Sunday, May 31, 2009

London - various views

London beckons and even after another pretty full day there is still more to see - gee, I guess you could live here all your life and still not see it all. We still haven't managed to get to a show this trip even though we had hoped to go tonight. But no, none of them are showing on Sundays! Not ONE. Oh well, guess they all want at least one full day off too. Pity though.

We contemplated going in by public transport, but then again, it is a Sunday and they run far less frequently. It also means a walk of three quarters of a kilometre before we even begin (pooh pooh if you must, but the hip is variable at the moment!) Anyway, thanks to Kate and the London public transport map, I have found a parking station only one block from the ferry terminus at Tower Bridge. So, we bravely tackle the Sunday London traffic.

And do you know - it really wasn't all that bad - I mean there was gridlock around Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly for a while but it gave us the opportunity to get some great photos! And that magical little parking fairy is alive and well. We get to the Tower Place car park in Lower Tower Street and find it maybe 10% full and for a miserly £2.50 for the day!!! So there, all you Londoners - if you are prepared to brave the traffic, this has to be the cheapest park in town on a Sunday. Other days it is £2.50 per hour - still relatively cheap but even I wouldn't want to take on weekday traffic in the city, and of course there is a £8 congestion tax during the week as well.

We looked at the various cruise on offer on the Thames and decided on the City Cruises one from Tower Bridge to Westminster. Once we had our tickets in hand we join a long line of people waiting for the next boat. We are underway when the skipper announces the safety talk and adds that although their primary purpose is to get us from one point safely to the next, and that while they are not tour guides, that they will try to point out some of the buildings and other points of interest along the river. Now that commentary was great - all the major and many of the minor points of note are identified as well as all the bridges under which we pass (or see) in a wonderfully witty way. My favourite comment was about this building which was described thus: "we are not sure who owns or inhabits this building but we are sure that it must be the National Window cleaners training school!"

There is polite laughter at the explanation given for the common name for the newest bridge across the Thames - the Millenium Bridge, a suspension footbridge, was tagged “the blade of light”. Locally it is known as the Wibbly Wobbly Bridge as it was closed just three days after being opened in 2000 when it began to shake with the sheer volume of people walking across it! Hmmm, so it was designed not(?) as a footbridge?? Strengthening took another 2 years and as extra £5 million, but seems to have worked as there are no more reports of wobbles!

We reach Westminster Pier in the shadows - literally and figuratively, of the Houses of Parliament (correct name is the Palace of Westminster) with the clock tower that encloses that most famous of all bells - Big Ben). It doesn't matter that I had seen these before, and I doubt whether it would really matter if you saw it every day, this iconic London view is breath-taking. The gilded spires and vanes, the intricate and beautiful stonework and the leadlight windows that throw back splinters of reflections at you are things that I could easily look at day after day, year after year. We were lucky enough to be within view for two of Ben's tolling - only on the hour, at 3 pm and 5 pm. And as we are walking back to the boat just after 5 o'clock, just have a look at the beautiful sunny day! I suspect that back at home 5 pm is much much darker coming into winter. We see Westminster Abbey in the background but having seen many great cathedrals, have no desire to venture over.

One of Michael's keen interests lies in the two world wars and today we head down to the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum at the Clive Steps on King Charles Street. As my interest is not so great (and I had seen the hidden bunker near St Andrews which is the other end of the story) I opted to wait in the shop and watch the video they were playing (and save $25).

The Cabinet War Rooms were an underground complex used by the British Government as an operational command centre during the Second World War. After the capitulation by Japan in 1945 the complex was abandoned and later re-opened to the general public in 1984. In 2003 the complex was again closed for expansion works, and re-opened in 2005 with the additional space converted into a museum documenting the life of Winston Churchill.

