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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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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Marmaris – Rhodes – London

by CameronM Wed, October 08 2003 07:54

We spent the morning wandering the streets and waterfront of Marmaris before heading to the harbour for the one-hour ferry crossing back to Rhodes. As we had to fill in the rest of the day and a large potion of the night until our flight out at 1am, we wandered the familiar streets of the Old Town.

After dinner, we boarded a bus headed to the airport. As fate would have it, there was a taxi strike, so the local bus was the only viable alternative. This worked out well anyway, as it was significantly cheaper and took the scenic route, which helped kill some time. Sadly, we still arrived at the airport four-hours early. We had planned our expenditure almost perfectly, I only had €4 left and since we where heading back to the UK I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to change it back to £’s.

I had no time to recover from my travels, as I had organised to start work at Manhattan Toy the day I got back. Suffice to say that after travelling all night I was a little tired for my first day’s induction.

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Greece | Turkey | UK

Job secured it's time for Turkey

by CameronM Tue, September 23 2003 05:18

Thankfully the return bus trip is on time and without delay, so we are soon back in London and ready to plan out trip to Turkey.

Planning was brushed aside when I received a message from an employment agency about an interview that afternoon. As we were leaving for Greece in the morning, Tan and I had left the bulk of our luggage with a friend of his. This included all of my good ‘work’ clothes. I had to race down to Kensington High Street and ducked into the old faithful Marks and Spencer and buy some new clothes. I say old-faithful because, although I had never shopped there, it seems like I have since the countless British TV shows I watched growing up as a child frequently mention chain of stores.

After a mad dash back to the hostel and a quick shave and shower I ran to the tube and headed to Wimbledon Park station. I actually arrived at least 20 minutes late, but it did not seem to phase the panel, Denise and Karen. I guess I made the right impression and they offered me the job of Credit Controller for Manhattan Toy Europe.

With the interview over and a job secured for when I returned from Turkey, I was free to relax and enjoy the next 2 weeks travelling.

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Meeting up with Tan in London

by CameronM Fri, September 19 2003 07:22

Tan, the fellow Australian I had meet in the kitchen of a hostel in Cardiff the previous weekend, arrived in London. We headed out for a bite to eat in Earls Court before walking into Victoria bus station to check out prices to Salisbury.

Tan likes the buses because they are cheap, although I prefer trains, as there is less chance of them deviating from their course and it is usually easier to know when to get off. We book seats to Salisbury for the following day and head back (via the tube this time) to Earls Court.

I had been staying in hotels since arriving in London while trying to sort out a job and find somewhere to live, but the cost of accommodation, combined with the constant silence from ineffective recruitment firms left me feeling a tad stressed.

It wouldn't be overstating the case to say that my love for London was quickly dissipating. A weekend trip to Stonehenge would be a welcome release to trawling the Internet and applying for jobs.

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The London Museum

by CameronM Thu, September 11 2003 07:48

After the disappointment of the British Museum, I thought I would attempt to redeem my 'cultural' ego by heading to the London Museum. I hoped here to find out a little bit more information about London history, and I wasn't to be disappointed.

The museum is located near the Barbican, which is an odd collection of commercial and government buildings, connected by elevated walkways. The whole effect is somewhat un-London, and feels very different from Leicester Square or Covent Gardens. It's also a fair walk but well signed so you at least know you're heading in the right direction.

The exhibits covered everything from the River Thames pre-history (Oh hold me back), to Roman settlement and on to the middle ages and more recent times. Apart from a giant leap between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons (a period of about 1000 years - oops where did that go), the museum has interesting displays that help paint a picture of how London developed and the reasons behind some of the many place names still in use.

After leaving the London Museum, I headed towards St Paul’s cathedral only to find it covered by scaffolding and tarps. Oh well, no photos for the diary there. It was only an accident that I saw the sign as I headed to the tube and decided to take a look, so I guess that's OK.


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The British Museum

by CameronM Wed, September 10 2003 07:33

Sick of job searching and excited by what classmates had raved about as the next best thing to Cairo or Rome, I headed to the British Museum. After shelling out 2 quid for a colour version of a map I later found out was available in black & white for free, I walked from the dark entry into a sea of light, with clean modern lines and a brightness that really takes you breath away.

