Category Archives: U.K.

Easter Road to the Royal Mile

DSC_0164

I was sick of it. I’d been having conversations with a friend for over four months now about how we both wished to go on a trip within the UK.

However one pitfall after another beset us from actually doing it. So, one day when he called me, I booked the flight and the hotel after he said he’d call me back.

He did…and was stunned to realise what I had done. But, realistically, it was the only way we would’ve ever done it. So we headed out to Bristol airport on the day and boarded the plane for his first flight.

Getting through security was a bit of a hassle, but we got there o.k. His condition prevents him for standing for long periods. I lost sight of him once.

He loved every moment of it. Soaring above the clouds captured his imagination. It wasn’t long before we broke through them after take-off.  He said he was glad he had done it before he died.

When we broke out of the clouds for the first time, it was magical. It felt like we were soaring on silk. It’s a feeling that will never leave me. Not only that, but we were sat next to two lovely flight attendants on the way back.

Our destination was the fair city of Edinburgh, home to The Royal Mile and Easter Road. I’m sure you would never have guessed that in a million years. Anyway,  we were going now.

We didn’t regret it. Getting to see the sights, hear the sounds, smell the smells…thats what travel is all about. It is an adventure unto itself and one not to be crossed unless you are ready for it.

The flights were of a decent price, one hundred and twenty pounds return, with easyJet from Bristol. Good, our next point of call. The hotel.

Three stars. A cosy little place, the Dunstane Lodge. We had the usual, a T.V. and two single beds with breakfast. Also, we had a better-than-standard ride into town with the airport bus.

The vehicle was impeccably clean, the driver polite and friendly, no delays on the service and a seamless journey into the town centre.

DSC_0168

Now for the excitement. He wanted to see the three stadiums in the vicinity, Tyneside, Murrayfield and Easter Road.

It turned out to be a fair old walk, not to visit them from the hotel, but from each one to the other. But the best part, by far and away, was The Royal Mile. The one and only.

Striding down these streets where Scottish shortbread is in abundance brings all the clichés, unexpected experiences and sheer beauty together. These buildings include monuments, Edinburgh Castle, and many more.

We hopped from bus to bus to see the various sights and walked up various alleyways and byways to see all three of the sports stadiums in the vicinity.

This was o.k. I let him do this because it was his first holiday at the age of twenty five. A sad but true story. He hasn’t ever left the U.K. Nor had he flown before.

So there we were in the middle of February at our little lodging on West Coates Street, near to Haymarket Station.

The walk to the town centre was neither strenuous nor unpleasant and I was able to stop and get a hot chocolate from a tasty street stall selling beverages and sweet snacks.

There was a bit of construction work, though, and he found it a little hard on his ears. He has sound sensitivity. As we got into the centre, which we had seen on the way in, we were reminded of the aura of the place.

The sun shone and we began to walk up toward the Castle, from which we oversaw the entire surrounding area and drank it in quite happily.

The Glens outside the city were visible and they stretched, green in some parts, barren in others, to the horizon. As for the castle itself?

It houses the Scottish National War Museum, the Honours of Scotland and the Scottish War Memorial along with other goodies. A plethora of exhibitions, museums and gun batteries, to name a few, are on site.

Most of the castle’s were rebuilt after the Lang Siege of 1573 and were reconstructed thereafter. Human habitation of the area goes back to ninth century b.c.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Edinburgh held some of the most ancient history in the British Isles. Whether that be central to Celtic lore or world history, you’ll find it in Scotland.

It is the home of the television, the telephone and countless other items. As far as cuisine is concerned, it is top-notch. We dined in a Vietnamese restaurant where I had the most wonderful vegetable curry.

We headed for Edinburgh’s international airport, quite a clean and tidy one by anyone’s standards. A slight problem at security. I had bought a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and was denied access through to the gate.

Not a problem, I scoffed it. As for the journey home,  it was a late night flight, during which we met the aforementioned flight attendants and reflected on a lovely trip. My parents picked us up at the Bristol end.

