Saturday, 31 May 2008

The Lakes District

The ferry at Lake Windemere.

The last weekend in May was a long weekend here in the UK. So a group of friends decided to go to the Lakes District for the weekend, home of the famous Lakes poets notably William Wordsworth. There were 12 of us in 3 cars for a 6 hour trip up into the north-west of England.

The plan was to get our cars first thing Saturday and head up to the Lakes. The car leaving from Bayswater had Minh, Jem, Pramod and myself in it. We turned up at 8am at our car collection point to find that they didnt have a car for us. We booked through EasyCar which has other local car companies service their bookings. Its one of UK's biggest car hire companies. The problem was that EasyCar hadn't sent our booking through to Alamo which was handling our booking. We weren't the only people stranded; as the minutes ticked by more and more people turned up looking for cars they had booked through EasyCar only to find their booking missing. We were told to wait till 9am until EasyCar opened to figure out what had gone wrong. Finally after much to and fro we finally had a car from Alamo at 10am thanks to the persistence of the girl at Alamo front desk. Many thanks to that girl for her professionalism, it really made a big difference.

So we were off to a late start. The drive was not very eventful and we made it to Shap(a small town south of Penrith) on the outer edge of the Lakes district by 6:30pm. We met with the rest of the gang in Shap and headed down to the pub called Bull's Head for dinner after dumping our luggage at the hostel we were staying at. Good food and a few glasses of wine and lager mellowed us out and we slowly began to relax and ease into the weekend. Then we returned to our hostel to shower and get ready for bed. The hostel was clean and warm. The girls bathroom was pretty good (except for whenever a guy had a shower we didn't get any hot water) and we all had a good night's sleep on our bunk beds. Seven of us had a dorm room to ourselves while the rest headed to their hotel in Keswick.

Sunday morning we woke up and got ready to head into Ambleside, a town by Lake Windermere. We basically spent 3 hours trying to figure out what to do; going into Windermere Tourist Information, then heading back to Ambleside, getting lost, getting stuck in traffic and finally with ferry tickets to the other side of Lake Windermere to start a 7km walk. The water in the Lake was almost black, and it was very windy. There were patches of sun which generally made for a pleasant day. We began our walk by visiting a imitation medieval castle called Wray. The views from the castle grounds were beautiful with lush green valleys, hills in the distance and blue skies all around. We then continued our walk on the edge of the lake. The path lead us in amongst tall magestic trees and views of the surrounding lake. The wind was constant and getting stronger as the day progressed. The first part of the walk varied a lot and we walked through people's properties opening and closing gates. After a while we were feeling hungry and our lack of fitness made us a little tired. But in no time at all we came to the end of the 7km walk. We ate our sandwiches by the water while waiting for the ferry to return to Ambleside. The ferry ride was gentle and after the long walk a few of us took the time to have a snooze :)

We arrived back in Ambleside via 2 ferries. Next we decided to head to Keswick to explore the town and have dinner. The drive to Keswick was gorgeous as the road hugged a few lakes and the setting sun in the distance made for beautiful views. We found parking in Keswick which proved difficult and then walked around town exploring shops and possible places to have dinner. We settled on a nice pub and ordered up a lot of nice food and drink. Many enjoyed the lamb shanks on the menu which was made from local lamb a lot of which we saw on the lush green fields during our walk. After some fairy floss and ice cream we decided to call it a night.

The next day Minh, Jem, Pramod and myself decided to do our own thing before we headed back home at lunch. The plan was to hire some bicycles and explore the lake closest to Shap. Pramod and I decided to get a tandom bike since I cant ride a bicycle. The thing we didnt realise was that tandom bikes are not meant for beginners because you still have to balance and pedal together. Everytime we got on the bike I felt like we were going to fall off and every time I padalled the bike started to swerve from left to right and we had to pull over and stop. After trying for a while we decided to give the bike ride a skip and instead drive on the track which was recommended to us by the guy working at the hostel who looked a lot like James Oliver. The drive went through some nice quiet towns and fields and ended up along a big lake finishing at one end of the lake surrounded by mountains all around. There was a walking track up all the way to one of the mountains and many people were getting ready to take the track up to the mountain. If we had more time I would've loved to have done that trek, although it was quite steep. We went down to the water, took some pictures and decided to head to a pub we passed on the way to the lake. The pub was really cute and was also recommended by the Jamey Oliver look alike for its good food. We ordered some food and Jem and I headed out to explore the town while we waited for the chef to arrive and make our food as it wasn't quite lunch time yet. The town was called Maryvale and it was surrounded by rolling hills where cows and lamb grazed lazily. It felt like a relaxing and sweet place to live in, closer to the authentic lakes district lifestyle as opposed to the very touristy towns like Ambleside and Windemere. The lunch was delicious and very down well with Magners(apple cider). By then it was time to head back into London. The drive was much shorter on the way back, and we arrived in a wet London to be stuck in traffic about 10 minutes from home on Edgware Rd. All in all the weekend was good and we were lucky to have sunny weather most of the time, however it was far too short and I would like to go back there to spend more time away from the touristy towns on treks and walks :)

