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Category Archives: Aug – Sept 2018 – British Isles

Piccadilly Circus

This being our last day in London with a Very early and Very long day tomorrow, we accept the fact that it will likely be a shorter day of exploration.  However, that merely gives the excuse to return and visit whatever was missed this time around (or even revisit some).

No early rising today so a later breakfast is enjoyed and sufficient in quantity and quality to easily take us through the rest of the day.  In and of itself probably a good thing.  Where to go after however?

Why not Piccadilly Circus?  Ok…let’s go see what’s what.

While not expecting a Big Tent and elephants, there was also no expectation of an area similar to Times Square/Broadway in New York either.  Billboards, theaters, and thousands of people.  Again the weather is being most cooperative in that it’s even nicer than yesterday.  And being Sunday, Londoners and tourists alike flock to all the hot spots.

Purely in the interests of perhaps an acquisition for the grandsons, stops at both the Lego store and the M&M Shop have to happen.  Quality control by Gido, after all, is paramount.  And that takes time.  😉

This entire area is really retail-overload.  Little treasures crop up from time to time though.  Case in point an absolutely entertaining beat-box performer had gathered a crowd and was just beginning his performance.  Without doubt watching him was time well spent.  Not sure I can upload my video of him here, but I will try.  No promises.  🙂

Having wandered about to and fro and given the day is somewhat warm (dare I say, hot?), a thirst has made itself known.  Hmmm…what to do, what to do….

With a name like Gordon’s Wine Bar, how wrong could this be?  After all, it’s been around since the late 1800’s so longevity and popularity don’t seem to be a concern.

The size large patio outside is, understandably, completely full so inside it is.  Down the stairs to a very old establishment, complete with original support timbers, rooms hewn out of the rock and historical newspapers plastered on the walls.  The bartender is most judicious with his pouring of my wine – he filled the glass to the rim and then decided to give me what was left in the bottle, gratis.  How can you fault that?  🙂

Out and about once more, making our way to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Shop.  We had tried to get in the last time we were in London as it was closed due to how late we arrived.  This time we fared no better as they aren’t open on Sundays.  Remember what I said about excuses to come back?

Off we go for a small repast at ye Olde Cock Tavern (like the rooster…c’mon!).  Age in this town (as much as just about anywhere in Europe) is commonplace.  This tavern has been here since 1549.  Its location is right across the street from the Temple Church.  Dan Brown fans amongst you will no doubt recognize that place from The DaVinci Code.

A light supper, a lemonade as a change of pace and now off to find a bus to the nearest Tube connection.  A word of warning to those of you going to London.  Should you want to ride the bus, while standing at the bus stop, do NOT assume the driver will stop for you.  You need to wave at him to indicate your desire to get on his bus.  Otherwise, unless someone on-board wants to get off, he’s likely to pass you by.

So ends our explorations of the British Isles.  Hopefully the little glimpse provided in this blog have given you some ideas as to things to do and see over here.  One thing that has never changed, for us, is the more we see, the more we understand how much more there ~is~ to see.  If you’re still healthy enough to travel, please do so.

You can only enrich yourself at the cost of enjoying yourself.

 

Little Venice

So today (Saturday) we embark on our longest journey without actually being on a formal tour.  The Tube, which is both very near to the hotel and very convenient to use for getting around London, has for us, been limited to single line junctions.  This time a change from one line to another is in order.  (This entire trip has certainly been one of ‘firsts’.)  Not that changing lines is a big deal, it’s just somewhat unfamiliar territory.  In addition, the second line takes us down, ultimately, to a 5th level underground.  Don’t need an earthquake today, please.

As many times as Venice, Italy, has welcomed us with open arms, it never gets boring.  With that in mind, it seemed only proper to visit London’s Little Venice.  Very aptly named due to the canal that winds its way a little north of Paddington through an alluring little tranquil neighborhood.

A walk along the canal here is both doable and enjoyable from a things-to-see-and-do perspective.  However, by now the thought of putting on even more miles-by-feet while still trying to fight off an illness seems counter-productive.  This is re-enforced by the rather timely appearance of canal boats.  (Are you sensing a theme to this entire vacation by now?)  Floating is much more desirable than walking (at least for the time being).

Being a little early to catch the next boat available allows enough time to explore at least some of the canal by foot without that becoming too much of a challenge.  A stroll down both sides of the embankment (crossing small bridges again akin to the Real Venice) reveals yet another different life style.

On one side of the canal, many long, narrow boats are moored that are, without doubt, personal habitations.  They are given ‘visitor moorings’ that are free for up to 7 days with a £25 per day charge after that.  In some cases there are 2 parked side-by-side which is an allowable limit as well.

