Sunday, April 30, 2006

Vittioriosa, Senglea, Fireworks, and the best food i've ever had in Europe

More to come soon.

See the photos here.


Saturday, April 29, 2006

Scooter touring across the countryside

More to come soon - but yes, we finally get back on a bike!

See the photos here.


Friday, April 28, 2006

The island fortress of Malta

Carly finally got her wish and we're finally on sunny Malta!

I'll get all my handwritten journal notes into the blog soon after the trip, along with links to what will be a big pile of photos..

In the meantime, see all the photos here.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Anzac Day Dawn Service in London

For a second year running I visited the ANZAC war memorial in Hyde Park Corner for the dawn service. This year Dan came with me for the service, and instead of taking the night bus we jogged in along Cromwell Road through Knightsbridge in the cool of the morning fog.

As with last year there was an impressive turn out of UK-based Aussies and Kiwi's paying their respects, along with several Australian servicemen in uniform amongst the crowd.. and I'm sure that the gathering was at least a third larger than last years which is great to see.

While we are yet to make it to the Gallipoli site for Anzac Day, we are hoping to make plans to get there in the next few months.


Monday, April 24, 2006

London Marathon 2006

I missed it last year because we were still travelling around the bottom of Spain, but this year I made sure I got out on the streets of the City and East End to catch the amazing atmosphere of the London Marathon. It was a shitty day weather-wise - non-stop drizzle and cool temps made it ideal for marathon running, but not for spectators taking photos..

Having put in an entry form for this race late last year and not winning a spot in the ballot allocation, there was a hint of jealousy in me as I watched the various race starts in Greenwich on TV. With camera, lenses, umbrella, and ski jacket shell in tow I took a very packed District Line tube out to my first stop at Tower Hill to see the Elite women come past on their way back to town, some of the lead wheelchair races fly by the Tower of London, and also the elite men leading the rest of the field over the Tower Bridge as they approached the halfway mark at almost world record time at that point.

The elite men come over Tower Bridge ahead of the rest of the main field

With the drizzle still coming down I headed eastwards on the DLR, racing the runners to Poplar where I hoped to catch the Elite men as they came past the 21 mile mark after touring out to and around Canary Wharf. Patience standing in the rain was rewarded with some great shots of Ethiopean Haile Gebrselassie (finished 9th) leading the front runners at that point, followed by the two Kenyan's - eventual second place finisher Martin Lel, and eventual race winner Felix Limo behind him and out of view in my shots. This was the first time I'd seen Gebrselassie in person so it was a treat to catch some great photos of him in stride leading the group, with our small group of friends Dan, Sophie, Hannah, Jane, and Gibbo watching in the background from the footpath of the A13, just outside the Railway Hotel next to Limehouse Station.

Jane, Gibbo, Dan, Sophie, and Hannah next to the Limehouse Station bus stop

The lead group

Haile Gebrselassie ahead of Kenyan Martin Lel

Italian runner Stefano Baldini just behind the lead pack

Dan offering a refreshment

After the racers flew by, we went back over to the other side of the Limehouse tunnel to watch the field behind them at about the 14 mile mark battling along in a narrow part of the course. It was here that we say a friend of Sophie & Hannah's for the first time, and when we returned back to the 21 mile part of the course near the station that we saw him again. I got some great close-ups of him as he realised who was cheering him on and gave us a wave!

The costumes and characters in the race were fantastic and pretty much only limited to what you could haul around the course - from the couple and their parents who ran with the field from Greenwich in full wedding garbe, stopped on Tower Bridge to have the ceremony, and then continued on to finish the race hours later; several Roman Legionairs in full kit; plenty of pirates; to the old fella we saw in a viking outfit and a very authentic beard which I got a great couple of shots of as he shuffled past.

Many people put their names on the front of their shirts, so as they came past everyone would give them some personalised encouragement - it certainly gave many a lift to hear complete strangers cheer them on!

By the time I headed home, the elite men & women had well and truly won the race and the rest of the 35,000+ runners continued on towards the finish line in the Mall.

