Interlaken: Buses, Chocolate Making, Cable Cars and More.

Our Bernese Oberland Pass began today so we jumped out of bed at 6:30 to make the most of it. I’ll post more about the pass after we get to Geneva when we work out whether or not it was worth buying.

First activity for the day was catching a local bus to Beatenberg, a little village further up in the hills (I mean mountains… Switzerland’s mountains look like hills because there are even bigger mountains behind them). The bus ride took less than half an hour and we got out a few stops before the end of line and walked along the ridge that Beatenberg sits on, admiring the houses, the view, and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Everywhere around Interlaken are spring water fountains where you can fill up your water bottle with cold water. I think my favourite spring that I’ve seen so far was this one in Beatenberg.

So stylish!

If I could say that this part of Switzerland reminded me of another place I’ve been I would liken it to Japan. Equally clean, full of polite people, and the architecture, if you take away the geraniums, is very similar to wooden Japanese houses, only heavier and more ornate.

We bused back down to Interlaken in good time for our chocolate-making class at the Funky Chocolate Club. We were the only Aussies in a group of Americans but they were all very nice and we had a lot of fun.

First we heard a bit about the history of chocolate and where in the world it comes from. Then we tasted everything from 100% cocoa (revolting) and pure cocoa nibs (not bad) through dark, semi sweet, milk, and white. We then learned to temper chocolate to make three blocks of our own.

My favourite part was learning that correctly tempered chocolate twirls in a ribbon rather than dropping straight from the spoon. I got to use my lettering skills to write on our bars. It was harder than it looked!

You’ll probably find this hard to believe, but Luke and I did not gorge ourselves senseless on chocolate and only ate half a handful of bits during the class. Therefore we felt we deserved a hearty lunch at the bierhaus our walking tour leader had recommended the day before.

Specifically Alessandra had recommended the mac and cheese so we ordered one and a salad. It was, hands-down, the best mac and cheese I’ve had on our travels and I would’ve tried over a dozen in the US. This one was topped with fried onions, had plenty of cheese sauce and speck, plus it had a side of apple sauce. I don’t know if I’ll ever eat mac and cheese again without it – one of those unexpected pairings that turns out to be magical. Although we all know cheese and apples are good together… why did I not think of this already?

Next up was a bus ride along Lake Thun to reach a tourist attraction that I wasn’t at all keen on – the home of an ancient monk named Saint Beatus. He was possibly Irish and came to the area to convert the Helvetii and also claimed to have slain a dragon, which the Helvetii seemed to think was totally legit and so this monk lived in a cave and then had a take away shop named after him. This would’ve been pretty handy because the cave is miles from the nearest shops.

The site consisted of a long and steep ramp up to the little cave where the monk lived plus entry to an almost 1km stretch of tunnel that contained a river and stalagmites etc. Luke pestered me to give the caves a go and I said ok (I caved if you will. BOOM TISH) but we only got about 50 metres in before the roof got a bit low and I started quietly crying and had to leave. I was trying to convince myself it would be fine but the further I went underground the more a voice in my head kept saying ‘you are trapped!’ and I had to leave. Luke walked me back down to the gate and I sat outside and read my kindle. I felt totally fine when I got out and Luke went back to have a look but that’s it for me and caves. No more!

The outside was certainly attractive and worth a look. There’s a museum too but we didn’t bother.

We went back to the bus stop and caught the next bus to the base of the Neiderhorn funicular and cable car. The cost of this was included in our travel pass.

The view from the Neiderhorn was gob-smacking in every direction. The Neiderhorn is a long ridge so from the top you can see over the edge on one side and down towards Interlaken on the other.

On all the buses, the funicular, and cable car there’d been hardly a soul all day. That was to change, however, for our next activity. In the meantime we enjoyed looking at this Bernese Mountain dog being a bit lazy and catching the bus.

We don’t blame you, buddy. It’s 30 degrees out there.

Our last excursion of the day was another fantastic spot to see the sights.

Harder Kulm ( or, as we like to call it, Heidi Klum) is a restaurant and viewpoint that is accessible via a long hard walk or a funicular from close to the middle of Interlaken, therefore it is very popular.

We crammed aboard the funicular to make it up in time for sunset and a lovely meal of schnitzel and salad. Despite some bad reviews on TripAdvisor we found the staff very friendly and welcoming. Luck of the draw, perhaps.

