Saturday, May 31, 2014

London Walks

While in London we went on three guided walks with London Walks.  The first was a morning walk was around Jewish London. We went to the Bevis Marks Synagogue, saw former houses of the Huguenot silk weavers that later were occupied by members of the Jewish community and a former Jewish soup kitchen.

Soup Kitchen
The walk ended at Spitalfields market, where we grabbed some lunch before heading to Holborn tube for our afternoon walk, which was Legal and illegal London

Unfortunately,  while we were waiting trying to find our guide, I twisted my ankle very badly. The other foot was already covered in blisters from the previous day.  After a short while my ankle recovered enough to allow us to go on the walk.

We looked at Lincoln's Inn Fields, the four Inns of Court (Lincoln's Inn, Gray's Inn, Middle Temple and Inner Temple), along with the Staple Inn, the Royal Courts of Justice, the place where the barristers get their wigs and gowns (Ede & Ravenscroft - founded 1689, claiming to be London's oldest tailor)

The Undercroft of Lincoln's Inn would be familiar to many people as it is a favourite television location.  It has been used in Poirot, Downton Abbey, Tom Jones and The Importance of Being Ernest (Colin Firth version).

Lincoln's Inn Undercroft

Sadly, we only saw Temple Church from the outside.  I have never been in and would love to have done so.

Temple Church

The final walk was a ghost walk on Saturday evening.  The walk went from 7:30 to 9:30, but it was only just getting dark towards the end. It would have been more atmospheric in the winter when it was cold and dark. But it was still very good, and it took me to places I had never seen before, like St Batholomew's Hospital, Smithfield Market (well, from the outside at least), Christ Church Greyfriars, which was bombed in the war and has not been rebuilt - it is now a garden - as well as some that I had seen a long time ago, like St Paul's Cathedral and the Old Bailey.

Christ Church Greyfriars

St Paul's Cathedral

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Vikings at the British Museum

After an horrendous trip into London (I thought the congestion charge was supposed to cut down the traffic in Central London) we spotted out hotel's entrance on Fleet Street, but had a lot of trouble finding where the vehicle could go in to drop of luggage (and one passenger).  I checked in while Andy drove out to Heathrow to drop off the hire car. It was 11:45 and we were due at the British Library at 2pm for our timed entry into the Vikings exhibition.

I decided to wander slowly along Fleet Street and The Strand and then make my way to the Museum.  All was going well until I got out of the tube at Tottenham Court Road.  I kept making wrong turns, and it was rather hot.  I hadn't heard from Andy, so I texted him to see if he had dropped off the car.  He said that he had only just left Avis. It was now 1pm, and once he got on the tube it was expected to take about 45 minutes to get to a station near the Museum.  He obviously wasn't going to make lunch, so I decided to just go to the cafe and get lunch and a cold drink, rather than look at something else in the museum.

He didn't make it til twenty past two in the end, but the people still let us in.

Even though there were timed tickets (people being allowed in every 10 minutes) it was VERY crowded inside. That made it hard to see the exhibits or read about them.  The highlight of the exhibition was the model encasing the remains of the biggest Viking longboat ever found. It was found in Norway when they were excavating to build a Viking ship museum.

Not surprisingly, photographs were not allowed.

My favourite things in the exhibition were some of the gold and silver items. The filigree work was so fine, it was hard to believe it was made so long ago.

While we were at the museum we took the opportunity to see a couple of other things. On my list were the Sutton Hoo finds.  

Helmet from Sutton Hoo

I also stumbled across (quite by chance) one of the linear B tablets.  See my earlier post about them.

Linear B Tablet

From there we walked back to our hotel via Shaftesbury Avenue, where we purchased discount tickets for the theatre.  

On the Thursday night we saw Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the Musical, which was excellent.  The original movie starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin. This version had Robert Lindsay, Rufus Hound along with John Marquez, Samantha Bond and Katherine Kingsley. 

It was a fantastic show, the only downer was when we ordered a coke and a glass of champagne and it came to £12.50.

The second play, which we saw on Friday night, was Handbagged. I loved it, but Andy enjoyed it less. It was about the Queen and Mrs Thatcher, and there were old and young versions of each, with the older versions telling the audience what they had really thought.  The two women playing Mrs T were so good - they really had her ... er ... down to a T (so to speak).  The women playing the queen were not as good, though in fairness, the older one was actually the understudy.

Anyway, it was a great night.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Countryside walk and Ely

On Tuesday morning Andy had to do some work, so I went out for a walk. It was a glorious day, and the owner of the B&B had told me I could walk around one of their fields. The rape was in flower, the birds were chirping, and sheep were bleating in the next field. The hedgerows were full of hawthorn bushes in flower and cowslips.


Once I came back from my walk we proceeded to Ely. First stop was the cathedral. It was very impressive, with a wonderful painted ceiling and a few portions of old wall paintings remaining.  The Lady Chapel was possibly the nicest part, though I didn't like the sponsors names in the new windows. But sadly, though it was a Norman cathedral,  so much of it was Victorian - the painted ceiling,  the stained glass windows, many of the floors... and the floor of the Lady Chapel was only a couple of years old.

Sponsored windows in the Lady Chapel
Next was a visit to Cromwell's house. I felt that would have been great for families with young kids, but I had no interest in the activities they had provided - things like trying on parts of armour, or trying to write in an old fashioned handwriting style. And it was not as if I hadn't seen an old half-timbered building before..

Cromwell's House

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Arrival and Bletchley Park

Arrived at Andy's parents place in St Neots (Cambridgeshire) on Sunday after a journey of over 36 hours door to door (we had to fly to Melbourne first, and then had a long wait for our London flight). We had a family lunch (with Andys brother and his wife and kids) and then over to our accommodation.

We are staying in a converted barn on a farm outside Bedford.  It is fantastic. I can't say it is quiet, because there is a constant twittering of birds, but that's the kind of noise I like. The hosts are very nice. I would recommend this place.  It is called North End Barns. (See their web site here)   

The Farm House

The Barn Accommodation
Monday was chores and a visit to Andy's cousin and Aunt over near Norwich.  We'll be back to see them later.

Today we visited Bletchley Park, the place where the code breakers like Alan Turing worked on cracking the output of the Enigma machines, the Lorenz machines and so on.

It is a fascinating place. Far bigger than I expected. A ticket allows you to enter as often as you like over a 12 month period - and I can see why. There is so much to take in that Andy and I started to glaze over.  Sadly, we won't be able to come back on this trip.

The place was top secret for years, even after the war, and everyone had to sign the official secrets act. I wonder how many of its secrets have been lost forever now that so many of the people who worked here have passed away.

An Enigma Machine

The Mansion behind the Lake