Sunday, 27 July 2008

Ever so English!

After Eryn's first dabble in camping in Winchester, she's decided she quite likes it - yes, that was a surprise to me too - so we hit the road again for more cheapie weekends...

First stop - Warwickshire, home of everyone's favourite playwright, William Shakespeare... we hit Warwick first, as there was a Medieval festival on, and I was rather set on watching the Trebuchet at Warwick Castle... Eryn says I should mention that I don't mean the font Trebuchet, but that it's also a really, really old seige weapon.
After a bit of a wander through town, to see some proper Morris dancing, with the men with silly flower hats and bells on, and some other blokes with their faces painted black (apparently in the olden days the churchy types thought dancing was the work of the devil, so those involved painted their faces so they wouldn't end up in big trouble). It was all very English. And a bit ridiculous. You can see why we've adopted the Haka, rather than the 'other' traditional form of dance - the other teams would just be doubled over laughing otherwise - could be a new idea, though?!
The castle was next - it's
18.95 EACH to get into, but worth every penny! The highlights:
- The Birds of Prey display - the birds were massive and flew so low we had to duck! They were so majestic.
- Jousting.
- The sword fight re-enactments, the actors were pretty funny and it was all very well done.
- The castle itself, which is pretty tall and has a wall-walk that goes quite high up and a lot of the way round - great views on what is probably the hottest day we've had so far this summer (and they tell you it doesn't get hot in the UK - it's a lie!)
- The Trebuchet - a real one, which I was chosen to help fire (there are only 6 helpers and there was pretty much the population of Britain there that day)! It was well cool. There are photos here:

After a night in the tent, we took off to Stratford-Upon-Avon, which is quite famous, and accordingly, very busy. Bloody tourists.
To be honest, the non-tourist parts of Stratford are a bit dodgy looking... but once we got to Anne Hathaway's Cottage (the house Will's missus grew up in)we forgot that, as it was lovely - with a thatched roof and rambling (but in that good way) country garden... if only we could get married there! It was the stuff of picture postcards. We managed to pinch some of the berries and broad beans (definitely not for Eryn) from the garden... yum.
By the time we left there it was about a million degrees... for the second day on the trot too. We somehow managed to sneak into Shakespeare's actual house at just the right moment - there was almost no one else in it - hooray! Places that old don't have airconditioning, and the fewer people in there adding to the heat, the better. It's a bit strange to think that probably none of us will be so incredibly famous that in almost 500 years people will want to look at the houses we were born and grew up in - if the houses are even still standing... they don't make them like they used to!
We wrapped up what was an ever-so-english weekend with an outdoor performance of Romeo & Juliet, in a park alongside the Avon... it was an amatuer production, but they were from Cambridge University, so as you might imagine, it was very slick... and best of all? It was FREE.
Talk soon,
K & E x

Sunday, 20 July 2008

"Cabin crew, please prepare the aircraft for take off..."

A couple of weeks ago we headed a south to Farnborough. Thanks to the joys of the M25, it only took us five and a half hours to do the two hour drive, after we drove about 10km per hour for about three hours.
The plan was to pick up Angus and Janet from the train in Winchester and meet Rod and Louise at a campsite near town... which is sort of what happened, with a bit of getting lost and driving round and round (and round) on the one way streets of Winchester in between times - England is lovely, but small medieval streets aren't always the best for finding your way at night, or anytime, really!

Kent was about as excited as he could be - he started organising this weekend in October last year! It's not surprising really, as his
Grandad worked at Farnborough Airbase in the late 1930s, he was a carpenter by trade and ended up working with the team that built the first Jet Engine - how cool is that?! If you're an aviation geek, it was a put in the Gloster E28/39 which flew for the first time 15th May 1941.
After a late night with rain pelting our tents - but managing to keep it all on the outside - we jumped on a train bound for the legendary Farnborough Air Show and we weren't disappointed, although we may have lost some of our hearing, as some of the military planes were mighty loud - including the Avro Vulcan, which was flying for the first time in 50 years... others were awfully clever (and brave), like the Red Arrows, who are a squadron of stunt flyers (2 of whom are Kiwis - not bad considering there are only 9 in the group)... then there was the pilot who had the new Airbus A380 up for a spin - we were lucky enough to be very close to the runway as it took off, and then watched (with Eryn convinced it was going to fall from the sky) as he treated it like a much smaller aircraft, not the cumbersome beast it looked like - he had it in some pretty steep banking turns etc - certainly not something you would see looking out over the tarmac at Christchurch International.

