Saturday, August 24, 2013

Paris - take two

So here we finally are, in Paris where we had intended to be over a year ago for our 40th wedding anniversary. We are in an apartment in Montmartre, not far from the Moulin Rouge and Sacre Couer Basilica. We are also not far from the Pigalle Metro station and many restaurants and bars. In all, a pretty good spot.

Fortunately we are not close to that notorious street where people swear a lot, the Rue de Remarks (I think I owe that one to Spike Milligan, but I'm not sure). Nor are we near the street where people finally realise they have been wrong all their lives, the Rue de Wakening. Or the street where most people are not able to formulate sophisticated ideas, the Rue de Mentary. Oh I could go on ... as my family knows.

Now the blog will start to resemble a Shakespearian tragedy - you know, the light relief presages a dramatic and significant passage or turn of events. (We have just visited Stratford Upon Avon remember). For our third night in Paris we went to a Cambodian restaurant in Montmartre as we thought (with France's colonial links, it might be authentic and good). We sat at a table on the pavement outside and had our meal which was not that good. But then we got up to pay and found that Milton's bag had been stolen - wallet, credit cards, glasses, passport, iPhone, the whole catastrophe.

Now please don't exclaim that I shouldn't have had them all in the same place, I know that. Let's just put it down to a senior moment. How the blackguards (more Shakespeare) managed it, both Judith and I are at a loss to explain, but the policeman that we reported it to did say that they were experts at it as they had had a lot of practice (!!). (Because they are not being caught??)

Anyhow, long story short, feverish activity for 36 hours had all credit cards cancelled, phone blocked and emergency passport from the Australian embassy. The biggest problem is Milton walking around 24 hours a day with his bifocals (believe me, this is not a good thing!).

Biggest WTF!! moment was going to the Aussie embassy on the second day to pick up the emergency passport and being greeted at reception by a Frenchman who either could not or would not speak English and expected us to understand fluent French (in the best arrogant Gallic tradition). Judith has already e-mailed a complaint to the appropriate embassy personnel and Bob Carr; Milton is having a nervous breakdown as we speak.

All of that notwithstanding, we have tried to have a positive last two days in Paris. Milton has been to the Pompidou Centre where he saw a Roy Lichtenstein retrospective (fantastic!) and to a major exhibition on the Art Nouveau movement (excellent but not fantastic). And Judith had a great time wandering around the sights and shops of Montmartre and downtown Paris.

Today, after picking up the temporary passport, we took a bus out to Versailles and saw the palace and surrounding gardens. When we got back to our apartment we googled the causes of the French Revolution, because seeing Versailles begs the question.

Before the stolen bag incident we also managed a guided tour of the Marais (quite good) and a one hour boat tour up the Seine (also OK). We fly out of Charles de Gaulle airport tomorrow at 1.30 in the afternoon.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Back in good old London Town ...

It was not a bad thing to leave London for three weeks and then return for just two nights. It enabled us to distil what it was that we really wanted to see. Saturday afternoon we (and half of London) went to see the tower and of course the Crown Jewels. We queued for about 25 minutes, and inside took another 10 to 15 minutes to get to see them. The collection is breathtaking - and unreal. So much concentrated wealth in the precious stones, many of which are huge and taken off, or given by, someone else. Also, it's good to know that the royals have been into recycling for many centuries, as each successive King or Queen takes some of the more impressive stones and has them refashioned into a more "modern" crown or tiara. Some of the stones are so big that they have them recut as well.

The next morning we visited the Victoria and Albert Museum where Milton looked at their extensive jewellery collection which traced the making of jewellery from Roman times (and earlier) right up to 2010. Judith visited a special exhibition called "From nightclub to catwalk" focussing on clothing fashion in the eighties. She thought she must have slept through the eighties as she never had any clothes resembling these. Or it might have been that she never went to a nightclub or strutted the catwalk.

She did really enjoy the permanent collection which showed fashions from the 18th to the 21st century.

In the afternoon Milton visited the London Design Museum near the tower bridge. This was OK but perhaps a little underwhelming. Judith took the tube to Coventry Garden and spent a few hours there.

On Monday morning we took the Euro-star to Paris for the last five days of our trip.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Stratford upon Avon - not bard at all

On our way to Stratford Upon Avon we visited the Hidcote Manor Gardens which was a pleasant interlude.These gardens are extensive and contain thousands of different species of plant all laid out in "rooms" - that is, sectioned off in squares and quadrangles with a unifying theme.

