Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Saturday, 30 August 2008

The Bullring - Birmingham

The first order of the day was to find a laundrette (hello to the lady from the Foam Laundrette who is to read our blog tonight). As Jenny says happiness is clean laundry. This out of the way we brought our £3 day bus passes and headed into the big city.

St Martin's in the Field

We called in to see the lovely church in the city centre St Martins in the Field. The field is long gone and the church is now known as St Martins in the Bullring. There has been a church on this site since 1290 and St Martins has a wonderful hammer beam roof made from recycled timber from the original medieval building.

The Bull Ring Shopping Centre

Birmingham has a huge bustling market area so we wandered up and down the aisles. We then entered the more up market Selfridges shopping area which was thronging with workers, families and teenagers. Thank goodness the school holidays are almost at an end. We noticed a long line of people outside the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts shop and went to check it out. Imagine this, a melt in the mouth doughnut covered in chocolate icing and a creamy custard filing, just devine!

Margaret & Trevor

We are having a farewell dinner with Margaret & Trever tonight and driving to Cambridge tomorrow.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Birmingham City

Birmingham is the second largest city in the UK - that must be why it seems so very busy. We came here to meet up with Jenny's quilting penfriend Margaret and her partner Trevor.

One of the things on our "must do" list was a trip to Coventry Cathedral, and Margaret and Trevor accompanied us there. The stone walls remaining from the war time bombing raid in 1940 stand proud and solemn, it is certainly a very spiritual place. Surprisingly the tower and spire of the Cathedral escaped unharmed. The morning after the raid, a charred cross was made by tying together two partially burnt oak beams from the roof, this became the symbol that Coventry Cathedral would once again rise from the ashes.

Coventry Cathedral

The new Cathedral was consecrated in 1962 and the modern design complements the poignant remains of the old. The striking stained glass windows are best viewed by looking back through the building. Local needle workers crafted over 2000 tapestry cushions of various designs, surely a labour of love. We had looked forward to viewing Coventry Cathedral and were moved by the beauty of the new set against the tranquility of the old.

Nearby was the Coventry Transport Museum which houses a huge collection of cars, truck and bicycles which have been produced in Coventry over the years. If you are like Jenny, you may have been worried that the double decker bus you are riding in may topple over going around a corner. Worry no more. We discovered that all such buses undergo a "Tilt Test" and must be able to achieve a tilt of 28 degrees without mishap.

1950's Vanguard Car & 1930's Eccles Caravan

Robin was surprised at the number of different vehicles manufactured in Coventry including Peugeot's. He even saw a representation of the motor scooter he once owned, Triumph Tigress 250. A very extensive museum, a must for all to see if in Coventry, and it is free!

Happy Birthday Nicky

Happy Birthday Nicky. Sending you special birthday wishes from Birmingham.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Goodbye Wales, Hello Birmingham

Dot & Derek at Llangollen Basin

The Canal boat holiday had come to an end. Very special thanks to Dot and Derek for inviting us to spend this last week with them. We had a great time and really appreciate their hospitality.

Our Mercedes Benz rental

Our rental car was due to collect us at 12.00pm, and we waited, and waited, and waited. Several phone calls later, a car finally arrived at 2.00pm to take us to Wrexham to complete the formalities. Our car was upgraded to a Mercedes Benz - just as well as we thought their service was woefully inadequate. The price of diesel is some what of a revelation for us Kiwi's. We thought is was dear at home but it is not as expensive as here in the UK.

Three time the price of NZ Diesel

We got a bit lost getting out of Wrexham, but the navigator did a sterling job and we were soon heading in the right direction. By the time we reached Birmingham it was peak hour traffic. Wonder where our hotel was? By a stroke of luck we entered Birmingham on the right road.

Birmingham Mile Stone - Nearly There!

We drove to an interesting looking pub called "One and Two Halves" for our evening meal. This establishment offers a large variety of "2 for £10.00" meals. The scampi was delicious.

