Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Roman Holiday

Hi friends-
Just back from the wonderful weekend in the most amazing city I've ever been to.  
Can't wait to tell you about all about it.  
(And yes, we had the kids with us!)
But first I must wade through the suitcases and piles of laundry and sort through the photos.  
For now here's a quick shot of the Colosseum.  Just one of the countless truly awesome sights in the Eternal City.  More to come soon!

Linking up over at The Busy Nothings Photography Club

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Long May She Wave

Look who greets me each morning while I do the breakfast dishes.  That's my own little waving HRH looking out at me cheerfully and encouraging me to Keep Calm and Carry On. 

See her demure little black handbag?  It cleverly hides a miniature solar panel.  So when the sun shines in on The Queen, she waves cheerily at me.

And the good news is that the daylight hours are steadily increasing around here.  The difference is noticeable.  We get around 20 extra minutes of daylight each week.  Hooray!  There is (literally) a light at the end of this tunnel of darkness we've been living in.

Looking forward to many more happy hours of waving from Her Majesty.

And if you want your own waving Queen, go here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Day Trip: Winchester

Do you think it is a good idea to let Facebook make your travel plans?  Probably not, but I just can't help myself.  It's that dreaded "Travel List Challenge."  I'm sure you've seen it, a list of 100 "Must-See" destinations.  You tick them off one by one and then compare your results.  The highest number among my friends is 52.  Let's just say my number is significantly less than that.

And so, when it came time to pick last weekend's adventure, I decided it was high time we visit Winchester Cathedral- which happens to be number 98 on the list.

Winchester is only about an hour and a half outside of London, making it an easy day trip.

Alfred the Great
It's is an ancient city which began around 150 BC.  During Saxon times it was the capitol of England and then served as a royal residence for centuries.

It is home to an 18th century mill, which still makes flour today.

Winchester College, founded in 1382,  is believed to be the oldest school in England and remains one of the top ten public* schools in the country.

In the Great Hall of the ruined Winchester Castle you can see the legendary Round Table of King Arthur which has been hanging there for 700 years.

The kids in front of the Round Table
And, of course, there's the cathedral.  It has been used as a place of worship for over 900 years.  One of the finest 12th century Bibles is housed here.  It is also the final resting place of several early English kings and writer Jane Austen.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day in Winchester.  There was plenty to see and do yet the town centre is very compact and pedestrian friendly.  A fun day out for the whole family- and one more "must-see" location crossed off my Facebook list.

My knight in shining armor

*Note:  In England "Public School" means private school that is not funded by the government.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Theatre Spotlight: War Horse

One of the things I love most about living near London is the easy access to amazing theatre in the West End.  My absolute favourite night out includes dinner and the theatre with my sweetie.  I'm still amazed by the sheer number of professional shows being staged at any given time in this city.  So, to help me keep track of those I've seen, and to share a little bit of London Theatre magic with you lovely readers, I'm introducing a new blog feature:  Theatre Spotlight.

Last night we had tickets to the highly acclaimed War Horse.  Based on the novel by Michael Mopurgo, the play tells the story of the love between a boy and his horse who is sold to the cavalry and shipped off to France during WWI.

The production was spectacular, filled with soulful folk music, superb acting and life sized horse puppets that whinnied and neighed and twitched their tails and ears.  And while the horse puppets were amazing, it was the cheeky goose puppet who got the biggest round of applause at the end.I was mesmerized for the entire 2 hours and 45 minutes.  

If you're looking for something different than the typical musical, go see War Horse.  You'll leave feeling like it was money well spent.

Even though it is based on a novel for young people, this show is not appropriate for children under 12.

Venue:  New London Theatre 
Pre-Theatre Dinner:  Strada on Great Queen Street.  Reasonably priced, tasty Italian food just a 3 minute walk from the theatre.

Don't live near London?  You can also see it in New York at Lincoln Center.  The US tour is set to open in Los Angeles in June and then move on to 19 other cities.  Even the Aussies won't be left out when War Horse opens in Melbourne this summer.  A full UK tour is set to begin next year.  Go see it!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bournemouth and the Jurrasic Coast

Sometimes I forget that I live on an island.  After all, it's not tropical, or sunny like most of the other islands I've visited.  It does, however, have some rather nice beaches, which we discovered on a trip to Bournemouth and the Jurassic Coast.

Beach shacks in Bournemouth
This was one of our first road trips in the UK and in my frenzy of packing everything we could possibly need into our car I somehow forgot the camera.  So you'll have to settle for these photos from my (very old and outdated) iPhone (which, now has been replaced with the new Siri equipped model, thank you very much).

Bournemouth is an easy 2 hour drive from London and a lovely little spot to spend the weekend.  We stayed at the Cremona hotel which a quaint family run bed and breakfast.  They have a "family room" with a double and 2 singles plus room for the baby cot- perfect!  Or at least I thought so (my travel savvy kids were less than thrilled with the shared accommodation).

In Bournemouth we visited the local aquarium which the kids loved, spent all our gold coins on amusement rides, and ate fish and chips while being entertained with balloon animals and magic tricks at Harry Ramsdens.

Creative solution for what to do with all those historic church buildings:  Turn them into nightclubs!
But the highlight of Bournemouth was the beach.  Since leaving Australia we have all been starved for the beach.  (You would be too if you used to live here).   It was too cold for swimming but we got out the buckets and spades.  And my little beach babies has a wonderful time.

The next day we visited Monkeyworld which featured the most amazing adventure playground I've ever seen.  The kids exclaimed that they actually felt like monkeys climbing around in there.  What fun!

On our last day we drove out to Charmouth on the Jurassic Coast to do some fossil hunting.  The wind was bitterly cold but we were determined.  We hired some pick axes and set to work.  Luckily, a ranger happened by and gave us a quick lesson on what to look for.  Without him we'd still be there chipping away because there was no way we were leaving that beach without fossils!  I have to admit, it was pretty thrilling to actually find some.

We drove on to the picturesque town of Lyme Regis and enjoyed lunch at Cafe Sol.  This little town was absolutely beautiful.  Tiny winding little streets, colourful shops, gorgeous views.  The perfect spot to end our trip.

Lyme Regis Photos
Photo from TripAdvisor

There are just so many amazing places to explore in England.  
What should be next on our list?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Surviving the 100 Days of Darkness

London is 51 degrees, 32 minutes north of the equator.  That's pretty far north, my friends.  And that means that our daylight hours are very short in the winter.  When we first arrived I was warned about the "100 Days of Darkness" that were to come.  And, I must admit, it's quite a change from sunny southern California and sparkling bright Sydney, Australia.

Bike riding on a sunny morning.
In these, the darkest days of winter, the sun rises around 8 am and sets about 4 pm.  This means that it is dark when my kids leave for school in the morning, and dark when they return home in the afternoon.

Virginia Water Lake

Roman ruins at Virginia Water Lake
All this darkness can have a some negative effects.
It is estimated that around 25% of the people in the UK suffer from some form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)- ranging from mild "winter blues" to severely debilitating depression.
Jack enjoying the sunshine (and the bitterly cold weather)
And while I don't think anyone in our household falls into those categories, I have certainly noticed an increase in our slothfulness.  Everyone wants to stay home in pyjamas/pajamas, read books, watch movies and eat popcorn.

And if we're lucky enough to get a few hours of sunshine we force ourselves out of the house to enjoy it.

Swan enjoying the sunshine on Virginia Water Lake

All photos taken on the morning of January 2, 2012 during a brief burst of sunshine and blue skies.  Just a couple hours later it was pouring rain and dark again!
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