Day 13: When we were up, we were up…

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Whitley Bay did turn out to be quite a nice town. The ocean looked quite beautiful, as well as absolutely freezing.

We headed out through Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The city seemed quite nice, from what little I saw. I did recognise some familiar placenames – Jesmond, Wallsend, Gateshead and Morpeth.
Next we drove for a couple of hours to York. Finding a parking spot in the city, and consequently paying through the nose for it, we had a quick bite to eat before hopping onto another open-topped city tour bus (our fourth since coming to the UK – just about the best way to “see” a city in an hour or so).

Micklegate Bar, one of the gates into the city.
Micklegate Bar, one of the gates into the city.

York is an ancient city. The centre of town is surrounded by a stone wall, built fairly early on in the piece. Through the town is some great architecture ranging from the Victorian era right back to the Roman era. York Castle, or Something Tower is actually a relatively small fortress built on a mound. It provides a decent view of the city.

 

 

Anna and Tower
Anna and Tower

Below the tower is the tower museum, which in all honesty is one of the least tedious museums we have visited so far. Among other things, the museum has a huge indoor section that has been restored to look like a Victorian street complete with cobblestones, horse drawn carriages, shops, workshops, side streets, and a handful of real-life Victorian era characters.

After visiting the museum, we had dinner at a pizza place. The food was great and certainly hit the spot after a long day. I ordered some Irish Cider to drink, which was just like a dry Appletiser. Anna had the house white wine – an Australian Chardonnay. From the bottle-shops, supermarkets and restaurant wine lists that we have seen, Australian wines seem to be as popular here as any other country’s. It is not unusual for the Australian selection to be the best represented, often moreso than France or UK. So, yay us.

After tea and a little stroll we drove to our B&B in “Stockton-on-the-Forest”.

After another fine English Breakfast, we decided to head back into York and check out the National Railway Museum. This was well worth it. The museum was built in and around what must have been railway sheds. As well as the usual artifacts and information that any museum worth its salt seems to have no shortage of, the NRM had dozens and dozens of real trains on real tracks. They had mostly steam trains, because let’s face it they’re the only interesting ones. First thing we saw were passenger carriages, and got to have a poke around inside a first class compartment, c1900.

Thomas watches a tank engine.
Thomas watches a tank engine.

Then we saw a display of Royal carriages dating from before Victoria’s time, right up to the 1960s. Good grief, they live in style. After that we saw a bewildering array of just about every type of steam, diesel and electric train in a full range of size, age and condition. I was particularly impressed by the “Mallard”, the fastest steam train in the world (202 km/h achieved in 1938 and never beaten by a locomotive). These things are huge – their wheels are taller then me. Outside we even saw a steam train pull out of the station and come back in again. This was one of the first museums we have been to where Anna was bored and worn out long before I was.

Notice the wonky floorline above the Opera House sign
Notice the wonky floorline above the Opera House sign

While driving out of York we saw a greying Vicar with a mustache riding a wobbly bicycle with a basket on the front. Have I mentioned how much I like this country?

 

Okay, another two hours drive brought us to Cambridge. We have just settled into our B&B in a little village outside of Cambridge starting with a B, I can’t remember the rest. I think we will stroll down to the pub for dinner shortly, which is something you can do in English villages. Our plan is to do a lightning tour of Cambridge tomorrow then head for Gatwick Airport in London where we farewell the British Isles and see what France has to offer.

Day 12: We took the high road then we took the low road…

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Greetings from Whitley Bay. This is a seaside town, which from what we have seen so far bears a striking resemblance to that stereotypical English seaside town in my imagination. We arrived late last night, so haven’t has the chance to check it out yet. This is what we’s been up to:

  • We had a lovely drive around Loch Lomond. We kept an eye out for Nessie but didn’t get to see her, party because very few tourists ever do, party because she is said to live in Loch Ness, not Loch Lomond. Loch Lomond what very picturesque. Anna explained it best when she said it was like being on the lid of a jigsaw puzzle.
  • After a fairly long drive right around Loch Lomond, we wound our way to Edinburgh. We checked into a B&B in Tranent, just out of the city.
  • We went across the road for a pub dinner. They had Haggis on the menu, so I decided to give it a try (only brave enough to order it as a starter). It was no bad at all, quite like a spicy sausage, with just a hint of offal texture.
  • The next morning I was up at around 4am and saw the first few snowflakes fall. I went back to bed but the snowflakes didn’t. By 9am we were crunching through a couple of inches of snow towards the bus stop. We caught the bus into the city, through even more falling snow. We started an open-topped bus tour of the city (sitting downstairs this time). We got off at the castle, but sadly the castle had been closed due to the weather. We walked through a tartan mill and managed to avoid the  temptation to purchase a kilt or pose for a photograph in full highland regalia. After that the castle was still closed. We considered taking it by force, but history has shown it to be fairly impenetrable, so we had a spot of lunch instead.

