Hampton Court Palace

by CameronM Sun, November 30 2003 16:01

Just a short train trip south of Wimbledon lies Hampton Court Palace, the former country palace of Henry VIII and later monarchs. Originally built in 1529 for Cardinal Wolsey the palace passed to King Henry VIII after Wolsey fell out of favour. While early parts of the palace date from the 1500's other sections were added by King William in the 1700's. William's "Kings Apartments" were designed by architect Christopher Wren, who coincidently lived only 5 minutes walk down the road.

Being added to and renovated has meant that while externally the palace looks reasonably consistent, the interior contains sections that are openly medieval and would have no doubt been an embarrassment to any self respecting monarch. The Tudor Kitchen is purported to be one of the best surviving from the period of Henry, however I cannot imagine the chef enjoying it's primitive setup some 200 years later.
 
Many of the older sections were completely gutted to make apartments for citizens who had performed notable service for king/queen and country, when the monarchs finally abandoned the palace, which means that although still an eye opening display of royal life in the 1500's, leaves with an incomplete picture.

The later additions are as you would expect far grander and well preserved than Henry's palace, with the entire new "King's Apartments" open to the public and containing much of the original furniture and artwork. Unfortunately some archaic traditions still hold, and you're not allowed to take photographs of any kind, no doubt so you'll have to buy the overpriced book at the gift shop. This means that the elegant interior will have to remain a visual mystery, although I can state that it was very nice if you like sparse rooms with heaps of tapestry.
 
The layout of the rooms was simple, with the public areas towards the entry and Willy's privy rooms flowing back from there. The servants could access these areas via passages leading to the kitchen and other back of house areas. In fact Willy even had a disguised door directly beside his bed in case he needed his servant during the night. One job description that would have been interesting to write is the "Stole Servant", who was charged with assisting the king while he answered the call of nature in the aptly named "Stool Room".

The life of a servant in Henry's day was even harder than this, with some of the kitchen hands, as young as 8, being accommodated in the rafters above the kitchen and sleeping on the bags of produce. It certainly would have been a hard and gruelling life, slaving away while being forced to listen to the king and his merry guests feasting away upstairs.

William's privy gardens have been restored to their former glory and have a certain symmetrical and ordered charm about them. The rest of the grounds were very extensive and including plenty of land for the king to enjoy his favourite pastime - hunting. It was during one such trip that the king fell from his horse and broke his collar bone, a minor injury that having been ignored, became infected and turned fatal. The moral of this story is...don't go hunting?

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UK

Barcelona, Spain

by CameronM Sun, November 09 2003 08:07

Today I ventured out on the Barcelona Metro to explore the city. Thankfully it is well signed and the easy to understand maps are everywhere, so it's fairly easy to find what you're looking for. Walking the streets away from the Gothic area where the hostel and many other tourist attractions are located, I found the city street very quiet. Most of the shops are closed on Sundays, and only the busy tourist areas attract the crowds.

First stop was La Sagrada Família, the unfinished cathedral built by Barcelona's famous designer Gaudi. Gaudi is responsible for numerous buildings, sculptures and other, shall we say "designs", around Barcelona, and this is certainly classic Gaudi (read: weird). The spires of the cathedral are decorated with, what appears to be bunches of fruit, complete with colour. The whole effect is as if each spire is an ice-cream sundae. Unfortunately, due to the scale of the building, and the ever-present beggars, it was impossible to get a good photo of the sundae (oops I mean cathedral), but you'll have to trust me.
 
Gaudi purists are up in arms that the government is finishing the cathedral, (as you can see by the cranes), while others are in favour. La Sagrada Família was left unfinished when Gaudi died after being hit by a tram in 1926. His last blueprints for the building were also destroyed during the Spanish Civil War in 1938, leaving an incomplete picture of his final design. The interior of the cathedral is still an empty void, although you can get a fair idea of the space and style he would have created.

In addition to the spires, the cathedral is decorated with the usual compliment of strange, mythological creatures, and even stranger sculptures, it's an eye-catching exterior, which certainly impresses the viewer with detail. If you look to the left of the picture just near the top, you can see some of the coloured fruit (it's red).


 
Leaving Barcelona behind, I boarded the bus to the airport and was soon winging my way to back to Stansted. I managed to clear customs and board a train to Liverpool Street half and hour earlier than I expected, and following my trip plan downloaded from the London Transport website, I continued to get completely stuffed. After waiting 20 minutes at the specified bus stop, I realised the bus no longer stopped there so I walked/ran about 1km to the correct (I hoped) bus stop. Being as it was late, the regular buses had ceased operating and a less regular Night Bus service was in effect. I didn't think this a problem, until I arrived at Waterloo station 5minutes after the last train had left.

After a few minutes, when I believe my brain was utilising all possible resources stuck in a cycle of blame, counter-blame and eventual denial - the result of which was extreme overload, I contemplated finding a night bus that would get me some where near Wimbledon. Having not even done the trip during the daylight, combined with the fact that I had never walked around this area before, it was going to be a formidable task. Luckily as I rounded the corner heading to the bus stop, a quasi-taxi driver approached and after wheeling and dealing I was on my way to Wimbledon. In fact the wheeling and dealing consisted of him telling me how much and me telling him I had very few pounds, as I had just returned from Spain, but what ever the case I was going home.