The special part about the place is its entire character. It is like no other, for it has the setting, the character, the history, the culture and just about everything else.

You may lose yourself for a lifetime where the pipes play and the tartan wave flourishes amidst Georgian architecture and the smells of bakeries combine with the sights of Scotland’s capital.

DSC_0071

It has a spellbinding nature and will intoxicate you with its charisma. You can see the Edinburgh Festival here, where murder is in the air and African voice choirs may ease your ears.

DSC_0228

DSC_0215

DSC_0223

What about the Royal Military Tattoo that takes place every year within the walls of the castle and is a magnificent spectale to behold, with pipes and drums from a host of nations, not least, of course, Scotland.

A spectre of fireworks and parade-ground marches, it really does much to impress. So does this entire city…

A lonely night in Stratford

English: The Broadway of Stratford, London.

English: The Broadway of Stratford, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two a.m. in the morning is never a good time unless you’re partying or asleep. But when you’re in the middle of a closed, open-air shopping complex in London’s Stratford area, its not good at all. I was here having come back from Copenhagen on a late-night flight. It took until past midnight to get through customs and then there was a wait for the bus. But I got there o.k.

I just had to wait here until the underground opened, then travel across London to get the bus home to Gloucester from Victoria station. It was going to be a long night, “so just wrap up  warm on the bench and sit tight tight!” I thought to myself.

Londoners and Olympics fans intermingle on the...

Londoners and Olympics fans intermingle on the Tube (Photo credit: AndyRobertsPhotos)

Anyway, about three a.m., these two guys come up and start chatting to me. They weren’t threatening,  just  “night owls”. They were ushered on by a security guard but not before they asked if I was Australian, because of my accent. I said “you got it!” and smiled. After they left, I had a giggle. I’m Canadian!

Skansen, a guide to Stockholm’s 19th century exhibit

DSCF0001   DSCF0108

A fully-functioning 19th-century village? Thats what you’ll find in Sweden’s oldest open air museum, formed in 1891. Truly magnificent in both content and scale, it is a must-see for anyone wishing to visit this Bastion of Scandinavia. The Post Office still operates and arts and crafts are taught all year round. 

DSCF0101

Its name is…Skansen!

If you like the smell of timber and architecture of the 19th century then this is the place for you. The sight of people in period costume  of the place and the architecture will leave you breath-taken. The staff are informative and there is an authentic Swedish chef. Ever seen the muppets? He’ll remind you of them. It is truly the heart of 19th century Sweden. The open air cafes are abundant. So is cycling…

DSCF0118

There are places like Helin and Voltaire that serve coffee tea and pastries, the smell of which you’ll never forget, plus more, or there is Skansen terrace, a wonderful open-air venue where you can sit and drink under the sky of a long summer evening. Want to have your own little glass moose? Why not go to the glass-blower and watch him make it before your very eyes?

All the fauna of Sweden are kept here. If you find seals cute and cuddly, a grey one is fed every day at his aquatic enclosure. He looks happy all -day long. The size of the enclosures is large. The animals have plenty of room and are loved by both staff and visitors.

DSCF0014

Its harmony with nature leads you to think of all the dream you dreamt as a child.

Cornwall

 DSC_0233

It was a bright June day when we set out for Cornwall. I was excited. It was just my mother and I for the first time in ages! Not only that: I was also headed back to Cornwall again for the first time in six years! 2008 was the year.

We were to see sights that were both commonplace in modern English culture and those steeped in the ancient mysteries of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

We were headed to Mullion Cove, where we had spent some time in a holiday cottage after having moved from Canada in May of 2002. We set out early in the day and expected to camp for the whole time we were away. In actual fact, it was too cold and, on the second night, we opted for a travelodge.

However, the first night was spent in a campsite, us having packed a tent in the back of our Subaru. When we got to the cove on the first day, we spent some time wandering around, taking various photos. We got some absolute scorchers as well! It figures, though. My mums a photographer. What a lovely setting.

