Sunday, 20 December 2015

Hughenden Manor, High Wickham, Buckinghamshire

Hughenden Manor
Following the theme of using our National Trust Membership, we decided to visit Hughenden Manor near High Wickham. I love stately homes - anything that resembles a stately home is an instant winning point for me. I love the way the look and I am fascinated by the history that surrounds them. 

Hughenden Manor is best known as the home of Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli was a Conservative Prime minister in 1852. Queen Victoria was a strong advocate of him and invited him to be Prime Minister after his spell as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is best known for his fierce political rivalry with William Gladstone. It is said that the two men couldn't have been more different or have more different opinions on matters. Gladstone was a member of the rich middle upper class - he was educated at Eton and then at Christ Church, Oxford. He was described as being torrential, eloquent and evangelical. Whereas Disraeli's parents were of Italian Jewish descent - he was educated at obscure schools and never went to university. He was described as urbane, witty with a streak of romance - he had the gift of flattery. The rivarly between the two was so intense that Disraeli's robe as Chancellor (which was passed on and worn by consecutive Chancellors since the 18th Century)should have been passed onto his successor and political rival Gladstone. However, when the time came, he couldn't bare to give it to his rival and  he hid the robe away at Hughenden manor. The robe is currently on display in the Bartolozzi Room.

Christmas Mice
We visited the manor very close to Christmas so the whole house was themed with "A Visit From Saint Nicholas".  There were many events on to get children excited and the event became a family day out. There was even a mouse scavenger event - small hand knitted mice were scattered throughout the house and the children were asked to count how many they could find in the rooms! This did not detract from the history in the house or the amazing National Trust Volunteers who have banks of knowledge. It was wonderful to learn so much about a man I had never heard of in such a small amount of time and by people who are really interested in his life.

In the library was a huge christmas tree, surrounded by presents - enough to get even the biggest of Christmas Grinches into that well loved Christmas spirit. In the bedroom were sugar plum fairies dancing on the walls and in the dinning room was a Jelly Tea Party. The events didn't stop in the manor, there was even a grotto and a game to find all of Santa's reindeer. It is these small events put on in these places of great history that really differentiates the National Trust - that makes them ever so important in retaining our history and ensuring children of the future want to visit and want to learn.

Christmas Tree!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Hampton Court Palace, Surrey

One of the most interesting parts of history, for me, has always been the Tudors. This was finally a Monarchy that had some stories to tell. I love the Monarchy and I am fascinated by our history, but there is something about the Tudors that the entire world finds fascinating. 

Tudor Entrance to Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace was initially brought to the attention of King Henry VIII by Thomas Wolsey - his trusted Almoner. Wolsey transformed the estate into a palace worthy of a King. Following Wolsey's 'failure' to obtain a divorce for King Henry from his first wife Katherine of Aragon, he fell out of favour with the King and at this point King Henry seized the palace for himself. 

Around the palace are small pieces of history which show the Kings presence in this magnificent building. Whilst Wolsey was having the Palace built he included Katherine of Aragon's crest into the woodwork. When Henry finally re-married with Anne Boleyn, he removed these and put her crest in its place. Following the beheading of Anne, these were also removed. Today, there are a couple of these badges that still remain!

Henry loved Anne Boleyn very much, he was infatuated with her and completely redesigned the Great Hall in her honour. The hall is beautiful and would have looked magnificent when it was initially built. At the very top, sat on the eaves, are small carvings of men looking down on the people in the hall - eaves-droppers! This is where the term has come from!

One of the most impressive parts of Hampton Court Palace were the tours that are offered there. Actors dress up in the time period and take you around the Palace - showing you secret rooms, all the while acting some of the greatest stories to have come from the Palace. One of the most notable stories is that of Catherine Howard. Catherine Howard was the Kings fifth wife. She was beautiful, young and the King adored her. At this point Henry was more resemblant to the King we imagine - fat, ugly and mean. As time passed Catherine became less interested in the King and fell in love with the Kings favourite courtier - Thomas Culpeper. The Queen committed adultery with him (which wasn't the most intelligent of moves, considering the Kings history) and her love letters to him were discovered. During the tours the whole act of finding out about the love letters and questioning Lady Rochford regarding the incident was presented for us (torture not included). This was excellent as it became part of the one of the biggest ghost stories of Hampton Court palace - the ghost of Catherine running down the hall, screaming and crying, trying to get to her King to apologise - unfortunately she never made it and was beheaded for her crimes.


