Wednesday, 27 July 2016


After a fast and comfortable journey on the Eurostar, we arrived at Brussels train station, then caught a local train to Brugge. By early afternoon we checked into a small hotel right in the centre of this old, very picturesque town. Just around the corner was a small market square crowded with people enjoying the sunshine and the shady trees beneath which were set out tables and chairs for the various restaurants and bars nearby. By dinner time these were extremely popular for dining outdoors and the most popular dish seemed to be a traditional one for this area - a large pot of mussels accompanied by a glass of Belgium beer. Peter thoroughly enjoyed his meal of mussels. By the time we had finished our meal it was just on dark and after a gentle stroll around the square returned to our hotel for the night.

Next morning we continued our walk through the old cobbled streets to the large market square not so far away at all. Beautiful old buildings and an excellent place to find a cafe for a cool drink and just people-watch.

At this stage we still hadn't got around to getting some Euro cash expecting to be able to pay with our Travel Money cards. Not so at this particular cafe - they required  cash. 
"Oh, I'll have to go to the bank ATM" said Peter. "But don't worry - I'll leave my wife here as hostage". 
"I'll look after her" said the smiling waiter. I was happy to continue to wait and watch, but Peter was soon back and I overheard this exchange:
"Did you look after my wife?" said Peter paying the bill.
"I did, I did! Why did you come back?"
My 'loving' husband: "Just for my camera!"
Much loud laughter, then from the waiter: "Careful - She's watching!"

Nearby was the beautiful building which housed the Brugge Historium - an innovative way of telling of some of the history of Brugge. In effect you walk in small groups through a series of interactive displays of almost movie-like presentations of a story set in the 15th century in the time of the painter Van Eyck. It was very well done - one of the best we've experienced. No photos were allowed as you'd expect but this diorama with chair was set up for a photo opportunity.

On such a warm, sunny day the canal boat rides were very popular and an excellent way to see more so in the afternoon we took a canal boat ride through the old waterways that weave in and around Brugge. 
It was quite interesting to learn that in the fifteenth century Brugge was the 'New York Wall Street' of  Europe and a very rich and powerful place. The city's very beautiful buildings were continually
maintained and repaired once the place fell on hard times with the then poorer inhabitants unable to afford to build new. As a result Belgium now has within the centre of Bruge a rare and stunning example of very old architecture. 

At the end of the 'cruise' we strolled around a small, arts and craft market, browsed the gorgeous lace shops and window gazed at the stunning array of chocolate displays in the many chocolate shops.

You can see we're already loving Belgium! After another very nice dinner we were all finished for the day, so back to the hotel to pack up ready for our morning train to Poperinge and our two weeks of duty as honorary wardens at Talbot House. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

London 2016

Arrived back from York Monday mid-afternoon by very fast train service (about 2 hours), and checked into our hotel for the next 5 days all prepared for our planned attack on the London itinerary.

Up first thing on Tuesday and after a filling Full English Breakfast, sallied forth for a 15 minute walk to the London Metropolitan Archives. We are trying to find out a little more on Peter's Beckett family who actually lived (at quite a few places) in this very area. Spent hours wading Workhouse and Infirmary records with a nil result. This family certainly kept their lives well hidden. Hopefully we'll find out more another day - but not on this very rainy London day.

Disappointment at the lack of results at the LMA was alleviated by a delicious dinner out at the Strand hotel followed by a wonderful performance of "Hobson's Choice" at the Vaudeville Theatre in the Strand. It starred Martin Shaw (Judge John Deed, Inspector Gently) and Christopher Timothy (All Creatures Great & Small). They, and the rest of the cast, gave us many laughs at this quite old comedy/play. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

Wednesday was the day for our trip to the National Archives in Kew. A fantastic resource centre and once you pass through security and show two pieces of I.D. (passport/driver's licence), you're allowed into the research rooms and can have access to whatever your heart desires in their vast catalogue. Heaven. Peter was searching for particular WW1 records relating to his grandfather - and found them. I, on the other hand, was attempting to find West India shipping records as Birkley was a West India Captain ca 1830. No luck at all. He's still a mystery.

