31 August 2015

Ooh la la, the city of love

The River Seine
Getting off the train we were hit by 35° heat which was a bit of a shock after London. I had booked an Airbnb room in a 17C apartment on the 6th floor that gave us a stunning view over Paris; the lift had only been installed 18 months ago. We could just see the tip of the Eiffel Tower to one side of our window and Sacre Coeur to the other. Our host Etienne was a delight. On the first day he gave us a French breakfast and explained places to go and how to get there.

Notre Dame from the side

The easiest way to get around Paris from our base was by train, everywhere we wanted to go was about half an hour using one or two trains. I cannot believe the amount of people they move, every four minutes a new train arrives – most of them are nearly full. The trains don’t have air-conditioning and with the amount of people, they become very hot regardless of how cold it is outside; a breeding ground for germs. And we both got incredibly sick. To be in Paris and not have the energy to explore! Luckily I managed to see a fair bit before it really dragged me down, unfortunately the last day and a half I spent in bed.

The Louvre

After carrying the tripod around all day in London, we decided not to do that again, but to go back home and go out again. Lindsay got sick on the second day, so I went out after dinner by myself to photograph the Eiffel Tower after dark. I had gone before sunset as I wanted to get some shots the sun went down and then I had to wait until they lit it up after dark. It’s not much fun waiting on your own. I was fairly confident using the train system now and I managed to get home without getting lost!
La Tour Eiffel
We bought a prepaid SIM card with 1Gb of data so that we could use it to navigate ourselves around. It worked for a few hours and then stopped. We took it back to where we bought it but he couldn’t work out, he said it looked like we had used it all up. 1Gb already? We thought we had turned everything off, but obviously not.

So if you live on a barge, you might want to take your car with you
A boat trip down the Seine is a lovely way to spend an hour. Etienne suggested a small boat which was leaves from Pont Neuf. I booked our tickets online which gave us a discount but didn't lock us into any one time or date. The weather was great so we were able sit on the top level.

There are so many buskers on the train, they have you as a captive audience and then ask for money!

Arc de Triomphe

The lovers locks weigh so much the bridges have to be rebuilt

26 August 2015

London at night

Hyde Park, amazing that this can be in such a big city
We dropped our hire car off at Heathrow, and bought Oyster cards for getting around on public transport. We loaded £20 onto each and then caught the train to the nearest station to our AirBnB room in Kensington. It was in a good spot for walking to restaurants at night and in a nice area.

the double decker buses have gone modern
The first day we walked from our accommodation through Kensington gardens and Hyde Park, it’s hard to imagine that a city of so many people had the foresight to allocate so much land to parklands. I love that they have seats everywhere for people to sit on. Lindsay went home early as his foot was hurting and left me to my own devices. Which at first was fine, but navigation is not my strong point, and I took a wrong turn. I know exactly where it was; I thought I was cutting off a corner and it sent me completely in a different direction. On the positive side I got to see these really lovely houses and consulates. Why is it that countries feel they have to have really expensive real estate in other countries, surely just an office would do? On the negative side I didn't have my oyster card or any money and didn't get home until about 7pm completely exhausted.

Princes Diana memorial garden
The following day we did a City of London walk using a Rick Steves' audio guide on my iPhone and a printed a map which was really enjoyable.

the first Twinings tea shop
When we knew we were going to London Lindsay emailed René whom we met in Tuscany a few years ago to see if he wanted to catch up. Absolutely. We were very lucky, he is an incredibly busy man who it turns out - works out of his Bentley (with a chauffeur mind you) as he spends more time in airports than at home. He doesn't even have to show them his boarding pass as he gets onto the plane, he's such a regular. We gave his PA a range of dates and she booked an Italian restaurant called Locanda Locatelli in Marylebone for Thursday night. It is a Michelin starred restaurant; the service was second to none and the food was divine. So glad we dressed up! It was terrific seeing René again, he is so easy and interesting to talk to. It seemed only months ago that we had last caught up instead of three years. As a parting gift he gave us a signed copy of the Giorgio Locatelli's recipe book as well as a little box each of Italian sweet delights to take home. We confessed that we had looked him up on You Tube, as I knew, among other things, that he is a motivational speaker and I wanted to see him in action. He then gave us a copy of his book and a couple of his DVD’s and CD’s. A truly amazing man.

Trafalgar Square
Gorgeous gothic buildings - the Law Courts
a gas powered light
I was very lucky that Lindsay agreed to carry my tripod around all day while we were sightseeing on our second last day. The Tower Bridge was a fair way away from where we were staying, so going back just to collect a tripod seemed a bit silly. It was difficult to find a spot to shoot from that didn’t have obstacles ruining my picture so we found a way to get onto a rocky beach where we could see another photographer standing. He was doing a time lapse of the bridge and it was nice to be able to chat to him while we waited for the right light. We had a stunning sunset and after dark they lit up the bridge, which was really pretty. I was very happy with the results.