The Palace has two very clear histories - its Tudor history and its Stuart history. After Henry's death, the palace fell to disrepair. It wasn't again inhabited for over 100 years, until King William III and Queen Mary II decided to take up residence. Extensive rebuild work happened under this period, with the original intention to knock the Tudor part of the Palace down and start again. However, with shortness of money, an additional part of the palace was added on. This creates a stark contrast when walking through the buildings as it is quite clear where one palace begins and the other ends.

A further 100 years later King George III abandons the building as a royal residence. Finally, 80 years later, Queen Victoria opens up the Gardens and State apartments to the public free of charge. The building has been open to the public ever since.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Fountains Abbey and the Studley Royal Park, Ripon, North Yorkshire

Fountains Abbey
Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and best preserved Abbeys in England. Built in 1132, this Abbey has been standing since Marco Polo went on his voyage from China to Persia, the black death killed a third of Europe's population, the Forbidden City was constructed in China, King Henry ordered the dissolution of the Monasteries, the industrial revolution and even the first mission to the moon. 

My boyfriend and myself decided to get National Trust memberships when I moved to the North for a year for work - there is so much history in the North - there must be loads to see, right? Fountains Abbey was recommended to me before I moved to Leeds - so it became a must see. The day was wet, windy and pretty miserable (I don't believe the weather has changed from this since), but we drove there regardless.

Fountains Abbey in the misty rain
To our surprise, the wet weather was actually a blessing in disguise. The entire World Heritage Site was empty, just us and the National Trust Volunteers present. We were able to see the Abbey in its full glory - the yellowed autumn leaves framing the mysterious building. The rain caused a foggy effect that gave the entire site a spooky feel. It has been said that on some dark nights, a ghostly choir can be heard chanting from the Chapel of the Nine Alters - maybe it wasn't just the misty rain that was haunting us!

Studley Royal Water Garden
The Abbey itself was an amazing building, made of Marble and several stories high. But this was not the best part of the estate - in my opinion, it was the Studley Royal Water Garden. Following the dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry the VIII (an event that would have directly impacted the day-to-day life at the abbey) the estate was sold to a Merchant - Sir Richard Gresham - and the abbey and its grounds entered private hands. The most notable owners being the Aislabie family - John and William. Between them, they created an exquisite water garden that still looks the same way today, as it would have looked back when it was first designed and built.

Fountains Abbey from Anne Boleyn's lookout
Surrounding the water gardens are the most picturesque views and forestry, with winding paths that snake up the hillside. Every path is bordered with Pheasants - the males far more brave than the females. One of the winding paths takes you to Anne Boleyn's lookout - although it is believed she never visited Fountains Abbey, there is a headless statue there, watching over the abbey, which is believed to have been made in honour of her!

Another part of this World Heritage site is a deer park, where local wild deer run freely! Seeing these beautiful animals in England was amazing - they seemed so much more majestic than the deer we got close and personal with in Japan! During this time the rain cleared up and the sun (and unfortunately, all the other tourists) came out and we were able to see the Abbey in the sunshine. What this building must have looked like all those years ago when it was in its full glory must have been an extraordinary sight to have seen, and one I wish we had the opportunity to see today!

The glorious, Fountains Abbey

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dismaland, Weston-super-Mare

Dismaland entrance and queue!
I have grown up around Weston-super-Mare, it is where I went to school and where I went to college, it is where I have met some of my closest friends. When I heard that Banksy - a notorious Bristolian street artist - had opened an "amusement park" in the towns derelict Tropicana, I was intrigued. I know very little about art, so I won't act like I do, but I still like to look at pretty things. We decided to wait a couple of weeks after opening to miss the initial queues - this meant we were able to buy tickets for a specific time slot. We arrived at 7pm, as our ticket stated, to find there was a 50 minute queue of people who had done the same thing - the initial excitement had not declined!

