Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘England 2005’ Category

Back to the UK: Chester & Stratford, 6-7.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 22, 2006

 We were up early for the 8.56 to Chester. It was a Virgin train, not as fast as the GNER trains, and the service isn’t so good. The information booklet was so trendy and visual that it took us rather a while to realise that we had to collect a cup of tea ourselves. We are more used to *reading*…
The scenery was pretty, but it was overcast and rather bleak, which matched my anxiety that my back was playing up. (Must have been all the hefting luggage up and down railway stations without lifts.) We had brunch at the swish Grosvenor Hotel, briefly wandered around admiring the Tudor shops, and then took a sight-seeing tour. Tim remembers seeing the longest intact Roman Wall in Britain, and the River Dee, but for me it was a total blur. (Must have been the combination of painkillers and a stiff whisky.)

Back at the Mill Hotel I had a massage, and picked my way through our worst meal in Britain. The Mill is a four star hotel, but that’s because it has lots of facilities like a gym and a beauty bar and child care, not because the facilities are any good. It’s situated on the canal, with a bridge over to the restaurant, but the canal is dirty and smelly and not the least little bit scenic once you get up close.

The staff weren’t particularly helpful either, when Tim decided to hire a car to get me to Stratford…
The car turned out to be a little red Renault Megane, very comfortable, and just big enough for the luggage, which poor Tim had to manage all by himself. (We keep promising ourselves to travel lighter – but with three climate zones, and a fondness for buying souvenir books, it’s not easy.) It took the best part of the day to get to Stratford, driving through the back roads, and taking lunch in a quaint little cafe with surprisingly good food at Bridport. I put my feet up at our new hotel, the luxurious Stratford Victoria where the rooms are spacious and comfortable and the staff are friendly and very helpful, while Tim went out to reconnoitre the town.

Before long I felt better and so we spent what was left of the afternoon on the usual orientation tour on a city sight-seeing bus, but because most of the interesting bits of Stratford are pedestrianised, and the Shakespearean sites are too far apart in a sea of suburban houses, it was a bit disappointing. Another rest, and then went down to a sensational dinner in the hotel restaurant. What a contrast to the soggy pasta at Chester! I had duck for entree and Tim had a tian of prawn, crab and avocado, and then I had salmon trout and he had lamb, washed down with nice wines and followed up by further experiments with single malt nightcaps in the bar. We both felt rather better after this and felt quite benign about the last of our adventures in the UK!

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The Historic City of York, 3.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 16, 2006

York is delightful. We had a delicious lunch at Café 8, and then strolled along the parapet of the old city walls and pretended to be archers guarding the ramparts before going down into The Shambles – full of gorgeous little Tudoresque shops in the narrow laneways!

We had a quick look inside York Minster – but didn’t want to pay five pounds for the privilege of a closer look and then more to go down into the crypt and then more again to go up into the tower. I wonder how many tourists they lose by charging so exhorbitantly ? Never mind, plenty else to see, including remnants of Roman Britain, especially the statue of Constantine the Great – who was proclaimed Roman Emperor in 306, and by subsequently recognising the civil liberties of Christians, established the religious foundations of Western Christendom. Was that a good thing? Those that were on the menu for the lions in the Roman Colosseum thought so…

We loved the Jorvik Viking Centre! We travelled by ‘time machine’ down below the surface to 875AD and ‘visited’ a reconstructed Jorvik town with scenes of life at that time – all life size and with sound effects and very authentic smells (phew!). Upstairs, there was an impressive museum of old bones and assorted artefacts to explain the archaeological process and some dress-ups which Tim couldn’t resist!

By then we had reconnoitred the city so we knew that the best place to go to for dinner was Four High Petergate where there is a very nice bistro with a relaxed atmosphere, an excellent menu and friendly staff. For starters I had a partridge roll with melon in a scrumptious jus with beetroot leaves and greens, and Tim had Shetland Island mussels in a lemongrass sauce. For main course we both had the pheasant which was served with celeriac mash with a fig! They have a fine selection of Aussie and NZ wines, but we can have those at home any time, so I tried the L’Enclos de Chateua Lexongars 2001 Premieres Cote de Bordeaux, and Tim had the Chateauneuf du Pape 2003 from Domain Roger Perrin, Rhone. For dessert I had the bitter chocolate torte and a late harvest riesling, and he had the treacle orange tart with muscat. Bliss!

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En route: London to York, Monday 3.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 16, 2006

On Monday morning, we set off for York. At Kings Cross Station, a very nice railway gentleman, who seemed to have nothing else to do but guide bewildered travellers to the right train, took us to have our BritRail passes stamped, and then escorted us to our carriage! First class is very nice – the seats are plush blue, with little white antimacassars and there are cups and saucers all ready for a cup of tea and some shortbread – no nasty snack bar – it’s table service.
The two-hour journey was very pleasant, with lovely scenery rolling by at 200kmh. There was a partial eclipse from 8.30 till eleven, but it wasn’t at all noticeable except that the day just seemed slightly overcast.
Our new ‘home’ in York was the Hazelwood Inn – very central and we had a lovely comfortable room, with more space than the Montague, which was nice. Once we stashed the luggage, we set off to find some lunch and to see the sights…

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London, Museum at Docklands, 2.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2005

The Museum at Docklands is an excellent museum. It’s in one of the few remaining warehouses left standing after the war; it’s in the area devastated by the end of the Phoney War in September 1940, and it’s now all redeveloped as the Docklands estate, for rich people and the finance industry.

