Cobh for Cork

We had a much needed Sea Day after leaving Southampton yesterday, whereupon we spent most of the day sleeping in and then catching up with friends that I had met on my South American travels in 2017. I think that is one of the best things about travelling – meeting likeminded people and being able to stay in touch thanks to the Internet.  We had met these wonderful people on last year’s trip, and have since managed to catch up in Sydney for lunch last November, and even caught up with two of them in Canada this January and again had a lunch date in Mittagong before Festival.  Before we left the South America trip last year, I had known they were all planning on doing the World Cruise this year, so I chose this itinerary for myself and Mr K in order that we might travel part of the way with them – which is turning out to be a bloody good plan on my part, they are such a fun bunch.

Today’s port was Cobh (pronounced, ‘Cove’) which is a touristy export town on the south of Ireland in County Cork.  It’s mostly known for it’s maritime and emigration history as it is associated with the Titanic (which was built in Belfast and left via Cobh) and the Lusitania (which was sunk by a German U-boat near Kinsale during WWI which is not far from here).  I don’t know much about the Lusitania but it was brought down on May 7, 1915 with 1,198 passengers killed and 764 rescued all of whom were brought to Cobh.  There is a Lusitania Peace Memorial in the middle of the small town…

Along with other memorials to the Titanic and also a monument of Annie Moore and her little brothers who were the first people admitted to the United States at the new immigration centre that had recently been built at Ellis Island in New York on January 1, 1892.  Cobb was the departure point for 2.5 million of the 6 million Irish who emigrated to the US during the late 19thC to early 20thC.  Cobh was also a major exit point for men, women and children who were being deported to the penal colonies of Australia. 

We were meeting up with an old friend, Gav, who used to live in Brisbane but who is has been living in Ireland for the last decade or so and we couldn’t wait to see him, check out his adopted part of the world and have a few pints.  Gav met us near the ship and showed us around Cobh, starting with the St Colman’s Cathedral. 

St Colman’s is an ENORMOUS cathedral for such a tiny town – Cobh is only now home to 12,000 people, but when it was built between 1867 and 1915, was probably home to far fewer. The building itself is one of the tallest in all Ireland with a huge spire that dominates the skyline and is home to a 49 bell carillon, which is one of the largest in Europe.  It must have been a very ambitious, not to mention bloody expensive, project when it was built.  While wandering under the huge vaulted cathedral ceiling, I couldn’t help wondering about all the poor people living nearby at the time, barely able to afford their potatoes, while the church was building this enormous monument with it’s stone buttresses and stained glass. It’s a beautiful building but seems somewhat out of place here in this tiny seaside town.

After poking around Cobh for a while, we drove to nearby Cork which is a modern bustling city of some XXX people.  The high street shopping district could pass for any in Ireland or the UK for that matter.  I actually hate travelling and seeing the same chain stores everywhere – it makes me feel like we are globally homogenising everything.     We pottered around Cork for a bit, Mr K found some transport stuff to inspect and poke around at, and I popped into some souvenir shops (I forgot to bring my coffee mug again – and I hate the tiny tea cups on the ship) he and Gav climbed up to a church to ring the bells and we then found a handy pub to have a few drinks and a small bite to eat.  We were only supposed to be stopping for a short time, but a few hours were quickly passed chatting about life, love, and mutual acquaintance back home.  

After lunch we made our way out to Blarney Castle, which of course is what all tourists do in this area.  I had been in back in 1995 and it was pretty much as I remember.  Poor Gav has probably been here with ever single one of his visiting relatives and couldn’t tell me how many times he had climbed it’s narrow stairways.  For Mr K however, this was his first visit so he was determined to kiss the Blarney Stone.  🙂 

Blarney Castle is a medieval building dating to 1446 and was built by the McCarthy family.  It was believed to have been built on top of a timber home that was built there around 1200 though no remains of that original dwelling survived. The castle is now partially ruined but has some accessible rooms and you can get up on the battlements.  On top of the castle is the Blarney Stone where you can hang upside down over a fairly high drop (probably a couple of hundred feet?) to kiss the stone and gain the gift of eloquence.  

The castle also has extensive gardens which are probably a delight to visit, but seeing as how it had decided to pour down rain as we approached, we climbed the castle, Mr K kissed the stone and we made our way back down again.  So now, I’ve climbed the twisty difficult stairways of Blarney Castle twice and still not kissed the stone! 

We then made our way back Cork so we could take a train (with our Leap cards) back to Cobh.  The train was clean and comfortable and had free wifi (Australia – you have to get your shit together not this one).  Where we head to the Rob Roy pub to find the Nookies (our friends from the ship) all happily ensconced in the pub singing and dancing and whopping it up listening to some Irish performers and downing their ‘who’s counting?’ Guinness.  The pub was so packed it was standing room only, and the heat radiating from the building was incredible.  We went in and had a single pint and had to go hunt for dinner – the Nookies (crazy buggers!) had been there for six hours enjoying the craic.   They had a great day and were in high spirits.

Mr K and I found a local restaurant to have some dinner of fish and chips etc before also eventually heading back to the ship.  What a great day.  Thanks Gav for showing us around. 

Big Day O’ London Transport

After a big morning of meetings about creating liveable transport spaces, transport’s role in securing employment outcomes, and links between health and transport options, we thought we’d have lunch and then a break from work and head to… the London Transport Museum!  😀

The museum is located in an old Victorian flower market right beside Covent Garden, it’s a lovely out building, but being a large open steel framed empty space it must be one of the noisiest museums I’ve ever visited.  And while I understood why we were there – transport, duh – I had no idea why there were so many young families with children checking out the history of buses, trams, trains and subways in London!
That is until we got in amongst the exhibits.  There was decided lack of any serious history being imparted here – a few tidbits on plaques around the place and a LOT of modern interactive museum exhibits specifically designed to engage kids… you know the stuff – spin this dial and see what happened over time with the tram lines, get your special London Transport Museum card stamped at every station and get a free sticker, and my fav, climb all over the mocked up bus/taxi/train thingy screaming with glee at the top of your lungs.
The most interesting things here were a few old photos with accompanying text – like this one below depicting an old London bus with its destination ‘blind’ which rolled out so the driver could change the visible sign on the outside of the bus to indicate where it was headed. But mostly the Museum seems to have let the interactive entertainment nonsense overtake the dissemination of historical information bit.  This guy was amusing – the original transport entrepreneur overtaken by Uber imitators perhaps?  Fell flat on his arse… wonder why. By now it was about 3:00pm and we were hoping to head over to the Globe Theatre for a tour at 4pm tour with LukenManda.  So, having taken all the buses, trains and other forms of transport available, we thought we’d try out the cross river ferry service which went from just down near the Strand across to the Globe… or so we thought.  What should have been a 4:05pm ferry with two stops to the Globe (which we arrived 20 mins early for) turned into a 35 min wait for a ferry that never came and then being shepherded onto a ferry service that was going NORTH BOUND which then loops about and heads back to the Globe with four stops on the way.  FFS… we didn’t actually get there until 4:40pm.  Crazy.  If anyone reading this has ever been on a Brisbane CityCat, you won’t understand this, but the Thames Clippers ‘river bus’ services are these huge old barges that take forever to manoeuvre to and from the pontoons and by the time we got there we were completely over it.  The staff make the transport SNAFU extra special by not telling us what happened to the service we were actually waiting for and as we were getting onto the ferry and I was confirming that it was indeed going to the Bankside stop for the Globe, responding with an indifferent, ‘Yeah, I think so.’  Oh we have so much confidence at this point..

Anyway, we eventually got there and just made it to our Globe Tour.  The tour of the theatre was a bit… short and lacking in history.  Yeah, I’m thinking how can that be – we are talking about an Elizabethan theatre here, but our guide, Simon, focussed largely on how this reconstructed building was willed into life by Sam Wanamaker back in the ’80s/90s and how modern acting companies are created and their productions are working now.  So scant little information on Elizabethan theatre practices and historical tidbits.  As such, this was a little on the disappointing side for me.  I’d have preferred to hear more about the socio-political impact of the theatre on contemporary Elizabethan audiences etc rather than how they are directing, casting and producing plays today in that space.  Oh well, still an amazing building and I’m sure one day I’ll be back to see a production here – they are doing Othello at the moment but because of our work commitments while we were here, we had only very briefly looked at seeing what was on several months ago, and then failed to follow up on it.
Oddly, it feels very much like bing in the Pop Up Globe in Auckland and gives you an appreciation of just how well the designers of that venue have done to replicate this incredible theatre in it’s temporary format.  The dimensions are the same, the intimacy of the space is the same… I highly recommend any Aussies who didn’t manage to see it in Melbourne, try to get along to see it in Sydney when it opens soon. After our (rather short) Globe tour it was time to skip through the gift shop and then jump a black cab and head back to Covent Garden to catch up with Joey Jo Jo over a jug of sangria.  🙂   Popped into a little Mexican restaurant I found here on my last trip called, (what was it called, again?) – Cafe Pacifico.  Great little cheap and cheerful place with lovely food, but rather busy and very noisy.  Sorry Angus, Dad had the chimichangas without you! 

We had our meals and went hunting for a pub for to have a quiet pint or two… whereupon we were joined by Mr Eleganza himself, KevZedBaby! was finally in the house!

It is always lovely to be able to catch up with friends while travelling, and this trip has been full of friends (well, you know, work and catching up with friends). We had a few quiet drinks and shared stories about each other’s crazy lives, before having to call it an early night. Big hugs guys, thanks for taking the time to come hang out with us, even for just a few hours.

We were hoping for an early night but this work/travel stuff can be pretty damn draining when you’re trying to smash in some sight seeing too… so it was well after 12pm before we turned in.

Westminster Abbey

This morning I sent Mr K on an early morning walk of central London to see some of the things that you can see – sans tourists and sans the ‘deadly heatwave gripping London!’  Yes, London is in the middle of a heatwave… it has like 30-33C here and people are melting.  But only because London is not prepared for heat like this.  Many shops have either no air con or systems that can’t cope once it gets over about 27, the buses and trains have zero air conditioning at all, so you can get on a bus and get stuck in traffic and then step out into the 33C heat and feel it as cool and refreshing.  The hotels have air conditioned rooms (I’m sitting here in my hotel room with a jumper on atm because I can’t seem to adjust it any warmer than about 21C) but none of the public areas and hallways in the place are air conditioned.  The supermarket has no air con, there are small stores apologising that drinks aren’t cold because they fridges won’t work over 24C… it’s a nightmare.  So at home, we’d say 30-31C is fine – but we go from air conditioned homes to air conditioned cars to air conditioned offices or air conditioned shops.  Brisbane is equipped to deal with it far better than London but it’s so bad here, I’ve been feeling somewhat concerned for London’s elderly residents who probably have no respite from it at all.

Anyway, this morning I sent Mr K out before the heat to have a look at Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s Column, Covent Garden, the Mall, Buckingham Palace and other well known monuments while the city was still asleep – he got some lovely photos with hardly any people in them and said it was quite pleasant being out and about before the travelling hordes were up.

After breakfast though we had planned to go back to try again to get into Westminster Abbey without the huge queue – and we failed dismally.  We arrived there at 9:15ish and already there was about an hour long wait, though thankfully it was mostly still in the shadow of the cathedral so not standing around in the direct sun as it would have been on Saturday.  The queue was steadily moving but wound itself in around considerably – at one point I had to go find a step to sit on leaving Keith to hold our spaces as my back simply won’t let me stand up for that long, but eventually we got into the Abbey, whereupon we were greeted.  By a cash register.

Now, I don’t mind paying to get into these places, I understand there are hideous costs involved in the upkeep required to preserve these national treasures for posterity and that these cost should be borne by visitors, churches and governments alike.  But unlike yesterday at Hampton Court Palace where I was asked if I would like to pay £22.70 or £25.00 with an added small donation to gain entry*, here we were greeted by a £22.00 per adult but £40.00 for a family of two adults and one child.  What the fuck? Just because we are travelling without our/a child on that day, we are able to afford a more expensive entry price? How does that make any sense whatsoever?  And if you were to ask to buy a family pass, they apparently refused to sell it to you because you didn’t have a child with you.  Honestly if they had said the price is £20.00 and given the option for a £22.00 ticket ‘with a small donation’ I would have paid the additional without blinking, but instead you are immediately put into a mindset where the establishment is deliberately ripping you off, leaving you feeling less than generous towards them right off the bat.  Fucking churches.

(*As a side note I did pay the more expensive £25.00 per person at Hampton Court – I’m always happy to make a small VOLUNTARY donation to a museum like this.)

Anyway we go on in and are offered no map or guide booklet, but only an audioguide.  Sometimes I think audioguides are okay – they are great for some museums or art galleries and they can be awesome if you are travelling by yourself.  However, when you have several hundred people crammed into a medieval church all walking around with their heads stuck up their arses with headphones on listening to an audioguide in umpteen different languages – every single one of them will immediately lose whatever limited situational awareness they previously possessed and turn into bimbling idiots.  You have people bumping into each other, stepping back to look up at something and standing on each others feet and almost knocking each other over, swinging around to see something and bumping their stupid back packs into other visitors – or worse into ancient funereal monuments!  They’re cheek to jowl shuffling along only half listening, with a slack jawed unengaged and bored expression on their face. Audioguides seriously suck in these tight, crowded environments.  Not only do they make for extremely inconsiderate visitors but they actually slow down the progression of the people moving through the spaces. People will slow down to listen to the audioguide at a designated point and not move through until they get told to do so – even if none of what they are listening to is relevant or interesting to them, as audioguides inherently cause people to worry that they may miss something ‘important’.

The Abbey is both historically important and incredibly beautiful – there is no doubting that, but they have somehow managed to suck any enjoyment out of visiting the place.  I feel really quite spoiled that I first came here over 20 years go, before the cash registers at the front door, before the line ups of thousands of tourists and before the advent of the audioguide.  My first visit to the Abbey was solemn and introspective and it felt like visiting an important religious site… today, well it felt like an old musty stone Disneyland with a decided lack of mouse or music.

I still have favourite spots in the Abbey but don’t see myself coming back here for a very long time – perhaps one day for a service if ever at all.  Seeing that you can’t take photos in the Abbey anymore (I have plenty that were taken there years ago), I have a few stock pics to add in of my favourite spot in the Abbey – the Henry VII Lady Chapel with it’s beautiful stalls and brass heraldic stall plates.

Another lovely newer inclusion was Stephen Hawkings memorial marker… and a very helpful Abbey volunteer who was saying repeatedly, “Here, underfoot is Charles Darwin to your left is Stephen Hawking”.
After seeing all the tombs and monuments – Elizabeth I, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots, the Poet’s corner (wonder if a memorial to J K Rowling will end up in there one day right next to Anthony Trollope or Shakespeare? #showerthoughts) we went out through the Cloisters and the obligatory gift shop.

We had intended to try and smash the Tower of London in before a late lunch today but the queuing meant that was not now going to be possible and we had to head back to the hotel to get stuck into some work that needed finalising before tomorrow’s (today’s meetings).  Which kinda worked out well, as it was going to get us out of this record breaking heat – 35C today and no AC in sight.  Spent an hour on a bus stuck in traffic to traverse barely a few kilometres (would have walked, but my back is not up for it atm) and spilled out of the bus feeling that the 35C heat was ‘cool and refreshing’.  I shit you not.  London Transport – you have wilting OAPs and heat stroked tourists to answer for.  Get your act together!

Work stuff took longer than we expected and we didn’t end up going out again until evening.  Jumped the tube and went for a wander down to Leicester Square and Piccadilly to do a spot of shopping and see the gathering hordes. Mr K’s comment on seeing the M&M World, the LEGO store and the street performers: “Wow, this is like the London’s Times Square isn’t it?”  Me: “Yup, walk with purpose and hold onto your belongings.”

We made our way up Regent Street to do some shopping and then came back again towards Covent Garden before ending up at Drury Lane to have dinner at Sarastro.  Ms Stephola brought me here a couple of years ago and I loved the place – extremely funky decor, wonderful live pianist or opera playing in the background, and amazing Turkish/Mediterranean food.  I thought Mr K would like it, so here we were and we were not disappointed.  We had a lovely meal in a cute little tucked away booth where we felt like the only patrons in the restaurant.

After our lovely meal, we went for a wander down past the Aldwych Theatre which is currently showing ‘Tina – The Tina Turner Musical’ (which is neither here nor there but we were just contemplating who on earth they could have found to belt out Tina Turner tunes all night, every night in a musical version of her life/career), when we saw a fox cross The Strand heading towards Drury Lane or possibly heading to the Waldorf Hilton. A fox. We saw an actual (presumably wild) fox crossing the street in central London – and all I could think was, ‘I bet she’s not impressed with this heat either’.

So after another lovely day in London that was predominately overtaken by work, we head back to our hotel to prepare for more work tomorrow!  (Though via Sainsbury’s to pick up some pre-mixed G&Ts of course.)

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.”

And ‘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) many times and taken photos of the famous building, but it never occurred to me to actually 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 visit 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 back in the good ol’ days.
Our tour took us through Westminster Hall, then 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, making for a dramatic 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 Tiananmen 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 many wonderful hours of quiet contemplation wandering the halls of antiquity there – marvelling at the beautiful objects on display, wondering 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, well, 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 on in the Great Hall that was blaring on loudspeakers at a volume that you could still hear it in the rooms of the Waddell Collection. People were pushing and shoving to see things and literally pressing their noses up against display cases.  It was not pleasant at all… we may go back later in the week for a decent look, if time permits, as it is just around the corner from our hotel but this, this was not visiting the British Museum.

Yes…  :/  Tring tiles – simply fabulous!
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!