Then we headed back to the Quality Hotel Birmingham and our king size bed.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Last day on Llangollen

Our 48 hour mooring at Llangollen Basin came to an end, so we untied the mooring ropes for the trip back to Trevor. As it was a bank Holiday the tow path had plenty of fishermen trying their luck in the canal. A few of them were very reluctant to lift their rods out of the canal as we slowly made our way towards them. Walkers strode out briskly and many had dogs joyfully exploring all the exciting smells on the tow path. One particular boat caught our eye. It was garlanded with white satin ribbons on the bow, and had a large "Just Married" sign on the stern.

Just Married

To further enhance our Ponty experience, Derek took us back over the aqueduct. The furious wind made the trip a little scary, and the pedestrians on the aqueduct were walking across rather aphrensivley. Turning around at the winding hole, we did the return trip with Robin at the controls. Luckily the wind had dropped so that made the crossing much easier.

Robin at the controls on the aqueduct

Taking an after dinner walk in the early evening, we wandered down to the basin again. A bright light pierced the darkness as a boat slowly started it's crossing over the aqueduct. Slowly but surely he made his way towards us. No wonder he did it so easily in the dark, he was a local.

Pontycysllte Aqueduct became a Scheduled Ancient Monument in 1958, and is also a Grade 1 Listed Structure. The aqueduct and the surrounding canal is the UK's 2008 nomination of a Worlds Heritage Site. The proposal will be examined and a final decision made in 2009. Surely it must be successful.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Monday, 25 August 2008

Happy Birthday Michael

Half way around the world, in little old New Zealand, Number One Son is celebrating his birthday.

Happy Birthday Michael. We are sending you special Welsh birthday wishes from Llangollen.

Llangollen Town

Llangollen looked a picture today. The bridge over the River Dee is festooned with large hanging baskets of colourful flowers and flags fluttered in the breeze. Tourists and holiday makers amble along the narrow streets, looking in the shop windows and enjoying the sunshine. We found a a very popular shop selling Welsh icecream, rich and creamy. Honeycomb icecream sounded just the thing - what could be nicer than enjoying our icecreams while watching the world go by.

Llangollen from the town bridge

After purchasing a few necessary groceries we came to the Hand Hotel. A black board menu offered a Sunday Roast. Shall we, shan't we? Why not, we decided. We climbed some stairs to the elegantly old fashioned dining room. Heavy burgundy curtains framed the windows and chandeliers hung from the ceiling . The choice of roasts were beef, pork and turkey, Yorkshire puddings and a nice selection of vegetables. The meal was delicious and reasonably priced. We won't need a big evening meal after this.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Llangollan at last

Easing out of the Trevor Basin the boat became stuck fast on the muddy bottom. With a bit of engine work we soon pulled free. Taking a sharp right turn we soon left the Anglo Welsh hire fleet behind us.

The canal goes through the hauntingly beautiful Vale of Llangollen. The hilly countryside is dotted with little white washed Welsh cottages glistening in the sunshine.

Parts of the canal narrows considerably and is one way traffic only. Derek was sent on ahead with the two way radio to give us the "all clear". With Robin at the tiller we slowly navigated the narrows, with a Canaltime boat skippered by a couple of Kiwis following us. Navigating past a slate rockfall which had encroached into the channel we got stuck fast, as the current kept pushing us up against the cliff face. Out came the pole and Dot pushed valiently trying to free us. Seeing that we were in difficulties, the skipper of the following boat rushed up the tow path, grabbed our bow rope and pulled. A few nudges, and we were on our way again.

Dot poling us free

We collected Derek up ahead from the tow path and continued on our way up to Lllangollen Basin. These moorings are purpose built and have power and water facilities at the end of each floating pontoon.

After lunch we purchased our Senior tickets and boarded a first class compartment in one of the corridor connection carriages on the Llangollen Steam Railway. The River Dee tumbled by and several pheasants were spotted in the paddocks. "Shut the window, the tunnel's up ahead", the guard advised. With the steam engine puffing white smoke we passed through Berwyn, Deeside Halt and Glyndyfrdwy, with the trip concluding at Carrog.

