Hampton Court Palace

Today we had planned to catch up with LukenManda to go out to Hampton Court Palace.  I love that our travel plans have coincided with friends from home who live 1500kms from us also being here so that we can go do something cool together.  Had we been a little more organised and the fates aligned a little more in our favour, we’d be hanging out with Christine too – alas, she won’t be here until a few days after we head off from Southampton.  #AussiesAndKiwisDoTravel

Anyway, off to Hampton Court for the day.  I won’t bore anyone with any of the history – y’all know it inside out.  This is my third or fourth visit here, I’m honestly not sure but I love the place and it’s Mr K’s first visit so we couldn’t not come.  🙂  Have I mentioned how much we love Google Maps ability to tell you the quickest way to get to where you’re going?  Used it a LOT in Europe last year and it’s extremely handy…

We had a great day wandering about – saw all the things, experienced all the exhibitions and even took a dray ride around the park (it’s quite hot for London – and London does not deal with heat; air conditioning in these old buildings would be impossible).
Tudor Kitchens Kitchen herb gardens Formal fountain courtyard added during the William and Mary extension to the Palace. Astronomical clock… no cuckoos much to Mr K’s dismay. Entrance to William’s appartments – whereupon, my camera battery went dead.  I felt like ever such an unaccomplished tourist to suffer such a rookie mistake.  AND to add insult to injury I didn’t have a micro-USB to charge it up on the go either.  Urgh. Great Hall ceiling.  Tapestry / portrait galleries Magical gardens and the famous Hampton Court Palace hedge maze. After this we went for a well earned pint and a snack.  We were going to stop at the Mute Swan, but unfortunately (or fortunately, not sure) they were packed to capacity and we ended up at the Riverview Terrace over looking the Thames enjoying a lovely breeze and a few pints of cider.  Fanfuckingtastic.

Then it was onto the train to head back to London and yes, you got it : more work to do before we could head out for dinner tonight – which on Paul’s recommendation was to see us at the Punjab curry house in Covent Garden.  The Punjab curry house is one of London’s oldest Indian restaurants and with a line up outside waiting for a table, I highly recommend making a reservation if you plan on coming for a meal, especially if you are coming with a largish group of diners.

Established in 1946 and still going strong. All these recommendations on the back of the menu were well deserved.  The food was amazing.   Definitely want to avoid that then!  😉  On Paul’s recommendation I tried the prawn puri and Keith, the onion pakoras, because well, who needs a reason?  Both entrees were fabulous.  We then shared a dish called, Anari Gosht (a deliciously fragrant lamb and pomegranate dish) that isn’t actually on the menu but which the waiter was only too happy to arrange for us.  Good call on the Anari Gosht, Paul – it was beautiful.  Unusual blend of flavours and well worth the effort to negotiate from our waiter.  🙂 After dinner we stumbled back to the hotel where Mr K promptly went back to work and I promptly fell asleep on the couch! I was ostensibly supposed to be blogging – but so much for that!  🙂

Was a marvellous but a HUGE day out.

Westminster Parliament

Conversation with political tragic husband went something like this:

“What do you want to see in London?”
“I want to do a tour of the Houses of Parliament, and other touristy stuff.”

So first thing we hit this morning is a tour of house of Westminster Parliament.  I hadn’t actually in before – obviously had been past Big Ben (currently under an inordinate amount of scaffolding) and taken photos of the famous building, but it never occurred to me to want to go IN.  😀

That’s Big Ben – you’ll just have to take my word for it…

It was a very interesting tour actually and wandering through the houses of Parliament was treated with far more reverence and than your average cathedral these days – no photography, quiet library-style voices all round and please do not touch pretty much anything.  It was just like how touring churches and cathedrals used to be.
Our tour took us through Westminster Hall in through St Stephen’s Cathedral to the Central Hall, down the Peer’s Corridor and around through the State Officers’ Court to the Chancellor’s Court and the Monarchs Entrance.  We then went to the Royal Gallery where the Queen gets dressed in her Robes of State, to the Royal Court where she opens every Parliament, before making our way into the House of Lords then doubling back through to see the House of Commons.

