Greenwich, New York.

Whoah. Since we got here I feel as though we’ve barely stopped moving. New York is probably supposed to be like that. But before I start a long and envy-inducing list of what we’ve been doing and my first impressions, let me tell you what happened in London.

We spent a last morning shopping in Camden (when I say ‘we’ I mean I shopped and Luke watched – he’s good like that) and I bought a couple of last piecess of funky clothing. I also had a heart-stopping moment where I tried on a skirt that was labelled ‘Large’ and it didn’t fit over my knees. The shop guy and I then held it up against some smaller sized clothes and realised it was mis-labelled. Whew.

Then we went back to our adorable English pub, grabbed our bags and got to the airport about 4 hours before our flight was due to take off. Sometimes being a super early person has its advantages – when we got to the counter the lady said our flight had been delayed by 4.5 hours but the earlier flight, departing in 40 minutes, had space and we could jump on that. Win! So we half ran through the airport after Luke got stuck in security for no reason apart from his bag being full of electrical cables, and were the last ones on the plane.

We flew United, which I’d heard bad things about but it was actually a nice flight, apart from the alcohol costing money (in retrospect this was probably a good thing) and the food was nice, there were lots of films to choose from and, my favourite, the window rows had only two seats, so no being jammed in with a smelly stranger.

The plane even arrived half an hour early and we found that scary US customs involves some guy asking what’s in our bags, me saying ‘wine’ and him waving us through without even looking. We didn’t even get asked how long we were staying for, whether we had visas or were planning on working… nothing! UK customs are waaaay more intense.

We caught a bus into the city and found our accommodation pretty easily. We’re staying in a 4th floor walk up (blurgh) apartment in Greenwich, one of the more bohemian areas of NYC, for one week then we’re off to Brooklyn for a week. I might save first impressions of New York, and our catch up with friends for the next post. Right now I need to rub my sore feet and work out where to buy some more yarn for my crocheting. I made 6 squares while on the flight over – it’s so addictive. I just wish I’d started out with colours that matched anything in my house.

More tomorrow!

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London and Visa Applications.

Luke and I returned from Iceland with altered circadian rhythms, a craving for fresh food and somewhat lightened wallets.

We booked a cheap B&B in West Drayton, apparently home to the kind of people who enjoy spending a sunny Saturday afternoon with their shirts off, large stomachs on display, drinking pints outside a sticky looking pub by the side of a major highway, shouting at each other incomprehensibly. The B&B was a tad dodgy and the room was tiny but we were close to a train station so we could get into the city.
After an unexpectedly dark night’s sleep after the twilight of Iceland, we caught the train (remarking frequently, as I’m sure all Australians do, how amazing public transport is here) into the city. Our current mission was to acquire our Tanzanian visas.

So we navigated to Bond St, dropped off out passports and forms and then went back after 3 hours and they were ready to collect. Simple! All other embassies take note. If there was a TripAdvisor section for embassies Tanzania would get 5 stars from us.

While we waited I had lunch (Luke watched because he said he wasn’t hungry) at a place called ‘Pitt Cue‘, which I’d read about in one of the newspapers. Only about 30 seats and a very limited menu, they served American style bbq dishes. I had the ribs, which were possibly the best beef ribs I’ve yet had (not that there’s been much competition) and a really great potato and (bone) marrow mash. I highly recommend it if you’re in London and like meat. There’s no booking, you just show up about 15 minutes before opening and are seated elbow-to-elbow with strangers. The service was quick and friendly. The prices were high-ish but this is London, after all.

Served in a tin dish, it made up for in taste what it lacked in presentation. Which isn’t helped by me taking the phone in dim light with my phone.

I also spent a bit of the wait time window shopping around the area and found a shoe shop that many of my female friends would love. Insanely colourful, decorated heels, some reminded me of Carmen Miranda, others were like drag queens crossed with Mexican wrestlers.  The prices weren’t bad and I’m sorely tempted to go back and get a pair of the less insane ones.

