London, East End, pre-Olympics

London, East End, pre-Olympics

Posted by: on Jul 7, 2012 | No Comments

London is awash with Union Jacks; hanging across Oxford Street and adorning tea cakes and paper plates in Marks & Spencers.

Cotswolds and more

Posted by: on Aug 1, 2008 | No Comments

We left Leeds with a day of driving ahead. We loop-de-looped through Sheffield only stopping to give way at the many roundabouts, and there was no time to stop and sit down in Chesterfield despite the enticing name. We were bounding down the M1 for a lunchtime stop in Nottingham, aiming to make it to the village of Nailsworth by evening.

But this was England and this was the M1. Two miles from Nottingham we all came to a standstill and soon traffic stopped flowing from the other direction as well. Turns out there was a major accident further down the road closing off both directions of England’s main motorway. That means everyone was going to Nottingham for lunch! Two hours later and our two mile crawl into Nottingham was over.

On the road again we were on the road south. Somewhere along the way we (I) decided we needed to go via Bicester, just outside of Oxford, for its factory outlet shops which included a Camper shop (yes, yes, the Camper shop tour of the world, I know). The delay meant I only had an hour to choose between pretty shoes, gorgeous leather and soft angora from Pringle before they closed.

It was now around 8pm (and still light, of course) so the original plan to cook at the Cotswold cottage went out the door. We stocked up on food at the supermarket next door but decided to go to Oxford, just down the road, for dinner.

By the time we finished dinner it was getting close to 10pm and we still had about an hour long drive to the Cotswolds and this is where things started to go wrong. Well not so much wrong, as things were’s going as I planned so I started to worry. To summarise: we were low on petrol and there are no open petrol stations at that hour in country England; we were vaguely lost the whole way there, thanks to the confusing numbers and signs of England’s roads; and we realised we didn’t have the street address for the cottage.

It’s just a cottage in Nailsworth. Turns out Nailsworth is full of cottages and we had no way of knowing which was the right one, except for Peter’s memory when he’d been here a good ten years earlier. I couldn’t believe we were in a town where everyone had gone to sleep, in a car with no petrol, looking for a house we didn’t know the address of!

Peter worked out the street quickly enough, and luckily it was daytime in Australia so we could’ve called the relos who know the place more intimately than us. Once we’d found the street we had to work out which of the 6 or so houses matched the description of where the owner said the keys would be left. Acting like cat burglars we felt around the front garden of one house looking for a table and a pot plant. No luck. A couple of houses later we found a gate and a table and a pot plant that had to be the one. The sound of the front door unlocking was the best thing I’d heard all day.

The next day the sunlight showed us just how beautiful the little cottage was. We were in the top storey attic room, three floors up winding stairs from the street. Even the carpeted bathroom with a bath and no shower was cute.

Just down the road from the cottage was the amazing Hobbs House Bakery, which was so good it makes we weep not being near it now. Oh how I love solid English/Irish bread with it’s wheaty flavour that, with a good slab of butter, can’t be matched by any bread around the world. There was also a gourmet grocer, a flower shop and everything else you’d hope for in a stereotypical (but fashionably upmarket) English village.

Over the next couple of days we drove to Bath and Bristol, we contemplated driving to Wales because it was there, and we met up with fellow Aussies who were temporarily working and living nearby Mike, Jackie and Brendan in the quaint town of Broadway for a pub lunch.

On the way back to London we spent a day in Oxford with Peter’s friend Oz who is doing a PhD there in something scarily academic and physics-like. Highlights: burritos for lunch, cookies and milk stall in the market, an insider’s tour of the insides of an Oxford college, long walks through parks, watching people (badly) punting and eating French for dinner.

And that was is for the green rolling hills of England because the next and last stop on the European voyage was London.

Glasgow to the Cotswolds in 10 days – The North

Posted by: on Jul 24, 2008 | No Comments

Rumour has it that things are grim up north. Grey weather, rough people, housing estates as far as the eye can see. Well, actually that wasn’t quite the case but it was good to go in with low expectations and then be suitably impressed!

Driving from Edinburgh in our hired VW Passat we couldn’t really tell what the speed limit was. We assumed it couldn’t be more than 70 miles but people were speeding past us at any opportunity. Lesson 1: The UK speed limit is 70 miles but people like to go faster than that.

There’s some beautiful countryside on the road from Edinburgh south west to the Lake District. We met a friend of Peter’s for a Sunday pub lunch in Penrith (mm, chocolate bread and butter pudding) and then continued our journey south.

First stop was Manchester, a sparkling rejuvenated city with a massive mall, a curry mile, a little China town and a nice selection of hipster shops in the Northern Quarter. I can highly recommend staying in the Hilton Chambers around that part of town.

Manchester and Liverpool are both pretty big cities so I only recently realised they’re onlyl 45 minutes apart. So a daytrip to the Liverpool TATE was next on the agenda. We set off early to stop by Crosby Beach, north of Liverpool, to see a massive year long installation by Antony Gormley. Somehow we navigated close enough to the beach to see a brown tourist street sign telling us to go left. Scored! But that was the only sign and there was still a lot of coast to investigate. We decide to wander around from the second car park we pull into. There’s an old lady walking her dogs in the semi-rain and full-wind who I ask for directions. “If I had 20p for every person who asks me that! Keep walking that way and you can’t miss them. They’re staring all the way to New York.”

So we walked on and she was right, we couldn’t have missed them once we got to the right place. I should’ve given her 20p. If you’re ever in the area do drop by because it’s a mighty impressive installation. One hundred life-sized cast iron figures staring out to sea from a semi-industrial piece of coastline. Check out other peoples’ pictures to see for yourself.

The Liverpool TATE is also great. We went to see the temporary exhibition on Gustav Klimt but were most impressed at exhibitions from their collection, of which we only got through one floor.

We had a quick wander through the city centre and were reminded often enough that Liverpool was the home of the Beatles. No time for lingering because there was still Manchester to see more of, including Affleck’s Palace.

Sadly Affleck’s isn’t what it used to be. Or so I’m led to believe given it was my first visit. It’s a big old warehouse building on a corner that for years (since 1982 according to their website) has been a ecclectic and independent market. I think the story goes that the building was set for demolition but then ‘saved’ but a developer/businessman who now runs the market. There were a few more interesting stalls but most of it was aimed at the goth or clubber sub-cultures of the ’90s (or the kids of today just getting into those looks).

Our last city in the ‘up north tour of the UK’ was Leeds. After a few hours exploring the city we headed slightly out of the city to the headquarters of Norman Records. Norman are a mail order CD shop with an excellent weekly newsletter and a broad range of interesting music. Peter organised to check out their office and while he was there, also checked out their store of CDs. Richard, who works at Norman and also plays in a exellent band, put us up in his lovely Pudsey terrace (complete with cute garden and cat) but not until we’d had fantastic Indian at a place called Akbar’s in nearby Bradford. What’s not to love about 2 foot long naan that hangs from a cast-iron rod on your table? Mmm.