Maybe the Gold Coast or Sydney one for me as a marathon-distance debut race, as it'll be a while before I have another chance to be here for this one.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

finally some canal walking

With the Easter Monday Bank holiday free after returning from our days out at Cornwall, we met up Renee and Chris this morning for a walk along one of the many old canals that criss-cross the north, east, and west of London.

Chris, Renee, and Carly at Camden Lock

Since my mate Brett had described these to me after his time in London, I've aways been facinated by how they previously serviced the City with barge freight transport, and still today with old-style long boats travelling the canals from London to all parts of southern England by this amazing network which spreads as far as Birmingham and beyond.

We met the Regents Canal at the Camden Lock, just near the markets, and then walked eastwards along the tow paths which were once used by horses to pull the barges and boats, stopping off to check out the 875 meter tunnel which travels right the way underneath Angel town centre. I got some good shots of this impressive piece of engineering, and also some photos of the regeneration happening along the banks - I expected there to be more development centred around the canal as it weaved through some pretty dense areas of north London, but it seemed that many older style buildings had simply turned their backs on the open space and water views that it offers.

Both sides of the Canal tunnel beneath Angel

Many of the new developments are beginning to take advantage of what the waterfront has to offer, and British Waterways actually permit longboat residents and travellers to moor up at certain points for set periods. This seems like a good way to bring activity to what could otherwise be disused area except for the odd walker or jogger.

We stopped off at a bar in Angel for the first of our beers for the day, and from there we travlled further along the canal to The Narrow Boat pub (which fronts directly onto the towpath) for another. We left the canal soon after and trekked up to the Canonbury area to a great pub that Chris used to frequent while living up that way, and after that we came all the way back to Upper Street and had another pub stop there before heading to dinner.

Phil, Carly, the Bull, and Willow

Gardens in one of the local squares starting to bloom for spring

A great shot of Renee and Carly with my long lens

Dinner's worth a mention - we went to an 'all-you-can-eat' vegetarian restuarant Chris had raved about, where you can eat your fill for only £3 each! After copping a heap of shit on the long journey there about what is was going to be like, we all had to admit afterwards that it wasn't too bad for the price.

Back home on the tube, and off to work tomorrow for a short week.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter camping in Cornwall

Another long weekend and another adventure into the English countryside. Carly and I hired our usual VW Golf from Europcar at Heathrow for 3 days checking out more of south-west England, in particular the Cornish coast which we really enjoyed on our trip to Newquay and St Ives for new years. This time we were camping with Dan and Sophie in a beachside area near Hayle, adjacent to St Ives, so we packed up the car and drove out of town on the M4.

After looking over the detail road map we use on our driving trips (often the centre of many 'navigational' arguments), Carly (the navigator) plotted a course for us to literally veer off the M4 at the turn-off to Bath and head south-west through Somerset to the M5. While bypassing Bath, we managed to get ourselves lost on a detour and ended up going through the tiny village of Batheaston - via what was almost a dirt track through a cow paddock and past a bunch of ramblers who gave us some wierd looks - we were certainly seeing the countryside on this trip!

The real reason we weren't taking the M4 (besides avoiding the woeful holiday traffic around Bristol) was so we could take a look at the small village of Norton-St Phillip, apparently famous from the book Wintercombe. While it certainly was a typically nice English village with an impressive church, we were really only there so that Carly could get a photo in front of the "Welcome to ....." road sign, and then call her sister to brag about getting there first - trust me Kate, you didn't miss much.

This photo cost me an hour of my life that I will never get back

Before we got to Norton-St Phillip we went through the beautiful town of Bradford-apon-avon which is set around the picturesque river (which winds its way down there from Shakespeare's home of Stratford), and has the usual small cobbled laneways and unique buildings seemingly devoid of the usual impacts of the tourist trade. It seems that the more we travel through regional England we seem to find more and more towns, villages, and regions that really stand out as places to visit, and this area is another one that we had some impressive scenery and things to see - if only we had more time we always say to each other.

