A Travellerspoint blog

September 2013

London calling, yes, I was there, too!

sunny 20 °C
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“Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” - Samuel Johnson (No, not the Aussie actor, the English writer!)

Foodie moment

Finally....Dumplings!!!! First opportunity we shot off to Chinatown to help deal with our cravings for Asian food, and we found a dumpling house ordering as many dumplings as we could stuff in. Although more expensive than at home, they hit the spot and will keep us going until we hit Hong Kong and ultimately get back to Melbourne and our fave, North East China Family restaurant!

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We also dealt with our Vietnamese cravings whilst in Hoxton in London. Once again, great food but nothing compared to Melbourne (We love you T'relek restaurant!). Plus we were so hungry we polished the food off before we remembered to take a photo! Oops!

Spitalfields market is a foodie heaven. Cupcakes of every possible flavour, stuffed olives, Baklava and Gourmet wraps and Salads - all good! We had a delicious wrap filled with pulled pork, corn, beans and spicy mayonnaise. So delicious!

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Cultural moment

Visiting Hyde Park Speakers Corner was a cultural experience all of its own! Situated in the North- East corner of Hyde Park in London. Historically it was know as a place you could go to, stand on a box and talk publicly about any subject you had an opinion on. There is a popular belief that there is an immunity from the law when you speak at Speakers Corner but this is not true, the police do tend to be more tolerant of speakers but will step in if they receive a complaint or hear profanity, or the topic is illegal. On the day we went, the area was full of people with at least half a dozen 'speakers' standing on step ladders and folding chairs yelling into the crowd. The majority were speaking about religion, and lets face it they were half-cracked lunatics! It was funny to watch the crowd debating back, but after about 20 minutes of the insanity we had to escape! It would be awesome if it was actually used for topics where people's opinions could be changed and debated, not religion which tends to pretty set in stone for most people.

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Wow moment

The final part of Mark's Christmas present (oh yeah, stretched it out to September!) was a trip to London Dungeon. It was fantastic! Covering 1000yrs of London's murky history including Jack the Ripper and the infamous barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd. We covered the plague, torture chambers and the story of Guy Fawkes (including a preview of what would have happened if he had succeeded!).

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The British Museum is another free attraction in London, and has enough in it to well and truly fill a day! Covering Egyptian, Greek, African, Asian and European history there are over 8 million works to look at! My feet hurt remembering it!

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The British Science Museum is also a free museum, and although its Space section is a little behind the times (no mention of any of the new Mars landing stuff), it is also a great place to visit. Especially good for the kids is a huge hands on area where children can try any kind of experiment they could imagine! Other exhibits include the human body, Computers, Maths, Flight and the modern world.

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What we learnt today

England wouldn't be England without its beers. The two types available at every pub across the country are the Ales and the Lagers. A common misconception back home is that all beer should be served ice cold, and while I initially was one of those misinformed (thinking those poms are all crazy for drinking warm beer), I soon became a fan of the hand pumped room temperature ales. Lagers, like back home, are served through a cold tap because they are known as bottom fermented beers, where they must be fermented in cold temperatures and kept that way. Ales on the other hand are pumped straight from the keg. They are known as top fermented beers, much more common in the olden times because of the lack of refrigeration. They are less carbonated which helps the pints go down, and a lot more tasty. There are common branded ales that you can get at any pub and hundreds of local ales specific to areas (which we got to try at the beginning of our trip at the Colchester beer festival). Luckily pubs aren't in short supply in London and we got to try a couple or four while we were there. I'll still drink my lagers cold that's for sure, but ales are brewed at a warmer temperature and should be drunk that way.

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Posted by travellinglise 11:01 Archived in England Comments (2)

It's My Birthday and I'll Punt If I Want To!

sunny 22 °C
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"There's nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as messing about in boats." - Kenneth Grahame (Wind In The Willows)

Foodie moment

A couple of delicious gourmet burgers at a pub in Cambridge - Buffalo burger for Mark and Smoked eggplant Veggie burger for me. Inspired me to make my own veggie burgers when we got home and they weren't too bad at all!

