Today we drove from Edinburgh down to York with a couple of detours along the way. It was the first time the morning was actually cold. The car said it was about 9 degrees (which really is nothing), but it was driving through the fog in the Scottish Highlands that kept the concentration going. (unfortunately my side kick of a photographer didn’t get the real fog we drove through!)
After a 2 hour drive, we made it to Hadrian’s Wall in Corbridge, England. Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Romans to stop the northern frontier invading their Empire. The boys liked looking at all the artefacts and listening to the walkie-talkie style audio guides as they climbed their way through Roman history.
Today we drove to Edinburgh. We opted for the motorway instead of the scenic route, but still managed to see a few country towns along the way. Edinburgh is such a pretty city! I was expecting it to be dull and drab, a little working class, but the streets were filled with gorgeous buildings.
Today was something I’d been looking forward for a while… being in the Lakes District again. I was here 5 years ago (almost to the day!) with a friend and so wanted to bring the boys here to see the beauty of the Lakes. Our first stop was Beatrix Potter’s house ‘Hill Top’ in Near Sawrey (which is not to be confused with ‘Far Sawrey’).
We learnt that this year is the centenary of Beatrix Potter’s marriage to William Heelis, her solicitor and the year she wrote Samuel Whiskers, where there are a lot of illustrations from that book based on her furniture, staircase and character of Hill Top, her home. Unfortunately, we can’t take pictures inside, but here are a few from the outside. We also overheard someone say that we have had the sunniest day they had ever seen in the Lakes District… so we have been blessed.
After a massive home cooked breakfast at the Falcon Inn in Painswick, we travelled through the back roads of the Cotswolds and the Midlands to the quaint Industrial Revolution town of Ironbridge. It was lovely driving through the green fields, along the high walled fences, the tight roads and being interrupted by charming villages every few miles. The only thing that broke the beauty of it all was being stuck behind slow moving vehicles, including a AA van towing a car, a couple of dairy trucks and a van towing a rather scary looking load of timber that looked like it was going to fall out onto the road. The hard thing was, that the roads were too narrow, too windy and too congested to pass them safely, so we were stuck behind them. If they weren’t there, the roads being too narrow and too windy were part of the joy of our journey.
Our GPS worked beautifully today, even though I was sceptical about it after yesterday’s one hour, 85km whoopsie! We actually checked the Hertz complimentary road map just to make sure we were going in the right direction.
Anyway, we made it to Ironbridge… the place that is considered to be the birth place of the Industrial Revolution, something I actually studied in university 20 years ago (OMG, is it that long ago!). We checked out the first made cast iron bridge, built 1779-1781, its surrounding township and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. We learnt that Abraham Darby, a man who designed pots and pans, wanted something more durable than brass for cooking in, so he came to the area (as it was rich in iron ore) to perfect the making of iron by mixing it with coke instead of coal.
Yesterday we jumped in a hire car and took to the road! The boys were happy to finally be sitting looking at the scenery after 3 days of endless walking and they were quite exhausted, happy to be in the car and sleep (at 9.30am!) It’s hard, because the light comes into the rooms as early as 4.40am and it’s hard to get back to sleep… hence the reason why I’m blogging at 5.40am!
Our first stop was Stonehenge. Built in 3000BC, somehow orientated to the sun, but the mystery is ‘why was it built?’ It truly is a mammoth construction from 5000 years ago, knowing what technology we have now, and what they didn’t have.
Today was a BIG day! We left our hotel at 8am and walked around the streets of London, eventually getting back by 7.15pm. So what did we do? LOTS!
First we went to London Bridge.
Only to find it was quite the disappointment with its flat architecture. The only good thing was that you could get a great view of Tower Bridge. It was so quiet in the city at that time of morning, and we were lucky to have the sun shining on us, which is a rarity in London. We walked along the north bank towards Tower Bridge. Before we crossed the famous drawbridge, we came across Tower of London – the historic castle and fortress to the royals. It wasn’t open (that’s how early we started our day!), but were able to get some photos from around the outskirts.
Today was a looooonnnnggg haul. We started in Melbourne, leaving home at 9.45am, caught the train into the city, the Skybus to the airport, and then three flights: Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to London. Kuala Lumpur airport’s layover was enough time for me to do some work. Amsterdam airport was fogged over, so we really couldn’t see the beauty of the city (and it was 5am local time, so not much happening at that time anyway). And then London… after an hour waiting in line with possibly another 6 airlines worth of passengers that just happened to have land at the same time, we were actually surprised that our luggage was there ready and waiting for us and we could just exit the airport. No extra scanning of the luggage, no sniffer dog attacks… just leave… and wish that one of the names written in black felt tip pen on white cardboard being flashed around by chauffeurs waiting in the arrivals lounge, was yours… But no, we opted for the Tube instead.
We caught the Tube from Heathrow Terminal 4 on the Piccadilly line, and of course, my 11 year old laughed that the final destination of the train was Cockfosters! We got off at Turnham Green (via the District Line) and used the $65 Tom Tom app I bought to bring us to our hotel. We had to dump our luggage and were to come back in an hour while they made up our room, so we tried the lovely Parisenne Crepe cafe for breakfast. We then had a little walk through the streets and found a fruit vending stall and checked out the prices versus the prices back home. Strawberries: one pound a punnet (AUD$1.40), granny smith apples: 30p each (AUD47c each). And the boys found a glorious park with a circular seat around a tree.