Another bbq that night - this time without the rain, which was a nice change, only that did make it a much colder both in and outside the tents, so we turned to Pimms and beer to keep us warm... not the most effective plan, but quite fun to try.
We wrapped up the camping palaver with games of batdown and french cricket, before heading in to look at Winchester, which, despite our repeated circuits, we hadn't really seen much of. It's such a lovely town (one of the many that proclaims itself to be Britain's oldest - who to believe) and was the capital of England in Saxon times. It was also the royal residence up until the civil war in the 1600s, when the cathedral was ransacked and the castle was mostly destroyed on the orders of Cromwell... There are some bits still standing, like the Great Hall, built by Henry III in 1222, which houses the 'original' round table which was made in about 1290 (Interesting - King Arthur was allegedly kicking around in 400 - 600, and is generally thought to be a made-up figure) but despite the questionable nature, it's still pretty damn impressive.
We also struck it lucky at Winchester Cathedral, as it's usually a fiver each to visit, but as it was Sunday it was free... or maybe because it was supposed to be closed - who knows? It was free! It's the burial place of Jane Austen and a few other luminaries, and in the lightning quick visit we snuck down into the crypt (we think we weren't really supposed to go down there, but there were no signs), before leaving without being growled at, or struck by lightning.
After seeing off the others, we took a Sunday afternoon drive out around some of the civil war sights, and had a walk in the country where Kent pinched and ate almost his body weight in broadbeans...yuck!
Then it was home and back to work for Eryn, and into summer holidays for Kent - lucky for some, huh.
Kent & Eryn x

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Captain's Table, Copenhagen and "Can we stay on holiday forever?"

Before we start on Copenhagen, we can't not tell you about our invitation to dine at the Captain's table (actually it was the Hotel Director hosting that sitting's dinner - she runs everything that isn't the boat going forward, and she's just lovely) in the dining room on the final formal night... this is quite the big deal, as they only do it on formal nights (3 on our cruise). The Steves had been invited the day before, and I don't think we've seen anyone so excited about something as Pilot Steve was... until our phone rang the next day and Eryn took the call and squeaked that yes, we'd love to dine at the big table. Needless to say there were a few dirty looks from hoity-toity posh people who hadn't been invited - brilliant!
After just our fourth and final sea day, we arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark, our last stop. I should note sea days involve getting up when you do, with no natural light. Heading to breakfast (9:00am). Back to our room for a shower. Heading to lunch (11:00am) maybe a swim or lecture even both on a busy day. Then back up to the restaurant for second lunch (4:00pm) maybe more swimming or lectures and back into the restaurant for late seating of dinner at (8:30). If after a great dinner we still had some energy we could go to the broadway style shows where those who served us breakfast are now dancing and singing.
On land, we obviously had to see the Little Mermaid, it was very brassy and distinctly mermaid shaped, although Eryn would have prefered that she wore a top - it looked like she was a bit cold. We took some photos and then moved on, wandering around and through the Kastellet to the north of town. It is an old fortress and army barracks completed in 1663 and still housing soldiers there today.
There was a great free museum (Frihedmuseum), dedicated to the Danish Resistance during WWII. There were some very interesting displays and information on all sides of the arguments whilst Denmark was annexed by Germany during that time.
It was a bit of a sad night that evening as it was our last on the boat... we made the mistake of visiting the Steves' and the Peters' staterooms... or in the case of the Steves, state-palace might be a more appropriate term... lucky we didn't do that earlier, or we would have had quite the inferiority complex!
The next day we visited Amalienborg (dunno about you, but I think it sounds more like a spaceship than a palace), home of our good friend and ex-neighbour Crown Princess Mary. Well, we say good friend, but there was no invitation to join her for a cuppa and some damper, so we might leave her off the Christmas card list this year. There we caught our second changing of the guard in three days. It was less interesting than Stockholms; there were a lot less of the little conscripts and they did more standing than prancing.
Eryn had begged to go to the 'Bodies' exhibition, which was on in the Hans Christian Anderson Museum, so we opted for the slightly gross option and checked it out... fascinating. It's an exhibition of real people who've donated their bodies to science and they've been turned into polymer (it sounds like some kind of sick horror flick, we know) and used to demonstrate all sorts of movement, illnesses, basic motor functions and a few individual internal organs... it's probably not for the weak-stomached, but it's super-interesting to see what's going on inside us, and worth a look if you get a chance to see it.
Not surprisingly, we weren't especially hungry after seeing other peoples' insides, so we wandered some more, people watching on the main shopping street, and checking out the view from the top of the round tower - yet more sun meant this was a perfect end to our big trip... One more batch of photos:

And that is that... apart from the requisite flight delay into Stansted, which will teach us to fly EasyJet, and a long bus trip home, we're back into work and home and all those delights. Roll on our next break!
Love Kent & Eryn xx

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

A Brief But Awesome visit to the home of ABBA

Hi from Stockholm, Sweden... home of the band we all secretly love!
Stockholm is a beautiful city on an archipelago (our new favourite word).
Gamla Stan is the old built up area of town and very packed with buildings and tourists, but more tastefully, very fancy icecream shops... because we definitely needed MORE food! While we were wandering we saw the changing of the guard at the royal palace, which happens every day, and afterwards did our upside down photo in front of one of the guards and on her way round Eryn grabbed his gun, but, like a true professional, he didn't even blink. Lucky, as the gun looked fairly serious and we didn't have travel insurance, although I suspect "being bayonet-ed by a royal guard because you accidentally grabbed his gun and it was all a big misunderstanding" might be one of those situations it doesn't cover anyway.
In the afternoon we traipsed across town to the Vasa Museum, which was “probably the best museum we saw”. The Vasa was a huge new warship launched in 1628 that was much bigger than anything built previously. It sank on its maiden voyage about 300 metres from where it was launched. We spent over three hours in the museum looking at the details of the ship, its recovery and salvage and also all the information and details about the life and times of sailors around that time including very specific details on those sailors who died when it sank. Photos don’t do it justice... but we can try:

The next day we hired a pedal boat and played chicken with small cargo ships, fast ferries and pleasure craft coming and going from the Vasa Museum port area. It was rather tiring but a nice way to see the city from a different angle.
Public transport again was very good even though the port was not on a very good line. The Metro was very nice - if only every city was so good at it... the drivers on the buses and trams were friendly and helpful too, which made a big impression on us.
Due to the boat schedule, our two days in Stockholm were shortish, but we very much enjoyed it... apparently accomodation is fairly pricey there, so this was the perfect way to take it in.
Hooray, you're nearly there...
K & E x

Monday, 7 July 2008

Hum-drum Helsinki

It has to be said that this was the disappointment of the trip...
The ship was very close to town for easy walking, and the public transport was well mapped and set out but we struggled. We hit it on Monday, Europe-wide museum closing day... boo to that. We're not sure if it's that we were getting tired after three big days or that maybe Helsinki is just boring. Now that we've read our Lonely Planet more (yes, we know, should have done this before arriving), maybe we should have got out of town.
However, there was a terrific market on the port with all sorts of things made out of reindeer and foxes, hats, gloves, coats, burgers. I had the most amazing salmon dinner so tasty and fatty but really simple. Definite recommendation, before you flee town.
There was also a quaint little church built into a natural rock dome. Ordinary church inside, but very interesting to be able to walk around on top.
We just snuck inside Uspenski Cathedral before it closed which is a beautiful old Russian Orthodox Cathedral on a hill overlooking some of town... worth the look, for sure. As was the foodhall near the market, which we didn't find till after lunch, bugger!
Quiet though it was, we still saw some lovely sights:

There's some contention as to where in Scandanavia Father Christmas lives, but we did see a LOT of souvenirs in Helsinki proclaiming Finland to be the official home of Santa. Not surprisingly, Eryn was hoping to see him wandering down the street, maybe in civilian clothes, so she could put her order in nice and early... you'd think an engagement ring would be enough, but apparently not!
K & E x

Sunday, 6 July 2008

From Russia With Love...