On Tower bridge itself
The Tower Bridge
On our last day we went back to Bletchley Park by train, being a Saturday the train tickets were off peak which reduced their price by half to £96 return for both of us, at £192 ($A422) we probably wouldn’t have gone back. We spent another five hours there and still hadn’t seen everything.

From Kensington we got a bus to St Pancreas International station where the Eurostar leaves for Paris. We handed in our Oyster cards and got a refund, not only on the cost of the card but the contents too - $A50. I had prebooked our tickets months ago and chosen our seats and luckily got them facing the right way. I had read about thieves taking off with suitcases so we had brought a cable to lock our bags together on the luggage rack so I didn’t have to worry about them. It didn’t seem very long before we were in the tunnel and then in France. There is a time difference of an hour, which made the journey seem a lot shorter than I first imagined.

25 August 2015

Even their pigeons were double agents

Bletchley Manor
If you’ve seen the movie “the Imitation Game” you will know about Bletchley Park. 

Nearly 10,000 people were working at Bletchley park at the end of WWII. They worked in three shifts of eight hours around the clock. 3,000 per shift, how did they keep that a secret? As far as the rest of the country knew, Bletchley was a hunting lodge, not a government site whose sole mission was to find out what their enemies in WWII were doing. The previous owners were trying to sell the property but the real estate market hadn’t really recovered since the great depression. Then the Government stepped in and did a compulsory acquisition. The Australian Airforce did the same thing to my great grandfather; you don’t actually have a choice about selling or what they pay you, and you don't get it back when they've finished with it either!

Everyone had to ride bicycles as there was petrol rationing
Bletchley Park is about an hour north of London, it was chosen as it is near a train line that ran between Oxford and Cambridge. This was important because of the calibre of people they wanted to recruit to work in the Government Code and Cypher School – named Station X as it was the 10th site. So it wasn't the only place like this.

the motorcyclists brought the messages to Bletchley Park
The people who worked there really didn’t know what they were doing, they were only given enough information to do the job they were required to do, then it would be passed onto another department. Some were linguists who needed to interpret the foreign languages. Others were mathematicians who were needed for decoding cyphers. No-one discussed with anyone else what their job was, you could only tell someone what hut you worked in. Personnel had to sign a confidentiality agreement when they started there so that they couldn’t discuss what they did with anyone. When they left, they signed another one that stated they couldn’t discuss anything for a further thirty years.

Video on the walls reinacted similar conversations that may have occurred
Winston Churchill was so proud of their work, he had tears in his eyes when he visited. He wanted to know every message they deciphered, but as there could be as many as 20,000 per day, they only gave him a short selection.

An old Enigma without the plugs
Some staff kept track of enemy personnel, so that if they heard of someone being somewhere that was unusual that could alert them to some other goings on. They needed smart people that could think laterally.

The staff, who were mostly women, were billeted with local families or they stayed at an Abbey close by.

Pigeons were dropped by plane over enemy territory for double agents to send back information, they would then fly back to Bletchley park. The Germans trained peregrine falcons to attack the British birds, in response the pigeons would free fall when attacked to get away from the falcons. The pigeons went on many missions often sustaining injuries and going back again. The British captured some German pigeons which allowed them to see how the Germans tagged them and did their messages. So they sent their own pigeons to Germany who would then nest with the locals, the Germans would send them to England to get intelligence but the birds would come back to Bletchley. It was probably a bit more involved than that, but you get the idea. They were double agents!

A guide shows a computerised demonstration on how the Enigma machine worked
Poland sits in between Germany and Russia, so it was in their best interest to keep tabs on their neighbours and had been intercepting their information for some time before WWII. They would go to the British and say they had interesting information for them and the British would tell them to go away. When the war broke out, England started to listen to them. The Pols already had a head start on German intelligence; the British may have never cracked Enigma without their initial help.

Interactive touch screens taught us how to decipher codes
The radio towers were moved from Bletchley out about five miles. It is easy to locate radio waves and they didn’t want Bletchley to become a target. Motorcyclists brought information from those towers and other places in all kinds of weather. They had no idea what they carried, but they knew it was important. They were never to be denied petrol, even when it was scarce.

there were a number of "huts" that were the offices
The work they did at Bletchley was so complex that I can’t even begin to explain anything well in detail. We spent two hours there on the first day before we had to go to London. We went back by train a week later and spent another five hours and we still didn’t cover everything. Our ticket is valid for a year, but we will not be back within a year to be able to go again. If you go there, I would recommend two full days; staying the night somewhere close. Make sure you do one of the walking tours with the volunteers as they are really interesting.