One would not require an interest in military history to appreciate the desperate years Britain had to face from an attempted invasion in 1940 to the constant threats at severing its life lines. The complex has been restored with its original features and equipment, including a wax figure of Churchill in the pose of talking to President Truman on the transatlantic link. Unlike like the element of paranoia experienced in the Cold War Bunker we visited in Scotland, the Cabinet War Rooms had a distinctive air of 'business as usual'. However, I developed a distinct impression, one would have had to enjoyed the confined space of a submarine to have lived in the complex.

As the various attractions are now closing, we returned on the ferry from Westminster to Tower Bridge and back to those commentaries. There is a nice little chunk of London now owned by the Kuwaiti Royal Family - an area now known as New London City in the area of Chambers Wharf - complete with the means to meet all their needs physical and spiritual and including a private hospital. What gets up the nose of the Brits is that these people are exempt from paying tax in the UK!

So, back on the other bank I went into Starbucks while Michael took a walk across Tower Bridge to the HMS Belfast. Unfortunately as it was after 5 pm, it was closed. And we could not get into the London Tower either because it too was closed. But he got some pretty darn good pics.

Time to move on and find something for dinner - we key in a restaurant address from Fliss' 10 year old London guide. It was no longer there, but we came across an area filled with pubs and eateries near the Great Ormond Children's Hospital and looking at the menus on display opted for The Swan pub that has existed on this site since 1757!!! Did not look at all tired and the young kids behind the bar made sure things kept moving. Our meal?:
Hot Cheese platter (boxed Camembert served with toaster baguette fingers and a balsamic onion confit.
We both had the Traditional Sunday Roast (Roast of the Day - beef - with roasted and new potatoes, seasonal vegetables - carrots, beans - Yorkshire Puddings and gravy)

We arrive back at our accommodation after 10 pm, tired but satisfied with our day and with the 592 photos taken today! And we are now planning on how we can cram as much as possible into our last 10-12 days in the UK.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pomp and Ceremony and Privilege

There is no doubt that Windsor Castle is best seen in the good morning light or on dusk. This home to the English monarchy is the largest and longest continually inhabitated castle in the world. It presents an imposing facade high on the hill above the town of Windsor as the 'pilgrims' make their way up that hill from the parking areas, running the gauntlet of the fast food outlets on their way to try to catch a glimpse of our Lizzie!

We get to Windsor a bit after 10 am with lots of traffic crawling the last 5 kms or so. The day again is beautiful and there are lots of British drivers in open topped cars travelling the motorway.
With the British summer sun beaming down on us it is time to make sure that we liberally apply sunscreen now. But you would be horrified at the number of young and older people here who strip off and bake in the sun.

The queue to get in to the Castle is long and we have finally struck tourists, b***** tourists - not bad considering that we are 6 months in to our journey! It takes us almost an hour from the time we turn into Castle Hill to get tickets and then go through security. But it is not unpleasant, the staff and the people around us are chatty. When we do get inside, there is a guided tour about to start so we join this to get some of that precious insider knowledge. And the Queen's standard is flying meaning that she is in residence at the Castle as we are here. We are told that most weekends she comes to the Castle as it is her favoured home.

We meander through the Lower Ward en route to the entrance to the State Apartments hearing of the castle development and the goings on of the various monarchs through history. Not sure that I would ever want their lives - even with all the perks. I mean even as a King your people could turn on you and you could be beheaded and when as a woman you are no longer in favour, beheading was the most convenient way to make way for the next titillating little romance!

There is no Changing of the Guard ceremony today as the Coldstream Guards are practising for the Trooping of the Colour ceremony that takes place in June for the Queen's official birthday. However, they are still doing sentry duty and from time to time we see two or three Guards marching to their next post. And those on Sentry Duty, when not at a post, casually stroll through the grounds, chatting to tourists and posing happily for snaps. In fact their contract stipulates that they must agree to this!

