Thursday, 26 July 2012

London Day trips

London Day trips
Below is a collection of ideas about places you might like to visit.  I have put together groups of places in the same vicinity where you might choose to spend a day.  Look up a few places to see what you might like.  I have listed opening times while we are there and prices just to give an indication.  Sometimes buying online or as a concession card holder will be cheaper.

St Paul’s Cathedral, Millenium Bridge, Tate Modern, The Globe (Shakespeare’s theatre), Borough markets, London Glassblowing
From 20120807 Junior Tour - England Pretour
St Pauls (£15 to go to top, cheaper online, otherwise free; 8:30am-4:00pm Mon-Sat)
- Beautiful cathedral
- Survived both World Wars when everything around it was destroyed
- Information Centre here is a great place for picking up a free map!

Millenium Bridge (free)
- Pedestrian bridge running between St Paul’s and Tate Modern
- It’s just a bridge
Tate Modern (10am-10pm Sun; 10am-6pm Mon-Thu)
- Modern art gallery
- Large sections free, top sections will have special (paid) galleries

The Globe (£13.50 for tour, various hours; to see a show, from £5 for matinee standing)
- The relocated, open-air theatre that Shakespeare wrote for
- Has tours and Shakespearian Shows

Borough Markets (10am-5pm Sun-Fri)
- An excellent place to find a fresh lunch and maybe some other (eating) treats. Eg. cheese, olives, bread, cakes

London Glassblowing (10am-6pm Mon-Sat)
- I have spent literally hours (at least 6) watching them create glass sculptures and vases in their workshop behind their gallery.
- I love this place.
- It’s in Bermondsey which is previously a industry/warehouse-type area and is now a centre for design (very hipster)

Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Monument, Bank of England
Basically all within the Square Mile of the City of London.  The walls of the Tower of London mark a corner of the square mile that was once a walled city.  You can see traces of the wall throughout the city.  The wall was built up at different times with whatever came to hand.  The City of London (even now) has a different police force to the rest of London.  This might be one reason why Jack the Ripper got away - all he had to do was cross the road and he was in a different jurisdiction.

Tower Bridge (free)
- This is the one in all the post-cards
- It does open to let boats through occasionally, you can find when here:

Tower of London (£20.90, cheaper online; 9/10am-5pm)
- Allow at least half a day
- See the Crown Jewels
- See various versions of Henry VIII’s armour
- Free tours by the guards that live there (Yeoman Warders).

Monument to the Fire of London (£3; 9:30am-5:30pm)
- If laid down, the tip of the gold monument reaches the origin of the fire
- Can climb the steps to the top for a view of the city, Thames, Tower Bridge

Bank of England
- Has a free museum taking through the history of the bank, explains inflation (yawn), and shows the first bank notes
- If you think it won’t interest you, you’re probably right
- Still kinda nice to walk in this direction/get lost in the myriad of roads of Central London (the square mile)

Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guard, Mounting of the Guard, 10 Downing St, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery
Buckingham Palace (depends on which bit you want to see)
- I’ve never been in

Changing of the Guard
- I’ve never been, apparently there are lots of people and you have to wait around to get a half decent spot

Mounting of the Guard
- Apparently much better than Changing of the Guard
- I’ve never seen

10 Downing St
- Where the Prime Minister lives - all you can really see are some police guards outside a gate

Trafalgar Square
- Fountains, Giant lion statues, and a guy at the top of a pedestal (Nelson’s column) in the middle of a busy cross-roads that lots of red buses and black taxis go around

National Gallery (free; 10am-6pm)
- Lots of famous paintings in a beautiful setting
- Next to Trafalgar Square

National Portrait Gallery (free; 10am-6pm)
- Portraits of the who’s who in British history
- Next to National Gallery

Catch the train (~£23; ~1h each way) to Windsor & Eton Riverside. (The Olympic rowing is out this way, so will affect the timetable - check out for details)

To Do
- Visit Windsor Castle (£17, 10am-5pm) - at least half a day - to see amazingly decorated rooms, the most amazing dollhouse, a changing of the guard, a gorgeous church where the Knights of the Order of the Garter sit
- The Long Walk - a long street with park and trees either side. The Queen goes in and out of this entrance to Windsor Castle - this is where I saw her!
- Walk along the riverside with all the houseboats and ducks

I liked Windsor Castle better than the Tower of London - there was just so much more.  It was sumptuous and I could see why this is where the Queen likes to spend her time.

