Tuesday, October 25, 2011

World Cup Final – 22-23 October 2011

The Chilterns and The Thames are a wonderful backdrop to London. We spent the weekend enjoying both.

We converted a seven mile walk from Whitchurch-on-Thames to Goring, which relied on public transport to provide the missing link, into a ten mile walk by returning along the Thames Path. This looked easier on the computer screen than in reality, as the Thames Path climbs high above the Thames here along a cliff top. But despite this, it was a really enjoyable day out.

Goring is a particularly beautiful town, as most of the Thames side towns are. At the completion of our walk we drove to another town close to the Thames, Dorcester-on-Thames. Oddly, Dorchester is actually on the banks of the Thame river, just above its confuence with the Thames and to make it even more confusing the river downstream of Dorchester is the Thame while upstream it is the Isis.

Dorchester-on-Thames is a beautiful small town, and we stayed the night in the White Hart, a lovely old coaching inn, where we enjoyed a great dinner. When booking the room, the important criteria were, is there a large screen in the bar, and will you be showing the Rugby World Cup final on Sunday morning?

We were the first to breakfast on Sunday, and also the first in the bar at 8.30am, so had the pick of seats! A few other guests joined us eventually, surprisingly there were some French supporters, but no other Kiwi supporters. Along with the whole of New Zealand, we felt the 'tension is mounting in the stadium' type nervousness, and it felt more of a relief to have won, rather than an exciting triumphant conclusion!

After the cup presentation, we checked out and enjoyed the rest of our day doing an AA tour which started in Dorchester. Highlights of the trip were the lovely towns of Warborough, a stunning Romanesque church in Iffley, a very grand school in the tiny village of Cuddesdon, Abingdon, Clifton Hampden and The Whittenhams.

The church in Iffley was built 1160 and retains many original features, some of which show quite a decided eastern influence. We visited a number of other lovely churches on the tour, ending up outside St Peter's in Little Whittenham. This also has a Romanesque entrance. Opposite the church is a walkway to the top of the Whittenham Clumps. This hill has a terrific view, which highlights just how many churches there are in relatively close proximity.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

And now for something completely different – 16 October 2011

After cheering the All Blacks on to victory against Australia in the World Cup semi-final, we had a complete change of scene and tempo, by visiting Windsor Castle.

Only 30 minutes from home, but it feels like a world away. Murray was able to use his age for the first time to receive a concession, so it seemed appropriate for Her Majesty to have the honour of being the first to give him this 'privilege'!

The Castle is stunning, and now that the high season is over, the 'Semi-State Rooms' are open too. In fact, these are probably the most opulent rooms, as they were the private apartments of George IV, always known for his extravagance.

The fire which destroyed part of the Castle in 1992 has resulted in some rooms receiving a makeover. Among these are George's apartments, which have been restored exactly as they were when George first renovated. So today we saw them looking fresh and gleaming with gold everywhere, just as George lived in them. His furnishings were rescued at the time of the fire, as were most of the furnishings and paintings in the other affected rooms.

The Castle was built in Norman times on top of a hill, an ideal place for defence. Today it dominates the town, and the combination of town with attractive old buildings plus dramatic castle towering over them, makes Windsor a lovely town to visit.

After afternoon tea in the oldest restaurant in Windsor, we went back to the Castle for Evensong in St George's Chapel. We have enjoyed services in a number of Royal Chapels, but this would have to be one of the best. The beautiful chapel with fine vaulted ceilings, also has the unique status as Chapel of the Order of the Garter. This is where the Knights of the Garter come every June for a special church service. Each Knight has there own seat in the Quire (the area where today's service was held)

Out of Africa – 15 October 2011

After a week sitting at our office jobs, which followed two weeks sitting in an RV around New England (with a seven hour flight each end), and culminating with two hours on the sofa this morning cheering Wales on in their World Cup semi-final game, we definitely felt a walk was in order, So we drove to Pirbright after the game for a ten mile walk.

First we fortified ourselves with lunch at the White Hart in Pirbright. We would recommend this pub, as their food is excellent.

The walk set off along the Basingstoke Canal and the return walk was alongside army land. Red flags were flying everywhere to warn us to keep out, as firing was taking place today. Sure enough, we eventually walked across the end of the firing range and could see the soldiers facing away from us and firing from a prone position.

Pirbright was the home to Lord Pirbright, better known as Sir Henry Morton Stanley, whose immortal words in deepest Africa make him famous to this day - “Dr Livingstone, I presume”. We found his grave in the local churchyard at the end of the walk. The enormous chunk of Dartmoor granite makes it fairly unmissable.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One last Boston fling – 8 October 2011

We had a ridiculously early start to the day to accommodate the various travel plans and other constraints of the morning. First deadline was to get Janine and Alan to meet their taxi at 0630. We had all spent the previous evening packing so they were up and ready in short order, intending to breakfast once at the airport.

Since the rest of the party were going to be disturbed we figured that we might as well get on the road as soon as possible. After breakfast we set of to return the RV deciding that we would finish the cleaning in their yard rather than at the campground.

It was a good decision as the weekend was Columbus Weekend and we were on the road well in advance of any holiday weekend traffic. It also gave us time to discuss the refunds and recompense for lost vacation time due to the issues with the RV.

We had the RV all cleaned and presentable well before the 10:00 return deadline and were ready and waiting by the time the shuttle van we had arranged, arrived to take us to Boston. Our web research had indicated that the only place we could leave our bags for the day was the Bus Station at Boston South Station and this is where we thought we had requested the shuttle to drop us. As it was, the shuttle dropped us at Back Bay Station.