Later that evening Peter attended a meeting of the Western Front Association at Hornchurch arriving back at our hotel late that night with a massive tome given to him as a gift to add to our luggage weight! While he was there, I walked a very short distance to the wonderful British Library and spent an hour or so at their 'Treasures of the British Library" exhibition almost drooling over the world's most beautiful and important books and documents - everything from 1,000 year old documents, illuminated manuscripts, the Magna Carta, original manuscripts from Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, etc, not forgetting some of the Beatles lyrics - Michelle - written by Paul on the back of an envelope, and also 'Hey Jude' scribbled on the back of a child's birthday card. Wonderful stuff and of course I was the last to leave being shoo-ed out at 8pm.

The cottage at Bletchley where Turing cracked the Enigma code.
Thursday was our outing to Bletchley Park - the home of those amazingly brilliant code and cypher people during the 1939/45 War. Over 10,000 people worked there in top secret jobs throughout the was and interestingly 6,000 of them were women. We saw through the Mansion and all the remaining huts where such incredible work was carried out. If you've seen the movie "The Imitation Game" you'll get a bit of an idea of the whole set-up, but it is vast. We had a guide show us various areas and had an explanation and demonstration of the code-breaking "Bombe" which helped de-code some of the messages sent by the various Enigma machines.

Our last day in London was Friday and  in the morning we had made a most important visit to Libertys - such a gorgeous shop (I could have stayed for hours). Fabulous wares all imaginately displayed - and of course I bought some of their wonderful Liberty print fabrics - some for daughter, Claire, to use in her patchwork, a piece for me for a summer top, and of course some lovely Rowan fine yarn for knitting.

During our London stay we have made good use of the London Underground and found London Transport's Oyster card quite brilliant and very easy to use. At the end of our stay we were able to 'cash in' what credit remained on the cards as well as the five pounds each card had originally cost us. So convenient for travellers.

Sometimes you get quite a surprise on the Tube. When changing lines who did we see but Star Wars Stormtroopers and Federation Officers waiting for their train. Who'd have thought it?

Peter managed to drag me away from Libertys eventually and we travelled down to Wapping by the Thames to have lunch with our cousin Brenda at the very ancient "The Prospect of Whitby" pub.  This pub was built in 1520 and is in the close neighbourhood where my Birkley family lived during the 18th century. They certainly would have known it and possibly had an ale or two or three there. The Thames dockside of course suffered greatly during the last war and many of the old streets and lanes disappeared and now everywhere there are modern buildings and apartments. I doubt the old Birkleys would recognise the place now - apart from the The Prospect of Whitby, of course.

Before heading back to our hotel we dropped into Harrods - as you do - for a bit of a browse. Masses of people there so we didn't stay long but enjoyed wandering around the toy department. Such fun toys.

We certainly seemed to pack a fair bit into our short stay in London - none of the usual tourist hotspots though - we visited new and old favourites and thoroughly enjoyed them all. Saturday morning saw us wheeling our cases over the road to the beautiful St Pancras Station to board the Eurostar train to Belgium.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

2016 Trip - In the beginning and York

With the weather turning cold and wintery, we were happy to finally finish up packing, do all the last minute little jobs, farewell Charley off to his holiday with Max (the Kingdon's dog), and get driven to the airport for the start of the 24 hour journey to (hopefully!) the summer weather of England and Europe.

This time it was with Emirates and two stops instead of the usual one, and a plane change as well. However we managed a couple of hours sleep on each leg, so didn't feel too flagged when we arrived at Heathrow in the early evening. My sister, Pauline, had arranged a surprise for us on arrival - a cake as a welcome gift. Peter sailed through Immigration with his British passport in about 10 minutes while I dutifully joined the very long queue of 'others' taking almost an hour to get through. Finally handed over my Australian passport and was asked if I was travelling alone. "No - my English husband is over there waiting for me". The Immigration officer then very kindly said "Oh but you should just have accompanied him through the UK/Euro Immigration Gate". Grrr - after numerous trips to the UK I could just have walked through with Peter despite my Australian Passport. You live and learn.

Up early the next day to walk across the road from our hotel to Kings Cross station to catch the York train taking a little over 2 hours to cover the 174 miles/280kms quite swiftly. Sitting just over from us were four happy, young Japanese tourists and to sustain them on the trip north had bought bananas and punnets of summer fruit. There was a bit of consernation over one box which they thought held green grapes but tasted sharp and quite different. They asked us what they were. Gooseberries, we said, and usually used for sweet fruit pies. (I decided I had better not also add 'Gooseberry Fool' - just 'cos.)

