Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November 8th Warwick Castle including the Dungeons

On November 8th, we drove to Warwick Castle from our hotel outside of Stratford. This Castle has been around since the time of William the Conqueror. It is a beautifully complete castle with all the walls and towers you would expect. The entrance is through an arched tunnel with a portcullis drawn up at the end, but ready to drop down and prevent intruders from entering the castle. Inside the walls were a number of temporary medieval tents which were used for shops and for demonstrations of medieval arts.
Inside the castle the first think we saw was the Great Hall. Presently it is used to show the armour used in the castle over the centuries. There was a fire blazing in the huge fireplace. It made it a very inviting place on a cold wet day. Along with the arms and armour there were beautiful stained glass windows and gorgeous carved buffets and intricate light fixtures. One of the strange items is a large cast iron pot that we were told was a Porridge Pot, but in the 30's Daisy (Duchess of Warwick) used the pot as a punch bowl.
Portions of the castle are setup with wax figures. One set is Henry VIII and all his wives and another set of tableaus was of the Castle in the 30's and included such illustrious persons as Winston Churchill. Another section dealt with an earlier Duke of Warwick who was involved with the War of the Roses (on the wrong side). My accomplishment for the day was to climb all the towers. This was approximately 530 steps. The good part was that the steps were not all together but were broken up in stages. You climbed one flight then explored that level and climbed to the next level etc. I rested between flights and managed all the steps. I got some great pictures of the surrounding area as well.
The restaurant in the lower part of the castle was decorated with tapestries and the ceiling had hangings across it to simulate the inside of a tent.
In the afternoon we lined up to explore the dungeons. No pictures allowed. This was so much fun. It started out with a picture being taken then we were hustled down into the dungeon. Witches, warlock, torturer, judge, plague nurse, executioner all had parts to play. The lights went out, lightning, thunder, screams, when blood was expected we got wet (water I hope). The best part was when the screams and voices in the dungeon got loud and all of a sudden the lights went out and the benches we were sitting on started to wiggle as if someone was grabbing the bottom of the bench or something was running along the bottom. I know I jumped and screamed. When we thought we were leaving we ended up in a hall of mirrors and had a hard time telling in the dark if it was us or someone else.

After the show we headed off the castle grounds. Before we left we had our pictures taken in the stocks as the thief and the drunkard. We took a stroll around the village and stopped for ice cream. We ate it inside the store as it was too cold to eat it outside. It was still delicious.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Catch up

I owe you three days worth of blogs and I will get them to you. They are Warwick Castle including the dungeon tour, Caernarfon Castle and Snowdonia and Liverpool and the Beatles.  I am sitting in the airport ready to come home. If I don't get the updates done here I will add them when I get home.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Nov. 7th Portsmouth, Spinnaker Tower and Stratford.