We met David (on the left) and Brett and they were happy to let me get a photo of Michael with them - was going to add some witty little quip about the differences in hats, but my wit has momentarily left me. Brett at the age of 23 has seen a tour in Northern Ireland (when I commented that he looked too young he told me that he had enlisted at 16) and David has relations in Penrith, NSW - small world. We talked about how Antony almost went to Afghanistan with the Brits and they said that if he ever gets the chance that he should jump at it - they seem to like working with the Aussies - we said thanks, but no thanks!!!

From here we head over to have a look through the State Apartments. You can't take photos here (don't worry, we bought the guide book), but suffice to say they are everything that you would expect and them some. In the Drawings Gallery there is a special exhibition to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession to power including amazing sketches of the King and his courtiers by Hans Holbein the Younger and line drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. Then it is in to the China Room which is of even more interest after being to the Wedgewood Factory and then up through the Grand stairway and vestibule where we see lots of armour and weapons on display.

Through the various reception rooms and display chambers such as the Kings Bedchamber and the Queens Presence Chamber and through the huge St Georges Hall and the Grand Reception Room with its amazing chandeliers. I could go on and on and on and bore you all, but we have the book so you can read all about it in detail if you want to when we get home! In St Georges Hall there are the shields of all the Knights of the Garter. We have almost left the room when I notice that the 1000th knight registered (in 2008) is Prince William. But I can't see his shield anywhere so we ask one of the attendants - she happily shows us where it is, nothing more special than any of the others! What is probably more interesting is that there are a number of them that have been painted over white - this is where the knight once awarded, has been stripped of the award - mostly in the time of Henry VIII and the changes with the church! (Many of these would have also lost their heads).

Once we were through the Castle, St George's Chapel and the grounds surrounding, we took ourselves off to the Horse and Groom pub just down from the castle for a bite to eat. We had Rib eye fillet steak (Blue) with mash and vegetables (Michael, obviously) and Cumberland sausages with mash and fried onion rings (Maria). Great food, much better than it looks and a brilliant setting in a pub building that dates back to the 1700s. Served by a young Aussie barmaid who this week has been there a year!

Bellies no longer grumbling we head over to Eton to have a look at the College and a privileged life! Funny thing, it was closed the other day after their speech night and when we get there today there is another sign on the gate announcing a closure to - SWINE FLU! I am a little sceptical at first wondering whether this is just a convenient excuse but when we get back to the GH I check it on the net news and yes, for sure, there is a confirmed case and the College has been closed by the Health Commission. Bugger, bugger and more bugger. We do not have the time to hang around and wait for it to re-open in another week. And unfortunately, we have missed the Eton College Museum of Natural History by a mere 5 minutes. Trouble is that 5 pm does not feel like 5pm, more like 2 or 3! But we still manage to take a photo or 60.

So back over to Windsor to do the Windsor Wheel - one of those huge ferris wheel style with enclosed gondolas. We though that this would give us a different perspective of the Castle. It also gave us so pretty amazing views of the countryside surrounding it. We buy the photo that they take as it really is pretty good - we can download it from online so that we could post it on the blog - but we have to wait up to a week, so - you miss out on that one!

Dinner tonight is at the local Go Sing Chinese restaurant. We went with some trepidation as we will always judge a Chinese meal by those we had in Beijing where we got to eat true chinese style cooking, not adulterated for the western palate. But we are not disappointed. While it is certainly not that traditional style, it is very good.

You can either order from the a-la-carte menu or from the all-you-can-eat menu. This is an interesting concept where they have 156 dishes available and for £14.95 per person you can have as many as you like with the rider that any dishes not eaten are charged at full rate. I guess this is to encourage people to try some, and order more if they are still hungry rather that order over the top and leave a whole heap of food uneaten. We choose to go down this path and order:
Special Crispy Platter for 2 (spring rolls, satay chicken, crispy seaweed, barbecue spare ribs, sesame prawn on toast). The prawn toasts were rubbery, but the seaweed was amazing - shredded into fine strips then flash (deep) fried with ground dried shrimp powder on top - absolutely delicious! (no pic, ate it before we remembered!)
Chicken Breast in Lemon Sauce
Sliced Duck with Ginger and Shallots
Deep fried Shredded Beef with Carrots and Chilli
Special Fried Rice.
And then it was back to the Oakwood Guest House to find out that the favourite Britain's Got Talent contender - Susan Boyle from Wales (we were near her town when she was first voted in) had been topped by dance troupe Diversity who had been placed sixth favourite by UK bookmakers!!! Wow.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Three men in a boat ... and a King

