Still here

January 29, 2015 1 comment

I moved earlier this month and it has been hectic to say the least. New posts are pretty far off. I am about 15 minutes closer to Pedernales in theory, so we’ll see if that produces more birding.

Categories: Site Updates

London – Day 4

December 13, 2014 Leave a comment

We’ve come to day 4, the last of my London series, although it’s more correct to call it England. This is likely my last post for some time.

Moat of the Tower of London

Moat of the Tower of London

Against my better judgement, I started off the day at the Tower of London. It is a direct tube ride from Victoria to Tower Hill. The Tower didn’t sound very interesting to me, since it is known mostly (to me, at least) as a prison. After exiting the tube, and approaching the tower from the north, the ticket area is on your left. I really wish I had purchased tickets in advance. There are several ticket lines but they move like molasses. I decided to go for the Yeomen tour, since it’s highly recommended. I waited around in the former moat until the next Warder showed up. It is about an hour tour. Our guide was entertaining, but much of the subject matter is a bit on the gruesome side and not very interesting to me. I would have been better off with a self-guided audio tour, which is hopefully a bit cleaner.

Our illustrious Yeomen Warder (beefeater)

Our illustrious Yeomen Warder (Beefeater)

The line to see the crown jewels was extremely long and there was no way I was going to wait for that. And this was just the outside. Who knows how long on the inside?! Instead I opted for the White Tower, since the line was pretty short. Not as smart as it sounds. Once you’re inside, it’s mostly a single-line shuffle up and down and around the floors. Almost all the displays are from the Royal Armories; suits of armor, shields, weapons, etc. This is more interesting to me, but it’s extremely difficult to stop and read or do anything short of taking a quick photo. Speaking of which, it is very dark. I frequently shot wide open at f/2.8 and ISO 3200 (at least). While they may not be the most exciting photos, I put them all in the gallery. After all, if I had to walk through it, you have to look at the photos :)

The White Tower

The White Tower

When you’ve looped back to the bottom of the Tower, you’ll be in the Mortar Room, where the artillery is displayed, which is pretty cool. What I did not know, was that in 1974, a bomb was detonated here, leaving one dead and 41 injured.

Mortar Room

Mortar Room

By now it was almost 2pm, so I got a sandwich at a stand and ate on the wharf while admiring Tower Bridge.

Lunch at Tower Bridge

Lunch at Tower Bridge

It was rather late to be walking all the way back to the hotel, so I cheated and took a boat! There’s several ways to travel the Thames. I opted for the slower boat which gives time to look around at the sites. There is also someone who points out the sights. I’m not good at numbers, but I would guess there were at least 200 people on the outside, upper deck. I don’t know how many inside. There are seats, but I got up and moved around towards the end.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

I purchased a ticket at the kiosk with debit card (!) and proceeded to wait for the boat. It took awhile and I was one of the last, if not the very last, people onboard. This worked out really well, with the trip back to Westminster taking 30-35 minutes. Definitely one of the best things I’ve done and now I can say sailed on the River Thames. Only downside was missing St Paul’s Cathedral.

River Thames - Hungerford Bridge and Golden Jubilee Bridges

River Thames – Hungerford Bridge and Golden Jubilee Bridges

We passed by the London Eye, but I did not ride it. I did not like it when it was built and I still think it’s something of an eyesore. Plus I kept seeing it, no matter where I was in London. But it makes for more interesting photos.

London Eye and London Aquarium

London Eye and London Aquarium

Upon disembarking, I headed for the Westminster tube, looking for the restrooms. By now I knew to have spare change on hand since you have to pay to get in. Not sure if I mentioned this before. Coming from America, this is quite the shocker. I experienced this only once in Scotland. Anyway, Big Ben is right there. I did not realize just how big it was! Nor did I know it’s actually part of the Houses of Parliament.

Big Ben

Big Ben

There didn’t seem to be any way in, so I walked around for a while trying to take photos. Which is surprisingly difficult because the building is so huge. This made me really wish I had rented a super wide tilt-shift lens which is made just for these sorts of situations.

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament

Across the street is Westminster Abbey. Being nearly 4pm, it was of course, closed. Good grief.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

So I walked up Whitehall street to Charing Cross, where Trafalgar Square is. On the way I passed Downing Street. Good luck getting in there.

Downing Street

Downing Street

On the way, I stopped to look at impressive building. People were going in, so I followed. The building is called Horse Guards and is the headquarters of the Household Cavalry. I didn’t actually go in the building, but passed through an arch, which opens up to a huge courtyard. I walked around here for a while and took a few photos. It’s funny that I went to the Royal Mews and Horse Guards and did not see a single horse. I’m not sure if I saw a horse during the entire trip…

Horse Guards

Horse Guards

A little ways up is Nelson’s Column at the entrance to Trafalgar Square. I had heard of Trafalgar, but never seen it, so I was quite surprised. I had expected something like St Mark’s Square in Venice and I certainly didn’t expect so many people. The square is home to the National Gallery, but I am not an art fan, to put it mildly. There are also several street performers. It’s quite a spectacle.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

There was another building I did not know what it was:

St Martin-in-the-Fields

St Martin-in-the-Fields

This is St Martin-in-the-Fields, a church. The name is familiar to me because of Academy of St Martin in the Fields, whose music is often played on KMFA, our awesome full-time classical music station. The Academy performs here on occasion. If I had known this, I would’ve visited (turns out it was even open!). After that, I walked back to the hotel. I had dinner down the road at The Marquis Of Westminster. It’s an interesting little place with a bar downstairs and a restaurant upstairs. I went upstairs for the fish and chips, which was forgettable. Ullapool is still my #1 for fish and chips. Walking around the streets after a workday is concluded is far different from here. Loads of people just standing outside on the street drinking a pint and having a good time. Not something you see here.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

That’s it! The trip home was uneventful. A very short vacation, but I’m glad I went and had a jolly good time of it! Lots of photos for this day in the gallery.