On the return journey we exited the train at the very attractive Tudor style Berwyn Station and walked up to Horseshoe Falls. This large curved weir was constructed in the 1830's to provide a consistant water supply for the canal. We then reboarded the steam train and completed our journey back to Llangollan.

Horseshoe Falls

What an exciting day we had!!

Saturday, 23 August 2008

The talent of Thomas Telford

We started our day travelling across the 1801 Chirk Aqueduct, carried 70 feet high on 10 masonry arches. The canal lead straight into the 459 yard long red brick Chirk Tunnel. The architect of both of these structures was Thomas Telford.

Taking the tiller on the Chirk Aqueduct

His most spectacular achievement was the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. This is 1000 feet long structure was finished in 1805, passes 127 feet above the River Dee and is supported by 18 stone pillars. We glided gently across the canal, appearing to float in the sky.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

We moored up at Trevor Basin an after lunch joined the throngs on gongoozlers and walked back across the aqueduct. The wind blew quite strongly as we bravely walked so high up, trying to rip Robin's cap from his head. We marvelled that this 200 year old structure is still rock steady after all this time.

We took Dot and Derek out for a "thank you for the holiday" dinner at the local pub, the Telford Inn. Salmon, scampi, and the pub's special, home made steak pie and assorted desserts graced our table. Sure beats cooking!!

The Telford Inn

Friday, 22 August 2008

Llangollen - Blake Mere to Poacher's Pocket

The 80 metre trip through the Ellesmere Tunnel started our morning, then we travelled through rural countryside for some time. Cattle and sheep were grazing in the paddocks and we noticed hay all cut and rolled We came across two ladies in a hire boat stuck fast - Derek backed up, took their rope and dragged them off.

Robin took the tiller for a while and pulled in to the side to let another boat through - oops sorry, he scraped the side. It's all part of the boating experience.

The sunshine gave way to heavy rain and thunderclaps. By the time we arrived at New Morton Locks it was Murphy's Law - more rain. Dot commented that it always rained when they went through locks, the rain clouds must have their name on it. Rain followed us all the way to our mooring for the night at Poacher's Pocket.

Waiting our turn at the locks

After the rain cleared we wandered up the very muddy towpath to catch a glimpse of the Chirk Aqueduct. This is more than 200 years old and 70 feet high. We walked over the path looking down at the vista below. The aqueduct leads straight into Chirk Tunnel. Tomorrow morning we will be experiencing these two delights on the narrow boat.

Chirk Aqueduct and Railway bridge

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Llangollen - The Barn to Blake Mere

Winding up one lift bridge was the only onerous part of today's travel. Prees Branch wandered off to the left and wends through a nature reserve. We however kept on the Lllangollen and had a very picturesque ride, gliding peacefully along with thick woods on either side of the canal. We passed over Hampton Bank which carries the canal 30 feet above a river and we looked down onto farmland below. Several canoeists paddled downstream enjoying the brisk morning's conditions.

We moored up reasonably early at Blake Mere for the day. The "No Fishing" signs on the lakefront means that Derek won't be getting his fishing rod out. We enjoyed 4zees outside at a very convenient picnic table on the towpath right outside the boat until the rain sent us back inside. A cheeky little squirrel appeared as soon as we had gone, looking for crumbs from our chippies.

Robin and Derek enjoying a beer at Blake Mere

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

2 Days on the Llangollen

A black London taxi ride, a high speed Virgin train ride from Euston to Crewe, followed by a suburban ride to Wrenbury, and there waiting to welcomed us were Dot and Derek from Narrowboat Gypsy Rover. It was time for our Llangollen Canal adventure.

We travelled a couple of hours on Monday, under bridges and getting our first taste of locks. Waking to a drizzle on Tuesday, the rain kept up all morning as we went through the three Grindley Brook Locks, closely followed by the Grindley Brook Staircase. We passed several canal side shops and cafes, one even offering internet access for travellers. Just past the turnoff to Whitbridge we came to three lift bridges, a new experience.

The weather finally cleared and we went for a walk along the towpath, following a sign to a farmhouse selling ice creams. Young calves were resting in the paddock with their mothers, and the farm was guarded by a couple of geese who kept their beady eyes on us.

