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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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

London to Rhodes, Greece

by CameronM Wed, September 24 2003 05:23

The Gatwick Express whisked us from London's Victoria station to Gatwick Airport for our early morning flight to the island of Rhodes in Greece. Unfortunately once on board the plane we didn't whisk anywhere for an hour or so. I started to worry when the captain explained that they were having difficulty storing the fuel required for the flight!!! Surely my backpack didn't weigh that much that they needed more fuel than was usual? I think this was merely a story to cover up the fact that after a night on the town the pilots had forgotten how to fly and were getting last minute tips from the ground grew on how to take off.

After a relatively short flight – well you need to remember that I am used to the 24-hour trip from Australia – we arrived in Rhodes and caught a taxi to the Old City and wandered the streets for a short time before deciding where to stay. We had planned to stay at a local backpackers, but upon arrival we found that there were no staff in sight and were told by one of the residents that we shouldn’t expect them anytime soon. Thank Lonely Planet for that great reference – maybe next time you should actually send someone to Rhodes to check your facts.

We ended staying at a Pension – which is basically the same as a B&B with the family living downstairs and a small number of bedrooms upstairs. The accommodation was clean and well located, although the proprietor neglected to mention that he and some visiting relatives were planning an Ouzo drinking binge, complete with late night ranting. Welcome to Greece!

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Greece | 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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Salisbury Again?

by CameronM Mon, September 22 2003 05:14

Breaking with tradition, we stay slightly longer than most other travellers at the hostel and begin to feel a little like unwanted dinner guests who just don't get the idea that you want to go to bed. I'm sure the hostel workers just didn't know what to do when we re-booked for yet another night - hadn't we already seen Stonehenge?

While not a huge tourist Mecca, Salisbury does have a few sights of its own, including a Cathedral and surrounding buildings. The Cathedral is impressive and the attached museum contains one of the few surviving copies of the Magna Carta and several pieces of royal correspondence from numerous monarchs over several hundreds of years.



Walking to Stonehenge

by CameronM Sun, September 21 2003 05:03

After too many lazy days on buses and in London, I decided to walk the 4 hours between Salisbury and Stonehenge. The weather for a change was overcast with showers, but we managed to keep dry and soon the skies cleared and we were able to enjoy the walk through the countryside.

I was just beginning to think that the walk wasn't a great idea, when just in time we walked over a small rise to see the ruins of Stonehenge lying before us. We sat under a tree in a field, resting and admiring the view from afar, before joining the hundreds of other tourists herded like sheep around the ruins. Don't expect to get any pictures of Stonehenge without at least 20 total strangers blocking your view. The place is packed.

After the obligatory walk around the ruins, where we are kept at a safe distance by a rope fence, we handed in our audio tour headphones and left with a slightly disappointed feeling. On the bus ride back to Salisbury, we talked to a local who says that the best time to see the stones is at night after the guards have gone, when it is possible to get up close and personal, as well as avoiding all the tourists.

Don't expect to get too close to Stonehenge

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Salisbury by Night

by CameronM Sat, September 20 2003 07:26

Leaving London by bus accompanied by Tan, we were soon to discover how slow buses can be compared to other means of transport. Being a Saturday, the motorway was crowded and sluggish, while a boat show in Southampton caused massive traffic snarls. We arrived in Salisbury about 2 hours late and then set about locating the nearby YHA hostel, which we had booked on hostelworld.com before leaving London. Book Hostels Online Now

Salisbury is not too hard to find your way around so thankfully we were able to find the hostel, which was conveniently located half way up the only hill in town. For £14.90 a night, we got a bunk in a dorm room with about 12 other people.

Meeting up with some fellow travellers, we ventured out into Salisbury for a few drinks and immediately noticed the slower pace, quieter nightlife and fewer people. We were joined by Liz, a Canadian hospitality worker on a 2 week flying trip around the UK. Liz keeps us entertained with detailed descriptions of the ins and outs of ice hockey, a sport that seems to national obsession. Our fellow companion Dawn, though quieter spoken, demolishes all our preconceptions about people from Utah.

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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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Caerleon Roman Ruins

by CameronM Mon, September 15 2003 05:56

A small section at the end of the Cardiff portion of the Lonely Planet guidebook mentioned the existence of Roman ruins in Caerleon, just north of Newport. With my trusty guidebook in hand, I was soon about to prove that no matter how recent the publication, nothing stays the same for long.

