Tuesday, 26 June 2007

The best pies in London!

So it's our last day of London and we still had a couple of things to tick off the list - well actually we had a huge list of things to cross off (hey it is London and there is no way you could do everything in just one week) but we'd chosen the Camden markets and the Tower of London & Tower Bridge.

The Camden markets are huge - not just Victoria Park Markets on a Saturday huge - but really, really seriously huge. So big in fact that they close the Tube entrance there after 5pm because the crowd trying to leave would be to dangerous! We met Ian and Sara there - actually I'm pretty sure it was all Monique and Sara's idea to go to the markets - what is it with girls and the potential for bargains? Canels actually go right through the middle of the markets too so you get to see boats going through locks and dropping people off etc. right in the middle of the place - very cool.

Ian and Sara accompanied us to the Tower of London because Sara had heard about this deal available with a flyer from the train station where you get a Buy 1, Get 1 Free deal for tickets to the Tower amongst other places. Now for those of you that have been to London you will know just how good a deal that this is - since just about everything is super-duper expensive here (the public museums being the major exception). Actually pricing in London is just plain greed - even the major church St Paul's Cathedral will cost £10 each. In the rest of Europe churches are free. Frankly I think most of the prices are simply robbery!

So the Tower proper - with our reduced tickets in hand we strolled through (obligatory bag search) then waited just inside the gate near the moat for the free tour. Yep your ticket price includes a free tour (ok so price included in the normal ticket price but after all the rip-offs so far it was quite refreshing). Some people don't bother with these tours but I absolutely recommend it - absolutely no arguing just do it OK! The tour is done by one of the Yeoman Warders and they get right into - great descriptions of all the gory details of which there are plenty and they get you into the onsite Chapel which has some interesting stories alone (and which you don't normally get access to) including some of the ghostly kind - probably not that surprising when you find out some of the history of the place!

The other major highlight is of course the Crown Jewels which are also quite breath-taking - even for a bloke like me. It really is quite amazing to see some of the jewels belonging to the royalty but that they're available to be seen by the public is quite cool. Other highlights would be the armoury which is inside the White Tower (the big one in the middle). It houses a large collection of historical weapons wielded by the British forces over the large few hundred years (and actually some quite recent ones too). Suits of armour are also on display - a whole bunch from lot's of the various kings including Henry VIII. Oh yeah and an interesting exhibition on Guy Fawkes - I actually learnt quite a bit from that - the plot was certainly a lot more complex than I had ever been taught.

After having a good look round the grounds, taking some photos of the tame ravens and looking at Sir Walter Raleigh's temporary prison the place was shutting down for the night so we headed out one of the gates. We exited out of a gate that took us onto the river with a great view of the Tower Bridge. And just in time to see the gates open up (check out the link) so that was pretty cool timing! However we realised that we didn't have any good photos of the Yeoman's so as we headed back around to the tube station we asked the Beefeater at the main gate if we could have a photo - his response "Kiaroa". Yep we had run into the Kiwi Beefeater - Patrick from the King Country (incidentally the only non-British Beefeater). He gladly posed with Monique for a pic and then after a yarn Monique mentioned that we were hungering for a real meat pie - well he just took us over to a restaurant just across from the Tower, introduced us to the staff and recommended their Steak and Kidney pies - best in all of England apparently (and to be fair - yep it was pretty good)! He also invited us back to the Tower that night to watch the Ceremony of the Keys - this is a ceremony that is free but requires a couple of months advance booking. This was very cool and definitely the highlight of London for me because you get to see the Beefeaters and the Tower garrison close down the Tower for the night - heaps of military pomp and ceremony and the Last Post to round things out - very moving and definitely worth seeing if you get the chance.

Before we came back to the Tower for the Ceremony of the Keys we managed to get out to see Monique's friends Chris and Danella who have been working in London for a couple of months now. Was great to catch up with a couple more Kiwis (actually four since Chris's sister and boyfriend were there too). Monique even caught up with Danella's MUM over Skype which was neat for her. So that was our last day in merry ol' in-ga-land and it was a great one.

Onwards to Canada!