Bradley and Susan had decided that the complication of extra baby luggage, baby stroller and Linnea herself predicated against another visit to Boston and elected to get the shuttle driver to continue with them to Logan Airport. So we said our farewells and they drove off.

After they left we could not see any bus station as expected near the Amtrak station, so I asked where to find the bag storage and was told that we were at the wrong station, but we could take the train arriving in 1 minute to get to South Station and that we could ride for free. The train conductor was very helpful when we disembarked at South Station and it was not long before we were free of luggage and able to explore Boston again albeit with a time limit of the luggage storage closing at 5pm.

The first stop was the Tea Party Museum on the waterfront learn to more about the famous event. We were in the correct area but could not see any replica ships in the water so asked at a tourist booth only to find that the museum was being redeveloped an would open in 2012.

We then investigated various tour options: “Trolley”, “Duck”, harbour cruise and Segeway but decided to simply wander and set off along the waterfront walk, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather.

At one point a large Natural Gas tanker made its way down the harbour escorted by a pair of fast Coast Guard rigid-inflatable boats each with a manned machine-gun in the bow. These out-runners had the task of keeping all other craft away from the tanker and any other craft, no matter how innocuous were forced to a dead-stop in the water as the tanker passed. Talk about an over-abundance of caution. I think any of the fibreglass pleasure craft challenged would have come off worst had they been able to ram the tanker. Still, it was an impressive display of Homeland security paranoia.

We left the waterfront a couple of times, once for a gelato and once to wander through the Fabeuil Hall Marketplace. After a late lunch/early dinner salad on the waterfront, our return trip took us back through the recently redeveloped park in what is effectively the median strip between two major, one-way traffic routes along the waterfront.

At the end was a large protest camp outside the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston building as an off-shoot of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement were vocally protesting against the “Fat Cats”.

We were so exhausted by now, that we decided to take the bus to the airport. This gave us five hours to fill in, so set about writing up the day and checking photos. By the time we got around to buying coffee, we discovered most food outlets had closed. It appears that ours is the last flight of the evening, and not very full, so all employers had decreed their shop could shut early. It was just as well we ate in Boston.

Boston - 7 October 2011

The campground proprietor provided helpful information on our travel options for visiting Boston. We had researched what we could from the Internet but his information was based on the particular issues involved in parking a large, high, vehicle – information not disclosed on the Internet sites.

So instead of driving 3 miles to the local commuter train station, we drove 40 minutes to the end of the Green T-Line and could use a much cheaper all-day travel pass. The Green Line took us directly to Boston Common where the Freedom Walk started.

This walk, well marked with a bold red line in the pavement, traces the early history and happenings of the Boston settlement, focusing on the times around the Revolution and Declaration of Independence. The walk ended, for us, at the harbour to see the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) which is the oldest commissioned warship in the US Navy and thus could still be called upon to go to war – but probably would not be!

The deck and a couple of levels below are open to visitors and all is in absolutely top-notch ship-shape condition with the brass gleaming and the woodwork all highly polished. We did not establish whether or not the cannon were still in battle ready, working order or not.

Visits to the USS Constitution are free if you have photo ID - it is a Navy Base so unidentified riff-raff are not allowed! How many tourists are going to come prepared for this without some warning? Murray had a photo licence but Christine had nothing so we had to blagg our way past security. He took Murray's licence, asked Christine his date of birth and thus proved that she was not a terrorist in disguise. We were very grateful for his discretionary latitude.

It was not the first time that ID had been asked and waved through. On a number of occasions the younger two were asked for ID before being served alcohol with their meals. Considering they are more than a decade over the legal age, we all thought it quite hilarious. On one occasion Alan's NZ licence was accepted but he was told that it was not valid documentary proof as it was an “out-of-state” licence. On another occasion Christine resorted to assuring the waitress that Janine was indeed over 18.

After lunch we made our way to Harvard Square to meet Janine's friend Dan who is a post-grad student at the Harvard JF Kennedy School of Government. Dan gave us a personal and informative tour around the prestigious centre of learning ending with a side trip to a bridge over the Charles River where the students were participating in the very English occupation of rowing on a beautiful autumn evening.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bewitched – 6 October 2011

Today was a beautiful day for a drive around the coast. Our campsite was at Salisbury, a fairly uninspiring coastal development (this made it all the more surprising that it had such an excellent restaurant!), but across a bridge is the township of Newburyport. This has many large impressive 18th century houses, once the homes of wealthy shipowners.

We continued following the coastal road around the peninsular to Rockport.. This proved to be our favourite place of the whole trip. Once a fishing port, it is now predominantly an artists colony. The small town was delightful to walk around, many picturesque old buildings, including former fisherman's cottages, are now selling gifts, artworks and pottery. The harbour with it's boats and old fishing-shack, provides seating to relax and watch the sun playing on the water.

South from here we were planning to stop at Gloucester, but it is so much bigger, and less appealing, we carried on. The coast had many lovely settlements, with fine old houses, which took us all the way to Salem.

As we have all heard of Salem, but were not too clear on the actual details, it was interesting to visit. The museums all sounded a little OTT, but in fact we enjoyed our visit to the Witch Dungeon Museum. Details of the history surrounding the Salem witch episode is narrated and acted out, using excerpts from the original court transcripts.

There is a curious irony that Salem is only a tourist stop these days because of false stories about witchcraft and yet the modern town is making its money off ghosts, ghouls tarot, psychic readings and so forth and thus is still trading on false stories about witchcraft.