Other wildlife glimpsed was a frog who gave Dot quite a fright when he hopped out in front of her. Baby ducks cuddled up to mother duck on the grassy bank. And we saw some mole hills dotted around a garden, the owner was not happy at all about their visit she told us.

Monday, 18 August 2008

An easy day - yeah right!!

I said we would have an easy day today, yeah right. So what did we do we walked miles.

We set off this morning by tube to find the Speights Ale House, which was transported from NZ by sea to Temple Place to give the Kiwis a little bit of home. Where was it now - we couldn't find it. This is were we started walking. Seems it has been relocated to a pub nearby and is now called The Southerner. This was closed up tight so no pint of Speights for Robin.

As we walked along the Strand and Fleet Street the bells from St Paul's were pealing. What a lovely sound on a Sunday morning.

Side View of St Paul's

Next to see on our list for the morning was the Monument. to this we also walked. The Monument was designed by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666, which started in nearby Pudding Lane. Another disappointment, as it was under repair and covered in scaffolding.

A walk back along the Thames and over the Millennium Bridge, built just for pedestrians, led us to the Globe Theatre. Plays were in progress, but having no tickets we contented ourselves with a quick look around. Wandering back along the riverside we came across an outdoor market where we stopped for lunch. Pancakes filled with apples, raisins and cinnamon eaten al fresco in the warm London sunshine, what a pleasant lunch. Then it was a walk to Waterloo Station to catch the Tube back to our hotel.

Millennium Bridge

As tonight is our last evening in London, we are going to the local, The Albert, for a farewell London dinner. It has division bells in the upstairs dining room so that parliamentarians eating there while the House is sitting can rush back to vote.

Tomorrow morning we travel by train to meet up with our friends Dot and Derek and travel over the Lllangollen Canal during the next week in their narrow boat Gypsy Rover.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Two Museums today.

First visit was to the wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum, chock full of wonderful treasures. The main focus was for Jenny to see the Textile Gallery. There were many samples of embroidery, lacework and woven fabrics on display, able to be pulled out and examined in double sided glass frames. Of particular interest were the wonderfully old medieval embroideries on show. We had a quick look around some of the other areas but there was so much to see we couldn't do it justice in the time available. We had noticed some damage to the outside stone walls and enquired about it. The guide informed us that the British Museum across the street was badly damaged during the war and the pock marks we noticed were caused by flying debris when the building across the road exploded .

Victoria & Albert Museum

We then took another couple of tube trips which were packed full of soccer supporters going to see their favourite teams, what a job we had squeezing on and off the tubes!! Our next call was to the London Canal Museum. This told the story of the canals of London and the lives of the people who worked on them. The museum told of the gradual decline of many canals, and how a small group of people started a society to bring the canals back into use again. (As our next adventure will be aboard a narrow boat we thought we should do a little research).

London Canal Museum - Battlebridge Basin

St Pancras Church was our next stop. One of Robin's ancestors may have had some association with this church before emigrating to New Zealand. He had hoped to find out some information but the church was locked up tight.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Another day, another Palace

Today we went to visit Hampton Court. After two short tube trips we arrived at the huge Waterloo Station. There we purchased train tickets for South West Rail for the 30 minute or so trip to Hampton Court. This turned out to be a real bonus as the ticket seller told us our rail tickets entitled us to 2 for 1 entry tickets.

Hampton Court Palace

As Jenny is an avid "Tudorphile" this visit was on the must-see list. Here was the place that Cardinal Wolsey lived in and expanded, until it was taken over by Henry VIII. Here was the great clock, a marvel in it's time 500 years ago and still going strong. And here Henry lived, his son Edward was christened in the Chapel Royal, he divorced Anne of Cleves here, Catherine Howard's ghost is supposedly seen and heard upstairs, and lastly Henry married his 6th and last wife Kathryn Parr in the Chapel Royal.