Further investigation revealed that the recent addition of the opaque roof had opened up an area previously restricted from public use and made an awesome space where the modern facilities such as toilets, cafe shops and the like could be catered for, while enhancing the old circular reading room building. Inside the domed reading room were countless books where scholars and revolutionaries alike had researched plotted and read.

the domed reading of the British Museam where countless revolutionaries alike had researched plotted and read

The recent opaque roof had unlocked more public space

After enjoying the Great Court I headed for the Greek and Roman exhibits where I quickly discovered I preferred architecture and ruins more than isolated artefacts totally devoid of context. After forcing myself to view the contents of several of the enclosed glass cases and read the accompanying artefact notes, I found myself quickly moving through the next rooms looking for something 'really interesting'. Perhaps unlike my learned classmates (University of Queensland - Ancient History), these lonely artefacts simply didn't hold any meaning to me. Perhaps I should have been taking a greater interest in those 'Coins and Papyrus' classes. I couldn't put my finger on it, but something just didn't work for me. Maybe I'm used to the multi-media Discovery Channel documentaries that tie the artefacts in with the location and the archaelogical digs.

I soon found myself on a rapid journey around the world, passing by the Ancient Near East and straight onto Egypt and some 'gooey mummies'. Several of the poor buggers had been unearthed and were now on display for all to see. I don't think this is what the Egyptians had in mind when they prepared people for the after-life. I for one would have avoided being so well preserved if it meant every person on the planet could come and stare at my shrivelled and contorted features. Even so I still thought it OK to take a photo (or 2) - you know "do as I say not as I do".

gooey mummies for all to see

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Searching for a job in London

by CameronM Tue, September 09 2003 07:31

Oh the joy of a job-seekers day. I hit the streets early (well as early as you can when things don't get moving till 10am) after doing the laundry. First stop the local internet cafe to check for emails and search the job sites for any new postings. A few telephone calls later, I was discovering that, just as in Australia, the contracting agencies are extremely poor administrators, even though many require these skills from their candidates. Two agents admitted that the jobs they had advertised had 'just this morning' been put on hold. Sounds a little strange really.

There's not much else to do when you've scoured all the sites and applied for every job you can, so I headed to Hyde Park to read the paper and have a bite to eat.

Later in the afternoon I returned to the internet cafe to check for today's postings and decided to apply for absolutely anything that looked OK. After about an hour, and 10 applications later, I headed to the shops and bought that old favourite SPAM, no not the junk email but the tinned ham. I couldn't face another night of tinned spaghetti so I added the fried up SPAM to make quite a nice meal.

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Greenwich isn't that mean after all

by CameronM Sun, September 07 2003 06:19

The day started as per usual with the 4am body clock alarm. As per usual there was stuff-all to do at 4am, so I played on the computer and gathered my research from yesterdays travels. Still no clear idea of where I'd like to stay, there were several places that seemed OK but whether the prices and availability would agree was another matter.

After breakfast time finally arrive (you'd never believe how long it seems between 4am and 7:30am when you're hungry), I packed my bag and headed out to grab the Sunday edition of Loot hoping to clarify some of my questions. As a reflex action I checked my mobile phone and was surprised to see 2 missed calls registered. I had only been for a jog and breakfast, how could I have missed any calls? It was a message from my sister Tracy saying that they had information about accommodation in London.

Since I had spent most of yesterday scouring London and still couldn't make head nor tails of where to stay, this came as quite a surprise. The accommodation scoop came from Greenwich so since nothing was yet open in Bayswater, I decided to head there and take a look around.

I headed to Tower Hill (haven't I been here before) on the Tube and boarded the Docklands Light Rail (DLR) to Greenwich. After about 15 minutes I arrived in a quaint English village - What the? - was that really only 15 minutes, where's the asian/african/mid-east shops/people? It's so English, I didn't know if this can be true or if I've fallen asleep and been transported to an alternate reality.

