A Travellerspoint blog

England

Great Britain

semi-overcast 8 °C

We thought we might stumble into a little history when we arrived in England and we made a start with a city closely connected to North America. This is the harbour in Plymouth...

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While every American firmly believes that: a) the Pilgrim Fathers were the first European settlers in America, and: b) the Mayflower began its transatlantic voyage from Plymouth, the truth is a little different. Here's the proof. This is us in 2010 in Southampton at the actual starting point...

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There were already many European colonies in North America by the time the Mayflower and a smaller ship, the Speedwell, set sail from Southampton on August 5th 1620. However, the Speedwell ran into difficulties in the Atlantic and was leaking so badly it returned to the nearest port, Plymouth. The Pilgrims continued to the New World on September 6th aboard the Mayflower but the voyage had begun in Southampton.

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As we watched this two-master leaving Plymouth under the cannons of the Citadel we could not imagine the conditions under which the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic 400 years ago – more than a 130 passengers and crew on a ship only 100 feet long. The Mayflower reached America in November but more than 65 Pilgrims and crew had died by the following spring when they finally found a safe place to land. While Plymouth wasn't the starting port of the Mayflower it was the place that Sir Humphrey Gilbert set sail for Newfoundland on Jun 11th 1583 to claim it for Queen Elizabeth I.

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This is Plymouth Hoe – the greensward where, it is alleged, that Sir Francis Drake insisted on finishing his game of bowls before he sailed to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588. Here's Sir Francis standing high above the Hoe...

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And this is the entrance to the 16th century fortress, the Citadel, that is still a naval base today...

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Sir Francis Drake was an English Naval officer, a privateer, a slave-trader and a pirate who made his first voyage to the Americas in1563 with his cousin, Sir John Hawkins, (Not related to James – Or was he?) The Hawkins family of Plymouth owned a fleet of ships and, between 1577 and 1580, Drake sailed around the world and returned home with looted Spanish treasure worth more than 500 million pounds today. Queen Elizabeth I was very grateful as the treasure cleared the national debt. Sir Francis died and was buried at sea but his benefactor, Queen Elizabeth I, lies here, our next stop, in London's Westminster Abbey...

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There is so much history in Westminster Abbey that we wouldn't know where to begin. Thirty English kings and queens are buried here along with hundreds of Britain's elite. It is a magnificent building nearly a thousand years old but we were not allowed to take photos inside. We can show you the Pyx Chamber under the Abbey...

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This vaulted strongroom built in 1070 was where official samples of gold and silver coins were kept so that newly minted coins could be tested against them.

And so to the last event of the day – a thunderous evening of classical music at the Royal Albert Hall culminating in Puccini's Nessun Dorma, the 1812 Overture complete with cannons and muskets, and a rousing rendition of Land of Hope and Glory.

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It's enough to make us feel nostalgic!

Posted by Hawkson 06:08 Archived in England Comments (5)

How the Other Half Live in London

rain 8 °C

After a warm and sunny start to our time in London, a cold easterly wind swept in with rain and forced us inside. But where better to be than in our local store – Harrods. In 1840 Charles Henry Harrod rented a small shop on Brompton Road in London and over time turned it into the most iconic department store in the world...
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There was a time when absolutely anything could be bought in Harrods and its motto is Omnia Omnibus Ubique, (all things for all people, everywhere). However, there are some things that Harrods no longer sells – like lions! Click here to see the truly moving story of a Harrods lion...
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The customer is always right in Harrods and the store used to employ a person as the 'one who gets fired'. If a customer had a complaint the 'one who gets fired' would be summoned from a back office and, in front of the customer, he would be chastised for the error and fired on the spot. He would give a red-faced apology, accept his dismissal gracefully, and then return to his office to await the next firing. Many of these sacrificial lambs were actually aspiring actors. If they still do this they would never admit it.