David Cameron Art Work
When we finally reached the front of the queue we entered another queue, this time in three lines – allowing us to pass through the "Dismal security". One of the security officers was shouting at us for not joining a smaller queue – accusing us of “enjoying queuing”. This offended my mother instantly and she could not understand why there was "the need for such an attitude”. We had to explain that this is what they were hired to do - be dismal! My brother was not allowed to pass through security until he had put his hoodie hood up!


Toy boats filled with models of
immigrants 
One of the happiest park attendants
Once we got inside there was more evidence of the Dismal theme – with depressed park attendants all looking like they were having the worst day of their lives! My father and brother were already in the Dismal mood after the long queue and what we found inside did not lighten their spirits. The place was designed to be as depressing as possible – to the point it wasn’t depressing, but instead funny. Cinderella’s castle looked like it had been caught in an arson attack, tables to eat food were surrounded by puddles and the Ferris wheel looked like it could fall over at any minute.

Miniature Town
The ballerina trucks by Mike Ross
We walked round, looking at notable structures along the way, such as the two trucks in a ballerina pose by Mike Ross and the carousel with the horse meat butcher making lasagnes – another one of Banksy’s clever references to social scandals. Next to this we found the tiny boats filled with immigrants, with many face down in the water. The public could control and drive the boats and there was even a warship with a machine gun on the front. We headed past the lady being attacked by birds into the viewing gallery. This was where the standard art gallery made its appearance with pictures that touched on all of society. At the very end of the gallery was a model toy village with miniature people and cars. The Dismal park attendants here were in their prime – shouting at people for taking too long to look at the model and laughing at those taking pictures.

The carousel in full spin

Cinderella and her Papparazzi
After leaving the gallery, nightfall had arrived and the park began to glow – unfortunately for Banksy, making it look a little bit happier. We walked past the attendant who was running a stand where, if you could knock over an anvil with a ping pong ball, you could win the anvil, and headed towards the castle. The queue was huge – around the entire park.
Cinderella's Castle

After we finally reached the entrance of the castle an old TV was playing the end of Cinderella – where she marries the Prince and drives off to live “Happily Ever After”. Once we finally got inside there was only one piece of work, which the entire castle was built to house. Cinderella fallen from her carriage – her outlook looking grave and instead of helping her, there was paparazzi photographing her. It was a strong resemblance to the sad end of the late Princess Diana. Even my Dismal father had to appreciate that piece of art.

We left, feeling a bit sad, like our evening had been a touch depressing. But isn’t that the point – to  leave feeling Dismal?

My Father and I outside Cinderella's Castle

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Cunard Cruise, Mediterranean

Day One - At Sea


A day at sea is always amazing, especially around hot countries. Our day consisted of sunbathing, swimming, dancing and eating - a lot of eating! Afternoon tea, followed by dressing for Formal Night.
Matt and I on our first formal evening
Day Two - Corfu
On the Old Fortress Walls, looking over Corfu Bay
Corfu was hot! After spending a couple of days on the air-conditioned boat, the sharp change in humidity and temperature was very noticeable. The walk from the port to the old town was two kilometres and consisted of walking past the old port, the new port and the new fortress. Corfu’s old town is made up of tiny streets that connect together to create a maze of quaint houses and small shops. Corfu has been occupied by many different nations and evidence of this could be seen everywhere from Venetian townhouses and small alleyways to British bandstands and cricket greens.
A view over Corfu

Whilst walking past a jewellery shop, we noticed signs that indicated that the shop was in partnerships with several cruise lines. Upon stopping to look at the sign, the owner approached us, explaining all about her store and partnership with cruises. The owner was lovely and created an amazing first impression of the native Greeks on Corfu, She also informed us of the key sights in the old town.