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For Mark's birthday dinner we decided to try something a little different and we went to a canal side restaurant called Las Iguanas which served Mexican and Brazilian food. We started with a pitcher of Sangria, so good! We then had 'do it yourself' Guacamole with corn chips (interesting concept!). For mains we tried two Brazilian specialities; THE EXTRAORDINARY XINXIM - "Exotic, creamy, satisfying. Lime chicken in a crayfish & peanut sauce with spring onion, garlic & coriander rice & fine green beans. Toasted coconut farofa to sprinkle, sweet plantains for fun." and FEIJOADA DE PUERCO - "The proud national dish of Brazil. A deep, dark, richly delicious stew of slowly braised beef, smoked pork & garlic chorizo, pork shoulder, red pepper & black beans in red wine. With spring onion, garlic & coriander rice, seasonal greens, orange wedges & a sprinkle of coconut crumbs." I'm salivating just writing about it! If this is the food of Brazil then I feel a visit may be next on the cards!

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Cultural moment

As a treat for Mark's birthday we decided to do the traditional activity of Cambridge - punting on the Cam. With some cans of Pimm's in hand we rented a boat to try it ourselves. Lets just say its a lot harder then it looks, Mark did all the work and was aching in his shoulders for days after. Plus there is the balance aspect. We saw two people fall in during the hour we were on the river because their poles got stuck in the mud and they didn't let go of the poles before the boat moved off. Hilarious! As the leisurely passenger (yes, this was Mark's birthday treat not mine but he wanted to punt; ie, didn't trust me not to fall in!) it is a stunning trip, the back of the colleges and bridges over the river are amazing and every turn brings a new photo opportunity. Overall a unique but fun experience!

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Wow moment

Cambridge is one to the two most famous university towns in England, and you can see why. I'm sure the quality of the education is fantastic, but the grandeur and attractiveness of the colleges and town would also be a big draw card. After walking around the town and colleges, it becomes very apparent why students would be so excited to be accepted to study here.

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What we learnt today

Growing up in Australia we have a very different perspective when it comes to university. Most of us go to university close to home as they are all based in our capital cities, and therefore live with our parents whilst we study. In the UK people will choose a university in many different ways; what they want to specialise in, where they can get in to and sometimes how far they can get away from home! Cambridge is a university town and has 29 different colleges in it. Almost the entire population of the town during the university year are students, and all the housing is student housing. It sounds like such a fun way to be at universty, and makes us a little sad that we don't get to have that kind of experience in Australia. Having said that, I imagine study can sometimes be difficult with so many distractions around!

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Posted by travellinglise 10:26 Archived in England Tagged cambridge punting Comments (0)

Not The Nottingham We Expected

overcast 15 °C
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"Why exactly did I decide to come here?" - Mark

Foodie moment

The Caribbean festival was in town, so what do we do...? We get with the culture and eat Caribbean style food! It was hard to choose, as there were plenty of options available, but we settled on barbecued jerked chicken and homemade chicken dumpling. I can understand why Caribbean food is so popular here, very tasty!

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Cultural moment

As mentioned above, the Caribbean festival was in town, an event that happens every year and is hosted in the open gardens in Nottingham. There were people from all walks of life (and I mean ALL walks) enjoying the live reggae music, food, rides and alcohol. Upon entering the festival there was a line of security where we had to be patted down for who knows what (weapons?) and although it was a family event, the demographic of the crowd suggested otherwise. Plenty of police were on guard which left us wondering if it was the type of festival that they were needed often. But even so, we had a good time, getting the chance to try home cooked Caribbean food and listening to the Bob Marley style music (while getting stray whiffs of strange smelling smoke). We headed off home as it got dark, not sure if the weather was going to hold out, feeling more culturally aware or Nottingham for better of worse.