Astronomical Clock

We visited the huge Tudor kitchens where cooks laboured to feed 600 a day. We marvelled at the wonderful tapestries, and the beautiful paintings and the stone steps worn down with countless feet. Part of Hampton Court was refurbished for later monarchs, but we both loved the older Tudor parts best. It was a thrill to see this slice of history.

The Great Fountain Garden

Friday, 15 August 2008

Buckingham Palace

What can we say? The state rooms that are opened for public viewing in the summer season are just mind blowing. We had purchased our (timed) tickets the previous day and queued up with a huge crowd waiting to get in to this London landmark. After going through security we collected our audio guides and started our tour. We went up the Grand Staircase and into the Green Drawing Room, with it's walls hung with pale green silk. From there we went into the Throne Room and the long Picture Gallery, the Silk Tapestry Room, the East Gallery and into the Ballroom. This magnificent room was set out as it would be for a State Banquet. On the tables were silverware, the beautiful dinner service, crystal, and flower arrangements, it really looked superb.
The State Dining Room was dominated by a huge highly polished mahogany table, and our audio guide informed us that is is not covered with a table cloth when used as the table settings look so wonderful on the rich timber. The Blue Drawing Room, the Music Room, followed by the White Drawing Room were just as wonderful to view We then went through the Marble Hall with it's collection of marble statues and lastly into the Bow Room which overlooks the gardens.
Our impressions are: wonderful red carpets, beautiful domed ceilings, and a colour scheme of (mostly) white and gold. Add to this priceless paintings, marbles, works of art, tapestries, wonderful pieces of furniture. There was just so much to look and admire. We were not permitted to take photos inside, unfortunately, so we can not show you any of the treasures we saw. Guess this photo ban ensures that paying guests purchase a souvenir guide!!

Back view of Buckingham Palace

Lake Buckingham Palace

Later in the day we visited the British Red Cross building. Before leaving home Jenny discovered that one of the famous Changi Quilts are housed here. Four of these quilts were made by women civilian prisoners held in Changi Prison when Singapore was over run by the Japanese. The quilts were made of individually embroidered squares. Australia holds two more of the quilts and the whereabouts of the fourth is unknown. The Curator of the Archives took us for a private viewing so that Jenny could have a really good look at this piece of history.

Changi Quilt

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Madame Tussauds

Just as well we had bought tickets over the Internet for this attraction - hundreds of people were queued up waiting to buy their tickets, while we were ushered straight through. It was crowded inside and the wax works were placed here and there, just ready for fans to take photos of their favourites. All Black Jonah Lomu was immortalised in wax, but we didn't notice any other Kiwis. There were historical figures, sporting heroes, film stars, actors and actresses, singers, politicians - any number of famous people and lots that we had never even heard of!!

Madame Tussauds

Jenny had her photo taken with the Queen and Prince Phillip - they were smiling but didn't deign to speak to her. Robin posed with one of the musical greats in his opinion - Freddy Mercury. And luckily Elvis was still in the building, so Jenny cuddled up close to have a photo taken with him too.

Meeting the Queen?

For Jenny who else!

We jumped aboard one of the black London cabs in a continuos line. These took us on a journey back in time. Starting at the reign of Elizabeth 1st, through the plague, the Great Fire, Queen Victoria and the Industrial Revolution, and the two World Wars. This was very well done and certainly a highlight of our visit.

Next stop was Hyde Park. It's not far on the map, we decided, let's walk. Bad idea - we had turned in the wrong direction and after walking for ages discovered our mistake. Two tube rides later we were finally in the right area. Hyde Park is huge but there at last was what we were looking for, the New Zealand Memorial, a series of dark brown metal cross beams of different heights. When viewed from the correct perspective you can see a white cross on the top of each one, and they each tell a different tale of New Zealand.

New Zealand War Memorial Hyde Park

On the way back we purchased tickets to Buckingham Palace for tomorrow morning. Wonder if the Queen will remember posing for that photo with Jenny? Perhaps we will ask her.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Sightseeing Bus Tour & River Cruise

Today we joined a whole double decker bus load of tourists for the Original London Bus Tour. This took in all the famous sights of London. Trafalgar Square was packed with people watching the Olympic games on two huge screens. According to legend, if Big Ben ever strikes 13, the 4 lions at the base of Nelson's column will get up and walk around Trafalgar Square.