The rugged coastline and unique culture of this part of the world leaves you with the feeling that it is completely disconnected from the mainland of United KingdomWe spent the evening in a nice pub up on the hill behind the cove.

It was a pleasant place with an outside seating area/garden and there was a lovely breeze coming off the water. The tables were clean and the food was decent. It also had the most pleasant path leading up to it…

DSC_0119

We had a game of dice. Its very similar to Yahtzee, a North American game. We took a walk along the top of the cliffs and sampled the view as the sun set on the western horizon. At this time of day, it is a beautiful and truly spiritual place. 

Our campsite was on top of the hill above the hamlet and was therefore a little breezy. The sleeping in the tent was a little cold, although I didn’t feel this. I was snug a bug in a rug. Also, it was a three-man tent. Thats handy, given that I’m 6 feet 5 inches.

It was about five in the morning and a dull gun-metal sky presided over us. We packed the tent and set out across Cornwall for St Ives. My mum was very kind and gave up some of her day at Naval Air Station Culdrose‘s viewing area, complete with cafeteria. I remember taking a good shot of a Sea King helicopter based there. Good tea too!

Royal Navy Sea King

Royal Navy Sea King (Photo credit: fromthevalleys-)

When we got to St Ives, it was still grey. Not clear like our previous day. The town retained its appearance, however. A rare quality is that this county, and, moreover, St Ives will look good no matter what the weather. In fact, it is probably more beautiful in the mist and fog. It is also home to the Tate St Ives.

Tate St Ives, Cornwall

Tate St Ives, Cornwall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

DSC_0153

What the town is Unique in is its peninsula-style harbour that has twin beaches, a feature that is not replicated anywhere else, to my knowledge. Although the sea gulls will try to steal your ice cream if you’re by the waterfront.

DSC_0168

The smell of the sea mixed with fish and chips…and I mean the authentic English style…would be out of place on any other shore, especially without the accompanying countryside. It really fills the nostrils. It really can not be copied successfully either, although some areas of the world try to sell them with authenticity. It doesn’t ring true!

In the afternoon, we headed for the small town of Mousehole. This is a quaint town typical of any Cornish fishing community. It boasts a lovely harbour area, filled with small boats for rent, and a line of postcard shops with cafes. There is, of course, no shortage of pubs either.

DSC_0086DSC_0226 DSC_0109 DSC_0107DSC_0095DSC_0150

That was day two over with. We spent that night in a Travelodge, given that my mother had to get some fitful sleep for the drive home the following day. She snored and I had a restless night, having to go for a couple of walks.  But that didn’t bother me because I love my mother very much.

It was on the way home that we stopped off at Port Isaac, where we strode along the cliffs and sampled the village. It is a small fishing village that was very prosperous from the middle ages to the 19th century and vital commodities such as stone, coal, timber and potteries were unloaded here.

DSC_0207

There are also good beaches around. If you want to surf, then the beaches at Perranporth and Newquay offer world-famous beaches and surf that will take your breath away.

I bought a little souvenir from the gift shop present at Tintagel castle. The prices were just about right there. Not too expensive, nor cheap. The item was a little Celtic treskil, or cross.

Legend has it that the castle is the birthplace of King Arthur. And so it slips into place as a site that is set in the most British of tales. And what better place to have it than this bleak and stormy isle!

A romantic, beautiful place, it is set amongst green cliffs and there is little left of the building itself. But that just adds to the scenario. It’s a bit like somebody just took an hourglass and made time stay till throughout the ages. To think of the legend that the place is immersed in just gives me goosebumps.

The castle itself is set amongst the steepest cliffs anywhere could possibly offer with green grass atop them. There is little left of the castle itself, but that only adds to its romantic and magical lore. It lies roughly equidistant between the towns of Padstow and Bude. Also very special places.

And so it came to pass that we plondered slowly home, a six-hour drive, under screaming blue skies and with happy contentment. We had had a joyous break!

Boxer dogs and chairs

English: Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower peninsu...

