Here Comes The Planet 67 – Kenya 08

As we finally close out the Africa leg of our world tour, our Dragoman truck mates reflect on some of the highlights and lowlights, the things we will miss and the things we will be happy to leave behind.

A big part of why I enjoyed Africa so much was our tour guide Steve. His passion for the wildlife really made our safaris a thrill. I don’t think I’d have gotten as much out of the experience if it wasn’t for his enthusiasm. He also had other qualities we enjoyed. πŸ™‚ Many thanks to you, mate!

***

It’s fitting that this video closes out one big section of our 2013 trip, just in time to make way for the one we’re about to undertake in 2018.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a boarding lounge at Melbourne Airport, about to jump on a plane to finally catch up with Amanda over in London. We’re both very keen to be back together again and start our adventure! The videos going forward will be of our current trip. Anyone who’s followed the blog for long enough know that chronology goes out the window when you work as slowly as I do. πŸ˜›

I’ll try to get all our 2018 travel videos done by the end of the year – but no promises! πŸ˜‰

Eltham Palace, a Medieval Festival and NEON!

I spent a rather varied day yesterday. I discovered a medieval tournament was going to happen not too far away so I caught a train, then light rail, then a bus, and arrived at Eltham (pronounced elt-am) Palace just after the event started. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that the thing was going to be held in a field so I only ended up staying for two hours (hay fever) but they were very enjoyable!

Tickets to the tournament also entitled everyone to wander around the buildings.

Eltham was originally a church, then a royal residence for one of the Henrys, then fell into disrepair. At the beginning of the 20th century it was bought by a very wealthy couple who restored it and built on a stunning art deco house.

They were keen entertainers and everyone from politicians and royalty to movie stars came here to get away from it all. The ceiling in the photo above was my favourite part – not lights, it’s a glass and cement dome.

However much of it was damaged in the Second World War and the owners moved away. Eventually it was taken on by the National Trust and is used today for a range of events including weddings.

The tournament was happening in a field out the back and so I had a wander around, watched the falconry show, and chatted to the guys in the beer tent who told me that rubbing nettles on myself might cure my hay fever. Nice try, I said, and didn’t.

I drank some rhubarb cider…

And ate a traditional medieval burger…

And listened to some story-telling…

Then it was time for the main event! The jousting!

The jousting was an entirely authentic experience (well, as much as could be). The four men and horses who performed the jousts were professional jousters, which I didn’t realise was a thing, and I learned ( in the beer tent) that each horse cost a thousand pounds to insure for the day.

The jousting, once the talking-it-up and the make-the-crowd-hoarse-with-cheering bit was over, was quite fast paced and very impressive. The rules were explained and everyone in the crowd got right into it.

If my eyes hadn’t been filled with pollen or grass seed or whatever I would’ve stayed all day.

Before I left I had a walk around the interactive tent-displays and chatted to various stall holders about how they got into doing what they were doing and historical accuracy and the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, a global medieval revival group that I was once part of) which is not very big in the UK, since they probably had all their historical recreation stuff in full swing before the SCA got going in America.

After leaving Eltham I caught a dizzying array of public transport to Walthamstowe. Even though I had to change buses and trains a bunch of times the longest I had to wait was 10 minutes and having Google maps to direct me at every stage made the whole thing so painless I couldn’t help but reflect on what a difference technology has made to travel in the last two decades.

I was in Walthamstowe because I’d read there was a neon store that was Instagram-tastic.

And there was.

God’s Own Junkyard was terrific.

It was glorious. I love lights and colour and this place immediately lifted the spirits.

I think I heard someone say all the signs were for sale!

When I win the lottery I will come back.

There was also a craft brewer and a gin place next door. If you have time and you’re in east London on a weekend I highly recommend making the trip and trying the apple pie, which I feel goes well with something as all-American as neon.

The Museums and Galleries Of London

I have been to so many museums in the last week or two that I hardly know where to begin. I had no idea London had so many and I didn’t even make it to all the ones I wanted to go to – I haven’t yet been to the Garden Museum and I saw a poster for a Goscinny and Uderzo (who created Astrix and Obelix) exhibition at the Jewish Museum and I didn’t make it to the Geology Museum or the Foundling Museum either.

