A Travellerspoint blog

July 2011

A day in London

Okay a visit with friends, but it is London

sunny 24 °C

Another good sleep serenaded by the early morning gulls. Another breakfast of sweet fresh fruit and croissants that flaked beautifully and we are packed ready to leave. Robert wouldn't take any money for the two calls we made and we chatted for a bit. He has lived all over the place and worked in BC at one time. He commented on some of his more interesting guests...the ones who had to ship their luggage over from the states, the ones who book a B & B in a heritage house then suggest he needs to update and put in a lift. All of a sudden we realize we should be on our way to the train.
We arrive in plenty of time and ask someone if they are waiting for the 10:05 for London. She says yes so we settle in. Her daughter suggests we not listen to her mom, but check, as there are three trains to London leaving in a short period of time. She is right and we move over to platform three and board the correct train. We get a table and seats for four and the train stays fairly empty through most of our journey so we are able to enjoy the space and have our fruit snack on the way. We did pick the regional train, which is much cheaper, and stops at every little town along the way so we do have plenty of time. A family sits behind us and the boy talks nonstop but is really funny to listen to, he obviously says whatever pops into his head and was very excited to visit the zoo.
Our arrival in London is right on time and the instructions I have for the underground are pretty good. We manage to get our tickets and find our way to the correct train, make a transfer and arrive in great time. We are about to call Kerry to let him know we are here as he appears behind us. It is a nice walk to his place so we go on foot.
Sam is waiting at the flat and of course we are on the third floor. The flat is a Counsel flat right on the Thames at Canada Water. It is large for London, bright and open and has doors that open up to the river. Our room is also on the front and the nighttime lights are wonderful. Amazingly the area is quiet. Kerry says behind them is the more expensive higher class places and the other way is a bit rougher. We watched the clippers, rowers, and party boats pass by. This is just an overnight to visit old friends so the sightseeing in minimal.
A bit of a cheese, a bun and a cup of tea and we are on the road. We walk up and catch the clipper across the river to Canary Wharf. We catch a train to the Cutty Sark, which is under repairs. We imagine they are getting it fixed up for the Olympics. From there we find a tunnel and walk under the Thames to the other side. We arrive in Greenwich and walk up the hill for a great vista of the city. Every tour with a busload of teenagers must have been there. We do the picture of us on the Greenwich Meridian, the Prime Meridian of the world before wandering on.
Stella calls and we catch a double decker bus back to the flat to meet up with her. The evening is fun. We start with Prosecco an Italian version of Champagne and order in Indian. The 45 minutes to deliver it turns into 2 hours, but it does arrive and the food is good, the company is great and the day has been wonderful.

Posted by Mari Anne 23:47 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london train friends thames overnight dover Comments (0)

Dover Castle

To see where Roger's mom worked during the war.

