A Travellerspoint blog

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Tales from the River Bank, Punting and Jamming

A couple of days rolled into one.
Tuesday we drove to Windsor and hired a boat for the day. Has anyone seen the episode of Keeping Up Appearances when Hyacinth and Richard go boating and they turn up at the moorings trying to guess which of the luxury yachts is their's and when they find it, it's a tiny little thing moored next to something resembling the QE2? Well our boat was like that - a tiny little red and white boat bobbing around on the water. It was very cute and big enough for what we wanted, so we were really quite excited about spending the day "messing about on boats" We stopped off to get some munchies and tea/coffee and loaded our supplies while waiting for one of the rental guys to come and give us a quick demo on how the boat works. I put my coffee on the little table but as the guy got on the boat it rocked, the cup fell and coffee went everywhere - good start! Hopefully not an omen for the rest of the day. After a brief demo we were off. Our starting point was the rear gardens of Windsor Castle. The Queen was in residence and the rental guy said he had seen her the day before riding her horse, but we didn't see her. Thought if she'd have seen us, she would definitely have invited us in for tea. We did get a fantastic view of the grounds and castle though. I was "driving" so Susan grabbed the camera to take pictures. After the first "click" she says "the camera is saying the memory is full" Ok guess who had left the memory card in the laptop, yep that'd be me, so no photo's I'm afraid of our day doing our best Wind in the Willows impressions. We went upstream past Windsor and Eton. It was peaceful and every now again we'd pass another boat or barge and we'd all wave, smile and nod to each other. During the day we had to pass through 8 locks. By the time we got to number 8 we just about had it mastered. The first 7 - not so good, but if anyone had videoed our efforts it would have been a contender for Funniest Home Videos. On our way back downstream we moored alongside a very posh looking country hotel and stopped off for afternoon tea, don't think we could have afforded a full lunch! We managed to get the boat back in one piece (touch and go a couple of times) We'd highly recommend having a go, it was great fun and (apart from the locks) also very relaxing. No rushing around trying to fit as much sight seeing in as possible, no dealing with coach loads of students or hoards of tourists. Just bobbing around on the river - lovely.

We left Bourton-on-the-Water, very reluctantly. Like everywhere we have stayed it's been sad to leave each place and at the same time exciting to be heading to the next one. Today we were heading to Empingham in Rutland to stay with my brother and his family. On the way we stopped at Cambridge for the day, this time with the memory card in the camera!
Wonder of all wonders Cambridge has an open top bus tour! So obviously we had to do it!! For those of you who read the blog about Oxford, you may remember that my educational institution of choice was Kings College, Cambridge. This is ever since I saw my first Christmas Eve live broadcast of carols from the King College Chapel, I still play the CD on Christmas morning. There is of course more colleges attached to Cambridge University - 31 in all and it is the second oldest university in the U.K and the English speaking world, as opposed to Oxford being the first. In fact it was scholars from Oxford who escaped rioting in the town by fleeing to Cambridge who established the university in Cambridge. Needless to say there is some rivalry between the two. The two Universities are often collectively referred to as Oxbridge. I reckon you know which one you prefer by who you cheer on in the boat race - always been Cambridge for me. Then of course there is the glamour of the Cambridge Five, the spies who defected to the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War - Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt and Donald Maclean. Plus my favourite writer, Peter Ackroyd also went to Cambridge.
There is of course a lot more to Cambridge than just the University. There have been settlements here in the Iron Age, there's been Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans and every other invader, settler and immigrant you can think of. As you wander the streets a lot of what you see though is the University buildings.

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As we wandered around we were accosted by a young man who convinced us the ONLY way to see Cambridge was to go punting along the river Cam and backs of the university. Always willing to oblige we duly paid our money and sat back as a young student, Sam, deftly manoeuvred his pole in and out whilst pointing out interesting sights and facts.

