggs with Chips and Spotted Dick with Custard.

We hadn’t had food like that since we were last in Britain.

 

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September 20, 2017. Great Bromley, Colchester to Lowestoft, Suffolk, United Kingdom.

A ‘light’ breakfast at the Courthouse Hotel was a mountain of scrabbled egg on a slab of toast. 

I’m glad we didn’t order the full English one. 

The hotel was actually a court house that witnessed the trials of witches, who, if found guilty, were strung up on the gallows, that were just over the road. 

Built in the 1600s, it was first a pub then the court house and now a pub again. 

That night we were staying at a B&B in Lowestoft and couldn’t check-in until 4pm. 

We therefore had some time on our hands. 

The drive from Great Bromley to Lowestoft was only 111 kilometres so we diverted to Colchester to do some shopping. The main task was to get a new SIM for the travel phone. 

We then reconfigured the TomTom to take the country roads. That’s when we discovered the Snape Maltings.

Situated on the River Alde at Snape in Suffolk, the Snape Maltings is an art complex, best known for its concert hall.

The maltings were originally built by Newson Garrett in the 1800s. The site ceased to be a malting by the 1960s and after the concert hall was opened there in 1967 it became the home of the Aldeburgh Music Festival.

 

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September 21, 2017. Lowestoft, Suffolk, United Kingdom.

We ask the owners of the Corner House, our B&B in Lowestoft, for some touring suggestions. 

They gave us quite a list. 

One trip looked very interesting. It was a boat ride up Lake Lothing to the Mutford Lock. 

Unfortunately it didn’t run on Thursday and it was Thursday.

We did get to do a few other things, like walk along a wind swept beach into Lowestoft and then on to Ness Point, which is most easterly point in England. 

We then walked back into town via the Stanford Arms. This is supposedly the best pub in Lowestoft, especially for craft beer.

We were hoping to go there for dinner that night and wanted to check it out. 

It’s also closed on Thursdays. 

We did do a lot of walking that day and managed to tick a few things off the list of things to see. 

Late in the day we drove, rather than sailed, to Mutford Lock and walked around the park that’s at the end of Lake Lothing. 

The lock separates the fresh water, of Oulton Broad, from the salt water, of the North Sea.

Lowestoft is a seaside town in the very east of England. It is also one of the oldest, with human habitation dating back 700,000 years.

Lowestoft has been settled by people from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age as well as Romans and Saxons.

Dogs are really appreciated in the UK – especially in the pubs. 

On our last night we walked a little further down the road from our B&B and found the Oddfellows Hotel – the place was packed. 

The dining room was full so we ate in the bar and there we met a number of people and their dogs. 

Dogs were very welcome in the Oddfellows, so long as they didn’t sit on the seats. 

A very reasonable request, if you like having your best friend drinking with you. 

One chap literally drank with his King Charles Spaniel. The dog had a tiny drop of his beer in her water bowl. 

Politically incorrect but they were both very content.

 

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September 22, 2017. Lowestoft, Suffolk to Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, United Kingdom.

Our next stop was at Great Yarmouth, which was only 17 kilometres away. 

We had to be out of our B&B in Lowestoft by 10:30am and couldn’t check into the next one until 3:00pm, so there was plenty of time to do some local touring. 

After walking around Lowestoft and enjoying the better weather we headed off. 

First stop was Beccles, a market town in the Waveney area.

The main feature of Beccles is a detached church bell tower, dating back to the 16th century. 

It dominates the small town. 

From there we did another short drive to Burgh Castle. We thought it was a village but it actually turned out to be a castle as well. 

And a very old one at that.

It is situated on the River Waveney and was developed as a fort town, by the Romans in AD300, as a defence against the Saxons. At that time it was believed to be known as Gariannonum. 

There are only a few of the massive walls remaining at Burgh Castle but you could get an idea how impressive it once was.

That night was our 44th wedding anniversary, so we were looking to find somewhere special for dinner.

Our hosts suggested that fish and chips was an iconic meal in Great Yarmouth. I don’t think they understood the significance of the celebration.