On the other side, there are more permanently affixed dwellings/restaurants/bed-and-breakfast facilities.  These are limited to only one abreast.  Needless to say, one side of the canal has a decidedly more upscale appearance than the other.  The canal is still wide enough to accommodate 2 tour boats passing each other while ferrying their clientele back and forth.

Our tour boat has now arrived and on we board.  A completely full and understandably noisy (given the close quarters) voyage down the canal allows no ability to hear anything that is explained over the intercom, but it is doubtful that the information is crucial.  The sights along both sides are enough to keep everyone happy.

In about an hour we arrive at the end, which in this case is Camden Lock.  Guess where it’s located?  In Camden Town, which is in the borough of…Camden.  It is also home to the Camden Market.  It would seem if you’re headed to Camden at all, specifics aren’t really necessary.

Today is without doubt the most weather-enjoyable day we have had this entire trek.  The skies are clear blue, the temperature around 23c and almost no wind.  As luck would have it, this makes for the best day to be at this location.  Apparently most of London thinks the same way, as the crowds here are reminiscent of WEM on the last Saturday before Christmas.

Street food, souvenir vendors, retail shops and outlets, and foot traffic congregate to form a population that swells and shrinks, breathing life and frenzy into the area.  A full day or more would be better suited to truly experience this distribution of vitality.  If you’re in London and the weather is acceptable, make a point of coming here.

Another full day somewhat behind us and health still partially an issue, the Tube is located and our hotel returned to.  Maybe I can catch up, even if not completely.

Cutty Sark

Today there is nothing actually planned which does not mean there is nothing to do.  There is a we-could-do-this list (which is wonderfully not the same as a Honey-do list).  It’s hard to imagine struggling to find something to do in London, but there were some things that have held a certain intrigue that we didn’t want to forget.  The time has come to cross one or two of those off the list.

In order to take care of one of them, another cruise is necessary.  Ok…maybe not ‘necessary’ but absolutely a more sight-seeing friendly method than the London Tube system.  Also a lot less strenuous which has become a bigger problem for yours truly.  The Tube does provide a more than adequate means of getting to where our boat departure point is however.

The City of London, proper, is actually one of the smallest major cities in the world.  It is only one mile square.  The surrounding 32 districts (called boroughs, think New York), along with the City of London, create Greater London.  (That takes up about 611 square miles.)  One of those would be the City of Westminster.  Here is where our boat departs for a leisurely cruise down The Thames.

There is so much to see floating downstream but, once again, we have no tour guide, so pictures will have to tell our story.  The Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the London Eye, St. Mary’s Cathedral, all of these and more could easily create a menu of things to see.  If London is not on your bucket list, consideration may be worthwhile.

The final stop on this cruise is the borough of Greenwich.  Everyone in the world, capable of telling time, has at least heard of Greenwich Mean Time.  The goal, however, was not the Prime Meridian located in the Royal Observatory (and we won’t even mention the more widely recognized IERS Reference Meridian).  No, the objective was the Cutty Sark.  This seemed like a more visibly imposing exhibit.

It is.

Built in 1869 (again with the OLD stuff!!), it is the last of its line of Tea Clippers still in existence.  The cargo of the day was tea…lots of tea.  But, with improvements in trade routes always coming into play, wool soon took over as a more profitable choice.  She was fast and held a 10 year speed record from Australia to Britain.  Steam became more prevalent as a propulsion source so she was sold to a Portuguese company by the name of Ferreira (funny…I KNOW that name…).  Over the years she transported various goods and merchandise.  She ended her sea career in 1954, dry-docked in Greenwich.  Trials and tribulations didn’t stop even then.  Two fires since 2007 have plagued her, but she was once again re-opened for public view in 2012.  Majestic beauty never really dies.

A wander about takes us though a little market place with a pause for a late lunch (slash early dinner).  Continuing much further has become serious issue for me so a trip to a medi-center is in order.  Turns out to be a wise decision.  I have now, because of that wonder drug called penicillin, managed to avoid bronchial pneumonia.  However that has come at the cost of me staying in the hotel tomorrow, attempting to recuperate.  Maybe I can catch some zzz’s.

As you are reading this, posted well after that occurrence, I’ve successfully pulled through and shall attempt another venture on Saturday.

The Abbey, The Guard, The Palace And The Tea

For some reason I had it in my head (and I knew better!) there would be some time to just sit back and lolly-gag around London.  So far this has not been the case and today is no different.

To borrow literary syntax from Mr. Lewis, the coverage today takes in The Abbey, The Guard, The Palace And The Tea.  Sadly there may be less commentary (although some may feel that is a good thing 😉 )  due to no recording allowed by the tour guide (so he says) and fewer pictures as both the Abbey and the Palace do NOT allow photos.  The Abbey must have had some unseen force controlling my camera as there may be 1 or 2…albeit questionable in quality and content.  In the Palace however, cameras/cell phones and items of such nature must either remain in a pocket or be placed in a bag.  Foiled!