The museum tells the story of London with Roman Britain and the birth of Londinium. After the Romans abandoned Britain because their empire was falling apart, it lapsed, but a new port arose, called Lundovych, and then a further port developed later on in about 700-800AD. From then it grew and grew, with bridges and houses and warehouses, all along the Thames, until it became a massive port serving the empire. I liked the little model ships best, with their tiny people and animals and cargoes.
There was also a gallery called Docklands at War, with a video of the area during the Blitz, which aroused yet again those awful feelings about what it must have been like for my father, who lived in Rotherhithe during the war until he was bombed out.
After the museum we took the light rail back to Bank, and then the tube to Holburn. There we wandered around a bit and found the Lincoln Inns of Court, and a magnificent building that looks like a church but is actually The Great Hall. By then we were tired, so we had a muffin and a drink at Cafe Nero, and then en route back to the Montague we found not only Bertrand Russell’s flat at No 34, but also, next door, Lisa’s natural habitat – the London Review Bookshop (where of course, she bought a book. Or two.)
We dined in at the hotel for our last night in London.

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London, Rules Restaurant, 1.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2005

Rules is London’s oldest restaurant, and it serves traditional British food, specialising in classic game cookery, oysters, pies and puddings. We started with a Rules cocktail, which Tim thinks is based on Dubonnet and champagne, and then we had soup: wild mushroom & chestnut for me, and game with lentil & cumin for Tim. For main course, Tim had grouse with game chips, bread sauce, redcurrant jelly and a madeira jus, and I had a fillet of woodland roe deer with carrot puree. Our wine was from Languedoc: a Domaine Rene Rostaing Peuch Chaud. At 10 pounds, 95 per glass, with our exchange rate, this was close to the most expensive wine I’ve ever had. (Except for the Penfolds Grange I’ve been lucky enough to try a couple of times. Oh, and that very, very old cognac, at Domaine Des Hauts de Loire.)
The puddings all looked splendid, but all we could manage was to share a trio of ice-creams!

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London, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery 1.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2005

The National Gallery is a gem! We took the bus to Trafalgar Square and – like lots of other tourists enjoying the warm and sunny day, we admired Nelson’s Column and, from the balcony of the gallery, a view across to Big Ben. There are statues everyhere, even George Washington and Edith Cavell, whose heroism I admired as a child. I wish we had more of such statues at home in Melbourne, but no, we Australians don’t like to exalt our great men and women and so most of us don’t know what they looked like, even if we have heard of them. (Why, for example, don’t we have a statue of Howard Florey, who discovered penicillin, or Patrick White, our Nobel prize winning author?)
Tim navigated us through the gallery so we didn’t miss much, and I saw almost everything I wanted to. But when we stopped to rest our aching feet at the Espresso Cafe, we found a clever little interactive screen on the tables, that enables you to locate where particular pictures are and plan your visit. That’s when we realised we’d missed the Sainsbury’s Wing, and went back to find Bellili’s Doge and the Arnolfini Wedding – smaller than I expected but terrific – I even saw some details I’d not noticed before like her red shoes under the bed.
After that we went to the National Portrait Gallery, and loved it! Lots of daggy old British Chinless Wonders, but I liked Aldous Huxley, Churchill, Newton, Shakespeare and Thomas Marvell, and those royals that I’ve seen so many times before, like Henry II for example, but these were the real portraits. I have a soft spot for George III who donated his library, and George IV who built the Brighton Pavilion, which I really like. I especially liked a massive one of Elizabeth 1 in her white dress, standing on the globe of the world – you can see the jewels all over her gown as you can’t when you only see the picture in a book.
There were also some terrible pictures of the current royals, Charles looking particularly insipid.
We took a cab home and learned all about the Finnish language from our genial driver, who’d learned it from his wife who used it to speak to their children.