Love from Scott & Monique

Saturday, 16 June 2007

World Famous in the UK

London Day 5:
Today is Saturday my cold is finally kicking in (yes the 2nd cold in 7 weeks) and we decided to go and see the changing of the guards at Lizzies house aka Buckingham Palace. We got off the tube on one side of Green park (the palace is on the other) and were walking through the park (the weather was gorgeous by the way quite hot) when we could here a pipe band. We get down to The Mall the street that leads to the front gates and there are little barriers up so you can't cross the street and hear are all the guards with there little bear hats marching down the street to the pipe band, there were hundreds of them. There was a bit of a break so i asked a policeman what was going on and he said it was the rehearsal for the Trooping of the Colours, we had a great chat to the cop he had just returned from a holiday in Egypt. Then it was the guards on horse back's turn with there chrome helmets with tufts out of them, I have never seen so many beautiful black horses. They even had a pipe band on horse back!!! the horses were virtually leading themselves in perfect formation and timing. It was fantastic heaps better than the changing of the guard. We didn't see the Queen but apparently she usually watches the rehearsal from a window as she likes the music. After the parade we headed for Westminster abbey, it was quite busy but amazing none the less. We didn't do it but we would recommend one of the tours run by the priests, we overheard one and it sounded quite interesting. Even though it was really hot outside it was quite cold in there. Some of the people that have been buried there is quite odd, its not all Royal's and poets. We didn't find Sir Isaac Newton, but we were walking around the cloisters thinking hey this is in the Da Vinci code and Harry Potter. After that we headed down to the Queens Walk way which runs along the Thames by the London Eye. Scott had seen in one of the free papers that they were going to have the Simpson's couch down there. As a promotional thing for the 400th episode they were getting people to sit on the couch and asking them what there favourite episode was etc. they are going to play them as promos before the 400th episode. Scott just wanted to sit on the couch so lined up we didn't realise they actually took a proper photo of you and printed out then in there and put in a folder for you, I managed to get in for that bit but I was just the photographer/bag holder while Scott was being interviewed. So yet again we (or one of us) has made it on to foreign television.

Catch you guys later.

love from Monique and Scott

Merry ol' Ing-ga-land guvnah

Originally we planned to train to London from Paris - thought taking the Chunnel would be cool. However it was going to cost us E230 ($460NZ) each, so we decided to fly instead. We flew with Easyjet (yes the one off the Airport program) and it cost us E300 ($600NZ) for both of us so it was like half price.

When we left Paris it was again raining but still about 20 degrees, when we arrived in Luton (airport just out of London) it was absolutely pelting down and only 5 degrees yes that was 5!!! But hey its London what do you expect right.

It was quite odd at the airport you had to walk for miles to find the loo, and I got stuck behind a couple that were walking really slowly!! When we were going through customs I found it quite a shock to hear an english accent from someone behind a counter, after 10 weeks of foreign languages you don't really understand it kind of comes as a surprise when you no longer have to struggle to communicate with people.

It actually took us a while to find an ATM that was spitting out Pounds not Euros, all the pounds ones seemed to be out of order. Then we caught the free bus to the Luton train station where we caught a train to Cricklewood where we met Cameron (Scott's cousin). We stayed with Cameron and his girlfriend Katherine at their flat full of fellow kiwis and aussies for 3 nights.

London Day 1:
After a well earned sleep in we headed into Wilsden Green the local shopping centre and had a bit of a wander around as we had kinda gone in the opposite direction from the Tube station (metro/underground). But lucky we did head right instead of left as we found a great little bakery with fantastic cornish pasties. I had been craving a pie for weeks and that definitely did the trick. After our scrummy brunch we headed into the city. First we went to have a look at Shakespeare's Globe theatre, it was £9.50 to go in and have a look inside so yeah we just had a look at the outside. Then we walked across the Millenium bridge to St Pauls Cathedral where we had a look at the foyer as again it was £9 to get into. Paying to get into a church that's just wrong. Then we headed down The Strand had a squiz in the old court house and continued down to Trafalgar square. Being in London is like living in a game of Monopoly its crazy because you know all the names. By now it was starting to rain again so we decided to jump back on the Tube and head home, and typically by the time we got off the train in Wilsden Green the sun had come out!!! We went out for Indian that night actual proper Indian hot and flavoursome lik,e it should be it was great.