The west door façade of the Abbey was finished in the 1700’s but the actual church was founded in 960 and mostly finished by 1260 (don’t they have ANYthing new in this country??).  Inside, if you bypass the magnificent splendor that envelopes you (cuz…THAT’S easy to do), you find yourself surrounded by artifacts, burial sites, tombs and commemorations to literally thousands of people.  Well over 3,000 are actually buried here and many, many others have tributes paid to them.  Stephen Hawking (who, surprisingly, actually turned down a Knighthood) has his ashes (quite visibly) embedded into his marker on the floor of the Abbey.  Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, numerous Kings and Queens over the ages…the list goes on and on, all buried or entombed inside The Abbey.

Here you could see (IF I could have taken a proper picture) the oil painting of Richard II, finished around 1395.  This is one of the few paintings that remain in public view all the time.  Many are not.

Over there is the actual coronation throne that has been used 38 times in the Abbey’s existence, most recently, of course, by Queen Elizabeth II.  It will certainly be used by her son Charles when the time comes although many in Britain hope William gets it instead.  And,everyone knows there is only one way that’s going to happen.

The coronation is an extremely complex and lengthy affair.  Over the course of 7 hours comes Recognition (kinda like at a wedding where the priest asks if there are objections), Oath (I promise to…), Anointing (actual pouring of oil on the body), the Coronation itself (here comes the VERY heavy and Very extravagant crown) and finally the Homage (the final prayer).

The Abbey is immense, both inside and out.  The architecture and artifacts are, alone, almost worthy of a trip to London.

Next we hustle over to watch the Changing of the Guard which happens 4 days a week, weather permitting (and presuming no other large events in the city center).  Unless you’re here WELL before starting time (11:00 A.M. sharp), watching it will prove challenging.  They are impressive in their synchronization and musical ability, as one would expect given who their boss is.  Best spot, by far, is under the Victoria Memorial immediately opposite the front gate of Buckingham Palace.  Oh yeah…this one is a freebie. 🙂

Now there is a bit of time for a light lunch before we meet again at the side of the Palace for our next tour.  Buckingham Palace is only open to the public when the Queen is NOT in residence (DAMN…there goes my selfie!!).  This amounts to 2 months of the year when one can go through 15 state rooms and be completely overwhelmed by wealth.

So let’s see…standard 3 bedroom bungalow would have: 3 bedrooms, maybe 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, a living room and let’s throw in a dining room.  Hmmm…only 8.  Ok, let’s add in the fully finished basement: another bedroom, a bathroom, a games room, a wine cellar, a laundry area, area for the furnace and an office-in-home.  There…15.

Oh…wait a minute.  Those state rooms are the only rooms open to the public.  AND you don’t get to even see all of them.  There are 19 in total.  The Palace has 775 rooms.  With 78 bathrooms, at least Phillip never has to wait very long.  Out of the 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, he and the Queen each have their own (after all he’s 97 and she’s 92 – what’s gonna happen?).  Staff are amply accommodated in their 188 bedrooms and work gets done in the 92 offices.  I’ll save you the trouble…that only adds up to 429.  There are a few other rooms I guess.

Her main formal dining room will seat, comfortably, 150 however she does have a smaller one for more intimate gatherings.  It will hold about 46.

I host a garden party (ok…it’s CLOSE to my garden) each year for a select 10 people.  The Queen can have, and has had, garden parties in Her back yard for 8,000.  Glad I don’t have to cook for them, I get enough feedback already. 🙂

What about art, you ask.  Well…we certainly didn’t see it all.  Not sure a week in London is long enough to view the over 1 million pieces in entire collection.  Obviously not all are on display at any one time, and not all are at the Palace, however the pieces we saw range from finger size to room size and everything in-between.  Impressive?  Maybe not the most complete term, but it is marginally adequate.

Ok…time for Afternoon Tea.  After all, go to London, visit the Palace, The Abbey and the Guard, and NOT do tea?

One of the (if not THE) most expensive hotels in London is the Savoy.  Afternoon Tea there will set you back £68.  Per person.  Today that’s about $116 CDN.  And, don’t forget, men must wear a proper suit and tie and ladies must in appropriate gowns.  Not going to happen.  We went to St. Ermin’s hotel.  It’s part of our tour, but on its own, tea is £29 per person (about $50).  Not sure how much better the Savoy is going to have to really be for the over doubling in price.  This hotel is really very, very nice.  And the Afternoon Tea was superb.

On the table, beside the wonderful layout, were 2 menus.  One was for a selection of teas that most I have never heard of.  I selected Oriental Sencha which is mixture of papaya and mango (and other things that make tea, tea).  The other wasn’t really a menu.  It was a description of all the goodies that were about to come our way.  Finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and more sweet delicacies than I really needed.  But…hey, I’ll take one for the team.