overcast 21 °C

Last night we decided to head towards the white cliffs of Dover and found there is a wonderful series of paths all along our way. We could see up to the castle, the entire port and up to the north. We had to turn back so we didn't get caught on the cliffs in the dark. We didn't bring the camera so we will come back and make sure we have time to meander a little further.
We sleep well and are serenaded by the sea gulls starting about 4:30 in the morning. A bit more sleep and time to get ready for our day. Robert is having our breakfast ready at 8 and when we come down our juice is poured, our yogurt with fresh fruit with a sprinkling of granola is in our place and the tea and toast follows shortly one other table is set and a German couple arrive at 8:30, they have opted for a cooked breakfast.
We use the GPS to find the train station and pick up our tickets for tomorrow. Then find our way up to Dover Castle. We have to wait ten minutes for the ticket office opens and then we head in. The secret underground tour is what we want and we are first in line. It gets better - they send us in as a group of 8 instead of 30. This allows us lots of room to see things and to ask questions. Our first stop is an Anderson bomb shelter where we listen to period radio announcements until we are given the all clear. From there we enter a room where we view a video with the history of the area leading up to WWII. From there we walk down a corridor that has graffiti carved into the walls dating from 1870 to 1945. The next room has a video displayed on a wall as well as maps and other details projected on a table in front of us. It is all to do with WWII, the number of soldiers, the leaders and the strengths and weaknesses of each country. We follow the battles, the advances, and wins and losses for each side. It ends with the allies being cornered in Dunkerque. (Dunkirk)
The next section has life-sized projections and details the events of the Dunkerque rescue. The hopes of getting some of the men off the beach leads to a major event whereby over 350,000 men are saved. The losses would have been hire had the beach been a shingle beach like Dover. It was sand and the men dug themselves in to protect themselves from the German strafing. The saved the heavy artillery for the ships.
The next room has photos showing Dover before, during and after. I will post a photo of St. James Church, which did not survive. The Castle did.
Finally what Roger had been waiting for. WWII and the room his mom worked in when she was an ATS in the WWII. The room is much the same as it was then, but perhaps had been shortened three feet. There they plotted on a big map where the planes and ships were. Following is the room where they tracked shelling and coordinated the antiaircraft guns. The next room is huge and is filed with banks of machines that would fit in one computer today. We pass an entrance to some tunnels they built in the 1940s. They were to be used in case of an atomic bomb. The men who built these were mostly Welsh miners. The problem they later discovered is that the chalk hillside would have let the radiation in and they would have died anyway.
When we left the tour we could see our B&B below as we were right on the cliff face.
Part two was our visit to the underground hospital. This visit was mostly a walk through with a recording in each area that was like a radio play of a situation and you were following the characters from the arrival of the ambulance to the end of the surgery. Patients were moved from here as soon as possible as it was a very dark depressing place to recover.
We stopped for our picnic before exploring the church which had for a period of time been used to store coal. It has been fixed up and is in use today. The bell tower next to it was a Roman lighthouse. There were two built, but this one is the only one to survive. It is said to be protected by the ghost of a Roman soldier.
The church proper is great to explore. There are tunnels through the walls, period actors, a couple of hologram actors, the dining hall is set for a meal, the kitchen is fully stocked, and one hall has a great fire going. The smoky haze filled the room...it was warm, but .. cough...cough. We are able to wander the casements, climb the tower, follow the medieval underground tunnels and view the amazing vistas all around us.
Some thoughts. The cost is high, 16 pounds, but we were happy with it. There were hoards of kids, most were great, but there was an unusually high number of kids just running rampant, yelling, slamming things, touching things and pushing by people. There are wheelchair accessible areas, but you really need to be steady on your feet to get the most out of this trip.
We walked home and got cleaned up so we could walk out on the White Cliffs of Dover. There were a few more people out this time, but before long it was mostly just Roger and I. One of the big black clouds that had been sailing by finally decided to drop some rain on us. I sheltered under a rather prickly bush until it blew by and we continued on. We left the view of the castle behind and then the port and its noise faded until it was just us and the land and sea. One could imagine what it was like so many years ago. We sit at the lighthouse for a bit before our return home. There are sections of the cliff that have pulled away from the main land, yet you can see that people walk out on them. It makes you a bit nervous too close to the edge. We sit for a while in view of the castle hoping for the haze to clear, but it appears that that is not to be.
Dinner that night is a pub called the White Horse. It is rustic, but the chips were great and Roger had his red meat and he was very happy. The walls are covered in felt pen documenting people’s solo and relay swims across the channel from England to France or France to England.

Posted by Mari Anne 23:36 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged cliffs white castle roman dover ww ats windy. dunkirque Comments (0)

Calais and then Dover

Taking the ferry to the white cliffs of Dover.

semi-overcast 21 °C

The train is comfy, but not as up to date as the ones from Rome to Venice and Venice to Milan. The conductor told us, to lock our door at night, only the door is broken. We devised a "system" using our daypack and Roger's belt to hold the door shut and " locked". Our passports are taken away for the night and returned in the morning along with tea, coffee and "commercial" croissants (better than nothing!). We are arriving at 8:19, lots of time to go from Paris Bercy to Paris Nord for our next train. This one will be first class, but we are only going to Calais.

First class is definitely the way to go! :)

By the way Tracy, the guy in the commercials that we saw in the station in Rome that you thought was the guy in the movie "300" ... his name is Vincent Cassel (there was an interview with him in the TGV magazine on the SNCF train).

The train stops at the station just out of town, but the train is just three or four minutes late and the bus has gone. We join with another fellow, Paul, and grabbed a taxi in to the port. Paul got off in the village to eat, and we got to the port in good time and got on an earlier ferry. We showed our online booking and our passports and were given tickets; we then went through security and showed our passports again to the British Customs. Then we gave our tickets to the desk in the departure lounge and were given boarding passes. A bus picked us up, we gave the driver our passes, and she drove us across the area to the ferry where we climbed a long ramp to board.
Wow, now we are settled in the bow area, had a sandwich on nutty bread and Roger is in and out and around the boat in excitement.
The ferry is not full and has plenty of space to wander around. We get splendid views of both coastlines although it is overcast. Roger took hundreds of photos. Our B&B is just up the road. As usual we are on the third floor. I asked for the room facing the cliffs, but there is a common room that overlooks, the road and the coast. We are pegged as being Canadian as Canadians are the only ones who remove their shoes when they enter a house.
We take a wander down the beach and Roger wants Fish and Chips. It is very good, not greasy! As we sit there is a cry and thud from the street as a lady has fallen and hit her head. A nearby nurse is by her side immediately and the police show up soon after. She is shaken up, but is able to walk to the police car in a bit and they all leave. Roger also wants to charge his ipad, but didn't bring a converter so we pick one up.
The Dover village centre is noisy and I must admit at this point I am understanding the conversations no better than I was in Italy. At least in Italy I didn't expect to understand.