The Palace is very elaborately decorated as you can imagine, with the House of Lords being doubly impressive with lots of large frescos, elaborate ceilings, royal portraits, red leather, fancy damask wallpaper, gilding and heraldic display everywhere in comparison with the stone, oak panelling and deep forest green leather of the House of Commons.  The tour was very interesting – I learned that at 92, the Queen has only just started coming up the elevator to enter the Royal Gallery and up until now she has climbed the well worn 32 marble steps on her own.  We also learned that each time the monarch is required to open parliament a senior member from the opposition of the day is required to attend Buckingham Palace and is effectively held hostage until the Queen’s safe return (a throw back tradition to days when the relationships between Crown and Parliament were not quite so congenial… (yes, we are looking at you, Charles I).  I did however know about the treasonous gunpowder plot, but was unaware that every time since that occasion that the the monarch is going to be entering Westminster the Sergeant at Arms has his men search the cellars for any potential reattempts to blow up the Queen.

Forgive my jaunty angles… *cough, cough*

We had made our way to our 9am tour in the very quiet streets of London only to spill out afterwards into what felt like a cross between Times Square and Tienamen Square with equal numbers of loud and pushy American and Chinese tourists. (Q: why do Chinese tourists favour matching fluorescent yellow t-shirts?  Have they not yet figured out that every other Chinese tour group is also dressing their pax in bright yellow too, thus making each Chinese tour group blend into the three other Chinese tour groups right beside them?  It’s a puzzlement.)  So our plan to make our way to Westminster Abbey next (with it’s one hour queue of yellow shirts waiting to enter) was quickly dumped in favour of heading towards the British Museum.

Whereupon we were greeted by an equal number of yellow shirts.  Oh well, in we went.

I have visited the British Museum several times before and had many wonderful hours of quiet contemplation wandering the halls of antiquity there – marvelling at the beautiful objects on display, wonder about the people who made these amazing items, and pondering the ethics of the museum keeping these things that perhaps should be repatriated if they can be kept safe… today was not one of those visits.

It was a mad house.  Mr K wanted to see the highlights of the Museum’s collection, as you do and of course, so did everyone else in the place, so we did what I would call the 50c tour and then got the hell out of there.  It was noisy and noisome – and the Museum didn’t help this by having some sort of performance art thing going on in the Great Hall that was blaring on loudspeakers that you could still hear in the rooms of the Waddell Collection and people were pushing and shoving to see things.  It was not pleasant at all… we may go back later in the week for a decent look if timer permits as it is just around the corner from our hotel.

Yes…  :/ 
After this we head back to the hotel for a few hours work to prepare for meetings next week before heading out to an amazing dinner at Cosmoba which is a very tiny family run Italian restaurant that has been operating in London since the 60s.  The food was amazing, the staff were fabulous, the wine was plentiful and the conversation was diverting – as I knew it would be.  🙂  We had a wonderful night with Steph and her Beloved, and Paul and his lovely lady, Jo and it is always great to catch up with friends when you travel.  Thanks for making time to hang out with us, beautiful people <3

I stumbled home way more pissy than I had anticipated being, and slept the not-so-righteous sleep of the ever so slightly tipsy and still horridly jet lagged!

Tomorrow – Hampton Court Palace!

London, I’m back.

People often ask me if I am excited about my upcoming trip and I always find myself replying, “Not really.”  Which is both true and untrue at the same time.  ‘Yes’, I am always anticipating the adventures to come, but ‘No’, I don’t usually allow myself to get excited about anything until the long haul flights are done and dusted.  They wreak havoc with my back pain, meaning that a flight to London is more likely to be preceded by anxiety rather than excitement.  C’est la vie… it is what it is.

Our flight this trip was no worse nor any better than ones we have taken in the past.  We flew Cathay Pacific and had a stop over in Hong Kong.  The first leg to Hong Kong was pretty much an empty plane – I swear nearly every passenger was laying down asleep for the 9 hr flight. Oddly, with so many passengers laying down it was interesting to see how many chose to lay down with their feet towards the window and their heads towards the aisle, where you’d think there’s a greater risk of being knocked about… weirdos. The second,12 hr, leg from Hong Kong to London was the complete opposite and packed to the gills – YUK!  Never mind, I got through it thanks to modern pharmaceuticals and a determination not to think on the pain too much.