The Monopoly Board
- You know the streets

Shopping: Oxford St, Hamleys, Harrods
Oxford St
- A street full of mainstream shops - usually packed

Hamleys (188-196 Regent St  London, UK W1B 5BT)
- A 6 storey toy shop (fun!)
- Hard to walk out empty-handed

Harrods (87-135 Brompton Road  London SW1X 7XL)
- Expensive and known world-wide

- Big name brands at cheap prices.  Usually quality, but need to search a bit.

- Really cheap

And plenty of others

Southbank, The Eye, Houses of Parliament (Big Ben), Westminster Abbey
- Really nice to walk along the Thames
- often a festival atmosphere

The Eye
- Expensive to ride but fun to see

Houses of Parliament and the tower containing Big Ben
- Cool to see

Westminster Abbey (£16; 9:30am-3:30pm Mon-Tues)
- Beautiful
- History of coronations and weddings

Other Great Starting Places:
Walking Tours
These go everywhere, fairly cheaply, departing at a variety of times.  I am keen to go on the Harry Potter tour and can recommend the Jack the Ripper tour.

Hop-on-Hop-off buses
There are two main companies. They are comparable on price, quality and route.
The Big Red Bus
The Original London Tour Bus

Free Stuff!
There are free museums and galleries all over the place.  You can access all the permanent galleries for free (there are boxes for donations, but no obligation) and there are often featured shows for a price.

The National Gallery - some of the Big Name Painters of all time on display
The National Portrait Gallery - a history of Who’s Who in (mostly English) history
The V&A (Victoria and Albert) - Design Gallery (sculpture, paintings, jewellery, costumes...)
The Tate Modern - modern art
The British Museum - full of colonial plunder including Egyptian mummies
The Wellcome Museum - some weird stuff - science and art museum combined
The Natural History Museum - haven’t been, but heard good stuff
The London Museum - takes you through a history of how it was to live in the London area, from the point when it was only animals

Olympic Events
Women’s Marathon (Sunday 5th 11am)
Lookup Wikipedia for the route which has a start leg, followed by three loops of the same course passing sites such as: Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral, Bank of England, Tower of London, The Monument, along the Thames opposite The Eye, Big Ben and Houses of Parliament.

Men’s Triathlon (Tuesday 7th 11:30am)
The 1.5 km swim, 40 km cycle and 10 km run will take place in Hyde Park, one of the eight Royal Parks of London. The swim will take place in the Serpentine which will have a pontoon constructed to act as the start. The cycle will involve athletes leaving the park via Queen Mother's Gate, travelling through Wellington Arch, down Constitution Hill and on to Birdcage Walk in front of Buckingham Palace before returning to the park to complete the event with a four lap run around the Serpentine.
A temporary 3000-capacity seating area will be constructed in the park in June 2012 and a three-metre high temporary fence will surround the events.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

WUGC Day 1, Sunday 8th July

While it was the first day of play for all other Ultimate divisions, Women’s Masters don’t start until Tuesday.  We used the morning as an opportunity to train together again.  We brushed up on our connections and zone defenses, an intriguing site for the neighbouring soccer players, not to mention the sumo school or cage of monkeys.

The afternoon was free time, with the majority of players choosing to head to the fields.  First stop the Australian Mixed team (Barramundis) beat both Germany (17-10) and Finland (17-1).  The Australian Men’s Masters (Wombats) got up over the USA (16-13) – described as an entertaining game due to the characters involved.  The Women’s team (Firetails) followed up their showcase game with a win against Singapore (17-5).  The Open team (Dingoes) “beat up the Frogs” (17-8).

As I was flying straight back to Australia after the final game of the tournament, I joined up with Liz and Lu to explore the area.  We each had already found some lunch at a local street market where you could buy fresh seafood and grill it yourself over hot coals in buckets on each table, a band singing Engrish onstage.

Going in search of a temple that Liz had spotted from her hotel room, we came across a park where hundreds of kids were waiting to play, were playing or had just played.  The boys were there for baseball on the lushest grass I had seen and the girls for a version of basketball.  The boys were really cute all in their matching, complete baseball outfits, but the three of us were most intrigued by the girls’ game.  Played on gravel in the steaming heat, there were no basketball rings.  Instead, at each end, there was a stool that one of the players would stand on, and around them, a semi-circle that a defender would stand in.  It appeared that every other aspect of the game was the same, but to score, a team would throw the ball to their teammate on the stool to catch.  As is fitting for an Australian, we cheered for the underdog.  This team fielded one of two girls who were a head shorter than everyone else, looked 6 where the others were 8 and who ended up standing near their own goal daydreaming.