See photos for the lakes here.

Monday, 12 May 2008


View from the Observatory Hill at Greenwich

Last Saturday 10th May a bunch of us decided to go to Greenwich. Getting to Greenwich is quite interesting as you have to catch the DLR(Docklands Light Rail) to get there. This is similar to the Monorail back in Sydney and it goes through Canary Wharf with great views of the Docklands. When we arrived in Greenwich all the other guys were waiting for us. The group consisted of Chi, Christina, Minh, Jem, Myle, Pramod and I.

First order of business was lunch. We found a great cheap Chinese restaurant with massive servings. The food was great for the average price of 4.5 pounds! After lunch we headed to the Cutty Sark to begin our podcast walk of Greenwich. The Cutty Sark is the World's last tea clipper ship that famously burnt down last year. Now its in repair so you cant really look at it. We walked past the Cutty Sark by the Thames path through the gardens of the Royal Naval College which has been coverted to a visitor centre, the Trinity College of Music and the Greenwich University. Greenwich University is one of most beautiful universities I've seen with hsitoric buildings, lush green lawns and amazing views of the Thames. We stopped to enjoy the area and take some photos.

The walk then continued inland across the road to the entrance of Greenwich park which leads to the Royal Observatory on top of the hill. The park was very beautiful and full of people. We headed up to the Observatory through a gorgeous tree lined path. At the top of the hill of the Observatory you can enjoy unparalleled views of the Greenwich and greater London in the distance. The Observatory is unique in that it is where the time meridian passes through with longitude of zero degrees, one half of the observatory is in the eastern hemisphere and the other is in the western hemisphere. It also houses a museum of old clocks, telescopes, first sea going chronometers which helped to accurately calculate longitude. This is very interesting if you have the time to go through and look at the displays.

We walked on to the grassy area of the Observatory hill and took some time to relax. The views of Greenwich were beautiful and provided some great photo opportunities. The park was full of people having picnics, throwing frizbies and sun baking. Parks are the London equivalent to the Sydney beaches.

After some dozing on the hill we headed down to the Greenwich markets in the hunt for some ice cream. Greenwich markets are not as large as some of the other markets in London but it still has an interesting collection of stalls of jewellery, decorative items, food, clothes and collectables. At this stage we were quite tired so we had some ice creams and went on the DLR back home. I highly Greenwich for its history, beauty and wide open spaces. If you ever go make sure the weather is good, otherwise the whole experience will be diminished.

See more photos of us out and about in London here.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Marylebone and The Wallace Collection

Last Sunday the 4th May was another gorgeous day in London. People keep telling us that days like those are few and far between but its hard to believe thats the case with the great weather we've been having. One thing good about it is that it makes you really appreciate the good days. Which is why I dragged Pramod with me to do the podcast walk in Marylebone, the area right around where we live in Edgware Rd.

We began our walk near the Marble Arch tube station, on Oxford St and turned into one of the adjacent streets to come into Marylebone. As a side note, the podcast made us realise we've been mispronouncing Marylebone all this time. Its meant to be pronounced as Merry-Le-Bone not Marley-bone. Who knew?

The streets in Marylebone have a mix of everything from very old buildings and housing to modern offices, shops and flats. Though there are some internal streets with very homogeneous old architecture, mostly cream and white in colour. Marylebone was the closest village to the city of London until its development for housing by two landlords in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The early part of the walk took us past several squares. These are basically private gardens in the middle of a circular road where several streets meet. They are about 20-25 sq meters in size and basically allows people paying an annual fee its private use. The squares we saw were immaculately kept with lush green lawns, majestic trees, blooming flowers and shrubs. They looked so idyllic especially seeing families enjoying their time together. I was not jealous at all. One day when I'm rich perhaps.