Arrived in London safe and sound, but did have a massive delay coming through border processing – we must have stood in line for little over an hour, which in itself would still be problematic for my stupid back, but after 20+ hours in transit was my very own private customs hell for the duration.  Honestly, the Disneyesque rope system does nothing to encourage the orderly movement of the hordes of Chinese tourists that filed off about four plans that landed when ours did.  It was barely controlled chaos with border guards using GOOGLE TRANSLATE to ask people questions.  FFS, it shouldn’t be that hard.

Then it was onto the tube and heading into town to find out hotel all of which landed us here and getting cleaned up about 2 hours later than anticipated.  We have chosen to stay at the St Giles Hotel just off Tottenham Court Road in Camden this trip, seemed like a nice central spot and they have plenty of business facilities (which is going to come in handy as the week progresses).  There’s heaps and heaps of construction going on around here – footpaths being repaved, parts of the tube being renovated and some buildings appear to be being replaced, so the area doesn’t have its usual charm and instead seems a over busy space of too many people navigating too many obstacles to get anywhere.

Finally showered up and changed we head out to find a pub for a quick bite for dinner and found ourselves at the Jack Horner tucking into fish and chips and bangers and mash with a pint before coming back to the hotel and doing everything we could to stay awake until after 10pm.

Not a bad first day, all the plans executed, all the transfers achieved, nothing of any note experienced but we made it safe and sound.

When Words With Friends is Words With Strangers

So I quite enjoy a game of Scrabble every now and then… only most people I know won’t play with me anymore.  No idea why.  Enter Words With Friends on my iPhone.

I quite like to play, but every time I go away and find myself with limited internet, I end up forfeiting a bunch of games from them timing out, and you have to start from scratch when you get home again.  Which I have fallen out of the habit of doing because I tend to look at it, and think ‘I’ll just forfeit when I go away again anyway.’  Long story short, I recently updated my app and noticed some changes, and started playing again because I’m not going away for a few months.

The new version of the app, though, has made it quite ten times easier for people to start games with randoms on the Internet and unfortunately it seems that there are plenty of guys who appear to be primarily playing to basically try to meet women… who’d’ve thought? Within the space of a week, I’ve had about half a dozen guys hitting on me via online Scrabble.  :/

It started off innocuously enough, a few ‘Hi, how are you?’, ‘Where are you from?’, ‘Are you married?’, ‘Is that really you?’, type messages from guys who started games with me, and then this guy turned up:

My, who’s that handsome devil in the seriously impressive uniform?, Richard !!,,   Anyway, Lt. General Richard !!,, invited me to play a game with me and it was going fine. He was playing some obscure words that I’d never seen before which is rare but always great fun – I like a meaty game – and then about three moves in I get this:

Ummm… Do I have to answer this?  Is it rude to just ignore that and just play my next move?  Do we really have to make chit-chat to have a game of Scrabble?  Why is this unsolicited compliment making me uncomfortable?  Seriously, do we really have to talk at all?  :/

I left it for a few hours, but wanted to follow the game through so I eventually answered him and over the next day or so the conversation went along pleasantly enough…

Which was an honest enquiry.. how does someone at his rank on a peacekeeping mission in Syria have times for things like playing word games with strangers on the Internet? My curiosity however, was met with open hostility.  Whereupon the conversation, with no warning whatsoever, spiralled downhill rather rapidly… Errr… whoa there Nellie!?  That seems kinda special.  😮
Now I’m not one for being ordered to do anything, and especially not from a total stranger on the Internet. But curiosity kills the whatsamadoover and all that… And I was going to leave it there – but at this point I was pretty convinced that this wasn’t Lt. General Richard!!,, but rather more likely, a fucking boorish stockbroker named Ralph living in his Mom’s basement somewhere.

With minimal effort (a single Google Image search and a response within microseconds) the photo of this very smartly Lt General in the US military with the name, Richard CLARKE (Yes Dick, the name badge is quite legible in the photo) was not exactly hard to find, and according to the profile that Ralph probably stole the photo from, he’s a Director for Strategic Plans and Policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff!   IE:  someone you would very likely imagine is way too busy to be playing stupid word games with strangers.