Strange metal sculpture
With our new knowledge, we headed east – out of the little streets and towards the old fortress. This structure could be seen from the harbour and provided many beautiful scenic photo shots. Corfu looked beautiful from here with so much blue sea and many large yachts. The rich architecture, which had much resemblance to Venetian architecture and the buildings seen in the French Rivera, could clearly be seen, with big bell towers and the town hall. When we initially got off the boat, we could see a cross like structure on the top of a hill. Jokingly Matt said we were going there – obviously we ended up climbing the hill to see it. It was a strange structure that looked like a radio mast that had been turned into a religious structure.

Matt and I at the tallest point of Old Town, Corfu
Upon exiting the old fortress, we headed towards the church. The journey there led us past the museum of Asian art and the Cricket green. The buildings were amazing and some still had original features, such as the archways over the road.

We finally finished our day trip off with a trip to the beach. Although the water was a perfect crystal blue, it wasn’t as warm as I had expected! Although the ship had informed us that it was 27 degrees, that is still 10 degrees below body temperature and it was noticeable!

The Old Fortress
Most interestingly, we arrived in Corfu a few days after the Greek Eurozone crisis. It was suggested that we could only withdraw €60 from an ATM. However, upon arriving on the island, every cashpoint we came across was “temporarily out of service” although most places still accepted credit card!

On the sail away from Corfu, we were able to move along the coastline up to the north of the island. This section of the island is renowned for its beautiful beaches and holiday resorts. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see them from the boat, but we were able to see the beautiful mountainous countryside that ran alongside it (and Albania)!

The streets of Old Town, Corfu
Day Three - Kotor
A small village in the Gulf of Kotor
Montenegro was never a place I had thought about for a holiday. Although it is based around the Mediterranean and blessed with warm temperatures, the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. Finding this country on the cruise itinerary was exciting, I didn’t know what to expect.

An early morning fisherman
The passage to Kotor was based down a huge fjord-like inlet of the Gulf of Kotor. This passage inland started at 5.30am and we go up to watch it.  We ordered breakfast to the side of the boat so we could eat and watch the huge cruise liner pass little costal towns on the path in. This was spectacular! All around us were huge rolling mountains and pretty villages. Many of these villages were likely fishing towns as there were lots of fishermen and equipment set up. The scenery may have been some of the best I have ever seen.

Old Town, Kotor
Kotor (like Corfu before) has been occupied by many other nations. It was founded by the Romans and stayed under Roman rule until the breakup in AD 476. Since then it has switched between occupation and being an independent republic. Many of the cities buildings were built during the 300-year Venetian rule from 1420 – this Venetian influence can still be felt today.

A view from the city walls over the Bay of Kotor

When we finally docked in Kotor – a World Heritage Site - at 8am it wasn’t a disappointment. City walls that encased the houses and snaked up the mountain bordered the old town. It was already starting to get warm at 8am and TripAdvisors top rated thing to do in Kotor is climb the City Walls. Not wanting to do this when it is too hot, we left straight for the wall climb, whilst it was still in the shade. 

The boat is the biggest building here!
Kotor Harbour
The walk was steep, there were two paths – one that was made of shingle and is quite slippery and the other was steps, 1350 steps in total (or 675 single leg squats per leg as I like to think of it). The views all the way up the climb were amazing. The huge cruise liner looked out of place settled in the beautiful bay and surrounded by mountains. When we finally reached the top we were able to take in all the scenery next to a Montenegro flag! The walk down was much simpler, but the sun was now overhead – I felt sorry for the late risers who were just starting this walk, it was hot enough without direct sunlight! After climbing the mountain, it was clear why this was one of the best things to do in Kotor.

Montenegro flag on the top of the city walls
Upon arriving back into the old town, we wondered round the old cobbled streets. Unfortunately I felt the town was highly touristy and now 2000 cruise passengers were wondering the streets, cluttering the town. We headed to Kotor’s “shopping mall” which was very small, but did have free Wi-Fi (which was amazing after not having it on the boat).

We popped back to the boat for lunch and afternoon tea (with it literally being parked in the town). In the evening (when it was cooler) we were able to explore around the town – there wasn’t much except residential housing, but we did get a beautiful shot of the boat in the bay. Many of our fellow cruise passengers jumped on a hop on hop off tour of the surrounding towns which they said was really good and easily worth the €15 price tag!
The boat from the shore


When leaving Kotor, it was dark so we were unable to see the beautiful scenery at night, but did get to see the glow of the small towns on the water.

