Sunday, November 20, 2011

Timeout For Some London Sights

As I touched on in the last post, Zac was in town for the weekend a few weeks back.  He needed some time away and I had some time off, so he booked the red-eye to London for a few pints.  Normally October is starting to cool off but in the days leading up to his visit a heat wave set in.  Temps climbed into the 80's which is hot here and unexpected.

I'm going to keep it light on the weekend events, but Steph and I gladly played tour guide as we hit up some of our favorite places along with some of the better known sites.  Fresh off our trip to Manchester, we started by heading over to the the British Museum.   If you look close at the picture above you can see Zac and I in the spectacular atrium.  We went mainly to see the Rosetta Stone and the 2012 London Olympic medals currently on display but also enjoyed a few of other exhibits.

The weather continued to be hot and sunny, so the next day we decided to grab some lunch and head to near by Regents Park.  I had recently signed up for the bicycle scheme but had not tried riding from place to place yet. Feeling adventurous, we decided to take bikes instead of the bus to the park.  Hoping on the bikes we felt a bit unsure, only vaguely knowing where we were going, so we decided to stick to the side streets and take it slow.  However, on a couple occasions we had to make some quick decisions to avoid one way streets and ended in the midst of heavy traffic. Luckily we didn't have any problems but a few times cars were whizzing by as we waited to turn right.  We held our nerve and stuck to the cycle lanes using hand signals wisely to navigate our way safely to the park.  Who needs a coffee to wake you up, just hop on a bike in central London.  It will no doubt put you on high alert.

With Steph at work, we decided to visit the Imperial War Museum.  It's a site I'd been wanting to see after hearing some good reviews and it didn't disappoint.  You walk into this amazing gallery full of restored post WWI planes, tanks and jeeps.  From there you can see detailed WWI and WWII exhibits including a trench replica from WWI along with a eerie simulation of the Bombing of London.  This is all topped off by a heart retching Holocaust exhibit which is always hard to stomach.  There is so much to see and ALL FOR FREE!

Steph and I really enjoyed having Zac over.  It was good to grab a few pints, take it easy and explore London.  So before I wrap this up, I want to give a shout out to Zac's wife, Tara.  While walking around the south bank one evening, we stumbled on this chair that Zac was hoping you could make for the house.  Pattern and all!  Anyway, we wish you could have come too, hopefully next time!

Chips and Gravy at Old Trafford

A highlight for many sport fans is a trip to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United play football, err soccer.  The problem is that tickets can be hard to come by.  However, a colleague of mine wasn't using his tickets for a match against newly promoted Norwich City FC, so I happily snapped them up.  This couldn't have been better timing because it was same weekend my brother Zac was in town for a whirl wind visit.

From London it's about a 2 hour train ride north to Manchester.  On the train we sat across from a father and son who make the trip for every home game.  Beside being avid fans and telling us about this game or that game over the years, they told us about a pre-game tradition of eating Chips and Gravy.  Now before you start thinking potato chips, let me clarify.  They were talking about chunky french fries.  You can see Zac above, looking slightly unamused holding two portions, including one with an additional topping of mushy peas.  That's Old Trafford in the background.  

The idea is this.  You shove your way onto a packed tram which drops you off a fair distance from the stadium.  The walk then gives you time to stop off stop off for pre-game snack.  You pick from one of the many vendors on the way, all serving the same thing.  Chunky chips with a dose of salt and vinegar, covered in gravy.  Appetizing?  Possibly not.  But good, Yes!  We both devoured our chips along with everybody else, then turned our attention to more important things, the game.

After working our way into the stadium, we found our seats then explored for a good photo ops.  We even had enough time before the warm-ups to join the locals in the concourse bar for a few pints to watch the last 30 minutes of the Liverpool game.  Not surprisingly, when Liverpool scored to go ahead, nobody cheered - except us!   Oops, another pint anybody?  Go United!  Time to duck out to our seats and watch the players to warm up. 
The seats were great, on the 3rd row of the upper tier in one of the end stands.  A good view with the rowdy sectio behind n us.  Most of the crowd was calm and seated, but the rows behind us stood the entire game,  cheering and chanting - sorry, most of the chants aren't repeatable here!  The game itself wasn't super exciting but a couple of goals on the end near us delighted the crowd, sending everybody home happy with a routine win for United. 
One thing to note is that there are rules to abide by in your seats.  First, no alcohol.  Who'd of thought, but it's needed to make sure people don't get out of control.  It can get heated in the stands between the home and away fans.  Second, photography is limited to point and shoots!  I started to argue with the security guy who took offense to my camera but I decided I'd rather watch the game.  Plus Zac told me to shut up and pointed he didn't want to get kicked out of the stadium.  Thanks bro!