Posted by Mari Anne 10:02 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged train castle ferry dover calais Comments (0)

Milan and on to Paris

Why are there no shows in Venice or Milan.

sunny 25 °C

We are the only ones this morning for breakfast. I thought I heard some one leave early this morning. I have squirreled away a couple of yoghurt and crackers for the train rides and we will pick up water closer to the station. The walk is lovely, but gets busier as we near the termini. We watch the masses arrive (especially the ones with loads of luggage ... yah for back packs) and try to figure out where to go from here.
The train does not indicate what track until just 15 minutes before it is scheduled to depart. Coach 6, seats 11 & 14. Only it turns out these tickets are for the 25 of MAY! Same train, same couch, same time, same trip as the one we should be on in, now in July ... The nice conductor sold us new tickets and confirmed our connecting trains to Paris in the evening were for the correct date. Whoops. I guess with planning for over a month I am allowed one mistake (the conductor realized it was an honest mistake, as we had a print out with our ticket for May sandwiched in between two other tickets for July, but he could have charged us an extra 100 Euros fine for not having a valid ticket). We had great seats too. The last row in the car, which are three together and only the two of us taking up 3seats ... :)
We navigate Milan fairly well with just the city map. This is a bigger, newer and more cosmopolitan city (plus wider streets and many of the guys dressed in suits and women in dresses ... Milan is a fashion centre after all). We are in the banking section so we are able to pick up some cash to replace the money we spent on tickets. It was not that much.
Roger was hungry so we had the crackers and yogurt and then went off to find Teatro alla Scala. We were taking a photo in front when a local man stopped to tell us it was closed. We knew that, but he directed us around the corner to the La Scala museum. Wow, the insides are amazing. We got to go in the theatre, in several of the audience boxes where they would normally have chairs for people watching the production. The theatre is huge! They had the large chandelier lowered down and were cleaning it, plus the curtains were open and we could see the whole stage ... wow! It was incredible! Of course, the stage is an opera stage, so it's raked at an angle from the very front to the very back, but it has trap doors here and there, plus lots of hydraulics so the can raise or lower chunks of the stage whenever they need to. It's a technician's dream stage! The audience boxes, the velvet, the historical displays were all worth it. Roger of course was over the top. He had been on stage with La Scala when they came to Vancouver in 1986. He sang quietly from the box we were in ("Caro Mio Bene") so he can now say he sang at the theatre itself ... :)

We had heard shouting in the square across from the theatre the whole time we were inside it so we crossed the street to the square to find out who was protesting about what. A tiny group had signs Alpha Romeo and the word Cobras? I'll look that up later. Needing a WC we stopped at a McDonalds. Roger had a huge meat craving and bought two meals for us (yes they have meal deals at McDonalds in Milan too...) The price was right, the fries were better than ours at home and the location was great for people watching. Venice has one McDonalds, which we never actually saw, and Rome and Milan have piles of them, only they call them Mc Cafe.
Across the square from the McDonalds, is the Duomo, an amazing cathedral/church/structure with figures all around and a very short line up. We decided to go in. While we could take backpacks in, I had to just about empty mine for the security guard before I was cleared. Once again an amazing vista. There are two Cardinals here who have been made saints. I would not really wish my decaying body on display, but I think there is no chance I will ever be sainted.
We walked past all the upper crust stores that you see in every big city and sit in a park serenaded by the toilette in the corner of the park that is beeping, insisting it needs to be serviced.
Milan has mosquitoes!
We enjoy the park and find our way towards the stazione through a very interesting neighbourhood. Lots of Chinese food, Japanese food, Indian food and big groups of men, so I prefer to keep on walking to a more "family area" to stop for a drink. I would have loved some Asian food, but felt a little overwhelmed. We end up at a place that gives you a plate of food with your drink plus a functioning bathroom and a TV with the local news. Major bonus! The wine is good, the toilets so so, the snacks are decent and the news shows a fire at a train station. We finally figure out it is Rome and won't affect us. We have a game of cards in front of the station, watch an animated phone call by a young woman, watch a kid ride his bike around selling Birra, buy some yogurt for breakie, watch some pod casts by Rick Steves on Italy and our train is here and leaves on time. Weather is hot, but not too hot and sunny.

