Sunday, August 23, 2009

To Studland: the Return of the King

My brain can only hold so many things. I have a mental list of places I want to see in Europe. Barcelona will be high on the list, and then I'll read about an interesting salt mine in Splod, Poland and forget all about Spain. It's like a Chinese smorgasborg where you want to keep eating the cashews out of the sweet and sour chicken, but the next tureen has wontons. There's only so much space on the plate.

But one place that has remained prominent on the list for a while is Corfe Castle (it's the spring roll of the list). It's down south, near Bournemouth, and was Enid Blyton's inspiration for Kirren Castle in the Famous Five novels. I re-read them recently and they're dreadful, but I have a nostaglic soft-spot for them, none-the-less. South-West Trains has a special deal at the moment where you can go to anywhere on their network for 10 pounds return. Trains are stupidly expensive here, so that's a great deal. To Bournemouth!

So I took a train to Bournemouth and - oh sweet Lord what the hell is this - over a million people flock to Bournemouth for the airshow.

One thing I've noticed is that the boringness of planes seems to speak to the English. Air shows are really popular here. Personally, if I want to see a plane with smoke coming out the back spiralling towards the ground, I'll fly Qantas.

I set off along the road west towards the ferry that crosses the harbour to Studland and the castle. It was agonisingly slow because there were people everywhere.

Queue to Look Over the Railing at the Beach

Notice the child sitting on the curb, clutching a plastic spade. How sad is that?

All of Humanity, Standing on a Beach

There is (or, was) a Banksy stencil on the leg of the pier (it says "Buried Treasure", and has an arrow pointing downwards into the sand). Could I get anywhere near it? Not bloody likely. At this point, Banksy's artwork is mocking me on a weekly basis.

Here are some shots from the air show:

Once I got along the clifftops a bit, there were fewer people and things improved. I dropped down one of the chines and walked along the waterline with my shoes off. The chines are the small gullies that run down from the clifftops to the beach. In the 18th century, this area was largely deserted, and smugglers used to use the chines to carry goods inland.

I was hoping to make it to the castle in about 2 hours, but it took me 3 hours just to get to the ferry, which is still many kilometers from Corfe. I had already walked about 10km along the beach. I think I screwed up my Google Map scales again.

I went across and at Studland there was a notice warning of:
1) A naturist beach
2) Unexploded ordinances from practice D-Day landings
Those are 2 types of package that I want to avoid stumbing upon. So I caught the ferry back, got on a bus to the station, and then tried to catch a train along with 999,999 other people.

When I eventually got onto a train, I was crammed in next to a woman from Belfast. As an icebreaker, I mentioned that I'd just been to Dublin, and she mentioned that they loathe the Republic of Ireland and that her uncle was an IRA commander. Yikes. Do I know how to make friends or what?

So, there you go. At least I got out in the sun and got to see the Bournemouth albino walrus colony and ... those were English sunbathers? Oh God, it was all just awful. After 2 weekends of abject failure, next weekend I'm going to wedge a chair against my bedroom door, crawl into my sleeping bag, and pull the drawstring really tight. You can't eat smorgasborg every week.

Corfe Castle (Somewhere Over There...Bugger)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Checking out Bristols...


As part of my attempts to get abreast of English culture, I went to Bristol. I was hoping for mammories that would last a lifetime, but it all turned out a bit of a bust, and I was left feeling quite the boob.

It was pretty disappointing. I've mentioned the artist Banksy several times here. I'm a pretty big fan. Because he's an anonymous stealth graffiti artist, he doesn't exactly advertise, but this is special. He originally comes from Bristol, and he's currently replaced exhibits at the Bristol Museum, in a show called "Banksy vs Bristol Museum". I've been looking forward to it for weeks.

So, up before 7am and bike across Cambridge to the station, 1 hour on the train to London, 1 hour on the Tube to Victoria station (Victoria Line out of action again), and 3 hours on the bus to Bristol (traffic jams on the motorway). Then I legged it down the road to the Museum to find that the queue for the exhibition was 4 hours long, and they would close before I could get inside.