One of the Bombe machines
After the war, Bletchley and places like it, fell into disrepair. Many of the huts have now been restored and furnished as they would have been. There are projected video recordings onto the walls in some of the rooms giving you an insight into conversations that possibly went on. There are large interactive touch pads to explain the decoding cyphers and many other things, including of course Alan Turing's bombe - there were in fact 200 dotted around the country. It is believed that the bombe shortened the war by two years. It is a magnificent place. When out in the garden, you will hear the sounds of a motorcycle go by or a train. In the offices you can hear typing, it makes you feel like you are right there. It was an excellent museum. They are planning on doing even more when they get more funds.

This is what the pigeons were transported in
The pigeons were dropped by parachute behind enemy lines, people working for the Resistance would then attached messages to their legs, the birds would then fly home to Bletchley or wherever their home base was.

23 August 2015

The Lakes District

The Derwent Valley
The Lakes District is a picturesque area of England in the north west. The roads are even more narrow than the ones in the cotswolds. Instead of being lined with vegetation, they are lined with dry stone walls, which can be a little intimidating when confronted with a car coming the other way, one of you backs back and you then you still have to squeeze past each other. Many of the buildings are made with the dry stone. It is incredible pretty but also incredibly busy. Most people come here to walk and there are numerous walking tracks, but as we didn’t bring proper walking shoes and the treks I looked at were over 3 hours long, we stuck to driving. The first day we arrived it was raining and the forecast for our whole stay was rain as well, but luckily the meteorologists got it wrong and we had a couple of fine days.

Imagine having to drive along here every day
There are many circles of stones around the country
the Boat Launch
The lake is called the Derwentwater and you have the choice of rowing your own boat or taking one of the (boat) launches, one stop or as many as you want. You can do a hop on hop off round trip, clockwise or anticlockwise but you can’t change direction. When we got off the first time, there was no room for us to hop back on, and the boat only came once an hour. When the boat going the opposite way came half an hour later we complained and got them to take us back to the start. So even though we planned to do a number of hop offs, we only did one more to see the Lodore Falls as we didn’t want to get stranded again. The perils of going on a sunny day when everyone else wants to go too. Going past Hawes End we did see some walking tracks that ran along the water’s edge which would have been perfect, but by then we had gone past the dock, so it was too late to get off.

No, not us!
Many of these towns have very limited parking and wherever there is a small area to park you will find a ticket machine, even in the most bizarre places.

Parking meter in the forest!
Keswick is the birth place of the original graphite pencil and later the coloured Derwent pencils; my childhood favourite. I cherished my Derwents and hardly ever used them as I didn’t want to ruin them which seems so stupid now.

Lodore Falls
We stayed in a guest house right in the middle of the town of Keswick which made it very easy to walk to restaurants and the boat launch. It is advisable to book restaurants especially on Friday’s and Saturday’s as the towns are even busier than usual with English tourists.

Squeeze in

Just enough room, I'm glad we were behind the bus
Ashness Bridge

20 August 2015

The home of chocolate

You can walk on part of the old Roman town wall
The town of York is very old – it was a Roman provincial capital in 71AD – I don’t know how they coped with the weather after Rome. When the Roman empire toppled, the Anglo-Saxon’s moved in. The Vikings then overtook the town for a few centuries, followed by the Normans, who destroyed the city, then rebuilt it.

the Abbey is tucked in between lots of other buildings
During the industrial age, York’s railway was the largest in the world and they have a magnificent railway museum where you can look inside the carriages of all the monarchs through the ages.

the Abbey's stone was reused in other buildings

If you ever delve into the history of York you come across Henry VIII who closed all the monasteries and nunneries. The old section of the city is dominated by York Minster – a large gothic cathedral that took 250 years to build. 250 employees and 500 volunteers help preserve it’s heritage. They are renovating it, so there is scaffolding everywhere. During WWII they removed the stained glass windows and put them back later. Where panes used to be fixed with lead, they are now removing the lead and fixing the breaks with new seamless methods.

The area known as the Shambles is a cobblestone street where the butcher shops were.

the Shambles

More Shambles
Botham Bar is one of the 4th Century Roman gates embedded in the city wall. The current town wall is from the 12th century, composed of both roman and medieval parts and you can still walk along the top of one section.

botham bar - one of the town gates
The Castle Museum is like a number of museums in one. The most enjoyable were the Victorian streetscape, the WWI section and the prison.

