Thursday, December 5, 2013

Taking the Waters in Bath - Rated MA15+

This edition has been rated MA15+ for mature audiences only. It contains Adult Language and a Sex Scene

   The hot springs of Bath have long drawn people to worship and take the waters. The locals were already worshipping the goddess Sulis at the springs when the Romans arrived, identified her with the goddess Minerva and named the place Aquae Sulis Minerva. Rich Georgians came for their health and to socialise. We went because Jill told me to...just kidding. That is, she did tell me to, but we really went because it was a good base from which to see Stonehenge and Avebury.
   We had booked a hostel only 2 blocks from the bus station. Except, when we got there, the bus station wasn't where it was supposed to be, due to being rebuilt, so we started our visit by being lost. We soon sorted ourselves out, and found ourselves at another funky, brightly coloured hostel. We trekked up 3 flights of stairs to dump our bags, then headed out to explore the town which is a rather odd mix of old and new - mobile phone shops in Georgian buildings. We later found out that the whole town is heritage rated so even new buildings have to be built to look like the old ones. It centres (or at least feels like it does) around the Abbey - the tallest building in town. We were lucky to find a continental market on for the long weekend, and grabbed crepes for lunch.
   Our second day consisted of more exploring, including taking the City Sightseeing bus (yes, another one, for those paying attention - you get a 10% discount if you show your ticket from the previous one) which took us past one of the crescents - you know those curved lines of houses you always see in pictures of Bath? There's also a bridge with shops on it, and 7 houses built to look like one, plus a hotel built by a guy who was annoyed not to be allowed to build over the Roman Baths, so set out to build something taller than the Abbey (he didn't quite make it). A separate loop of the tour took us up to the top of one of the hills to look down on the city, though we couldn't see much through the trees. Apparently it's better in Winter. Both tours also pointed out (though I didn't manage to see) Sham Castle, a fake castle built by a rich Georgian who wanted a view of a castle. We also managed to score the dorm to ourselves that night, a situation which continued until our last night.
   Day three brought our long awaited tour to Stonehenge and Avebury. It was an early start, but we made it to Stonehenge before it got busy. Both our guide books, and another guest at the hostel said it was disappointing, but I don't find it so. I do think at least part of the problem is that it's very easy to get distracted by your audio guide and forget to take in the atmosphere, and people are disappointed that you can't go right up to the stones. I still find it a really amazing place though, the air fairly vibrates with the power of it. I think Andrew was impressed too, though not with the people who kept wandering through his photos. From there we went to Avebury, which is another stone circle, built from the same kind of rocks, sarcen (strange) stones, but unshaped ones, with a diameter of about 1km, and a town built in the middle! This is quite cool because you can go right up to the stones and touch them, but also a bit sad because of the damage done to the circle over the years. Farmers pinched stones (or bits of them) for walls, and at one stage the church (built inside the circle) ordered the villagers to get rid of the circle. Fortunately, the villagers weren't all that keen (hey, those stones are big) and worked slowly, and only pushed the stones into pits they had dug at their bases). Much of the circle is restored, thanks to some rich guy with enough time, money and interest to find the stones and re-erect them. Our tour guide also had copper rods. He gave us a talk on how they can be used to divine ley lines, and showed us how they swung towards each other. I leapt at the chance to have a go, so I'm standing there, holding one in each hand, trying to decide whether or not I want it to work, when, heedless of my indecision, they swung together. I had another go, just to be sure, and sure enough, they did it again. It was very strange. We then had a bit of a look around, hugged and patted some of the stones, before heading to Lacock (pr. lay-cock) village, via a view of one of the white horses of Wiltshire (we saw a couple that day), for lunch. This is a cute little village, owned by the National Trust (such things happen over here) where scenes from Harry Potter, Jane Austen movies and other movies have been filmed. From there we went to Castle Combe, another village - the castle is long gone, described as the prettiest village in the UK, and where they filmed the original Dr Doolittle. We checked out the market cross, then went into the church, where I was a little freaked to find a memorial to a Phillip Garrett. We then wandered down the main street and back to the bus, which then took us back to Bath.
    The next day was taken up with finally visiting the Abbey and the Roman baths. The Abbey was actually rather disappointing, but the baths were amazing. It's incredible how much has remained from Roman times. There were stacks of statues and reliefs of Minerva and other deities. One of the funniest things was that part of an altar - showing roman deities - had been taken away and built into the corner of a church (who eventually returned it)
   The rest of our visit to Bath was spent pretty quietly. I dragged Andrew into the Jane Austen Museum. Bath are really proud of their connection to here, even though she hated the place (or at least living there), saying it was best viewed through heavy rain... But then, they seem to be proud of Queen Victoria hating them too (she opened a park when she was 11, her skirt blew up and the press reported that she had chubby ankles, so she never went there again). The museum was quite disappointing with the only interesting bit being a display of costumes from a new production of Persuasion.
   Our final night, we gained a dormful of room mates - 3 American female lacrosse players and an Aussie guy - and the hostel had a fancy dress party (though not that many people got dressed up - the theme was 'Pimps and 'Hos') I didn't go to the party (it was in the late night dungeon - underground) but Andrew had a couple of beers. All this was fine until I woke up in the middle of the night to the sounds of one of the lacrosse player and the guy having sex in the dorm "Oh yes, oh yes, oh god, oh god, f*ck me harder". It went on for hours. Sadly for them, I don't think they achieved much, but maybe it was sad for me too - if they'd climaxed, maybe they would have gone to sleep and I would have been able to too. Andrew managed to sleep through the whole thing.
   And it was on that note that we left Bath for Birmingham and Cadbury World.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Stalking Shakespeare

