Tuesday, September 6, 2011

History, more history and the end of a journey

The British Museum is a world class museum that is free of charge. It displays an amazing collection of antiquities from Greece, Assyria, Egypt and many other places. It has such a large collection that it has special exhibits of artifacts from all over the world. All of this is open to the public and many people were at the museum on the rainy Sunday when we visited. We took a special interest in the Greek and Egyptian section. However we discovered treasures from Assyria as well.

The size of some of the pieces was astounding. There were huge columns from Egypt and magnificent gate sculptures that would flank a gate of an Assyrian palace.

One of the special exhibits focussed on the museum's clock collection. It included many unique types of clocks, astronomical and regular, and the chronometer of the Beagle, the ship that Darwin sailed on. He wrote a book about his voyage on the Beagle and the experience was critical to his development of the theory of evolution.

Monday was our last day of sightseeing and we started at St. Paul's cathedral, the architectural masterpiece of Christopher Wren.

It is an amazing cathedral and an icon in London. Our bus tour guide on Friday told us that his mum would come out after a bombing raid during the Blitz and would look for St. Paul's. If it was standing then everything was all right. The Germans tried to destroy St. Paul's and Buckingham palace. They managed to destroy the chapel of Buckingham palace, but the wood dome of St. Paul's was untouched.

We climbed all 528 stairs to the Golden gallery above the dome.

No pictures were allowed inside so we can't show you the beautiful mosaics inside the transept or the frescoes in the dome. St. Paul's is the final resting place for the two most famous men in British military history, Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. Their sumptuous caskets are on display in the crypt. This is the first cathedral we've visited with so many memorials to warriors (from the navy and the army). The final piece of history of the day
was the Tower of London.

William the Conquerer built the White Tower which is in the center of the Tower grounds. Later monarchs built additional fortifications and towers that ring the White Tower.

The Tower was the place of royal beheadings during the reign of Henry VIII and is the repository of the crown jewels. However, it's main role over the ages has been an armory. It has an amazing collection of armor including three sets of armor for Henry VIII and an amazing collection of cannons and guns.

In the old days the monarchs kept a menagerie of animals on the grounds. Today those animals are represented by very life like sculptures done in chicken wire.

There has always been a flock of ravens living at the Tower. Legend has it that if the ravens leave the Tower, the Tower and England will fall. These days the future of England is insured because the ravens wings are clipped.

Well.. Great Britain's end won't come until the ravens fly from the Tower of London, but our journey is at it's end. Tuesday we load boxed bikes and baggage on a plane and fly home. It has been a great trip and we are a little sad for it to end. However, we are somewhat homesick and are looking forward to be back with friends and family. We give a special thanks to everyone who has joined us through our blog and to those new friends we have made on the way. Love to all!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tramping around London

On Thursday we left Leicester after saying our goodbyes to Anne and Steadroy. We had contracted for a shuttle service to take us to London and our luggage (two bicycle boxes and three huge duffels) filled the van completely. On Friday we took the tube into central London to get the lay of the land by taking one of the double-decker bus tours. It was fun and our guide had a running commentary on the sights and British culture. We passed all the famous sights including the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham palace and the Tower of London.

We finished the day with a long walk along the south embankment of the Thames river. In Roman times the river was three times wider than now and the embankments cause the river to run very rapidly during tidal changes. We noticed that the current was very strong as shown with this boat tied up in the channel.

On Friday we took a tour of the state rooms at Buckingham palace. It is an amazing place with a priceless art collection. We were lucky to get to visit the palace because tours are only given when the Queen is not in residence. She goes to Balmoral castle in August and September and then the public can visit. We were not allowed to take pictures of the gorgeous rooms and art. We saw paintings by Canaletto, Titian, Rembrandt, Reubens and many other well known artists. The sculpture gallery was full of neoclassical statues by Canova. There was priceless Sevres porcelain and life-size family portraits back to Charles II. George IV commissioned the architect John Nash to redesign the Queen's house used by George III and Queen Charlotte into Buckingham palace. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to live in the palace and its art and furnishings came from George IV's estate. After the palace, we spent the rest of the afternoon on foot and crossed Tower bridge.

We went to Trafalgar square and saw Nelson's column.

Heading back to the river we saw the Admiralty building and then enjoyed the unique London skyline dominated by St. Paul's cathedral and some unusual modern buildings.

The tower in the middle of the picture above is still under construction. When finished it will be the tallest building in Great Britain. Next we go to the British Museum and then on Monday we will visit the tower of London and Saint Paul's Cathedral.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Camping, Rain and the Blues

We left Newquay on Monday morning on a train. We had tickets to get to Leicester, but were advised that if the bicycle storage area was full in one train we would have to wait for another train with space. At Par, the train to Birmingham did not have bicycle space. The kind stationmaster, Dave, told us that we should take the following train to Plymouth and there was a train originating there for Birmingham. We could be the first to load our bikes on that train. Well it all transpired as Dave had advised us. It was also fortuitous that we had bought open tickets for Leicester because this meant we could use any trains or route combination to get there. They were more expensive tickets, but were just what we needed traveling with the bikes. At Birmingham we had to change platforms twice to get on a train with space for the bikes, but the station was well signed and there were very large elevators to take to the different platforms. We got into Leicester at
5:00 and checked into a hotel due to the fatigue of a long day starting at 6:30 and four changes of trains.

