August Bank Holiday 2019 – West London

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We always like to do something a little special for the August Bank Holiday – and this year was no different as we’d planned a two-day break in London.

The weather forecast promised a scorcher (especially in the capital) where temperatures are predicted to hit the low-thirties! Apparently another temperature-record will be broken today according to the Tabloids! (Actually, it was – we learned later that it had hit 33.2°C in London!)

Bank Holiday Monday

We’re travelling light! Just two bags between us (and one of those is purely ‘tech’!), so it’ll be interesting to see how we get on… 😉

Being a Bank Holiday, we guessed that the train schedule would be somewhat messy. In fact, there had been announcements over the previous fortnight about NOT travelling AT ALL over the bank holiday! We knew Kettering station was affected, so we drove to Bedford and travelled to St Pancras from there. Arriving for the ticket queue at just after 10 (after a bit of a wrestle with the car-park ticket machine that required an ‘AS’ level to use!), where it seemed the rest of Northamptonshire was already there – and the station was heaving! 😮

10.13am: With our queuing for our tickets over, the journey was happily, a trouble-free experience to the capital. It was our first trip on the new franchise that is East Midland Railways and not much has changed, but what had, was good including totally free wi-fi throughout on a train that arrived out of nowhere (based on its arrival time). 😊

11.00am: We were soon joining a different hoard – on the Tube to our destination to Gloucester Road! And the tabloid promise was coming true – a scorcher was in the making for sure!

If it was warm above ground, imagine the joy of the Tube. Ahh, the Piccadilly Line – super-busy and every passenger (apart from the three Aussies next to me), getting more moist by the minute – there was more air coming out of the loudspeaker grille than the AC duct – what a way to travel on a Summer’s day!!! 😓😓

On our list today…

The Science Museum
The Design Museum

£90 per night including breakfast! (in Kensington!!) 😁

11.30am: But before the Museum visits, it made sense to dump our bags. We’re staying at the (very) modestly-priced IBIS Styles in Gloucester Road (more about that later), and after losing some weight we headed for the Museum region, a five-minute walk around the corner.

The Science Museum

11.45am: First stop was the Science Museum. We haven’t been here for a while, but we’d heard it had had a makeover courtesy of the National Lottery.

Wow! What a change! One of the first exhibits celebrated the age of steam…

‘Puffing Billy’ – the oldest locomotive in the world!
The Age of Steam

…followed by plenty of exhibits of cars through the ages…

A new take on ‘parallel parking’!

Next, examples of how machines were powered after the steam generation, including…

A Merlin engine from a Spitfire

There was also a big section on the future of transport – very thought provoking!

1.10pm: The highlight for us though was the GCHQ Exhibition on the lower-ground floor. There wasn’t that much to see, but what there was, was fascinating! It was a little like the exhibits at Bletchley Park, but in addition, it included more recent accounts of modern code-breaking.

No, not an Enigma Machine, but its successor, the Lorenzo Machine
All about early encryption methods – fascinating!

An excellent exhibition and worth seeing even if you HAVE been to Bletchley Park. All-in-all a fascinating visit with much more than we expected! Well worth a visit!

A Comprehensive GCHQ-related Shop

1.45pm: Next stop was a fifteen-minute bus-ride away (on the No. 23) to the Design Museum, next to one of the entrances to Holland Park. In all our travels in London, we’d never come across this Museum before – and amongst all the other buildings in Kensington High Street, it stood out a mile, architecturally speaking! The Museum is open daily 10 until 6 and open late on the first Friday of every month until 8pm.

The Design Museum – Stanley Kubrick Exhibition

2.15pm: Unfortunately, we’d narrowly missed an exhibition from our old employer ‘Mr Sainsbury’ (that had closed the day before) ‘From Corn-Flakes to Cola’ – or so we thought. It was still advertised… and still running! 😊

Located around the perimeter of the first floor was a wide range of label-designs, packaging ideas and typography from ‘back in the day’ (probably best NOT to be too specific) 😊 – but it certainly brought back memories!

For those of you who read my Blog and also have a connection with ‘good ol’ JS’, there’s some great memories to wallow in here! 😉

2.45pm: Back to the main event then – the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition. We had to pre-book, but on arrival, after a quick pit-stop, we got in about an hour before ‘our slot’. We knew we were in for a treat as the media hadn’t given it a five-star review and Steven Spielberg has sung its praises too!

The Exhibition commemorates Kubrick’s life, twenty years after his passing, and is as comprehensive as it comes. Luckily for the curators, Kubrick seemed to keep everything – and his notes captured the minutiae of his profession perfectly: from camera angles, casting and story-boarding, it was all here. In short, the Exhibition comprehensively tells the story of this icon of a film-maker, exploring his unique command of the creative design process of film-making, from storyteller to director to editor.

The entrance to the Exhibition

The Exhibition illustrated how Kubrick created genre-defining worlds for his films and relived iconic scenes and memorabilia from The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut, Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, 2001: A Space Odyssey and more. In all, there were over 700 rare objects, films, interviews, letters and photographs – fantastic!