I don’t know where I’d wear something like these, or what I’d wear them with but damnit, I’d find a way!

The next day we tried to book two more nights at our B&B so we could go in to the Rwandan embassy on Monday but they were all booked out, so we took it as a sign and decided to head back to Cambridge and grace Andrew with our presence. Lucky guy. First though, a trip back to Camden markets for a wander around in the sun. We ate a giant burrito between the two of us, had ice-cream made freshly in front of us using liquid nitrogen (this means there’s no ice crystals and I must say, it was exceptionally creamy and smooth) and I bought a couple of things.

A splodge of heaven.

After this, what with the weather being pretty much perfect, we agreed Hampstead Heath would be the ideal place to chill out. We were oh-so-wrong. The closer we got to the Heath the more my eyes itched until, once we got there, I could barely concentrate thanks to my sneezing and scratching. Curse you, hayfever! I took some tablets… actually I took a lot of tablets… and we headed back to Van Failen. Luke drove home and I semi-slept in the car then crashed out for several hours after Andrew told me I looked like a hedgehog. I’m still not entirely sure what he meant.

Here Comes The Planet 25 – England 01

We finally reach the United Kingdom! During this episode we catch up with Amanda’s old housemate Andrew, and he takes us down to his local pub as well as his local Tesco – Britain’s third largest in fact, and just behind his house! We also catch up with friends from Australia while exploring Camden Market, and our good friend Matt takes us sight-seeing in London.

Also, DICK TURPIN.

Castle Howard and Hampton Court

In the last few weeks I’ve visited two stately homes, Castle Howard near York and Hampton Court in London.

Mum and I stopped in at Castle Howard on our way back down to Cambridge after two days in Edinburgh. We arrived quite late in the afternoon – in fact 15 minutes before their last entry time to the inside of the house. We bought our tickets and raced up the driveway to see an extremely imposing sight.

Castle Howard is interesting on a number of levels. I’d been reading about its history in Bill Bryson’s book, At Home, as it was built to the design of a man named Sir John Vanbrugh who was commissoned by the Earl of Carlisle around 300 years ago. It is one of the largest private homes in the UK. The most astonishing thing about Sir John is that, prior to Castle Howard, he’d never designed a building before and was in no respects an architect. In fact he was a playwright and the wikipedia article on his life is quite interesting.

The Howard family still live in the enormous building (I think there are over 200 rooms), in one wing, and some of the rest is open to the public, although as with Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, not quite enough of it to feel that you’ve had value for money.

Some books from the castle library – the one on the left is dated 1644.

Part of the interior of the building was damaged by fire in the 40’s and the process of rebuilding is happening very slowly. You can go into the burnt-out rooms and they are currently being used to display photographs of Brideshead Revisited, both versions of which were filmed here.

The most outstanding features of the castle interior are the frescos, painted by Giovanni Antonio Pelligrini. In the main entrance hall and some of the unburnt rooms every surface but the floor is covered in completely over the top baroque artwork – flowing capes, naked women, battles and gods. It’s hard to imagine living with that kind of excitement going on around you day and night. In the unpainted rooms there’s hardly less visual excitement with sky blue and gold fabric papering the walls, covering the chairs… it really highlighted how much tastes change over the centuries. If you decorated a house with even half the colour now people would look at you as though you were mad. Then again, if you hired a writer to design your multi-million dollar mansion you probably would be mad.

The ceiling of the entrance hall.

One of the drawing rooms.

One of my favourite features of the tour was very small – a little display board devoted to the William Morris wallpapers one of the Lady Howards had used to decorate parts of the castle. I love the Art and Crafts Movement and it’s the first time I’ve seen some of these iconic prints in the flesh.

Mum and I both quite enjoyed Castle Howard but if I went back I’d definitely take a picnic and make the most of the huge lawns and outdoor views of the building rather than rush through.

Oh, it’s also worth noting that it’s not, in any way, a castle.

A sign in the garden… tee hee!

…ooo000ooo…

On to Hampton Court.