We are in majestic looking Best Western hotel, but somehow we’ve been given a cute little basement room that’s completely decked out with beautiful white linen, flat screen TV, air conditioning and an ensuite, but it’s tiny. It has adorable common gardens, and plenty of free tea and coffee (and hot chocolates for me and my boys) at the reception, so we’re not complaining.
After a much needed shower and freshen up, we caught the No 94 bus up to Piccadilly Circus. We sat at the front up the top of a double decker bus and rode through Notting Hill, Oxford Street to Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus.
After a few photo opportunities, we checked out Hamleys – the biggest toy store in London, and the boys bought a couple of toys for home. The boys even got to pose with royalty!
I also wanted to take them to Next, but unfortunately, their range wasn’t as good as it was when I was here 5 years ago, and their sizes only go up to 12 year olds… which makes it hard for my boys who are on that borderline sizing that takes them into mens.
We then decided to catch the bus back to our hotel, which with all it’s stops and starts and dealing with the London traffic, wasn’t worth the hour long drive it took as the novelty ride there, as it did on the way back.
We went home via the fruit stall and grabbed 4 bananas, 2 punnets of strawberries & 3 granny smith apples for 3 pounds 50c. An absolute bargain in Melbourne books.
Think we might be up for an early night tonight so we can get ourselves into London time, but before that, it might be a meal at the pub!
(oh by the way, we are cruising around the UK and Western Europe for the next 6.5 weeks… hope you enjoy the journey as much as us!)
Today was a bit of a humbling day. We couldn’t do much as it rained, but I met some wonderful people who had some fascinating stories to tell.
I met a couple who were on their 10th trip to Fiji. They had just spent $255 on excess luggage to bring over a stack of goodies for the locals who work at the resort who have touched their hearts since they have been coming over.
One man, who is recently married plays rugby to stay off the streets. He has a team of fellow friends who are in the boat, only one has a job, the others work on the farm in their village to provide for their clans. This amazing couple asked him what he needs for his team, and he asked if he could have either socks or shorts so the boys could look like a team. Well this couple talked to some people in Australia and managed to get socks, shorts and jerseys for 15 players for $800 and brought them over to him, and gave them to him yesterday. He was stoked. He’s told a couple of his team players, but will bring it to them on Sunday when they have their first match as a ‘matching’ team in black, red and gold. The couple will go and see them play and see the joy in their faces.
But then, the lady mentioned to the man that the four year old daughter of one of the cooks at the resort was killed in a nearby Village the other day. And the man who received the rugby uniforms said, yes she was my niece. Her dad had cut a coconut tree so he could put a netball net up so she could play, and because he cut all the leaves away, he killed the tree, and the root system gave way and fell on her as she was playing. She was in a coma for 2 days before before they decided that she wasn’t responding and unplugged her from the system. She died on Wednesday, her funeral tomorrow. So sad for the community.
The couple who bought the rugby uniforms also bought other workers at the resort some bras, t-shirts, shorts and plenty of children’s clothes for some of the other workers they consider their Fijian family, hence the reason for their excess luggage bill. It was truly humbling to see the joy and gratefulness that the Fijians had for these amazing people.
It does make you wonder how you can help more. I’ve asked the boys if next time we come here that we don’t do the resort thing, but spend time helping and giving to a Village. They are happy to do so.
Recently the workers of Fiji has a pay rise. The average wage is between FJ$1.50 an hour to FJ$2.45 an hour. They received a FJ5c pay rise. It truly is a joke, especially when a bottle of Coke costs FJ$6.60. A true luxury in their eyes. But we must remember that they don’t have to pay for their housing, as they inherit the land through their clans and Villages that stays with their families forever, they are self-sufficient on their land with fruit, vegetables, chickens, cows and they will fish and hunt for wild boars for feasts for their meat. They make their own mats with palm leaves and fabrics for clothing. And they only go to the supermarket for soap, washing powder and the occasional western item. Some Villages don’t have electricity, most don’t have flushing toilets. In fact, the couple I mentioned before said that they met one chief from a Village who said that he was so excited because they had just received 8 flushing toilets at a cost of FJ$360 for a Village of 360 people…. just shows us how much we take for granted. Only business owners own cars, and all cars are second hand from Japan, and most only need to get petrol to run their fishing boats. They live in a community where everyone helps, however the government don’t even help with education. They must all pay the teachers to educate their kids.
But they are happy. Fiji survives on tourism, as 50% of their trade is tourism.
In the end, the wife of the couple mentioned to me that her husband was a street kid, so he is overly generous to people in need, as he had been there himself a few decades back and knows how it feels to live without. He is now a self-funded retiree who enjoys giving to all those who he can. It’s his absolute pleasure.
There are some true angels in this world… I hope to meet and be inspired by so many more…
Today we had another day trip – this time to Robinson Crusoe Island, We did this trip back in November 2008 and the snorkelling was so magical I just had to do it again… but unfortunately, today’s waters were a little murky and even though we did see some brightly colour fish in the depths of the water, it was literally nothing like the natural aquarium we saw back in 2008. A little disappointing, but the Fijian hospitality was perfect as usual!
For those who’ve never done it, we were picked up in a tour bus from our hotel to take us to a floating tin can of a boat on the river. The river was full of mangroves and felt like you’re in an episode of Survivor making your way to the unknown.