Leaving the Backpackers at 9am, I was too early for the local Tourist Information Centre (TIC), so I went to the bus station, where I was told by a ticket agent (for another company) that the next bus to Newport would depart at 9:45am and that I could pay the driver when boarding. The existence of bus 30, scheduled to arrive at 9:45am was also confirmed by numerous signs around the bus station. I patiently waited at the required stop, and waited, and waited while buses for all other destinations came and went. By 10:15 the mysterious number 30 hadn’t arrived so I decided I'd try the train station, which was located only a few short walk from the bus station. I was able to board a train within minutes and was soon on my way to Newport.

I had to triple check my watch when I wandered into the main street of Newport at 11am to find the place completely deserted. I know the guidebook said that Newport was short on loveliness, but I didn't know they also meant it was short of people too. I found the TIC, which the book said was open Sundays, to be well and truly closed. There goes getting any help on finding the right bus to Caerleon, I guess I'll be on my own. The book said to catch bus 7, but unfortunately bus 7 also does not run on Sunday so I tried to find the closest match, a task made harder since I didn't get the map I needed from the TIC (since as mentioned, it was also closed) and the bus station only offered a dismal map that meant nothing to a newbie like me.

After a few nail biting moments when I tried to comprehend the price for a day return ticket while also ascertaining what bus would actually go where I wanted, I hopped on the number 2E bus. I was over the moon when after only a short journey we arrived at Caerleon, a fact made obvious by the numerous signs to Roman this or Roman that in the immediate area.

A short walk from the bus stop and I was standing in front of the building housing the Roman Baths. The baths were excavated in the 1920's after being forgotten for 700 years. In fact most of the modern town of Caerleon sits on the remains of a Roman legionary settlement built in around 70AD.

Roman Baths in Caerleon - you can tell this was a bath because of the ripples!

Only a portion of the bath house, pool and exercise complex are visible within the building, I guess farmer Joe wasn't too happy about giving his farm up for the sake of history. While only the foundations remain, it was still interesting and the displays were also very informative.

A short walk from the baths is the excavated Roman amphitheatre which is a grassy arena and although it is now inhabited by kids in bikes rather than the Roman Legions, it remains an impressive structure. The amphitheatre is located just outside the fortress walls, which can still be seen running for several hundred meters.

Caerleon Roman Amphitheatre


Located near the Amphitheatre is Europe's only excavated Legionary barracks. The foundations of only one barracks have been left uncovered, with over 5000 men stationed at the Roman fortress and each barracks housing 100 men, they would have covered much of the current township.

Europe's only excavated Legionary barracks


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Taff Trail - Cardiff

by CameronM Sat, September 13 2003 05:14

I thought I'd really made a mistake by staying at the backpackers when last night revellers stayed downstairs partying until 2am. My room being directly above the bar I had absolutely no sleep and rose at 7am ready to kill anyone who mentioned what a great night it had been. After a breakfast of toast and coffee, I hired a bike from the hostel and headed south to check out Cardiff Bay, where they have spent a lot of money redeveloping the former port into a new commercial centre complete with restaurants and bars. At 9am nothing was open, but I was able to check out the foreshore and bay, which is now always at high tide thanks to the construction of a barrage that keeps the previous 12m tide outside the bay.

I returned to Cardiff and continued north along the Taff Trail - a 93km trail along the Taff river valley suitable for bikes and walkers. The trail heads towards Castell Coch, situated in the hills above Tingwynlais. Although it appeared impressive from afar, closer inspection revealed that the castle was quite small.

 Castell Coch, Cardiff

I continued along the trail until lunch time and stopped for what turned out to be the biggest hamburger ever (well close anyway). The lady at the pub where I stopped gave me a dirty look, I'm not sure if it was because I was covered in sweat, I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt or whether she just didn't like patrons (something a lot of shop/cafe/pub staff make no attempt to hide).

The scenery during the ride was for the most part very enjoyable, except for the few miles when it followed the rear of some rather dodgy housing areas or beside a roadway. The trail was clearly marked and mostly bitumen, with just the odd gravel sections. It was an enjoyable ride, but I was completely knackered when I returned to the hostel for a well earned shower and meal.

Some of the less inspiring vistas cycling the Taff Trail

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