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

Monday, 29 September 2008

Niagara Falls

American Falls
What can we say about this site of natural beauty? Just wonderful!!! The falls cover two borders. The American Falls are on USA territory (of course) and further along the Horseshoe Falls are in Canada. The border between the two countries runs through the centre of the river.

Horseshoe Falls

The mist rises from the middle of the Horseshoe Falls rises high in the air, giving it an magical quality. It is noisy close by, as millions of gallons of water rush over the falls on the way to Lake Ontario. The riverside walk was thronged with visitors, taking photos, or just gazing in wonder at the spectacle. We had an evening walk and admired the changing light show that played across the waters.
The "Maid in the Mist" boat trip the following morning was exciting. Everyone was decked out in their matching blue ponchos as the boat edged ever closer to the falls. The closer we got, the more the wind and spray whipped at the boat and passengers. It was an exhilarating experience.
Gail & Jenny
Many thanks to Gail and Rob who travelled 2 hours to meet up with us. Gail and Jenny are quilting penfriends so had lots to chat and catch up with. After exchanging letters for many years it was great to meet up in person.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

London to New York

Expect delays!! Flights cancelled!! Computer problems for Air Traffic Control!! That was the news on TV the night before we were due to fly out from Heathrow. Just our luck, we thought. Thankfully it seemed to be resolved the next morning. On going through security Robin set off the alarm and was pulled aside to be searched, while Jenny was told she was a "random" and was also taken out of the line and frisked.

We arrived in Newark Airport in drizzly conditions. Immigration was very thorough and our index fingers were scanned and we had photos taken of our eyes as well. After a frustrating 30 minutes sorting out our shuttle we were finally on our way to the big smoke.

"Look over there", said Robin, "it's the Statue of Liberty. And there's the Empire State Building". Both were away in the distance but it was still a thrill to see these New York icons. This city seems to have much the same problems as any other as we noticed lots of graffiti painted on walls. Something a bit different for us was the various toll booths that the shuttle had to pass through. There were plenty of yellow New York taxis buzzing around everywhere and our shuttle driver wove in and out of the heavy traffic, blasting on his horn when a driver upset him.

Tonight we catch our breath and get a good night's sleep before heading off on our Niagara Falls trip bright and early in the morning. The hotel we are staying in tonight not only has free coffee in the foyer, but more importantly, free Internet access as well. How about that for good luck!!

Friday, 26 September 2008

Last Days in London

Why are we staying at a hotel in Heathrow, you might ask. Because it meant that we could drop the rental car off primarily, and travel in to London for our last few days. The local buses are free to Heathrow from where the hotels are situated, and travelling into the big city on our Oyster cards is cheap and fast.

So what have we been doing these last couple of days? First up was a boat trip on the Thames Clipper, a fleet of large catamarans. We travelled down river to O2 (formally the Millennium Dome) and had a look around this very large building.

Next was a trip to the National History Museum. Sadly we saw a kiwi and a kea in the bird display, but also notices advising that the museum does not now collect specimens. The dinosaur display was amazing. There is a suspended walkway over the exhibits, enabling the public to view things from above. T Rex, a realistic moving monster seemed to have his beady eyes on us as he glared around at everyone who dared to look at him. "Come away, he's too scary" a child told his Dad.

Last on our list was a tour through the Royal Albert Hall, which enjoys a peppercorn rental of one shilling per year for 999 years. The tour director took us in to the Royal Box, and the Royal Waiting Room. This building is huge, and hosts all sorts of events including tennis, and the Proms. Outside the Albert Hall, across the road in Hyde Park is the magnificent memorial to Prince Albert, which is covered in two layers of 24ct gold leaf.

We board our flight for New York tomorrow morning for our Niagara Falls bus tour, so are not sure where we will find our next lot of internet access.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Heathrow Bound

Yesterday we left Canterbury to wend our way to Heathrow Airport for our flight out to New York on Friday. We decided to spend three nights at Heathrow. Not the nicest area to stay but we plan to travel to London on the Tube for a last look around.