I have thirty minutes only so I may not blog tonight. I will fill you in on all the adventures tomorrow. It is now tomorrow so here is the entry to go along with the pictures I posted.
We arrived at Portsmouth Historic Docklands around 10:00 am. There are numerous museums here and three ships in particular. Nelso's ship Victory, the Warrior and the remains of the Mary Rose, which was Henry VIII's flagship which sunk over 400 years ago and was recently (20 years ago) raised from the floor of the harbour.
The tour of the three ships was very exciting. Victory is still considered a ship of the line. We visited all decks and heard from the guide all sorts of details about life on the ship. He was also very knowledgeable about Nelson, both his service and his death. Interestingly, in order to bring his body back to England for burial (it took three months) they pickled him in alcohol.
The museum built for the Mary Rose, which is only one third of a ship, is very impressive. It holds not only the outer hull of the ship and part of the interior deck, but also many artifacts, skeletons of the crew clothing, tools, etc. They have righted the portion of the ship they recovered, which was preserved by being covered in silt, and set up the building that houses it in three levels with viewing windows at each level. The rest of each level is given over to displays of the artifacts and explanatio of how they were identified and which part of the ship or which person they belonged to.
The Warrior was one of the first iron ships of the line but designed like the old ships of the line. It never fired a gun in anger, because it was built at the end of the Napoleonic war and by the time their was another war it was out of date. It is a beautiful Ship and as we walked around we compared it to the others. Many similarities but also differences. A power plant not a sailing ship. More modern kitchens. Better officers quarters and slightly better men's quarters.
After the tours we decided against the boat tour as it had turned quite cold and windy. Spinnaker Tower is on the quayside near the entrance to the harbour. We decided to take a trip up the tower as ther appeared to be three viewing levels. The elevator left us off at the first level and we had some beautiful views. Key buildings were shown on the windows so we had fun trying to find them all. Next up we climbed to the second level but it was only a tearoom, so up to the next level we went. It turned out that this level was open to the sky. There was a net barrier overhead but it started to rain so we stayed a while but not too long. We headed down to the tearoom to warm up with hot chocolate and discovered that between floors a mist had come in and the ferries that had been in plain view five minutes ago were now invisible. As we drank the hot chocolate the view cleared as the mist past over land and the rain stopped. We headed for the elevator and stopped in the souvenir shop to pick up a picture of us with the tower in the background and some souvenirs. Off we went to collect the car and head for Stratford where we were staying overnight.
It gets dark very early here so most of our journey was in the dark. Nicky has done a wonderful job driving us around this week. We arrived in Stratford and checked into the hotel which was on the outskirts of town. We headed into town and found a pub, "The Thatch Tavern" to have supper at and then walked around town looking for Shakepeare's birthplace. We eventually found it only to discover that the car was parked about 100 metres from it. We had walked completely around the block when we were right beside it. Back to the hotel for a glass of wine and a good end to a great day.

November 6th Salisbury.

We drove to Salisbury in the morning.
The traffic was heavy at times but we kept moving. Luckily we found a parking garage very close to the Cathedral. The weather started out bright and beautiful but clouds rolled in by the time we arrived at Salisbury.
As we waited for a tour the chaplain of the Cathedral, who says prayers every hour spoke to us and pointed out some of the items of interest.
Volunteers give tours of the church and the room holding the copy of the Magna Carta. Frank was our volunteer. He was a senior citizen and very knowledgeable about the cathedral. We had a great tour taking more than an hour. He showed us original parts and those destroyed in Cromwells time. He pointed out special graves and altars and had many anecdotes about royal figures buried there.
After the tour of the church we went to another area and viewed one of only four extant copies of the Magna Carta. This one is in excellent condition because it was misfiled and therefore wasn't exposed to the elements or to Cromwell or other arguing forces. There are English translations of the document but the original was written in Latin. The reason there are several copies was that they sent one to each area of England and many were kept in the Cathedrals.
Next we stopped for a late lunch of tomato and basil soup. Delicious! We ate it right in the restaurant attached to the Cathedral. It had rained while we were inside but had now stopped. We could see the outside wall of the cathedral through a glass wall in the restaurant.
On to Portsmouth. We found our Premier Inn and relaxed and unpacked. There is a pub across the road so later we went for dinner. We had a lovely meal but the highlight of the evening was dessert. Profiteroles with delicious filling, chocolate sauce, cream poured over and ice cream on the side. Enough for two to share. Sorry no picture. We ate them before I thought of it. Off to the Dockyards tomorrow.

Nov 5th I have arrived in England.

