Friday, 27 September 2013

Tim in Canada

We arrived in Toronto after a very pleasant 12 hour train journey from New York.  Train travel really is the way to go, if you have the time, with wide comfortable seats and plenty of leg room and wi-fi.

Toronto was absolutely buzzing as we had arrived in the middle of the TIFF and it seemed as if the entire population was queued in the streets waiting to gain entry to the many film showings.  There were red carpets as far as the eye could see and all of the restaurants and bars were doing a roaring trade.  We booked into the Hyatt as they were offering a fabulous deal and so we were in the heart of things.
Tim, our youngest son, and his girlfriend Jess had arrived in the early hours of the morning and had stayed near the airport in Mississauga so it was an anxious wait until the afternoon to see them.  They were pretty tired and very surprised at the Toronto heat as it was over 30 degrees and very humid. They were even more surprised 2 days later when the temperature plummeted to 11 degrees.  That is Toronto for you.

We spent the next week showing Tim and Jess around the many sights of Toronto.  The highlight of the week was once again Niagara Falls.  We took the Maid of the Mist and, as the day had a slight breeze, we got thoroughly soaked.  It was good fun and we were amused by a group of Japanese tourists who shrieked as the water splashed over them.  Lunch was at Niagara on the Lake followed by a number of wine tastings at various vineyards.
We moved into a two-bedroom apartment so Tim and Jess were able to stay with us and I have to say, it was like having Gordon Ramsey and Nigella Lawson staying with us.  They are both excellent cooks and they cooked some fabulous meals with us with great thought going into the planning, purchasing and preparation.  What with the meals they cooked and the dining out at restaurants that we did, we will now have to concentrate once more on trimming our waistlines!

It was with great sadness that we waved goodbye to Tim and Jess as they headed off to Montreal to start the next stage of their adventures.  They have much fun ahead of them, as they will travel to New York, Mexico, Cuba and whole host of South American countries.  We will miss them terribly but I will look forward to the regular Skype sessions, which Tim has promised to make.

Now Michael and I will settle back into our Toronto routine.  We have been granted a visa until the end of January, which was shorter than we would have liked.  Who knows where we shall end up after that?

It was nice to see Hawthorn finish on top of the ladder this year and now they have the chance to follow through with a Premiership.  We will be watching the drama unfold at a Toronto pub in the early hours of Saturday morning. GO HAWKS!!!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Big Apple

If I can make it here I can make it anywhere, New York, New York.

Well after two wonderful months in England we have come back to the new world. A nice flight into JFK and an F1 racing taxi driver got us to our hotel GEM Hotel on 36th Street West in Manhattan. Not a cheap place and all of New York seemed to be booked out.  We later found out that the X Factor selection was on Monday and Tuesday and 9/11 memorial services. I think the former will get more attention here.

We arrived in the evening and walked around seeing Times Square (full of fruit loops), 5th Avenue and having pizza by the slice.

Unlike London, New York was linear and cavernous in its design of streets and avenues so exploring was easy and decided to get a hop on hop off bus to see the sites.
Some of the older buildings ie Chrysler, Empire State and Flat Iron were interesting and nicely done. Visited ground zero, but could not get to the memorial as it is a paid site and a construction zone for the Freedom Tower. The building is of a very basic design and like most things in NY looked quick and flash with not much thought put into it.  A shame, we could see the spot and the only memorial was to the special forces who killed people from that day forward. Ironic considering why the buildings were brought down.

Took a ferry across to see the Statue of Liberty. Michael got the wrong one so we had to pay. After seeing mini me on the Seine in Paris it was a bit of an anti climax.
The bus continued on to the Rockerfeller Centre, which was very impressive and Central Park with the street sellers of bikes, horse carriages and bus trips.
The night bus trip was good and we travelled over to Brooklyn to see the night-lights of Manhattan. They looked similar to Sydney or Hong Kong. The tour guide fancied himself as an entertainer and spent his time high kicking down aisle whilst belting out New York, New York.  He was also big on audience participation and you all know just how much I love paying to be the entertainment!

Checked out Wall Street to see if anyone was jumping, but no, it must have been a good day. There was more security to access the New York Stock Exchange than we had seen at 10 Downing Street, making it almost like a shrine to capitalism. The bull was well patted with shiny horns and balls. Not sure if that means you will come into money or return to New York again.

Visited Grand Central Station, which was fully restored and wonderful to see the marble and lights. Lucky Jacquie K stopped it being changed.
I don’t know if we expected too much from this city, however after being in London it was a bit underwhelming with much talk of it being a city for tourists, but with very little signage or information. A lot of homelessness and police cars everywhere including 3 wheeled mini vans. It was also very dirty with litter strewn about which also contrasted sharply with London where there was an endless parade of street sweepers keeping everywhere pristine.