Day Four - At Sea

Another day at sea - another day of sunbathing and eating. Today we were on the highest deck so we had a constant breeze over us, causing us not to feel the heat and get slightly sunburnt!

In the evening we had another formal evening.

Matt and I on our second formal evening
Day Five/Six - Venice
A canal in Venice
I have already been to Venice a couple of years ago, but I have heard this is a romantic city that is best enjoyed with someone. Thankfully this time I had Matthew with me to enjoy it! The temperature was around 7 degrees hotter in July than it was last time I went in September and it really did make a difference – not just whilst walking around in the backstreets, but also with the larger and busier crowds that were attracted to the city.

One of the prettiest
churches I have visited
Our initial journey into Venice began at 6am when we picked up a pilot to help our Captain (Captain Philpot) manoeuvre the boat down the Venetian Canals. This means our boat sailed past the Lido and then past the main Island of Venice. We were very close to the island as we sailed in and could see people walking around. Two tugs attached themselves to the front and the back of the boat to drag to cruise liner around on sharper turns and prevent any accidents. At 6.45am our boat sailed past St Marks Square – we were able to see the Basilica and the giant clock tower very clearly from the balcony! It was really beautiful to see the square from here (even if this may increase the chances of the square flooding!).

St Marks Basilica - under construction!
We spent our first day seeing the usual tourist sites – the Rialto Bridge, St Marks Square and St Marks Basilica. Then doing the usual Venetian trick of wondering around the small canals and pathways to see Venice away from the crowds. We stopped for (what we hoped would be) traditional Italian Pizza. Unfortunately, it wasn’t great (but with the price we paid, I don’t know what we were expecting!). My favourite parts of Venice are when you find long passageways and canals without a person in sight, when it is completely empty. In these places you get to actually see what Venice is like and appreciate how magical and unusual this city really is! It also takes a much nicer picture when there isn’t thousands of people’s heads in the way.

Our second day in Venice was dedicated to doing things that I hadn’t done before – the Venetian Islands.

Murano
The Grand Canal in Murano
Murano was located about 30 minutes away form Venice on a waterbus. The journey was hot as the bus wasn’t air-conditioned by the views of Venice from the water were spectacular. Murano is famed for its glass – Murano Glass. The island has many museums and glass blowing displays. As soon as we got off the boat locals were inviting us, free of charge, to their glass blowing factories. These were in fact, just shops with the glass created in their factories on display to buy.

A view up the canal to the main square
We walked through the little paths of Murano, which felt like a quieter Venice, with less water. The main canal running through the centre and not most pathways! The main tourist centre was lovely with little shops and fantastic displays of Murano glass. It wasn’t quite as easy to get lost here as the pathways all lead to this section, but it was very beautiful.

Burano
Buranos multi-coloured houses
The trip to Burano from Murano was the longest and took around 40 minutes – although the distance wasn’t huge, it was across open water that was speed limited. Out of all of the Venetian Islands, Burano was easily my favourite. It is famed for its lace and the multi-coloured houses that are found on the island.

Burano was a lot less busy than its neighbour Venice!
The houses were amazing and their colours reflected in the canals that lined them. Most of the houses had curtain doors also – I assume to let air but not heat into their homes. We searched the island in hope of ice cream, but kept ending up down small back alleys (not the most likely place!). The whole island could easily be walked on foot within 30 minutes to an hour, dependent on your speed.

We finally managed to found our ice cream right next to the boat stop after walking the entire island and even some pathways twice!

Burano and its beautiful coloured houses
Torcello

The church in Torcello
Torcello was a last minute decision – we had the day water pass for €20 and it was only a 5 minute waterbus ride from Burano. I didn’t know what the island was famed for when we arrived and I was excited to find out. Unfortunately I never did, I’m still not sure it’s famed for anything - it was so small. There was a church and a museum and I’m not sure there was anything else on this island!




