Thursday, 20 December 2012

White Horse Winter Wonderland

Days 69-72: it's cold and chilly here...

The Uffington White Horse Hill dominates the landscape around where I grew up, I would ride my pony up onto then Berkshire Downs (now Oxfordshire) and go for miles...
The White Horse is a highly stylized prehistorical hill figure 110m long formed with deep trenches filled with chalk and visible from a long way away in the surrounding villages.
It is a great place to head with Emlin after her arrival, to blow away those cobwebs from the long flight from Australia...




With our green wellies on, the wind blowing through our hair and horses galloping past, it's good to be back in Britain - I reflect this a far cry from the city life that our kids have been brought up in...




People have been walking these paths for a very long time - we walk for 2kms along the Ridgeway and come across Waylands Smithy Long Barrow which was used for burials over 5,500 years ago in the Neolithic period.




Down from the hillside and cold to the bone, we head for the nearest pub, The White Horse at Woolstone for a warming bowl of soup... A prettier pub in England than this, tis hard to find....




A few days later an even cooler snap appears with the most gorgeous hoar-frost and those cobwebs that we thought we'd blown away, are back with a vengeance!




But we don't mind, it is really beautiful....And de-icing the car is a novelty for the moment....!




Little Wandering Wren

Location:Vale of the Whitehorse, Oxfordshire, UK

Little Brighton Belle

DAY 65-67
We are off to see my Brighton Belle today at her new University in Sussex. For this special trip I've hired a flash new car - a Fiat 500. They have great marketing for this car:
'Unmistakably Italien, undeniably you'...
And even 'The Happiest small car'>

However my reaction to my VroomVroom.com bargain booking is less than cheery. 'Don't tell me I've got that car..?' This is at the thought of a long journey in an inch winsy, bloody tiny tin can... with my Father unable to open his large AA map book in the front, and my Mother squashed in the back....


However as we speed along the motorway with windscreen wipers on full tilt in the pouring rain, the car holding her own in tricky driving conditions on the M4 and M25, Little Brighton Belle was more than doing alright. My father in a wave of nostalgia remembering our own Fiat 500 in the 1960's and my Mother proclaiming cheerily that she could see a touch of blue sky through the sunroof... We began to really like our Fiat 500 with her bright red seats... And before we know it we're in Brighton....


The Ship Hotel's valet parking is delighted to see our minuscule car arrive at the cramped underground parking lot. Beanz (my real Brighton Belle) arrives with her overnight clothes, this Uni student is not about to give up the opportunity to stay in a comfy hotel bed whilst Mum is in town.... And we set off to explore the town, famous for it's cute Laneways full of interesting shops and antique Jewelers.
We escape from the cold and drizzle into Bill's, highly recommended for an afternoon tea....


The next day we're off to the historic Royal Pavilion, built for Prince Regent, later King George IV. It is an impressive building looking Indian outside, feeling Chinese on the inside and full of opulence and excess. With the great audio guide you are transported back in time to gastronomic feasts & royal banquets: the Great kitchen dedicated to haute cuisine, balls and concerts in the Music Room....


As the day draws to a close, we are lucky to see an amazing sunset over the eerie burned out frame of the old Brighton West Pier....


Yes, this is a really cool place for a Uni student to hang out on exchange. Brighton seems to have it all - a great University, good shopping, history and a vibrant party scene, we know that because The Ship Hotel not only overlooks the seafront, but it also over looks the nightclub area and we know they have good parties as we heard them all leaving at 3am in the morning - Oh to be young!!!

Little Wandering Wren

Location:Brighton, Sussex, UK

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Christmas at Kensington Palace

Three generations, for three days in London.... We're here to see the sights, enjoy the Christmas lights & festive window displays of Harrods and Harvey Nichs, do some shopping - including treating Grannie to a Victoria's Secrets experience - watch the West End show Wicked, and last but not least, attend the first ever carol concert at Kensington Palace.
We stayed at the Grand Plaza Apartments in Bayswater just a brief stroll from the Circle Line tube, and a short walk to Kensington Palace. This was the view from our two bedroom apartment.... Nice!....I reckon I could move in here for good...