Tuesday morning we rode to Anne and Steadroy Henry's house in Wigston, just south of Leicester. As soon as we unloaded the bikes we went into their large garden and were shown their bountiful vegetable patch. On Wednesday we went on a grand tour of the area, visiting the local botanical garden and the old city center. The Roman baths in Leicester are the 2nd largest site of preserved Roman baths in England.

Leicester was a major shoe and hosiery factory town during the 19th century. It has been known as a magnet for Indian immigrants since the early 1900's. It is a city filled with many different immigrant groups and is very multicultural. Steadroy immigrated from Barbuda, in the Caribbean, to join a Barbudan community in Leicester in 1961. On Thursday we packed up their van for the weekend Blues festival. We headed north to Colne and camped at the local rugby club grounds. Here is our campsite that we set up knowing that it was going to rain. However, the picture was taken during one of the brief periods of sunshine during four days of rain!

Music festivals in northern England are held indoors, so the rain jackets were pulled out each time we changed venues. There were two large stages in the municipal hall and the community center. The remaining venues were small stages in the local pubs.

In addition, there was even a stage in a tent at the rugby club.

We saw some great acts on the main stage in the municipal hall, including Mavis Staples and Mud Morganfield, oldest son of Muddy Waters. We had some interesting moments in the campsite observing our fellow campers in various states of inebriation including one poor fellow who had lost his tent and was demanding loudly in the middle of the night to have it back. "I'm in a spot of trouble now" he said a little less loudly. It was a great weekend even though we were bailing water out of our covered dining area at one point in time. Back at Anne and Steadroy's house we boxed up the bikes and packed all the gear in readiness for our flight home. Today we said a fond farewell to Anne and Steadroy and traveled by hired van to a hotel near Heathrow Airport. Anne and Steadroy are a wonderful couple, great hosts, and special friends. We have tentative plans to meet them again in Barbuda this winter. Our hotel is near a tube station so we can ride the train to and from London and we have four days to explore.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The north coast of Cornwall

We left Penzance Thursday morning under cloudy skies and with a hopeful forecast of no rain. We once again headed towards the end of the peninsula and the town of St. Just. On the way there we spotted this stack. It is a remnant of the mining industry in this area.

There was a field full of heifers across the road and this inquisitive girl asked to get her picture taken. The cows and sheep have not seen a lot of bicyclists and will stare or stampede when we ride past.

North of St. Just is the Levant Mine museum site. The north coast of Cornwall had a long history of copper and tin mining. There are deposits that become exposed on the cliffs and were mined in ancient times with diggings straight into the cliff. Later on in the 1800's vertical mine shafts were drilled in the cliff and then extended out under the sea floor. The submarine complex of the Levant mine extended for a mile out from the land.

There are mine shafts all over the land like the one pictured below and the stacks were associated with steam engines that powered equipment to raise and lower men and ore.

The Levant mine was one of the largest and most successful employing 550 men in it's heyday.

The beam steam engine is enormous.

As we pedaled onward to St. Ives we enjoyed the beautiful vistas of the land meeting the sea.

As we rode we realized the south coast of the peninsula is protected and heavily wooded, but the north coast is exposed and is a totally different landscape. The north coast has a history of more shipwrecks since it is a lee shore with a north wind blowing boats onto the rocks below the cliffs. On Friday we left St. Ives and had to endure another day of glorious Cornwall coast. The Hell's Mouth was spectacular.

We ate lunch across the road and the food at the cafe was not at all in keeping with it's name.

The heather is in full bloom and creates a beautiful tapestry of color across the hills.

We have been drinking a lot of St. Austell ale since we visited the brewery. There is another large brewery in Cornwall called Skinner's. One of it's popular ales is Betty Stogs. We like Betty and were curious about her legend.

One barman said she was a prostitute. We did some further research and found out she was a wild girl who was raised by drunken parents. She got pregnant and was rushed to the altar with a local ne'er do well. She took to drinking after having the baby and didn't take care of it. So fairies came and took the child and cleaned it up. In the story, she and her husband are so scared by the loss of the baby that when they find it they give up drinking and live happily ever after. On the bottle and on the taps, Betty is represented in her dissolute state. A little further up the road were the North Cliffs.

We ended the day in St. Agnes in a B&B that was more like a boarding house. The old woman who ran it had a lot of family visiting and it was like a zoo. On Saturday we left St. Agnes in a light rain to ride the final 15 miles of our bicycle journey to Newquay. On the way there we spotted this sign and were glad we had not planned on visiting this attraction.

We have mentioned the steepness of the hills we have been cycling through so, although we did not go that way, this sign demonstrates the range of possibilities. Our European trip is coming to a close. We began our last full day of riding with a morning of rain, but then in the afternoon the weather cleared to a glorious Cornish afternoon.

Tomorrow we catch a train to Leicester and the hospitality of our friends Anne and Steadroy. Stay tuned.