So far on the way we have passed through Ashford, Royal Tunbridge Wells and spent last night at Sevenoaks. Today we move onto Heathrow by the A Roads trying to keep off the motorways as much as possible.

Not much sightseeing today as we have a fair amount of ground to cover. We are not sure when our next posting on the blogg will be but we will be looking hard for a internet site to keep you posted of our travels.

Our hotel at Seven Oaks

Monday, 22 September 2008

Dover & Deal

Dover Castle

The white cliffs of Dover were shining brightly in the English sunshine as we drove past on our way to Dover Castle. William the Conqueror built a castle on this site, and the Keep was built by Henry 11. We did not realise that troops for the Napoleon War were stationed here in the underground tunnels.

Secret Tunnels
The connection of Dover Castle during WW2 is well known. "Operation Dynamo" the rescue of troops from the beaches at Dunkirk, was planned from here. We did a tour of the "Secret WW11 tunnels" which was most informative, and saw the operating theatres, the radio rooms and where the war planning took place. The medieval part of the castle was well worth visiting, and we took a walk along the castle battlements.

At the castle we watched a demonstration of Tudor style hunting with hawks by a couple in period costumes.

We then travelled up the coast to the seaside town of Deal. Our friend Beverly from the Caravan Club spent her younger years here when her parents ran the Royal Hotel pub. We went to check it out and had a coffee and a beer and took several photos to show on our return. Down at the beach Jenny was too late to buy jellied eels and made do with a pot of whelks. A bit chewy but still nice to try something different.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Pilgrims in Canterbury

The West Gate

Canterbury is a small, compact, walled city, full of cobbled streets lined with interesting old buildings. The main reason we came was to see Canterbury Cathedral. The cathedral attracts over 2 million visitors a year. We felt rather like modern day pilgrims, as we wandered slowly around the cathedral in the company of hundreds of others, all listening intently to the audio guides held firmly to our ears.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral shall be forever linked to the murder of Thomas Beckett. The immortal line "Who will rid me of this low born priest" brought about the martyr's death of Thomas Beckett by four of King Henry 11's knights. Thomas was declared a saint in 1173.

The place where Thomas Beckett was murdered

But there is more to the cathedral than that. It is a living, working church. Extended to over the centuries, it is a mixture of styles. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who is of course head of the Anglican Church, has his seat (cathedra) here, although his official residence is in London.

After a tasty al fresco fish and chip lunch we took a relaxing boat trip through Canterbury. This started at The Old Weavers House, a wonderful old Tudor style house built in 1500, and home to Huguenots refugees from France and Belgium who settled here bringing their weaving skills to their new city. Our guide slowly rowed us along the River Stour (one of four rivers with the same name in UK, we were told) and explained the origins and stories of the buildings that backed on to the river, as we glided under ancient stone bridges. One building was used as a military forge in Oliver Cromwell's time, to make and replace horseshoes for the soldier's mounts, and to sharpen their weapons. There was a replica "ducking stool", used for punishment for unruly wives and dishonest businessmen. Suspected witches were also strapped in to this stool, if they survived the ducking they were guilty of withchcraft which had terrible consequences, if they died they were innocent. It was a no-win situation for anyone accused of withcraft.

Boat ride on the River Stour through Canterbury

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Rye & A Great Little Railway

Mermaid Street, Rye
Local knowledge is great for travellers. We were told that we must go and check out Mermaid Street in the small town of Rye. This steep cobbled street is full of interesting old houses and little tiny walkways. We saw the Mermaid Pub which had a sign that said it was rebuilt in 1420, wonder when it was originally built? All the buildings in this street seemed to be of this vintage.