We are off to Toronto by train from Penn Station to see Tim & Jess.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life

We caught the train from Abergavenny to Paddington Station – a very comfortable journey as all our train journeys have been.  We stayed at a very nice apartment in Bayswater, which belonged to a young lawyer who was heading off to Greece for a holiday.  It had everything we could possibly want, including two squirrels that came to visit daily, and was in a perfect location.
London is without doubt an amazing city.  Michael was working however we made sure that our weekends were filled with as much sightseeing as possible.
Possibly the best area we discovered was Brick Lane, also known as Banglatown.  Brick Lane is a cobbled lane in the East End, which is chock a block with Pakistan and Indian restaurants. We headed there one evening for dinner and had a lovely meal at one of the restaurants where the hawker out the front enticed us in with the promise of a free beer and a glass of wine (actually just about every restaurant there has the same offer). 

We decided to come back when it was daylight as the surrounding lanes are full of interesting graffiti.  There used to be a number of Banksy’s works there, however they have either been painted over, faded or vandalised.  We did manage to see a couple of Banksy’s elsewhere.  Michael spotted a Banksy rat at the Embankment and we found one in Mayfair of a woman falling from a height clinging to her shopping trolley.  That one was particularly good.
On Sundays there is a fantastic food market held in Brick Lane.  Think of any cuisine imaginable and there is a stall selling it.  Everything is prepared and cooked fresh and thousands of people throng the streets with buskers performing along the way.  The atmosphere is vibrant and fun.  Just around the corner is the Petticoat Lane market, selling clothes, bags, shoes and accessories.  It also has a fun vibe.
We were fortunate to be here for the Bank Holiday weekend, which is when the famous Notting Hill Carnival is held.  The Notting Hill Carnival was started as a response to the Notting Hill race riots, which occurred in 1958.  The predominately West Indian community held the carnival to promote goodwill in the community and it has grown into an event, which now attracts over 1 million people each year.  Unfortunately the carnival has attracted violence, murders and rioting, so precautions are taken by the shopkeepers in the area.  Nearly every business premises and many homes are completely boarded up the day before the carnival begins.  It is eerie to walk through what is usually a beautiful area and see the boarding, which is immediately covered in graffiti.  The police presence is massive with minivans bussing the police in.  We attended the first day of the carnival, which is designated as Children’s Day as this is billed as the “tamer” of the two days.  It was amusing to see how enterprising some people could be with a number of residences along the route offering use of their toilets for 2 pounds a go.  I am not sure that I would want a parade of strangers using my facilities!  The carnival itself was a lot of fun with the air blue with the smoke from all the jerk chicken stalls, the booming of Bob Marley songs (they were so loud you could feel your chest vibrating) and the colourful costumes of the children in the parade. There were also the best Jamaican patties I have ever tasted.

One weekend we took a cruise to the Thames Barrier, which was rather interesting.  We stopped off and spent a large portion of the day at Greenwich, a lovely place to wander around.  We started at the market, which was full of original handcrafts (I am now the proud owner of Union Jack earrings).  We then wandered over to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.  We viewed the Painted Hall, a magnificent ceiling, which is covered in the most beautiful murals and the chapel, which was also imposing.
Another weekend saw us take in the Hunterian Museum, which is filled with medical grotesqueries.  John Hunter was a surgeon who collected all manner of things to make a teaching museum.  There is a face of baby riddled with smallpox, deformed skulls, cancers and various foetuses (human & animal).  The saddest sight I saw was a large jar holding a set of stillborn quintuplets.  They looked so perfect.  Michael was fascinated by it all however I felt rather queasy by the time we left.

Make tea not war
Across Lincoln’s Inn Fields there is another museum, the Sir John Soane, which was much more to my taste.  Sir John was a collector of antiquities and art and he assembled a wonderful collection of Hogarth’s including the series A Rake’s Progress and An Election.  There are also Canaletto’s & Turner’s, sculptures, books and furniture.  Very impressive.

Whilst Michael was working, I spent my days wandering the streets of London.  I  found wonderful old buildings, read hundreds of plaques and memorials, visited museums including the Charles Dickens Museum (a must if you are a fan), The Foundling Museum (fascinating but also very sad), The Cartoon Museum & The Welcome Collection.  I have found many hidden parks and gardens and as the weather has been absolutely perfect, I have spent time sitting and soaking up the sun (I must be the only person who comes to London and leaves with a sun tan).  Despite spending the past month exploring London, I feel I have barely scratched the surface.  I sincerely hope that both Michael and I can return soon.  I really could see myself living here permanently, and to be honest, if it wasn’t for the exciting promise of seeing Tim in Toronto, Michael would have to drag me kicking and screaming onto the plane.  I really do not want to leave.