All around a splendid day.  The weather held, the eyes were smitten, the mind significantly flabbergasted – mission accomplished I would say.

Certainly more to come as tomorrow (Sept. 13) we cruise again…on a appreciably smaller boat.

Oxford

Our drive continues, again through numerous small towns and villages.  It’s more than a little pastoral and the roads are not very busy, as one would expect given where we are.  Along the way, by way of showing off knowledge gained by simple proximity, it is learned that custard is a wicked conspiracy dreamt up by the hen, the cow and the cook.  Seems a reasonably accurate description. 🙂

The Olympics have come to Cotswold, albeit their own version of same.  One event is the ever-fun Tug-O’-War for the basic test of strength.  Another game is called Willy-Wanging.  Fortunately I’ll still be able to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere in trying to describe the antics.  It involves throwing a Wellington Boot (referred to as a Gumboot here in the colonies) as far as you can.  It’s hard to contain the excitement.  Still one more is called Shin-Kicking.  This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.  A circle is drawn on the ground, and two combatants stand inside the circle, opposite each other.  When the whistle sounds, they try to kick each other, in the shins, as hard as possible.  First man out of the circle is the loser.  Because time moves forward, so the rules have become a little more lax.  You can now, finally, pad your shins with that wonderful protective gear, newspaper.  Not sure how there could be a real winner.

The roads in the area were replete with highwaymen.  ‘Your money or your life’ became the common phrase associated with these men-of-the-roads.  One Dirk Turpin became very well known.  He was very successful in his chosen career.  His original group, The Essex Gang (guess where THEY came from!) were in operation until 1735 when all, except Dirk, were captured.  He decided to go it alone.

This worked out well, until he tried to rob a coach where the male occupant burst out laughing.  As luck would have it this man, Mathew King, was also a highwayman.  One thing leads to another and the two decided working together might turn out to be a good thing.

One day one passenger decided he wanted to keep both money and life and engaged Matt King in a fight.  As they were rolling about on the ground, Dirk panicked and opened fire wanting to kill the passenger to save Matt.  However…18th century pistols were not really all that accurate.  Dirk shot Matt by mistake, killing him.

Shaken so badly by the incident, Dirk escaped to York, changed his name to John Palmer and began a very normal life.

Until, one day he got drunk, and shot another man’s rooster.  While not a very serious offence back then, it was, however, a crime.  And through another series of unfortunate events, he ended up in jail.  Now it gets a little strange.

While in jail, he writes a letter to relatives asking for assistance.  Extraordinary as it is, the post master in the post office the letter has to go though, had been the one who taught Dirk to write as a child in school.  He recognized the handwriting, traveled to the jail and turned Dirk in.  Tried, convicted and executed by hanging, Dirk Turpin now only lives on in historical reference.

Enough highwaymen?  Fine…I’ll carry on.  🙂  Long Compton (the village we now pause at) boasts a church that is 800 years old.  Even so, there are reports of a church on this location as far back as 600 A.D. that St. Augustine had preached at.  History is literally everywhere.

Now we’ve arrived in Oxford.  Pretty much anywhere you go in this city you will see university buildings.  Oxford University is somewhat of an umbrella term as it includes 44 independent colleges that make up the university.  It is one of the oldest in the world.  That overall position is contested by many, but appears to be either number 2 or number 3, depending on who you talk with.

Back in the 1100’s, in Oxford’s early years, the locals and the students didn’t get along all that well.  A student had gone to a local pub and the owner refused to serve him simply because he was a student.  First a fight ensued, then a pub brawl and eventually an all-out riot.  Spreading throughout the city, it lasted for 3 days.

After things quieted down the students got together to decide what should be done.  Half of them wanted to stay, after all, Oxford was there home and they weren’t prepared to leave.  The other half, so disillusioned by not being appreciated by the locals, wanted to leave for greener, friendlier pastures.  Not being able to come to amicable terms, they separate, with the one half going to … Cambridge.  Here, in 1209, they started what would become,  a few years later, Cambridge University.

Even to this day, there remains a certain rivalry between Oxford U and Cambridge U.  They do know how to hold a grudge.  So much so that, should you wish to talk about Cambridge while in Oxford, you’re not supposed to use its name.  It should only be referred to as ‘the other place’.

The most number of writers in the world, per square mile, come from Oxford.  Charles Lutwidge Dodgson took up residence at Oxford in 1851.  You probably know him better as Lewis Carroll.  He took that pseudonym because he was a well-respected mathematician and didn’t really believe his books would do all that well.  So, rather than potentially tarnish his status…

Queen Victoria was rather taken by his book and, when finding out who the author really was, sent him a letter requesting a copy of any further publications.  She was…frugal…so this would give her free books.  Charles thought this was a little cheap given she was one of the wealthiest people in the country, but when the Queen asks you to do something, you really don’t have a lot of choice.  So he sent her a copy of his next one – a book on mathematics.