Just a short stroll from the DLR station (about 5 minutes) through the town centre is Greenwich Pier, complete with an old sailing ship the Cutty Sark. The area around the pier, as with most of Greenwich is extremely well maintained and appears to be a popular stop for groups of tourists riding bicycles.

The Cutty Sark Greenwich

I returned to the city via the National Railway, with the station situated a little bit closer than the DLR. The trip to Charing Cross took a little over 15 minutes, but I'd have to say the scenery was truly miss-able. The railway seemed to pass some of the dodgiest areas in London, with more than its fair share of crumbling buildings and low-budget apartment buildings. Once at Charing Cross station it was a short walk to the Embankment tube station where I could rejoin the Circle line back to Bayswater.

After a disappointing Sunday roast at the local pub, I reboarded the Tube and headed to Victoria station with the intention of doing a quick walking tour of the inner-city sites. After a few minutes of confused map reading, during which time I fear I may have further confused two guys who had less of a grasp of their whereabouts, and English, than I did, I headed to Buckingham Palace.

I had timed my arrival well, arriving late on a Sunday afternoon the crowd was smaller than I would otherwise anticipate and the roads around the front of the palace and the Queen Victoria Memorial are closed to traffic.

Buckingham Palace

Following The Mall I headed past the Duke of York Memorial and onto Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson's Column, what is the deal with all these guys standing on columns. This must have been the inspiration behind David Blains first stunt where he stood for 36 hours on a column in New York, before jumping onto a pile of cardboard boxes.

FREDERICK DUKE OF YORK 1763 - 1827 Second Son of George III Commander-in-Chief of the British Army 1795-1809 and 1811-1827

Next stop was Leicester Square, which was alive with activity as people enjoyed the last remaining hours of the weekend, sitting outside the numerous restaurants, cafes and pubs. The Square and surrounding pedestrian malls seemed somewhat smaller than I remembered. That may have been because although there was still plenty of people today, it was nothing like the crush of humanity I expected. It's amazing how little things like being pressed against hundreds of other bodies can slow down your progress and make time stand still.

It seemed that just as I was soaking up the atmosphere and contemplating buying a slice of pizza I was unrepentantly facing Charing Cross Road and leaving the square behind. I was so disturbed by this that I did a quick trip round the block just to try and recapture that sense of awe, but alas I had seen the outside world and any hope of return was dashed, so I continued wandering towards Covent Garden.

Covent Garden too was moderately busy with people enjoying a vast selection of street performances while they ate and drank at some of the many food vendors. As I strolled through the covered shopping area, which during trading hours would no doubt be a place to hide your credit card, I was attracted to a crowd of people intently looking down into a lower courtyard.

As I approached I could hear what sounded like opera music, a suspicion confirmed as I took my place along the balustrade. A lady was sitting on a bar stool performing a scene from an opera (don't ask me which one) accompanied by music from a stereo. A few minutes later the ladies partner, who had been reclining against the wall stepped forward to conclude the scene with a string duet. I was amazed, I mean this was good. I know we've all heard those buskers in the mall, some are OK while others must surely be doing it as a dare, but these guys were great. As they finished the entire crowd applauded and many ventured downstairs to contribute to increasing pile of coins.

I was still rapt as I pulled myself away and left Covent Garden. My plan was to head towards one of the stops on the Central line so I could return to Queensway. After a slight detour (which way is up on this map?) I was on my way towards Holborn and soon discovered that the distances on the London Underground map are not to scale. Holborn was at least 10 minutes walk away, while on the map it appeared the same distance as Leicester Square and Covent Garden, which had taken only a few minutes.

The area near Holborn was a far more business orientated area and many of the old buildings had been fitted out to accommodate the corporate offices. The overall effect was quite good and the area, although currently empty had a clean and modern feel about it. Soon enough I reached Holborn and boarded the tube to Queensway where I rewarded myself with a tin of minestrone soup (yummy!).