The space at the top has a viewing platform that extends out over the valley a little and was filled with people getting their photos taken.

We decided not to linger as we knew the funicular would be crowded on the way down and so we lined up and ended up having a nice chat with a high school girl from the Netherlands who was travelling Europe solo in her school holidays. How wonderful to be a teenager in Europe. In country NSW we had a choice between Queensland and Sydney for our getaways. Yawn!

We walked back to our hostel via a sculpture in town that I wanted to take a photo with – a Bollywood director who had filmed many of his hits in Interlaken. Our walking tour guide had even been in one of the movies as an extra!

We were exhausted by the time we got back to the hostel but I’ve been a complete trooper and finished this entry straightaway. What a champion I am!

A photo of me with an empty bowl. How intriguing!

Catching the Bus Along the Amalfi Coast, Italy.

We had booked four full days in Sorrento with the thought that we would use it as a base to see the Amalfi Coast.

Sorrento is not actually on the Amalfi Coast, it sits on the northern side of the peninsula and the AC runs along the south side. On the map below you can see Naples in the north, Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii in the middle and then the route the bus takes from Sorrento to Amalfi. To go from Sorrento all the way to Salerno to see the whole Amalfi Coast takes two buses and about 3.5 hours – you have to change at Amalfi. Amalfi is also where the buses leave to climb up into the hills to reach Ravello.

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Although it is not far in a straight line from Sorrento to Amalfi or onwards to Salerno, the route is incredibly twisty-turny and the road hugs the cliffs. On our second day in Sorrento we bought the ten euro day pass and caught the 6:30am bus to Amalfi where we stopped for a hearty and not-at-all-Italian breakfast.

Then we continued on to Salerno and then back, stopping in Amalfi for lunch. While the first bus was less than half full when we set off at 6:30, it was standing room only before it got to Amalfi and every bus thereafter was full to the absolute limit, often turning away customers.

Just being on the buses along the route is an experience. The buses have a very loud and distinctive horn that they blast before all the sharp bends in the (often vain) hope that people will stop in an appropriate place so the bus can make it around the turn without having to stop. Usually people either don’t know what to do or don’t care and come on anyway, which means that they then have to reverse back around a corner. Traffic builds up so quickly that it sometimes takes quite a while for people to make enough space for the bus to move forwards and clear the road.

Frequently people have parked along the side of the narrow road, making the bus driver’s job even harder. There are tow-away signs all over but no-one seems to care.

People also seem to dump rubbish, either in bags or just in pieces, along the road and it’s kind of infuriating that Italians (and tourists I guess?) don’t seem to respect the unbelievable heritage and natural beauty they’ve been given – and on the other hand, if you’ve been elsewhere in Italy you just have to shrug and acknowledge that it could be so much worse.

The coastline is stunning. Easily one of the world’s most dramatic and beautiful and enhanced by the ancient towers that dot the promontories, built over a thousand years ago to watch out for Saracen and Turkish raiders. The houses and hotels lean vertiginously over cliff edges and lemon and olive groves cascade down mountainsides.

Positano is the most steep, the oldest, and possibly most picturesque of the seaside towns.  We didn’t get off the bus in Positano but it is easy to admire from the road.

We spent some time looking around Amalfi and particularly at the cathedral, which is very grand for such a small place – this is because Amalfi was once a maritime hub, so powerful it minted its own coins. It was devastated by a tsunami and plague centuries ago but signs of its past wealth remain.

In all the towns along the coast beaches are divided into sections. The largest is for the people who rent loungers for the day and a much smaller part is sectioned off for people who just want to lay a towel down. I find this process offensive – beaches should be for everybody, not a select few, but at least in Amalfi people can put their towels down even between the loungers if there’s space.

Admittedly Luke and I didn’t swim at any of the beaches. Apart from the beaches consisting of boiling hot grey pebbles or grit, it is hard to enjoy a beach when there are only two of you. There’s no way we’d leave our bags unattended which means only one of us could get in the water at a time.

Fortunately Luke did some research and found that were at least three hotels in Sorrento that would let non guests use their pools for a fee. We found the Hotel Central was cheapest and enjoyed several cocktails and a peaceful swim in their small and quiet pool. Happy days!

