Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Pleasures of Spring - 26 April 2009

British beauties, bluebells and beeches
West WycombeThere are a number of markers in the British spring that we enjoy celebrating every year: the snowdrops; the daffodils; Marlowthe wisteria; the bluebells; the seemingly overnight appearance of the horse chestnut leaves; the fresh green of the soft new beech leaves and so on.

Today was the day to enjoy the purplish carpets of bluebells strewn generously under the fresh spring green beech canopy. A green and pleasant landSince the weather was fantastic we enjoyed another spring attraction, driving in an open top sports car with the green canopy all around us.

Maharajah's WellWe began bright and early with a loop drive through the Chilterns and Oxfordshire, including a stop at the Maharajah's Well in Stoke Row. Built in 1863 it was a gift from the Maharajah of Benares. 9 MGsAfter the loop drive we met up with a bunch of other 'topless' MGs for a short run to a pub for lunch. Leaving them, we set off for a walk that brought us back through some wonderful bluebell wood just near Wheelers End.The beech canopy

By Royal Appointment - 25 April 2009

Windsor CastleTo celebrate 85 years of the MG marque, the Windsor Rotary Club and several MG clubs organised the Royal Windsor MG Heritage Festival as fundraiser for The Prince Philip Trust Fund and other Rotary charities.

The aim was to get a representative of every MG model from 1924 to 2009, the very The MGs line upnewest 85th Anniversary Edition TF, which was unveiled to the public at the display. The earliest models that made it were two from 1925, one of which had spent most of its life in NZ. It was a fantastic turnout of some extremely beautiful examples of the MG Marque down through the years and we were chosen to represent 1950 and the YA model.

Through the Castle gatesTo get 221 cars assembled and into the right order after the requisite security checks meant that it was a farily early start to the day. We were car number 77 in the parade as we made our way though the crowds in Windsor and then enjoyed the rare privilege of driving up Castle Hill and through St George's Gate into the private area of the Castle. Into the Royal QuadrangleWe then drove around the Royal Quadrangle where HRH gave us a wave and then out of the castle and through the private grounds into Frogmore Drive and down to a parking area by the cricket grounds.

HRH preparing to leaveOnce we were all assembled there HRH drove himself down in his Range Rover and planted a tree, as did Mr He Xiaoqing the Chairman of MG Motors UK. Mr He then presented HRH with the keys to a brand new MG TF LE500 to be auctioned as part of the fundraising. With the formal bits over, the public were allowed in to look at the cars and we were allowed out so went for a walk down the long drive to see the other 600+ MGs that had assembled there to be part of the day.

The Valley Gardens
Just around the corner from Windsor is The Valley Gardens, which have an extensive area of Azaleas and Rhododendrons and they were in absolutely glorious form. We thus enjoyed a beautiful walk through the gardens, especially the Punch Bowl area that was a blaze of colour. The Valley GardensThe Valley Gardens

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kew Gardens - 19 April 2009

Kew Gardens Tree-top walkwaySummer 2001 was the last time we visited Kew Gardens and with the opening of the new tree-top walkway, the advent of spring, and a beautiful spring day, it seemed a good time to revisit.

The 326 acres of Kew could keep a visitor happily occupied for several days. The official word is “allow 2.5 hours for your visit”. We were there for 5.5 hours, moving at a fairly brisk rate most of the time and still only scratched the surface.

Kew PalaceThis time, in possession of a Royal Palaces Annual Pass, we were also able to visit Kew Palace which is situated within the gardens and for other garden visitors incurs a seperate entry fee.

It truly is an amazing and beautiful place and with the spring growth and abundant blossom was a wonderful place to spend the day.

Kew GardensKew Gardens

Kew GardensKew Gardens

Kew GardensKew Gardens

Kew GardensKew Palace Garden

Kew GardensKew Gardens

Warwickshire - 18 April 2009

It did not leave the factory with the door opening like thatFor many years the English Midlands have been the heart of British motor manufacturing. In the early 1900s Austin opened their plant at Longbridge and later, when the MG Abingdon plant closed the MGs were made at Longbridge, along with Morris and the rest of the BMC fold.

With the demise of British Leyland the Longbridge site was eventually mothballed, Our MG outside the factory gatewound down, sold off etc and many thousands of workers lost their jobs.

As tribute to this motoring heritage a “Pride of Longbridge” gathering is held at Cofton Park, just across the road from the Longbridge factory. So this Saturday there was a fairly significant gathering of Austin, Morris and MG cars from the 1920s to our Coughton Courtsole representative of the latest 2008 model. Some were polished way beyond anything that they may looked like when leaving the factory, others had significant bodywork alterations, one had £3000 of additional lighting installed and some were simply family cars, grime and all.

Leaving the car aficionados we set off to revisit Coughton Court, last visited in October 2002. This time, with our HHA membership we were also able to visit the nationally renowned Walled Garden.
Canal bridge at Wotton WawenSt Peter's, Wotton Wawen
Magnolia petals and a garden gateNext was a country walk from Shelfield Green and, for only the second time on these country walks, we got ourselves lost. We retraced our steps and drove to the pub at Wotton Wawen that we were supposed to walk past. Since most of the things to see on the walk were around Wotton Wawen we explored the area on foot and then enjoyed a pub meal before heading home.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wawel Hill, Krakow -13 April 2009

Castle on Wawel Hill
On the last morning we had time to squeeze in a visit to the State Rooms in the Castle on Wawel Hill.Castle on Wawel Hill Because it was a national holiday most of the visitor areas in the Castle were closed but fortunately the State Rooms were open and free of charge. The only complication was a limited supply of tickets as the number of visitors per day is strictly limited. Castle on Wawel HillThe later, holiday, opening and our need to be at the airport to catch our return flight meant that we really had to be in the first group through. There were two ticket office locations and so we stationed ourselves at one each to ensure the bases were covered. Getting four tickets for the two of us was not a problem as we knew that one of the Kiwi Castle courtyardcouples we met on the Auschwitz trip was also going to arrive seeking tickets so that they could make the same flight.