After arriving, we left our overnight bags at our York BandB and walked into the centre of that beautiful city.

We have been here quite a few times - mainly to the National Rail Museum for someone who has a steam train interest - but I'm always happy to be in York, too.
An 18thC Reverend's headstone used as paving. 
Peter adding a bit of support.
Bettys - for lunch.
Lunch was at Betty's smaller tearoom in a building built before Australia was settled. 

This historic city always seems to have something different to reveal but even just to walk the ancient streets and lanes is quite a joy.

Always each time we come, we make sure to visit the most beautiful York Minster in the late afternoon and to attend the Choral Evensong at 5.15pm each day. It is an ethereal experience to listen to the lessons, say prayers and especially to hear the full choir of about 30 sing such heavenly music. It would be a very special experience for any Christian to worship in a building which has absorbed the prayers of millions through its 600+ years of existence.

Waiting for Evensong
Next day we were up early, ate our 'full English breakfast' and walked the short distance to York Station to await the arrival of the Flying Scotsman.

This iconic and well loved steam train would take us up to the Border city of Carlisle and then return to York, leaving at 11.15am and arriving back at 10.30pm. A long trip but exciting to be hauled by steam at a very fast pace with occasional stops for water, and also to allow regular scheduled trains to pass. We had about 3 hours in Carlisle, so had a good walk around the town centre and also visited Tullie Museum which detailed much history of the Romans and the Border Reivers. We thought perhaps it was a little 'child-centred' but it was very well done nevertheless. Back to the station and soon there was the Flying Scotsman, refuelled and watered, waiting ready to take us on board for the return trip.

By this time we had got to know our nearby fellow passengers and there was much talk about different experiences but mainly trains - of course! I had taken my sister's boxed cake with me and shared it around our fellow passengers. The Railway Touring Company which operated the trip served snacks throughout the journey - Danish Pastries with tea/coffee in the morning and on the return we had sandwiches and scones, jam and clotted cream again with cuppas. All delicious.

We travelled so comfortably in our restored Pullman carriage, it was quite thrilling to find that we had reached speeds of up to 80 miles per hour for long stretches. Such a beautiful train and we loved the whole experience - quite special.

Next day (today) we spent the morning at the National Rail Museum. 

Well, to be honest, Peter browsed to his heart's content whilst I found a nice comfy spot to sit, mind the cases, drink a nice coffee and read for an hour or so. Later trundled over to the main York Station (we were getting to be familiar faces there!), to catch another speedy train back to London. 

Now settled into our hotel and tomorrow we'll start the "London phase" of our trip.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The Final of 2015 Holidays and our Plan for 2016

Somehow I never did finish off the last bit of last year's outback trip. We did get to Moree on the way home for a dip in their thermal pools, but after that it was straight driving with overnight stops all the way home as the weather turned cooler on our way south. A good trip though and we loved out outback meanderings.

This year the plan is much different - We fly off to the UK leaving in the early hours of this Friday arriving there on Friday evening with an overnight stop in London. On Saturday we travel up to York and on Sunday we have a day excursion on The Flying Scotsman up to Carlisle and return. We love train travel and this trip on such an iconic steam train should be quite exciting.

After returning to London - we'll do some family research, meet up with a few relatives, have a trip to Bletchley Park and enjoy a live stage performance of "Hobson's Choice" with Martin Shaw and Christopher Timothy. A lot to do in the five days we have in London!

Next to Belgium by Eurostar and two week's volunteer work as Wardens at Talbot House (Toc H) in Poperinge. This was a house set up during World War 1 to be used as a comfortable and friendly place to visit by all ranks when on leave from the horrors of the trench. It is maintained today as a museum and hostel with a traditional cuppa provided for all who visit. This will be a part of our duties during our fortnight stay. On leaving we fly to Malta for a short stay, then onto Venice to board a cruise ship down the Adriatic Sea to Greece and the islands. We finish our trip in Rome from where we'll fly home.

We're looking forward to this rather varied trip - and we hope friends and relatives will be interested to read of our adventures in this year's travel blog.