Luke loves the blue drinks!

Also check out the little awning on the beach chairs here! You’ve probably all seen this before but I thought it was nifty. More useful if the chair is actually in the sun but you get the idea.

So, we spent one of our days in Sorrento travelling the length of the coast, then our last full day saw us head back to Amalfi, again on the 6:30am bus, to catch the next bus to Ravello. Obviously the next Ravello bus departed just as our bus pulled in (because Italy) so we waited for half an hour then managed to grab a seat. The ride up to Ravello is perhaps less hair-raising than the drive along the cliffs but the road is even narrower in places (at one point it is only one car wide) and the hairpin bends are even more tight.

Ravello town square.

We had breakfast and a wander around Ravello, looking at the Cymbrone Gardens (where parts of Wonderwoman were filmed) and admiring the views of the hills from higher up before heading back to the bus.

There was a huge crowd waiting to catch the bus back and Luke made it on before the bus driver cut everyone off. I called out ‘my husband!’ and pointed to Luke and the driver kindly let me board last. This meant I had to sit right next to the bus door with my back pressed against the front window and leaning against it so the driver could see his mirrors.

Going through a tunnel backwards in a bus.

Going through a tunnel backwards in a bus.

It was kind of fun in a white-knuckled way and an older lady in the front seat kept smiling and grimacing understandingly at me when we sped up or turned a tight bend. When people got up to get off towards the end of the route everyone was very courteous about making space and letting older people sit down, as well as letting the driver know what was going on at the back door of the bus.

By the time we got back to Amalfi to catch our last bus to Sorrento there was a huuuuuge group of people waiting in the bus bay and so I went off to investigate other options and we ended up deciding to pay an extra ten euro to buy a seat on the private ‘city explorer’ bus (you know those red ones you see in major cities) that only sold enough tickets to fill the seats. No standing room and better aircon. Totally worth it!

Catching the buses along the Amalfi Coast is quite an experience and can be exhausting. There are big scrums, people push and shove a bit and it’s frustrating if you don’t know precisely where the bus stop is. Staying in Sorrento worked out well as we were at the beginning of the line and therefore always got a seat in the mornings – important when the ride is nearly two hours long.

If you’re thinking of visiting the area and catching buses my advice would be to go out of season. Of course if you enjoy combat sports and the smell of sweaty strangers and bus exhaust fumes then by all means go in Summer!

The lady with the red bag kept my spirits up;-)

The driver who let me ride shotgun. He looks so relaxed!

Perfectly suited to a full size bus.

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 £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!

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.

Belfast Bits and Pieces

Belfast is certainly a different city to the place I visited in 2003. Admittedly the amazing weather and longer time I’ve had to see it have played apart, but it can’t be denied that there is a much more cosmopolitan vibe to the place now.

On our last day of driving around we kept things low key and stuck to Belfast, seeing Danny’s new house and a few tourist attractions, starting with a ‘Melbourne breakfast’. Obviously it was avocado with fancy bits on sourdough but also a smidge of vegemite too. Very nice!

Ulster Museum was on my to-do list after I’d seen it online and it was a great place to get a feel for Northern Ireland’s history, from prehistoric times to the current day.

They used to have dragons!

On the very top floor of the museum is a display dedicated to Ireland’s current #1 tourism drawcard – you guessed it – Game of Thrones.

An enormous tapestry (currently 84 metres and growing) tells the story in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry. Having seen all but the most recent season, it was interesting walking along and picking out the plot points.

The signs warning people not to touch the cloth were also in keeping with the theme.

The Museum also has a partially-unwrapped mummy. Danny said it gave him nightmares as a child. I can’t think why.

The Belfast Botanical Gardens are worth a visit if you like that sort of thing, and if you’re there on a cold day I’d definitely recommend a stroll through the heated Ravine building, which contained tropical plants from around the world.

There’s also a Victorian glasshouse with some very interesting specimens.

We took a stroll around the gardens of the big building (um… parliament? Danny, help!) in the very first photo and also drove up to Belfast Castle. It was built in the Scottish Baronial Style in 1862 by the Marquis of Donegal.

A little bit Hogwarts?

It is always nice to see historical buildings being in regular use and this castle is now a function hall and restaurant. The gardens contain sculptures, topiaries and mosaics of cats. We walked around and found a few after having a drink and a sit in the sun.