 So after our lightning quick visit to London, I dragged Andrew off to Stratford-Upon-Avon...
Shakespeare country! Actually, Shakespeare had nothing to do with it, it had more to do with accommodation... So after a relatively short bus ride (only 3 hours!) we arrived in Stratford, where the 'bus station' is just a piddly little bus stop behind the leisure centre and there were no cabs in sight. Knowing that it was 2 miles (over 3km) to the youth hostel, we had no intention of walking there, packs and all, but we thought we'd just walk a little way in search of a taxi... Well, there were none to be found, at least, none that weren't already occupied, so we ended up walking the whole way, lugging close to 50kg between us. It took over an hour, with regular stops and we were exhausted by the time we actually made it. So we checked in (why do they always make you fill out forms etc with your packs still on?) and headed upstairs to our room to dump our packs and relax. Our room this time was a twin room, fairly spacious thanks to bunk beds(!), with a desk and our own handbasin and mirror. We finally summoned up the energy to go downstairs to the restaurant for dinner.
   I'm quite a fan of Stratford YHA, despite the location. It's a gorgeous Georgian mansion, on a fair bit of land. It's got both a lounge and a TV room, a restaurant and a kitchen and a full cooked breakfast is included in the price. I noticed this time quite a few families travelling with kids, and it seems to me it would be a great way to show kids the world - it's cheaper than hotels, especially since you can cook your own meals, and they can meet all sorts of interesting people.
   So we started our first full day in Stratford with said breakfast and headed into town - on foot, believe it or not. Stratford trades on being Shakespeare's hometown, but it's quite a pretty little town in it's own right. We set about exploring the town, semi-seriously looking for an Internet cafe. On our travels, we stumbled across a sign for Shakespeare's grave, so we followed that down to the church he was buried in - right up in front of the altar. Andrew actually went willingly into the church, and I think was quite pleased that he did. William Shakespeare decided at some point in his life that he wanted to be buried in front of the altar of the church in his hometown, so he set about achieving that... He became a lay preacher, despite not being particularly devout, and he made a large donation to the church, which achieved his aim. Then, to make sure he stayed there, in an era in which people were dug up every 30 years or so to make room for more, he had his friends engrave the following on his gravestone:
Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare
Blessed be the man that spares these stones
And curst be he that moves my bones.
I gave Andrew a hard time about 'not letting me' see the Shakespeare Houses, but the truth is I wasn't interested. I saw them, or at least the three in town, last time I was in Stratford, and they're really not all that interesting. Besides which, Shakespeare himself only ever lived in one of the houses, with the other two town houses being occupied by his daughter and granddaughter after they married, and the out of town houses being where his wife lived before she married him, and where his mother might have lived before she married his father.
     Our search for an Internet cafe was in vain. We didn't find one, at least not until we asked at the tourist info centre, and then it was so expensive that we didn't use it anyway. The weather in Stratford was gorgeous, making the town seem that much nicer, and there was even a market on that weekend. Actually the town had a bit of a holiday feel the whole time we were there, which may have been to do with the weather or with the end of Summer holidays. 
    Midway through our visit we took a bus to Warwick Castle. It was a heck of a trip, but the castle was fantastic. Huge castle and grounds with stacks of displays and things to do. We watched the trebuchet (kind of like a catapult) being fired (if you stay for the evening one, they throw a fireball) and Andrew had a go at archery. We went into the haunted tower, climbed the parapets, watch a display on weaponry, and had waffles with ice cream for lunch (not healthy, I know, but oh so tasty)
    Our last day, we ordered a taxi to the bus station - it was ridiculously expensive, but sure beat walking again and potentially missing our coach. And finally we boarded a coach to Bath.

