Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reflections on a month of travel

This time last week I was in transit, and I'm only just coming back to the land of the living - jet lag is a dog!  (And not Jess the toe licking dog, either!)

My mind is filled with the people and experiences of the last month, the wonders, the bizarrities, and especially the history.  I'm lucky to have good friends who don't mind hearing me go on about my travels - most of whom have been further and seen more than me anyway!

I've got plans for more travel now, there is so much world out there to experience, but I may have to do shorter haul flights and have adventures on the way.  I'm told that flying premium class with the luxury of a bed inflight helps counter jetlag, but the cost is out of my range!

Okay, so what was the highlight I've been asked, and where would I go back to?!

The Colosseum was totally awe-inspiring.  To think of the age of this massive arena, and the technology used, to hear it explained and realise it had a retractable roof, it had a floor capable of being flooded so they could have boat battles to the death, to know the huge number of citizens it could contain, this was indeed my number one wonder.

The Tower of London was a huge high-light.  So much history involved in this sprawling fortress, and still occupied today by the Yeomen of the Guard - the Beefeaters - everywhere we went there was a story from actual history.  Here Anne Boleyn was executed.  Here the twin princes were imprisoned by their uncle who seized their right to the throne.  It was sobering and awful and it stays with me.

Castle Rushen on the Isle of Man was exciting.  Originally built by the Vikings and extended over the centuries, it was a complete and original real castle.  Some of the other castles I saw had been restored in much more modern decor, but this was a spiral-staircase up to the turrets real coastal fortress.  Very cool!

I loved spending time with the people, especially my wonderful hosts, Sue and Neil in London and Viv and Ian in Douglas, IoM.  I don't think it's possible to say how much I appreciated them making space in their lives and homes for me.  Thank you!

And where would I go back to?
Italy in a heartbeat.
Italy was too hot, it was chaotic, I fainted there, and yet I loved it.  It was so real, it had passion, they live and eat as if cooking for you and feeding you are what matter, no matter how long things take.  They laugh.  They care.  (Except if you happen to be on a pedestrian crossing when they're driving over it..)  I would love to go back there and actually spend some time there, not just travel in and out.

I've had my mind broadened by this travel.  I've been in places where no one spoke English - that's quite disconcerting after several hours!   I've been surprised at how far behind us Europe is with smoking.  It's like we were 50 years ago - very common,  and butts litter the streets despite the special containers everywhere.  Vending machines for cigarettes were everywhere, obviously no age limit for purchase.  Europeans must get a shock to come to New Zealand and find we're mostly a No Smoking country!

And dogs!  In shops, on buses and the underground!  All on leads and all that I saw very well behaved and controlled, but again, so many of them everywhere.

And what would I do the same or differently next time?
It was very hard to pack for a month and know what weather I was going to find, and I took too much merino and not enough aertex!  It was much hotter than I'd expected.
I was very pleased with my Loaded For Travel card - loaded up before I left with different currencies, bought at the prime rates, and useable everywhere.  
And actually paying for tours of places like The Tower was well worth it.  I actually had the history and important aspects pointed out to me, didn't just have to rely on my memory of things I already knew.
I didn't do much shopping, maybe next time I'd do a bit more?  But luggage restrictions on flights is a bit of a bind.  Especially if travelling by myself, and without a partner who could share some of the essentials so there is some space in one of our cases.

I'm still a bit overwhelmed by where I've been and what I now know because I've seen it!  Venice, gondolas, Rome, castles, palaces, beggars, underground tubes, cities with transport systems that work, planes that fly for twelve hours across time zones and countries....  I really am awed by it all!

Now back to work to save up for Next Time!

Monday, September 29, 2014

After Hampton Court, we go in search of our ancestral home and walk through the buzzing heart of a London hotspot....

There was still light in the sky, still warmth in the sun - more than expected actually, what hot weather we've had for late September in London! - so we took ourselves to Regent's Park.  (The Regent was to become King George IV.) 
I'm impressed by the amount of green space in London, and the degree to which it's used.  This was a sunny Sunday afternoon, and there were families and young people everywhere, a rugby game going on, dogs being walked, a boy trying to befriend a squirrel, people enjoying the fresh air.

We walked through to the zoo, looked down at the canal - of which more later - and crossed the road in search of Chalcot Crescent.

My grandmother, Jessie Agnes Pfanz was born here, in number 34, back in 1885.  A short walk, and only one block from the park, in Primrose Hill, we found it.  
Jessie's mother, Louise died in childbirth when she was 11, and she spent the next few years with her aunts, while her father Christian brought up her brothers.  When the aunts decided to join other family in New Zealand, Jessie came too, in the first decade of the 20th century, and she met Albert Price whom she would later marry and who would become my grandfather - although I never met him - on the ship coming over.