There is a lot to fit in, so first off we're going to Kensington Palace, which is recently opened following a 12 million pound investment.
The Palace has been home to many famous Royals from Queen Victoria to Princess Diana (from 1981 to her death in 1997) and currently the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Kate and William, with Harry often hanging out here on an unofficial basis until his new pad at Clarence House is completed.
At the moment there are three exhibitions to enjoy - Victoria Revealed, the Kings State Apartments and the Queens State Apartments, and there can be no better time to explore this wonderful residence that at Christmas with the Palace gloriously dressed from top to bottom in pine, fir cones and massive golden baubles which are opened daily like a posh (or naff depending on your view) advent calendar.
Each room has a Palace staff member on duty, who are easily recognised dressed in bright red jackets. These Courtiers are engaging and informative about the displays.
We hear the traditionalists are non too impressed with the modern ways information is presented at the Palace, with important information written on walls, sewn into the carpets and etched into tables...but we love it...




As afternoon draws on, we find ourselves exploring the dimly lit rooms virtually on our own. Oh, the stories that each room, or staircase could tell...
There are signs around on various doors 'Royalty only' to remind us that we are a paying guest only, who must remain on the official route!




The exhibition I enjoyed the most was Victoria Revealed, which starts in the room where Victoria first held court...
One of the Palaces most famous residents and Britain's longest reigning monarchy, this exhibition takes us through Victoria's long life from the moment she was told that she was Queen at 18 years old...
"I was awoken by Mamma, who told me that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here, and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing-gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham (the Lord Chamberlain) then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more.... and consequently that I am Queen".

...to her wedding to Prince Albert, and family life with their nine children, Victoria's devastation following Prince Albert's untimely death, and her triumphant Diamond Jubilee celebration in 1897. I recommend a tour of Kensington Palace for all if you love history and the Royals....
We rare back at Kensington Palace on the second night for the Christmas carols...




This is an interesting evening. There are no directions as how to enter Kensington Palace after hours, and we find ourselves traipsing around the outer perimeter fence of the park trying to find a way in... eventually in the dark we find a Courtier who directs us in the gloom towards a young lady who looks remarkably Iike Kate (except that we know she is not at home, as she is in Hospital suffering from morning sickness following the announcement a day earlier of her pregnancy) and we head along another dimly lit path towards a massive Christmas tree...
It is either deliberately low key, or someone has forgotten to turn the lights on, but finally we are finally in. There is surprisingly no further checking of tickets, or any security check of bags, and with the relatively small numbers – we guess around 120 people - this has the feeling of being invited to a friends place.... (in our dreams) and an wonderfully exclusive event...




We gather in the entrance foyer before the grand doors open and we climb the magnificent staircase to the Kings Chamber where George I and II held court. This majestic room with it's red walls, elaborately decorated ceiling, and huge paintings is a perfect setting for carols.
A staff member introduces the evening and in walks the choir of the Chapel Royal of Hampton Court looking smart but nothing flash - no choristers in formal gown tonight, but never-mind and we gather round for a singsong....




In the interval we are invited downstairs for mulled cider or apple juice, pinching ourselves at where we are.
The carols end all too soon and we are politely shown the royal door! However with only the lights from the Christmas tree to guide us, there is a comical moment, where one would like to think that H & S will be improved for next year, as we climb the unlit stone steps into the garden and we laugh as we all get out the torches on our I-phones to avoid falling over - you can just see the headlines now...
Tradegy at the Palace....
The last Noel... For choir with No-lights
!

