A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013

Don't lose your head, it's just the Tower of London!

sunny 19 °C

"Who comes there?", "The keys.", "Whose keys?", "Queen Elizabeth's keys.", "Pass Queen Elizabeth's Keys. All's well.", "God preserve Queen Elizabeth.", "Amen!" - The ceremony of the keys conducted each night at 10pm at the Tower of London

Cultural moment

The English were a brutal group. Not only were they vicious in battle and war but they were also incredibly thorough and brutal when they felt they had been wronged. The public and private executions at the tower were an example of this - often done with no trial, no evidence and sometimes no guilt! After being beheaded the heads were then displayed on spikes on the Bridge to discourage any other wrong doing!! Some unlucky prisoners (such as William Wallace) were hung, drawn and quartered for their crimes against the throne - and the removing of the heart was done while the prisoner was still alive!

Perhaps the best example of the British thirst for revenge is the story of Thomas Cromwell - he overthrew King Charles I (and executed him) to take charge of the country. When Cromwell died he was buried in Westminster Abbey but when Charles II was brought back to the throne he had Cromwell dug up and then hung, drawn and quartered for his Treason against his father.

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Wow moment

The Tower of London has had many uses; a fortress, a zoo, the royal mint, a royal residence but most interestingly a prison. Only the most important people were held (and sometimes executed) at a private execution at the Tower. These included Henry VIII's second and fifth wives, Queen Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. In fact poor falsely accused Anne Boleyn had both her coronation and execution at the Tower of London! The prisoners were always brought in from the river through 'Traitors Gate'.

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The tower is also home to the ravens. Legend has it that failing to keep ravens at the Tower of London will mean the great White Tower will crumble and a terrible disaster shall befall England. The legend says there needs to be 6 ravens so they keep 8 at the tower just in case, they have also clipped the wings of the raven - just to be safe!

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Although London bridge is the more well known bridge, it is actually Tower Bridge that is the most spectacular. The brightly coloured bridge mean it can be spotted from many parts of London, and an elevator ride to the top gives you views down the river in both directions.

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What we learnt today

The London Bridge experience is terrifying!! I'm still not really sure what the historical or educational benefits of this tourist attraction were. There were small snippets of information on London gory history, but with only very tenuous links to the London bridge! Part 2 of the 'experience' was just room after room of everyone's worst nightmares - blood streaked walls, zombies grabbing at you, chainsaw massacres, squeezing through small spaces, people jumping out at you and hissing and screaming, heads dangling from the ceiling and a scary circus. Needless to say, it wasn't one of the most pleasurable experiences I've ever had, but Mark seemed to enjoy it! (No photos inside allowed)

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Posted by travellinglise 09:38 Archived in England Tagged london tower_of_london tower_bridge Comments (0)

'Meet the Fosters' in London

overcast 16 °C

Please Mind the Gap!

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Foodie moment

We felt like a quiet night in so hit up the local Tescos for some food. In England, there is a massive range of ready made meals in the supermarkets which are really well priced. Tonight's meal was an example of that, bags of ready made Indian food - each bag containing a container of rice, naan and 2 curries - 3 bags for the price of 2 which came to only 12 pounds! Plus we only got through half of it!

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Cultural moment

The underground subway system, 'The Tube', may be one of London's most iconic features, but the people that use it daily see it as simply a way to get from point A to point B in the fastest way possible. This means storm walking along platforms and escalators, pushing people out of the way and cutting in front of ticket gates and elevators. Don't even think about standing still on an escalator on the left hand side! As much as you try to stay out of peoples way, you may still find yourself accidentally blocking people from the way they want to go, potentially delaying them a second or two, oh golly gosh oh my!

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Wow moment

The National History Museum is an amazing, informative FREE museum housed in one of the most architectural beautiful buildings I have seen, it almost distracts you from the exhibitions. It has a fantastic display of dinosaurs, including a life size moving T-rex. There is also a room full of models of some of the largest mammals in the world, including a massive Blue whale (something i still remember from when I visited when I was 7!)

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What we learnt today

The location of the UEFA Champions League Final of the soccer is pre-decided, long before the teams have been determined. This means that this year (today) it was played in London even though it was 2 German teams competing for the title!! Great for London tourism, but I wouldn't have been so pumped to travel across Europe to see my team play another team from my country!!

Posted by travellinglise 08:17 Archived in England Tagged london museum underground natural_history_museum Comments (0)

Chiling in Colchester

rain 12 °C

"No Man Needs a Vacation so Much as the Man Who Has Just Had One" - Elbert Hubbard

Foodie moment

Mark's first pub meal in England at Wetherspoons Playhouse. As usual he couldn't resist a burger - while i dug into my English favourite - Scampi and Chips (and helped myself to handfuls of mint and HP sauce packets!!)

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Delicious meal from Barbara - Lime and Parsley prawns, Fried Chorizo and Spiced Salmon (Sorry Barbara, couldn't remember the proper names

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Unfortunately the cheese we bought Barbara from France was a non-foody moment as it was unbelievably stinky and strong and unfortunately inedible!!

