Friday, June 30, 2006

Regent’s Ramble – 25 June 2006

Regents CanalRegent’s Park Underground station is closing for extended refurbishment so while we still had the opportunity we exited at this station, walked across the park, past the Zoo, to the Regents Canal and followed it down to Camden Market.

Camden MarketBrowsing Camden Market is a great way to make one feel old: all the alternative dressers, Goths, Punks etc with their outlandish clothes and hairstyles; and every second shop seems to be selling something that they would wear but which would look decidedly odd on someone who left their student days behind three decades ago.

The Palace Guard Band ready to playAfter contributing to the local economy in the form of lunch we set off back to the royal precincts to check on the action outside the palace in preparation for the Queen’s Children’s Birthday Party. Furry friendsThe centrepiece was a play based on many characters from English children’s literature. We watched it later on TV and it was quite fantastic, mixing over-the-top pantomime into a fairly simple plot line. It was a superb way to conclude the 80th celebrations. Off to enjoy the party

Docklands Dalliances with Pole Dancers - 24 June 2006

The past dwarfed by the presentSaturday saw us enjoying fabulous weather in the London Docklands area. It is just such a contrast to ‘old’ London with its heritage buildings. Here in the Docklands they have boldly redeveloped the land around the docks that had been left behind when containerisation moved the port area further down the Thames. The Blue BridgeWhat has been achieved since the 80’s is simply fantastic. And yet, the reminders of the past are there with old dock cranes etc scattered around.

The Traffic Light TreeWe started close to one of my favourite sculptures, the traffic light tree, and walked along the Thames path to the southern most point of the Isle of Dogs , with views to Greenwich, then back up the middle alongside the old docks, over to the western side, with views of the Dome, The new, the old, and the waste of moneythen back across the top to our

starting point.

On the mooring rope for a floating restaurant we came across a great example of urban rubbish recycling.Beginning life on a rubbish tip A pair of coots was tenderly raising their offspring on a collection of rubbish. Not quite on the scale of the kids raised on the rubbish tips in the Philippines.

Pole dancersThe reason for picking this particular weekend was a festival that was being held in and around the Docklands area. Street theatreSaturday

was ‘dance in the streets’ day and we enjoyed a number of performances before heading home.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Syon House to Strawberry Hill - 18 June 2006

The courtyard garden at Syon HouseIt was summer: it was sunny; so a stroll from Syon to Strawberry seemed a suitable scenario. After a look around the opulence of Syon House, the London home of the Dukes of Northumberland, we set off along the Thames path walking upstream, away from London.

Messing about in boats on the ThamesAfter about 4 miles we arrived at Strawberry Hill the home of Horace Walpole, son of Britain's first Prime Minister. He, and his 'committee of taste' revived the Gothic look, well before the Victorian gothic era.

It is amazing what you can do with papier-macheAlthough he built on the cheap and said it would not last, the house is still going strong and being restored by a dedicated group of enthusiasts. One example of his money saving which has turned out to be quite propitious is his use of papier-mache to create the ceiling details. In other stately homes such detail is carved wood or plaster work. If plaster details come loose and drop to the floor they will shatter, papier-mache bounces and can be glued back in place.

Transport for London kindly laid on a bus, the 267, to take us back to Syon House to collect our car.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Queen turns 80 - 17 June 2006

The Queen and Prince Philip on their way to Horse Guards ParadeWell, she didn't really, but the official celebrations are held in June and marked by the Trooping of the Colour. Rather than watch from Horse Guards Parade this year, we elected to position ourselves at the Buckingham Palace end of the Mall to see the 80th-birthday-balcony-wave.

The Red Arrows blast past overheadWe arrived in time to see Her Majesty leave the Palace on her way to Horse Guards and stayed for the fly-past, ended as usual with the red, white and blue of the Red Arrows

Berchtesgaden and the Eagle's Nest - 9 June 2006

The Eagle's NestFriday was another great day, and we spent it over the border in Bavaria. We first visited 'Eagle's Nest', the mountain retreat built for Hitler's 50th birthday. The building and access road were constructed in an amazing 13 months. The buses can drive almost to the summit of the 1835m peak and after walking 120 metres along a granite-lined tunnel into the mountain, a stunning brass-lined lift takes you the final 124 metres.

Looking down on KonigsseeThe local mayor campaigned to save the retreat from demolition after the war and it is now a restaurant. The mountains are so close around you: it is aptly named, and well worth visiting.

Our visit to the local Berchtesgaden salt mine was an anticlimax after such a brilliant morning, but the town itself was a good way to end the day. The churchThe mountains providing a picturesque backdrop to the town

Hallstatt - 8 June 2006

Looking up the lakeInspired by a beautiful scene on a calendar last year and the fantastic day which dawned on Thursday, we took a bus to Hallstatt: a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In the town square

They have ensured this beautiful village on the lake edge will be preserved, even to the extent of putting a tunnel through the mountain behind the village to provide a traffic bypass. The lake, Hallstattsee, was like glass and the boat trip which circles the lower end of the lake was a good way to see the village.