I left Brussels around noon on the Eurostar to St. Pancreas. Had a nice man from Liverpool as a seatmate. He had been away on business. Turned my phone back one hour. Caught the train th Peterborough. Nicky picked me up. She has a very nice new house on a new estate. We started my laundry and went out to buy me a new cord for the iPad. Mine broke internally yesterday so the iPad won't charge.
Nicky made a great supper and we watched some Guy Fawkes fireworks out the window. I borrowed a suitcase for the whirlwind tour so we don't have to drag the big one in and out and we will be off just after 9:00 in the morning. Comfy bed and a good friend. What more could you ask.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nov. 4th last full day in Brussels

Another cold day in Brussels, but not as windy.  On the way to the Museum this morning I did some shopping picked up a few souvenirs and took a picture of a Belgian beer store. These stores are all tiny si I'm not sure how they keep any amount of beer cold.
The Brussels Museum is in the Grand Place. I got a discount for being old. Yeah for being old! The first and second floors had ancient art that had obviously been dug up plus tapestries, beautiful pottery and China objects and paintings. There were scale models of what Brussels looked like four hundred years ago. All very classy and beautiful. Each room had plasticized handouts on the wall that were English translations of the writing by each exhibit.
Did I say classy? How come to the third floor. Here we have an exhibition changed every week of 100 of the 750 costumes of Manniken Pis. He has been wearing costumes for special days right back to the 17th century. I took pictures of some of them and wait for it. There is a costume from Canada among the rest. It just happen to be on display this week.
After watching a movie about him I went back to see the fountain again. This was a special day. He was dressed in a costume pertaining to one of the Belgian schools o higher education.he is dressed approximately 35 days a year.
I had a hearty bowl of Vegetable soup with liberal amounts of bread and butter for lunch and strolled around the downtown area in the afternoon. I watched street musicians, saw the burgomeister statue, found a bar called Roosters. I was supposed to meet a postcrosser at 4:00 so I spent the last hour visiting the Cathedral. King Baudouin has a bust on the walkway upto the Cathedral. That wasn't as unusual as the strange art on the lawn and the lounge chars permanently on the grass.
The inside of the church is impressive. I took a picture from the rear of the church and from just in front of the altar. It is very beautiful.
I went to Mokafe and met Anna (Anneke) and we went and had tea and lemon meringue pie. More like lemon cheese cake with liberal hand brûlée-ing the meringue. It tasted good but the meringue was melted. Fabiene and Laurence (female) failed to show but it was cold and I was tired so I took a sandwich home to eat later.
I am all packed for tomorrow. I will set off early as the station is big and I would rather be early and have time to find the right platform then be rushing and get myself upset.
I will blog after I get to Nicky's.