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Cultural moment

People in England still do a lot of their shopping on the 'High street' - small shops catering for all your different needs (chemist, greengrocer, clothing, bank, newsagent). There are very, very few 'shopping centres' as we have in Australia, in fact we have only seen one, just outside London (Westfield Stratford) which seems to be a tourist attraction. There is a decline starting in the use of high street shops though so perhaps these small shops are starting to lose out to the big commercial chains.

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Wow moment

Cold weather, tiredness and the impulse to just stop after being 'go go go' in France meant we spent a lot of time relaxing and not much time out of the house so not many touristy moments.

We went to Whetherspoons pub, which is part of a chain, but this one was built in an old playhouse. It was quite cool, with some of the seating up on the 'stage'. When you looked back from the stage the upper dress circle was still there and they had set up an 'audience' to watch you eat!!

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What we learnt today

Spring in Europe means rain, rain, rain (Not that we haven't already learnt that a few times this trip!!)

Posted by travellinglise 06:29 Archived in England Comments (0)

A sailors life for me - Honfleur

overcast 12 °C

La première étape de notre voyage - c'est tout! (Stage one of our trip - done!)

Foodie moment

Huitres (Oysters) are a favourite of mine (Mark hates them), so i was desperate to have some whilst on the coast of France. The cheapest way to get them was from a waterside vendor, but as i was met with a snort when i asked if the fisherman spoke English, it was a bit more challenging! Needless to say, I managed to order 6 fresh oysters and convince the man to shuck them for me, provide a container and one of the lemons he used in his display all for 6 Euro! Not sure how happy he was, but I was very pleased with myself!

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Last night in France we splashed out on a 3 course set menu. We started with a smoked salmon roulard, then Mark had confit Canard (duck) with potatoes and I had Bouillabaisse Normandie (Fish tagine). Desert was chocolate mousse and cheese. Amazing food, and Mark is sold on duck forever!!!

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Cultural moment

Something we have found throughout our travels is how good the French (particularly those who work in tourist areas) speak English. This is particularly true the further north west (closer to the UK) you travel. Although sometimes they are not forthright in letting you know how well they speak, once they start, their language skills are not simple essentials, they can talk at a reasonably complex level. I'm not sure if this is because they have contact with so many English speakers, or due to tv and movies, or the quality of French schools but it certainly puts our language skills in Australia to shame!!

Wow moment

What a cute little fishing village Honfleur is! I imagine how nice it would be in the sunshine, with the boats, parks, beach and waterside cafes. Its was still nice even in the rain with the cobbled streets, colourful bunting strung across the streets and great food!

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What we learnt today

Time moves differently in Europe - particularly in the north. The sun comes up at 6am and will not go down until well after 9.30pm. This leads to very long days! This is great when you sit down at 5 in the evening and know you can enjoy sitting in the sun for another 4 hours, but not so great when its cold and wet and the day seems to go forever, so you have an early night but its still light outside!! Mark said he felt like a kid who was sent to bed early and could still hear the children playing outside, like he's missing out on something!!

Posted by travellinglise 08:49 Archived in France Tagged honfleur oysters Comments (0)

Wonder of the West - Mont Saint Michel

overcast 8 °C

"Build here and build high" - Archangel Michael

Foodie moment

Tonight we had a meal of Normandy specialities; apples, cream and butter. Mark tried some locally made Apple Cider, it was not like ciders we buy back in Australia, more like a beer, but delicious! For our meal, Mark had Steak with crispy roast potatoes and garlic butter sauce, and I had 'Moules à la Normande', which was mussels with cream, apple cider, mushrooms, butter and small chunks of apple and onion. An AMAZING meal!

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Cultural moment

Unbeknownst to us, the 19th and 20th of May are Whit Sunday and Monday in France. This is a religious public holiday. We found out about this holiday when we 'attempted' to drop in at the walled city of St Malo on Monday, on our way to Mont Saint Michael. The volume of people visiting the walled city (and probably the church within) was unbelievable, thousands!! People were parking everywhere, on median strips and for kilometres down the streets. Not surprisingly we gave up on the visit and escaped off to the camp-site! Lesson learnt! Do not try to go to tourist attractions on public holidays!

Wow moment

We braved the elements to head out to one of France's most visually stunning tourist attractions, Mont Saint Michel. The key tourist attraction here is the Abbey. It was built by Aubert, Bishop of Avranches when he saw a vision of Archangel Michel (the head of heavenly militia) who told him to 'build here, and build high'. It was a beautiful abbey, particularly the abbey church and cloisters. The abbey church was made even more spectacular by the impromptu performance by a vacationing choir group! The architecture of the rest of the abbey was amazing with a focus on flowing lines and symmetry.

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What we learnt today

Mont Saint Michel is set on an island, that is only an island at high tide. The tidal waters around St Michel recede over 18 kilometres at low tide, revealing the mud flats that pilgrims for centuries have walked across bare feet. You can access the island via the causeway, which floods at high tide, or by the mud flats at low tide, which can be dangerous as the tide comes in. The tides can reach a height difference of 14 meters and have been described by Victor Hugo as "à la vitesse d'un cheval au galop" or "as swiftly as a galloping horse". A new bridge is in development that will provide all day access and makes use of a dam, that with the removal of the old causeway will be beneficial for the environment and return St Michel to being a proper island.

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Posted by travellinglise 07:38 Archived in France Tagged beaches church abbey mont_saint_michel Comments (1)

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