Ah yes, summer is a-coming. Today is the most beautiful day and we are anticipating 23 °C. We have an early checkout from the hotel this morning (9 am) somewhat dissatisfied with the level of room comfort and the lack of attention to the small details. The staff however have been pleasant.

Initially we planned to go and do Windsor Castle today, but first want to go and see if we can take a closer look at the most amazing building we saw on our way to the movies the other night. We noticed that there was a University of London sign on the gate, so we are assuming that we should at least be able to get into the grounds. The Royal Holloway and New Bedford College as seen from the road is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and interesting. We head back on the same road we took the other night and before long, we spy the edifice through the trees. Turns out that it is modelled on a French Chateau in the Loire Valley (more details in the link above). There is one small gateway and the road goes one way around the exterior of the building ensuring that every time you enter the grounds you get the full benefit of the vista!

From here it is a very short drive to Runnymede and the memorials to the signing of the Magna Carta (that was sealed by King John because he could not read or write!). So we head out into the peak hour traffic but only for a little while as we enter the National Trust area that is the Runnymede site. Our priority is food as we did not have breakfast at the hotel and the Magna Carta cafe is still serving a full English breakfast which was delicious. Gosh the sausages here are so different from the standard issue at home. Once we have filled bellies, we turn to look at the sites on offer. As there is quite a walk to reach the various memorials (and we are still hoping to do the Castle) I opt to wait for Michael to go have a look.

There are two memorials, well one is dedicated to the Magna Carta whilst the other is a dedication John F Kennedy. Albeit, the memorials are most impressive and quite solemn. The memorial to the signing of the first Magna Carta was erected by the American Bar Association in recognising the charter as the first document representing democracy and human rights. The memorial, designed by Edward Maufe, is of a domed classical stye rotunda with a singular pillar of English granite at its centre. On the pillar is enscribed the words: To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of Freedom Under Law. Oh, and as for the charter being 'signed' on Runnymede Island is utter baloney - as it is not known where in Runnymede the Magna Carta was signed and sealed! As for Runnymede Island, it was man-made in the late 19th century, a church'folly' built and visitors were charged 1 penny to view the alleged revered place.

The Kennedy memorial was erected on one acre of land given to the American people in 1964 after Kennedy's assassination in 1963. In essence, when you enter this memorial you are literally walking on American soil! However, access to this memorial is by a steep set of stairs designed to represent the path taken in the Pilgrim's Progress - minus the multitude of demons and temptations. Upon reaching the summit one is met by a 7 tonne rectangular block of marble inscribed with a dedication and a quote from President Kennedy's inaugural speech which he gave in 1961. To the left of the memorial is a path which is referred to as a 'Jacob's Ladder', as the path is to represent walking towards the future. The path ends with two concrete benches located above and below the direction of the path. These benches have been dedicated as 'Seats of Reflection', as the visitor is provided with a panoramic view of Runnymede and beyond.

We leave the Runnymede site to drive up to the Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial set upon Cooper's Hill. This memorial is located on 5 acres of manicured lawns and gardens commemorating those 20,456 Air Force personnel who lost their lives during WWII and who have no known graves. Their names are inscribed upon the interior walls of the memorial and grouped in each respective year of the conflict and nationality. To mention the solemnity of this shrine is an understatement for it is a poignant statement in sadness and futility. The view provided from the roof of the shrine is stunning, for one can see as far out as London city.