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Spain

Barcelona - Rupit, Spain

by CameronM Sat, November 08 2003 08:07

At 10am we found ourselves heading off with our American guide Tracey, whose fiancé has run excursions in the region for 3-years, although she has only been there for about a year. Our journey took us about an hour and a half, but within 20 minutes, we had left the busy city and suburbs and were cruising through the Spanish countryside. At every corner there was another postcard photo opportunity, which Liz, our fellow companion and interior designer remarked was very "pretty".

Before long we arrived at Rupit, which Tracey had told us was a popular destination for Spanish day-trippers, although frequented by few tourists. The village is set around a mountain - well more like a hill really - and the setting is beautiful, even if on the day we were there it was slightly overcast. After a brief stop at a local cafe, we toured the village, climbing ever upwards towards a lookout over the whole village. Some of the buildings we passed had construction dates back four or five-hundred years, while on a nearby hilltop stood a small chapel dated to around 1000 AD.

Leaving the village, we hiked through the wilderness to a nearby waterfall, where Tracey produced our packed lunch. We sat perched on a rock overlooking a valley where the autumn leaves ranged in colour from brown, yellow and green. It was a great spot, and the view made lunch very enjoyable - of course you might say it was "pretty".

All too soon we were back at the van and heading back to Barcelona, but we all agreed it was a very rewarding day and a change from visiting the big city (although I still had to do that too).

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Spain

Barcelona - Rupit, Spain

by CameronM Sat, November 08 2003 08:04

At 10am we found ourselves heading off with our American guide Tracey, whose fiancé has run excursions in the region for 3-years, although she has only been there for about a year. Our journey took us about an hour and a half, but within 20 minutes, we had left the busy city and suburbs and were cruising through the Spanish countryside. At every corner there was another postcard photo opportunity, which Liz, our fellow companion and interior designer remarked was very "pretty".

Before long we arrived at Rupit, which Tracey had told us was a popular destination for Spanish day-trippers, although frequented by few tourists. The village is set around a mountain - well more like a hill really - and the setting is beautiful, even if on the day we were there it was slightly overcast. After a brief stop at a local cafe, we toured the village, climbing ever upwards towards a lookout over the whole village. Some of the buildings we passed had construction dates back four or five-hundred years, while on a nearby hilltop stood a small chapel dated to around 1000AD.

Leaving the village, we hiked through the wilderness to a nearby waterfall, where Tracey produced our packed lunch. We sat perched on a rock overlooking a valley where the autumn leaves ranged in colour from brown, yellow and green. It was a great spot, and the view made lunch very enjoyable - of course you might say it was "pretty".

All too soon we were back at the van and heading back to Barcelona, but we all agreed it was a very rewarding day and a change from visiting the big city (although I still had to do that too).

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Spain

Barcelona, Spain

by CameronM Fri, November 07 2003 07:58

To celebrate my 30th birthday I planned a weekend trip to Barcelona, Spain!!!

The day started very early with a 4:30am train journey from Wimbledon to London Waterloo, 2 buses to Liverpool Street station and another train to Stansted airport, before even leaving the UK. The flight, my first on Ryanair, was eventless - a thing you hope for on a plane travelling at 650 miles an hour at 37000 feet. Unfortunately, travelling by budget airlines means they cut costs where they can and Ryanair does this by flying from some of the remoter airports. This is true for Stansted and the Girona airport, located about 1.5 hours from Barcelona.

After finally arriving at the Equity Point Gothic Hostel, I am surprised by the layout, which features individual pigeon holes, complete with a curtain and side table. Mine was off the floor and accessed by a ladder, it was cool to have your own space, where you could throw you junk around without feeling like people would nick your clothes.

The hostel, which I had booked before leaving London, cost €16.00 per night and although the booking was for a mixed-dorm, you certainly have more space and privacy than you usually expect.
 
I stowed my gear and headed out for a look around the streets of Barcelona, with the goal of finding something to eat. After a short walk, still not very well acquainted with my location, I found a bar diner offering a three-course meal, with house wine for just under €6. It sounded too good to be true, but as the owner spoke as much English as I spoke Spanish I had to go on faith and was pleasantly surprised. Although not fine dinning, it was filling and moderately enjoyable.

It was almost 4pm, yet many of the shops were still closed, the Spanish, as I would soon learn, don't really get going till 7 or 8pm. I had been told to check out La Rambla, a street famous for street-side markets and cafes, but even this was quiet at this time of the afternoon. Having nothing else to loose I headed back to the hostel, for a shower and to check who was around.

I discovered that most of the other backpackers were no where to been seen so I sat down in front of the TV, only to find that the Mummy Returns was dubbed in Spanish, a fact that doesn't really matter for an action film. I spoke to an Anja, an Australian on a weeks leave from her job as an engineer for an oil company in Algeria, and found out that most of the people head to a bar inanimately called the Travel Bar, where they dish out free food every night. We headed down and found out where most of the backpackers and a fair number of the international population were. I met a Finnish exchange student, who had eaten at the Travel Bar every night that week and who said she would continue to do so, as her finances were tight. The food turned out to be a large serve of pasta with a simple tomato sauce, but more than enough to fill the small gap slowly developing after my bargain priced lunch.

During the evening Anja mentioned that a local operator ran excursions to small villages outside of Barcelona, offering a chance to discover the real (or close to it) Cataluña. Cataluña (Catalunya) I discovered was more than the name of the region in which Barcelona was the capital, but also describes the historic language of the area, Catalan. The use of Catalan, which closely resembles Spanish, was heavily restricted but it has regained its place as the main language of the Catalan government. The idea of a hike in the wilderness won me over and together with another Aussie from the hostel, we signed up for the trip.

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Spain