Venice from the Grand Canal

All in all, the second trip to Venice and the surrounding Islands was amazing. It was great to see new things on the return trip and to be reminded of how much I enjoyed it the first time round. I only wish I was able to see the islands at night and see how they came alive and glowed in the canals!

Overall, the cruise was much better than anticipated, even if we did come home 10 pounds heavier!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Venice, Italy - Take Two!

A canal in Venice
I have already been to Venice a couple of years ago, but I have heard this is a romantic city that is best enjoyed with someone. Thankfully this time I had Matthew with me to enjoy it! The temperature was around 7 degrees hotter in July than it was last time I went in September and it really did make a difference – not just whilst walking around in the backstreets, but also with the larger and busier crowds that were attracted to the city.

One of the prettiest
churches I have visited
Our initial journey into Venice began at 6am when we picked up a pilot to help our Captain (Captain Philpot) manoeuvre the boat down the Venetian Canals. This means our boat sailed past the Lido and then past the main Island of Venice. We were very close to the island as we sailed in and could see people walking around. Two tugs attached themselves to the front and the back of the boat to drag to cruise liner around on sharper turns and prevent any accidents. At 6.45am our boat sailed past St Marks Square – we were able to see the Basilica and the giant clock tower very clearly from the balcony! It was really beautiful to see the square from here (even if this may increase the chances of the square flooding!).

St Marks Basilica - under construction!
We spent our first day seeing the usual tourist sites – the Rialto Bridge, St Marks Square and St Marks Basilica. Then doing the usual Venetian trick of wondering around the small canals and pathways to see Venice away from the crowds. We stopped for (what we hoped would be) traditional Italian Pizza. Unfortunately, it wasn’t great (but with the price we paid, I don’t know what we were expecting!). My favourite parts of Venice are when you find long passageways and canals without a person in sight, when it is completely empty. In these places you get to actually see what Venice is like and appreciate how magical and unusual this city really is! It also takes a much nicer picture when there isn’t thousands of people’s heads in the way.

Our second day in Venice was dedicated to doing things that I hadn’t done before – the Venetian Islands.

Murano
The Grand Canal in Murano
Murano was located about 30 minutes away form Venice on a waterbus. The journey was hot as the bus wasn’t air-conditioned by the views of Venice from the water were spectacular. Murano is famed for its glass – Murano Glass. The island has many museums and glass blowing displays. As soon as we got off the boat locals were inviting us, free of charge, to their glass blowing factories. These were in fact, just shops with the glass created in their factories on display to buy.

A view up the canal to the main square
We walked through the little paths of Murano, which felt like a quieter Venice, with less water. The main canal running through the centre and not most pathways! The main tourist centre was lovely with little shops and fantastic displays of Murano glass. It wasn’t quite as easy to get lost here as the pathways all lead to this section, but it was very beautiful.

Burano
Buranos multi-coloured houses
The trip to Burano from Murano was the longest and took around 40 minutes – although the distance wasn’t huge, it was across open water that was speed limited. Out of all of the Venetian Islands, Burano was easily my favourite. It is famed for its lace and the multi-coloured houses that are found on the island.

Burano was a lot less busy than its neighbour Venice!
The houses were amazing and their colours reflected in the canals that lined them. Most of the houses had curtain doors also – I assume to let air but not heat into their homes. We searched the island in hope of ice cream, but kept ending up down small back alleys (not the most likely place!). The whole island could easily be walked on foot within 30 minutes to an hour, dependent on your speed.

We finally managed to found our ice cream right next to the boat stop after walking the entire island and even some pathways twice!

Burano and its beautiful coloured houses
Torcello
The church in Torcello
Torcello was a last minute decision – we had the day water pass for €20 and it was only a 5 minute waterbus ride from Burano. I didn’t know what the island was famed for when we arrived and I was excited to find out. Unfortunately I never did, I’m still not sure it’s famed for anything - it was so small. There was a church and a museum and I’m not sure there was anything else on this island!




Venice from the Grand Canal

All in all, the second trip to Venice and the surrounding Islands was amazing. It was great to see new things on the return trip and to be reminded of how much I enjoyed it the first time round. I only wish I was able to see the islands at night and see how they came alive and glowed in the canals!