English: Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower peninsular of South Wales. Photograph taken by Jamie O’Shaughnessy September 5, 2003, released to the public domain. Category:Pictures of Swansea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The glorious summer of 2003 smiled greatly on the Welsh Gower peninsula when my mother and I decided to camp there with our precious boxer dog Molly, who had been a rescue dog and now awaits us at Rainbow Bridge.

We had recently got her and she was a delightful dog…except for the incident where she was almost drowned by a swan! That happened after she went into the water and chased one.

Anyway, we spent the night in a two-person-one-dog tent. Molly decided that she wasn’t going to lie down despite our asks and we eventually decided not to argue with her.

I can still remember her silhouette against the evening sky, sitting bolt upright with her ears perked. She looked like a vulture ready to swoop on its prey.

That same evening that we spent in the tent, I had been sitting in at an outside table belonging to a cafeteria when my mother said she was going to get our dinner.

O.k. I thought. Now, I’m not thick, but I thought that a chair, even it was just flimsy plastic, could hold down a boxer dog so I could have my drink.

Therefore, I put the chair leg through the loop-handle on her lead and sat down again. As I began to enjoy my drink, I found out I was wrong. One moment, I was upright and drinking away. The next, I was on my back lying on concrete.

She had seen a dog and destroyed my thin barrier instantly  The man with the dog, however, picked up her lead and, after greeting her new-found canine friend, she sat.

Mo 20

As we were headed back to the tent that night, we saw a three-legged plastic chair lying on the scrap-heap.

Whatever you do, don’t shut up!

Snow in Calgary meant an hour and forty-five minute delay. The later the flight, the easier it would be for me to sleep. It would be at ten-fifteen p.m. now. I casually accepted my boarding pass and headed to the gate where I chatted to a nice English lady. I was headed home to the UK after a five-month stint in British Columbia.

Vancouver International Airport

Vancouver International Airport (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

And so our mount arrived. Air Transat still operate Airbus 310. Old crates. Still, there was plenty of legroom and the passenger next to me was pleasant. She had an English accent, was fluent in French and was a Canadian citizen. I spoke with her for the brief hoop to Calgary, a stop before setting out for London.

A we departed Calgary, I got a stark reminder of why the prairies are so avoided in Canadian lore. Because they are flat as a pancake. The aircraft seemed to roll on forever. Eventually, we got airborne. Supper wasn’t served at this late hour, just snacks.

Now it was time for that aforementioned sleep. Just one problem, the two guys in the aisle seats next to us. They wouldn’t shut up! Yak-yak-yak. Eventually, I drifted off. At least they were far enough away that I could do so. Not so for my companion.

I woke up when we were over Newfoundland and things were beginning to get light again. They were still yakking away. Four hours later? Still Yakkin’ over the Celtic Sea. Sigh. Well, at least we were almost home.

Coming in low over London now, I watched the traffic on the M4. To me, it reminded me of blood running through an artery, like some grand scientist co-relation theory.

After passing through customs, my fellow passenger spoke her thoughts about our two pests!

Old London Town

The clock tower of Big Ben at dusk. The north ...

The clock tower of Big Ben at dusk. The north end of the Houses of Parliament London, with The London Eye in the backgound. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here friends, old and young, crowd the bars of taverns in the wet winter evenings and “going for an Indian” happens every other night. This is the place where you may find coffee stalls close to arches of marble and bells named Big Ben strike every hour. 

It’s where you can view a radio recording and see such exhibits as the tea clipper Cutty Sark, rebuilt wonderfully after an arson attack, in addition to sampling Greenwich in its subtle charm.

Where the wafting smell of fish and chips is as familiar as that of the curries. It is, of course, old London town!.

English: This photo was taken in September 1997.

English: This photo was taken in September 1997. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s one of those cities where, if you have somehow super-humanly exhausted all the museums, art galleries, theatres, parks, architecture, famous sights and countless other venues, you may simply sit by the river and sip on a beverage with the fantastic views of this metropolitan kaleidoscope.

Thats the UK’s capital.The lore of this city precedes it. It is the most visited city on earth.