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Wow moment

The central city of Nottingham is quite large in area, easily taking us an hour or so to do a full circuit. There are a lot of old heritage buildings and you can tell the area has a lot of history to tell. There are also plenty of modern parts to the city, like trams, but they don't take away from the beauty of the old style at all. In the middle of it all is the town square, which while we were there had been set up as an artificial beach with tiki bar, rides, sand pit and pool with fountain. It was nice to see that the kids of the area (especially in the lower income demographic) could still enjoy the sunny weather and play by the beach, even though it was man made. Having said all that, the reason people come to Nottingham is because of the literary hero Robin Hood. It doesn't take long to realise that the town has nothing to do with the story - Sherwood forest is ages away and the only mention of Robin Hood is a small statue and some plaques where you can read some of the story. Dissapointing!

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What we learnt today

Everybody seems to be in a rush on the roads in England, and we noticed it especially driving around Nottingham. There are speed limits, as far as I could tell, 70 mph on the motorways, but not many people tend to pay attention. 80+ mph is more what the majority of motorist do. I only ever saw one police radar in our entire northern UK trip. There are hundreds of speed camera traps, but they are all clearly marked and easily avoided. Speeding isn't just limited to the motorways either, inner town roads with limits of 30 also get the rush treatment, and hard breaking into intersections seems to be the norm. I wonder what the brake pad and clutch wear out rate is like here compared to back home.

Posted by travellinglise 07:17 Archived in England Tagged nottingham Comments (0)

Heading Home to Hebden Bridge

sunny 16 °C
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"I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth." - From Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Another trip down memory lane for me today, it was off to where I grew up, Hebden Bridge. I lived here from aged 4 - 7 before I emigrated out to Australia. It was always a cute village nestled in a valley in the Yorkshire moors, but it is even more of tourist point now, as it has become a Mecca for luxury B&Bs and yuppy hippies. Still, I recognised lots as I walked around, managing to navigate us by memory to my old schools and the park and canal. On a lovely sunny day you remember how beautiful it was to live here, you can almost forget the unforgiving winds and snow of a Yorkshire winter (almost)! Plus it was lovely of them to name a road after us when we left :p

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Foodie moment

After a strenuous hike up the hill to the village of Heptonstall we felt we deserved a good old English pub lunch. The home made burger and cheese and onion pasty well and truly hit the spot (and the waistline!)

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Cultural moment

In the middle of the village of Hebden Bridge stands the 'White Swan' pub. My parents and aunt have fond memories of here, whether sitting in the sun in the beer garden, or having a quick pint before picking me up from school! As I left Hebden Bridge when I was 8, my memories of the White Swan are slightly different, but with its river front location directly opposite the bridge that the village is named for, it still factors high in my memories of living in Hebden Bridge. Being a sunny day Mark and I had to pop in for a drink in the beer garden, and whilst ordering our pints we met the landlady who had been serving there for 31 years. A tiny lady who could barely see over the bar, she started off by insulting us as we walked through the door, but once she found out I grew up in the town she wanted to know where. I explained the location of my old house as best I could by memory, and she started to say how that house had been really let down by its current occupants who put their washing out all over the front yard. I was pretty sure she hadn't followed my directions, and was talking about a different house, but later when we visited the house ourselves we found out she had been exactly right on the location, and the washing lines everywhere!! I guess after 30 years running a local pub you get to know your village very well!

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Wow moment

Hebden Bridge is a 500 year old town sloping down the side of the Pennine hills. It was originally a mill town creating wool and woollen goods, but soon became a magnet for a motley mixture of artists, writers, photographers, musicians, alternative practitioners, teachers and green and New Age activists. The Bronte sisters wrote their famous novels just a few miles away in Haworth, adding to the literary history of the area. This bohemian side to the town is still very much present today, and as you walk around the cafes and shops this is made obvious, perhaps the 'hipster' element is a little more upmarket (yuppy!) now though in comparison to the 70s and 80s. A canal with working locks runs through the middle of the town, with colourful barges travelling up and down, unfortunately the locks didn't open while we were there.

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Travelling straight uphill by foot from Hebden Bridge you can walk up to Heptonstall. This is the setting for Emily Bronte's famous novel 'Wuthering Heights', so you can imagine the dark, foggy, windy and rainy hills and plains, luckily for us it was a sunny calm day! The views down to Hebden Bridge are beautiful, and the tiny town itself has windy, cobbled streets. The main attraction in Heptonstall is the huge old ruined cathedral and surrounding graveyard.