  • Finally, after lunch the castle had been reopened. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the rooms and displays. At one o’clock they fire the “one o’clock gun”. It was quite a large gun, more like what I’d call a cannon. They fire it at 1pm so that ships at sea could adjust their chronometers. Apparently it can be heard at Leith Harbour, more than 3km away. I can certainly report that at a distance of about twenty metres with absolutely no warning, it is audible.
  • The Edinburgh castle also houses the Scottish Honours, or the Scottish crown jewels. These are the original crown, sword and sceptre of the Scottish royalty. Dating from the coronation of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1543, they are the oldest crown jewels in the UK, and the second oldest in Europe. There is an amazing story of how they were smuggled out of the castle to avoid caputre by Oliver Cromwell during the English civil war and buried in a parish church. Years later, after the union of the English and Scottish crowns and parliaments, the Honours were placed in a oak chest and sealed up in a room of the castle for 111 years. In 1818 a few Scots were wondering what could have happened to them, so they dug them out again and put them on display. Equally as interesting is the Stone of Destiny, or the Stone of Scone, also on display in the castle. However, as time is running out, I shall leave it up to Wikipedia to tell you about it.
  • We finished our bus tour of Edinburgh, passing by plenty that we would have liked to get out and explore if time were on our side, including the old and new houses of parliament at Holyrood. All in all Scotland was fantastic, hope we get to come back some day.
  • Back in our car we followed the coast down to Whitley Bay.

We’re about to explore the beach a bit to see just how the North Sea measures up to the Pacific Ocean. Then we’ll have a poke through their Newcastle, and finally leg it for York. This is our third last day in the UK, so making the most of it.

Bye!

Day 10: Loch LO-mond

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Okay so, scamming some more McDonalds wifi, but this time the MacBook battery is flat, so I’m pecking out some notes from my iPhone.

We just stayed two nights in the most beautiful B&B. It was a gorgeous country house in a village called Fintry, half way between Glasgow and Loch Lomond (pronounced with emphasis on the “Lo”). Our hostess Meg was a wonderful Scottish lady who was extremely helpful and accompdating.

Yesterday we checked out the Glengoyne Distillery, alledgedly the most beautiful distillary in Scotland After a fasconating tour we sampled some of the 17 year Whisky. Very nice on a cold morning. Next we saw Glasgow, doing a open-topped bus tour and visiting the incredible Transport Museum.

Today we are seeing the Loch.

Oh dear, just saw a chap in a suit take a nasty stack on the ice outside. A more serious version of Anna’s graceful tumble on our way in, after watching me have a little slip too. Turns out ice can be dangerous. Who knew?

Anyways, great to hear everyone’s feedback (hint hint). We’re having a great time. See you all soonish.

Tom and Anna

Day 8: Carlisle to Glasgow

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Okay, it’s been a while since we’ve been near the interwebs, which has been nice in a way, and I don’t have a great deal of time now, so here goes:

 

  • We left Marlborough and explored Bath. This included taking the waters at the baths – a nice mixture of minerals and metal. We also visited Bath Abbey, which was quite something…
  • We headed towards Monmouth and got as far as Bristol before I remembered that we weren’t staying in Monmouth that night. We turned around and headed to Oxford.
  • Spent the morning in Oxford, which had a lot of old buildings. The colleges weren’t generally open to the pubic. Enjoyed a delicious English meat pie for lunch.
  • Headed to Monmouth, Wales. Unfortunately there wasn’t a great deal to do in Monmouth, being Sunday. We had dinner in a pub on Saturday night, mainly just to overhear some terrific Welsh accents. The girl at the bar couldn’t undersatnd my order, “Two Irish Stews”, thinking I had said “The Irish Juice”. I guess the accent thing goes two ways.
  • Left Monmouth for a small region of Lancashire called Anglezarke, which is apparently where the Anlezarks come from. It was snowing fairly heavily when we got there. I guess the region was glad to see two of its own.
  • Left Monmouth for Carlisle. Arrived quite late and enjoyed a sandwich in our B&B. At 10pm I had a job interview over the phone, which was quite a challenge. The call cut out 3 or 4 times. I’ll hear about that next week.
  • Explored Carlisle this morning. Carlisle Castle was quite amazing. They have a military museum based with the 12th century walls. Quite fascinating. Carlisle was an important city for the various English-Scottish conflicts over the years and has had a military presence from the 12th century until the 20th century.
  • We are currently scabbing free Wi-fi from Carlisle Maccas, having purchased a small diet Coke for 89p about three quarters of an hour ago. Perhaps we’ll have an early tea here.