In 1985 the store was controversially bought by Mohammed Al Fayed who was widely believed to be a front man for some unsavoury characters. Despite years of trying, Al Fayed was never given British citizenship and the Queen cancelled the Royal Warrants after he called Prince Philip a Nazi. However, Al Fayed almost got his foot in the palace's back door through his son's relationship with Lady Diana – and we all know how that turned out. Harrods now belongs to the Qatari Royal family who, presumably, may once again become “By Appointment” to those who can afford to shop in the watch department...
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If you have to ask the price in Harrods you almost certainly can't afford it, but we thought it might be interesting to know how much one of these would cost. The enormous display model wasn't for sale but the assistant pointed us to the real thing saying, “Our collection starts at seventy thousand pounds, Sir, (a hundred and twenty thousand Canadian dollars). We certainly didn't start at that price, but we have been known to splash a few quid on a bit of edible bling in our favourite department, the Food Hall. It's worth a visit just to see the decor over the game counter...
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And the cakes and desserts are simply mouthwatering...
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The Signature Christmas puddings were a bit pricey at C$70 each, but we know what goes into a good one. And who would not enjoy finding this C$180 box of Harrods chocs under their Xmas tree...
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(Friends - Don't get your hopes up) We might stretch to a few chocolates but most of the grub is out of our league. For instance, this little Italian white truffle costs a staggering C$12,000 a kilo...
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We know that we wouldn't really need more than a few ounces of truffle, but maybe we could get through a nice 9oz sirloin steak each...
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These are the prices in Sterling for 100 grams. So 500 grams of the Wagyu Kobe sirloin would set us back just C$850 and we could get a nice couple of Aberdeen Angus steaks for a mere C$120.
What about a pound of French ham for C$160...
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With more than a million square feet of retail space and 330 departments, Harrods is an all day affair. But it is day filled with wonder and delight – would any woman really pay C$550 for a bra? Only the finest, and priciest, products from around the world make it onto the shelves of this emporium but the building itself is a treasure and we love looking at the architecture and decorations. It is in every sense a museum of extravagance...
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On 16 November 1898, Harrods debuted England's first escalator consisting of a woven leather conveyor belt with a mahogany and silvered plate-glass balustrade. This was considered so revolutionary and daring that customers were offered free brandy at the top to revive them after their 'ordeal'. No brandy for us today but we still love riding Harrods escalators.

Posted by Hawkson 09:44 Archived in England Comments (6)

The Difference a Day Makes

semi-overcast 7 °C

Here's a phrase you probably thought you would never hear us utter. “While we were quad biking along the beach and through the sugar cane fields of Zanzibar...”
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”Yes – dear blog reader, here we are on a quad bike preparing for a thrilling 3 hour drive through the plantations and villages of northern Zanzibar. But this wasn't our idea. We were goaded into it by this group of retired nurses from British Columbia's Sunshine Coast who were staying at the Villa Kiva in Matemwe...
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Mary, Deidre, Dee and friends have quad-biked all over the place and convinced us that age was no barrier when it came to racing through the countryside on a quad - and we had a great time. Here's Sheila taking a break under a mango tree...
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Our East African experience has ended and we are briefly back in England having time-travelled from rural Zanzibar to London via Dubai. Overnight, the skies darkened; the temperature dropped nearly 30 degrees and we jumped forward a century or more.. While we enjoyed a luxurious, even decadent, lifestyle in Tanzania, we were always conscious of the extreme poverty and Dickensian lifestyle of many of the locals. Despite the enormous amount of income from tourism and the spice trade, most Zanzibarians live in tin-roofed shacks, many without electricity or plumbing, and they shop at roadside stalls like this...
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Ox-carts and old bicycles are still major means of transport for goods...
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...while most locals travel in incredibly overloaded mini-buses called dala-dala. These ancient buses, packed to the gunwales, can be seen broken down by the roadsides all over Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is as exotic as its name suggests but its crumbling roads and decayed infrastructure mean that, while it is a fascinating place to visit, life is not necessarily comfortable or convenient for the inhabitants. The contrast between Zanzibar's decrepit airport and Dubai's palatial terminals could not be more extreme. However, we will miss the genuine warmth of the Tanzanians and the many incredible sights we witnessed in their country. We are now headed to the Canary islands, but first a quick stop in the English Midlands to visit Waddesdon Manor...
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This flambouyant mansion was built by Baron Rothschild in the 1880s and was just one of many country houses owned by the wealthy aristocrat. However, we were not on the guest list for dinner at the manor – we only came for the popular Christmas Fair.
Now we fly south again – this time to the islands off the west coast of Africa.