All in all, it was a good way to spend the afternoon on a fantastic day in Manchester.  

The only thing left to do was to head into the center of Manchester and celebrate the win before our late night train home.  We meet a good friend of mine in town who showed us around.  Surprisingly, Zac made finding a pub harder than you'd think.  Notice his ManU jersey above?  On game days pubs have a decision to make.  They can do 1 of 3 things.  Allow home team fans in, allow away team fans in, or neither.  We weren't allowed into the first two pubs, both not allowing either team fans in, before finally finding a United supporting pub.  Again, who'd of thought, but its for safety.  Too many drunken fights I guess.

Well, rowdy turned out to be the theme of the day.  On the packed train ride home there were quite a few loud rowdy fans from the game.  The dinning car was closed and numerous announcements had to be made that calumniated in the police waiting on our train platform as the train pulled into London Euston.  It wasn't us! Rock!

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bon Fire Night

Remember, Remember the 5th of November so goes the rhyme...

On the 5th of November, 1605, Guy Fawkes was arrested guarding a cache of gun powder and explosives hidden under the House of Lords in the Parliament building.  He was part of a group trying to blow up Parliament and assassinate King James I.  Luckily this failed, preserving the famous landmark, but also providing a fantastic way to spend an evening each November.

In response to the failed attempt, King James allowed the public to celebrate with bonfires.  This tradition has stuck around over the years and every November 5th, people all over the UK get together to light fires and shoot off fireworks saying, "Remember, remember the 5th of November..."

These celebrations are well known and popular, but for one reason or another, we haven't been able to attended the last few years.  A little research revealed one of the best events is held a few hours outside London, in a town called Battle in East Sussex.  Funny enough, the town itself was once known for its high quality gun power, so it's only fitting that it host a a grand celebration for a gun powder plot gone wrong.

One of the things that attracted us to Battle was the idea of a torch lit procession.  Most of the London events are just big crowds with fire works in one of the various parks.  Battle offered something a bit different.  And it didn't disappoint.  There must have been a couple hundred people, all dressed up in various costumes from the past 400 years, walking in a procession through city center carrying old time torches.  Others pulled trash cans with small fires that people kept tossing in fireworks that were always randomly exploding.

Now I have no idea what a burning at the stake would have been like, but I can't help think this wasn't far off.  Thousands of people lining the streets as a criminal, in this case a fake Guy Fawkes, was paraded through the streets by angry vigilantes carrying fire lit torches, screaming for bloody murder.  Add in a grey haze with a light mist and you have a seriously eery night only fitting to celebrate an evil plot gone wrong.

Here is a quick video to give you an idea of the night.

Once the torches were put out, the crowd moved to the green where a huge bon fire was set up with an effigy of the infamous Guy Fawkes on top - seen above.  Up in flames he went to the delight of the crowd, before the fire works were set off to end the festivities.   This was all just in time for us to grab the last train back to London smelling of torches and fireworks.  Luckily Charring Cross was the last stop because we snoozed the entire way home!

Bonfire nights are a must!  Rock!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Movember 2011 Donations Needed

It has been a quiet few months for us from a travel perspective, but there is still plenty going on. Its Movember season!  As you can see above, the 2011 version of the 'Mo is coming on strong.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Movember, it's an annual charity event across the world for men to grow a mustache during the month of November raising money in the name of men's health.  We are supporting the over 10,000 men who will die of prostate cancer and the more than 2,000 men who will be diagnosed with testicular cancer this year.  Find out more at the Movember website.

Here's the deal, I need some help in the form of donations!  My team this year is 13 strong and they aren't messing around.  I am seriously lagging behind and I need to to rally some support.  Please if you are able, endorse my 'Mo by clicking on donate.  I'm counting on you all!

Business over, I need to give a shout to my other fellow 'Mo growers, namely my Dad and brother Zac for taking up the challenge!  Hang in there guys...