"The Original Tour" Bus

The traffic was painfully slow but this made it easy for photo opportunities. We drove past all those important places such as Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, St Paul's, Fleet Street, and passed the spot where the Great Fire of London started. We criss-crossed over 6 of the bridges spanning the Thames, saw Cleopatra's Needle, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, The Ritz Hotel and drove down Piccadilly. Due to the congestion, all this took 3 hours. There are big recruiting ads on the sides of buses offering £500.00 plus to new drivers. Robin commented that it wouldn't be enough pay to compensate for all the stress of driving in London.

Then we joined the boat "Millennium City" for our Thames River Cruise down to Greenwich. It gave us quite a different perspective passing under the bridges. Our commentator relayed all sorts of interesting facts, such as the Globe Theatre being the only building to have a thatched roof in London. Thatched roofs have been banned in London ever since the Great Fire of London and it took an Act of Parliament to allow the Globe to be re-created as it was in Shakespeare's time. We passed a replica of Sir Francis Drake's ship, the Golden Hind and marvelled at the many apartment buildings lining the Thames, obviously all very expensive with their river views,

Built for the purpose of finding longitude at sea, the Royal Observatory is home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Meridian Line. Sir Christopher Wren designed the observatory with it's striking octagon room. Now a museum, it tells the story of the development of an accurate ship's clock which made it easier for captains to pin point their position at sea.

Royal Observatory, Greenwich

On board for our return journey the Tower Bridge had opened up to let a tall ship pass through. This only happens a couple of times a week so we were lucky to be on the river at the right time.

Tower Bridge Opening

Walking back to the hotel we came across the Laughing Halibut and stopped there for fish and chips. There is something about English fish and chips, we have to admit that they are far superior to what we get at home. The cod was delicious, with nice crispy batter. At £16.00 for two is was a bit more expensive that what we pay at home, this equates to $40.00 NZ.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

London Eye, Mounted Cavalry & War Rooms

We walked our little legs off today sightseeing!! First stop was the bank and what a frustrating event that turned out to be, providing customer service does not enter into it. We had hoped to organise some debit cards quickly while we are in London this week. Over here it takes 7-10 days to get your card and then another 7 days to get your PIN. Nothing like putting your pin onto the card at the bank like at home. As we are moving around this makes things very difficult for us.

The next stop was London Eye situated on the River Thames. Last time we were here way back in 1999 this structure had been built but was lying on it's side ready to be pulled up in position. It has been operating for some time now of course and is a major draw card for tourists. The area was absolutely crowded with people and we thought we would be waiting in line for ages, but the lines were moving quite quickly.

Security was very strict and Jenny had to present her bag for inspection. Then we both had a wand passed over us. Before we were allowed to board the capsule it was thoroughly inspected for any suspicious items left behind, the security people even used a long handled mirror to check above the door fittings and under the seats.

London Eye

The London Eye is 135m tall (by comparison the Singapore Flyer is 165m) and the ride takes 30 minutes to slowly complete a rotation. It was a clear London day and we had marvelous views across the River Thames. The Houses of Parliament were very close and we could see Buckingham Palace peeping out further back behind the trees.

View From London Eye

Walking back along Whitehall we passed a mounted horse guard standing in the archway to the Household Cavalry barracks. Both horse and guard stayed perfectly still as people milled around getting their photos taken beside him. He was a model of patience.

Next stop was a visit to the war rooms and the adjoining Winston Churchill Museum. Some of the war rooms were just as they had been left at the conclusion of WW11 and had been sealed for some time. Others had been stripped of their contents but then recreated later using old photos for reference. The staff lived underground in these rooms, working long shifts and sleeping when they could. Winston Churchill ran the war and wrote and delivered his stirring speeches from these historic rooms.

Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms

We wandered back through St James Park and were delighted to see several tiny squirrels scampering around. They were so quick it was difficult to catch them on camera.