This had been one of the most comprehensive Exhibitions we’ve ever seen. The level of detail that Kubrick had recorded in the process of his film-making was simply amazing! And it was so good that someone had had the foresight to pull it all together for this exhibition.

A car designed by Kubrick?

4.00pm: We were all cultured-out by now and having been ‘spoilt’ by the Museum’s air conditioning, we certainly felt the heat when we came out. It was now (at least) the promised 31 degrees. We made for the nearest bus-stop – fortunately just a short walk away – where we only waited around 10 minutes for the number 49, that took us pretty much straight to our hotel! After a quick perusal around the local Waitrose for our evening meal, we checked into Room 309.

5.30pm: We were glad to be out of the heat, but there’s a full-day ahead tomorrow!

Tuesday

On our list today…

The Natural History Museum
The V and A Museum
The Royal Albert Hall

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Inside the main entrance to the V & A

10.15am: After our quick breakfast at the Hotel, we walked our first stop of the day: The Victoria & Albert Museum. It was already 22 degrees outside, so it was good to enjoy the relative coolness inside!

Spread across five floors, there’s plenty to see here and the gift-shop is home to plenty of quality merchandise that punches well above its weight in terms of range.

Plenty to see on the 1st floor, modestly entitled ‘Britain’. it covered the years from 1500 through until 1900 and showed-off a wide range of home interiors, where there were even complete recreations of whole rooms! Lovely! ✔✔✔✔✔

11.15am: Lunchtime at the V and A, with a particularly enjoyable view – The John Madejski Gardens

…albeit with London prices! 😮

Welcome to London! Two soft drinks + two pieces of cake = £16.30! 😋

Our final stop was the area of the Cast Courts containing an amazing range of replica statues!

This had been an impressive Museum. It was quiet, mostly sprog-free and (given today’s heatwave) a comfortable temperature. Our next stop however, would turn out to be the complete opposite! 😮

The Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum

12.35pm: I can’t recall the last time I visited the Natural History Museum, but it seemed to have changed a lot (based on my memory!).

There is a lot to see here and for the reasons that follow, we didn’t really do it justice. First of all, it was packed! Second, it was very noisy, thirdly, there were gazillions of sprogs in attendance (the main source of the noise!) and it was much hotter than its neighbour. Why all these kids – it’s a boring Museum after all? Well, if anyone says that the craze for dinosaurs has died-down, it certainly wasn’t in evidence here. The enormous section of the Museum devoted just to Dinos was where most of the human-traffic was heading – and it was heaving!

But we had to see what all the fuss was about. 🙄

Impressive doesn’t begin to describe what was on show. Anything, and probably everything, you ever needed to know about dinosaurs was covered here. But, forget the facts, because most of the attention (and noise) was from around the life-size dinosaur exhibit that moved and roared! Literally scores of people all squeezing into the (smallish) space to grab a shot of this animatronic marvel – including me! 😉

Not a real dinosaur
thestevepalmer@gmail.comal
A real dinosaur

The other major attraction here was ‘Museum of the Moon’ – and the area surrounding it was rammed with onlookers! 🤔 It featured an inflatable installation artwork by Luke Jerram – a spherical replica of the Moon, with a diameter of 7 metres. Several copies tour the world for temporary exhibitions, often accompanied by music. There are also copies in museums in Barcelona and Sydney. Ann liked it, but because I’d seen the word ‘interactive’ somewhere in the promotional material, as clever as it was, I was expecting it to ‘do’ more than just ‘hang there’ accompanied by ethereal music. Beautiful though!

‘Museum of the Moon’

1.30pm: Although there was still plenty to see here, it (‘it’ being the noise and the heat) was all a bit too much for these two old codgers (a sign of our age?), so we retreated back to the safety of the now familiar Waitrose, Gloucester Road (opposite our hotel) for the bits-and-bobs for our late lunch.

Phew!

2.30pm: With Lunch sorted, there was just time for a short siesta before getting ready for tonight’s main event…

The Royal Albert Hall

6.20pm: Now refreshed, we took the short(ish) walk direct to the Royal Albert Hall. It only took us about 25 minutes from the Hotel.

No photos allowed!

7.00pm: The highlight was seeing our favourite Opera, Mozart’s The Magic Flute where tonight’s performance is part of the 2019 BBC Proms season (‘Prom No. 51’, if you’re counting!) The last time I was at the Royal Albert Hall was for a very different kind of the music: the culmination of Camel’s World Tour in 2018 back in September last year – and the last time we enjoyed the Magic Flute in London was almost six years ago in April 2013 at the Royal Opera House. We love this Opera!! 😁

Well, seating-wise, we couldn’t have got much higher, and to say our ‘backs were against the wall‘ for this performance was literal. Any higher, and we would have needed a parachute – and oxygen! Still, the seats were comfy, but we also felt the temperature rising with all the bodies from a (near) sell-out performance (I only saw four empty seats). Ann had thoughtfully packed a fan, whilst other less fortunate souls were frantically waving their Programmes to create a breeze! 😓😓😓😓😓

But what of the 155 minute Glyndebourne performance itself? In a word: ‘Superb’. Everyone (see the full cast below) was at the top of their game tonight, and even at the distance we were from the stage, combined with the RAH’s challenging acoustics, the sound travelled well – and sounded fantastic. More especially, Caroline Wettergreen who sang her heart out as ‘Queen of the Night’, judging by the enthusiastic applause completely wowed this audience.