Banksy Queue

I'm not sure if you can see in this picture, but the queue is the width of the street and runs way up the hill past the icecream van into the distance. And this is the queue to get a stamp on your hand so you can join the first queue. Yes, seriously.

So there's the paradox - New Zealand wouldn't get a show this great because there isn't the population base, but in the UK you can't see the show because there're too many people.

I had printed off a map of Bristol and marked the standard tourist sites, in case there was a problem. So I did that stuff instead. First stop was the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (real name Richard Starkey) in 1834, and spans the Avon Gorge.

The green area across the bridge is called Leigh Woods. It had an iron age hill fort (Stokeleigh Camp) several centuries before Christ, and they've found neolithic arrow and axe heads in the area.

In a tower on the hill above the bridge there is a large camera obscura. I've never seen one of those - it was really cool.

When he wasn't designing bridges, Brunel also designed the Great Western Railway, the SS Great Britain, and - so long as no one is fact checking this - the Eiffel Tower and the Parthenon.

Brunel's SS Great Britain

The SS Great Britain was made of steel instead of wood, and had a revolutionary balanced corkscrew propeller. It was worth checking out. The ship is in an old dry dock, and there's a layer of water in glass at the water line. You can descend through that and walk around the hull.

The SS GB logged over 1 million nautical miles at sea. In one incarnation, it took immigrants around the world to Australia and New Zealand. Hundreds of thousands of Aussies are descended from immigrants that travelled on it.

Awesome. "How many roads must a man walk down?" "42".

The ship was skuttled in the Falklands in 1934 (in shallow water), but refloated in 1970 and returned to Bristol.

While I was roaming, I found this:

If you don't know the name, W.G. Grace was recently voted by Wisden as the greatest cricketer of all time. It was ridiculous of them not to pick Bradman, and most people felt it was just a stunt to draw attention to their list. Grace played in the 19th century, and was know to refuse to leave the crease just because he was out, on the grounds that the crowds had come to see him play. I know that would've helped my batting record.

This is St Peters Church in Bristol. This is about the best picture you can get of it. Up close it's messy and covered in chicken wire. It was in the centre of the shopping district, but it was bombed in the Blitz and the area was wiped out. The bombed out church has been left as a monument, but it's no Kaiser Wilhelm Gedรคchtniskirche (I assume).

St Peters Church

If you want to see more about the Banksy exhibition, here's a video:

and here's a slideshow:

Gutted. And I passed up on U2 at Wembley to see the Banksy show. By the time I found I couldn't get into the museum, there wasn't time to get back to London for the concert.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why Don't You Como-ver to Italy

You may recall that I visited Italy and Switzerland in April. I went almost straight from there to Sweden, so I didn't finish writing up that trip. It's pretty quiet here right now, so I thought I'd catch up on the missed posts. At this point I'm relying pretty heavily on my Dad's travel diary, so if I say anything uncharacteristically insightful, it's probably stolen from him.

From Bergamo we drove to Brunate, which is a village on one of the mountains above Lake Como.

The seasons were in the transitional phase. It was at times cold and misty, and at others quite warm and balmy. The last snow had receeded to the mountain tops.

From Brunate we climbed up to Volta's Lighthouse Tower at the top of the mountain. Volta was the bright spark who, in a flash of inspiration, discovered watt an electric cell does.

The next morning we took the funicular down the hill to Como.

Como in the Mist

Lake Como is shaped like an upsidedown "Y", with the town of Como at the extreme south-west. We took a boat trip along the lake, which is about 50km in length.

Answering the question: Can you build an impressive castle out of cardboard?

Halfway along the lake we stopped at Tremezzo, where we had lunch in the gardens of the Villa Carlotta, the former home of the princess Charlotte.

Walking Along a Wisteria Lane

Don't they look like they've enjoyed the last 72 hours of my incessant chatter?

From there we took the boat to Bellagio, at the junction of the three parts of the lake. A very pretty town, overrun by tourists.

This last image may interest some of you. I took this picture just by chance, but the house just out of shot to the left is George Clooney's famous Como villa. I was hoping to have a chance to dispell the rumour that he and I are one-and-the-same person, but alas our paths did not cross.