We had many trips to Auckland as a family to stay with Gran, and Jessie lived with Mum and Dad and our family as an old woman, from about 1965 until her death in 1974.

And this is where she was born, this primrose house.

The railings at street level protect passersby from falling down the light-space to the basement rooms where the servants lived/worked.  I am delighted to have seen this spot!  I felt no urge to knock on the door or see inside.

We walk around the area, up Chalcott Square and Street, watch the families enjoying fresh air and each other's company in the square, and go back towards Regent's Park, but this time we walk along the towpath by the canal.

Right across from this very elegant Primrose Hill and Regent's Park we find Camden Lock and Camden Town.

This is different from anything I've seen here - it's funky, busy, kinda crazy!  The cigarette smoke I'm smelling is not all tobacco either.  There's music, food and it's very different from where we were just moments before.
I'm very glad to have been here!

Now it's Monday morning and I've got a plane to catch today to Hong Kong.  I'll be home Wednesday afternoon, and I can't really imagine being home again after the month I've had exploring the world!

Hampton Court Palace

This morning Sue and I took bus, tube and train to Hampton Court to see Hampton Court Palace, the home of Henry VIII.
Wow!  This place is massive!  First view was of the Thames and the type of boats that have ferried royalty and their guests between the castles and palaces over the centuries.

 Then through the main gates and I'm bowled over by the sheer size of the place!  It's enormous!
Look at these chimneys!  They are ornate works of art, each of them different.  I'm deeply impressed, and we haven't even got through the Gatehouse yet!  This palace was originally built early in the 1500s.

This is the ceiling of the great gatehouse

And this is the great gatehouse looking from the first courtyard or "Base Court".

All of the wing along the left-hand side was kitchens -King Henry VIII had massive kitchens which could cater for 1000 people - and the internal covered ways were wide enough to take a horse and cart.

The buildings have many outer alleys and passages.

In the mid 1600s, William of Orange and his wife Mary set about rebuilding Hampton Court and much of the original building was demolished.  However money and motivation ran out before the new palace was built, so that it joins on to Henry's palace, which can be seen in the background here.

Painted ceiling in the "newer" part.

Shire horses whose lineage can be directly traced from the original royal horses which carried armoured knights into battle.  These enormously strong horses stand 18 hands high.

Part of the yew walks - with trees up to 300 years old - and Mary's formal gardens.

What a wonderful visit to this marvellous palace!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Goodbye to the Isle of Man, and a visit to Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn

An early start, and the first plane out of Ronaldsway Airport, IOM. 
I will miss the beautiful island and the lovely people!  I particularly appreciated meeting Viv and Ian's family, what superb people!  I loved seeing the island and being included in their family get-togethers!  What a wonderful time I've had on the Isle of Man!
 My papers said I needed to be checked in by 5am at the latest - !!! What was I thinking when I booked that!  However as the airport doesn't open until 6am, we had a bit of a reprieve  and a tail wind meant I was back in London by 8am.  Probably the most interesting and least palatable in flight meal -  a cooked and kept breakfast of egg, bacon, sausage, mushroom and hash brown - but my second flight on British Airways and I do like their flight crews' easy sense of humour.

And this morning my expert London tour guides took me on a wonderful excursion south to Kent.  We went through beautiful countryside, dotted with oasthouses, timbered inns and Tudor houses with mullioned windows and arrived at Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. 
 What a gorgeous castle!  I've decided I like castles, so much history and romance, so much death and plotting!
The oldest part of Hever was the gatehouse built in 1270, 
and the castle was converted into a manor house in 1462.  Anne lived there in the early 1500s, while King Henry VIII pursued her, despite being married to Catherine of Aragon and having Anne's sister Mary as his mistress.  

With Grace alongside the outer moat

Ella with the inner moat in the background

We went through the double-moated castle, up the winding spiral staircases, and into the rooms mostly decorated in the restored fashion of around 1900, but some in the manner they may have been in Anne Boleyn's time.

Part of the gardens

What a lovely day we had! 
In the early 1900s it was bought by the Astor family who have restored it and planted the yew maze and the beautiful Italian gardens.

Anyone who doubts I could find my way into the centre of a maze and out again - here is photographic proof of me and Ella in the centre!  

Okay, I couldn't do it, and after becoming hideously lost for the umpteenth time, I followed Neil who knew the way...