A post about the sights of Belfast would be incomplete without some photos of the murals that can still be found in various places around the city. Since my knowledge of NI history is far from complete I won’t comment on the political situation except to say that many of the more violent murals we saw years ago have been replaced but there are still a few giant paintings of men in balaclavas with machine guns in hand.

In the city centre there is plenty of (what I think of as) Melbourne-style street art. Beautiful and quirky images that go well with the new bars and restaurants.

The last bar we had a drink in was The Sunflower. Years ago people had been shot in this bar, hence the gate at the door. Now it’s a gay friendly meeting place with ukulele jam nights.

How things change!

I was sorry to leave Belfast but felt certain I’d be back.

Thanks so much to Danny and Peter for their outstanding hospitality and I look forward to repaying you in Australia!

Next stop: Carlisle and finishing off The Cumbria Way. But just before I go, a last Ulster Fry…

Cambridge: Gardens, Churches and the Beer Festival

I’ve made an effort to see a few things that I didn’t do when I lived in Cambridge. So before I get into the Beer Festival here’s a couple of things I did when I wasn’t taking advantage of Andrew’s washing machine, tv and couch.

Kings College Chapel

Despite the fact that this is one of Cambridge’s most iconic buildings I didn’t even consider going in until one of my co-workers, Tim, came here a few years ago and I saw pictures of the inside.

It’s £9 to have a wander around. There are side rooms with informative displays but the main attraction is the long room and it’s astonishing fan ceiling.

The big dark thing in the middle of the first photo is an oak room divider that was donated by Henry VIII. I think it’s awful but my opinion seems to be in the minority. It houses the pipe organ and keeps the riff raff in the back half of the chapel out of sight.

When visiting these kinds of edifices it always pays to look for amusement in the small details.

I don’t know what led up to this scene, but this guy’s thinking ‘I have made a terrible mistake.’

This guy looks like the textbook definition of ‘chief executor’. Or possibly ‘grand vizier’ .

The Cambridge University Botanical Gardens

I wandered down here before our first Beer Festival session. Beautiful.

The gardens were much bigger than I expected and full of students, draped like cats over every available sunny bench and table.

The gardens have lots of ‘rooms’, as well as actual rooms in glasshouses. All are well-labeled and interesting.

The chronological bed was a concept I’d never seen in any other gardens.

I had two favourite parts to the gardens. The first was the lovely scented garden, which is a bit hard to share on a blog page.

The second was the way that grass/meadow plants had been left to grow into islands and borders around perfectly manicured lawns. The contrast of soft meadow and smooth green was delightful. Also difficult to really convey in photos but you’ll just have to trust me.

I sat for a while and read my book – Great Expectations. If anyone had told me how funny Charles Dickens was I would’ve read it years ago. Although perhaps I wouldn’t have appreciated it then? Who knows.

The 45th Annual Cambridge Beer Festival

One of the longest-running beer festivals in the UK (and probably the world.. outside Germany maybe?) it is put on by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale society, who are a group that works hard to promote small scale brewers and keep traditional English Pubs out of the hands of criminals who gut the insides and replace all the dark wood with IKEA pine board or worse – turn them into offices.

The Cambridge Beer Festival is no small deal. It runs for six days, two sessions a day (12-3 then 5-11) and costs £3 to get in (per session), unless you’re a CAMRA member, which costs £20 per year and gives free entry to all their events.

I attenedd the festival with Andrew, who is thrilled to have my company.

This year we’re here on Tuesday evening and then both sessions Wednesday as I’m off to Belfast on Thursday.

I decided to approach my cider and perry choices this year (beer is revolting) in the same way I choose horses at the races – amusing names.

So far I’ve had ciders called ‘Virgin on the Ridiculous’, ‘Weasel’s Wevenge’ and ‘Monk and Disorderly’. I also tried one called ‘Ghandi’s Flip Flop’ but it was revolting.

Of course it’s not all about drinking. There’s an outstanding cheese counter too.

And don’t forget the pork pies. There’s also terrific curries, roasts and fish and chips.

Could anything be more British?

We were even first in line on Wednesday – and what a line it was.

If you’re ever in Cambridge at the end of May, and particularly when the sun is shining, I highly recommend going, it’s a great day (or six) out.