Day 4: From Eucharist to the Motorways

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Our last day in London, and first day on tour! It went thusly:

 

  • Hopped up bright and early and attended 8.00 am Holy Communion at St Paul’s cathedral. Like our usual church we were 15 minutes late, unlike our usual church the building dated from the 1670’s and was the crowning achievement of famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren, whose tomb is in the crypt beneath the cathedral alongside some heroes of mine, William Blake and Sir Arthur Sullivan. A mere 257 steps above the cathedral floor was the whispering gallery housed in the main dome, the acoustics were crystal clear yet strangely Anna still complained I wasn’t listening. A further 120 odd steps was a look-out over london. Not bad at all, although a little foggy.

    Windsor Castle with two Bobbies
    Windsor Castle with two Bobbies
  • Packed up the hotel room and headed to Guilford via train and picked up car. Navigated our way to Windsor, where we were too late to go into the castle but enjoyed much of the town (and a narrow escape from some very vigilant clamp-happy parking police!), including the crocked house of Windsor, more than a fair share of gift shops, and St John’s church which housed an enourmous painting of the last supper dating back from the 1600’s (the painting dated back to the 1600’s, the last supper was much earlier than that, obviously).
  • Navigated to Marlborough, a rural town in Wiltshire, where we stayed the night in a B&B called “Brown’s Farm”, scenery is unbelievable and made all the more incredible by a further 15 cm of snow which fell over night. Met a nice Edinburough couple at breakfast who gave us some travel tips for when we are in that neck of the woods.

    MISSING: One Ford Festiva
    MISSING: One Ford Festiva

 

Not sure how we will travel today with the snow and ice – it continues to snow at the moment. Catch you later, Tom and Anna

PS – Hi to Shaye  – you should see the yummy pastry shops over here. Tell Dale the holiday is a must 🙂 xx

PS – Hi to Anne, moving day is still fresh in our memory, it has made shivering away here much more bearable! Have been advised that the beard has now reached it’s length and should now be kept trimmed…

Day 3 in London

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Flat chat yesterday. And I think today will be much the same. Here’s the latest, in exciting new bullet form:

  • Breakfast at the hotel: “Continental” breakfast means more or less what you’d have at home. English breakfast is the one to look out for.

    Standing near the Albert memorial in Hyde Park.
    Standing near the Albert memorial in Hyde Park.
  • The Albert Memorial: Built to remember Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. Tall monument, gold and ornate. Across the road from…
  • The Royal Albert Hall: Large and round and quite impressive. I wouldn’t mind coming back sometime…
  • Natural HIstory Museum: Nice building. Interesting exhibits.
  • Harrods: Basically Myer with history. We felt like it would be a waste to leave without buying anything, so we bought some morning tea and ate it in…
  • Hyde Park: Icy from all the snow. Very peaceful though. We shared morning tea with a fairly plump robin – obviously not his first scammed crumb.
  • Tom Cribb Inn: to satisfy my desire to eat in a traditional English pub, we found the Tom Cribb Inn, near Picadilly Circus. I had Fish and Chips with mushy peas and Anna had a chicken pie. We washed it down with a pint of fine English ale.
  • Britain at War Museum: INteresting, but not compulsory viewing.
  • Back to the Hotel for a quick nap, then…
  • Cirque de Soliel at the Royal Albert Hall: This was unbelievable. We didn’t have tickets, but were able to buy some at a good price out the front from a chap who looked seriously dodgy but seemed to have the goods. The show: Awesome. The Hall: Impressive. The man in front of us with the huge head: Disappointing but inevitable.
Yesterday’s pedometer reading: 16, 457 steps.
Today I do my first driving in the UK. Driving through snow is pretty simple, right?
Tom and Anna.

Europe: Day 2

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After a quick breakfast and check to see what was happening on the internets, we packed our day bags and headed into town.

There is still plenty of snow about, although now it’s mostly crushed down and icy.

The White Tower with Snowmen, by Anna.
The White Tower with Snowmen, by Anna.