We ended up at the Imperial Hotel, a posh pub on the outskirts of town.

It was full of people who had obviously eaten there many times before. They all knew the menu off by heart and the waitress, Andrea, by name.

 

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September 23, 2107. Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, United Kingdom.

Breakfast in the UK isn’t easy. 

People stare at us, as if we have two heads, when we don’t want a ‘Full English Breakfast’ or a ‘Pot of tea’ or ‘Mug of coffee’

After the simplest breakfast we could get we boarded the ‘Vintage Broadsman’ for a two hour trip on the Norfolk and Southwark Broads. 

Travelling up the Bure River the captain delivered an eloquent description of our journey. All entirely in English, as you would expect, but not what we were used to. 

The weather wasn’t great but most people chose to sit on the top deck, in the open air. 

The Vintage Broadsman was crowded and so was the river. Leisure craft, yachts and small, self guided, tourist boats we constantly passing by. 

It seems that boating on the broads is a very popular pastime. 

And, as seems to be so common in the English speaking world, everyone waved to each other. 

Google let us down in Great Yarmouth. 

We searched for coffee and Mocha was the best rated, with great reviews. 

We should have gone to Starbucks. 

We searched for a good pub with food and Google found the Mariners Hotel. The place was empty and they no longer serve food. 

Should have gone to KFC – no, that’s going too far. 

Mobility scooters are more common than push bikes in Great Yarmouth. 

It probably has something to do with the demographics. 

These coastal towns are relatively poor. This is evident in the hotels, restaurants, food and entertainment on offer. 

Great Yarmouth is a hybrid of Coney Island in New York State and Blackpool in Lancashire.

It lacks the charm of Brighton in Sussex and has the tackiness of Vegas, but is much more forgettable than both.

There are some grand old Victorian mansions and terraced houses behind the gaudy facade of gaming machines, fast food outlets and strip clubs.

On the way back to our B&B in Great Yarmouth, we found Fastolff House in Regent Street. This beautiful office building was constructed in 1908 by RS Cockrillin, in the Art Nouveau style.

In Britain Art Nouveau is also known as Arts and Crafts.

 

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September 24, 2107. Great Yarmouth to Norwich, with a side trip to Cromer, Norfolk, United Kingdom.

We weren’t that sad to leave Great Yarmouth but it had been an experience that will remain with us. We stopped for coffee in Cromer, which is about an hours drive away.

The contrast between the two towns was amazing.

Cromer hadn’t forgotten about the fact that it was a seaside town and that people like to be beside the seaside.

The beach was full of families and the town wasn’t clogged up with commercial distractions.

Cromer is the crab capital of England.

The Cromer Crab is the commercial mainstay of the town and the tourists love them as well. 

The Cromer Pier is the centre point of tourist activity with many families trying their hand at catching the local delicacy.

Most of the crabs caught are very small and part of the ritual is to take them from the pier, in your crab bucket, and then walk down to the beach and put them back into the North Sea.

There are many menacing seagulls, hovering overhead, hoping to get an easy feed.

The crabs are a bonus to local business as the surrounding shops sell crab caps, crab buckets and crab nets, all to make your crabbing that much more enjoyable.

I am sure that time spent, in the less commercialised Cromer would make for a much more rewarding family holiday experience than staying at Great Yarmouth. 

It would probably also be a lot cheaper than constantly forking out for rides, mini golf, slot machines and fast food.

Apart from the crabs, Cromer has the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, dating back to the 13th century. As well as the Hotel de Paris which was originally built as the residence of Lord Suffield in 1830.

That night we found the, weirdly named, Unthank Arms in Norwich. It was about 10 minutes walk away from our hotel, the Best Western George.

It was great and vast change from the previous night.

Good food, wine and beer with an excellent ambiance and great staff.

 

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September 25, 2017. Norwich, Norfolk, United Kingdom.

Lens issues, yet again.

There was a nasty rattle in my 7-14mm wide angle lens and it didn’t sound good.

This meant that we had to find a Olympus repair centre, as well as a laundry, while we were in Norwich.