Posted by Hawkson 10:40 Archived in England Comments (7)

London: Next Stop - Africa

semi-overcast 15 °C

As another sun-filled summer slips gently into a soggy autumn we are once again getting ready to leave our paradise island. We, like all voyageurs, travel to exotic places so that we can marvel at all the wonderful things we simply ignore at home: wonderful things like the spectacular vistas of ocean, mountains and forests that we see daily from our cliff top home...
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In a few days time we will be roaming the Serengeti plains and Great Rift Valley of Tanzania in search of lions, zebras, giraffes and a host of other wild creatures. But we too have a wild side in British Columbia and this summer we explored a number of neighbouring islands. British Columbia is four times the size of the United Kingdom but it has a total population of less than 5 million - more than half of whom live in the Vancouver area. It is not surprising therefore that most of our province looks like this...
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Cougars, elk, moose and bears of many kind rove freely through the numerous thickly forested mountain ranges and islands of Canada’s west coast, while the surrounding Pacific ocean is home to whales, sea lions, seals and fish of many species. The sea lions have returned from their summer fishing grounds and, while we frequently spy the sea life from our home, we rarely spot other wildlife - apart from the many doe-eyed deer that thrive on everything in our garden, and the raccoons and squirrels that raid our birdfeeders,

We’ve had a busy year starting in Sri Lanka, Thailand and China. We then spent a few weeks in the spring visiting the stately homes of southeast England where we spotted this magnificent wild pheasant...
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There is nothing wild about the manicured gardens of England’s aristocrats. Lush landscapes surround many of the great mansions that are now administered by the National Trust, like these at Wakehurst Place...
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We also visited Winston Churchill’s home at Chartwell; the boyhood home of General Wolfe (the man who trounced the French on the Plains of Abraham to secure Canada for the Brits); the famous gardens of Sissinghurst; and the splendid rhododendron groves of the 600 year old Scotney Castle...
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The endless blue skies and warm ocean winds of summer drew us back to Canada’s west coast and we wiled away the days with visits to Victoria and Vancouver. Here we are on the ferry to Vancouver..
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Every year we attend Shakespearean performances and the International firework festival in English Bay, Vancouver...
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Now we are back in London en route to our next adventure, but anyone visiting London at present will be disappointed to see its most recognizable icon swathed in scaffolding...
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Internet connection is not great on the Serengeti Plain but we hope you will be able to join us shortly as we take a walk on the wild side of Tanzania. .

Posted by Hawkson 05:22 Archived in England Comments (8)

All Roads Lead to London

overcast 6 °C

We often rave about the food in foreign climes, but nowhere in the world can you find such quality, variety and perfection as in the great British food emporiums of Fortnum & Mason and Harrods. This is Harrods…
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While London’s iconic restaurants and celebrity chefs top the world rankings, dining out is not cheap here. Therefore, anyone planning to save a little a might want to pick up some surf and turf at Harrods to cook at home. Four nicely aged Japanese Kobe steaks, each topped with a spoonful of Beluga caviar, will cost you just seven thousand dollars (Yes - $7,000.00 …and if you’re lucky Harrods might even throw in a packet of frozen chips). However, you can cheap out on the ready-made desserts. These cheeky little lemon mousses are only sixty four dollars for all four…
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Now - If you can afford to shop at Harrods you can probably run to one of these…
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The streets of London really are lined with gold. Rolls-Royces, Aston-Martins, Porsches, Lamborghinis and Bugattis are ten a penny in the ritzier areas of the metropolis while BMWs, Audis and Mercs are just runabouts for the staff. However, potential visitors should not be discouraged; sightseeing in London need cost no more than the price of a good pair of walking shoes, and most of the roughly 275 museums and galleries have free admission at all times. If you did one a day with weekends off you could get to most in a year. But, be warned, this is just one – The Natural History Museum – and it’s a monster…
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And this one, The Victoria & Albert, has eleven kilometres of galleries housing a permanent exhibition of some four and half million objects…
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Good luck getting through that lot in a day.

London is itself a museum with amazing architecture, historical monuments and ancient parks – it even has a genuine two thousand year old Roman amphitheatre buried in the foundations of the 800 year old Guildhall – but London is also a thoroughly modern and vibrant city glistening with lofty glass spires…
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Christmas is coming and once again we are here to see the spectacular lights of the West End. Here’s 60s favourite, Carnaby Street…
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And this is Oxford Street, where, despite a sunny start to the day, it started to snow…
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So now, with Christmas and winter at hand, we must head home. As always, a big thank you to all the wonderful people who made our journey both possible and thoroughly enjoyable and, dear blog reader wherever you are, thank you for trailing along with us. Knowing that you enjoy sharing our experiences really does make a difference to how we view the world, and we hope that we have inspired you to pack a bag and discover Europe for yourself – it is a fascinating continent with riches to spare.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Ciao for now… and we look forward to you joining us on our next Blissful Adventure .

Posted by Hawkson 13:05 Archived in England Comments (4)

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