Monday, November 11, 2013

London Like Lightning

     Well, our return to London was lightning fast - we only spent two nights there. We only went back because we had to pick up our brand new shiny credit cards. We arrived fairly late at night after the long trip from Glasgow and had to catch the tube several stations to get to our hostel, which was in the funky, multi-cultural area of Bayswater. We were staying in a mixed dorm because it was ridiculously cheap, and we figured for two nights, it didn't matter. The hostel was quite funky with London themed murals spray painted onto the walls, a fantastic DVD collection (well, it doesn't compare to Andrew's but whose does?) and cheap internet.
           We decided to have some fun with our one day in London, so we went and collected our credit cards (credit cards! real credit cards! scary!) nice and early, then we went wandering, mostly looking for presents for the multitude of Andrew's relatives who have birthdays in September and the coming months. We found the wonderful shop Octopus (a lot of their products come from this mob there's supposed to be a virtual tour but I can't find it)
           On the way back to the hostel, we followed Andrew's whim to visit Portobello Road. It wasn't a weekend so the market wasn't really there, but there were lots of funky little shops, selling antiques for the most part, but all sorts of weird and wonderful things. There was one strange bloke who yelled at us for going in his shop even though the door was wide open and there was no indication that the shop was closed.
           From there we went back to the hostel and started wrapping gifts, only to have Andrew realise that he'd left our niece Jade's present at Boo's place last time we were in London, so we had to organise go round there to pick it up. Fortunately, there was no problem with that (though it was a bit of a hassle for us) and we finished the day with dinner at a little Italian restaurant where the food was far too salty but the atmosphere was fantastic.
          We checked out of the hostel the following morning, posted the presents and a few other things back to Andrew's place and hopped aboard a coach to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare Country!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Reasons for Roughing It

I decided it was time to resurrect this blog, and when I went searching for the next email to bring across, I found this. It's a PowerPoint presentation I created for my sister-in-law, who, before we left, asked questions like 'Who is going to carry your bags?' I'd forgotten all about it, but I really like it, so it seemed like a great start.

The Reasons For Roughing It.

We saw this pagoda in Jingshan Park
And a buddha in that pagoda
We climbed the Great Wall of China. I bet you didn’t realise it was that steep – I know I didn’t!
The view from the train – I never would have seen this otherwise
The train platform at the Chinese Border. We spent 2 hours here while they changed bogeys (wheels), but someone had a guitar which we sang along to, and some of the guys played soccer.
This is the Mongolian dining car – that’s all carved wood you can see…
This is our ensuite in Mongolia (note the leaking pipe – hot water at that) but….
We were given a tour of a monastery by this monk, and were allowed to ask him any questions…
And the monastery contained this huge buddha, among other things…
Then we went out into the countryside and stayed here…
Sure, this was our bathroom…
Our heating (though it was Summer so we didn’t need it)….
And the long drop toilet….
But there was a modern bathroom at the main camp, a 5 minute walk and this hill away…
And THIS was the view from the door of our ger (tent)! Where else could you get that?
Although this looks like I’m stuck, once I got through here, there was the most incredible view…. Getting back was fun though!
And where else in the world could I have met a nomad family and tried traditional Mongolian foods, including airag – fermented mares' milk (plus cheese, cream and bready stuff)?

Or watched traditional Mongolian wrestling and contortion?

Or dressed in traditional Mongolian clothes (it’s supposed to be pouched out over the belly – it makes a pocket!)?

Or gone riding over that beautiful countryside?

Like this…..

I saw sunrise over Lake Baikal in Russia – a lake so big it looks like the sea – from the window of the train

I met crazy Mongolian traders…
...who sold everything from curtains to clothes on Russian train platforms… $5 jeans anyone?

I assume this is a church, but it’s another of the amazing sights seen from the train!

St Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square 
Would you believe this is a shopping centre? It’s on the edge of Red Square
This is one of the many cathedrals in the Kremlin… and yes, that’s real gold…

And this is inside one of Moscow’s Metro stations! They’re all different ‘Palaces of the People’ and fantastically decorated.