Google let us down again, just as it had done in Great Yarmouth. We were trying to find a place for breakfast, this time Google maps and the TomTom didn’t know one end of a road from the other. We eventually went to a shopping mall. It was easy to find and you can always get a cup of coffee and a croissant in a mall.

After finding a local laundromat, we went in search of a camera repair centre. The good news was that the guy in the shop didn’t think the problem was terminal. The bad news was that to get it fixed the lens would have to be sent away, to Portugal, for the repairs.

Frustrated with laundry and camera issues we went for a long walk around Norwich.

Norwich is one of the most important cities in England. From the Middle Ages until the Industrial Revolution it was the second largest city, after London.

Besides the obvious standouts of Norwich Cathedral and Norwich Castle there are other delightful areas in this Medieval city.

One of my favourites was the Royal Arcade. Designed by architect George Skipper, in the Arts and Craft style in 1899. The arcade has a humble single storey exterior but a stunning two storey interior. There are decorative tiles featuring flowers and peacocks as well as exquisite stained glass windows  of trees and birds.

Late that night we got the very sad, sad news regarding Phil, Thea’s younger brother. He had tragically passed away in his sleep, while watching the Brownlow Medal on TV.

Suddenly all our future plans were thrown into confusion.

Our immediate priority was to get back to Australia as soon as we could. 

 

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September 26, 2017. Norwich, to Sutton Bridge Spaulding via King’s Lynn, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom.

We arranged a late check-out with the hotel so we could start to make arrangements for our return home.

The original plan was to drop off the Renault Captur at Orly Airport in Paris, so that had to be reworked. Fortunately Renault Euroddrive were very understanding and arranged for us to drop it off at Heathrow.

Qantas were also excellent and so were our travel insurance company, so we went ahead and made all the arrangements.

We couldn’t get a flight to Melbourne immediately, as it was the Grand Final weekend, so we had a couple of days to fill in.

On the way to Sutton Bridge Spaulding we made side trip to King’s Lynn. This was a good move as there was nothing at Sutton bridge.

King’s Lynn was known until 1537 as Bishop’s Lynn and is a seaport and market town. The River Great Ouse is a central part of the town as is the Purfleet Quay. There are some other attractions such as the King’s Lynn Minster or Saint Margaret’s Church, which was built in the 12th century. Plus some wonderful municipal architecture like the Town Hall or Trinity Guild Hall which was built in 1421.

At Sutton Bridge Spaulding we were staying at the Anchor Hotel. This was a typical English pub, in the middle of nowhere.

Fortunately they had a restaurant, that served good English fair and some good draught beers and wine.

 

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September 27, 2017. Sutton Bridge Spaulding, Lincolnshire to London Heathrow, United Kingdom.

Relatively easy drive to Heathrow. There were some roadworks, something we haven’t seen since we have been in the UK. 

We stopped at Saint Neots for a coffee and arrived mid afternoon at the Park Inn by Radisson. 

The location of the hotel was excellent as it was 50 metres from where we had to drop the car off and only 600 metres from Heathrow Airport. 

September 28, 2017. London Heathrow, United Kingdom.

This was our last full day in England and we needed a long walk.

What better place to have one but along the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park.

It was only about 12 kilometres to Windsor, from our hotel in Heathrow. 

The stroll was relaxing, about 8.5 kilometres from the castle to Copper Horse Statue of King George III and back.

The sun shone as the jets thundered overhead – we were right under the flight path.

As we passed through Deer Park we could see the deer in the distance. Then suddenly one buck broke out of the woods and came straight towards us.

It was a tense few seconds until we realised that he was heading to a muddy hollow for a wallow.

After a coffee for me and lunch for Thea in Windsor, we headed back to the hotel to pack.

This was the last drive in the Captur. We had travelled 8,931 kilometres in the Renault and 925 kilometres in the Opel Mokka.

We had started in spring, missed summer completely and now it was autumn. 

September 29, 2017, London Heathrow, United Kingdom to Melbourne, Australia.

After some final packing we dropped the Captur off to the Renault Eurodrive depot. They then drove us, in the Captur, to Heathrow to catch QF flight 10 to Melbourne via Dubai.