The City of Dreaming Spires is quite the proper description of Oxford.  There is no shortage of breathtaking architecture in this city.

Bodleian Libraries is the second largest in the country with the largest being the British Library in London.  Bodleian has been around since the early 1600’s.  Most of it is located under the “Quad’ but there are 3 floors also built above ground.  One can only get to the libraries proper if one is a student and have filled out necessary forms.  In addition, you cannot remove books…they must be referenced on site.  Currently this library has over 12 million items covering some 4 miles of shelving.

The Radcliffe Camera (which, in this instance, means Chamber) was built with Cotswold’s limestone in 1737.  Essentially this is a study facility for students of science and medicine.  Again, only the outside is accessible by us.

Church of St. Mary the Virgin has a tower that SOMEONE ELSE can climb.  Even the views from the top won’t entice me enough.  The height is not the problem, the stair climbing is.

The Covered Market has been around since about 1770 (why can’t we build stuff to last at home??).  Prior to its creation, people would simply sell their wares on the street.  The weather in England really doesn’t lend itself to that type of marketplace.  If it’s not raining, making everything wet, then it’s hot, bringing out the flies.  Not the most hygienic.  So, let’s put a roof over top.  Problems solved.

One of the local taverns (The Turf) has a contest that the 23rd Prime Minister of Australia (Bob Hawke, who had attended Oxford) took part in.  He set the record, in 1963, that has yet to be broken.  He drank a yard glass of ale (approximately 3 pints) in 11 seconds.

Bill Clinton, another student at Oxford, was also at the Turf Tavern.  This is where, supposedly, he didn’t inhale.

The Eagle And Child pub became home to ‘The Inklings’.  C.S. Lewis, writer of many things, most notably 7 novels comprising the Chronicles Of Narnia, was one of the members.  Another member was J.R.R Tolkien.  His most famous works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, were very much influenced by the poem Beowulf.

The Ashmolean Museum was founded in 1683 and is the first campus built museum in the world.  Time here should be spent over a couple of days.

I have rambled extensively today, dear readers and the hope is that these lines have not been too boring.  Pics should be up later…I hope.  Tomorrow (actually Sept 12 so really it’s two days ago by now) is yet another day of visitation, with a trip to Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and Afternoon Tea.  My butt is beginning to get a rash from dragging. 🙂

Stratford Upon Avon

Another day, another (ultimate count of) 13,000 steps and another early alarm.  These days may present as a strange “vacation” that seems to consist primarily of up-early, walk for miles, see lots of stuff and collapse into bed later.  Yet time marches on, youth departs and there remains so much more to see.  Resting on a beach seems counter-productive to a reduction in the bucket list.

The local grocery store provided a petite breakfast (especially compared to ship-fare) that was picked up the night before to save a little time in the morning.  That consumed, it was out the door, off to the tube and whisked away to the meeting spot.  On to a small bus and the 2 hour journey begins.

Passing through the very little town Banbury we come to our first Cotswold Village.  The Cotswolds are a collection of villages that span about 90 miles from north to south.  Limestone has been used extensively as the building material of choice given its local availability.  From north to south it changes in overall color from amber to a more yellow-sand type color.

Cotswold is an old English word meaning Sheep’s Enclosure On The Rolling Hillside.  Certainly easier to say than Cotswold. 🙂  The drive itself is quite enjoyable, and shared by only 11 of us.  Our guide, once again, is more than a little knowledgeable and very well spoken.

Our getaway today takes us through many of these little villages, split up by the ever-present pastures.  For a country with so little land (as compared to Canada or the USA), there appear to be a plethora of farms.  Most, however, are livestock rather than grains.  Potatoes, on the other hand, are a notable exception.

Thatched roofs are rare nowadays for a variety of reasons.  Durability (it’s subject to rot so repairs are often) is a problem, and there’s also not a lot of thatched roofs around anymore.  With that comes the lack of professional Thatchers.  This means they can charge whatever they want, making a thatched roof very expensive to create and/or repair.  Flammability is another major issue which, needless to say, increases your house insurance.  But, it still looks quite unique and ‘old school’.

Stratford Upon Avon is most famous because of one person’s birth – William Shakespeare.  Born in 1564, he died on his birthday, April 23, 1606.  At 52, that was quite old for the time.  Although he is remembered with a plaque in Westminster Abby in London, his burial is in Stratford Upon Avon.

His 5 poems, 154 sonnets and 36 plays showcase over 1,000 characters.  They have been translated into pretty much every language on earth, as well as a certain extra-terrestrial language – Klingon.  Seriously.