We also travelled through Glastonbury, previously only famous to us because of the huge music festival held there annually (with the exception of this year). It was lovely enough to see, but you'd have to say it's 'all about the music' when people make the pilgrimage there. Just outside the town atop a large prominent hill called the Tor is the impressive St Michael's tower, but we didn't really have time to stop and visit which was a shame. Reading up about it when we got home, apparently the whole area has strong links to historical artefacts such as nearby Stonehenge and also many facets of medieval Europe. Probably worth a visit another time.

The day's driving was dragging on so we travelled non-stop after a late lunch in Exeter down into Cornwall, past the turn-off to Newquay and onto Hayle and the campsite where we met Dan and Soph. When we arrived we went to set up camp in the tent we'd loaned from Sophie, only to realise that together we'd forgotten to pack the doonah and blankets to keep us warm on the two nights! Disaster was only averted when the campsite owner was kind enough to loan us some blankets for our stay. We had a great first night with Dan and Soph, and Soph's friends Nikki and Tim sitting around the BBQ having some drinks with the waves crashing on the beach nearby. We certainly felt a million miles from the madness of London.

Beers down on the beach, which looks across the bay to St Ives

The next day we had a slow start with a fry-up breakfast, and then got in the car for some sightseeing around the most-westerly tip of mainland England. We travelled to the seaside village of Marazion, and walked out the impressive St. Michael's Mount, which is a hilltop castle/palace perched on a rocky outcrop just off the coast and is joined by a narrow causeway you can take only at low tide. This is the twin to a matching castle called Mont St Michel on a similar outcrop just off the Brittany coast of France. The castle at the top was closed only on Saturday's, so we missed out on going in, but it was impressive to visit nonetheless.

After that we had a Cornish pasty in Marazion (a must-do for me in Cornwall), and then headed through the harbour town of Penzance and out to Sennen Cove, where we parked the car for our hike around the exposed headlands to Lands End - the most westerly point of mainland England. We met friends Pete and Sueanne & dog Bridgette, and their friend Kate there, took a few photos, and took in the view out to sea where there's pretty much nothing but water until you hit the U.S. The whole area has been a bit spoilt by the tourism offerings that have taken over what was probably once a lovely series of headlands, and thankfully we'd avoided having that ruin it for us by walking in from Sennen.

The view to Lands End from the north-east near Sennen

So having been to the Lands End, we walked back along the coast to Sennen Cove where we found ourselves a fantastic B&B tea house, and on work colleague Mark's recommendation got ourselves a Cornish Cream Tea. Carly's fresh scones arrived with the huge dollop of coddled cream, and we sat back and enjoyed the view over the fishing boats out to sea. The scones were fantastic, but the special cream is what makes it special. The proceeding walk had justified it though!

Fishing boats at Sennen Cove

We left Sennen Cove, and unfortunately had to make a nervous drive back to Penzance because we'd left the fuel tank run a bit too low for our intended route - but following a fill-up we headed back into the countryside to continue the drive along the northern coast road, past some amazing villages and the smoke stacks of the old tin mines dotting the country fields of the region.

Winding roads, stone fences, and Cornish countryside - made for driving fast!!

We travelled around St Ives, and headed back to the campsite where we met the others and then headed to the nearby local pub in Phillack.

The pub was called the Bucket of Blood, named after some local legend that we merely speculated about after far too many strong local ciders (9%!).. It was a brilliant traditional locals pub, complete with sagging ceiling beams and original bar, and many of the local St Austell ales which Dan got stuck into. In the end I started falling asleep, and by then it was time to head back to camp and to bed.

Our last day started as slow as the previous one, and with the overcast weather we'd had clearing by the hour, we walked down to the beach where the tide was out for some sun. The weather got so good by then that for the first time this year we both got slightly sunburnt, but by then it was time to get back into the car and begin the long trip back to London, via numerous scenic detours and also some woeful directions by my navigator(?).

