18 January 2007

London, China Town, Olympia & Greenwich

Last weekend I travelled to London to attend the Adventure Travel show but also as a tourist for the first time in my life without the pressure of work and deadlines. The journey from Exeter by train was pleasant - rolling farmland with glimpses of several ancient sites including the white horse on the Wiltshire downs - it made a change from the Moreton in Marsh route into Paddington! With time to spare on Friday afternoon I chose to visit St Paul's Cathedral which has it's own tube station to make things easy! Dragging my weekend luggage out of the tube (A fab Christmas present with frogs all over it) I typically went the wrong way on the pavement so needlessley walked the entire way around the Cathedral only to find the main entrance just metres from the tube exit - I then had those steps to climb up which I remember from Diana's wedding to Prince Charles - my entrance was much less glamourous, with red cheeks and a bit of a 'glow' whilst lugging my wheely case to the top. Once inside I paid for the full tour (£13.50) with all the trimmings and donned the headset to learn all about London's most famous and enduring landmark. A side effect of the terrorism threat is the lack of luggage storage at London's attractions so my froggy case followed me round albeit 2 feet behind on the end of a handle - trying not to disturb the peace and tranquility with the noise from the wheels. If you have never been to St Paul's like me, I would recommend it. The architecture outside is so iconic but the scale of it is a surprise - the space inside is enhanced by the astounding ceiling decoration, sculptures, tombs, military dedications and ornate carvings combined with it's history really does take your breath away, and so do the 200 steps to the top of the dome (made harder as the passage is narrow with low ceilings so not ideal for carrying froggy luggage!). The Whispering Gallery encourages everyone to look down onto the heads below, and it does make your knees tremble - Sir Christopher Wren employed riggers from the shipping yards to build the dome as they were used to hanging from ropes and swinging on wooden platforms - even today it is amazing to think how it was completely built in just over 25 years. He apparently broke with tradition to build the domes instead of a spire. During the Blitz the Cathedral largely survived but the dome was partly destroyed by a bomb, and a chapel built in it's place, dedicated to the American dead from WWII. All of their names are contained in a book whose pages are turned once each day. Down below, the tombs of Sir Christopher Wren, Nelson & Wellington are all inside the crypt - complete with a cafeteria and gift shop which I thought was a bit offensive to the serenity of the place! With my audio tour complete I headed out into the street where the peace is very soon shattered. I spent a very pleasant evening in China Town before spending my first night in Balham (Thanks to Nicky for the free accommodation!). Saturday was the focus of my London trip - a day at Olympia to research adventures and travel at the annual exhibition sponsored by The Telegraph. This event brings over 200 companies from all over the world and I very quickly realised that 12 months is not long enough for travelling! The highlights of the day included a talk from Ben Fogle and James Cracknell who rowed across the Atlantic, I was so impressed I bought their book which they duly signed and I took my chance to speak to Ben about his travels. I watched his climb to Kilimanjaro on BBC last year so was keen to get his views..... I asked him if it was achievable to reach the summit and his simple reply was "YES!" I think he had probably had enough questions from the many hundreds of people they signed for. Still, he was a lovely person and I'm still a fan of 'Animal Park'! The last time I encountered the gorgeous James Cracknell lasted just 60 seconds as I jogged past the raised platform he was standing on having just rung the bell to start the Reading Half Marathon in 2001 - I did finish in just under 2 hours and 50 minutes but he was gone when I crossed the finish line..... oh well. Another highlight was the Dragoman Overland truck which was driven into the hall so visitors could experience life on the road. It's a cross between a Hummer on Steroids and an armoured prison van! They offer tours up to 6 months all over the world and I'm keen to go with them to South America, but the cost is quite high - might have to rethink that one! I got all excited about Trek America only to find out that their travellers are usually in the early twenties, I may still go with them though - they offer a 2 month road trip around the USA and Canada with an itinerary that's hard to beat. At the end of a long day I had filled a bag with very heavy brochures and filled my head with all sorts of ideas. It was a great show, and I recommend it to anyone seeking unusual trips, no matter how little or how much time you have for a holiday. Sunday was a sunny blue sky day which makes you happy to be in London, so Nicky and I headed down the Thames on a riverboat to Greenwich. The trip itself was hilarious as the boat skipper entertained us with history and stories along the way - not all of it true! £4.50 well spent and I gave him a tip too! At Greenwich we were disappointed that the Cutty Sark was behind boards being renovated but after a greasy spoon lunch and some hot ginger wine in the Greenwich market we were refuelled for the short stroll up to the Observatory. This was my first visit to Greenwich which felt like a small village with a strong historical atmosphere. The view from the top was the best in London - even better than the London Eye. You can see all the landmarks in one view across the Thames, it has to be one of the prettiest cities anywhere. The Oservatory marks the spot where Longitute and Latitude were established for travellers at sea by some clever maths and labourious star gazing in the 1700's which frankly was double dutch to me! However, it's fun to stand on the GMT dateline and have one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and one in the West (see cheesy tourist photo of my feet!). This is the location of the 2012 Equestrian sports and in my view it is an excellent choice - I'll be booking my ticket as soon as I can, I don't understand the critics! The Maritime museum was fun too, with some interesting nautical exhibits, but we were both a bit too tired to do it justice and decided to hop on the DLR back to Balham via Canary Wharf - which should be a tourist attraction in it's own right! quite an amazing place to walk through if you get the chance. On Monday morning the world went back to work and I went to the British Museum! My enjoyment of the Egyptian mummies was almost spoiled by a cacophony of school kids who very nearly pushed me into making a very cross exhibition of myself but I reached for my shiny new IPod (thanks BE chums) for some tranquil music which did the trick and calm was restored, with just enough time for the Elgin Marbles and the Uley Mercury (a roman statue found near where I grew up in 1970's Gloucestershire) it was time for a Starbucks panini and Latte before getting the train to Ascot, then onto Exeter and home. So that was my trip to London..... now the real planning starts to put my travel calendar together! So many countres.. so little time!

10 January 2007

It all starts Here.......

It's been 6 weeks since I waved goodbye to my job and my home to experience a gap year with no stress or responsibilities apart from my dog and my bank account. In that time I've not worn a watch or set my alarm and it's amazing how little you need either one. I wake up when I've had enough sleep (usually 8.34am) and somehow I always seem to know what time it is. Now that Christmas and New Year are behind me I can start to focus on my year ahead. I spent some time last year making lists of destinations to aim for and this has now been shortened, once I realised how thinly my budget would need to be stretched! I have a more realistic outline which is split into 3 lists: 'MUST DO' which includes the USA, Canada, Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Then comes: 'WOULD LIKE TO DO' which has North Africa, South America and Asia followed by: "IF I WIN BIG ON THE PREMIUM BONDS" Which is a 5 year plan to visit everywhere else that isn't mentioned in the first 2 lists! I'm off to the Adventure Travel Show this weekend at Olympia so I'll get some valuable information and hopefully some inspiration too. It's a miserable time of year with rain and windy weather, but Kipper and I are making the 'most of the coast'with regular trips to the beach but it's way too cold for swimming! Here is a photo of Widemouth Bay taken just before Christmas - and yes, there were people surfing!