His works have provided us with many well-known words and phrases including:  lacklustre, elbow, ‘the world is your oyster’.  A rather well known quote of his is ‘I would challenge you to a battle of wits sir, but I see you have come unarmed.’  Hmmm…I could use that one…  Another often misquoted phrase, ‘Alas poor Yorick.  I knew him well’ really is ‘Alas poor Yorick.  I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest.’

A light drizzle today makes walking about dreary and annoying yet the town shows itself well.  It’s rather small, to a certain degree, but very alive.  Too bad the weather is not quite so co-operative today.  Having said that, it does not deter our constitutional down main street coupled with a light lunch.

A very old bridge crosses over the Avon which brings to mind another tidbit.  Avon is old English for river.  So…it’s the River river.

Now back to our small bus and off we go to a land of higher learning…Oxford.

 

 

London Day 1 – Ripper Walk

On our first visit to London, some 5 years ago, there was not nearly enough time to do all the things we would have liked.  I’m not sure why I thought this time would be any different.  Yes, we’ll be here a few days longer than the first time, but that is essentially meaningless.  If one actually lives here, there is probably time to polish off the list…anything less is simply insufficient.

After a little recuperation at our hotel, a trip to Tower Hill (where our Ripper Walk will begin) reveals a nice little pub that offers up a good meal without being overloaded.  That done, off we go to meet our tour guide Donald.  Precisely at 7:30 he begins.  Note for anyone thinking of doing a London Walk.  They don’t wait – if the tour starts at 7:30, it doesn’t mean 7:31. 🙂  Don’t be late.

The following is a little gruesome…

Jack The Ripper started his notorious brutality on Aug. 6, 1888.  One needs to understand London in those days.  There were about 5 million people in London, with some 100 thousand of those being prostitutes.  The general population were those that had and those that had not.  Even those that had not, were divided into the deserving poor and the non-deserving poor.

Deserving poor were simply those who had a job that did not pay enough for them to eke out a decent living, but still a job that was ‘acceptable’.  These people were given some support by the church and the government.  Non-deserving were people that did not have their own home and/or no job.  A lot of these happened to be women.

One of the prime contributing factors was the very inexpensive cost of Gin.  It was not taxed, which made it better value than ale.  It helped to ease the trials of daily existence but also led to a lot of marital discord.  Men and women alike would partake (as it only cost 1/2 pence to get very drunk – a full pence would get you all but passed out).  Eventually a woman might get kicked out of the home (or she would leave voluntarily just to escape the abuse) but that left her without a job, without a home and no support whatsoever.  Remember, women had pretty much nothing in the way of equality at the time.

What did that leave her with?  Her body.  Sex was quick, out in the open (albeit dark shadows under a bridge, down very narrow and dark streets, etc), although barely profitable enough to make do.  Most of these women were older (40 plus), and definitely not runway models.  One encounter would produce 4 pence, enough for a room for the night.  More encounters would allow for food, and of course, more gin.  This would then lead to poorer decisions.

There are differing accounts of how many women Jack actually killed.  The first one, on Aug. 7, is one of contention.  As it was the first, it was also different in methodology.  The savage mutilation wasn’t present.  But keep in mind there was no forensic science, no serial killer profiling…nothing that today is commonplace.  Martha Tabram was stabbed rather than sliced but close, in location, to the others.  There was also, as with the rest, no apparent motive for the attack.

There were 5 more after that first one .  All 5 had suffered strangulation (the only saving grace, if you will, as they were dead before the mutilations).  They all had their throats cut from ear to ear, left to right, which led to massive hemorrhaging.  They were all sliced open from groin to breastbone with much of their internal organs removed.  How much organ removal and how bad the facial wounds seemed to increase with each victim.  They were all left laying down, their legs spread apart, their dresses pulled up to their shoulders fully displaying the indignities done to them.

Mary Jane Kelly, the last victim on Nov. 9, 1888, was different than the rest.  Due to circumstances in her life, she actually had her own home.  She was young, in her twenties, and not unattractive.  She did not have a job however (she was a woman after all) so her income options, like the others, were few.

Another difference, again because she had her own place, was the time involved.  Where all the others had been very quick and all but in plain sight, Mary’s disfigurement took place over about 2.5 hours.  After he finished, with her internal organs spread all over her bedroom, and her skin peeled off in large strips and stacked in layers, Jack also took her heart when he left.

Since her death much has been written and speculated about Jack.  Regrettably there has never been anything definitive to tie Jack to anyone specific to the era.  Apparently, the perfect crime can be, and has been, committed.