I’ve already written about the London Museum and the Natural History Museum (both worthwhile and both free entry) so here are the others.

The Wallace Collection (fine art and armoury)

The WC (an unfortunate abbreviation) is an excellent collection in an outstanding building and, if you like design, worth a visit for the wallpaper alone. Check these rooms out!

It is home to some very famous artworks, my favourite was The Swing. When I was little we had one large book in our house on the history of art and I loved this painting most of all. To come upon it unexpectedly made me very happy.

Although the building isn’t huge it is like a jewellery box, fully of shiny and delightful things.

I could’ve posted a dozen photos but this entry is going to be long enough as is. Just trust me, if you like fine art get to this gallery!

The Wellcome Museum (medical history)

This museum is just over the road from Euston Station and free to enter so if you’re interested in medical history I’d recommend going, just be warned that despite being in a big building the displays aren’t huge, possibly because the Science Museum is about to open a big medical exhibition using items from the WM collection. Either way, the real draw of the Wellcome is the gift shop, which has a fun range of quirky things I haven’t seen elsewhere.

The exhibitions that were on while I was there included one on …

It was kind of gross but interesting.

… and weird. Pretty weird.

There was also a small display about obesity and an art exhibition. I couldn’t tell you what the theme of it was, but one room had giant pictures of cows wearing artwork woven out of insemination straws. I’m not kidding.

Another room had a display on HIV and gay culture. I liked the wallpaper. The art was mainly messy paintings that didn’t really appeal to me.

If I had to pick two themes of my photography in the last fortnight I’d go with stairwells and wallpaper, which is not what I would’ve expected on arriving in London, but there you go.

The last Wellcome exhibition piece was a group of films by a woman who learned to free-dive and each film was a single dive. It was very atmospheric and doesn’t translate well to photography but if you’re reading this and in London, it might be up your alley. I liked it but it felt quite claustrophobic after a while.

Anyhow, go browse the gift shop!

The British Museum (ancient history)

I’m doing these all out of order – the BM was the second last museum I visited. Another great piece of architecture but it didn’t take me long to wander through and recall why I didn’t spend long here when I visited last time. I love ancient history but I have almost zero interest in sculpture or historical relics. I read through the displays in the Alexander room and that was about it.

Going to all these museums has really made me think about what interests me and what is worth my time. Admittedly I’ve had heaps of time in London thanks to my hay fever but if I only had a few days I’d think really hard about what I wanted to see because there is an almost endless variety.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (um… everything?)

I was a bit blurgh on the day I went to the V&A and the thing I liked best was putting my feet in the pool. The V&A is a weird museum, it has a bit of everything and I think I would’ve had a better visit if I’d researched and gone to see a specific thing. I did admire the William Morris dining room but otherwise I wasn’t terribly inspired. I’d certainly give it another go when I felt a bit more energetic.

The Science Museum

I wandered in here on the same day I did the V&A and therefore wasn’t probably in the best frame of mind. However I can see the SM would be an amazing place to take kids and there’s something there for almost anyone.

I didn’t even take many photos in the SM. it was certainly deserving of more attention than I gave it.

Tate Britain (art through history, excepting whatever goes into the Tate Modern I suppose).

This was the first place I visited on this trip and I loved it. LOVED IT. I love fine art and the TB (another bad acronym) has a large Pre-Raphaelite collection. It was like a ‘greatest hits’ parade of romantic paintings.

There were lots of people sketching artworks and it made the gallery feel very lived-in… if that makes sense.

The thing that tickled me most in the TB was the entry hall installation. The artist had covered the entry in tiles…

And scattered sculptures around but also had a person dressed as a squash lounging around, just stretching and wandering.

Watching people watching this person-vegetable was terrific. People smiled, made eye contact with strangers, wondered out loud what it could possibly mean.

The TB, while not as outrageously fabulous as the Natural History Museum, had its own architectural beauty.