When we got to SUA we stayed at a very nice B&B - certainly the most luxurious accommodation of this trip. On the first night in Stratford we went to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and saw the Royal Shakespeare Company production of "All's Well That Ends Well". We were not familiar with the play but enjoyed the experience tremendously. While it is one of Shakespeare's "problem" plays (scholars are not sure whether to classify it as a comedy or something else) it was a strong production and very impressive in a great theatre space.

Stratford upon Avon has built its modern economy upon the Shakespearean legend and legacy - not surprising really. So now we know a little more about his beginnings but not his genius. But we could have bought an Anne Hathaway pencil and eraser.

The next day we drove to Oxford and visited Blenheim Palace on the way. Its exterior is grand and not particularly attractive, but its treasures are all inside. Winston Churchill's forebears owned this palace and he spent his early years there. Oversized Joshua Reynolds, Gainsborough and Van Eyck family portraits fill the walls and the tapestries and furniture are equally as expensive and rare. It's another entry in the my palace/castle/cathedral is bigger than yours event, and this certainly was a contender.

When we got to Oxford we stayed at one of the colleges. Its truncated name is Jesus College - I don't have enough time to type in its full title which is dripping with centuries of history and terribly grand. However, they still appreciate the additional income from tourists staying there over the summer vacation.

We went on a guided tour the next day which teased out the centuries of history behind the university town. It has to be said that the architecture is suitably impressive and inspiring. Most colleges have their own chapel, most of which make many Australian churches look like afterthoughts. Judith particularly wanted to be taken on a punt on the river Thames so we did that. A young man who had just finished his O levels and was saving for his gap year was the punter (not sure of the terminology here - I don't think he was a gambler though). Have to admit it was quite a pleasant experience.

Next morning we took the down train to London, getting to our next hotel accomodation late morning. I will save our last day and a half in London to the next entry.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bevington, Bath and Bristol (and Abervegeny)

Our next stop was with friends Paul and Josie in the hamlet of Bevington (or what is left of the hamlet of Bevington) not too far from Bristol. Here we had a great five days catching up with Paul and Josie and seeing the sights in their part ofthe world. We had a day trip to Bath which was excellent - apart from being historically significant it is a beautiful city. We toured the Roman baths, saw the elegant Royal Crescent and had a very nice lunch.

Judith and I toured the countryside one day and saw, among other things, the lovely township of Cirencester. There was an old historical army barracks there which was advertised for rent. "Up to 9,800 square feet with rear parking and suitable for a variety of uses". (WTF!! ?!)


Another day we took a trip into Wales and saw Chepstow castle, Tintern Abbey and Abervegeny. Many parts of Chepstow castle are preserved enough so that one can get an excellent idea of the evolution of the castle and life within it over the centuries. And it is easy to see why Tintern Abbey inspired the Victorians to visit it and write poetry. And Abervegeny is just a lovely Welsh village. We googled the lyrics to the song but let's just say they do the town a disservice.


Paul and Josie took us into Bristol one afternoon to look around and to see the Bristol Hot Air Ballon Festival. We got a good vantage point in the park on the hill and waited... And waited... We walked down the hill to go and have dinner (which we had booked) and they started to float over the late afternoon sky - it's called Murphy's Law. So we saw many of the balloons and then had a very good dinner at an Indian Restaurant.

Bristol is currently also having a fund-raising event for their local Children's Hospital. The creator of Wallace and Gromit is a native of Bristol, and for this fundraiser they have created over 80 metre and-a-half Gromits and given them to well-known British artists to decorate/paint. They have then placed them in various parts of the city for the public to enjoy. At the end of the event they are going to auction them off for the Children's hospital. An absolutely inspired idea!! The one directly below is titled "Being Gromit Malkovich".

Gromits have popped up all over Bristol. We saw about five or six but only photographed two because we were a bit slow on the uptake.


For our last day in this part of the world Judith and I went back into Bristol and saw the SS Great Britain which was designed by a man named Brunel and made in Bristol. This is the first ship to be made out of iron and to have a screw propellor. Like many man-made things it had a chequered history which included taking out emigrants to Australia and being scuttled and left under water for 30 years. It has been salvaged and preserved and is a fascinating museum and piece of history in its own right.


Overall, we had a fantastic time with Paul and Josie, not only because there were such interesting things to see in this part of the world, but because every evening we would catch up over a glass of wine and some excellent food. I will finish this blog with a photo of one of the sunsets over the Severn estuary.