London – Day 1

We’ve said our goodbyes to the ship (at the most unreasonable hour of 6:50 AM), made our way down the gangway, collected our luggage and grabbed a taxi from the port into Southampton proper.  At the bus station we find that we are a little earlier than we had planned.  It’s going to be at least 40 minutes before the station opens and another 40 minutes before our bus to London arrives.  Thank goodness it’s already about 15c with the sun shining so conditions are at least bearable.

Finally our bus arrives and thank goodness my Dear Wife had the forethought to purchase preassigned seats.  This gave us a much preferred position near the front of the bus.  I felt only a small measure of guilt as we asked the two people, who had already taken our seats, to allow us to sit.  They muttered something about not knowing about booking a seat ahead of time.  My guilt disappeared.

About 2.5 hours and several chapters into a new book later, we arrived at Victoria Station, London.  Another taxi to our Best Western hotel and in we go.

Over time we have amassed a number of ‘loyalty’ points with a variety of different organizations.  Getting something back in return does (eventually) have benefits and this time those came in the form of Best Western travel dollars.  The beating that our CDN dollar has taken against the British Pound, however, turned $300 CDN into only £176.  That worked out to about a night and a half.  Somewhat better than a kick in the bum.

Due to our early arrival at the hotel, our room is not yet ready.  The reception staff are happy to store our luggage so it seemed like a good idea to at least explore a little of the surrounding area.  Tomorrow and Wednesday are fully tour-booked already so knowing where we need to go and how to get there is probably prudent.

It’s lunch time as we make our way, walking down Earl’s Court Road.  The weather has gotten even better, the sun is out and the temp now about 21c.  I say this quietly hoping I don’t jinx us.  Whether it is an indication or not remains to be seen, but around here there are certainly no shortage of restaurants, fast food and otherwise.  It’s easy to see why the food industry in the UK generates about £90 billion a year.

After a small lunch we continue our walk, making our way down to Kensington High Street.  As our footsteps approach this rather affluent area, my eyes take in the Maserati, the Jaguar and the 3 Bentley’s we pass.  These are all parked in front yard driveways.  That’s really a rather simplistic description as the front yard IS the driveway, or at least 80% of it.  Beside any of the vehicles there may be 2 – 3 meters of room (covered in plants and/or grass) and absolutely no room between the edge of the car and the sidewalk.  Some have backed in which must be a challenge given the busy nature of the one way street we’re on.  Having said that it must be equally problematic to back out, especially if your car is worth £150,000 or more.

A longer walk down Kensington will wait for another day.  Right now it’s on the transit bus to go back to our hotel, get into our room and rest for a bit.  Tonight we’re going to stretch our legs once again on a 2 hour London Walk, which is exactly what it sounds like.  This is a famous walking tour company that has been doing tours since 1968 (now 50 years!).  Having done one the last time we were in London, the decision was made then that, if we return, we’ll do another.  This evening we learn what is known about Jack The Ripper – ‘he came silently out of the midnight shadows of August 31, 1888…’.

I’ll do my best to post an update to our investigation later tonight.

Honfluer

Appreciating that yesterday was a sea day, it should have afforded me time to update everything that needed to be.  However such was not the case.  It really became more one of total relaxation by doing nothing.

I use the term ’nothing’ purely as a reference; there was reading to be done, wine to be sipped, perhaps a brief closing of the eyes may have intervened along the way as well.  It is, after all, a vacation.  There should be some down time.

Today was spent in the beautiful little town of Honfluer.  Our port was Le Havre, France, which is quite close to the beaches of Normandy.  Some passengers took a tour there; history buffs, veterans and children of veterans.  Some wanting memories and some wanting closure.

Others went to Paris for the day.  Their bus left around 7:30 for the 3 hour ride to the City Of Light.  Getting back to the ship on time would necessitate them leaving no later than 3:30.  In a perfect world of no traffic in Paris, that should allow them about 5 – 5.5 hours.  We’ve been there twice for days in a row and have spent over 5 hours in the Louvre alone without driving for 6 hours to do so.  Ah well…c’est la vie.

I won’t bore you with details about Honfluer (which is just my way of saying we didn’t do a formal tour so I have no tidbits to share).  Perhaps the pictures will give you a glimpse.  What I can tell you, though, is that the town has a population of about 5,000.

And a yearly tourism population of about 4,000,000.  Can you say café’s and shops everywhere?

St. Andrew’s Journey

St. Andrew’s Journey

Our port today is at South Queensferry.  This report is going to be somewhat one-sided as my Dear Wife is on her own excursion to the City of Edinburgh.  What information may come from there, and I say this kindly, is likely to be extremely limited if it exists at all.  She is definitely more photographic than typographic.

As we make our way out of the port area, 3 bridges crossing the channel become more visible.  The middle one, built in 1964, apparently is now in danger of falling down but buses are still allowed across.  Inasmuch as we are about to do just that, there is a slight nervousness rippling through the bus.  The fact that you are reading this now attests to our success.