The John Soane Museum (architecture and Victorian life)

The JSM is an unusual museum on several levels – literal and metaphorical. It is the collection of one man and displayed in his house. John Soane was an architect and I wish I’d learned a bit more about him before going to his house because there aren’t labels on anything, to help preserve the feel of the experience. Photography is not allowed in the building, however I did take this sneaky shot in the toilets.

First time I’d used an original!

There were a lot of staff around who were happy to explain things but I wasn’t feeling talkative that day. Plus most of the collection is sculpture so not entirely my thing. The house itself was quite interesting with much of the original furniture in place.

The Cartoon Museum

The very last museum I visited! Almost over the road from the British Museum, the Cartoon Museum is quite small and costs Β£7 to enter. However if you are interested in cartoons I’d recommend dropping in.

Danger Mouse! One of my childhood favourites.

Some of the displays were familiar, some new. Some were one page of a book or series, some were one-off pieces.

The Saatchi Gallery

More like an Australian art gallery than any of the others, the SG has big white rooms and big artworks. When I went there were four or five exhibitions. I particularly liked one by a collage artist who did huge works on photographed backgrounds.

So my advice, if you want to see museums and galleries in London, is to do some research and think about what you like. Don’t waste time on a big name if you don’t actually like that style or period – for example I think the Tate Modern is outstanding, but don’t go unless you like modern art or you’ll waste half a day and walk five kilometres around the gallery for nothing. I’ve learned not to bother with miles of rooms of statues.

I enjoy variety when I travel and I think I’ve had my fill of high culture for now – the next week is all about visiting family, Luke arriving (yay!) and then back to Andrew’s and a visit to Luke’s family before Lauren arrives and we’re off to sun ourselves on Croatian beaches.

But first I need to finish writing up what I’ve done in London. I hope you didn’t think this was it!

Here Comes The Planet 66 – Kenya 07

If you’re on a Dragoman overland tour, one thing you’ll quickly become accustomed to is the regularity with which you must set up and pack down tents, at all times of the day and night. Your tent skills are highly important – they can make or break your enjoyment of the trip!

As such, one of our Dragoman tour mates, Pete, has decided to make an instructional video on how to pack down your tent in the most efficient manner. Well. Maybe not the most efficient – but certainly the most effective!

Thanks once again to Pete for giving us his footage to use. I am glad we could immortalise such epic tent packing skills for future generations. πŸ˜€

Horses, Horticulture and History: A Day Out In London.

I was up early and decided to walk some of the way towards Kew Gardens from my Airbnb room in Lambeth.

I was walking along Grosvenor St beside the Thames when I heard a great clattering noise behind me.

About fifty horses out being exercised! It was both a magnificent sight and sound. All the more special because I was virtually alone on the street when they went past. I daresay this is a regular occurrence so if you want to see them try going to the spot at about 8:30 on a Sunday morning.

Alternatively, you could also hang out at Sloane Square, where I saw them again ten minutes later.

I caught the tube from Sloane Square to Kew Gardens and then had to wait a short while to get in. I was glad I’d bought my ticket online as I walked straight through when 10am rolled around and by then quite a queue had formed at the ticket window.

Kew Gardens are huge.

A whopping 326 acres in which there are a wide variety of themes gardens, artworks, wide avenues and, most famously, architecture.

The structure above is the Palm House, the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world. I imagine it would be a treat to step inside on a cold, winter’s day. On a stunning 24 degree English summer day it was far too hot and steamy. Still interesting though.

I wandered all over the gardens and admired it all. My favourite aspects would have to be the wide grassy avenues…

The walled gardens…

and the absolute highlight was the rose garden behind the Palm House.

Obviously it looked outstanding but the magic was the scent. So many roses so close together on a hot, windless day – the perfume just hung in the air like a heavenly cloud. I cannot, in words, express how delightful it was – you’ll just have to go see for yourself.

As I left the gardens (it took me 3.5 hours to see nearly everything) many more people were coming in. The parts of the gardens round the entrances and cafes were heaving with people but it was easy to get away from them by walking only a few hundred metres.

Next stop was the British Natural History Museum, a weird but wonderful hybrid of Victorian Gothic and fanciful Egyptian architecture. I don’t know who designed it but I can tell they had a great time.