Next part of the tour ... Stratford Upon Avon! Apparently some playwright was born there - yeah, right!


Friday, August 16, 2013

Salisbury Plain to Pitney and family history

From Brighton to Pitney is a sizeable trip in British terms but we decided to do it in a day - and visit Stonehenge - AND see Salisbury Cathedral! We managed to do all these things and still arrive at our destination mid-afternoon.

To digress, when we first picked our car up (a small five speed manual Peugot) we were in Dartford and very near the M2 and the A2 connecting London with Dover. We must confess that we found it challenging and stressful getting our way around - never seen so many large trucks doing between 70 and 80 miles per hour, and where a minor mistake could mean miles out of your way. Anyway, by the time we drove to Pitney the traffic was not so congested and we started to relax a little.

Our first stop was Salisbury Cathedral which again was awe-inspiring. They are all awe-inspiring - that's their raison d'ĂȘtre - but this Cathedral's additional draw card is that it has one of the original copies of the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta is of course, a very significant step in the development of democracy and the Westminster system of Government. We were quite impressed to see it, even though we couldn't read it as it is written in Latin.

We drove on to Stonehenge where we became very excited!! We had became members of British Heritage at Dover Castle and this meant that we didn't have to queue at Stonehenge, and walked past everyone including a large tour group! It also meant we didn't have to pay. Let me tell you, it doesn't get much better than this.

So into Stonehenge. Now, Stonehenge is something that I believe should be on everyone's bucket list. It is fascinating and inspires its own awe. But one of the most interesting things about it is that we do not really know why it was constructed. Most of the past theories about it being a giant mystic calculator or (place your favourite theory here) have been discredited. So, it just is... It is merely one sign post on the road of mankind's evolution.

But I will say that it is photogenic.

We got to our B & B in Pitney mid-afternoon and - didn't unpack as there was no furniture or room in our room to unpack! At this stage we were literally living out of our suitcases. We had dinner at the local pub (three kilometres down the road). It was very popular and busy, and we had to share a table with four other patrons.

The next day we went up to the Pitney Farm Shop because every time Judith asked about her forebears, everyone said: "Oh you should speak to Lizzie up at the Farm Shop". So we went up first thing only to find that Lizzie was on holidays! However, the lady standing in for Lizzie said that we should talk to Lizzie's mum so she went across the road and got her.

Well, Lizzie's mum (Joan) already had her computer open at so she invited us over to her place. Judith and she had a right old chat, along with Joan's husband - and a few forays into and some copies of old census results. After a cup of tea and coffee David took us down to the local hall and the Anglican Church for a good look around. It was a very fruitful morning for Judith and with a very hospitable and helpful couple.

In the afternoon we drove to a little village called Puckington (which was crying out to be included in a limerick!) and we looked at the village church from the outside. In the mid 1800's, the curate's daughter ran off with the stable boy who was a Whittaker. They married in London and sailed to Wisconsin - Mills & Boon eat your heart out.

The next day we drove to Bevington, near Bristol, to stay with our friends Paul and Josie who were exchange teachers in Ballarat sixteen years ago.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

From the white cliffs of Dover to the pavilion at Brighton

Our last day at Dartford saw us taking a trip to Dover to see the castle there and the white cliffs. Like all these historical remains, the castle at Dover is a result of centuries of building, rebuilding, adding, sacking, renovating and reinventing. It was still being used for military purposes during the Second World War although Judith and I didn't tour the WW2 tunnels.

We walked along the white cliffs which are impressive and very photogenic.

The next day we left our generous hosts and drove to Hastings and to the site of the famous battle. We took an audio tour and walked around the battlefield hearing a detailed account of what happened. Apparently it is a moot point as to whether King Harold was shot in the eye by an arrow or hacked to pieces, disembowelled and beheaded by four of William's knights specifically detailed for that task. What is not a moot point is the fact that this was a fundamental turning point in British history.

That night we stayed at a nice waterfront B&B in Eastbourne and travelled the next day Brighton where we stayed at another very nice B&B (but not on the waterfront). The following day we visited the Prince Regent's Pavilion in Brighton. This is a spectacular indo-saracen palace (or folly depending on your viewpoint) with extravagant and lavish chinoiserie interiors. It is incredibly self-indulgent, over-the-top, a profligate use of wealth but at the same time a thing of beauty.

Next stop, family history in Pitney.