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After another walk around the town we headed to Empingham.
My oldest nephew, Teddy is in a band called Centre Excuse (check out their page here http://www.facebook.com/centreexcuse ) and they were rehearsing at the local cricket club, so we got some fish and chips and went down to watch. They are in the semi finals of Battle of the Bands this Saturday in Eastbourne, so we will be travelling back for the weekend. If they are successful on Saturday then the final is on Sunday. Fingers crossed!!!

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Now is the winter of our discontent.

Made glorious summer by this son of York.

All the family were either at school or in band rehearsal so Susan and I went to York for the day.
Being the incredibly unpredictable people that we are, we thought we'd do something different and bought tickets for an open top bus tour. Unusual huh!?
Founded by the Romans in 71 A.D (although there is evidence of settlements there since 700/800 B.C.) it still has a lot of the old city walls still intact and also has one of the largest finds from the Viking invasion.

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My favourite part of York is the Richard III museum, although we didn't get a chance to visit it during this trip. It maps out the case for and against Richard. Was he or wasn't he the evil hunchback monster who killed his nephews in order to claim the throne? Or was he a devoted Uncle and distraught brother who reluctantly took the throne after his brother Edward IV death? For those of you interested there is a great book called The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, well worth a read. I'm a big advocate of Richard III and think he was much maligned after his defeat by Henry Tudor - but then they do say history is written by the victors.
The bus trip took us all round the city and we even passed the grave of highwayman Dick Turpin.

We then took the obligatory river cruise. We do love these, have you noticed? You get to look at the City from a different aspect and relax.

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We had a wander around the little back streets of York, known as The Shambles. They are tiny little medieval buildings, some so narrow that if two people lean out of the upstairs windows they can shake hands across the road.

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As you come to the end of one of the roads York Minster appears looming above you. It is incredibly impressive, the photo's really don't do it justice.

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We drove back to Empingham and the boys were rehearsing again for the weekends Battle of the Bands comp, so we grabbed some more take away and took it down to watch them.

Next day we got ready to travel down to Eastbourne for the comp. There was a few of us and a hell of a lot of equipment so we took four cars and drove down in convoy. We didn't arrive 'till 11:30pm so after unloading the equipment we all went off to our various lodgings for the weekend and went to bed, ready for the big event the next day.

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It's a washout - but victory followed.

It had been raining all morning and finally we got word that today's BOTB comp had been cancelled due to the weather and concerns about safety. We were all very disappointed. We wouldn't know until tomorrow if the comp would go ahead for the Sunday or if the whole thing was going to have to be rescheduled. Susan and I were hoping tomorrows weather might brighten up, as we are leaving next week and wouldn't be able to come back if it was rescheduled.
We took the opportunity to spend some more time with my friends and met them in the pub for a few drinks. In the evening we had a family BBQ at Rick and Mandy's House. (Mandy is my sister-in-laws aunt) Susan was already slightly inebriated after the afternoon in the pub, so after about half an hour and a number of people asking where she'd gone, we found her fast asleep on the couch! The boys were very tempted to draw all over her, but they controlled themselves.

We found out next morning that the BOTB was going ahead, so we made our way to the beachfront. After a few moments of sunshine, the big black clouds returned and it absolutely poured down - it was torrential! The bands braved the weather and played on (anyone thinking of the Titanic?) Still we braved the weather, got totally drenched and danced away in the rain. With three bands left to play and Centre Excuse being the last ones on, the announcement came that we were all moving to the Crown and Anchor pub and the last three bands would play their sets there. YAY!!!

It took a little while to set up but after about an hour and a half the music was back. Finally the moment we were waiting for, Centre Excuse. A three piece band, Teddy Lewis - keyboards, guitar and lead vocal, Jamie Rush - guitar and vocals and Alex Rush - drums. Susan and I had never seen them play before so we were excited. The crowd went absolutely wild, jumping, screaming and eventually rushing the stage. They were fantastic and had thew crowd eating out of their hands.

