Saturday, December 20, 2008

Scene One: Seen the Mall - 20 December 2008

Christmas baubles
Inside Westfield MallSince the New Zealand shopping mall scene is dominated by the Australian Westfield group it seemed only right and proper that we should check out Europe's largest inner city shopping mall which opened a couple of weeks ago just a few train stops from home. Because it is in West London and because they are seeking It is going to be a lean Christmas for someto take business from Oxford and Regent Streets in the West End, they simply recycled the company name and called the new mall Westfield.

Given the proximity to the well heeled areas of Kensington and Chelsea they have created a luxury retail area with all the big names of everybody who is anybody in the luxury goods market. But, even with that, a mall is a mall is a mall and they seem to look the same whether they are in London, Paris, Milan, Kuala Lumpur, Los Angeles, Auckland or Melbourne.

View from Sudbury Hill past home to the Wembley StadiumSince the day had improved, and was quite mild out, we wandered over to Sudbury to climb what we suppose is Sudbury Hill. Surprisingly, at 91m, it is higher than others nearby like Horsenden Hill and Barn Hill both of which we explored very early on in our stay. This one, the nearest, has taken us 7 years to find and climb.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another four bridges - 14 December 2008

The Palladian Bridge at Prior ParkThe morning began at Prior Park, now in the care of the National Trust. These are the grounds created by Ralph Allen, a wealthy 16th C philanthropist, who built a grand house (now a school) as 'a noble seat which sees all of Bath and which was built for all of Bath to see'. The grounds contain one of four only Palladian bridges left in the world. It made a lovely walk around the lakes on a crisp winter morning. [The four Palladian bridges are at Stowe Landscape Gardens (UK), Prior Park (UK), Wilton House (UK) {before the blog began} and Pushkin Palace (St Petersburg, Russia)]

LongleatFrom here we drove to Longleat, the home of Lord & Lady Bath. (Not wanting to pull the plug on the weekend’s running Bath theme.) This is an Elizabethan mansion, transformed in Victorian times, to reflect the styles the then Marquis fell in love with during his travels in Italy. LongleatThe original great hall contained an enormous Christmas tree, the only festive decoration in the house. But we were very aware of the season, as the house was very cold; an indication of how difficult (as well as expensive) these grand houses must be to heat in winter. The beautiful rooms had no ceiling light fittings; this also gave a sense of stepping back in time and made the rooms come alive in a different era.

Four Bridges and an Author - 13 December 2008

BathLeaving London to be buffeted by heavy rain, we drove to Bath, and enjoyed the pedestrianised streets, shops, Christmas lights and the architecture that make this a World Heritage site.

Bath is beautiful at any time, but Cathedral SquareChristmas shop window displays and lights enhance any town. One feature of Bath is the Pulteney Bridge, one of only four bridges in the world with shops on both sides, albeit extremely narrow shops. Pulteney Bridge and the Avon in floodDue to the heavy rain in the night, the river was very swollen and brown, not the normal picturesque river we have seen before.

Although many websites mention that the Pulteney Bridge is one of four it is extremely difficult to find the names of the four bridges. We had walked over another two of them, Christmas decorationsthe Ponte Vecchio and the Rialto so that was three of four but finding the fourth was a challenge. For anyone else doing a web search the definitive list is: Bath CathedralPulteney Bridge, Bath (UK); Ponte Vecchio, Florence (Italy); Rialto, Venice (Italy); and Krämerbrücke, Erfurt (Germany).

We did a Jane Austen walk that we had printed off the BBC site that took us to places she visited and where Jane lived in Bath. En route we passed the cathedral, which Jane would have attended, and were invited in for an excellent Christmas Carol service.

Off to the Tower - 6 December 2008

Skating rink in the moatSaturday was a perfect crisp winter’s day for exploring London. We followed a walk that took us along many new (to us) narrow passageways in the City of London. It was easy to visualise these winding lanes in Dickens’s day.

A Yeoman Warder (Beefeater)Following this, we visited the Tower of London, using a ‘Palace Pass’ we purchased and which gives unlimited entry for one year to 5 royal sites, including the Tower.