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London – Day 3: Canterbury

November 22, 2014 1 comment

My move got pushed back, so on with the posts. Sorry, no birding for a long time to come…

The current Orient-Express

The current Orient-Express

Since my second day in London was a Sunday, this seemed an ideal time to visit the actual city with all the business people away. This intelligent plan got thrown a curveball when I happened upon a sign saying that the London Marathon was on Sunday and it would be passing the exact landmarks I wanted to see. Marathon means lots of people, which isn’t great for touring. This also explained the barriers I saw being put up at Buckingham palace on Friday. I am very glad I changed my plans. At the end of the day I stopped in at the hotel bar for a shot of whisky. I talked to some guys there who were actually in the marathon and yes it was crowded! There’s a nice review on The New York Times. They mention there were 36,000 participants, the same as the Boston Marathon. Additionally, it was one of the largest crowds ever.

On the train to Canterbury

On the train to Canterbury

Instead, I decided to go to Canterbury. The city is known to me first by reading Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in high school, which admittedly is a forgotten memory by now. Second, it is the home of Canterbury Cathedral. The cathedral is of course associated with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England. And from there we get to Thomas Becket.

The cathedral rather dominates the skyline and city

The cathedral rather dominates the skyline and city

First, I had breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien, a very short walk from the hotel. This is another French bakery restaurant. I was not in a rush and had a relaxing meal. After that, my point of departure was of course, Victoria. As with Windsor, there are two trains to choose from. I purchased a round-trip ticket to the Canterbury East station, since that was closer to two of the other sites I wanted to visit. It was about a 1-1.5 hour train ride. There are several stops along the way, but most are pretty short. Unlike Windsor, the train was more crowded and louder (several students).

Canterbury

Upon arrival, the first thing you’ll see are the city walls. The Romans built a wall around the entire city. I did not walk around the entire city, but this was certainly the most intact portion of the wall I saw. I walked along the wall until I reached St Augustine’s Abbey.

Why don't all cities look like this?

Why don’t all cities look like this?

St Augustine’s Abbey

The abbey was founded in 598. In my Scotland travels, I don’t think an encountered an intact abbey and it was no different here, as most of the abbey is in ruins. Understandable, after 1400 years! While only a very short walk from the main road, there were very few people about. I think most come only to see the cathedral, which is a shame.

St Augustine's Abbey

This was probably my favorite location of the trip. I collected a self-guided audio tour and proceeded to spend an hour walking around with the place to myself. It was perfectly relaxing, which allowed me to actually listen to the tour. Bonus, the sun was out with a clear sky. I did not expect to need sunscreen in England! I took a ton of photos here, many of which I really like. Walk to the back and you can get some great views.

St Augustine's Abbey

St Martin’s Church

Afterwards, I walked a little bit up the road to St Martin’s Church. Wiki says it best: “…first church founded in England, the oldest parish church in continuous use, and the oldest church in the entire English-speaking world.” It has limited visiting hours and my visit did not coincide with them, unfortunately. It is heavily surrounded by trees, so there was not alot to see, but it certainly gives the impression of being “first”.

St Martin's Church

St Martin’s Church

Canterbury Cathedral

For my final stop, I headed to the cathedral. It is a remarkable contrast to the previous two sites. The cathedral dominates the skyline and city. Up close, it is even more spectacular. It was very difficult to get the entire building into the camera frame, even with my camera-lens combo. I had to back myself almost into a corner at the entrance.

Canterbury Cathedral

As usual, I missed the main visiting hours and the tour. That was disappointing since there’s alot to see inside. I was relegated to the Nave, which is still impressive on its own. Hang around awhile and you might get a lucky shot with no people:

The Nave

The Nave

I walked around outisde until I found an opening, where I was free to roam the Cloisters. Think of it as an open hallway that surrounds a courtyard.

Cloisters

Cloisters

One of rooms accessible was the Chapter House. Again, I waited around until no one else was present for a great photo. I don’t know what it’s used for now, but note the speakers positioned around the room.

The Chapter House

The Chapter House

The surrounding neighborhood is the typical English feel that I like; very countryside.

Canterbury

I stopped in at the gift shop and then in town for a quick snack.

"Downtown"

Downtown

I had originally planned on doing the river tour, but it didn’t look like much fun by myself, nor did there look to be much to see and it was getting late. I watched the gondolas (yes, gondolas) pass by under a bridge and walked along the river instead.

Canterbury

There are some truly picturesque locations if you look for them. I can’t reiterate enough how nice this day was. Being able to walk around town at my own pace was fantastic.

Canterbury

The trip back was not so perfect though, of course. Since I was near the Canterbury West train station, I went there. But my train only goes to the East station (I think). Here I learned I should not have bought a round trip ticket since it forced me to go to the East station. If I hadn’t, I could have gotten a ticket on the high speed train back to London instead. So, I made the long trek back to where I arrived and wait a good while for my return train. I hopped on and arrived back in London with no more drama. I think this day I just picked up dinner in Victoria station, so nothing to write about there. All in all a great trip, but could’ve been better with more planning. But that can be said about everything!

The rest of the photos are, of course, in the gallery.

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