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What we learnt today

The graveyard at the old church in Heptonstall is approximately 800 years old. Walking around reading the old stones is a fascinating look at history; identifying times of mass illness, the change from hand carved headstones and the stories behind some of the famous people buried there. It is said that there are over 10,000 bodies buried there. One indication of how crowded it is is seen by the re-use of gravestones. There are inscriptions on both sides of some of the stones with one set of inscriptions facing downwards. The most well known person buried there is the American poet Sylvia Plath, who famously suffered from depression and eventually committed suicide. She is buried here as she moved here with her husband and children later in in her life. There is also the grave of David Hartley, who was the leader of a very successful counterfeit gang called the 'Cragg Vale Coiners'. After driving the British economy into disarray, he was eventually caught and hung, before being buried in Heptonstall.

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In Heptonstall stands two churches, both in the same churchyard, one in ruins and the other one still very much in use. There are only a handful of Churches in England that can boast of having two churches built in the same grounds, and one of them is Westminster Abbey. The old cathedral was destroyed in a storm in 1847, but luckily wasn't demolished when the new church was built as its a great place to explore.

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

Doing as the Romans Do - Walking the Wall

overcast 18 °C
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"When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love." - Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor)

Foodie moment

We saw a sign for one pound curries at a pub on the way to our accommodation in Carlisle and they were really nice! You can't beat a one pound dinner!

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Cultural moment

The British love to go waking, whether its for a week long holiday making their way along the length of Hadrian's wall, or on a Sunday afternoon. It is a much more popular pass time here than back in Australia. Whilst 'tramping' in Scotland and England we also learnt one of the nicest things about the UK walking culture is that everyone says 'Hello' as they walk past. It can sound a little repetitive when you pass a large group, but it develops a lovely sense on community and makes you feel part of something, even if you're on your own.

Wow moment

On the long drive from Fort Augustus down to Northern England, we stopped briefly in Stirling to check out the castle. A pretty town set along a steep hill leads up to the Stirling castle sitting on the top of the hill. The nearby Old Town Cemetery gives amazing views over the town and the castle, a great photographic opportunity!

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Hadrian's wall was constructed by the Roman army, construction begin in 122 AD. It originally formed a border across the North of England stretching from one coast to the other, and was built to keep out those savage Northerners (otherwise known as the Scots!). Nowadays most of the wall has been demolished but there are still some parts that are intact, and these are the ones we visited. The countryside surrounding the walls is wild and barren, and we could see why the Roman guards on wall duty would have dealt with the difficulties of exposure, temperature and boredom! Hiking the walls is breathtaking, both because of the up hills and just the enormity of the history we were seeing.

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What we learnt today

Whilst at Hadrian's wall, we visited the Roman Army Museum, which ended up being one of the best museums we have visited on this trip. It covered the make up of the Roman army and the life of a Roman soldier on the front line of Emperor Hadrian’s formidable British frontier. There were many Roman artefacts, costumes, re-enacted stories from soldiers point of views and a great 3D movie that showed reconstructions of the Roman garrisons and fortresses along Hadrian's Wall.

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The Roman army was made up of many sections, beginning with the individual soldier of either Roman background or men taken captive from previous battles (known as Auxiliaries). These formed group of centuries, cohorts and legions which totalled 5,400 soldiers. The leaders of centuries are called Centurions and the leader of the entire legion is called a Legatus Legionis. It was this structure of rank that contributed to the Romans success.

The Auxiliaries are enemy soldiers that join the Roman army by capture. These soldiers are chosen by showing a particular expertise in battle such as the expert archers of eastern Europe. The Auxiliary armies are similar but separate to the group of the main Roman army and are usually sent to battles far away from their home country to prevent bias or favouritism of their homeland.

Many men joined the army because of its enticing rewards. The main being that after 25 years of service a soldier could retire, receive Roman citizenship (if not already), be given his own piece of land within the empire and benefits for himself and his future family. However the tough life and high risk of death while serving in the army prevented many men from ever lasting the full 25 years.

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Posted by travellinglise 08:59 Archived in England Tagged scenery hadrians_wall Comments (0)

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