I didn’t really have anything I wanted to see, I just thought I’d wander around. Apparently the other half of London (who weren’t at Kew) had thought the same thing.

Lucky it’s a huge building! I first had a look at a display of shells. It reminded me of a conversation I’d recently seen on Facebook about political correctness and insulting people effectively. If you want to be creative try one of these on for size:

I wouldn’t be pleased if someone called me a ‘three knobbled conch’! Baffle your enemies by letting them know they’re a…

‘Distaff spindle’! That’ll really leave them worried. Or how about a ‘distorted anus shell’?

Maybe not.

There’s a lot to be learnt about self defence from our underwater friends.

All this was getting a bit HP Lovecraft so I went to have a look at rocks.

Now I’m hungry.

Two kilos!

The pyramid of little sparkly stones shows all the colours diamonds come in. Not too impressive in a photo but very interesting in reality. Also many glow under uv light!

There was also an interesting display of taxidermied pheasants (interesting to me and no one else probably) and apart from that I just wandered about trying not to run into people or get frustrated at all the slow walkers.

Eventually I exited through the gift shop and walked home via a pub for dinner.

All in all a great day out! Here’s a few more photos of Kew to finish with.

Lovely in both the macro and the micro.

La’al Ratty Steam Train and the Eskdale Valley

Here’s a mini-post about the tiny steam train (actually a number of little trains, some of them diesel) that travels the Eskdale Valley, taking tourists on a gorgeous seven mile journey from Ravenglass on the coast to Dalesgarth station and the town of Boot.

The train is only just two people wide and the covered carriages aren’t big enough to stand up in.

We had a bit of excitement on our journey when some sheep decided that, rather than get off the rails, they would run, Indiana Jones-style, along the track in front of the train, as though we were a boulder and they had the treasures of the Incas.

I was fortunate to have taken the train on a bright, sunny morning and, like everyone else, chose an outside seat. This turned out to be a mistake as my hay fever flared up dreadfully as pollen filled my eyes and nose (and yes, I’m already on medication) and I could feel my face swelling up (when I get hay fever I really get hay fever) by the time I got to Boot.

I’d planned to camp but ended up booking a room at a nearby B&B called Stanley House.

The owner drove myself and an American family to the pub up the road for dinner.

There happened to be a mini beer festival on, which was nice!

Now you’re talking!

I had hid in my room all day and decided that camping and hiking just weren’t feasible so the next morning I caught the train back.

I was annoyed that my plans hadn’t panned out but I’d been pretty lucky with everything up until that point so I couldn’t really complain. I definitely recommend the train if you’re in the area and I’m not sure I recommend the Stanley House. Despite the owner being lovely it was a bit run down and the bathroom water never really warmed up.

Next: I find out why no one recommends a trip to Barrow-In-Furness.

Barrow-In-Furness

It’s not really fair to come to a town like Barrow-In-Furness after walking through the quiet sylvan dells and lofty, windswept heights of the Lake District. It’s not fair for the town and not fair for me either.

However I had problems to solve that sleepy coastal villages and emerald vales couldn’t help me with. Namely, my debit card wasn’t working, I was low on cash, and I was suffering crippling hay fever. I’d also checked my bank account and discovered that some scamming website was withdrawing $21 a month.

No problems that were insurmountable, but taken altogether I felt frazzled and anxious. It wasn’t pleasant.

Overlaying my genuine issues were the rather joyless surroundings I had unwittingly chosen. I could feel my mood darken as I wandered around town.

For example, look at this for a town theatre building and arts centre.

Urgh. Also, despite a fairly usual number of rubbish bins this sort of scene was pretty common.

Just.. why?

However a chat online with Luke gave me a few ideas re money and I’d booked into a Wetherspoons hotel/pub so I could regroup and consider my options. I don’t generally use chains when I can avoid them but Wetherspoons, apart from having reasonably priced rooms, allows the use of an app for table ordering. This means I can use my credit card without needing the PIN, which didn’t arrive before I left home. It’s also a convenient way to order food from the table while avoiding bar queues and, as a solo traveller, it means not having to choose between leaving my bag unattended or dragging everything with me to the bar.