Are you going to Abergavenny?

Ah, passing the time with paradise people
Paradise people are fine by me
Sunshine forever, lovely weather
Don’t you wish you could be……..

here comes the sun?

So goes the second verse of the immortal song sung by Marty Wilde (piece of trivia – he is the father of Kim Wilde).  Needless to say we arrived to be greeted by a monsoonal downpour.  My lovely husband led me past the line of waiting cabs and said that we would walk to our hotel as it was not far.  We donned our full hooded raincoats that we had not worn since Vietnam and headed off down the hill.  We arrived at our destination totally soaked leaving a trail of water in the bar.  We were staying at the Kings Arms Hotel, a late 16th century coaching inn, which was charming.

See they do exist
Lucky for us the next day dawned without a cloud in the sky and we could get out and explore the town.  My grandmother was born in Abergavenny, which is why we decided to spend a few days here.  It is an old market town, nestled in a valley, and we were warned that it would get busy on market day.  Busy – it turned into a massive throng of people, most of them over 60 years of age.  The market was much larger than you would imagine for such a relatively small village.  It was great fun looking through the different stalls and listening to the lovely Welsh lilt.  We didn’t hear many Welsh accents in Cardiff as it is quite a multicultural city.  Abergavenny however was full of them.  We even heard a little Welsh spoken among some of the older residents.

Abergavenny was such a relaxing place to stay that we extended our visit by another night.  Michael was working but I managed to explore the area, which was full of interesting shops, pubs and restaurants. There was even a sheep sale yard located behind our hotel.  They also had cinema, which we decided to attend one evening.  The movie was showing at 8.00pm so Michael and I went to buy the tickets at 7.30pm only to be told that they don’t open the ticket office until 15 minutes before the start of the movie.  Off we went to the pub down the road to bide the time.  At exactly 7.45pm the entire pub clientele, all eight of us including Michael and I, rose as one and headed the cinema.  What a hoot!

Millennium Tapestry

Monday, 5 August 2013

Blistering in Bicester

We have made our way to Bicester, which is south of Banbury and 1 hour north of London. It is a lovely little town, with its main attraction being a shopping village of up market goods that attracts travellers from all over world. It is not a mall, but a well laid out village.

Accommodation was in short supply so we decided to stay at the Kings Arms Pub, which was close to the office Michael was working at. As with most places it had no air conditioning so with all windows open it was still warm. This was fine until Thursday night when it was karaoke night till 12 pm and we learned that most people can’t sing.
It was a friendly little pub, although they seemed to be out of most things including cask ale and crisps, which reminded me of The Vicar of Dibley episode where one of the characters went on about the time that the pub ran out of cheese and onion crisps.

Enjoyed a good chippy meal watching the patrons debating over which was the best battered jumbo sausage. The discussion continued on for quite a while. I suppose you don’t wish to get a low fat one.

We dined at a nice Thai restaurant called Cabbage and Condoms. Upon speaking to the owner, we discovered that it is a not for profit venture that provides sexual consulting services for the poor in Thailand and has a number of restaurants throughout the world.

After the heat and excitement of Bicester, we decided to go to another country so headed off to Wales. Three trains from Bicester to Cardiff which was very pleasant and the high speed trains can move.

Booked to stay at the Royal Cardiff Hotel, which is in the centre of town and on St Mary’s St. The room had fans and air-conditioning going full bore with little result, but a nice hotel.
The city is lovely with all the old buildings and arcades that have been kept to a high standard. Most of the inner city has been closed off to traffic so walking around is very easy.

Decided to go for a walk around and Cardiff Castle is at the end of the street. Noticed a few zombies lurching around the main centre complete with make up.  They actually gave me the creeps. The local beer is brewed by Brains, and all the hotels are tied to the brand, so I guess you could expect no less.
Michael was reading all about Welsh cheese and wine and was really looking forward to sampling some however the hotel ran out of cheese for the weekend and did not sell Welsh wine. Even the bottle shop only had a sparkling wine and the shop assistant said you would get better value drinking French wine than Welsh. We will still keep our eye out for some. Michael is enjoying the cask ales, even the celebratory one to the new Prince George.
Dragons for everyone in Cardiff

One thing we have noticed is the well-organized hen and bucks parties, to the extent that they have matching shirts made up and/or themes. We have seen bumble bees and ladybirds, Where’s Wally, sashes with the bride’s name on it and obligatory blow up doll, t-shirts with the buck’s picture on it. Some of the bucks have been wearing pink tutus and/or large inflatable rubber ducks around them. We even saw one wearing a wedding dress however, we were not sure if he was a buck or celebrating a divorce.  Size does not matter with the outfit as we saw one large girl dressed as snow white with the shortest skirt. The English do like to get dressed up for these events and the doormen must shake their heads.
how do you get to this Tardis?

