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