A Pacific Class 1/4 Size loco
While travelling from Hastings to Canterbury we came across the signs for the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway. This is a 15inch gauge railway that was established 81 years ago with the intention of replicating mainline rail as it was in the past. They have 11 steam locos and an undetermined number of diesel locos. The locos are 1/4 size so are in fact a little to big for the track but to look at them it is not noticeable. There is 16 miles of track and they get along at a reasonable clip. The train we travelled on was steam powered and the smell of coal smoke drifted into the cabins as we travelled along.

Trailer Trash
The train passed a number of "Caravan parks" which are really only large transportable trailers with all facilities plumbed and wired. This is interesting from our caravanning point of view but it is not our idea of a holiday but it seems to appeal to a number of the locals.

At the end of the train line was the halt of Dungeness. The station was just across from the nuclear power station. This is where the train turned around and headed back down the line to for its return journey.

Dungeness Nuclear Power Station

Friday, 19 September 2008

1066 and all that!

The Site of the 1066 Battle

1066 is the date that changed the fortune of England - we stopped at Hastings especially to see what we could see of this long ago day in History. King Edward had supposedly promised the English throne to William of Burgundy, but Harold Godwin decided that he had the greater claim. These events led to the Norman invasion and the death of England's last Saxon King.
William marched his troops many miles from the coast up the hill to Battle, and waited for Harold to return from fighting the Danes. The battle lasted all day and the course of history was changed. The Abbey was built with the alter placed over the spot where Harold died. After surviving and expanding for many centuries, this abbey, like so many others, fell during the Dissolution on the orders of Henry VIII. We were pleased to come to this historical place that we had heard so much about and see it for ourselves.

The Remains of Battle Abbey

In the afternoon we visited Bodian Castle, which looked every inch a castle with rounded turrets, arrow slits, the portculis complete with murder holes and surrounded by a moat. Not much of the interior is left but there was plenty to see and admire. Now in the care of the National Trust, it should last for many more generations.

Bodian Castle

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Hythe - Pier, Train & Ferry

Brockenhurst War Memorial
We had heard about this New Zealand Memorial in the New Forest village of Brockenhurst so felt we had to pay our respects. Brockenhurst provided hospital care for Kiwi soldiers in WW1
and many of the young soldiers died there from their wounds.

Hythe Ferry
We always fancy a little trip whenever we come across them, and this was a real delight, especially as we had no idea it existed. The Hythe Pier is 2100 feet long, and is serviced by an electric train that started on the pier in 1922. So after that vintage ride we boarded the Hythe Ferry for a trip over to Southampton. There has been a ferry service here for centuries, in fact the first written record was in 1575. Our ride was provided by one of the White Horse Ferries and took just 20 minutes to drop us at Southampton, with a much larger ferry passing us and leaving us behind in it's wake. We explored the old Southampton stone walls before our return trip back.

Hythe Pier Electric Train- The Worlds Oldest
The reason for our visit to Hythe was to catch up with jenny's quilting penfriend Rose and her husband Bill. Rose reminded us that we had been corresponding for 11 years now. It was lovely to catch up with them both again.

Bill, Rose & Jenny

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

On the Road Again

After a most frustrating morning the garage decided that our damaged rental could not be repaired in a timely fashion - seems that the suspension had been damaged too. Luckily a replacement rental car was sent - a much smaller 2 door Ford Fiesta. Fitting the bags in the tiny boot was a bit of a squeeze but it was all finally accomplished. We finally hit the road at mid-day and drove to the New Forest area.

We phone booked a room at the Travel Lodge Hotel, not at all posh and rather overpriced we thought. But the kind young lady on Reception offered Jenny the use of a washing machine for no cost at all. The bathroom looks a bit like a Chinese Laundry with damp washing festooned all around. "Happiness is clean laundry", Jenny has ofter uttered. Laundry, like rust, never sleeps.

Ever had a breakfast in a box? We have - and it is not to be recommended. This option was offered when we booked the room and silly us did not realize what we were getting. No wonder it seemed such good value. We got a bowl of cornflakes complete with a fold up spoon which was quite tasty, a chocolate covered muesli bar and a fruit smoothie, both tasted awful, and the makings for a cup of tea.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Oops Robin, what have you done?