As a treat I took Michael to the Dr Who Experience, which we enjoyed and I thought there was a lot of nerds in attendance, just like at the Lord of the Rings. There were people of all ages with Dr Who paraphernalia, and the show and displays were pretty good. The weather had turned with lots of rain so we did not get to check out the docklands area much, which would have been the reclaimed industrial area and the BBC has moved into part of it. Michael behaved so he was allowed to have a T-Shirt with K9 on it.
The night of his last episode

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Robin Hood Riding Through the Glen

Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood with his band of men
Feared by the bad, loved by the good
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood

Well, if you found yourself humming along to the above, then you are showing your age just as much as I am.  The Adventures of Robin Hood was my all time, number one, favourite television show as a child.  There has never been a better Robin Hood than Richard Greene.

We have arrived at Nottingham and one does feel that the place loves Robin Hood or maybe just the tourist dollar it brings. A train and bus combination got us here safely and staying at the Ramada Inn, as we were keen to find some air-conditioned accommodation to survive the stifling 30c temp that was expected. Instead it was a pleasant 25c most of the time with some tropical rain. Wonderful weather we have been having. Interesting that few places have air-conditioning as it is not normal for summer to be hot for a long period of time. The location is very good in the centre of the city.

Nottingham is a lovely place with the CBD converted into pedestrian areas with wonderful old buildings. At the time of the industrial revolution it would have been very bleak and crowded, particularly down in the lace market area. Caught their only tram service to look around the suburbs, which was double the size of a Melbourne bendy tram. The line has only recently been constructed and is being extended.
The city even has its own beach for the summer with sand and deckchairs as well as carnival rides. “Oh I do love to be beside the seaside”.

The centre piece of the city is the Castle of Nottingham with lots of information on Robin Hood and statues. Beneath the castle is Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem pub which was founded in 1049 and was the starting point for the crusades after seeing Richard I. So Michael had some ye olde ale and crisps (I wish he would stop asking for chips as they get confused).



Walked out to Trent Bridge Cricket ground to see where we fell apart a week earlier and saw a nice memorial garden, with a good show of flowers.  I really hope we do better in the next test match as the cricket jokes from the English are starting to wear thin.

Michael caught up with old Baycorp people who live in Nottingham and they are enjoying life here.

We hired a car for the weekend and went first to Swaffham aka Market Shipley from the comedy/drama Kingdom. It was a lovely old town, with a nice market square. We had a drink at the Greyhound Inn, with a burger from a food van with a very talkative owner. He told us that he went to Melbourne on a blind date with a girl he had met on Facebook. The match was not a success so he did a runner and left 9 days early from Australia. The people you meet!

We then headed off to Cromer and Wells at Sea to see some of the other locations for Kingdom. It was a glorious day until we were 10 miles from the coast and could see the fog roll in. At Cromer we could not see the beach or water due to the fog, so we continued along the coast road stopping along the way until we found a beach. Not like the Kingdom one, but a pebble beach with only the dogs in the water. It was all very different to back home.

Stopped at Blakeney, which is a fishing town and had Michael had some dressed crab and watched the people swimming in the river and hunting crabs.

The next day we headed out to Sherwood Forrest to see where the legend is from. Fairly touristy and walked around the forest for a while and admired the old oak reportedly over 1500 years old.


We then decided to find a tart in Bakewell, which is in the peak district and part of a National Park. Lovely countryside, like an All Creatures Great and Small episode with small lanes and hedges everywhere. Bakewell was a beautiful village with lots of visitors. Had a wonderful roast for lunch with Yorkshire pudding cooked the way my mum did so I was very happy. There were three original and traditional Bakewell bakeries and we discovered the iced version is not the classic Bakewell tart, they also have a Bakewell Pudding which Michael tried.

It was an enjoyable drive going through the small villages and stopping off at some to walk around. Then headed back via the Motorway where the cars get up to 130Km and our little Peugeot was struggling to get to 100km.

We extended our stay for a few extra days and we are now on our way to Bicester for a few days of work. Not sure what happens after that, but that is part of the ongoing adventure.