November 3rd

Woke up early and lay in bed planning my day. Laura and her husband go to work so by 8:30 I had the apartment to myself. I took a shower, lots of hot water and got ready to leave. It is windy and cold out so I brought my gloves and hat and umbrella as it says it will rain today. I'm hoping for late afternoon or evening so I won't get wet.
The first thing I noticed when I left the apartment was the wall art on the building in the next block. I got dark early last night so I hadn't seen it then. I soon discovered as my pictures show that it is all over the city. Nice touch and the graffiti artists seem to respect it as none have been badly overwritten.
I took pictures today of several fountains around the city. These were attached to an underground system which supplied drinking water to the city.
Even Brussels isn't perfect did you notice the picture of the building in Broukere Square with the ugly Coca-Cola sign on it? I stopped for a coffee and a sweet roll. When I walked around the corner I discovered an archeological site from 1238 but it only open once a month, and of course that day is the day I leave Brussels. I took apicture anyway. There are lovely little lane ways and corridors that lead to courtyards that hold restaurants or other businesses. These have been around for hundreds of years and people just adapt then to their own use. The decorations around the doorways are delightful.
St. Nicholas church is righ in the middle of the pedestrian streets and has adapted as well. On the inside you notice that all the stained glass windows are very high. On the outside you notice that the church has a front but the sides are all store fronts. If you look up you see that the stained glass windows are on the second floor.
There are chocolate shops everywhere. You cannot move 15 feet without smelling chocolate, without being offered a sample or just finding another window display. On the small streets the doors and windows are open and they are selling hot chocolate in every variety. Hot milk and the give you a spoon with a wedge of chocolate on it. You melt it into the hot milk to get your hot chocolate.
I found an interesting ceiling in the bathroom (yes I hate calling it a toilet) in one of the buildings. It had led curly strings hanging from the ceiling. I don't know why, but it was interesting.
Off I went to find young Mannekin Pis. He is a few blocks away from the Grand Place. The fountain was part of the water system I talked about. There are about six different legends about the origin of the statue. The present one dates from 1617 but because it was stolen several times the one on display is a copy -the original is in the Brussels Museum which I will go to tomorrow as it isn't open on Mondays.
I discovered that there was a flea market several blocks away. I planned the route and headed out. I grabbed a sandwich on the way. I saw some beautiful houses with carved balconies and decorative woodwork along the way. When I arrive the market was in full swing and huge. There were tables of jewellery, knick-knacks, China, silverware, displays of furniture and paintings. There were also piles of clothing, curtains, rugs, bedding. Boxes of miscellany at every turn. I saw bicycles, children's toys, pottery, suitcases, books, CDs, records, vhs and DVDs and the players to play them on. I saw a rooster I would have liked but the man wanted too much and wouldn't budge so I walked away.
Across a narrow lane from the square was Sacred Heart Church. I love visiting churches because of the architecture. They are magnificent works of art before modern technology took a hand in building. The vaulted ceilings and domes are beautiful.
I walked about Brussels. It was starting to rain a little. I saw someone installing boring concrete tiles over the face of an ancient brick building being renovated. How sad.
I saw several more beautiful churches, a Belgian postman and some policemen on horseback. I found the dinosaur museum and the museum on Belgian art. I began to seriously rain so I took the bus back to the St. Hubert Gallery and had soup for supper. The roof of the Gallery is glass but some panes must be broken as we all had to move inside as we started getting wet.
After supper I took a route back toward the apartment going through buildings that were malls to keep dry. My umbrella blew inside out at one point and it got so windy that i couldn't trust it. When I was going through one of the buildings with a casino upstars I took pictures of the upper gallery changing colours as the lighting changed.
Got home a little wet but happy. Went to bed early. We will see what tomorrow brings.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Nov 2nd - Leaving Paris arriving in Brussels

November 2nd
Woke up early and got ready to leave. I made sure I had left nothing behind. Packed all the last minute items that I was using. Rechecked the bathroom and bedside table. I gave myself about two hours to get to the right platform at Gare du Nord. It shouldn't have taken that long but in Bremen there was a last minute schedule change and I would have missed the train if I had just shown up 5 minutes before the train was scheduled to depart. Well it turned out that there were a lot of stairs to negotiate and many corridors were empty so I had to negotiate them by myself. I really appreciate the cities with elevators going to each level of platform. In Paris one day, to switch trains I had to come up two flights to get to the surface only to discover the metro was above ground and I needed to go up another two flights for that train. Anyway when I got to La Chappelle station I forgot how far through the tunnels I had to go to get to Gare du Nord. I was walking and walking and I was sure I was going in the wrong direction. I finally asked a guard and lo and behold I was 20 feet from the gate that separated the metro from the train station. I was about 45 minutes early. First I gave my two extra Metro tickets to an elderly gentleman with a cane who looked like he could use them. I hope he understood that they were new tickets. Next I sat near the departures board waiting for them to announce the gate for my train. And I waited and waited and waited. They finally announced the gate about fifteen minutes before the train left.
It was a fairly uneventful trip except for two little boys. One sat quietly and watched a DVD that his mother brought, earphones on so we weren't disturbed. The other wasn't bad but was bored so he was loud, and a bit of a pain. I wish his mum would have brought a DVD player for him.
I arrived in Brussels and of course couldn't find the Metro (no signs), so as usual I asked a cop. He said down this way and hang a left at the big Zebra - what - a big zebra!? So I walked on and almost walked past the statue of a horse in a zebra costume sitting at a table in the food court. What a laugh.
The metro let me off at De Laaken St. I walked down a block and found the place. Laura's boyfriend came down to let me in and carried the suitcase up the stairs. I forgot that the second floor is the third level in Europe. They count 0, 1, 2 not 1, 2, 3. Oh well I need the exercise if I'm going to eat treats.
I settled my luggage and headed downtown. It is cold in Brussels.
On the way out I took a picture of the courtyard at the back of the building. Very pretty. At first I was disappointed with the street and area I was in. It seemed plain and not exciting for being downtown. Then I discovered that I am one longish block from the Main Street running parallel to it. I found all the restaurants and stores I was looking for.  One block on the other side of Anspachlaan is the pedestrian portion of the downtown. It is all narrow streets and twists and turns. A church that has a front but the sides are all stores. Restaurants that have more seating outside than in. Their awnings nearly touching those on the other side of the street. Just enough room to walk. Cobblestone streets and souvenir shops rubbing shoulders with upscale jewellery and ladies wear stores. I love it.
Next on to the Grand Place. Gorgeous 500 year old buildings trimmed with gold paint. Architecture that is beautiful partly because you know they had no modern technology but the craftsmanship has lasted this long. The bones of the buildings are old but they are maintained so that they don't fall into disrepair. One of them today is covered up during maintenance but the covering is a picture of the building so the hoarding doesn't ruin the look of the square. Turn the corner and you find street musicians playing for their supper.
I made only one mistake today. I ordered moule frites. They were delicious steamed in a liquid containing celery and onions. It was a huge serving and I ate them all. Three hours later my stomach said "They must still be alive because they are running right through you. "
Oh well the bathroom is right outside my bedroom door and I brought Imodium with me. I'm lucky, something like this usually happens before the three week mark. My stomach and other parts settled down after about an hour and I got a good nights sleep.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Saturday my last full day in Paris