But best of all, I made a bunch of new friends!

By taking a rougher journey, you see things other people never get to see, and you meet new people who may be friends for life. You get a truer experience of the country you are visiting, and memories to last a lifetime…

Friday, March 5, 2010

Grey Glasgow

we headed to Glasgow with very little idea of what we were going to do. I'd been there before, but I still can't remember what I did. We were basically going because it was the only place we'd been able to find cheap accommodation with a double bed and a kitchen (no point getting cheap accommodation if you have to eat out for every meal!) The bus ride was long and boring, and I spent most of it feeling more motion sick than I ever have in my life (well, except for that one flight back from Canberra) Just as well I don't throw up... It was pretty uneventful, except for Andrew trying to withdraw money from a cash machine (we'd already discussed it and I'd told him we didn't need anymore, but hey...) and it not giving him the money. He called the helpline listed on the machine and was told he'd need to report it to our bank who would sort it out...
So we finally arrived in Glasgow and hopped in a taxi. The driver seemed confused when we told him the address of where we were going so we showed him - the reason for the confusion was that we were staying in student accommodation. It was kind of cool actually. We got a room with a double bed and TV with a tiny little en suite, in a 'flat' of 6 who we shared a kitchen with. There were 3 flats per floor and 4 floors in each of 4 buildings. The kitchen was sadly lacking in, well... pretty much everything, so we had to pull out our collapsible bowls and cups and we discovered that our cups leaked making them rather useless. We set out that first afternoon/evening to find our way into town and to find a supermarket. It was a fair walk and on the way back, taking a different route, we found 2 supermarkets much closer to 'home'.
Having complained that the weather in London resembled Spring more than Summer, the weather in Glasgow was much closer to a Melbourne Winter. With no idea of what was worth seeing, we started by exploring the town, finding the bank (so Andrew could report our lost money) and internet access. Then we caught the City Sightseeing bus. You can see these in a lot of cities in Europe (actually I think there's one in Melbourne these days) They're big red double decker buses painted with bright childish pictures that take you around the city to all the major sights with a commentary on the sights and the city along the way. They have regular stops where you can hop off and on again and tickets are valid for 2 days (well theoretically 24 hours). From this, Andrew decided that he wanted to see the cemetery, and I wanted to see St Mungo's Museum of Religious Life and Art (I wasn't at all interested until they mentioned that it covers all religions). We just took the bus all the way around the first time though and decided to visit these the following day. Our first tour had a pre-recorded commentary, which is good if you want it in a language other than English (8 languages offered) but because we were sitting on the exposed to level and because my ears are the wrong shape for those itty bitty headphones, my headphones kept falling out and I missed half of it. Also, the wind up there was freezing, so a nice warm lunch was sought afterwards. This would be how we discovered the joys of chips with cheese and gravy. It sounds scary (and looked rather scary too, due to the orange hue of the red Leicester cheese) but it's oh so good. This was our lunch more often than not in Glasgow.
We hopped on the bus the following day to find we had a live commentary, but we hopped off only a few stops later to visit the aforementioned sights. The religious museum was really cool and did at least touch on a LOT of different religions, though it focused on Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism. There was a range of art from various religions, Information about the lives of people following the main 6 religions, rites of passage from many religions... I think I drove Andrew crazy by wanting to read all the plaques... The cemetery was pretty cool too, with some really elaborate headstones, and a great view of the city.
We hopped back on the bus to find we had another live guide, but this one was hysterically funny. She reminded me of a friend of mine and just had a wicked sense of humour. She told us about Glasgow's new bridge over the Clyde (which is named the Clyde Arch) being known locally as Squinty Bridge because it goes across on an angle and the conference centre (which looks a bit like a squished Sydney Opera House) being known as the Armadillo... We laughed all the way through. She also told us that tourism is new to Glasgow - 20 years ago a tourist in Glasgow had gotten lost on the way to Edinburgh, and that they like tourists because they love to talk and tourists are 'fresh meat'
And that was really about all we did with our week in Glasgow. They're big on shopping and there's a few museums, but not much else. Plus the weather got rainy about mid-week - one of the days we were walking into town and a bus drove through a puddle and I got drenched across my bum and down my right leg to the knee. NOT a good start to the day... We had a really pleasant quiet week, caught up on emails and started planning where else we want to go, and finally headed out on a bus back to London