The rail bridge on the right, built in 1890, is still going strong and there are a number of two-car trains making their way without issue.

On our left is the newest one, Queensferry Crossing.  It certainly is the most modern looking but not as complex, visually, as the old one.

On New Year’s Day people dress up and rush into the waters on the shores of South Queensferry.  This is called the Loony Dook (loony for lunatic and dook is the Scottish term to ‘put yourself under the water’).  Sounds like an appropriate term.

Most of the buildings we pass by have a stone facade as there is not enough clay in the area to make bricks.  Those that are seen tend to be imported.

There are many little bumps in the road to slow down traffic.  These are known as sleeping policeman.  More like Dead policeman after we pass by…

There was a Grecian monk whose duty it was to take care of the bones of St. Andrews, one of Jesus’ followers who had been crucified on a giant multiplication sign.  He had a dream that he had to take the bones to the farthest corner of the world which, at that time, was in Scotland.  His boat was shipwrecked off Kilrymont.  The rest of the boats in his entourage landed successfully and built a huge cathedral there which became a pilgrimage to other followers.  Thus the town was renamed St. Andrews.

We’re beside the river Forth and we’re crossing the Firth of Forth.  Scotland was under Norwegian rule for a time, so Firth is the equivalent to Fjord – where the river meets the sea.

Vikings were here from the 9th century to the 15th century and eventually were defeated at the battle of Larges.  From that time came the MacDonald clan, so be happy the Vikings came otherwise there would be no big Mac.  In and round the area there are a lot of men named Ronald MacDonald and one had even tried to sue the restaurant chain for misuse of his name, to no avail.

Some hillsides have hundreds of plastic tubes that appear to be sticking out of the ground.  In fact, they are used to cover newly planted young saplings.  Deer enjoy the saplings a little too much as a delicious snack.

Cattle and pigs are certainly common but even more so seem to be sheep.  In fact, there are about 2 sheep for every person in Scotland.

Since 1560 there has been free education in Scotland because you absolutely had to be able to read the bible.  This applied, from day one, to women as well as men.

Smooth roads in Scotland (and at least in part everywhere) are due to John Louden McAdam.  All Civil Engineers in the world have to learn about Macadamized Roads.  Civil Engineers first came about in the 18th century.  Prior to that, engineers were all military.  Part of his system required the use of stones that could not exceed a certain size, however most of his workers could not measure.  His solution was if it can’t fit in your mouth, it’s too big for a road surface.  This went well for a time but he noticed one day that one of his workers was putting in a stone about the size of his fist.  “What did I say?” he asked “Too big for your mouth, too big for the road.  Just let me see you get that stone into your mouth.”  Well the man did with no problem at all…he was completely toothless.  No system is infallible. 🙂

From the late 18th century St. Andrew’s has been the home of golf.  The rules, however, were drawn up by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in 1754.  They used to play for a silver club.  A man famous for laying out many of the greens was Old Tom Morris.  He had a son by the name of Young Tom Morris.  When Young Tom Morris won the club 3 years in a row, it was decided this tournament was too easy.  One year was set aside to come up with a new tournament, called The Open.  They also brought into being the Claret Jug.  Young Tom won again in the first year of the new tournament, The Open, making him a winner effectively 4 years in a row.  That record still stands today.

There are seven golf courses in total – Old, New, Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum, Balgove and the Castle.  The famous Swilken Bridge crosses the Swilken Burn between the first and eighteenth fairways on the Old Course.  It wouldn’t have been proper for me not to stop to pay my respects.  It always seemed somewhat bigger watching The British Open on TV.  The truth is that everywhere you look, without the crowds and stadiums and TV crews present, the view is still imposing.  And yet totally different.

The Old Course is actually a public course.  If there is no tournament ongoing, it’s perfectly normal to see people wandering about all over.  Marshalls do keep one from crossing a fairway if someone is about to tee off though.  Apparently bodies and blood on the fairways are difficult to clean up.  The course is open every week day except Sundays.  Sundays are kept free for the public to enjoy even more freely.  Again, tournaments would be an exception.

Should you want to play a round, that’s no problem.  You certainly don’t need to be a club member because, again, it’s a public course.  All you have to do is book one year in advance.  When you finally get to the club house, just pay the £180 fee.  Caddies are not required, but in order to get a cart you must prove a disability requiring one.  If you do choose to hire a caddy, that would be a £50 flat fee.  And, by the way, the suggested gratuity for the caddy is yet another £20 – £30.  So all in, if you don’t include the flight to get there, the price would be about £260 (about $440 CDN today).

There were some on our cruise that were able to play a full round.  It must have been quite the anticipatory wait.  Given the glazed look on their face and their response to the question “How was your day?”, it was obviously worth it.

“I played St. Andrew’s”