Woke to a beautiful day in Paris. The sun is shining and I can see both Sacre Couer and the Eiffel Tower. There is no fog or smog today.

I checked the map and one block over and turn left and I can go back to the Bastille to check out the market stalls that were empty yesterday but I expect will be full today.

It doesn't take much to make me happy. I found a "nez", which is a public water tap with clear cold water. This one the water squirts from the mouth. I took a picture. The market was in full swing but these artisans and artists want a lot of money for their originals. I passed on a 4 inch rooster for 30 euros or about 50 dollars.

I headed down to the Metro and got a surprise. I've seen panhandlers with dogs but this was my first rabbit. Check him out on Facebook. I took some pictures and gave them .50.
I was heading for the Eiffel Tower because that is where most of the boats leave from. Today is take a boat tour day. I walked from the ecole Militarie station over to the Champ de Mars. I'm not sure why there are hoardings up everywhere. They aren't enclosed they just snake up the lawn open on one side and then the other. They seem to be there to discourage people walking on the grass. A Belgian family was trying to take a selfie so I volunteered to help. Peggy they said the pictures turned out nice and they were not crooked. In turn they took mine with the Tower in the background.
I walked through under the tower and bought a pistachio and citron ice cream. Always eat dessert first when on vacation. I walked across the bridge and bought some key chains. Bought a ham and cheese on french bread. Ate it in the park nearby. I decided to walk down to Pont Alma and met another two Belgians on the way. These ladies were looking for the Champs Élysées and were lost. I showed them how to get there. One tourist leading another. I took a picture of the flame which is dedicated to the French Resistance.
I took the boat tour from Pont Alma as they broadcast in English and you don't have to wear an earpiece to listen. Relaxing enjoyable trip. Took an hour - not as spectacular as the Berlin one or as interesting as the Amsterdam one, but a relaxing journey. Haha autocorrect just changed relaxing hour to relaxing journey.
I was going to head up to Monmarte area again but got off at the wrong stop walked the wrong way and got lost. Once I figured out where I was (asked someone), I decided to stop for a beer instead. Free wifi so I followed Milos Raonic playing Thomas Berdych and winning while I drank that beer.
Returned to the apartment packed cleaned up and went out for supper. An omelette and salad was all I  needed. I am off to Brussels in the morning.