A Travellerspoint blog

Maritime exploring

London and Greenwich

overcast 10 °C
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After a rather late start on a dreary morning we ventured across the river to visit the HMAS Belfast that is moored on the River Thames. This was a working battleship of the Royal Navy, now a museum and we spent a couple of hours working our way through the ship, its holds and decks. The audio commentary that accompanies and explains the ship is from the perspective of the sailors who worked on the ship. It was interesting to see the living and working conditions along with the re-enactment of what it would have been like in the gun turret when firing on enemy ships - very cramped, noisy and lots of movement as the guns fired. We also visited the boiler and engine rooms which are four metres underneath the water line, using the ladders to traverse up and down the tight spaces, only one of us could be the sailor in the family.


On the way back to our apartment, we explored the area near St Katharine Docks, an area that was originally a site of a hospital and slums along with a dock. Today, it is a mix of housing and commercial buildings along with a yachting marina. Near the St Katharine Docks Pier, there is a small eat street foodies market on the weekend.


While we have avoided rail and bus public transport, we have used the Thames Clippers, similar to the Citycats but with an onboard cafe, including the sale of alcohol, and longer distances between stops. The Clippers run regularly and provide a great view of London by the river.

On the Clipper we headed East on the river to Greenwich with the view to explore the Cutty Sark. The Cutty Sark is a historic sailing clipper ship and was one of the fastest ships of its time that carried tea from China and wool from Australia. We explored the ships decks that are mostly original with some restoration. The hull of the boat is on the lowest level and the Long John Silver display has numerous ship’s figureheads. Nannie, a Scottish witch, is the Cutty Sark’s figurehead. The Cutty Sark is one of three clippers with the original composition - wood hull over iron frame - left in the world. We were fortunate to see another one of these, the City of Adelaide at Port Adelaide, Australia though its condition is very, very poor in comparison to the Cutty Sark.


From the Cutty Sark we headed through the buildings and parks adjoining the Royal Naval Museums. Across the road there is The Queens House with free entry and art exhibitions within the various rooms. There is very little original remnants in the building given it has been used by Queens, members of the royal family, as a school and home for orphans and a museum. The building is the first classical one in England and its construction commenced in the 17th century. The Tulip stairs are a magnificent circular staircase and there is a lovely gilded greeting hall that shimmers in the light. The royal rooms now showcase fine art and we were fortunate to be able to see The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I. The program outlined this was the first time in history that the three portraits have been together on public display. There was also royal portraits on display including that of King Henry VIII. As we left the building and walked across its lawns we reflected on its history including that Anne Boleyn gave birth to Elizabeth 1 at this place.


Greenwich Park, is a lovely green space behind the Queens House. Even though it was drizzling and cold many people were out in the park exercising their dogs and having family time. It is through the Park that you walk up the hill to a look out over London, the Royal Observatory including the prime meridian, Greenwich mean time and the planetarium. We were late in the day so made do with peering through the gates at the meridian line and the mean time equipment within the gates. There is however, some lovely clocks and measures on the main wall outside of the observatory.

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Walking through the streets of Greenwich, we passed some old pubs, buildings and traditional English houses. We found the Greenwich markets full of artisans and bought some local leather products and sweets before heading back to the river stop and back to Tower pier for the walk back to the apartment.


Posted by bonne vie 10:20 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Southbank and Westminster


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Our goal for the day was exploring London’s Southbank and Westminster. We walked via Millennium bridge not far from St Paul’s Cathedral to the Southbank area passing the buildings of the National theatre and film, lots of little cafes, a cool skate park and an area filled with trestles of second hand books. This passed into a fair type area with kids rides and food like fairy floss, candy and fast food near the Jubilee Gardens.


The Jubilee Garden is right near the London Eye and was where we had a picnic lunch from our favourite Marks and Spencer, while a young lady busked. We thought about going on the London Eye however, there were a lot of people from different nationalities in each pod and in light of the current times we chose to enjoy the view from the ground level.


We passed lots of other attractions near the Eye including the London Dungeon, Shrek’s Adventure and Sealife before making our way across Westminster Bridge. On the bridge there were various artists busking and many people undertaking the usual three cup scam. The bridge also gave us a vantage of Westminster Parliament and Big Ben. Big Ben unfortunately is under scaffolding until 2021, with only the clock face presenting, so wasn’t very exciting. We walked along the road, lots of police around on duty and into the park to get a better view of the imposing Westminster Parliament building.


From the park we took a detour through some quaint streets and ended up in the Dean’s yard on our way to Westminster Abbey. In the Dean’s yard, a square formation that borders Westminster Abbey, there are schools, a central green and offices of the Church of England.