Creatively, it was a visual treat. It’s probably the only time you’ll see rubber babies, LED-powered chefs’ hats and where a Bake-Off based backdrop completed the picture!

The Cast

David Portillo – Tamino
Sofia Fomina – Pamina
Björn Bürger – Papageno
Alison Rose – Papagena
Brindley Sherratt – Sarastro
Caroline Wettergreen – Queen of the Night
Jörg Schneider – Monostatos
Esther Dierkes – First Lady
Marta Fontanals-Simmons – Second Lady
Katharina Magiera – Third Lady
Michael Kraus – Speaker
Martin Snell – First Priest/Second Man in Armour
Thomas Atkins – Second Priest/First Man in Armour

supported by the Glyndebourne Chorus
and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth

10.10pm: As we exited the RAH and followed the other 5538 heading for the Tube, we smiled as we knew we only had a short walk back to a comfy bed, whereas the crowd were heading for a bake-off of their own in the shape of the Tube!

10.50pm: Back in our room, all that was left to do was to lighten our load going home by emptying the half-bottle of Pinot before crashing-out! 🥱

It’s been a great break! We’ve travelled light (and it worked well!); we’ve walked more than usual (hurrah!) and best of all, we avoided the high restaurant prices of the local area by eating from Waitrose! 😁. Thanks to Ann’s forensic pursuit of the best hotel-deals, our Hotel – the IBIS Styles, Gloucester Road – was a real find. For a budget brand, it exceeded our (very fussy) expectations and I’m sure we’ll be using them again on our travels.

The Black Country Living Museum

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Our very first visit to The Black Country Living Museum!

9.30am: We picked-up David and Valerie and headed by car for ‘the smoke’.

Located in Dudley, the journey took us a lot longer than we planned, (due to some serious congestion on the A14 in the direction of the M6). So, after some inspired diversionary tactics courtesy of David (with only a tiny bit of help from Robert‘s Sat-Nav), we were soon back to normal motorway cruising speed!

Click here for directions (around an hour-and-a-half for us)

11.45am: In spite of the early hold-up, we arrived just before noon and we were soon queuing for tickets. Ooo, that’s a bonus, a single purchase grants you unlimited visits on that ticket for a whole year – and they’re only £18.45 each! I’m liking this place already! 😉

Looking at the car-park, this was clearly a popular destination, and once we’d got inside, we could see why! After a short AV presentation about the history of Black Country, we were on the Bus soaking up the VERY authentic atmosphere. It was busy everywhere – a really good sign surely!?

12.05pm: All that realism made us hungry, so we headed for the ‘local’ Fish and Chip shop – Hobbs & Son. initially, it looked like everyone else had the same idea as there was quite a queue sprawling out into the street.

The Menu was simple… Fish & Chips or Fish or Chips – and the Chips were cooked in beef dripping (surely the best only way!). No Pies, no Kebabs, no oversized bottles of fizz, just traditional fare!

…and it tasted all the better for it. We took advantage of the excellent weather and pitched-up on a grassy bank nearby. Val and I went back for extra salt and vinegar, which was somehow all the more appropriate, as I had to assist Ann with her volume of Chips!

Now all that was left to do was to soak up the authenticity of our surroundings – and they’d done a fantastic job here… Shops, a Chapel, a Pub, various Dwellings, a Mine, lots of old vehicles …and of course, plenty of coal on show! Any disappointments? Just one – the Cider served in the Pub. Called Rosie’s Pig, and it tasted like a home-brew gone wrong, and then watered down. Yuk! 😯

It was really like travelling back in time…

…and with Actors on-hand in period dress, it all added to a very immersive experience!

By 2pm, after a cuppa, we called it a day. It had been nothing short of a fantastic experience. It’s another one of those attractions where it’s impossible to ‘take it all in’ in one visit – so I’m sure we’ll be back.

We concluded our trip with a brief visit to the Gift Shop. Plenty there to temp us, with some very unique mementos for sale.

2.45pm: Into the car-park and back to 2019 with a bump! A quick check of the traffic showed some heavy congestion on our planned route. David and Ann compared notes and decided to head in the opposite direction on the M5, then the M42, then the M6, and finally, the A14. It worked well, and we were home by 4.30.