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London, Dickens House Museum, 1.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2005

We finished up our Saturday morning’s literary walk at the Dickens House Museum. It’s a small house, four floors including below stairs, so it must have been cramped if that’s where he had his numerous children. But I think not – I recall a TV series about him living in a rather grander house somewhere in the country, where he decamped after abandoning his wife, poor Mrs Charles Dickens, who doesn’t even warrant a name of her own under her portrait.
It’s the only surviving building that he actually lived in, though there are plaques elsewhere in Bloomsbury because he moved about a bit. The museum has mostly framed illustrations and portraits of him (copies of the real thing are in the National Portrait Gallery) but the morning room is reasonably authentic and so is the washroom and the cellar. Anyway, I liked it and bought a small bronze bust for the library.
After a rather ordinary pub lunch at Shakespeare’s Head Hotel in Camden, we took the bus to the National Gallery…

Posted in England 2005, LitLovers pilgrimage, London 2005, Museums, UK 2005 | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

London, Bloomsbury Literary Walk, 1.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2005

We owe this most interesting and enjoyable walk to a great little book called Walking Literary London, by Roger Tagholm. We followed the first of his suggested routes through Bloomsbury, and saw the centre of British publishing for most of the  20th century in Bedford Square – the offices of Chatto & Windus, Jonathan Cape, the Bodley Head, and Hodder & Stoughton, all lost now to multinationals but wonderful innovative publishers in their day.
In Keppel St, we saw the birthplace of Anthony Trollope, and Senate House (the inspiration for Orwell’s Ministry of Truth), and the former offices of Faber and Faber in Woburn St. The top floor of Carlyle House is where TS Eliot worked – it was bombed during the war, but has been restored.
Outside the house of John Maynard Keynes, we met a man photographing the building because Virginia Woolf had lived there at No 46 Gordon Square. His wife runs the Virginia Woolf society and he was photographing it for a lecture she was to do. That’s what I like about London – you meet such interesting people!
Again we walked along Tavistock St., and remembered the July bombings, ironically set to explode next to Tavistock Gardens, where I took a photo of Tim by the statue of Gandhi, and where there is a memorial to conscientious objectors – who refuse to kill.
After that we took a restorative cup of tea in the Bloomsbury shopping centre, which has a rather down-at-heel feel about it – quite different to Woburn Walk which has been smartened up for tourists like us – and then set off for the Dickens House Museum.

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London, The Science Museum, 30.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2005

After the Wallace, we went to the Science Museum. We had a brief look at the Wellcome Health display, which featured an iron lung – Tim was quite spooked by the idea of living in one of these, and so was I. There was also film of a girl having dialysis in the 1960s, and other medical advances too… but our hearts weren’t in it: we were too tired really.
What we did like was the 18th century scientific equipment gallery, part of George 111’s collection. There was a weird little gizmo – a cylinder on a plate – designed for identifying oneself as a member of a clan. (We would never have known this had it not been for a really nice museum guide, I wish I’d asked his name.) The plate was decorated with what looked just like swirls, but if we stood in just the right position, it reflected up onto the cylinder and showed a portrait of – George 111, of course. How cunning!
There were all sorts of measuring things and even though I didn’t understand what half of them did, I loved the museum’s homage to the Age of Curiosity and Love of Learning.
In the Flight gallery, we met two lovely old gents reminiscing about the war planes, and I impulsively asked one of them if he’d flown Spitfires. No, he hadn’t, but he was 73, he told me, so he was not far off the age where he might have done. He told me instead all about testing new planes post-war – no hi-tech stuff in those days – they just used half-a-dozen men to hold the plane down with ropes when they wanted to test out the balance!

The other man explained about the Messerschmitt plane on display, an evil thing developed towards the end of the war just as the German cities were being pounded by US planes by day and the RAF by night. To climb rapidly above the allied planes, the Messerschmitt had two separate tanks for its two types of fuel – a drop of which, if mixed together, was enough to ignite the whole plane. They didn’t have landing wheels, just a kind of ski, & the German pilots often baled out rather than run the risk of landing them and blowing themselves to bits. Horrible things.
After the Science Museum we were exhausted, went back to the hotel, tottered out later for some Japanese at nearby Koto’s in Holborn, and then went back to bed.

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London, The Wallace Collection 30.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 11, 2005

London, Friday 30.9.95, The Wallace Collection
This morning we tried breakfast at The Forum, across the road from The British Museum and then set off to meet friends from the Booker Prize internet book group. Marion had suggested The Wallace Collection as a place to meet, so we made our first venture onto the tube.

 This was a chastening experience. Our hotel was adjacent to Russell Square, our ‘local’ shops were in Tavistock Road, and the stations we used to get around were the scene of the London bombings just three months ago – so, while not exactly nervous, we were conscious of a slightly strained atmosphere and the need to be respectful of people’s feelings because just beneath the surface, some of them still seemed to be in shock.

 We had a lovely time exploring the Wallace. It’s nice to see the paintings as they belong in a house, rather than ‘curated’. The terms of Lady Wallace’s Will were that nothing should be added or taken away so there’s some dross amongst the treasures by Gainsborough, Rubens, Van Dyk and so on, but mostly it is wonderful. There were half a dozen Canalettos too, my favourites, most of them with that little white dog that he includes so often. Tim liked the armoury and was disappointed that he couldn’t have a photo of a massive horse got up in full armour.

Marion treated us to a scrumptious lunch at the Bagatelle Restaurant, and within five minutes we were chatting away as if we had known each other for ages. How nice it is to have some friends in London, and fellow booklovers at that!

Posted in Art Galleries, Dining out, England 2005, London 2005, UK 2005 | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »