Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Coals to Newcastle

These photos are in no particular order because I cannot figure out the Blogger user interface.

First Edinburgh:

View of Edinburgh Castle from top of Calton Hill
View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

Mid 17th C Portugese cannon on Calton Hill

As above 

One of the many roses scattered on the hill

Bob near the hotel.

The National Monument on Calton Hill. Not sure if they intend to finish it

And then Newcastle:

Weird caterpillar building in Newcastle 
Bob in unfinished stairway in New Castle in Newcastle
St Nicholas' Church. That's a 14th C tower. 
Tyne Bridge and Caterpillar thing

Ferret on top of New Castle in front of Tyne Bridge and Caterpillar thing

Nice late 16th/early 17th C rapier in New Castle museum

Sign under the rail bridge
The rail bridge. Approximately 40m clearance underneath

Monday, December 26, 2011

Windy City

We're heading to Newcastle (because it's there, as is Hotspur), after two nights in Edinburgh. Well, two nights in a swanky hotel. Bob's parents shouted us a Christmas treat at a classy inner city hotel, and we spent Christmas Eve and Day doing nothing but eating, sleeping and watching TV. A perfect break.

We did walk up Calton Hill to look out at the City, and we can report it looks nice and is very windy. Did I mention it was windy? It was windy. So windy that the small dogs being walked in the park on the hill tended to become airborne, and the Nelson Monument swayed in the breeze.

I may have exaggerated a little.

Now we are waiting for a bus and eating maltesers for lunch, as they don't run trains in Scotland on boxing day.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What have the Romans ever done for us?

Eboracum. Eoforwic. Jorvik. York. Bob keeps calling it the Venice of the North, not because of the canals (that's Manchester), but because it's gorgeous, and apparently is overrun with tourists every summer. We liked it a lot, and would like to live there.

It's not an entirely silly idea - we really liked the look and feel of York, and it looks like there is work for me there, or in Leeds which is a feasible commute from York. Unfortunately the work prospects are not so rosy for Bob, so we'll have to think hard about it.

In dot points, before I fill the page with photos of gargoyles:

  • the Richard III Museum is amusingly naff;
  • the Yorkshire Museum is very good, and has a great collection of Roman finds - we overheard one of the curators talking, and saying that you can't dig a hole in York without finding something significant;
  • Barley Hall is a very intelligent restoration and reconstruction, with absolutely stunning quality of recreated artefacts, all very well presented;
  • We spent a lot of time wandering around the Shambles, bemused by the number of chocolate shops, and delighted by the number of tiny pubs with delicious pints;
  • we didn't have the chance to tour the Minster, but I did take a lot of photos of the stone outside.

There were Hats in Barley hall

Hats to try on!

We like Hats!

Barley Hall exterior
Ok. Now for lots of photos of the Minster, and from near the Minster

Approaching the Minster

Near the Minster 
Boer War memorial, in immaculate Gothic style

Entering the Minster

Old School buildings behind the Minster

The medieval wall is pretty well intact, spared during the Civil War, and not too much altered since. And it follows pretty well exactly the line of the original Roman wall, and includes some of the foundations of that wall. Plus you can walk around almost all of it.

Oh yeah. And I took a lot of photos of the Minster exterior. There were gargoyles and gothic decorations.

And now we leave you in Ediburgh. We've not seen much other than a lot of food, as we huddle in a very nice hotel, resting for Christmas. That's our real present this year - a day and two nights of doing nothing. Merry Christmas to you all.

Knightsbridge of the North

I kid you not. The semi-official nickname for Leeds is "Knightsbridge of the North". We're not entirely sure, but it is telling that we have virtually no photos of interest from our four day stay in Bradford. Which was very definitely not the Knightsbridge of the North.

Our extended stay in Bradford wasn't due to a strong desire to spend a lot of time there, it was really just to make the various dates line up - we knew that we wanted to:

1) spend a day at the Royal Armouries
2) catch Steeleye Span on the last night of their tour, on the 20th
3) visit Schola Gladiatoria on their training night
4) wind up in Edinburgh for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

All of which meant that, yeah, we spent an extended stay in Bradford - we thought it was easier to stay in Bradford than Leeds, since we were doing several things at night in Bradford.

Bradford was... odd. Not unpleasant, or at least the part we were in wasn't unpleasant, but it was definitely odd. The first thing we noticed when we did a stroll around was a startling number of buildings - apartments and offices - empty and looking for renters, and in some cases have obviously been empty for a good while. There were also a lot of apparently abandoned building projects around. It looked very much like there'd been a wave of redevelopment started, that collapsed when the economy went south. The local council is obviously keenly aware of this, and is building a bunch of galleries and a mirror pool/park in the centre of town to spruce the place up. Still, we enjoyed our stay.

The hall where Steeleye Span performed was fun - another huge lump of 19th century masonry, and apparently the oldest performance venue still in use. Steeleye Span rocked the place, and it was a good gig, although we thought they looked noticeably tired after a gruelling tour of the country.

We didn't wind up connecting with Schola Gladiatoria, and will have to go back sometime - they'd changed their training venue and not yet updated their contact address, so we spent an hour trawling around the wrong suburb looking for them. So it goes.

The other thing we saw in Bradford itself was the National Media Museum, featuring Wombles and a Dalek. Also televisions. It was an amusing few hours killed, and the photos are still on Bob's phone. If you find yourself in Bradford, it's worth visiting. Not that you are likely to find yourself in Bradford accidentally.

Of course the highlight of our time was the Royal Armouries. So many neat toys! All the swords! All the armour! Their web site is very good, and includes a catalogue search, so go and look at the pictures of the rapiers - better than shots Bob got on her phone. Possibly my favourite was a German hand-and-a-half, catalogue number IX.38, although the extending rapier was great, and there were some beautiful small swords. We were literally there all day, and will go back.

Next up... Eboracum. Where we took lots of photos.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dark Satanic Mills

We quite liked Manchester, although it felt oddly closed in - much of the areas we travelled were 19th C industrial buildings, tending to tall brick walls and narrow streets. It felt odd (but not unpleasant) in other ways too. Possibly this was because the centre of town was apparently entirely flattened during WWII, so the architecture was generally modern. Most of the parks and squares we walked past were the footprints of churches that had been destroyed and not rebuilt. The other thing that made it feel quaint was an evident lack of confidence in itself - all the tourist information, and information in museums, was very quick to point out what was invented and discovered in Manchester, who was born in Manchester, and who had visited Manchester once to play piano, even though he wasn't feeling very well (Chopin):

The Museum of Science and Industry had a pretty nice collection, sprawled across four buildings that looked largely to be old warehouses and engine sheds, and a rail station, ranging from aircraft through to some of the first programmable computers in the world (invented in Manchester). The highlight though was a representation of a cotton mill, showing all the stages of the process from unpacking the cotton bales to weaving calico, mainly late 19th C machines. This was demonstrated and talked through by an ex-weaver, and there is no doubt that working in the mills was hellish. It's no surprise that Marx and Engels were inspired by their visits to Manchester. On the other hand, the Jacquard looms were very cool, and we went on a short steam train ride in reproduction 1830 carriages. Better known as "open boxes with low ceilings and very dodgy suspension".

The next day we went to the John Rylands Library which was awesome. Wall to wall books, of course, in this startling neo-gothic late Victorian pile of masonry. It' looks like a cathedral has mated with a bookstore, and had sculptures added, but it was incredibly atmospheric. More to the point, on display were some stunning examples of artistic bookbinding, and representative samples of many of their books from the late 15th and 16th centuries. Including an original King James bible, and texts set by Mantius and Caxton. Possibly the coolest item though was a fragment of parchment in Greek which is the oldest known New Testament text, from about 260 AD, and a letter from a (Jewish?) scholar travelling to Acre in the 11th Century, which roughly read "Dear dad, I'm fine, how are you and mum? I hope to meet a good wife when I get to Acre, and tell mum I'm eating properly".

The Rylands library really encapsulates Manchester though: a sincere effort on the part of someone with an enormous amount of money to build a tribute to art and culture, for the benefit and edification of the People, ultimately funded from the profits garnered through the efforts of the workers in those horrid, dark satanic mills.

PS. Apparently the life expectancy of mill workers in the 19th Century was around 30, and they were generally deaf by that time, and died of a variety of lung diseases and cancers. Worth bearing in mind when we look at fine cotton products from Victorian England.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Partly out of a desire to preserve them somewhere other than my laptop, I've tossed (almost) all of my photos up onto Flickr. Over time I will get Bobs photos in there too, and periodically update that set. So watch that space. And if you like any, please leave comments. Same goes for these posts. Please?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Manchester England, England...

Lack of free wi-fi over the past few days has, continuing through tonight, has played havoc with my intent to post photos regularly, and played havoc with my equal intent to write up small notes of each town. So I'm quite a few days overdue. Bear with me while I brain-dump some notes about each town.