Return to the Tower

Reading time: 2 minutes...Off to the Capital today – and a return visit to the Tower of London and more specifically, the Crown Jewels. Ann and I last visited back in February 2016 but we met good mates Roy, Susan, Lauren and Loki there today, who’d never been before! It meant an early start (for a Saturday) for us, catching the 9.02 out of Kettering. Predictably, the monopolistic Midland Mainline was running late – but only by a few minutes meaning that we arrived at St Pancras International just after 10.05. Smile It was then just a short Tube journey round to Tower Hill. Roy, Susan, Lauren  and Loki were just ahead and we could see them as we arrived at the Tower’s Ticket Booth. With tickets in hand, we made our way to the Tower. It was slightly chilly, with a bit a rain in the air and as a result, it wasn’t too busy. We passed through the security check in a matter of seconds and were soon at our first stop: Traitors’ Gate listening to the Beefeater Yeoman Warder do his thing! Next stop: a short spell in ‘reverse gear’ and we were at The Medieval Palace Then it was a walk round the Battlements (which we DIDN’T DO last time we were here) and into the cold air and the rain… IMG_20190112_110409 ..taking in the sights along the way! Back inside and some impressive exhibits followed…   Then it was back into the elements… …before taking a well-earned pit-stop to warm up! With coffees, cakes and conversation behind us, it was back to the history… A lot of people moan about the entrance fee being too high (£25 for Ann, £19.50 for the ‘oldie’) but we used a two-for-one offer associated with our rail ticket, so it made it even better value. More two-for-one offers HERE – but even without the offer, there is shed-loads to see here and even if you only have a passing interest in history, it’s worth the trip. ..and finally, it was the main attraction – the actual Crown Jewels …but unfortunately, once inside, all photography was forbidden. But take it from us, if you like a bit of bling, this is the place to see the ultimate collection. Astounding! We finished up in the same place as everyone else who visits here – the gifte shoppe! The Beefeater bears were tempting, but I resisted! Smile Wow! What a day! We’d spent almost three hours there and still didn’t manage to see everything. Our timed rail ticket meant that Lunch was going to be a bit late – and we only had around 45 minutes to find somewhere, eat and then get back to the Station. We love a challenge (especially when we’re hungry!) Luckily, the local Wagamama’s just round the corner came to the rescue, and we were soon seated and placing our order. After a quick scoff we said our goodbyes leaving our friends to enjoy their meal at a more leisurely pace. It was a great day and with all our connections running to time, we arrived back at Kettering around 5pm. After a quick pop into Aldi for some essentials, we were soon home, reflecting on the day. Smile

Our Anniversary Weekend 2018 (34/7)