At the edge of one of these squares is the Wallace Collection. Its a national museum set in a large historic London town house. It has a great collection of French 18th century paintings, furniture and porcelain with Old Master paintings and a great armoury section(European and Eastern). Every gallery is a room that has been immaculately decorated and arranged. There is a nice internal courtyard with a restaurant for those wanting to enjoy the weather and take a break. In the main gallery room upstairs there are many paintings and sculptures, we noticed that one particular French painter had a fascination with game. He had painted dead rabbits, birds, even lobster repeatedly, it gave us a bit of a chuckle.
Entry is free and even being a weekend it was not very busy so I would recommend this hidden treasure to everyone here and visiting London. For more info see

We spent about 2-3 hours there looking at all the galleries then continued on with the walk. We passed Wigmore Hall apparently a great small concert venue with good acoustics and down towards Oxford St on a very small but famous shopping strip called St Christopher's Place. Basically it was a small alleyway full of designer shops, restaurants and cafes leading on to the smallest of entry ways to Oxford St. We must have walked past it many times before without realising what it was.

After a short walk along busy Oxford St we turned into another adjacent street that lead into the heart of Marylebone. This area in Marylebone historically has had a significant connection with the medical profession with the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and Royal College of Physicians as well as 3 hospitals situated in the area. Even today there are many doctors, dentists, physiotherapists etc in the area. There are quite a few houses with blue plaques on their walls where famous surgeons, architects, poets etc lived. Next we arrived in Marylebone High Street bustling of shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs. The area almost had a feel of Balmain back in Sydney. I would like to go back there again.

The end of High St leads to St Marylebone church where Charles Wesley(leader of the Methodist movement) is buried. There is a path across the Church ground which leads to busy Marylebone Road just before the junction with Baker St.
Overall a very interesting walk I thought.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Covent Garden

Yesterday was another beautiful day in the city of London. Pramod had I were meeting an old uni friend of mine for lunch at Covent Garden. We hadn't been to Covent Garden before but had heard a lot about it from other people. Being a nice day it was full of people out and about.

We had lunch away on the quieter side, in a very nice Greek restaurant which had tasty, fresh good food quite cheap by London standards. We had a very nice meal catching up with my friend who I hadn't seen in about 6 years!

Covent Garden is made up of small cobblestone streets with many shops, eateries and pubs. There is a market comprising of flowers, plants, jewellery, art, bags, decorations and anything and everything you can think of. There are lots of street performers, miming, juggling etc keeping the crowds entertained. We came across a big crowd surrounding a man joking about and juggling various items. He was quite funny and engaged the crowd well. While we were watching him Pramod with two other men got picked out from the crowd to assist with his act. The performer ended up getting on the shoulder of one of the helpers and juggling some not so sharp daggers. The whole experience was quite a laugh.

The market is surrounded by cafe's and restaurants with alfresco dining available for all their patrons. Every cafe, restaurant and pub was brimming with people eating and drinking the gorgeous day away. In front of the market there are two massive peacock statues sitting on two tangly bit of tree trunk. The head and main body of the peacocks were made out of painted paper mache. The feathers of the peacock were actually small flowering plants with flowers in varying shades of purple, pink and blue all being grown on a lush green bit of lawn twisting down to ground level. It was quite beautiful.

We wondered in and out of shops in the area and headed home for a well earned rest before going to dinner at a friend's place in Hammersmith. I think we will be returning to Covent Garden again :)

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Tower Hill to St Paul's Cathedral

Its a long weekend here in the UK. A bank holiday on Monday. The plan was to go to Bath for the day, but there is so much to see and do there a day was not going to be enough. So we postponed Bath until we can stay for a weekend.

We (Pramod and I) decided to do another London Walk, this one starting at Tower Hill and ending at St Paul's Cathedral. The day was again quite nice. Sunny periods and temperatures around 20 degrees. I used my sunglasses here for the first time since I got here.