We did a “hop on hop off” tour of London today. We climbed on the open topped double-decker and set off. We drove past some great monuments, listening to a commentry along the way. We saw Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, Fleet Street, a few famous pubs and things.
We hopped off at the Tower of London and spent a good couple of hours there. Could have easily spent longer I reckon. We did a tour with a Yeoman Warder named Bob. Yeoman Warders are also known as Beefeaters but Bob didn’t seem too keen on that name and he was a little intimidating. We were able to check out the crown jewels – not a bad collection at all. Also we were able to walk through the white tower, which was the home to the English monarchy for a fair while. It was also a prison, housing many famous and infamous people over the years including Queen Elizaneth I and a polar bear. Fascinating and also a little indimidating, although as Anna mentioned, all the snowmen about the place seemed to take the edge off.

A quick lunch and we were back on the bus.

Next we visited Trafalgar Square. This is one of those places that I’d heard of previously in books and film, but I’d heard of them in the context of CS Lewis, Agatha Christie, Douglas Adams and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Unwittingly I think I had put places like Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus in the same category as Cair Paravel, Hobbiton and the planet Vogon, so it was bizarre to stand at the base of Nelson’s column and check out the view. The fountain had frozen over so it wasn’t switched on.

Next we visited the Winston Churchill Museum that the wartime cabinet rooms, which is set down in a bunker, not far from 10 Downing street. This is where England was run during the second world war, so we were actually looking at the desks, beds, chairs and telephones used by Churchill and others during the war!

Lastly we stumbled back up to Picadilly Circus and caught a West End show. We saw “The 39 Steps”, which was excellent fun.

Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting. Hope you’re enjoying the updates. We’re certainly saving on postcards.

 

Tom and Anna.

Us in Europe: Day 1

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Well, we got away okay. The extraordinarily long flight wasn’t quite as bad as I thought. We touched down in London at 6am, local time, but couldn’t get off until 9am due to snow everywhere. Due to careful planning, we had managed to arrive in London for their heaviest snowfall in 18 years.

We managed to see a bit of London yesterday – Picadilly Circus, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, London Eye, Buckingham Palace – but most things were closed due to the snow.

The snow did make things look pretty awesome but.

We’re doing a London tour today so we’ll get to see these things in more detail.

K Bye.

 

Tom.

The Great European Holiday: Countdown

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Just 10 days before we fly out! Very very exciting times.

Well what would a once-in-a-lifetime international trip be to a shameless geek like me without some shameless geekery? I don’t know, and I don’t think I’m going to find out either. Even though I should be packing, I have spent some quality time with the old blog, figuring out how to place a very simple map on the page. Thanks to Google, I found a very useful site for that sort of thing called UMapper. It only took me a couple of hours, think how long it would have taken before the internet was invented!

While I’d love to bring each and every one of you along, sadly that would be at best, a costly venture and at worst, an awkward explanation to have to give to a customs official:

“Did you pack these bags yourself?”

“Yes”

“Are you aware that it is an offence to conceal a large number of humans in your carry-on luggage?”

“I swear I don’t know how they got in there. Mind you, I did notice that the walk from the
train station was a bit of a struggle.”

etc

So, stay tuned for our travels in Blog form. Think of this as a Bill Bryson book without the price tag (or the remarkable wit and humourous anecdotes; evidently my travel-writing skills, ability to get into ridiculous situations and beard are all still in their infancy).

Tom.

Coming up:

Next weekend we travel to the first of many remarkable cities, Sydney. They say half the fun is getting there. If there’s even a shread of truth to that expression, then the two-hour trip down the F3 should be a corker. Perhaps there’ll be roadwork at Gosford or something equally as breathtaking.

Frank Billions, Space Detective

(Update: The Frank Billions story continues – Chapter Two)

Below is an exerpt from my non-existent novel “Frank Billions, Space Detective: The Case of a Penny Saved”. If you would like a copy of this book, perhaps you could employ me for a year and I’ll write it.

Frank Billions: Space Detective

Chapter One – A Penny Saved

“This town ain’t big enough for the two of us,” my partner had said – and he was right. The town was about forty centimetres across. It was inhabited by an alien race of tiny but highly intelligent insectoids. It was foolishness for us both to be there, treading on citizens and inhaling ten percent of the atmosphere with each breath, but sometimes foolishness is what you have to do to earn a crust in this mixed-up galaxy. I was there on a case. He was in love. Little did I realise then but the two weren’t unconnected.