London Day 2:
Slept in again hehehe. It was raining again so we headed for Harrods. It is absolutely ginormous!! The bottom floor was basically a fancy mini supermarket, you can even buy frozen peas at Harrods! There are a few restaraunts dotted through the shop but they are all extremely expensive. The main stairwell (they were actually escalators but I didn't know what to call it) has an Egyptian theme complete with pillars carved with hieroglyphics and 3 metre high Sphinxs on certain floors. I haven't seen that much marble in one place since we were at the Vatican it was crazy. It is absolutely amazing to have a look at even if you aren't shopping, and frankly you probably won't be shopping we saw this horrible giant diamond watch for sale for a mere £150,000 it was so heinous and tacky only a rapper would buy it. Speaking of tacky there is a memorial to Dodi and Diana on (I think) the 1st floor people were taking photos of it, it was just so distasteful it had a wine glass she had supposedly used that night with an engagement ring in it, that Dodi had also given her that night. It just ruined the overall elegance of the entire shop. Our big spends whilst there were a coffee from Krispy Kremes in the food hall (unlike the name suggests it isn't a food court as we know it, its just there supermarket) and a packet of stamps, impressive ay!!! Went to a typical English pub for tea with Cameron and Katherine.

London Day 3:
Moved to the Generator Hostel in town. This was the cheapest accommodation we could find, and even then not what we would call hostel prices but it had quite a name for itself and what else were we going to do. Yeah it has a lot of staff and a lot of beds and is full of idiots whose idea of an OE means drinking from noon till night. We had 2 nights in a dorm room (about £18 each per night) with 12 other people, then 2 nights in a private room (about £27 each per night) which was heaps better no Japanese guy switching the light on at 2 am. Anyway after dumping our stuff at the hostel we headed for Covent Garden there were buskers everywhere or street entertainers I should say, they were definitely talented they had the audience in the palms of their hands. HOT TIP#1 Avoid the Tube station at Covent Garden if at all possible its always really busy and one of the older stations it only has lifts to get down to the trains. Then we had a wander down the West end, we would have liked to have gone and seen something whilst in London but we just ran out of time and money really. We found a little chinese palce for tea it was an all you can eat buffet for £4.99 each our first bargain in England!!

London Day 4:
Today we went off to the British museum which was conveniently just around the corner from where we were staying. We were so surprised you could just walk in, every other museum we've been to there has been more rigmoral getting in than at the airport, and another bonus its FREE!! The museum was awesome there is an amazing big modern atrium in the middle. The amount of Egyptian relics was incredible (is there actually
anything left for the Cairo museum because everyone seems to have a bit of the pie) the Rosetta stone was a lot bigger than I thought and naturally it creates quite a crowd. HOT TIP#2 If you get the munchies whilst at the museum, take a break and go down the road to get food its better and cheaper. That night we met up with Ian and Sara (Scott went to napier boys with Ian, we met them in munich) and some of there friends and went to a Vegetarian Indian restaurant, and man was that spicy Indian it was great, expensive but a great night.

Catch you guys later. We are slowly catching up. We went out to Piccadilly Circus at night - absolutely mental - awesome fun - check out the pic!

love from Monique and Scott

Thursday, 14 June 2007

On Parisians

Ok so you've read about Paris and how great all the sights are etc. but what you're really wondering is how well we got on with the actual Parisians - are they really that arrogant? In truth, to Kiwi's with thick NZ accents and travelling on NZ passports, no, no they aren't. OK, we were there for only the one week, but we were out and about every day of that week, we pretty much made up our own tours, utilised public transport and interacted with the locals on their level and not once - I'll repeat that for extra affect =) NOT ONCE did we encounter any arrogance, anger, shortness or stubbornness aimed in our direction. When we met people who either didn't speak English or refused to (and really how would you know) they were more than happy to deal with us using our limited knowledge of the language - though I must say we did know enough that we were being polite and could at least ask for the right amount of something. The important signs are either understandable in French (namely the pretty good Metro system) or in English as well (such as directions to toilets - very handy if you happen to be travelling with a Coulter female!)

And as for Paris itself - well it calls itself The City of Lights and everyone else calls it The City of Love. Well both camps are right - it is quite simply a gorgeous city and no trip to France would be complete without at least some time in this amazing city. Once more I'm amazed that the locals take these amazing things for granted - but then I guess if you walk past the Eiffel Tower every day you could get a bit blasé about it.

Oh yeah, in case you're wondering - yeah this entry was pretty much so I could add that photo of the Louvre =) but a few of you have asked about what the French were like so there you go to - the proverbial two birds, one stone!

Aboot time we caught up - love from,
Scott & Monique

Sunday, 10 June 2007

A view from the top

Firstly sorry to all our devoted fans out there, yes we are a bit behind with our commentary. It was rather a busy week in London and after our last post we didn't have internet access, or rather we weren't paying $9NZ for 30min. So yeah sorry about that now that we are in Canada with free wireless it should be updated a bit more regularly.