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As they were the last band to play we then waited nervously for the results. The winners got a place in the upcoming Pevfest Music Festival and a cheque for 1000 GBP.
They anounced the scores, starting at the lowest. It came down to the last two and Centre Excuse were still in it. Susan, me and pals Lynne and Sarah were in a huddle - then the announcement came - the winners are Centre Excuse!!! We went crazy. As I looked around I saw my brother and the rest of the family going crazy too!
We were all so proud of them.

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After all the excitement we then had to repack the cars and drive back to Empingham. We finally got home at 5am, totally exhausted but happy and proud as punch!!

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Sad Goodbyes and Arabian Nights

As we didn't get to bed 'till gone 5am much of the morning was spent catching up on sleep and we spent the whole day in out jimjams. We sent Steph into Stamford to get Chinese take away and watched DVDs of Britain's Most Haunted. Then Ted set up the video and we watched an old home made video taken about 6 years ago of Steph, Teddy, Danny and myself doing a spoof of Britain's Most Haunted. It was hilarious, I think Susan may have peed herself a little!
Next day we drove into Stamford for a little wander then went to see the new Harry Potter film with the family and the Rush boys, who are practically family anyway. Susan cried, bless her.
Then we all went out for dinner as it was our last night.

Wednesday morning was all about finishing our packing and having to make those horrible goodbyes. Then heading off to Heathrow for our flight to Dubai. We had a long wait in Heathrow and the flight to Dubai was 7 hours and we got very little sleep.
When we checked into our hotel we went up to our room and made the fatal mistake of having a "little lay down" We slept for 8 hours! When we woke up it was late afternoon so we had a quick shower then headed out to see a little of the city. We were interested in booking the open top bus tour (surprise, surprise) and the booking office was around the corner from our hotel so we decided to walk. Our hotel receptionist advised us to take a taxi but it didn't look far, once we stepped outside we understood why she advised a taxi!! It was scorching! Apparently no-one walks anywhere here in the Summer months. All the expats leave for summer and it's their quietest time for tourism because it's just so damned hot! We were too late to do the bus tour so we took a taxi to check out one of the huge shopping malls they have here. They don't do small in Dubai! This particular mall has a ski slope, as they do.

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Next morning we got to do not only one bus tour but two!! We also did an evening panoramic tour, as well as a Dhow trip on the Dubai Creek. The architecture here is amazing. Everytime you think you've just seen an amazing sight, you turn around and see an even better one. Man made islands, skyscrapers, mosques, shopping malls, forts, palaces (no pics of the palaces I'm afraid, as it's not allowed) The world largest building, the worlds largest hotel, the only 7 star hotel, largest man made island (which can be seen from space) Apparently they amount of sand used to make Palm Island is enough to build a 3 meter high wall that would circle the globe 3 times! That woulda taken a big bucket and spade!

Aquarium

Aquarium

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The was so much to do, I was really surprised. I thought it would all just be about shopping, but there is so much more here. Not that you'd be disappointed with the shopping. Still I dunno what all the fuss is about with these malls. Sure they have ski slopes, ice rinks, waterfalls, aquariums, pyramids and every designer shop you can shake a stick at, but no Big W anywhere!! Pfft.

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Time for a quick drink in the bar then up early for our flight home. Not looking forward to that - 17 hours stuck on a plane is not my idea of fun, especially when your holiday is over!

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This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England

Well, we've been home for 3 days now and today is our last day off before we have to return to work. Today is also the first day we've managed to get out of bed before midday! Obviously a little jet lag had set in.

So I'm thinking I might just use this last blog as an opportunity to reflect on the past couple of months.
First of all I can't believe it's all over. It doesn't seem that long ago we were waiting, waiting, waiting for our holiday to arrive. I guess that's another sign of getting older - months go past in a blink of an eye.
I've been trying to think of what I would consider to be "highlights" of our trip and it's proving more difficult than I thought. There were so many wonderful and special moments. The whole trip was a highlight, we had such a fantastic time, saw so many beautiful places and shared times with family and friends that were special.