New memorial at the execution siteThe history this site has seen is amazing, and a new sculpture remembers those few who were executed within its walls; most were taken from the Tower and publicly executed on nearby Tower Hill. Only if you were particularly controversial were you executed “behind closed doors.”

The White TowerThe White Tower is now used for displays of historical weapons, and the Crown Jewels are housed very securely in another building in this 18-acre site.

As we left for the day, the raven master was encouraging the ravens inside their cages for the night. Gun carriage wheelThese are ‘royal’ birds, and lead pampered, although restricted, lives as their wings are clipped to prevent them flying over the walls. According to the legend, the kingdom will fall if the ravens ever leave the Tower.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - 5 December 2008

Tiffanys Bond Street
The Norwegian SpruceLondon at Christmas is very special. Every year a 20m+ Norwegian Spruce tree is given by the people of Norway, as a thank-you for the aid of the British people in World War II. The tree is always decorated in the Norwegian style with the lights in vertical stripes down the tree.

Fortnum & Mason window displayThe Christmas lights in the various shopping streets are different every year, as are the amazing window displays of the large stores and because the sun sets so early there is plenty of time to enjoy the displays, unlike NZ where you have to wait up till late to see the Christmas lights.

Talking lion
This year, as an art installation, one of the Trafalgar Square lions was made to ‘talk’. A projector was used to make the lion’s mouth appear to move in sync with the words from a speaker; it was very well done.

Bond StreetLondon ‘does’ Christmas, extremely well.

(The lion is obvious, the witch is the snow witch in the F&M window and you can fill your wardrobe in Bond St.)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Inside the M25 - 30 November 2008

Rural trafficOne tends to think that Greater London fills the area inside the M25 but it is really quite surprising how much greenbelt and countryside can be found on the inside.

One of the many puddlesOne of the members of the South East Area MGF Owners Club set out to devise a “country lanes” run entirely within the M25, so that seemed an interesting way to spend a day seeing a very different area of England quite close to home.

After meeting the other drivers for a coffee at Hooley we set of meandering along lanes and country roads for nearly 50 miles Creating a splashuntil we reached the Epsom Downs Racecourse and the finish at the Rubbing Down Pub.

Although we went through a number of small settlements and villages, the route only used an ‘A’ road once, and then only for 0.7 miles: it was quite an achievement.

ReindeerThe rest-break stop was at a Garden Centre which just happened to be having their ‘Reindeer Day’ complete with Santa’s Grotto et al. It was surprising that there were any car parks to be had, the place was very busy with Mums, Dads and kids

The Rubbing Down PubUnfortunately the weather was not on our side and there were a number of small ‘lakes’ we had to negotiate in the hollows. Coupled with the mud from the overnight rain the cars were very filthy by the time we arrived at the pub.

Winter Run - 23 November 2008

Sunday dawned with snow falling, heavily enough to sit on the ground for a while before the rain came and washed it all away.
The MGs lined up at The Navigation Inn
As soon as the rain started and it was safe to drive we set off towards Northampton to meet with a bunch of MG owners and to meet a couple of fellow Kiwis.

As can be seen from the photo the sun finally broke through for a time while we enjoyed a meal at The Navigation Inn in Stoke Bruerne

Banbury - 22 November 2008

The 'new' Banbury CrossBanbury is familiar from the nursery rhyme. Saturday was such a lovely day we did a circular drive from Banbury, after first exploring the town. The town has the iconic cross (although not the one that the nursery rhyme refers to), but also many other historic building.Entrance to Butchers Row Most interesting is the Reindeer Inn, once a haunt of Roundheads and Royalists, depending on who was in control of the town. 13th century wall paintingsIts Globe Room has an interesting history, and was returned to the pub, after nearly being shipped to America then ‘lost’ in a warehouse for over 50 years.

The circular drive took in picturesque towns such as Bloxham & Aynho. We stopped in Croughton to see the 13th century wall paintings, then on to Chipping Warden for a great pub meal before heading home.