Today was similar to the Bank Holiday last Monday - perfect weather! With just a slight breeze blowing and with ducks and geese a plenty we're set for a leisurely cruise along the Thames. Travelling at a 4 knot speed we bask in the fine weather whilst absorbing all of our surroundings. Our helmsman proudly points out a handsome steam driven vessel which he refers to as the flagship of the companies fleet. Built in 1894 the vessel changed hands and was finally bought by French Bros who had it restored right down to replacing the diesel engine with a steam reciprocating engine. He further advised that the vessel was available for hire a modest sum of £1,500 for the day!

As we sail we are provided with an informative spiel of the history surrounding the area. Our helmsman points out the ruins of St Mary's Priory and a nearby yew tree, referred to as the Ankerwycke Yew. The yew tree he extols, has been suggested by some historians as a more probable spot where the Magna Carter may have signed and sealed! As we pass this spot the banks are lined with a variety of Dutch barges which have been converted by their owners as residences. The owners of these barges tend to the gardens which line the river bank, which appear to be overseered by the occupants of the stately homes beyond the bank! As for stately homes, (it is as though our helmsman had read Maria's mind,) we are provided with an estimation as to the value of some of the homes along the bank. The estimations ranged from £380,000 to £1,000,000 which surprised us as we assumed the property values to be exceedingly more.

We pass by an inflatable dingy occupied by two men, two women, one child and a dog. This is reminiscent of Jerome K Jerome's classic story of 'Three Men In a Boat' together with the dog Montmorency...we have a laugh over this comparison. And along the bank we see English people taking picnics in the park as the children are on a week's mid-term break from school included that quintessential English family man complete with hankie knotted in four corners adorning his head. Well, as Noel Coward once penned - "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun."

Our cruise does a turnaround just past the picnickers and docks at a mooring to take on passengers and allow others to disembark. We are on our way and no sooner that our cruise has come to an end.

We decide to drive to Avebury to visit the standing circle, however the best laid plans go awry with the volume of traffic and roadworks. Terrible delays on the motorway so we returned to have a very late lunch at the Bells of Ousley pub near the Runnymede site in Old Windsor.

Our lunch over we make our to West Drayton where our lodgings, the Oakwood Lodge is located. We finally arrive, after a interlude to put our car through a much needed car wash and a detour in locating the parking area.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

C is for Castle, College and Cousin

We slept until 9 this morning and so missed breakfast. Kind of get the feeling that we actually didn't miss too much. So we wrap parcels, change light lamps in the car and generally have a slower start to the day.

About 11 am we leave to drive over to Windsor to see the Castle. When we arrive we are now very hungry and decide to have lunch first. There are a lot of fast food outlets in High Street in Windsor and then we pass a Wetherspoons pub so we dash in. Both choose the Beef and Ale pie served with vegetables (carrot and broccoli) and mashed potato with gravy. Certainly far from being the best pie we have had, but is sure beats any of the mc meals that are available at the other outlets.

By the time we are finished it is now 2:30 pm which would only give us a little over 2 hours in the castle complex (and we are about to miss the last Changing of the Guards) so we opt instead to do the red bus tour this afternoon and return to the Castle in the morning. So, just outside the Castle we buy tickets for the bus that is just about to leave and jump on.

This bus tour does Windsor, Eton and Datchet. The commentary, while taped, is excellent and ties in the development of these three towns with the history of the castle and the English monarchy in an easy to understand way. It also puts the Castle into context for our visit tomorrow. The Castle was built by William the Conquerer shortly after winning the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and was one of nine built at the time around London.

But Windsor is not only the home to Windsor Castle, it is also home to Victoria Barracks which houses the Coldstream Guards. We were lucky enough to see some of the Guards marching the quarter mile to the Castle as we drove by. Windsor and the surrounding areas were developed greatly by each of the subsequent monarchs with George III and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert leaving significant legacies to the communities.