The memories I have of this gem of gems are varied and long, even in grey London mist.

These memories are but a ten-thousandth of all there is to do within its boundaries.

This is a city quite unlike any other.

It is an odd blend of geography, culture and heritage welded by modernity as much as the midst of time.

Sociology, fashion, culture and practicality play a part like in no other city, a place whose history could only be that of the capital of what was once the largest empire the world had ever seen.

A nation whose history of an island race, the trade routes and colonies of whom spread the circumference of the globe, thats what it is. London is a city that is described as being dull, grey and lifeless.

Anyone who says that hasn’t seen the Notting Hill Carnival or “Cats”. There is more colour and vibrancy in this city than is possible to comprehend.

Notting Hill Carnival 2006 (London, UK)

Notting Hill Carnival 2006 (London, UK) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Architecture? Fine as anything, what with the Natural History museum, the Victoria and Albert museum, the Gherkin and so forth.

Tower Bridge is my favourite of all. Its majestic shape may be seen all along both banks of the city and stand as a beacon of the United Kingdom. When it is lit up for special occasions, it is one of the great buildings of Europe.

Something about its elegance seem quintessentially English. Not just because we associate it with England, but its appearance is very anglo-saxon.

DSCF0080

The British Museum, seen below, is the building that holds some of the oldest artifacts in Britain. It is a magnificent building on the inside, a true feat of art. Also, it holds many items from other great empires such as the Greek and Egyptian ones.

DSC_7155

Ever seen St. Paul’s  Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century? Well, if not, you are missing out on a real treat. The legend of this building is an epic one. It was built in 1666 after the great fire of London.

English: St Paul's Cathedral, London. Designed...

English: St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, built 1677-1708. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the Blitz of the Second World War, it was barely scratched. St Paul’s underground stop, on the Central Line, is nearby. There’ll be a paved walkway on your left-hand side. Go down it in the opposite direction to the one you came out of the station facing in.

Then, there are the cubby-holes like The King’s Wardrobe. The heady sounds and sights of cloud-cuckooland will overwhelm you and you will find perfectly relaxed citizens reading, chatting and otherwise enjoying life in them.

We stumbled across this place quite by accident one day as we headed for the cathedral.

DSCF0052

One can observe Horse Guard’s Parade at 16:00. Where else do you get to see the sight. We did one year.

Fantastic it was too, seeing them in their parade dress and march up and down is absolutely terrific. This was the site of the beach volleyball during “the greatest show on earth”.

Thats right. What other city could possibly have been the site for the 2012 Olympic Games? I thought you wouldn’t argue with me. It could only be this way. It was the year when every Olympic team had at least one female athlete.

The year with the largest number of competing athletes. Terrific! And we came third in the medals. By Jove, old boy!

It has to be the greenest city in Europe as well. No shortage of parks. If you stroll in Hyde Park, for example, you’ll have the green trees in summer and The Long Water, the lake that almost completely separates it from Kensington Gardens, in the picture.

Now, about those coffee stalls I mentioned. You can usually find a few in these areas. They will charge a reasonable rate and the products are scrumptious!

Kensington Gardens

Kensington Gardens (Photo credit: edwin.11)

Turnpin Lane is in Greenwich and its here that you’ll find a quaint little market where Irish fiddles are played and many culinary goods may be devoured.

Although, if you’re a vegetarian like me, you may find the smell of meat undesirable. There is also a Wetherspoons restaurant nearby at The Gate Clock pub.

I remember a blazing hot day when I was fifteen and my mother and I decided to see the famous HMS Belfast, a second-world-war cruiser that lies on the south bank, the nearest tube station being Southwark.

The ship is the last of its kind and belongs to the Imperial War Museum group. They have preserved this ship perfectly. The stories of her battles are accurately told, the ship’s cafe is clean with palatable food and ship is spotless.

DSCF6656

A city of eight million people that probably has as many surprises. If you’ve ever wanted everything, it’s here. You’ll have a magical experience when you come to grey, wet London.

Related articles