Anyhoo. I was in a slightly cranky mood and had perked myself up by deciding to walk around town and make a collage of all the most unappealing sights and then write a sarcastic post about the place.

Apart from just general grot there were some really obvious signs that town wasn’t booming.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a thorough boarding-up of a shop front on a main drag.

Believe it or not, the mall below contained actual, open shops. Not that I was willing to walk down and see what sort of shops they were. I assume gang supply stores or something. Speaking of which, when I googled Barrow the first news story that came up was about there having been 12 gang murders in one year and more expected in future. Shame, Barrow!

But at least the city centre was bustling on a Friday afternoon.

Just kidding.

Anyhow, that building on the left of the photo above was quite magnificent, so I thought I’d wander around and take a few photos of what turned out to be the town hall.

Here’s a weird panorama photo. The hourly peals from the clock tower were quite impressive.

Around the back (which turned out to be the front – a fact that I later learned was a source of frequent confusion) was a car park where people could park right up against the building. How convenient! And it doesn’t detract at all from the grandeur of the only grand building in town, either.

I noted stained glass in the upstairs windows and thought I’d go in, if possible, and have a look. I tried to open the doors but it was all locked up and it was at this point a security guard asked me what I was doing.

I explained that I was a tourist and had been curious about the stained glass and so he explained that the building was always kept locked because of people ‘kicking off’ when they came for their unemployment benefits etc (shame, Barrow!) but then, very kindly, he took me inside and arranged for one of the stewards, a lovely lady named Sue, to take me on a spontaneous guided tour!

Things had started looking up. There’s nothing I like more than doing something unexpected and this turned out to be brilliant.

For someone who hadn’t worked there very long, Sue knew a great deal about the place. She also gave me a leaflet at the end.

First stop was the little waiting area for visitors. I didn’t really hear any information about this but I like the austerity of the artwork. Also I imagine carved slate is difficult to damage if people ‘kick off’. Very practical.

Next the stained glass windows. They were very detailed and interesting. There were repeating motifs that represented the local toffs (the Cavendish family, represented, rather ominously, by a snake – also not the banana-growing Cavendishes as far as my ten seconds of googling can tell), the shipping industry and a delightful little visual reference to the actual name of the town – a bee and an arrow – B-arrow! It feels a bit like something you’d do if a town hadn’t much going for it but someone had, rather annoyingly, left a blank space in the middle of your new civic emblem and you thought it looked a bit bare.

The stained glass was in a space called The Queen’s Room.

I hesitate to say it looks like something out of Harry Potter because that’s really just ignorant tourist-speak now for anything that looks more than 100 years old … but it did. A bit.

The red-carpeted steps leading up were wide and shallow to accommodate the dresses of 19th century ladies, apparently.

I walked through several very grand rooms that were still used almost daily for a range of services including meetings of the local council, the coroner’s court, celebratory events and many other things.

It was all very grand and in the Victorian gothic style.

The job of the stewards seemed very varied. Taking tours (Tuesdays and Thursdays if you’re in the area and you’d get to go up the clock tower too), moving furniture, keeping an eye on council sessions – if the councillors get too rowdy the stewards may remove the mayor’s official mace and end the meeting! Sue seemed very hopeful of the prospect that she may one day get to wield such awesome power.

‘Semper sersum’ means ‘always aim high’ in Latin. An admirable sentiment that goes nicely with the arrow, if not the reality of the place.

That’s the snake, not a pretzel, in the arms under the ships.

Sue kindly took photos on me in a few spots and I walked away from the Barrow town hall feeling much better than when I’d walked in.

Although I’d seen barely anything of the city I felt I’d seen enough (and I didn’t have energy to walk around Walney Island or any of the actually nice spots not too far away) and retired to my room to plan my next move, deciding to go to London for a few days. There’s a branch of my bank there, I can avoid pollen, and there’s plenty of things I wouldn’t mind doing within a short distance.

I’ll leave you with my favourite photo from the day – my in the mayor’s seat, gavel in hand.