Before doing that though, something that keeps catching us up: things open late in England. That's a bit of a sweeping statement, and I know that in Australia museums and similar also tend not to open until 10:00 AM, but we keep getting caught out by places that don't open until 10:30, and particularly by cafes and shops not opening until 9:00 or later. Even in London it feels like most people are trotting off to work to start at 9:00, rather than 8:00 or earlier as we've grown accustomed in Brisbane. Coupled with pretty early sunsets - around 16:00 at the moment - it makes the days feel a bit cramped and compressed.

Our impressions of the towns are almost definitely skewed by staying in and spending time in the centers, rather than the suburbs, but I'm trying to pay attention to the way that people behave, by the pace and rhythm of each town.

Bath was a lovely town, with wall-to-wall stunning Georgian architecture in an attractive honey colour. Even though it was very busy, it had a generally relaxed and open feel. The Roman Baths complex is outstandingly good, with an excellent museum attached. I probably shouldn't have dipped my finger in the lead-filled hot water, but at least I didn't lick it. We did get a chance to sip the Aqua Sulis the next day when we went back to the Pump Room for Georgian Elevnses' - hot chocolate, a Bath bun, and spring water, all to the strains of a classical trio playing christmas carols and arrangements of Abba songs. We missed the Jane Austen center - it opened and closed earlier than we anticipated - but did go to the fashion musuem, and seriously coveted the case full of renaissance gloves.

It's no surprise that Birmingham felt like a Big City, but it also felt like it was self-describing as Big City. It felt pretty flat out and driving, and it was noticeable that the city is aggressively updating itself, apparently with a view to getting on the list of 20 most liveable cities. Again, we gravitated towards galleries and museums, partly because they were cheap or free. The art gallery and museum has a fantastic collection of medieval and renaissance art, and a lot of pre-raphaelites, much to Bob's disgust and my delight. The Royal Brighton Society of Artists gallery had some nice pieces, and we've taken away the catalogue annotated with our favourites with serious consideration about purchasing work. It was only in Birmingham that we finally got our act together and were finding out what was on in town so that we could go out to see performances - we missed Steeleye Span in Salisbury, finding out the day after that they'd been there when we were looking for something to do (But we've arranged to see them in Bradford instead, apparently catching them in our clockwise route as they go counter-clockwise). So I finally got to hear and see Handel's Messiah live. I absolutely loved it, and it's still ringing in my ears. The highlight was probably when Bob pointed out that the choir was loudly proclaiming "We like sheep". Look it up.

The musuem in the Jewellery Quarter was interesting - a family had built a small factory in the late 19th C to manufacture bracelets and rings for wholesale, kept it in the family, and then eventually just closed it down and walked away around 1981. The local council bought it up around 1990 and turned it into a museum when they found it was a time capsule. One fascinating aspect for me was the realisation that a 16th C and 20th C jeweller could easily trade places, as there was very little difference in the processes or tools.

As long as you ignore the tourist-trumpet emphasis on the Beatles, Liverpool had a really nice feel about it. Our day started late as I'd wanted to have breakfast at the Arabic cafe just down from the hostel. Which didn't open to start serving breakfast until 10:00. We wandered up to the Walker Gallery past a building deliberately modelled off the Parthenon, past any number of representations of the Super Lambanana, and found another great collection of pre-raph and impressionist works, an exhibit of some of Matisse's artists' books, and a very interesting gallery focussed on design. I was really taken by cabinets displaying, side by side, a 16th C, 18th C and 20th C dining set. We trotted off to the Albert docks and a wander by the Mersey for lunch, then wandered aimlessly trying to find the trendy independent bohemian Rope Walks area indicated on the tourist map. Which we discovered meant a lot of clubs that don't open until late in the evening, and cafes that closed early in the afternoon.

The next day in Liverpool - today - turned into a shopping trip. I needed a new hat, so we went in search of a shop functionally equivalent to Target or KMart. Called, um. Primark. Ridiculously warm, ridiculously styled hat was found. But my folding umbrella exploded on the trip down, so we then went in search of a Serious Umbrella, aparrently designed to withstand hurricanes and volcanoes. Since we were in a shopping mood, Bob picked up the special Zelda version of the 3DS, then we strolled off back to the Rope Walks to a vintage clothes place so that Bob could pick up some pigskin gloves we'd spotted the day before. We went to a 50's diner just down the road, and ate burgers while the rain turned into snow.

Snow! Snow! I was ridiculously excited to see snow fall, as I've never seen it. For that matter I was excited about the sleet earlier, although that was probably because there wasn't a wind driving it under my umbrella.

The train trip to Manchester was special for me, looking out the window across fields, towns, and small patches of forest dusted with snow. This is the sort of thing I came here for.