We caught the Number 15 bus on Edgware Rd which makes its way to Tower Hill via Oxford St. Oxford and Regent streets were packed with people here for the long weekend. There are a lot of tourists about with their fold out maps stopped in all sorts of places and filling up the London tour buses. I realised that I forgot to re-sych my ipod after I added the walking tour mp3 to iTunes, so we had to head back home to get it. We were walking about on Regent St trying to get a bus back home when we went right past Elle McPherson with her kids. She is so bloody tall. Anyway, we caught a bus back home, had some sandwiches from the M&S near our place and headed back to the start of the walk.

We began the walk outside Tower Hill tube station. The first thing we saw was the big sundial on the observation deck made from stone and bronze. The sundial is about 6m in diameter and on the outer edge there were very details carvings on the history of transport in London. To the left of the observation desk is the remains of the ancient Roman wall which used to surround London.

Across the road is the Tower of London. The Tower of London is a set of buildings and towers surrounded by defensive walls and a moat(now drained). The Tower of London was used as a royal palace, a fortress and a prison with some very high profile prisoners such as Queen Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn and Catharine Howard. The White Tower was built by William the Conquerer to protect the City of London from outside invaders. Currently the Crown Jewels are held there.

We walked under the road on a walkway which emerged next to the Tower of London. We followed the path around the Tower of London to the Tower Bridge. The Tower Bridge is famous for the fact that it lifts to let tall ships and tankers through. There is a Tower Bridge exhibition that you can visit, but we didn't go in as there were two many people. The history of this bridge is interesting and I think its worth going to the exhibition if you're an engineering buff. We continued across the Tower Bridge with nice views of the Thames on either side. Then we followed the Thames path on the south bank past the snail like City Hall building and the permanently docked HMS Belfast (a WWII gunship converted to a museum). There were tonnes of people about eating ice cream and sitting around the lush green park area.

We left the Thames path momentarily to go through the Hayes Galleria (converted old wharf) with its beautiful ceiling and past the Clink prison to arrive near the London Dungeon and Britain At War exhibition. The area around here is close to several hospitals including the Guys Hospital. We rejoined the Thames path and followed it through to the Globe theatre. Here we stopped the podcast momentarily to sit by the theatre and take a look around. The Globe seems quite small from the outside. The entrance has a beautifully gothic iron gate with miniature figures of animals and symbols etc. While we were sitting by the water a performance of King Lear finished. The doors opened and we could see into the theatre stage where the actors were taking their bows. I can't wait for next month when we go to see A Midsummer Nights Dream :) at the Globe. Loads of people filed out of the Globe and followed the Thames path along the south bank to cross via the Millennium bridge.

We waited for a while people watching then continued on to across the Millennium bridge(aka wobbly bridge) which famously had to be closed a few days after it opened due to oscillations (unfortunately its quite stable now). The Millennium bridge starts on the side of Tate Modern which is an art gallery in a converted old power station, and quite hideous looking. The walk across the bridge gives great views of the Thames to either side. Looking straight on we are faced with the dome of the St Paul's cathedral getting bigger and clearer with each step.

St Paul's cathedral is a beautiful bit of architecture to say the least. The current version was built by Christopher Wren after the previous one was burnt down in the great London fire. St Paul's is the main Anglican cathedral in London which housed some very famous events such as the wedding of Charles and Diana, the funerals of Winston Churchill, Lord Nelson & Duke of Wellington. Its free to go inside the main section. A must see for everyone I think for its beauty, tranquility, amazing architecture and history. Its also possible to get great views of London from the various viewing galleries at different levels of the cathedral. I think you have to pay for that priviledge also there are some 500 steps to get there, another time maybe. The cathedral steps are a nice spot to stop and take a breather which is what we did.

The walk then lead us to the other side of the cathedral to the Temple Bar, a structure that marked the gateway to the City of London some 200 years ago. This structure was originally on Fleet st, but since had many homes before it was moved to its current location. The Temple Bar leads to the Paternoster Square with a tall decorative column and a statue of "Shepherd and Sheep".. hmmm. Of course there is a Starbucks in there too just like everywhere else in London.

So overall a very nice walk/tour of some London sights. Learned a lot of history and interesting facts. Its amazing how so many interesting things are in such a concentrated area. So it was back on the bus home before the now darkened sky opened up. Hmmmm what should we have for dinner?