Datchet Village is one of those quaint little villages that you conjure up in your minds eye when anyone talks of England. The town can date its existence to about 990 AD but flourished with the establishment of the Windsor Castle on the opposite bank of the Thames River, being on the road to London. The river was first crossed by a ferry that was later replaced by a bridge. Datchet was the setting for the novel Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome published in 1889, a humorous account of a boating holiday on the Thames. This novel is one of Aunty Catherine's favourite and a great read - I highly recommend it. Datchet also features in the Merry Wives of Windsor by Shakespeare.

And on to that seat of learning - Eton with its famous College. Established in 1440 by Henry VI, it has borne 20 Prime Ministers as well as countless other notable old boys. Each of the Houses are named after their Tutor who gives his initials to the house names. The Headmaster is know as the Head Man (reminding me of the MERG names for the HMTC radio call names!!) and the teachers are known as Beaks - gosh, wonder how the hell they got that name! The College is closed today as they held their annual Speech Day yesterday and the boys are on school holidays. We did get off the bus and had a coffee in a small parlour at the front of the local hairdressers. We will endeavour to visit the College tomorrow when part of it will be open.

So back into Windsor we go. It is time to collect the car from the parking station where it has cost us £6 for a mere 2 hours! We are visiting A
nna and Gary and the boys for dinner tonight so we stop off at Tesco for wine and little pressies.
It was wonderful to see them again (although Nathan had just fallen asleep) and we spoke of family events and past gatherings as well as our travels. They are hoping to ungrade to a larger house while the interest rates are low and property prices subdued. They have a house viewing this Saturday and have been busy getting their home ready for the best possible presentation. Good luck guys - we will be thinking of you.

We had offered to take them out to dinner, but a better option was takeaway (I should have remembered the challenges of little boys!) so Indian it was. Chicken Tikka Masala and Chicken Korma along with plain rice, pilau rice and lemon rice made a really nice meal - all the better because it was home delivered. We finished it off with Krispy Kreme donuts - yu-um. Anna graciously let us do a load of washing - takes a load off!! LOL

Thanks Anna and Gary for your friendship.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shrunken heads and food galore

The day awoke cool, windy and wet - what a change from two days ago when it was in the low 20s. It is really too wet to be bothered with getting too early a start. We go through all the papers we have been collecting of late and begin also to get some parcels ready to send back to family members in Australia.

We check out of Linton Lodge just before 11 am and head into Oxford to go to the covered market. But we are unable to get parking anywhere within the vicinity and so decide to give it a miss. So we head out to the Cherwell Boathouse Restaurant for an early lunch. It is amazing how different it looked today in the bleak weather. But the restaurant is indoors, beautifully appointed and looks out across the Cherwell River and all the punts, lonely, tethered to their posts and unable to escape to journey with the current.

The food was absolutely sublime - there is no other way to describe it. We were present with three menus to choose from - a-la-carte, set menu and lunchtime special. Each of them tantalised us with new takes on old favourites. We decided to choose from the lunchtime special as it was half the cost of the set menu (which was significantly cheaper than the a-la-carte) and looked just as appetising. And was it so! You bet!!!

As we received our drinks we were given home-made semi-dried tomato and chive bread. Once finished, Michael asked for more bread and we got home-made flour bread warm from the oven. They then brought out an appetiser - a shot of sweet potato soup, rich and velvety.
The entree choice was easy - we both had the Crayfish tails with julienne of cucumber and mango salsa. Mains were:
Pan fried gilt-head bream, River Teign mussels, black truffle potatoes, crayfish butter (Michael)
Grilled pork chop, mustard mash, apple & crisp fried sage (Maria)
And the desserts were too good to pass up:
Raspberry brûlée with rich vanilla ice-cream (Michael)
Lemon tart with marscapone (Maria)

As a lunch menu this was sublimely well balanced with flavours that complemented each other, with none over-powering the other. To celebrate Maria has a glass of champagne with lunch and we have some of that blasted Blenheim sparkling water. So just as our visit on Monday was memorable with Elaine and Helen, today was just as so, in a different manner.