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House Hunting in London by Tube

by CameronM Sat, September 06 2003 05:24

My day started early - damn this silly time-zone business - so I headed off before breakfast to try and find a copy of Loot, which I'd read was a good place to get an idea of prices of rooms/flats in London. Unfortunately everyone, including the newsagents, seems to hate early mornings, so I walked through Bayswater onto Hyde Park and then down to High Street Kensington, where I had also intended to check out a health club. Although advertised opening hours from 6am, by 7:10am the health club wasn't open so I wandered back to Bayswater and finally found a newsagent open and bought the long sought after Loot.

Over breakfast I checked the prices for various locations around London, (this was after CPR was administered when I saw the prices of some posher suburbs). I made a list and checked the Tube map to plan my days excursion to each of the cheapest places. The idea was to get a feel for where you'd live if you had bugger all money to spend but still didn't want to live in Scotland and commute. Luckily the Central tube line runs from nearby Queensway and out towards Acton, so that was the first stop. Bad move, it sucked, I mean East Acton was a dive in all senses of the word (and I was there in broad daylight too), North Acton was an industrial/commercial centre, and Acton town isn't on that Tube line, so that was a waste of time.

Back on the Tube, I headed towards Shepherd's Bush (also on the Central line), which was a step up from Acton, at least you didn't feel like running back to the Tube. I took a short walk around the Shepherd's Bush Common. which is a pie shaped park right in the middle of Shepherd's Bush. I don't think Londoners have heard of sprinklers, the grass here, as in Hyde Park, is more dead than alive, with patches of bare earth (I swear it's worse than my yard on a bad day).

After Shepherd's Bush I journeyed basically right across London to Bethnal Green, which had a huge street market, the first of several I would stumble across. After a wander, a banana and a coffee I headed back to the Tube only to be victim to one of the infamous Tube breakdowns, which meant that the Tube would be delayed upto 20 minutes. Having an urge to keep going (before I fell asleep on my feet) I headed down the road to nearby Whitechapel station. As I rounded the corner into Whitechapel Road, I did a quick double-take, as I saw a scene that could only be described as purely middle-eastern. The local street market, complete with Islamic street-preachers, was in full swing and I was surrounded by shrouded women doing their weekly shop. This sight was so intoxicating that I must have walked straight past the entrance to the Tube and didn't realise until about 500 meters further down the road. Since I'd gone that far I decided to head to the next stations Aldgate East.

Tower Hill station, the stop for the popular tourist destinations of the Tower of London and London Bridge, was next on the line so I decided to take a look around. I joined the hoards of other travellers heading across London Bridge via the Tower of London. It was a cloudy but fine day as I crossed the bridge and enjoyed the views up and down the Thames.

The Tower of London

Tower Bridge

One thing that struck me was the apparent love London architects have for eggs. Let me explain. As I wandered down Whitechapel Road I saw what looked like a giant deformed egg protruding over the nearby buildings. As I walked across London Bridge I not only rediscovered this egg, but a shorter squatter version on the other side of the Thames as well. The egg-shaped building in the center of the photo is located at 30 St Mary Axe (also known as the Gherkin) was designed by Norman Foster and completed in 2003. It was later sold for £630 million in 2007,  so I guess not everyone thinks egg-shaped buildings are silly. The other smaller egg, is the London City Hall and is located on the south bank of the River Thames not far from the Tower of London.

Egg Architecture

You often get an insight into human nature just by wandering around. This was no less true near London Bridge. Some magician (named David Blaine, although I flinch at giving him more credit than he deserves) has just started 44 days in a Perspex box suspended above the ground, with no food, communication and only fresh water. Now I'm sure there's a good explanation that goes something along the lines of "I was left at home by myself when I was child..." but it seemed like a stupid idea to me. As one journalist put it, "many of us have stayed in smaller hotel rooms that that", so what's the attraction? But it seems to be working, there was at least 200 people staring up at the Looney who was just lying there.

David Blaine spent 44-days fasting in a perspex box and lost 24.5 kg

A little down the Queens Walk boardwalk a worker was busy finishing of some paving and surprise…surprise he had an audience. It would seem people will stop and stare at anything, not because it's interesting or deserves our attention, but just because it's there (I guess the magician would be disappointed by this observation).

Even someone repairing the footpath gets an audience

My day finished with a little more suburb searching before heading back to Bayswater for a well earned bite to eat and a bit of TV.

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