There comes a time in every space-detective’s career when he traces his path of impossibly concealed clues back to the bad guy, only to find that the bad guy was none other than his own friend, colleague and squash partner. You see a lot in my game, and after a while nothing really surprises you anymore. Like the time I saw my neighbour Terry at the library. I didn’t bat an eyelid. But this hit me like a tonne of bricks – a tonne of heavy bricks. It wasn’t that I didn’t think him uncapable of the crime – counterfeiting was just as much his cup of tea as a good Earl Grey is mine. All the pieces fit together just like a well-lubricated jigsaw puzzle. What really got my honker out of joint (apart from the knuckle sandwich I received from asking too many questions) was the look of his baby-blues when he told me I’d got the wrong man. He went into the slammer and I went into a cold friendless galaxy with nothing but a badge and a lack of faith in humanity. I don’t know who got the better deal.

The dame sitting in my office, drawing on a slim cigarette with an even slimmer pencil, claimed to be my former partner’s sister. She looked about as much like him as I did. Nevertheless you don’t get far in this game by calling your clients liars, so I wasn’t about to call this lady’s bluff. I’ve seen my fair share of gorgeous women, but she was something else. This was the kind of eye-candy that made a diabetic cornea weep. She had legs all the way down to her feet, and just like a properly constructed polynomial on a Cartesian plane, she had curves in all the right places. I hadn’t let a dame near my heart since the time my regular cardiologist went on holidays and left his niece in charge, but this was the kind of girl Charles Blondin would be happy to fall for. Still, I wasn’t about to do the Humpty Dumpty routine – not in this crazy mixed-up trust-no-one galaxy.

I asked her name and she told me it was Wilde. I said I couldn’t wait to hear it. Penny Wilde, she insisted in a voice like my morning coffee – strong, sweet and French. I answered in a voice like my afternoon coffee – bitter, stale and reeking of bourbon: “What can I do for you Miss Wilde?”

“They tell me you’re the best.”

“They say a lot of things. They say it’s gonna rain today.”

“It is raining, Mr Billions”.

“Call me Frank.”

“Alright Frank, let me get to the point.” A lock of red hair fell onto her face like a marmalade tear. She wiped it aside. “Marty’s in trouble.”

Martin Wilde, my former partner and friend. This was the man who taught me the meaning of the words ‘commitment’, ‘diligence’ and ‘persistence’. Apart from being a world-class dictionary salesman, he was the darn space detective who ever carried a laser magnifying glass. You could say I owed him everything. But that was before he went bad. Nowadays the only thing I owe him is a big hairy bag of nothin’. “Marty’s a big boy, Miss Wilde, he can take care of himself.”

“Somebody’s out to get him.”

“Lady, half the galaxy’s out to get him, even the city library has a price on his head. Heck, I’d be out to get him if I hadn’t already wasted most of my life on that lying, cheating, no-good jailbird.”

“He asked me to find you. He needs your help.”

Well, that figured. Old Marty Wilde finally needed someone’s help so he sends his sister. Back in the old days, Marty knew I couldn’t resist a gorgeous dame. He was trying to play me like a fiddle. I guess he didn’t count on this fiddle being out of tune. Things have changed. Things always change – that’s the only thing that doesn’t. But one thing puzzled me. Who was Marty running from? Like I said, Marty could take care of himself. He knew his fists that like the back of his hands. He was wasn’t afraid of anything. Yet someone had him running scared like a guinea pig in a foghorn.

“So why doesn’t he ask me himself?” I asked.

“He was going to. I guess he never showed up. And now he’s been missing for two weeks. I don’t know what could have happened to him.” Penny Wilde stopped talking.

I’ve been a space detective for twenty-five years, and before that a plumber for seven. I knew when a girl was about to turn on the waterworks. She turned her face away. We weren’t going to get anywhere if she was going to play the something-in-my-eye game, but it didn’t matter. She’d already told me enough. I showed her the door. She said it was nice.

I watched Miss Wilde’s siloutte through the frosted glass of my office door as it slowly faded away – just like her brother had done all those years ago in the frosted glass door of my life. I stared at the letters on the door – “sevitceteD ecapS snoilliB edliW”. I had never gotten around to taking down the “edliW”. Bone laziness on my part and nothing more, nevermind what my shrink says. Still, that was the moment I decided to take the case. Maybe it was because a gorgeous desperate dame had asked me to, maybe it was because I still gave a damn about my no-good partner, or maybe it was just because it beat every other petty domestic or space piracy case that I had on my desk, I couldn’t tell you. But that was the moment I picked up my hyperphone and made the first call. I hadn’t spoken to the owner of the “Asteroid Deli and Cooperage” since the great barrel shortage of 3056, but if anyone knew what happened to Marty, old Jordan Asteroid would. Besides, I needed a sandwich.

Next Chapter: Frank Billions: Space Detective – Chapter Two