But all is forgiven this was a great night and we hope the start of a long tradition....
Little Wandering Wren

Location:London, UK

Monday, 3 December 2012

Wet 'n' wild in Stratford, UK

Day 62-63 D Block girls out on the town again....
Almost exactly 30 years ago to the day, five first year undergraduates moved into D-Block in Sherwood Hall, Nottingham University to study Psychology, Archeology, Sociology and Medicine. Thrown together on the second floor of what we later found out was the Drinking Hall of Residence, solely because all our surnames began with C and D, it was by chance a perfect mixing up of the Great British North - South divide.
Here our differing backgrounds and private/comprehensive schooling were irrelevant and as we grew up at Nottingham University, we formed long lasting friendships that were happily nowhere near as improbable as Fabian's quote from Twelfth Night suggests:

If this were play'd upon a stage now, I could condemn it as
improbable fiction.

Twelfth Night Act Three, Scene Four

So here we are all these years later, still meeting up whenever we all in the country together....we haven't seen each other for three years, but this time it is Shakespeare's Stratford on Avon that brings us together...




It is always great to catch up, and now as the years have passed, it is hard to believe we also have kids at the same ages as when we first met! Still we have a long lazy weekend ahead filled with dinners, lunches, shopping, walking and exploring to catch up with what everyone is doing...




The town of Stratford is dominated by Shakespeare and the Theatre. We join a walking tour to learn a little more about the place and it's famous Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare.




Dominating the weekend were the rising water of the river Avon, we saw houses along the river sandbagged for protection and had to turn back as two walking routes into Anne Hathaway's cottage were impassable by foot.



We stayed at the Q hotel, an easy walk from the train station, and cracking open a bottle of BYO champagne in the cosy foyer helped by the accommodating bar man, we knew it was a perfect choice for us. The long lazy breakfasts we had on both mornings were a highlight....



Let's hope it's not too long until the next D block girls reunion...

Little Wandering Wren

Location:Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire

Friday, 30 November 2012

Stratford under Avon

Day 61: Dutch proverb - After ebb comes flood, and friends with good....
Today was a whirlwind of travel ending in a flooded Britain...I started on the very smart high speed train (below) from Zug to Zurich airport, then I flew to London City airport, crossed the Capital by Light Railway and Tube to Marylebone Train station, where I took the train, changing at Royal Leamington Spa to splash along the tracks ending up at Stratford Upon Avon where I walked into the Q Hotel, nine hours after I'd left Switzerland & bang on schedule. ........Youd-le-he-he...Life's good!




However, as we passed through the final fields on the outskirts of Stratford upon Avon the countryside changed to resemble the great Lakes that I had just left behind...the train driver welcomes us to Stratford by Sea ....'




Thursday's Stratford Herald reports '
Rain brings flood chaos to district.... There were chaotic scenes across Stratford district as heavy downpours and widespread flooding brought misery to thousands of schoolchildren and and commuters yesterday (Wednesday 21st November)'





My weekend in Stratford has been arranged for months and I was really keen to make it for a reunion with my University friends...whatever the weather...
Weather
Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not
.

Author unknown

Little Wandering Wren

Location:Zug, Switzerland to Stratford Upon Avon, Warwickshire, UK

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Das Aus!

Day 59-60 A picnic in the Alps - that's cool!!!
I have arrived for 30 hours in Switzerland with an Aussie friend who has recently relocated from Aus to Zug. It was an amazing stay, here are some of the fun things we did...




The Aus Zug poster above means From Zug which I thought was apt.
Zug is a small town in the heart of Switzerland easily reached by a direct train (45 mins) which is found one escalator down in the Arrivals Hall - how good is that? It is picturesque Hans Christian Anderson type town with the old medieval buildings and cobbled streets looking like they came straight out of a fairy tale...




It is easy to see why this would be a popular place for a few years or more. Switzerland has been described as the 'Less tax, More fun'... posting for expats, and it certainly looks a wonderful life. Zug offers one of the worlds lowest tax regimes and is the reason why nearly 30,000 companies are registered here...
It's a safe, everything works, affluent but almost understated sort of a place... The kind of place from the moment you arrive, you think 'Life's Good'... Just look at the inviting first view of the snow capped Alps from the plane...




A stroll through the lanes of the old town of Zug leads past the picturesque houses and restaurants with their magnificent view of Lake Zug. On a clear non-misty day there is a great view of the mountains behind, not a lot to see today, but it was still very pretty...