Last evening, after a nice day out at Monkey World, we had a little problem. Robin is blaming sun strike, and he drove across a traffic island. Bang - bang!! There went the two right hand tyres. What to do now? Luckily he had the car hire phone number programmed in to the cell phone. To cut a long story short, we were eventually rescued from the side of the road, the car was town to a garage, and we were dropped off at the B&B.

Today, a nice fine and sunny Sunday, our host dropped us down at Weymouth Beach. There are donkeys on the beach, amusement arcades, candy floss and ice cream stalls, and Brits out for a nice day at the seaside with their kids, dogs, mothers-in-law.

How about this vintage changing shed? You can also hire deck chairs on the promenade.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Monkey business

Lulu in the Nursery

Over the last few years at home on Animal Planet we have been following the ups and downs of the inhabitants of Monkey World, at Dorset. We made sure that our UK trip took in a visit to this part of the country so that we could see the animals for ourselves. Monkey World was set up in 1987 by the Cronins to provide a permanent stable home for traumatised chips who were used in Spain as photo props. Other rescued primates have been added to the park over the years, and Monkey World is now also involved in an international breeding programme for endangered species. They do not breed the chimps, but sometimes the birth control fails and Mother Nature has her way and chimp babies make their appearance.

Baby Chimp

We were thrilled to see Sally, the motherly chimp who rules the nursery and guides the youngsters in chimpanzee ways. Lulu was there too, the one armed chimp who was rescued from Cyprus. We also saw some of the "ugly monkeys" stump tail macaques who had previously been used for asthma research. Over the years we had seen all of these animals on TV at home.
Golden Gibbon

In 2008 Monkey World took part in their largest rescue operation ever when 88 capuchins were rescued from a laboratory in Chile. These animals lived in solitary cages without any mental or physical stimulation. They are now playing happily together in an outdoor enclosure - what a wonderful change for the better for them.

The orangutan babies were at play, climbing effortlessly, hanging upside down with one hand, or foot, whatever they fancied, while a larger juvenile took possession of an orange pumpkin. We watched as he took a stick, bit off the leaves, these poked and prodded at the pumpkin skin till he had made a hole. He was getting a bit frustrated at the slow rate of progress so banged the pumpkin on his head. Did that work - not much. So back with the stick poking business - until the hole was big enough to get his fingers into. Quite a clever little fellow, we thought.

Orangutan with pumpkin (not Robin)

Robin wishes to thank all those readers who sent him birthday e-mail wishes, much appreciated while we are so far from home.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Happy Birthday Robin

Happy Birthday Robin!!! 61years young.

Jenny says that he can't have a pressent as he is already having an overseas holiday.

How about a pint of beer instead.

Avebury, Woodhenge and brewery horses.

Avebury Stone circle

Avebury is a magical stone circle and we wanted to visit there again. We drove along the road passed Silbury Hill and Kennett Long Barrow, special places in their own right, and into the small village of Avebury. The stones are much smaller and less uniform in size than those of the neighbouring Stonehenge, but the actual earthworks are much wider and dates to 2500BC. We walked around, admiring and touching the stones and generally felt the peaceful vibrations emanating from this most spiritual of places.

Wood Henge

Then we visited the Bronze Age remains of Woodhenge. All the wooden posts and structures are long gone of course, but 6 concentric rings of small posts show where the originals once stood. We must wonder the mystery and reasoning behind the building of these circles which culminated in the mighty structure of Stonehenge further down the road.