From the Dean’s yard you head a short walk to Westminster Abbey. The abbey is well worth the visit, even there are no photos allowed inside. This is the royal church that has a history spanning royal coronations (the chair used on display), weddings and celebrations of life. The church has over 3000 funerary tombs and memorials within the abbey and its cloister with people from the areas of national service, science (Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton), poetry and writing (CS Lewis, Bronte sisters, Lewis Carroll, Livingstone) dignatories and of course royal kings, queens and family members interned. The abbey was originally a monastery in the 10th century and subsequently enlarged by successive kings. The shrine of St Edward the Confessor is the oldest tomb in the abbey. The Lady’s Chapel was an addition to the Abbey by King Henry VII and has a main chapel with naves. The main chapel is the resting place of King Henry III and his wife, Elizabeth, a choir area, beautiful stain glass windows, and some smaller chapels, it is also linked to the Order of the Bath. The left nave is the resting place of Elizabeth I buried with her sister, Mary and at the end of this nave tombs of The Innocents, young children including the bones allegedly of the young Tudor Princes who disappeared from the White Tower. The right nave is the resting place of Mary Queen of Scots, her mother-in-law, Margaret, Countess of Lennox and Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. Outside the cloister is a lovely quiet place of reflection with a nice water feature in the middle of the lawn and offers a different view of the top of Westminster Parliament.


On leaving the abbey we walked past the Parliament Square that has monuments to British, Commonwealth and foreign political figures and has seen its fair share of demonstrations and protests. At the end of the day we retraced our steps and noticed that there was considerably less people out than the previous day. We put this down to Friyay, drinks in the pub or the message starting to filter through about working from home.


Posted by bonne vie 15:27 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Two bridges and beyond


overcast 6 °C
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While the weather has been glorious, it was cold and meant to be 6 degrees however with the wind it was a real feel of 1 and over the day progressively chilly.

Tower Bridge was our first stop and you access the north tower by elevator to an information area, the east/west viewing platforms including sections compiled of glass viewing floors and finally the south tower. The bridge took 8 years to build and helped support to reduce the traffic that once used London Bridge. Tower Bridge is ornate and has both pedestrian and vehicle access. After taking the elevator down and a short walk along you find the Tower Bridge former engine rooms with the bridge lifts coal driven, where nowadays it is electronic control. The bridge lifts are published online, so people can see the lift in action. Of course, the obligatory gift shops that accompany most monuments, including Tower Bridge, are worth a look and even if you don’t visit the particular monument or activity you can usually visit the gift shops.


Walking along the southern side of the river we passed London Bridge which is a fairly non-descript bridge. This was the main bridge for centuries and a bridge crossing initially built during Roman times. Not far from the bridge is Borough market. This is an old market publicly recorded since the 12th century with various hall areas filled with fresh food - cheese, meats, seafood, fruit and vegetables, fresh flowers, fast food and many people.


Leaving the Borough market area and around the corner we came across what was left of Winchester Palace and the Clink prison. The Clink Prison is a bit kitsch however is built on the site of the oldest London prison and the information and physical instruments about what went on in the men and women’s prisons truly terrifying including the reasons you ended up in the clink from crimes, to allegations (often fabricated) against persons and then failure to pay debtors. We also learnt the origin of some of our common sayings which puts them in a new light. Winchester Palace was the accommodation for the Bishops of Winchester and there is very little left of the building with the rose window still intact. This side of the river was outside the jurisdiction of London and under the Bishops authority, it was known as the Liberty Clink and had many places of ill-repute including prostitutes that were known as Winchester geese. Many noble man including the King were known to cross the river in the evenings.


At the end of the same street, we saw the Golden Hinde, which is an operational reconstruction of the first English ship to navigate the world captained by Sir Francis Drake. The boat was on the dry docks undergoing various repairs and can be hired for kids parties, weddings and other functions. After another full day exploring we retraced our steps back to our apartment and reflected on how the history has shaped and is being used in modern day.


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London charm


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We decided to stay above ground today, rather than use the tube after hearing they only clean them every three to four days, and followed a walking route of some key sights. We love seeing the quintessential British post boxes, red double decker buses, black and other coloured taxis and the red telephone boxes.


First side stop was St. Paul’s cathedral where we spent some time listening to an audio guide of the various components and history of the church and on the hour everyone stops for the Lords Prayer. Inside the church there is monuments, lovely mosaics, the painted dome, some contemporary art and a crypt along with royal connections. After our visit we bought some food from Marks and Spencer and along with many others sat on the Cathedral steps for lunch.


Energy levels up we headed down Fleet Street to Covent Garden, with a stop off at St Bride’s church, a look at the magnificent Justice building and monuments including one for Queen Victoria. As we neared Covent Garden we passed many show theatres, The Lion King, Mamma Mia the list of shows goes on and on. Covent garden is not a garden but a former fruit and vegetable market that is now filled with shops (some high end and some souvenirs), buskers and lots of people.


A short walk away passing more theatre shows is Leicester Square with its large advertising screens, the Odeon cinema, the Empire theatre, casinos, competing buskers, a funky clock and a park with statutes including one of Mary Poppins. Nearby there is also a very large LEGO store and opposite that a M and M store over four floor levels with a sickly smell of chocolate as you walk in.