Every where we turned, there were interesting buildings or statutes with great stories, such as the Greth Schell Brunnen - this fountain statue shows a figure of Greth Schell, bent over, carrying her drunken husband home in a basket....




I mentioned before that everything seems to work well in Switzerland this occurs with some planning and rules, as the below photos show. Even the dog poo bags are posh here...Woe betide anyone who keeps a dog without the necessary proof that their pooch has attended and passed all the necessary doggy behavioral lessons...
The other photo below shows the much sort out refuse bags which are kept under lock and key in the Supermarket. A roll of garbage bags costs around $40 Swiss Francs (approx $40 USD). This simple measure is effective in minimizing waste.




We take a drive out into the countryside. As we wind our way up the mountainside into and then above the clouds, we can see endless expanse of alpine ranges. We stop at the top of the Raten ranges and I feel like I'm in a Christmas card....




One word - Wow!...

Or maybe a song....

I love to go a wan-de-ring
Along the mountain tr-a-a-ck
and as I go I love to sing
My knapsack on my back
Val-deri, Val-dera, Val-deri, Val-dera - ha ha ha ha ....





It was an brilliant idea for a walk in the Alps and an absolutely perfect place for a picnic....We climbed up past the remains of earlier snow to a viewing point down to Zurich. A real 'The hills are alive with the sound of music' moment...




We take the long way back to Zug and by the end of the day, we covered some ground and seen four Lakes; Lucerne, Zug, Zurich, and Lake Aegeri.
I couldn't have imagined a better day in Switzerland - thank you so much!
Little Wandering Wren

Location:Zug, Switzerland, Europe

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Cycling in the De Hoge Veluwe National Park

Day 57 - Cycling to the Grand Masters...
When my friend left Australia to return home to the Netherlands, I promised to visit so we could go cycling in Holland together - today was that day...
We're off to a 5000 hectares park - that's maybe a small bike ride for the locals, but for me it seemed like it could be a big ask!!!
I needn't have worried, the De Hoge Veluwe National Park has 1700 free white bikes for park users to explore the 40 kilometers of cycle paths. The tracks are great, the bikes easy to pedal and all the major attractions are not too far away....




First stop is the bike park just inside the main gates to choose a bicycle of the right height. We set off to the visitors centre, museum and park shop wrapped up warmly in our hats, gloves and scarves ... It was chilly, but had all the promise of a spectacular autumn day, the park resplendent, cloaked in bright orange the leaves crunching as we cycled along the paths....




Just look at that sunshine - how lucky are we?
The park has numerous sights to enjoy in addition to the natural parkland, it is the largest privately managed conversation area in the nation. The countryside alone would be worth the visit, it is a varied landscape of heathland, woodland, peat bogs and drift sand.
However, we have things to see, places to pedal so we fortify ourselves for the day ahead with a brief stop for coffee and appeltaart in front of a roaring fire at the cafe... How lovely, I could have stayed there all day...!




The underground Park museum has interesting hands-on displays about the parklands flora and fauna, including what has lived and still lives beneath the earth's surface...
Cycling deeper into the Park we find the world famous Kroller-Muller museum which includes works by Vincent Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir and Monet amongst others. There are also 150 sculptures in the park...




The Museum owes it's existence to Helen Kroller-Muller (1869-1939) who started collecting art early in the 1900's and collected almost 11,500 art works. Her favourite artist was Vincent Van Gogh and the collection includes the largest numbers of Van Gogh's outside the Van Gogh family...




This is one of my favourite Art Museums in the world. It is an impressive collection yet small enough to savour every painting....Being hidden deep in the park and cycling to it, adds to it's attraction...




We proceed onto the Kroller-Muller's house, currently undergoing extensive renovations it will look fabulous when finished. As the shadows lengthened, we returned to the park entrance, we reckon we cycled around 12km's that day...not bad for a foreigner...

This was a perfect day in Holland, we combined the national pastime of cycling, with amazing scenery, Vincent Van Gogh and brilliant sunshine - what more could a girl want?