For Mum’s last day in the UK Luke and I took her to Hampton Court. As with many of the things we’ve done, I had pretty much no idea what to expect before we got there. For some reason I expected something a little like Castle Howard but it was completely different.

The Clock Courtyard. The fountain is designed to run with wine on special occasions.

The core differences come down to two factors – age and use. Hampton Court is a mostly medieval building rather than renaissance, created primarily in the time of Henry the 8th and made of (rather ugly) brick. It is nowhere near as imposing or grand (in my opinion) as Castle Howard. It has always been used to entertain rather than as a primarily private residence. Most of the main building is apartments for royal guests to use. Even before it was bought and expanded on by the church it was a waypoint between the two main royal residences.

There was an exhibition on while we were there – ‘Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber’, which, disappointingly, was nowhere near as salacious as you might hope and mainly revolved around the fact that the royals would often receive guests in their bedrooms. *yawn*.

The two things I found most interesting about the place were the tennis courts – definitely go see them if you visit and read the panels along the wall. You can watch ‘Real Tennis’ (ie the original version of the game) being played by a few of the 500 current members and learn about the ridiculous wagers Victorians made over the game (one man won a match from the back of a donkey). The other thing I enjoyed seeing was the world’s oldest and largest grapevine. Planted in the 18th century and still producing about 1000 bunches of eating grapes per year, it is an astonishing sight.

My tip for visitors to Hampton Court is to pass on a piece of my mum’s advice – make a meeting time and place when you arrive (if you’re with a group) because the place is a warren and, unlike most other similar buildings, there’s not one set route to follow. I lost Mum within 5 minutes and then Luke later on. We managed to meet up but then lost each other again. Having a meeting place also means that if one person wants to walk quickly while someone else wants to dawdle at a snail’s pace *cough*Luke*cough*, you can do what you like.

(Edit: Hey! I went as quickly as the audio guide allowed me to go. Amanda thought it was boring and didn’t follow it. I enjoyed it – it was a bit like a radio play, set during the time of Henry’s wedding to Anne Boleyn.)

The scope and variety in the rose garden was staggering. The scent was divine.

After Hampton Court we drove Mum back to her hotel in Heathrow and stayed to have dinner at the pub across the road before saying goodbye. It’s been a really great month of traveling around with her and I miss her a little already – which is funny because I only see my parents for about a week out of every year, and even then I’m probably not in the same room for most of that time, so I’ve spent more time with Mum this month than in the last decade. When we drove away a whole bunch of things occurred to me that I would’ve liked to talk about with her.

I’ll just have to wait til Christmas.

Thanks for coming, Mum – and hi to the ladies at your hairdresser’s who I know will be reading this!

London

I have so much to write about that I barely know where to start.

So many pretty flowers in London.

First of all, turns out my laptop is completely dead. I am quite sad about this, and as I remember things that are on it that are important I will no doubt become more sad. Photos aren’t too much of an issue because most of the photos I’ve taken are either on my camera, Luke’s computer (which I’m currently using) or a memory stick that I transferred a bunch of albums to a few weeks ago. Not everything will be there but the very best are on flickr too so hopefully not too much is lost. When I think that I have less than 10 photos remaining from my whole previous two year trip to the UK I have to admit that really things aren’t that bad.

Andrew has very kindly ordered me a new hard drive and he and Luke will install it when it arrives tomorrow and I swear I will be more diligent in backing everything up. For at least a month or two.

So, to catch up on the things I’ve missed recording so far.

London!

About a week and a half ago on a Friday Luke and I drove to London to meet up with Rowan and Kerry, friends from Melbourne. We had our first decent drive in Van Falen and it went pretty smoothly. As we’d be picking up Mum from Heathrow on the Monday morning and parking in London is crazy, we left the van at the airport and then caught the train into the city. We met up with Rowan and Kerry without incident and our first stop was Camden Markets.

Camden High Street.