By now, the rain has stopped although it continues to be very overcast and quite cool. So its is was back into the city to go to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum (within it). We get parking about a block away and walk down past some amazing architecture. The Museum entrance is set back from the road behind a truly Oxford grassed quadrangle. The facade towers over the arched entry into a foyer where you get a tantalising glimpse of what is to come up a set of worn limestone stairs. (You almost fall over the large number of baby prams left trustingly here too). So up we go . . .

The first impression is one of light and space. The Museum was designed as a 'cathedral to science', and home to the University's scientific collections. The architecture is as amazing as it's collections. The most striking thing about the Museum is the glass and iron roof of the central court. Evidently the first design of the roof using mainly wrought iron had to be taken down before it was completed because it could not support its own weight. The cast iron columns are ornamented with wrought ironwork in the spandrels representing branches of species including sycamore, walnut and palm. This gives this huge space an elegance that defies all the structural supports that are in place! Amazing space!!

And then there is the collection. One of the things that we have noticed with many of the museums here in Europe is that they are kid friendly and indeed encourage people to touch and feel and explore many of the exhibits. In fact, the first sign that you see when you enter the display area is PLEASE TOUCH. There are people everywhere and just as many big kids as little ones are touching! We found the oldest thing we are likely to see while we are away, a piece of quartz from the Ural Mountains in Russia that is eleven hundred million years old. Yep, 1,100,000,000 years old!! Might not interest everyone, but hey, I am a rocky kinda gal so you will just have to lump it (pardon the pun!).

There are dinosaurs, and marsupials, and insects and birds and snakes and rocks and rocks from outer space (meteorites) and the history of life and Deoxyribonucleic acid and then some. Could go on and on and on. Suffice to say I am in my
element (gosh the jokes are bad today!). There is the Oxford Dodo, the real 'Alice' and the museum's link to CS Lewis, gemstones in their natural state, and a fascinating special exhibition on Charles Darwin celebrating his birth 200 years ago. Altogether a fascinating place to spend the afternoon.

Ahh - and then there is the Pitt Rivers Museum that is attached to the Oxford University Museum. This is an amazing anthropological collection of the finest magnitude with the name referring to its initial benefactor rather than a place. Perhaps the most fascinating is the collection of shrunken heads. And where the natural history museum is light and airy, this collection is in a darkened space a few steps down from the main museum. Children are given torches - I would think more to take their minds off the dim and ward away any nightmares rather that for any real purposes of lighting. Even in the dimness, we have no trouble seeing where to go, or the exhibits themselves.

So with our natural curiosities aroused even more and hardly fully satisfied, we take our leave of Oxford. This is definitely one of those cities that you could come back to time and time again and still not see or experience it all. We are off to another De Veres Venues property tonight- Sunningdale Park - this one is home to the National School of Government and is located near to the Ascot Race Course and Windsor Castle. It is also very close to Anna and Gary's home and we will catch up with them tomorrow night.

We are not as impressed with this venue as with its sister Barony Castle. Our booking form had not been carefully read and we request a change of room - not a good start. Then we need to call maintenance and the list goes on - all minor issues, but certainly takes the gloss off. But the bunny feasting on the lawn outside our bedroom window is very cute!

After such an amazing lunch we decide to forgo dinner and just feast on the cherries and strawberries Michael got yesterday. And as there are a number of movies that we want to see out at the moment, we decided another movie night was in order. We need to keep them going if we want to see them in English as we only have less than a fortnight here now. So onto the web to try to find the closest theatre. It is 16 miles away at Fultham. And off to see Night At The Museum II - kind of appropriate after today - don't you think?! Light and fun in a nonsensical way, but not as good as the first one. Guess you kind of know what is coming huh? So we go to bed tonight filled with amazing facts and photos. Whew, hope we can get to sleep!!!!