Posted by Mari Anne 10:00 Archived in Italy Tagged venice train milan scala teatre alla duodo Comments (0)

Venice, so many vaporatto

Glass, lace, churches, boats and sunshine.

20 °C

Day two finds us enjoying breakfast alone, but the others are up by the time we leave. The wind is brisk and while the sin tries to shine through the clouds are winning. As long as the rain continues to hold off we will be fine. Without maps we make our way to St. Georges the Anglican Church. The service is BCP and the hymn tunes are unfamiliar. The relief priest is from England, as are most of the visitors although one other couple is from Canada. Toronto. The altar is at the back of the sanctuary and the rector has his back to us when he prepares communion. The service is under an hour and we head back home so that we can get our travel supplies for the day. We fight the mob in San Marco campo and get our one-day vaparetto tickets. First stop will be Murano, but we will circle half of Venice and see many of the areas we walked yesterday, but from the lagoon.
The lagoon is bumpy but the ride is fun. We leave Venice and head across the lagoon and choose to bypass San Michele the Cemetery as Roger is getting hungry and we think food options might be limited there. We opt for the third stop at Murano away from the crowds. The town is wonderful. Unhurried we wander and at first all we see is the residential area and then we cross the canal and find a spot for lunch with the required free wifi. The rain is holding off, but the wind is still high. The food is good and reasonable. Unlike most toilets we've seen which are the squat variety. This toilet is big enough for a wheelchair and has a seat. The seat is so high my feet don't touch the floor.
Murano is known for its glass. The furnaces were sent out to the Island for fear of fire in Venice. We enjoy wandering and looking in the shops.
We want to go further so we find the vaparetto for Burano, which is known for its lace. The ride over is still bumpy and when we arrive the vaparetto for Torchello is ready to go so we grab that right away. Torchello is where the first mainland refuges settled to escape the barbarian hordes. Today it boasts about 20 residents and was a peaceful way to spend part of our afternoon. At one time there were 11 churches here, but the land was not hospitable to farming, there was no water and the mosquitoes and malaria were big problems. The remaining church is said to be the oldest one in Venice and in front are the ruins of a baptistery from the sixth century, as at that time you were not allowed to enter unless you were baptized. There was a wedding going on at this time so we did not enter. This island has cats. Lots of cats. Venice itself seems to be a dog city as we only saw two cats, one mouse and lots of dogs.
The garbage is being collected outside our window. This is done by boat and handcart.
We stop at Burano on the way back. It is filled with brightly coloured houses of all hues and intensities. The name Burano comes from the breeze, which protected the island from mosquitoes and malaria. Burano is known for its lace making and the prices on the island are cheaper than in Venice. Some very beautiful work and some cheap stuff. The public washroom has closed for the day, as are all the little shops. It is time to head back to Venice.
We make all our connections and take the Vaperatto from the stepping off point in Venice the same direction we started in the morning so we could do a full circle. A wander through San Marco brings us to some sandwich shops and a light supper. A glass of wine and we wander Listening to the orchestras spaced out around the square. We learn that you cannot sit on the ground in the square. We just wander more turning right and left at random, but finally find our way home map free. Yea!

Just a few rather random thoughts.
My favourite sign so far on the trip are the two places in Ephesus that advertised Genuine Fake Watches.
I liked watching people in shirt shorts and sleeveless shirts get stopped at the church doors. It is fun to see a man in a pretty shawl. My favourite were the two young men at St. Peters who were wearing shorts that didn't meet the rules. They managed to pull them far enough down their butts to get the knees covered. It was fun to watch and it was fortunate the shorts and underwear on the one were both black. Then we got to watch them try to climb the stairs with the crotches so low and tight.
In the church in Venice, San F. there was a corpse of a girl, Catherine who gave herself up to be martyred. I need to look that one up.
St. Peters has Italian Confessionals and Bilingual Confessionals.... English and Italian.
Venice’s water comes from the Alps.
Our B & B is located on the fourth/top floor of a building almost halfway between the Rialto Bridge and San Marco Square. There is a lift, but of course we don't use it. The big metal door is unlocked and a solid wooden door opens into the common area. The rooms are filled with antiques and interesting decorations including a life size Indian boy dressed as a servant. The walls are covered in rich fabrics and the beams are solid and big across the ceiling. The walls are thick and the windows close then there are shutters that you pull shut.

Posted by Mari Anne 09:53 Archived in Italy Tagged burano venice san marco windy murano torchello gelatto Comments (0)

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