We'd spent the vast majority of the build up to the cruise being quite excited about going to St Petersburg, Russia - Kent's brother lived there for a year on an AFS exchange in 1995/96, so he's always been interested, and while it's becoming more touristy, it's still a bit further off the radar of most travellers, so it felt a bit more adventurous... especially when we realise we were the only people on the cruise who weren't going on organised excursions (out of over 2000 people) and were braving public transport with our Russian visas in tow.
We weren't disappointed... here's a few of our pics:

After getting off the boat and getting one of the free busses to the other side of the port (three miles) we got our visas checked by the seven year old looking conscript girl doing the border control. Then, with no idea where we were or where we were going, we started walking and managed to get a bus into town for 16 rubles each (30p or 70c) into town. We did spend the entire trip trying to figure out with the bus lady (who spoke perfect Russian, but alas, no English) how we were going to split our 1000 ruble note. She was just lovely though, as was everybody we met in Russia - apart from the information centre girl, ironically.
That first morning we did all the centre city bits having a look at the General Staff Building, St Isaacs Cathedral, Nevsky Prospekt, Bronze Horseman, Alexander Column, The Metro and the Church On The Spilled Blood... the spires of which look like some kid of lolly - it's so yummy looking! We made the bold decision not to go into the 1057 room museum and art gallery in the Hermitage/Winter Palace, one of the worlds greatest art galleries. But with the organised trips from the boat spending the whole day there we wanted to spread ourselves a bit thinner.
For the afternoon we took a hydrofoil boat thing over to Peterhof which was intended to be one of Peter the Great's palaces...he died while they were building it. The 1 km2 lower gardens were beautiful, as was the Grand Palace, which Peter wanted to be known as the 'Versailles of the East' By this stage we were starting to get the impression Russian money allocation was not particularly wise, no wonder they had a revolution.
We then a what felt like a never-ending walk back to the ship for our five course dinner.
The Peter and Paul Fortress was the second day's highlight. It's over the river from the majority of town, and is the fortress built in 1703 to defend the new city, although it's never been attacked. There are at least five different museums in the complex, along with the St Peter and St Paul Cathedral where all the Romanovs are buried, including Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Tsar Nicholas, his family and some of their servants, who were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918 - they weren't buried at the Cathedral until 1997 though.
We saw and felt the noon cannon firing from the Bastion...then bolted inside to the museums in the complex on various artistic, historical and general life in Russia exhibits; we couldn’t go far as it was raining and Eryn had just washed her hair - had Kent just proposed to the queen of high maintenance?!
We loved it - one of the places we could easily spend another week... maybe next time in the snow, so it looks like the Russia we've seen in James Bond movies!
Do svidaniya!
Kent & Eryn xx

Friday, 4 July 2008

A Decent Proposal

Day something (by this stage we have both completely lost track of the days & dates!) was a stop at our third port, Tallinn, which is the capital of Estonia... It's a former soviet state, but don't hold that against it - such a beautiful, well-preserved medieval town... we'd definitely recommend it for a visit.
We started by getting one of those "hop on hop off" cons, my bad. We hopped on once and realised it only went every two hours so couldn't hop off anywhere out of the way. Had to miss the radio tower with the restaurant in the top which would have been a great view. Will have to do that next visit.
The big deal place outside the city is Kadriog Palace and park, which were founded by Tsar Peter I. It's named after Catherine the Great, Kadriorg means 'Catherine’s Valley' and the best thing is that it has always been open to the public, kind of brave when you consider the Russian aristocracy were quite big on opulence and over-the-top luxury.
At this point, Kent has forcibly removed me from the computer, something about wanting to "get the blog finished before Christmas", so here are the photos to look at while he sorts himself out:

We had quite a good time just walking around the beautiful Old Town area with city walls the castle and all the market stalls and and vendors. We had a snack at the cafe in the 600 year old town hall building. Eryn minted (or munted) her own Tallinn coin.
We had about an hour in the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments, which kept Eryn off her food. Quite macabre, although it was a very interesting little private museum, with recreations of the "instruments", illustrations and information on the processes... and the (usually religious) justification.
Up at the castle we set up for our usual photo of Eryn upside down. But instead of starting the timer on the camera I started it recording then went and proposed, all proper like. I had bought a ring here in Ipswich and smuggled it over and around without Eryn knowing anything. She said yes.
So that was nice.....
There was a couple that had an archery set up down by the castle walls so we went and shot a few arrows for "prizes". I did manage to get the bullseye on the 11th shot, so I won ten more shots. As my arm was getting, Eryn had a reluctant go and hit the bullseye on her third shot! Her arrow went right next to mine in the bullseye. The guy said he had not seen that before... so romantic.
From there, Eryn couldn't seem to keep her eyes off her ring finger and on the sights, so we wandered a bit more. She has asked me to tell the girls that yes, she does have a ring, but that there aren't any photos of it yet (forgot to take any before we dropped it off to be resized - oops) and as soon as she gets it back, we'll put something up here for you.
Then it was back on the boat, for the night's sail to St Petersburg...
K & E xx

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Life Is A Highway... but it should be an autobahn!

Day 3 of our Cruise found us in Warnemunde, the port town of Berlin, Germany.
The weather that day was amazing - hot and sunny, the sort of weather I imagine is common on a cruise around the Mediterranean, not the Baltic.
We hired a car for the day as Kent was champing at the bit to get onto the Autobahn and drive like Jeremy Clarkson... imagine his disappointment when the girl at the hire place handed us the keys to a Skoda! A 1.4L Skoda station wagon, no less. Last time we drove in Europe we had our car, so this was another new experience, and I have to say sitting in the passenger seat on the right hand side of the car was totally weird.
We headed north east to the island of Rugen, on the way passing loads of signs pointing to 'Ausfahrt', which, naturally I couldn't help laughing like a 7 year old at... Kent figured it must have been a big city to have so many roads heading there... till we figured it was German for 'exit' - oops!
We stopped off in Bergen briefly, a biggish town with pretty buildings, where we bought a massive map of the area and chose a few bits and pieces to do... including a visit to a German U-Boat in Sa├čnitz, where I managed to fall down a flight of submarine steps... clearly not growing out of my clumsy phase, then. It was pretty interesting, although probably not good for anyone with claustrophobia - how on earth the sailors were able to cope with living in it for months on end, I don't know.
After a few enquiries, we tracked down German Asterix at a bargain price - hooray!
We had spotted a few postcards with pictures of huge chalk cliffs on them, so decided to find them... although, according to our map (in German, so a bit of guesswork involved here) Konigsstuhl is only accessible by a short walking track, so off we trotted for a couple of miles in the bush... only to find that 200m away from the cliffs was a major road and a carpark, but the walk was lovely and a good way to walk off all the ship food!
We still had time to burn before the 2 hour drive back to the ship, so we called into Guttin Airport to see if they did scenic flights and took to the skies in a Cessna 172... which could not have been more of a perfect way to see the islands - hardly any clouds and breathtaking views, plus it wasn't very bumpy, which allayed my fears about falling out of the sky!
I've tried to be economic with the photos:

The drive back to Warnemunde was Kent's chance to try and beat his hi-score speed of 169km/h from that morning (all legal) and he managed (with a tail wind) to get to 175, not bad for a fairly gutless car - and people were still breezing past us in the other lane. We should mention that the roads are about a million times better than anything either of us has seen in NZ or Britain, and there just aren't many older cars on the road, so it's not nearly as unsafe as you might be thinking.
We arrived back in plenty of time, and had time for a wander around the town, which was lovely - one of my favourite things about this part of the world is abundance of public spaces and how many people use them, and this was no exception, at 9pm there were still hundreds of people walking around, stalls set up selling all sorts, and just a really lovely feel to it... just another place to add to the ever-growing list of "let's go back there"s!
K & E xx