Reading time: 8 minutes...Friday, 14th (Our Anniversary) It’s our 7th Anniversary (or 34th in ‘old money’) and we’ve a busy few days ahead. There was just enough time to open our cards and presents before we left, heading north. Thanks for your kind words everyone!       Ann bought we a very classy watch! These days, we normally go away to celebrate – and today was no exception. Ultimately, we’re heading for Pink Panther’s favourite town – Durham (groan!), and finishing at The George Hotel of Stamford. But first, as part of the celebration, we taking a slight detour to Beamish. If you’ve not visited (and we haven’t, for over 30 years) Beamish is a world famous open-air museum, telling the story of life in North East England during the 1820s, 1900s & 1940s. 9.10am:  We left home after the main nine-to-five rush, and enjoyed a jam-free journey. This was helped by a newish part on the A1 from Wetherby to Scotch Corner. Wetherby Services saw us take our first pit-stop where we tucked into a bucket of homemade sandwiches and some piping-hot coffee. 11.30am: After a fifteen-minute pitstop, we’re almost halfway to Beamish. 13.05pm: We arrived in good time. Wow! This place now seemed so unfamiliar (it was over 30 years ago, so that’s my excuse!). The first thing we noticed was how larger it had become – and consequently, there was so much more to see. Additionally, the (very) cold day added some extra character to the place and together with the period-dressed staff interacting with visitors, this made the whole thing feel very alive and authentic.    It was all excellent.. and that was just the Town/High Street part. We took a walk to the nearby Railway Station I definitely don’t recall this last time! It was now turning colder, so our pace was quickening. Next stop was was the Home Farm set in the 1940s. Last stop for us was the School. This was rescued from demolition in the late 1980s, and had been tastefully restored to whisk us back to a bygone era of 30s schooling, Apparently some class sizes were in the nineties! Sad smile Good job OFSTED wasn’t around then! 3.15pm: By the late afternoon, it was turning even colder, and so we decided to call it a day. A quick check of the sat-nav put us one junction (and just 20 minutes) away from our final destination – The Victoria Inn – and after some faffing-about finding a parking space, we were soon fighting our way to the Bar to check-in. This was the local’s local and it was packed! A traditional ‘old-style’ Pub… no food… no satellite TV – just half the population of Durham in the Saloon Bar quaffing ale! 4.05pm: Our four-poster bed for the night (two nights actually) is the attached B&B with just SIX rooms – and the building is Grade II 2 listed. The reason we chose it was that it put us within easy walking distance of the City centre… and the parking (as challenging as it was) was completely free (pretty rare round these parts!).. and the room itself was a steal at just £87 per night! 4.45pm: Our Anniversary meal was booked at Zen, a Thai Restaurant. Being the penultimate Friday before Christmas, booking a table (as we did a few week’s back) at a time to suit, was impossible. We were offered 5pm or 8.30pm – so we settled for the former. Luckily the Restaurant was just a short walk from the Pub – in fact, we were there in less than 10 minutes. Initially it was fairly quiet, but 5 minutes after being shown our table, it started to fill-up. And that continued all the time we were there. By the time we left, it was heaving! Service was pretty swift given how busy they were – and it all turned out to be delicious. Ann loved her peanut sauce with her Lamb and my Red Thai Curry was probably the best I’ve tasted in a long, long while. Smile 6.35pm: 90 minutes and £55 later, we were done. We’d skipped Desserts and minimised the alcohol, so we considered it all good value. As we left,  it was now even colder than when we arrived (and that had been really cold!) Still, it didn’t stop us taking the short walk over the Elvet footbridge and up to the Cathedral. A beautiful building, even in the darkness! As we shivered our way back and passed the gazillion of Eateries beginning one of their busiest Fridays of the year, it looked like they’d got off to a good start! Every one was really busy – and just like Zen, some were already full… …and it was only 7pm! Back to our Room, Ann had put-by a small bottle of Champers and a box of chocolates – what an excellent way to continue our Anniversary celebrations! Smile 10.15pm: zzzzzzzzzzz!
Saturday, 15th8.15pm: Our day began with a rather superb full English Breakfast, courtesy of the Pub/B&B. Suitably stuffed, we were ready to take on the day (and the freezing weather). The highlight of the weekend was our planned visit to Durham Cathedral this evening to see the performance of The Messiah by the Durham Cathedral Choir helped along on period instruments by The Avison Ensemble. Ann was even able to get us a couple of seats in the Cathedral’s Restaurant – The Undercroft – for the pre-event meal. Perfect! But first, we wanted to look round this rather wonderful construction during the day, before the really bad weather arrived. 10.15am: We took the short walk back into the City heading for one of Durham’s main attractions. As per the weather forecast it was cold… very cold – or, as we overheard one local describe it: “Colder than a frozen pizza…”. Apparently, it’s all down to Storm Deirdre and even the hardy locals were wearing hats and gloves – it made these two southern-softies feel less, err, soft! Confused smile On arrival at the Cathedral, the first thing we noticed was the splendid Norman Arches (conveniently NOT shown in the photo above! Doh!) …And as we wandered into the main part of the Cathedral, we were reminded that no photography was allowed. A real shame, because the interior was beautiful! So beautiful in fact, I couldn’t resist snapping a few pictures on my phone! Yep! Very impressive! Next, we booked some tickets for other main attraction – Durham Castle for the 12.15 Tour. To to kill a bit of time before our slot, we headed into the City to have a look round. There are lots of small shops here, and it didn’t take long to get a sense of the shopping scene. The famous Market Square was buzzing and freezing in equal measure! 11.25am: It was getting even colder (if that were possible!) and so we probably didn’t spend as long looking in the shop windows as we planned – there’s a shopping centre here somewhere, but we didn’t get round to finding it! In fact, after almost 5 miles of walking, we took refuge from the biting wind in the Palace Green Study Library, whilst we waited for our Tour Guide. 