Leaving Leicester Square we made our way to Piccadilly Circus. A quick visit to the Hard Rock Cafe shop and then a look around the crowded afternoon square filled with young adults, a busker and an even larger advertising screen. We made our way along the streets that resound with the game Monopoly and passed key monuments to arrive at St James Park. The park was full of daffodils and lovely little squirrels foraging for food and darting around the ground and trees.


At the end of the park and the tell tale road we have only seen crowds gathered on the television is Buckingham Palace, a rather austere looking palace from the outside with a hint of its size and grand palace gates visible. The flag was up which meant the Queen was in residence.


On the way home we passed Trafalgar Square with a monument to Nelson and the National Gallery at the top of the square. The crowds were thick all the way back to Tower Hill as it was in the middle of peak hour as workers streamed out from buildings and side streets to catch mostly the tube and buses home. We stopped off for a late afternoon tea, Victorian sponge, again eaten on the steps of the Cathedral which we had to ourselves. On the way home a stop off at the Tesco Metro provided a greater array of groceries, a couple of bottles of alcoholic ginger beer went with our traditional British fish and chips dinner.

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Tower of London and Tower Hill


overcast 7 °C
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The Tower of London is an imposing structure from both the land and water and looks to be highly fortified. We were very excited to visit this historical monument and walk in the footsteps of Kings and Queens that has played such a large part in English history.

As you enter the tower you walk past the moat that forms a u shape around the building and in its hey day captured all the filth and waste from the tower. The architect designed the moat to be flushed by the River Thames at high tide, however his design was flawed and the moat was dug too deep never washing out the filth as the tides change. We were told that no one ever attempted to breach the tower via the moat and you can imagine the years worth of build up in the soil around the tower. The moat was drained to form the lovely lawn that is there today.


Like most fortified places the tower has outer and inner walls, defences and time has seen both the river and land evolve. There is still one fully operational defence porticullus for the inner courtyard. Our first stop was to see the Crown Jewels on display before the crowds and there is numerous crowns, ceremonial items, swords and treasure on display. Also on site there is the Chapel of St Peter and Vincula which is still used for worship and is the final resting place of some of the Queens of Henry VIII and other nobility.


The tower runs free Beefeater tours every thirty minutes and we joined Jimmy’s tour along with about fifty others from across the world, mostly Americans. The information provided spans 900 years of snippets of history, including its use as a mint, wartime training grounds, royalty in all its grandeur and gory history and is interactive and at times takes the mickey out of various cultures, for us we were asked was our visit linked to leisure or parole and were welcomed home.


Our tour ended in the inner courtyard, Tower Green and opposite a small monument to the few people mostly female and Queens, such as Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey wives of Henry VIII who were beheaded at the tower. We also enjoyed seeing the Traitors Gate that passed directly under the Medieval Palace built by Henry III and expanded by successive monarchs including his son, Edward I. The building remains and there is some reconstruction to provide insight into what comprised the royal lodgings.


After lunch at the cafe, we headed to the White Tower the oldest building which commenced construction in the 11th century and now houses various exhibits including the line of the Kings with amazing pieces of armour and weaponry including some from Henry VIII. Not much of the original components within the building remain a few garderobes (toilets) and fireplaces. This building has had many uses including a home for royalty, storage of armour and goods, a prison and the study of astronomy. Within the building the Chapel of St John, the King’s private chapel also remains.


The tower housed a menagerie of exotic animals from around the world including baboons, elephants, snakes, crocodiles, ostrich, a polar bear that was chained but had free reign on the chain to fish in the River Thames and the most prized lions and lionesses. As a commoner back in the day it would have been like magic to see strange animals and a not so subtle reminder of royal power. There is also ravens at the Tower and in earlier times there were many ravens at the tower and they were becoming a pest so they were culling them until Charles 1 was reminded of a legend that said the kingdom would fall if there was no ravens around. After surviving the plague followed by the great fire of London and also being highly superstitious, Charles I ceased the full and granted six ravens to stay. Today, they still have six roaming the tower and two on the bench, just in case. We were also lucky enough and a little excited to see our first “wild” squirrel here on the path.


There are rooms through out the tower that were used as prisons and hold the graffiti of those interned some of these are connected with the embattlements of the tower. The walk around the embattlements and a view of some of the instruments of torture used at the tower ended our day at the Tower of London.


After leaving the Tower of London, we headed up and across the road to Tower Hill where there is a park where the public executions took place. A small square monument marks the site. On our Beefeater tour we were told about the most gruesome beheading of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth who was an illegitimate son of Charles II and was imprisoned after announcing his claim to the throne (noting that there were 21 illegitimate children). The executioner, Jack Ketch was a butcher who was drunk all the time, borrowed some ones axe and was more specialised in hangings not beheadings. After several failed attempts the crowd was baying for the executioners blood and he ended up finishing the job with his butchers utensils.


A day well spent and we felt we had truly immersed ourselves in the Tower of London’s history.

Posted by bonne vie 07:48 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

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