After joining them for the tour we went our separate ways for our last look at Krakow before heading to the airport and what must have been one of the smoothest and quickest departures we have enjoyed. From the centre of Krakow till we were in the air was less than 90 minutes.

Krackow Old Town - 12 April 2009

Krakow Towers
Jewish MemorialLast night's restaurant was very near the starting point for the Jewish Quarter walk that took us past a number of Synagogues, not all in current use, a couple of Jewish cemeteries and then over the river to the area where the Jews were forced into a ghetto in WWII and then cleared out and deported to death camps. Two short sections of the ghetto wall remain.

A short walk from the ghetto is the factory of Oskar Schindler, immortalized in the book and film Schindler's List. Currently, the factory is being converted into a museum to commemorate the life and times of the Jews in that period.
Jewish QuarterJewish Quarter
Our afternoon walk followed the Royal Route from the Barbican, at one end of the old city, down to the river by way of the Market Square, the largest square in Europe, and the castle on Wawel Hill overlooking the river Wista.
Market stallGhetto Wall
On the way we popped into a number of churches, all richly embellished as is typical of many European Catholic churches.
Main squareBarbican

Auschwitz - 11 April 2009

The tracks that carried single trip passengers only
What can one write about Auschwitz that has not already been said? It seemed incongruous to be visiting this scene of unspeakable horror and death on a beautiful spring day with the fresh new spring growth, the symbol of life and a future, budding all around us.

It is a full day excursion so 'Work Brings Freedom', NOT!we were up and on our way to the bus station early to catch the express bus from Krakow, only to find a long queue at the only open ticket office and then find all the seats sold. The next bus was 50 minutes later so we spent the time nattering to two other Kiwi couples before setting off for the 90-minute journey. We were still in time for the 11 a.m. English tour with Berta, a wonderful guide.

Auschwitz-I was a men only camp using an existing army barracks so was relatively palatial compared to the rigours of Auschwitz-II or Birkenau. Auschwitz-IHow anyone survived winter in that bleak place in those camp buildings is a mystery. Prefabricated stables not holding the 52 horses they were designed for but rather 400+ prisoners, three levels deep, in incomprehensible conditions is just too hard for us to imagine or identify with.

The dehumanising processes, controls and conditions, graphically recounted by the guide and the display boards, Auschwitz-IIare simply too much to absorb and while the information is processed by the brain the horror cannot really be understood. There were no trees breaking the view then, there was no grass underfoot, there was only death for the majority and a 10km walk each way to the work sites for the 'healthy' ones.

The strength of the human instinct to survive is evidenced in so many ways: whether in the pile of bodies under the air vents as they clambered on the bodies of others for the last gasps of fresh air in the gas chambers; or in the motivation of the capos who would treat their fellows more harshly than the SS in the hope of Auschwitz-Ibuying a few more days; or those who felt themselves fortunate to have the task of cleaning the latrines and so on. With the certain knowledge of the finality of the solution waiting for them in the gas chambers at the far side of the camp there were those who hoped with a hope so far beyond hope that the new day might bring life instead of death and so endured for one more day and one more day. Auschwitz-IIWhy they simply did not give up is truly something that we, in our cushy western world, cannot begin to understand.

The mentality of the Germans captors is also hard to comprehend. Apart from the obvious question as to how any rational person could be part of such barbarity, the fact that they would photograph and record the name, date of birth, date of arrival at the camp and date of death of a prisoner that was to be killed that same day is mind-boggling. Later the numbers murdered precluded any such record keeping Auschwitz-IIbut did not stop them collecting the toothbrushes, hair brushes, shaving brushes and so on.

But soon it was time to return and the bus timetable was not running the full service so it was a toss-up which bus to try for. We got back to Auschwitz-I in time for the 16:20 but it was full so we decided not to stand for 90 minutes. We had another look around the camp and then set off for the 17:30 bus. Before long there was at least two bus loads of people standing around and certainly not in a orderly British queue. I had stationed myself at the kerbside where I estimated the bus door would be and we stood and waited. Sure enough the door was directly in front of me when the Untold personal storiesbus arrived and we smuggly took our seats while the melee outside the door attempted to board the bus.

Eventually we left, but less than five minutes later the bus died and we had to wait for a replacement. Now those standing in the aisle had a distinct advantage over those of us in the seats as we scrambled from one bus to the next. Fortunately we secured seats again, just.

Dinner that evening continued the Jewish theme as we ate in the old Jewish quarter at a The Tailor's shop in Once Upon A Time in Kazimierzrestaurant called “Once Upon A Time in Kazimierz”. Walls have been removed to amalgamate four old Jewish establishments: The General Store; a Tailors workroom and shop; a carpentry workshop and a Grocery store. Each section is furnished and decorated to reflect its original use giving the restaurant a wonderful atmosphere; complimented by the delicious food.