So I decided to throw an extra volley across the bow…

Predictably, Dick didn’t respond and ended the game…
What a shame.  He was winning too.  :/

The Long Transit Home

Depending on how you look at it, it took us 37.5 hours or nearly six days to return home from Antarctica.

This morning we breakfasted and then disembarked the ship.  It was hard to say goodbye to some of these amazing people knowing we may never meet again.  They had shared their enthusiasm and passion with us for all things Antarctic and many of them had a huge impact on our enjoyment of this trip.  Travelling with such an intimate team has been amazing, I particularly enjoyed the staff joining us for dinner in the main Dining Room each night, you had an opportunity to really get to know them and really dive into what makes them come back each year to bring visitors to this remote part of the world.

We exited the gangway for the last time and the entire Expedition Team were lined up to wish us goodbye. Some of these guys we had only met superficially, but the zodiac guides who marvelled at the whales with us, Woody who was there to greet us on every landing site, and several of the others whom you just connected with – well it was hard to say ‘goodbye’. Ema is an amazing young woman – I really hope we meet again one day. I found we had so much in common.  Come to Australia, Ema!  <3 Weirdly, we were giving Woody hugs nearly every other day – he kept us informed and shared his seemingly boundless passion for Antarctica with us, and I was always wanting to hug him to thank him for sharing with us. Thankfully hugging the passengers isn’t against company policy. Trish and Annie. Ema crouching down to be as short as a Cross Girl.  😛 

And then – we were back at the End of the World in Ushuaia.
We found our hotel and dumped our luggage there and went for a wander about the town.  Aunty Mary and Lyn went on a tourist tram that runs around the city, while Trish and I went shopping looking for some things for the kids – but only after catching up with everyone on the free hotel wifi first of course!

Had a chat with yale, ‘Where are you now?’ he asked… shared my location for shits and giggles and it looked like this <–  God I love the Internet!

We pottered around town looking at souvenirs and mountain equipment shops until lunchtime, grabbed a small bite to eat (which in South America, always seems to mean empanadas) where we ran into – you guessed it, loads of people from the ship – before heading back to the hotel to check in properly and find our rooms.  We stayed at the Hotel Albatross which is down near the waterfront. Unfortunately, though, our rooms had even less views than last time!  C’est la vie, it’s only for one night and we spent the afternoon relaxing and finishing Trisha’s bottle of limoncello.  🙂

 

We opted for dinner at the ‘other most recommended’ restaurant in Ushuaia, La Estancia Parilla for some Argentinian BBQ – because they haven’t been feeding us enough on the ship, right?  No, not really… but I have grown rather fond of the chimichurri so off we went.
OMG – forgot about the portion sizes.  Between that and some language barrier issues, we ordered way too much food. Oh, and guess what?  We ran into more people from the ship at this restaurant too… who’d’ve thought? With full bellies and a few vinos under our belts, we wandered back down to the Hotel Albatross for our last night in South America.  Tomorrow the Dread Transit starts in earnest.

Woke up nice and early – dammit, and finalised our packing.  Argentina Aerolineas only allows 15kgs in their checked luggage and I got slugged on the way down and I was likely going to get slugged on the way back, but the others were doing their best to distribute their weight between their backpacks and their suitcase so we didn’t all incur a fee.  We breakfasted at the hotel and then checked out at 10:15am – yeah, that was as late a check out as they were willing to give us.  Thankfully they have a few lovely lounge areas where we could wait until about 11ish before we could call cabs and head to the airport.

Got to the airport without incident and almost immediately we were running into staff and other passengers from the ship – particularly Louise and Jessica (of the Toowoomba Coincidence) who seemed to follow us all the way home.  Anyway, the ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ of international travel had well and truly started and we took our first three-hour flight back to Buenos Aires.  No hidden stop-over this time so it seemed rather quick in comparison to the way down.  Oh and we even had a really happy and chatty check-in guy at the airport who didn’t charge me excess baggage. *wipes away a tear*  What a nice guy!  Oh and gotta love Argentina Aerolineas btw – your in-flight meal is a sickly sweet muesli bar thing, and there is no milk for your tea, only Coffee Mate (blergh!)…  But we were on our way.