The park was an oasis in a very industrial area.  The whole family was out and we dubbed the playground a ninja training ground given the amount of balancing equipment.  Leaving there with a hundred photos of Japanese kids, we felt like our stereotype of the Japanese was reversed.

Our search for the temple aborted, we headed back to the local market, only to find it had been packed up, then back to the hotel to form our next plan.  A tourist map supplied the answers – we headed to the Nintoku-ryo Tumulus (Emperor Nintoku's burial mound) and Daisen Park to visit a tea house.  A couple of trains later, we found the Tumulus, really only visible from the air, it’s a giant keyhole shaped mound covered in greenery, surrounded by a moat, more greenery and another moat.
We headed to the tea house in nearby Daisen park, only to find it closed.  The park itself was probably a more authentic Japanese experience and it was full of people.  We stopped to watch a couple of games Shoji (Japanese chess).  One of the elderly men in particular took an interest in us and we tried to converse.  He asked us where we were from (Australia), whether we were students (no), how old we were (30 – really? Asking a woman how old she is?), whether we were married (after showing them my ring, he then examined both Liz and Lu’s hands) and whether we had children (no).  To start with I thought he was trying to pick us up, but on reflection, I think he was just curious about our culture and expectations for women in general.

The rest of our afternoon passed with a quiet sit by the lake, praising the ingenious fishermen, laughing at the groups of giddy lap dogs and their owners, learning some Japanese phrases, respect for an elderly man's high knee hill runs, taking photos of tiny kittens and a wander through the serenity of the park.

We met the rest of the team in Namba (there is more than one information centre..) for dinner - a delicious combination of food including a highlight Shamba(?) where you cook your own food in a giant pot of boiling stock.  From there, an exploration of the river and some icecream for dessert.

Unfortunately, all my images from this day were corrupted - it's a good thing I have such a good memory.

WUGC Day 0, Saturday 7th July

Today was the first official day of the World Ultimate and Guts Championship (WUGC2012).  It was launched by numerous politicians and, notably, Miss Japan.  We were entertained by fan dancers, percussionists with giant drums and each country was represented by a school child bearing our flag – a much more efficient and endearing method than each athlete walking out, but without the same buzz.

The very first games in the Open, Women’s and Mixed divisions followed, with Australia playing Japan in the Women’s match.  A really tough match with turns from both sides, and blocks being generated by the Aussies.  The confidence of the Aussie Firetails seemed to peak and trough, which, together with some unfortunate drops, saw them finish down 17-10.

My team, the Women’s Masters, known as the Flying Foxes (or I’d like to think ‘affectionately’ as “the old bats”), played a warmup match versus Great Britain prior to the opening ceremony (Lee and I made a mad dash from Kyoto to the field via 3 trains and a bus).  It started with torrential rain, moved through high wind and in the final stages, sunshine – all in 45 minutes.  Both sides worked out some of their nerves with some early turns, particularly drops.  GB’s strengths were their inside-out break throws and hard man defense.  The Foxes used this as a great opportunity to meet each other (3 of our players are based in 3 different countries outside Australia) and to run through our strategies.  We were lucky to come through with the win 8-5.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


After travelling all day, two flights and a bullet train, we arrived in Kyoto tonight.
Without trying to sound like a pretentious wanker, we have travelled quite a bit lately and as result each new place tends to stir up memories of a past one.
My first impression of Kyoto was of the humid heat, which took me back to Hong Kong (but without the smell). As we walked down quiet, one way streets with bicycles tethered to themselves, I was reminded of the Netherlands.
Once we checked in at the hostel and were shown to a completely separate building down the street, I was reminded of the place I stayed in Venice.
A feature of Kyoto that seems all its own are the vending machines that are literally 10m apart along every road.
We ate a late takeaway-style dinner (ordered through a vending machine, of course) of Katsu Don and Sukiyaki, then wandered through the local supermarket boggling at all the seafood, fresh and dried, available. Following advice from Andy, my work colleague, I bought some milk chocolate to try.
I am looking forward to getting to see more of this historical city tomorrow.