11.45am: The Library also had some free exhibitions to wander around and (because it was the nearest) we chose Catch your Breath that outlined the ‘life of breath’ (yes, really!). It wasn’t really our sort of thing, but it gave us an opportunity to improve our daily step-count (slightly) – and it was warm too! 12.15am: Our Tour Guide arrived and introduced himself as Rupert, who had been in residence at the Castle as a Student the previous year. He was a confident and competent speaker and we learned a lot about Durham Castle (including the fact that it’s now owned by Durham University). Rupert kept us interested for the whole of the Tour, but unfortunately, just like the Cathedral, no photography was allowed inside…    But unlike the Cathedral, it wasn’t possible to sneakily snap any photos, without being spotted. Just take our word for it then; if you like castles with very interesting histories, if you’re this way, then this is is a must-see! We really enjoyed the Tour, and as we finished in the Dining Room, Rupert wished us well and we headed back to base-camp… ..and the warmth of room 6! It was time for ‘feet-up’ for a few hours before heading out, back the Cathedral, for the Dinner and evening Concert. A quick re-check of the weather forecast for later showed: freezing rain forecast from 3pm onwards running into the evening. 4.15pm: A ‘quick lick’ and we’re ready for all that the weather can throw at us! (Actually, NO, not really, as it could have been very tempting to stay in the company of the piping hot radiators helped along by the electric fire we found in the wardrobe). The sound of splattering on the window ledge outside meant that the weather forecast had (unfortunately) delivered on its promise. As a result, not only were coats, hats and scarves the order of the day, but the addition of an umbrella too! IMG_20181215_171944 5.30pm: After a battle with the elements as part of the walk back into town, we were now safely seated at our table for the evening meal at the Cathedral. IMG_20181215_172928 IMG_20181215_175840 IMG_20181215_183127 We joined a Table of around a dozen and were soon chatting. The Meal turned out to be absolutely delicious, and after a quick trip to the loo, we headed back to the Cathedral to get our Pew (A poet and I didn’t know it!) Smile IMG_20181215_185303 It was well supported and we were around 25 rows from the front (with another 20 rows behind us, and another group to the side) – all in all, we reckoned it was a congregation of around 600+. 7.35pm: The Concert began five-minutes late, but they were soon into full swing. I’d quite forgotten how long The Messiah piece was and although the top-half of me was enjoying it, my bottom-half was suffering – specifically, my TWO bottom halves! Those wooden pews were a real pain in the a** literally! Thanks goodness for the interval at around 8.35. For me, Part two dragged a bit, but my bottom had helpfully switched into auto-numb mode – and that helped the time pass more quickly. The part that most people know – Hallelujah Chorus – was delivered with energy and enthusiasm. Everyone stood as per protocol (my bottom thanked King George 2nd for establishing this tradition!) Smile 10.05pm: Part 3 followed and 35 minutes later, it was all over, to hearty (and well-deserved) applause from the appreciative audience. It was time to leave – and as we headed outside, we could see, and feel, the weather had now deteriorated to snow-turning-to-slush-with-a-strong-wind. It made our short walk back to the Pub more than a little treacherous, but we arrived back without injury or embarrassment! 10.30pm: With every radiator taking on two roles: heating and drying clothes, we reflected on the recent performance (the music not our walk back!). We concluded that it was excellent, but the acoustics were variable. Many of the solo-males’ voices hardly made it back to row 25, and that, together with a slightly dominant orchestra, robbed us of some of the male vocal qualities of the choir. All that was left now was to heat the room to a satisfactory temperature and then call it a night.
Sunday, 16th8.20am: The day began as yesterday, with a full-English – Yummy! 9.30am: As we left Durham (and Storm Deirdre) behind, we headed south for the final part of our anniversary celebration – the quaint town of Stamford and The George Hotel. We haven’t stayed here for many years and it’ll good to experience the oldey-worldey charm of this fine establishment again. But first a 45-minute diversion to visit Boyes Museum was in order. Ann had visited over 30 years ago, but I’d never been before… or even heard of it. Plenty of information on their website, but here’s a potted history… It’s located in Barnard Castle, a town in County Durham, and looks like it’s landed from the Loire Valley in France. The building was never designed as a house, the philanthropist John Bowes and his wife Josephine, decided they wanted to build a museum, stuff it full of pictures and art, and then give it to the people of the North East. Very generous, even by Victorian standards. They clearly had deep pockets and enjoyed shopping on a monumental scale. Its most famous piece though, is probably the mechanical swan…
10.15am: As we arrived, with the weather improving, it made the Museum look even more stunning in the morning light… With the building built specifically to house Bowes’ collection, this was an impressive sight. And once inside, it didn’t disappoint! Today, it also housed their Christmas Market – and that added to the vibrant feel of the place, as carol singers were chirruping away up on the second floor..    First impressions were excellent. A wide range of collectables from paintings to pottery, carved altar panels to catwalk creations through the ages – there was something for everyone! Add to that, a choir singing live, a Santa’s Grotto and a Merry-Go-Round in full-flow – and there was even more for everyone! An excellent experience and I’m sure we’ll be back again before too long! Smile 11.30am: As we left, the weather improved further and it was now a blistering 5 degrees! Next stop was Downtown, on the A1, for a quick pitstop and a look round the shop. Then it was off to our final destination. 2.55pm: We arrived at The George Hotel with perfect timing! Check-in was from 3pm and we parked in the car-park at 2.55! We were soon shown to our room, which being an old building and full of old staircases, needed Sat-Nav to find your room! This is our home for just tonight and we’re taking advantage of the great food here and eating in the Garden Room later. 7.00pm: Garden Room here we come for our final celebratory meal… Blade of Beef for me… …followed by Peanut Parfait 8.55pm: We staggered back to the room having eaten and drunk too much – in other words: An evening of perfection! As we attempted to find our room along the identical corridors and staircases, we reflected on the past few days. It’s been a varied, busy and very enjoyable celebration, but because of the way the dates fell this year, if there is a downside, it’s that it stopped us catching up with some close friends and also to attend the local annual Salvation Army Carol Concert. However, we’ve got plans to put that right next year. We’re home tomorrow, after another big Hotel breakfast. Smile
Some more photos and none of the chatter HERE
Previous Anniversaries 2017 – Spain 2016 – Amsterdam 2015 – The Crown, Stamford 2014 – Malta 2013 – The George in Stamford 2012 – Thailand 2011 – Married (Australia) 2010 – Engaged! 2009 – The Wheatsheaf in Titchmarsh 2008 – Manchester 2007 – Home 2006 – Home 2005 – Indian Takeaway