If you’ve never been to Camden and you like alternative clothes, art and counter-culture then definitely go. The shops sell everything, from cheap t-shirts to vintage dresses (I bought a dress that looked like it would belong in an Austin Powers movie), there’s hippy clothes, both classic and classy, amazing leather bags, goth and lolita, moroccan glassware, nepalese furnishings and my old favourite, cyber-rave wear.

And the mecca of cyber clothing is Cyber Dog.

When I’d been there 10 years ago it was a big store with a dj and dancefloor in the foyer. These days it’s even bigger. The shop assistants still dress like Bladerunner extras and there’s dancers on podiums in the foyer too. There’s also a queue to get in. It was kinda nuts but fun to check out. Lots of uv stuff and novelty items. I’m not sure who’s wearing all this gear these days but there’s lots of people looking at it in the store. We weren’t supposed to take photos but I got some sneaky footage which will eventually make it into a video.

We wandered around some more shops then headed to the British National Gallery because Kerry was keen to show Rowan and I was happy to go. The BNG is one of my favourite galleries ever. Brilliant collection, gorgeous building, free… what’s not to like? We walked around fairly quickly, stopping at favourites, then met Matt outside.

Matt had come down from Nottingham to meet us and we’d planned to have a night out partying. I suppose the lesson we learned was that, if you’re planning a night out in a city and none of you actually lives there, a bit of planning is in order. None of us had really checked out what was going on and so we had dinner, dropped stuff off to the hotel room and then headed out into Soho. By the time we got out the pubs were closed and the clubs were full. Despite this just walking around was fun and it was great to catch up. The hotel room was big enough for us all to sit comfortably so we ended up having a bit of a party there.

Rowan and Kerry caught a night bus back to her parents’ and Luke, Matt and I got a decent amount of sleep.

The next morning we walked back over to Leicester Square. Matt knew a great Malaysian restaurant, nothing fancy but great food. I wished we’d gone there the previous night instead of opting for mediocre Italian. Then it was M&M’s World, which is just around the corner.

We hadn’t really planned to go but it was right there. Plus I like chocolate a little bit. The staff at M&M’s World were super-dooper-almost-frighteningly friendly. I took lots of photos and, miraculously, didn’t buy myself any chocolate. I did buy some for other people though. Which I haven’t sent yet. So it might be for me.

As a reward for not buying any chocolate I bought myself several Fry’s Chocolate Orange Bars in a newsagent straight after. These are the best chocolate bars in the world and, while you can get them in Australia they are never perfect – always broken and sticky or with that white fat bloom on them that you get when chocolate heats then cools. I got to eat these ones sitting in the sun by the Thames surrounded by tulips. Probably the best place ever.

After that we walked along the Thames and checked out what was going on, which was quite a bit because it was the weekend. Lots of buskers and people being statues (god knows why anyone would do this out of choice), pretty carnival rides and interesting things to look at.

London merry-go-round.

Matt and Luke take a break.

Soon enough it was time to say goodbye to Matt and then head back to the Heathrow Hilton where, instead of having an early night in preparation for meeting my mum at 5:30am the next morning, we stayed up til late watching a terrible movie on the tv. It had Vince Vaughn and Jason Bateman in it and it was about 3 couples who go to an island to repair their marriages. When I read that sentence back I’m not sure why we watched any of it, let alone the whole thing til the end. I can only claim, in my defence, that after 15 years of not owning a television I find them hypnotic. Trust me, it’s a thing.

The next morning, since Mum’s flight got in at 5:30 we thought we’d get to their airport at 6 since customs takes a while and baggage takes a while. Well, turns out they don’t take a while. Waiting for someone who has already gone through takes ages, however. Eventually we worked out that she was already back at the hotel and met up, me feeling quite flustered that I’d messed up the first hour of Mum’s trip. Mum didn’t mind at all – she’s pretty much unflappable – and then we hit the road and headed for Wales. The rest of the journey is recorded in a previous post. Suffice to say, we saw lots of amazing countryside and made it to Ireland largely without incident. Unless you count a flat battery as an incident. Which I do.

Windy days and long hair do not for good photography make.