Maybe dinner in an amazing restaurant? Yes, I was very lucky to be treated to dinner at De Bon Vivant... The food was great and it had a great atmosphere with much local game as you would expect given the local surrounding countryside. The menu had some great suggestions such as Grandmothers Sorrow and a warning beware the hail in the game! A brilliant end to a brilliant day...






Little Wandering Wren

Location:Hoenderloo, The Netherlands, Europe

Friday, 23 November 2012

I AMSTERDAM

Day 56 : 28 hours in Amsterdam...
Sooo what did we get up to in our 28 hours in Amsterdam?! Well we had a wonderful time with no set agenda other than to catch up, enjoy each other's company and wander around...The special thing about exploring a city with a girlfriend, is that every time we saw a place that we fancied looking in, we could!



We made our own walking tour, not one where we hit the popular tourist sights but one where we could explore the back streets and markets.... We had a brilliant time just following the canals and seeing where we ended up!


Cat barge on canal - home for all the rescue cats in Amsterdam
Every time we needed to stop, recover and warm up there was an inviting bakery tempting us in.... No wonder those ladies with the red lights are so tubby...!



For both dinners we went Spanish enjoying Tapas on the first night at Tasca Bellota.( Herenstraat 22, 1015 CB) The sangria and the tapas of chorizo picante, octopussalade etc were a perfect sharing meal. The second night we found our restaurant on the Singel, these lovely candles attracting us in....



After a perfect day in Amsterdam and our bags heavier than when we started, we took a late evening train to Appeldoorn, one hour out of the city....

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Little Wandering Wren

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Dutch Delights...

Day 55 - Here we are in Holland...

I'm off today to meet a Dutch friend in Amsterdam...




I'm on the road for 10 days and it's Operation Easyjet to cram the impossible into my 'of course this is my hand luggage' little blue suitcase... the first challenge is to see whether the check-in staff agree...
Easyjet is a budget airline who charge extra for everything... luggage, food, magazines although not yet the toilets. Their rules are clear and specific, only one hand luggage of any sort... it's my handbag that always tips me over ........... and that's only a little fib....
It was the jobs-worth 'My father was a Communist dictator - you need to test the size of your suitcase...You do it my way... ' Prague check-in Supervisor that has left me anxious about boarding, and that's MEAN, because I was born to be in the air...'I'm a frequent flyer, my Dad was a pilot', sort-of-a-girl, who is now reduced to buying booze at the airport just to get the allowable carry-on duty free bag, to hide any bits and pieces that won't co-operate with my forceful attempts to squeeze them into little bluey....
So it was an air fist-pump moment to note that the Luton Sunday check-in staff were relaxed about their bag code and I'm on board....the plane even landed 20 minutes early - did I say how much I love flying with Easyjet?!




I took the efficient airport express train into Amsterdam Central (a bargain at €3.50) and it was a straightforward walk to find the superbly located Singel Hotel as the above map shows. The hotel was in one of the best locations and despite being fully booked, was quiet. The rooms are newly renovated, cosy, with quirky low ceilings and steep stairs, and just perfect for our needs, with very friendly reception staff.




We had much to catch up on, having not seen each other since our last International Parent Group meeting in Melbourne some 12 months ago, but it seemed a waste to stay indoors when the city awaits. We set out to explore the streets around the hotel and search for some dinner...
Walking along the iconic canals, chatting 90 to the dozen, I was reminded to be careful of the 881,000 bicycles that whizz along the streets. I had some near misses looking the wrong way...




The tall, thin, elegant canal front buildings all with their different designer rooftops house a kaleidoscope of Amsterdam's life. The respectable and the seedy co-habite side by side in seeming harmony. We pass lovely looking restaurants and cafes, bakeries, designer shops, hotels and apartments, and by contrast the aromatic coffee houses and fat women in undies sitting in their windows with a red light.




On a misty November eve Amsterdam looked amazing, the bright Christmas lights twinkling in the streets... How special to be here...
Little Wandering Wren

Location:Singel, Amsterdam, The Netherlands