Rather than try and figure out a "top 10" for the trip I'm going to run through it chronologically.

Our first week was spent in London. My first thought about this is "what were we thinking of, only booking one week in London?!!" You can't even scratch the surface of this magnificent city in a week. We did a fraction of the things we wanted to do (which to be fair is true of most places we visited) Over the years I have spoken to people about London, some love it, some hate it, some couldn't care less either way, but to me it's the most magical place on earth. I can't pin point why, I can't summarise neatly and concisely for you why I feel this way. All I can say is that's it's something on an emotional level. There are many places that are more picturesque, cleaner, warmer, cheaper, bigger, smaller, prettier and every other "er" you can think of, but when it comes to matters of the heart, you don't always fall in love with the most beautiful, you fall in love with the one that touches you inside, that one that makes your heart soar, the one who you connect with - and in your eyes that's what makes them the most beautiful. I look at London and I see beauty where others see ugliness. I see beauty in the numerous small parks, full of greenery and flowers, I'm amazed at the oasis's of tranquillity to be found in such a busy city just by walking down an unassuming alleyway into a concealed courtyard. I'm inspired by it's mix of ancient and modern and how they blend so easily. I love it's stories and it's history. I admire how it stands up to everything that is thrown at it, invasions, wars, the blitz, terrorist attacks, pollution, riots, and yet it continues, albeit sometimes a little battered (A little like the Black Knight in Monty Pythons Holy Grail - "Tis but a scratch") and evolves. I realise it's not perfect. I also see the pollution, the homelessness, the poverty, the crime, but again like all love affairs, you continue to love in spite of faults and sometimes even because of them.

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In our second week we spent 5 days in Paris. Before the start of our trip, I think this was one of the places Susan was most looking forward to. After the 5 days I think she may have been a little disappointed (I could be wrong) Not because there was anything wrong with Paris, but because
a) it rained every day and
b) it was so ridiculously busy.
It was great to meet up with Sarah and Lynne, that was a definite bonus.
However we spent 5 days running around like headless chickens trying to fit as much in as possible and for those of you who read the previous blogs you'll know that our visit to Versailles was a really awful experience.
Paris and Versailles are both really beautiful, it was just the crowds that spoilt it. It wasn't just that there were loads of people, it was the fact that a large portion of those crowds were aggressively pushing, shoving and elbowing people out of their way. It really demonstrated the selfish and inconsiderate side to people. On the positive side we had a great time exploring Paris and some of it's impressive architecture. Notre Dame, Montmartre, Eiffel Tower, Louvre and wandering the lanes of the Latin Quarter were all highlights for me. I didn't even mind the rain, after all you expect it to rain in Paris and it kind of adds to the romanticism. Did I mention Paris was hectic?

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After Paris we spent 8 days in Ireland. Neither of us had been to Ireland before and Susan had the added interest of it being home to her maternal ancestors. The country was stunning and the people very friendly and welcoming. The Cliffs of Moher were just breathtaking. Of course the biggest highlight and probably the biggest story of our whole trip was the serendipitous event of meeting Susan's relatives in Athlone/Drumraney. We started the day simply seeking some connection and in one short afternoon fate had set into place the events that would see us visiting the old family home and meet family Susan didn't know she had, turning a "trip" into a "journey" not just in a literal, practical way but in a real personal, emotional and spiritual sense.

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Next on our agenda was a trip back to my home town of Eastbourne. I was excited to show Susan my old haunts. My old homes, schools and of course pubs. I was also excited to introduce Susan to my friends - and how they got on! We spent a lot of our week here in pubs and drinking and catching up with friends, but also had time to visit the places I grew up and some of the surrounding area. We even had some nice weather! We had a great time and most telling was Susan commenting on the last day - "I really like all your friends, they are lovely. I'd like to live here." It meant a lot that Susan felt like that about my friends and my home town.