Looking back at the villageThe wealth of the village came from their salt mines, which can be toured. We choose to visit the German equivalent on Friday.

Recognise your granddad?Unique to this village, and forced on them by a lack of space to expand the church-yard, was the practice of exhuming skeletons after a period and storing the bones in the charnel house. This in itself is not particularly unusual, the twist here is that the skulls were painted and named so your dearly departed was quite identifiable.

Hellbrunn and Untersburg - 6 & 7 June 2006

In the clouds on the UntersburgTuesday was wet again, so we took a 2-day Salzburg Card. This is excellent value, especially for filling in a wet day, visiting museums. By mid afternoon we were at the impressive fortress, and the sun was actually shining while we were surveying the view from the roof. Just perfect for a few photos then, just after we were safely back in the fortress, the heavens opened once more.

Hellbrunn PalaceWednesday dawned with the possibility of the cloud lifting so we took a chairlift up the Untersberg, the 1800m mountain overlooking Salzburg. Unfortunately, the cloud did not lift sufficiently but we did get glimpses of Salzburg and the surrounds.

Back in the valley the day was pleasant, and we particularly enjoyed our tour of the gardens at Hellbrunn. The Palace was built by a Prince-Archbishop in 1613 as a summer holiday home. He obviously had a great sense of humour, as he installed trick fountains that are still working, and which were demonstrated by a guide. The Prince's outdoor eating areaThey were designed to drench his unsuspecting guests at an outdoor eating area and also in and around various grottos. As it was not permitted to stand in the presence of a seated archbishop, and, naturally, his seat (near end of the table) did not have a water jet. His poor guests were not so much ‘caught between the devil and the deep blue sea’, as caught between the archbishop and a thorough soaking.

A cruise on the river wrapped up the day, all courtesy of the Salzburg Card.

Werfen - 5 June 2006

View from the cave mouthThe weather on Monday was a much better, so we took a train trip to Werfen, to visit the ice-caves. These are the largest ice-caves in the world and well worth a visit, provided you attach yourself to a tour that is offering an English as well as a German commentary, as it is a very interesting trip.

Hohenwerfen FortressWerfen's main streetThe town of Werfen itself is also pleasant to visit, surrounded by snow-covered mountains and dominated by the fortress of Hohenwerfen.

Salzburg - 3 - 11 June 2006

Salzburg, in the sun, at lastSalzburg in the early summer is beautiful, except when it rains!!
We arrived in Salzburg late on Saturday 3rd June, and fortunately had just reached our hotel, when the heavens opened: we looked out from our balcony in amazement at the torrential rain. The damp cherubIt was still raining next morning, so our efforts at sight-seeing were rather hampered and we identified with the little damp cherub we encountered.

We felt we couldn't visit Salzburg without doing 'The Sound of Music Tour', so on our final day found time to fit it in. Sound of Music highlightsIt was rather fun, and brought back happy childhood memories, although we definitely were not in the same league as the person sitting in front of us, who had seen the movie 25 times!!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Milan and the lakes - 26 - 30 May 2006

Milan Cathedral roofMilan is a good base for visiting the picturesque nearby lakes. The highlights of Milan could be fitted into one very full day. Our favorourites were the cathedral rooftop, the Monument Cemetery, A monument in the cemetryLast Supper fresco by Leonardo da Vinci and of course the Galleria Vittrio Emanuee shopping arcade.

Isola Bella gardensLake Maggiore, in contrast could easily be a relaxing destination for several days. We enjoyed exploring the islands. Isola Pescatori was a fishing village, but now revolves around tourists. But sangria on a sunny balcony overlooking the lake is a great way to experience a fishing village! A great place to sip sangria

Isola BellaIsola Bella was a cluster of barren rocks, but after many man-hours is now a boat shaped island that the Count had built for his wife Isabella. Isola BellaThe palace (? holiday home) he built is stunning, as are the gardens. Isola Bella gardens

The three Borromean islands
Visiting this area would not be complete without taking the cable-car up Mottarone. The day was still clear, and we had a brilliant view of the mountains and Lake Maggiore with the islands.

BellagioMonday was scheduled for Lake Como. Sadly the day was misty, but with no wind, the lake was like glass. We took the boat up the lake to the Villa Carlotta, then on to Bellagio, which is reported to be the prettiest village in Italy. Maybe an exaggeration, but it is a cute lakeside village with narrow streets of shops, and heaps of places to eat. 60 million euros buys you this holiday home