On a different note altogether, we came across the sight of two teams of two shire horses all dressed up in their livery at Wadsworth Brewery. Tom, Max, Prince and Royal were hitched up and raring to go. The handlers said that kegs of beer is still delivered to local pubs via these horses and carts. Robin thought that would be a much nicer job than driving a Toops truck all day!!
We drove down to Portesham, in Dorset where we will stay for rthe next few nights. Being Robin's birthday we went out for a special birthday dinner at the local pub, the King's Arms, which is situated across the road from where Hardy, of Trafalger fame, lived. Remember the famous line that Nelson is suppposed to have said as he lay dying - "Kiss me, Hardy"

Friday, 12 September 2008

Lacock Village & The American Museum

An interesting house in Lacock village

We were told that we simply must visit Lacock Village. This is where lots of period dramas have been filmed, including Pride and Prejudice, starring the hunky Colin Firth, one of jenny's favourite dramas. Lacock Village was gifted to the National Trust in 1944. The whole village is therefore tenanted and remains as it was centuries earlier. No doubt the National Trust has very strong views on what can or cannot be done. Robin chatted to one of the villagers who told him that cable TV is supplied via a big dish outside the village and cabled discretely into each home. The village is off the beaten track and as well as being owned for centuries by one family, that is what probably saved it from modernisation.

Lacock village
Then it was off to Bath and a visit to Sally Lunn's for lunch. Busy as ever, with tourists peering through the windows, we enjoyed our brioche buns and coffee. Surprise, we bumped in to two Kiwi couples there, it is the accent that always gives us away.

American Museum Bath
The real reason to coming to Bath was a trip to the American Museum. This museum tells the story of American history and has rooms decorated in varying styles according to time. The collection of quilts is exceptional so Jenny was in her element. Robin enjoyed the Titanic exhibition and Connachy's Bar.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Brunel of Bristol

SS Great Britain

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (like Thomas Telford of aqueduct fame) is an engineering hero in Robin's eyes. So of course we had to travel to Bristol to see two of his famous achievements. The SS Great Britain is being conserved in the Great Western Dockyard. A huge dehumidification plant circulates warm dried air all around the hull to protect the damaged metal from further corrosion. The Great Western Steam Ship Co financed the building of the SS Great Britain and Consulting Engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel persuaded the company to adopt and fund his innovative design ideas. The ship was launched in 1843 and was powered by both sail and steam using a propeller.

The ship was salvaged from the Falkland Islands and returned the 8000 miles 127 years later to the same dry dock where she was built. Resplendent in a sparkling paint job, she is fitted out as in one of the earlier roles, as a passenger ship taking emigrants out to Australia. While the first class passengers had a luxurious voyage, steerage class coped with 60 days or more of very cramped conditions. She is a grand old lady indeed and a very interesting floating museum.
Brunel's world famous Clifton Suspension Bridge is the symbol of Bristol but was not completed till 5 years after his death. We took the obligatory photos then walked across the bridge. Pedestrians cross for free but cars pay a toll of 50p. Our trip to Bristol gave us two items to cross off our sightseeing list.
Clifton suspension Bridge
We finished our day with that most British of meals - a curry and a pint! At 5 pounds each at the local pub it was a good deal.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Chedder Gorge

The Entrance to Gough's Cave

What is the village of Cheddar famous for? Cheddar cheese of course. But there is more than cheese of interest in this area. The surrounding limestone Cheddar Gorge has been home to the early cave dwelling man who lived here in caves over 30,000 years ago, and it was here where the bones of the famous Cheddar Man were found.

Limestone Formations
We collected our audio guides which told the story of Gough's cave, the largest and most beautiful in the gorge. Richard Gough was in his 60s when he began digging and blasting through the cave. He discovered two great chambers full of glorious flowing stalactites which look just like the old Pink and White Terraces of New Zealand. The complete skeleton of the world famous Cheddar Man was discovered in this cave in 1903 and carbon dating shows that the bones are 9000 years old.

Chedder Man & Limestone Formation
After we explored the caves and the adjacent museum we boarded the Open Top Bus for a tour of the gorge. The bad weather didn't put the guide off from sitting upstairs and she tried to get all the passengers to join her in the rain. Robin gave in to her while Jenny sat nice and dry downstairs. The towering cliffs of the gorge made a dramatic statement as the double decker bus lumbered along the narrow road.