Ok so what else did we do in Paris? Well we went and checked out the Pompidou centre, this is another art museum but modern stuff not old stuff. The building was built in the late 70's and is virtually inside out, all the stairs, escalators, lifts, air conditioning are bright colours and visible from the out side. I know that sounds heinous but its actually looks pretty cool, and is more interesting than a lot of the stuff inside. They had a a little exhibition on Phillipe Stark (my design idol) which was cool showing you some of the prototypes and drawings, but the rest of the museum was conceptual crap.

(Scott's view on the Pompidou) Ok so you can probably guess (well for those that know me anyway) what my view on the "art" in the Pompidou centre is but I actually thought some of it was all right and deserved to be there. This was however only a small percentage... So many of the exhibits have clearly been made by people who just slap a couple of things found in the bin together and call it art. I'm not sure at which point it became unfashionable to make/paint something that was clear to the observer about what the point it's trying to make is. Most of the stuff here is clearly selected by pretentious people who select pieces made by pretentious artists that they think they should like - the irony is impeccable. In my opinion it just makes so much of the "art" inaccessible to the average punter as to actually make the entire place pretty pointless. In conclusion - the term "starving artists" is probably justified because if this is the art they are producing they should starve! I feel so much better now ha ha...

Now we had planned to go to the Eiffel tower that night but after the Pompidou we were wandering around looking for a metro, we happened to wander into a shop when all of a sudden out of no where the sky opened up and it completely bucketed down. The weather up until that point had been beautiful so the "big ol' fat rain" as Forrest Gump would say, and thunder and lightening were a complete surprise to the locals as well. Needless to say we cancelled the trip to the tower as huge metal towers and lightening are not good friends!

While in Paris we also checked out the Catacombs, this was amazing. back in the day all the cemeteries were over full and disease was rampant as a result so they decided to dig up a lot of the cemeteries (including Les Innocentes I know! I kept thinking of Armand a few of you will know what I mean) and place all the bones in Catacombs under the city. It was a lot bigger than we thought like a 45 min walk from one end to the other. It was quite eery, the amount of bones was phenomenal, and they had kind of decoratively arranged the bones. The catacombs have been open to the public since the late 1800s, and apparently they have a bit of trouble with goths having parties down there and nicking skulls and stuff. We also went toGalleries Lafayette, this is a gigantic flash department store with a huge stained glass cupola (um domed roof thing) it was absolutely gorgeous. Went to Sacre Coer this is a church on the top of Monte marte has an amazing view of the city from up there this is also the neighbourhood that the film Amelie was filmed in, so its kinda touristy, and a few places are milking the Amelie thing but its cute none the less. Also in the vicinity is the "Moulin Rouge" much to kates disappointment we didn't go in and steal her a sequin as it was like E160 each for dinner and the show, just a tad out of our budget so we just took photos of the outside. That night we went to a typical French restaurant that had been recommended and Scott tried Escargo (snails) yeah I wussed out and didn't try them, but Scott said hey were really nice and he would have them again. After dinner we headed back to the Moulin rouge to take photos at night it was all lit up but the windmill wasn't turning.

Now we had planned to go to the Eiffel tower quite a few times and it got put off due to being tired, or a bit spitty, or torrential rain and thunder and lightning, but you can only procrastinate for so long then you run out of time. So on our last day in Paris despite the pouring rain we went to the Eiffel tower. As it was raining and the queue for the lifts was huge as per normal (the weather didn't put anyone off) but there was no queue at all for the stairs we figured you would probably get wetter standing in the line so braved it and took the stairs which is also a lot cheaper (stairs E4 each lift E11 each). It was a mission but apart from the weather, being soaked to the skin and frozen I think it was easier going than St peters basilica at the vatican as at the tower the stairs are straight not spiralled so at least you only get exhausted instead of exhausted and dizzy (and a little nauseous). The view from up there was absolutely amazing we only went to the 2nd floor because of the weather (the guide book said if its overcast you won't see anything from the top.) but even then you are so high up. HOT TIP# 1 Don't put off going up the Eiffel tower do it as soon as you get a nice day, apparently the queues are a bit shorter late in the afternoon too. Luckily there was a hair dryer in our hotel room so we spent most of our last night in Paris drying everything before packing every thing up. Romantic ay!!

So yeah thats a wrap for Paris its an absolutely gorgeous city, there is so much to do we missed out on a fair bit, but hey that gives us an excuse to go back. But definitely my fav destination so far.

Catch you guys later.

love from Monique and Scott