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Reluctantly leaving Eastbourne we headed to Cornwall for week 5 of our holiday. On route we took a diversion and went via Stonehenge, Old Sarum and Salisbury. All three were awe inspiring and beautiful in their very different ways.
Cornwall was wonderful. Dramatic coastlines, quaint fishing villages, stark moors and tales of smugglers and wreckers (fascinating, intriguing and romantic with the safe distance of time, but horrific and terrifying at the time) There was so much to see in Cornwall, but some of the stand outs were Tintagel, Minack Theatre, Lost Gardens of Heligan, the Eden Project and the lovely fishing villages, all of which I'd heartily recommend if you ever pass that way. We also got to spend the weekend with my family when they came down to join us. It was wonderful to see them again after 4 years. The kids grow so fast, one of the big downfalls of living so far away is that you miss seeing them grow up. One minute they are little children the next they are young adults.

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Week 6 saw us in the Cotswolds. Again we stopped off on the way, this time in the Devonshire village of Clovelly. Our week in the Cotswolds was even better than we had imagined. Our accommodation exceeding all expectations and if anyone ever visit Bourton - on - the - Water, if you can stay at a place called The Perfumery. It was fantastic and the owner, John is helpful and welcoming. We can't recommend it enough! Bourton is also the most picture postcard perfect Cotswold village you can imagine. We used our week here as a base to visit some of the other surrounding towns and cities - Oxford, Stratford - Upon - Avon, Windsor, Bath and Tewkesbury as well as the smaller Cotswolds villages. If you haven't already, you can read the blogs for all those places in the previous entries.

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The final week in the UK was spent with family in Empingham, Rutland. Spending the week with the family was lovely. We didn't do as much together as we probably would have liked. We took a day out to York and drove back down to Eastbourne to see Centre Excuse win Battle of the Bands. We were so proud to watch Teddy, Jamie and Alex win and to see how talented and hard working they are. Also great to see how the crowd reacted to them. I was also proud to see how the kids have grown up, they are so different from each other, such individual personalities but equally wonderful in their own ways. Teddy - 16, doing well with the band, the "cool dude" Danny - 13, such a lovely boy, introspective and thoughtful (reminds me of myself) and Summer - 4, discerning, independent, imaginative and an obvious heart breaker when she's older. We did have a couple of days to relax, something we hadn't done much of.

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It was sad to leave, but week 8 saw us travelling to Dubai for a couple of days then home for a few days rest before returning to work.
The whole idea of having a stopover rather than go straight home was to have a rest. However after the hectic 7 weeks in the UK we'd just had, 2 days was never going to be enough. What we needed was a week on a remote beach somewhere, with nothing to do but sit, read, swim and drink cocktails. Instead we had two days in Dubai, where we rushed around trying to fit as much in as possible again. There is so much to see and do in Dubai that it was never going to be a restful break. So by the time we arrived back in Adelaide we were exhausted. Now we need another holiday to recover!

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It was great to have been home again. I was last there 6 years ago and had been getting homesick.
I know I've been waxing lyrical about England and I wouldn't want any of you to think that I do not appreciate the life I have here in Adelaide. For in fact I do. The lifestyle here is wonderful, as are my friends, job and of course my gorgeous girlfriend. The weather is great (except in summer when it hits over 30 and I start to melt) but I guess home is always home - at least it is for me. I love my life here but I also love my homeland.

As this is our last blog I'd like to thank all of you who have followed our journey here on travellerspoint and I hope you have enjoyed some of it. For those of you that haven't enjoyed it, I apologise if I have bored you along the way. I'm going to leave you with part of a poem I found during our stay in England. It was written by a man called Maxwell Dunlop and published in a local newspaper for St Georges Day (April 11)

I have but one thing on my mind
A passion burning bright,
Crossed by my heart a fiery red,
On a field of the purest white.

The light shall not fade on England now,
The fields be forever green,
The Character, charm that is England now,
In my heart means everything.

Maxwell Dunlop

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