Clifford's Tower
A volunteer told us a tale about Victorian life. When times were tuff, you would sell an heirloom to the pawn brokers, if there wasn’t enough to eat, the father was fed first as he needed to work, so the mother and children went hungry. There was a bathroom up the street for all to use, along with the water that had to be fetched each day and brought back to the house. All water had to be boiled before it could be drunk. People drank beer as it was safer to drink than water. Pale ale was watered down beer, which didn’t make the children intoxicated! Cocoa drinks were promoted as an alternative to alcohol for the working man. When cocoa houses sprung up, they became meeting places where people could buy meals and drinks. The Quakers ran most of these cocoa houses and York is the home of Rowntree (Kit Kat, Aero) and Terry’s confectionary. Rowntree is now owned by Nestle and Terry's is owned by Kraft.

Terry's confectionary
A time before newspapers

The Castle was the main prison for the whole of Yorkshire for a thousand years. It still has holding cells and people who have committed serious crimes are still tried in the Crown Court there. Inside many of the cells in the museum section, videos come on as you enter each room giving you various stories about different people, including the people who worked there. One lady was convicted of petty treason, having been accused of arranging the death of her husband. She was strangled and then burned at the stake.

There is a WWI section which tells about life on the front line. The officers bought their own uniforms, so they were dressed differently from the enlisted men’s khaki greens. When they realised that it made them targets for snipers, they changed their uniforms to be more like everyone else.

Hitler bombed York during WWII, choosing the destination out of a guide book!

18 August 2015

Picturesque country towns

Chipping Campden

The Cotswold’s is one of the most picturesque areas of England. Think beautiful old buildings, country lanes, narrow windy roads, beautiful old pubs and unusual names that come from old Saxon words.

No, it's not a camera distortion, they are crooked
Here are some of their meanings:
- Lower slaughter means lower marshland
- Cots means sheep pen and wold means on the hill, so Cotswold = sheep pen on the hill
- Stow means sheep, so Stow on the wold = sheep on the hill

the roads haven't got any wider

On my morning walk through the town of Paxford I noticed a sign saying “Public Footpath” that pointed across a field. I had noticed these before and wondered where they went. So when I came to the another path on the other side of the church and saw a woman walking her dog, I decided to follow her. No I’m not a stalker, but you can’t really see any track as it’s over grass, so I needed help. She walked over the bridge I had seen the sheep run over earlier and out through a stile on the far side of the paddock and disappeared into the bushes. Moments later her dog came running back over the stile and starting rounding up the sheep. He was having a lovely time. She ran after him and I watched and laughed while within a couple of minutes he had them round up into a nice little circle. All, but one. At that point she called out “help me, help me!”. So I ran over, the herd of sheep ran past me, which just left Bugsy with the lone sheep. I cut him off from running the sheep over to the herd, so he ran it down to the river! His owner ran after him and brought him back up, put his leash back on and asked me if I could hold him. She then went back sloshing about in the brook until the sheep came back up. Lucky she had her gumboots on, though I realised later that they were for another reason. When I got back to the town footpath, I had to clean my shoes, I had after all been walking and running in a sheep paddock! I didn’t realise how serious this was at the time. A farmer is allowed to shoot any dog interfering with his livestock.

Grave stones in the church yard
The public footpaths crisscross the countryside as it is a far quicker way to get from point A to B and safer than walking along the roads as there is only enough room for cars, narrow single or double lanes and nowhere to stand off even if you do hear a car coming as the roads around here are flanked by high dense bushes. When you are driving on a single road that is two-way, one of you needs to back back until you can find a widening of the road built for this purpose, even then, you have the other car has to pass you very carefully.

One of the houses, nearly all of them have fences like this
There are numerous pretty country towns in the area such as Chipping Camden, Blockley, Broad Camden, Lower Slaughter, Stow on the Wold and Boughton on the water. With the last being so busy we couldn’t find a carpark anywhere, so we just drove around and left. Parking is difficult in nearly all of the towns especially in the peak tourist season, sometimes there just isn't any. At one place there was six parking spaces just outside the town, which we luckily got one.

William Shakespeare's house
I was slightly disappointed in Stratford upon Avon, it’s big and very touristy with lots and lots of people.

The place I wanted to stay in Chipping Campden was closed due to a family wedding so they recommended a B&B in nearby Paxford, which was only 2½ miles away. Not quite the old world charm of the area, but on the positive side it was modern and spacious. The only places to eat out are the country pubs but many close on Sundays and Mondays which made it difficult on these nights to go to places we preferred, so had to go to one place twice.

the Baker's Arms - a great meal on our last night