As it happened, we had a short three-hour flight, whereupon we arrived in Buenos Aires Domestic Airport which is right in the middle of the city just about, and then we were stuck with an eight hour wait before we were scheduled to fly from EZE, Buenos Aires International (Who booked this shitty transit? Oh wait, that was me).  So we had been busy hatching plans before we went ‘Internet Dark’ on how to avoid spending what seemed like an interminably long time hanging around either one airport or the other, and we had decided upon asking Jorge if we could take him out to dinner!  Jorge was the driver that Ceri had recommended to run us to the airport when we left BA, so we had contacted him and said “Can we please book for you pick us up at the BA Domestic airport, and take us somewhere for dinner somewhere local before dropping us to the International?  If you are free, we would love for you to join us for dinner, and Ceri and his wife too if they are available.”  Yeah, it was a little cheeky, but we had plenty to gain (dinner at a local restaurant with a charming Argentinan!) and nothing to lose by asking how he felt about the plan.  😀  Jorge replied almost immediately saying it would be his pleasure, and what sort of food would we like?  😛  Score!

Here are Jorge’s contact details if you need a driver in Buenos Aires… 

I had told a few people on the ship about our transit plans to get home and they were quite impressed – Bernadette (from Holland) in particular, literally pouted and said, “I want to travel with you!”  She too had some horrid long airport layovers to deal with also.  And yes, you’re damn right we’ve done this before!  😉

Anyway, everything went to plan, Jorge met us at AEP Domestic and took us to a – you guessed it, an Argentinian BBQ place!  😀  I have no idea where in Buenos Aires this place is, but the food was fabulous and our hostess, Marinas was wonderfully welcoming.  Because we were there so early (Argentinians are rather continental with their dining hours) we pretty much had the restaurant to ourselves, and thanks to Jorge – we didn’t even have to take our bags out of the car – Marinas had blocked off a space right out front of the restaurant in readiness to give Jorge somewhere to park.

We had an incredible platter of BBQ’d meats – lamb, beef, chorizo, black pudding, and something that may have been offal or donkey (not sure).  Some wine, fresh bread and a token bit of salad and we were very happily recovered from our airline muesli bars indeed.  🙂  Sadly, dinner came to an end, and Jorge took us to EZE International airport to await our long-haul flight.  We checked in, and ran into Jessica and Louise, again.  Then found somewhere comfy to wait for our flight which was just after midnight.  The flight is much as these things always are, with extra bonus horrible thanks to the prat in front of me who reclined his seat within minutes of getting into the air, and of course, I’m still coughing from the end of the flu thing I have.  Thankfully though, we were able to wave away the horrible airline food as we had been stuffed full of wonderful BBQ meats and chimichurri goodness.

A movie or two later, and I thought I’d have a look at the live flight map (this is a big frequent traveller no-no, and should never be done – it makes the flight seem even longer than it is, if that is at all humanly possible).  But I did and discovered this:
We were headed right back to Ushuaia!  If there were direct flights we could have knocked six hours flying time off the trip!  Arggh!  We had heard that the first flight to land at Ushuaia’s international airport was from Melbourne and had come directly over the Antarctic continent – but they don’t do that route anymore – not enough call for it.  Nothing to be done but to sit back and take all the drugs.I managed to get some sleep on the plane, but won’t be admitting to how much of what medications it took to achieve that.  And eventually we arrived in Auckland.  There we had another three-hour layover (‘Hi, Jessica and Lousie, oh and Mark too) before we were to board to Brisbane.  Unfortunately, our flight was delayed by nearly an hour.  Fortunately (or perhaps miraculously) they seemed to make up most of that time in the air somehow – I’m not asking questions on that one.


We arrived somewhat bedraggled and overtired and cramped and sore in Brisbane at 10:40am on a Sunday morning and all I wanted to do was collapse in a heap.  But, you know, can’t do that – you need to get on local time as quickly as possible.  All up our transit time was roughly 37.5 hours door (in Ushuaia) to door (in Brisbane)… but then as we were going through Customs at Brisbane airport, I mentioned this to Louise, and she said, ‘Well, actually, we left our travel destination, Antarctica, six days ago, so really, it’s taken us six days to get home.”  Eww… thanks for that, Louise!  🙂

 

So home again, home again jiggety jig… until the next adventure.  <3