Dubrovnik (Croatia): Day 3 – M&M&M&M!

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Day 3: TUESDAY

Morning loyal follower! Today’s Blog is sponsored by the letter ‘M’!

It’s a day of Mooching, Museum, Mates and a Meal, here in a slightly overcast Dubrovnik.

We’re mooching around the City, seeking-out the best of the local Museums to understand more of the history and culture here. The Museums vary a lot in  quality, so it’s worth a Google search first to pick the best.

We’re still making the most of our Three-day Dubrovnik Tourist Pass (that gets us in to some Museums completely free – but finishes today) and we’ll recommend a Museum later.

In the evening, we’re catching up with mates for a meal, Mick, Jane, Phil and Karen H, who, by complete coincidence, are also in Croatia (What are the chances ehh?! – we normally meet in Peterborough!) Smile

8.45am: Our breakfast included Yoghurt – so that’s our first experience of some of Dubrovnik’s culture for the day (arf-arf!).

The trusty, No. 6 Bus

9.30am: It was now the well-trodden route to the Bus-stop to board the familiar ‘No. 6’ into the City. In a change to previous journeys, although the Bus was packed, today, someone had thoughtfully located the AC button. So, apart from the Driver driving like Ben Hur, the journey was very pleasant!

10.15: Hitting the ground running (almost) we were soon through the official entrance to the Old City, and heading counter-clockwise round the City Square (can’t say that we don’t ‘live on the edge’)

Mooching (1)…

First stop was Church of the Holy Annunciation

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Click on the map for directions from the City Walls

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A stunning interior…

Next stop was St. Ignatius Church (now a little more famous as it’s located at the top of THE steps from the ‘Walk of Shame’ scene from Game of Thrones). It’s also known as The Jesuit Church. Click for live map

Again, another stunning interior.

At this point we were all ‘churched-out’, so we slipped now onto ‘M number 2’…

Museum…

10.30am: Of all the Museums in Dubrovnik that we researched online, this one got a series of good ratings. Many had not though – so this was easily our first-choice for learning more about the City – Pomorski MuzejThe Maritime Museum of Dubrovnik.

Click for live map

Click on the map for directions from the City Walls

Spread over two floors (18th & 19th century downstairs, 20th century upstairs), although not particularly large, it had a lot of ‘stuff’.

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It was scrupulously clean with its exhibits twin-signed including English and all sensibly spaced-out…

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Click for a larger view   Click for a larger view

All-in-all, a very worthwhile visit! Another M coming right up…

Mooching (2)…

11.45am: Our second Mooch of the day led us to the Harbour…

This was a very popular destination for Tourists, helped no doubt, by the high number of pleasure boats (of all shapes and sizes!)…

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…arriving and leaving at regular intervals!

This seemed like the perfect place to put everything n hold and just watch the (sea) world go by! For a moment, I was tempted by the inky-blue water…

…but after watching a Mother and her young daughter take on the waves – and then struggle, I’m glad I didn’t! Thanks to everyone who offered advice on Facebook as to whether I should or I shouldn’t dive in! I think in the end it was a slight majority for me “to do it” (thanks for that!) Smile I didn’t!

Actually, the more we watched the numerous pleasure-boats leaving the Harbour, the more we were glad we were firmly on dry land (at least today). Boy! these vessels all seemed to be struggling with the strength the waves!

We spent a while watching the boats and soaking up the Sun before heading inland for some liquid refreshment!

12.30am: Off in search of the No. 6 Bus back to base. It was perfect timing as we exited the Walls, there was our Bus just arriving. We were soon on board and 10 minutes later, we were walking back into the Hotel.

A lazy afternoon followed! Then it was our final ‘two Ms’ for today…

Mates and a Meal…

peppers

6.45pm: It was a welcome return to Peppers but this time, it was a table for six. Our friends Jane and Karen H from our Sainsbury days together with their other halves, Mick and Phil, who were also in Croatia. It was a coincidence too good to pass-by!

It was a great meal, spoilt only by the sudden rain (we were outside!) – but we coped! Smile Smile Smile Smile Smile Smile

Tomorrow, it’s off to the island of Lokrum (a UNESCO Protected Nature Reserve).

9.30pm: Night-night!

Return to The Ashmolean

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We’re great fans of The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, having been there in November 2011, March 2012, September 2013 and March 2014!

As usual, we drove to Pear Tree Park & Ride, parked up and took the Bus into the town…

…so much less stressful than attempting to park in the centre of town – even on a Sunday!

An extra treat too, as we were meeting up with good friend Lynn R.  – our friendship goes back to the 90s and my working time with Nokia as a Consultant – and we haven’t seen each other since November 2011!

We made good time and arrived in town around 11.15. That gave us time to look round the shops, but sad to see that many of the known names (including Next) had given up and closed down. We learned later that a new shopping centre – Westgate Oxford – had recently opened, with 100 outlets (including Next), so maybe things are quite as bad on the retail front here as we thought!

We took in the sights on this glorious day…

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…before heading for The Ashmolean

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It’s all been spruced-up a bit since we were last here, including a re-positioned ‘front-desk’ in its new home, straight ahead and on the left, after passing through the main entrance. Lynn was already there, so after a quick chat, we headed for our Table in Ashmolean’s Rooftop Restaurant.

Even if you’re not particularly a ‘museum person’, The Ashmolean probably has something for everyone: Guy Fawkes’ lantern, the last ‘old-style’ five-pound note, an impressive collection of rings, paintings, sculptures and musical instruments! It’s certainly different each time we go there – and toady was no different!

  


  
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Wow! There was certainly plenty to see!