Our campsite, Dan's tent, and our VW Golf

Instead of the usual route via the A30, the M5, and the M4, we took off along the southern coast heading for seaside Weymouth. Along the way just near Dorchester we stopped at what we thought would be an impressive castle (according to our road map) - what we found was indeed impressive, but there was no 'castle' there in the true sense of the word.. Maiden Castle is among the oldest iron age hill forts in Europe (the present hill fort formation dates to 300-400BC), and stands high above the surrounding farmlands and covers some 47 acres (I've read up on it on the web since we visited) - while you're standing on the top plataeu area you can really imagine a whole village being up here, protected by the huge ramparts on all sides and its amazing strategic position with views over the whole area and nearby Dorchester. The photos I took in the poor light really don't do it justice. The protective embankments are huge, and when you walk down into them you can tell it must have been an intimidating place for attackers. Click here for a page on the history of it, and click here to see the hill fort on the Google Maps aerial image!

The high fortifications that sill remain around the hillfort

English Heritage who manage the site allow sheep to graze all over the site, and Carly spent her time chasing the very small, fragile spring lambs around the paddock, while I laughed at her and tried to get shots with my camera - no success on patting a lamb, but she did collect some wool from an old one!

We left the fort and headed south from Dorchester and the coastal town of Weymouth and nearby Portland. We headed up the hilltop at Portland to see the views along the Chesil Beach as it stretches to the north, and came across some impressive defensive gun placements on the ocean-side of the hilltop, built in the late 1800's as part of a coastal defense - interesting stuff.

Photos of the gun placements, showing the small train track used to carry the artillery from the nearby bunkers

After taking probably too many photos of the gun placements, Carly dragged me away and we went down to Weymouth and had fish and chips on the beachfront esplanade. As we sat there you got the sense that with its beautiful mile-long beach; fronted by an equally long row of B&B and holiday houses, Amusement Halls, bars and pubs, ice cream stalls, and limited car parking; would be absolute mayhem come the warmer summer months.

The very English seaside esplanade and beach at Weymouth

From there we headed directly back to London, travelling via Sophie's home region around Bournemouth and Wimbourne. Near there we travelled along the outside of a never-ending brick wall which looked like it surrounded a huge deer farm. Each of the gates had these huge arches and massive gates - we assumed it was owned by some Lord or member of the Royalty and kept on driving, but I'll have to find out what it was.. We eventually got onto the M3 and came into West London and home.

Finishing up at the front door at 9:30pm, it had been a busy but worthwhile trip out to the West country - probably for the last time while we are in the UK this time, although i'm sure we'll be back there again eventually.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Hampton Court Palace

Finally some fine weather got us up and motivated and we headed out of town on the train to Hampton Court, to see what is claimed to be the most impressive palace in Great Britain.

With a history centred around the Court and reign of Henry VIII and all the dramas of Anne Boylen, Catharine of Aragon, and Thomas Mosely; as well as other occupants such as Oliver Cromwell and many other Royals after that, the palace was used up until it was opened to the public in the 1800's.

The architectural history was also very impressive, with the newest part of the palace (which is usually seen as a backdrop to photos of the beautiful gardens) being designed by famous London architect Sir Christopher Wren back in the early 1700's.

The outside facade of the Palace

More recently several areas of the palace have been restored, including the fireplaces and rooms and stores of the Tudor kitchens, and the private bedrooms and dressing rooms of the Royals.

The working Tudor kitchens

With such an impressive display of rooms, artwork, furnishings, and internal courtyards, the history of the palace is very easy to understand once you begin to explore. We'd luckily timed our visit with a special program of cooking demonstrations in the Tudor kitchens, and also a series of re-enactments by costumed actors of the arrival of Henry VIII at the palace - htis was fantastic to see as they walked around the palace in full character, including trumpets announcing the arrival of the King, and entertaining jesters of the Kings' Court..

The surrounding grounds were beginning to change with the spring weather, so we were able to walk amongst some amazing gardens of daffodils, and many of the trees beginning to change from their barron winter state. For me this meant one thing, colours to try and capture with my new lens!!


We wandered around the place until closing time, and then headed back over the adjacent Thames river bridge to the train station for our trip back home. Definitely recommended for tourists and London locals alike.