After about an hour, we said our goodbye to Lynn and headed back to the Bus-stop – and the return journey to Pear Tree Park & Ride. We stopped off at Lee’s on the way home (she’s not too well) before soaking up more of the good weather over a cuppa when we got home.

It’s been a great day – and this continuing good weather is very welcome!

Turkish Delight: Day 3 – Istanbul (Mosque Mania)

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The Blue Mosque and The Hagia Sophia are right here on our doorstep, but every day we’ve passed them, the queues have been far too long.

As it’s our last full-day here in Istanbul, the plan today is to have an early breakfast and try and get to them both ahead of the crowds.

We’re also going to squeeze in a local Bazaar near the Blue Mosque and the Cistern Baths.

It seemed to be a good plan as there were no queues at all at The Hagia Sophia. Here are a few facts about the Mosque/Cathedral…

  • One of the largest Cathedrals in the World
  • Over 1500 years old
  • Great examples of Byzantine Art and Architecture
  • Has also been a Mosque
  • Now a Museum

























There is plenty to see here, and it runs to TWO floors…












…with some stunning mosaics…



…and as you would expect, it’s a pretty big place.

Currently though, there’s a lot of scaffolding in place as extensive renovation work continues, so it was best to look UP rather than ACROSS!


Next stop was Cistern Baths (Basilica Cistern). It was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian and is an underground chamber filled with columns partly submerged in water. Back in the day, this is where the locals collected their fresh water supplies.

We steered ourselves round a horde of oriental tourists all armed with the obligatory selfie sticks and headed for the ticket booth. Moments later, and for just 20TL (£3.75), we were soon heading down some very wet stairs into the darkness. It was more-or-less pitch black down there save for a few strategically placed downlighters.

There were plenty of signs up to warn visitors NOT to use flash, but that wasn’t stopping the hoards of camera-phone users regularly lighting-up the whole place. Clearly some enforcement was required here, if the relics weren’t to suffer! It was only the fact that our ‘proper’ camera was able to function (to a degree) in the dark that we got any pictures at all!

Whilst I recognise to need not to flood the place with lighting, it could have done with some ‘smarter’ type of lighting – it was almost impossible to see the settings on the camera and I think we ended up deleting far pics more than we kept.


Film fans will be pleased to hear that a James Bond film has been shot here (From Russia with Love) as well as one of the recent Dan Brown novels (Inferno). Worth a look, but watch your step, as it’s very slippery.


Continuing our Mosque Mania tour, next on our list was The Blue Mosque. Here come those factoids…
  • Built between 1609 and 1616 years, during the rule of Ahmed I
  • Erected on the sight of the old Royal Palace
  • Sedefhar Mehmet Aga was the Project Manager
  • The Mosque its name from the blue tiles on the interior
  • Also known as ‘Sultan Ahmed Mosque’


Once again, there were no queues and after removing our shoes (placing them in the handily supplied plastic bags) and Ann ‘scarfing-up’, we were in! Good to see that the officials on duty were suitability-checking head-gear – I saw at least one disrespectful ‘twatty’ trying to get in by using her ‘hoodies hood’ as a head-covering’ – and it obviously failed because later, inside, she was wearing a brown scarf!
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Being an active Mosque, it was a lot busier, but somehow, it all felt a bit lack-lustre



We’ve seen quite a few Mosques on our travels and I think all-in-all, although impressive, it wasn’t quite as ‘Wow!’ as some we’ve seen elsewhere. Still worth a visit though!


Then it was off to the local Bazaar – not so many Spice Shops though these days, mostly Jewellers and Carpet/Cushion retailers! – Oh, and quite a few obligatory cats too!


This led us to the entrance to imaginatively titled Mosaic Museum – not surprisingly, a museum full of ancient mosaics (from the site of the Emperor Justinian’s Palace).

Most of the 6th century finds were from excavations in the 20s, 30s and 50s, these were a great collection from times-gone-by – and all in pretty good condition too!







Impressive stuff and so much variety too! – Eagles, Deers, Snakes, Ducks and a horned, winged Tiger-ey thingy!


Our final morning stop was due to be the Carpet Museum but (as we discovered later) some little funster had turned the road sign round and consequently we headed-off in completely the wrong direction. We didn’t quite end up in Syria, but it felt like we’d travelled about the same distance!
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On re-treading re-tracing our steps, we did eventually find it, but by then, we’d lost the Wilton will to live and headed back the Hotel for some well-deserved R and R!


Into the afternoon, and a trip to nearby restaurant territory – just across the road from the Mosques. We settled on Sura Restaurant (but there were loads to choose from) and it turned out to be outstanding, both in service and food quality and quantity.



Then it was back to the Hotel to pack, update the Blogs, ready for the taxi tomorrow morning. We finished the day with a Netflix Binge:- ‘Designated Survivor’.
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Wow! It’s been a great break in the old part of the City and we feel we’ve got a real measure of the land, the people and the culture. It has been cold though, and I think that ‘took the shine off it’ a little. Still, I’m sure we’ll be back!

“Güle güle” Istanbul!

All the photographs from our short trip to Istanbul can be viewed HERE