Travel Diary: Europe, 2018

Join Stephen and Rona Yarrow, and Steve and Debbie Hall, as they trek around England, Wales and Scotland during September 2018. In the first week of October they take the ferry to Amsterdam, then travel by train through Germany, Austria and Switzerland on their way to northern Italy. There's a lot to see in a very short time, but somebody has to do it!

Penny Lane will be "in our ears and in our eyes", though being "there beneath the blue suburban skies" is a bit of wishful thinking, knowing what the weather is like in Liverpool in September!

Previous posts

4.9.2018: Sydney to London
5.9.2018: London

Thursday 6th September 2018

When we arrived yesterday, we were able to check in to our apartment straight away rather than waiting until 3pm, so we took advantage of this by putting our bags in the room and headed straight out for some exploring since none of us seemed to be suffering from jetlag. We'd all had a reasonable sleep on the plane too, so we figured we'd fit in as much as we could until we were ready to drop.

Our plan was originally to head off early to Canterbury but after a good night's sleep it seemed more logical to go out and get some groceries first, rather than having to leave early so as to avoid the shops being closed.

This morning we had a choice of three different train services to Canterbury, each leaving from different London stations. Confused to the max, we eventually settled on a high speed train from St Pancras Station that took an hour, as opposed to the others that took an extra half hour but left from closer stations.

The historic English cathedral city and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Canterbury had been chosen for our first regional UK destination, not only because it would give Steve and Debbie a potted history of England, but also a chance to see a bit of British countryside early on in the trip. Apart from some cloud during the day and light rain after we got back to London, the weather was fine all day, tipping a maximum of 21 degrees C mid afternoon.

Rona and I had been to Canterbury before and knew what to expect, but Steve and Debbie were quite taken by the place, with its 300 year old shops lining the inner city's narrow streets, and the crystal clear water of the pretty River Stour that flows swiftly through the ancient city.

monastery ruins, Canterbury Cathedral

A visit to Canterbury Catheral was always on the agenda, but we were quite disappointed to learn that a section of the cathedral could not be visited. It had been booked by a local high school for a service honouring one of its students who had been tragically killed in an accident a few months earlier. We decided to go in anyway, having learned that the part that was not open to the public would be used for Evensong later that afternoon, so if we came back then, which we ended up doing, we would still get to see the whole Cathedral.

Having been completed in the 10th century AD and rebuilt following a fire in 1174, Canterbury Catheral was the oldest building Steve and Debbie had seen in their lives, that is until we discovered the ruins of a monastery in the cathedral grounds, which was founded in 597.

A pivotal moment in the history of the cathedral was the murder of the archbishop, Thomas Beckett, in the north-west transept (also known as the Martyrdom) on Tuesday 29 December 1170, by knights of King Henry II. The king had frequent conflicts with the strong-willed Becket and is said to have exclaimed in frustration, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" Four knights took it literally and murdered Beckett in his own cathedral. The posthumous veneration of Becket made the cathedral a place of pilgrimage. This brought both the need to expand the cathedral and the wealth that made it possible. The spot where Becket was killed is marked by a dramatic bladed sculpture.

Thomas Beckett memorial sculpture, Canterbury Cathedral

Though the cathedral is without doubt the city's main attraction, they are other historic sites. These include the remains of a Roman road as well as a Norman Castle which, though a ruin, is largely intact. That the city council had permitted the building of an Aldi store right over the road from the castle ruins was just one of many quirky aspects of this medieval city that made it so attractive to us.

They say a visit to Canterbury is not complete without experiencing Chaucer's famous tales of medieval misadventures at one of the City's most loved attractions. We wanted to visit the exhibition which explains the significance of the collection of 24 stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer between 1387 and 1400, but time did not permit this, so we'll have to complete our visit during our next UK trip.

Friday 7th September 2018

The Goodwood Revival is a major event on the UK's motor calendar that re-lives the days when Goodwood hosted some of Britain's most dramatic motor racing races. Much to Steve's good fortune and delight, he had learnt that this year's 3-day event would be held during our visit to London, so he purchased an entry pass weeks ago to visit the Revival on its opening day, which is today. The fact that going to the Revival involved two 2-hour train journeys did not deter Steve - by 8 this morning he was up and gone, leaving the rest of us to our own devices.

We'd compiled a rather extensive list of places to go and things to see during our time in London, based on our past experiences and recommendations from friends who had been to London. There was no way we were going to fit them all into our itinerary and live to tell the tale, so we split them up into three lists by neighbourhood - one for each available day - and visit as many as we could. Today was our first day.

Wellington Memorial

As Steve would miss out on today's trek, we chose the only list which didn't contain any of his "must-see" destinations. With Oyster Cards in hand, we headed for Hyde Park Corner Underground station and our first destinations - Apsley House and the Wellington Monument. Upon arrival we discovered that London's museums are late starters and these two would not open for another hour. This afforded us the perfect opprtunity to go and find some of the places on the Monopoly game board, many of which were in the vicinity of where we were. The first was Park Lane - the road in front of Apsley House - which is in Mayfair; the pair are the two most expensive properties on the Monopoly board.

A quick check on the iPad showed that Regent, Oxford and Bond Streets; Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Coventry Street; Fleet Street and The Strand could all be reached on foot from where we were, so off we went on our quest to visit every property on the Monopoly Board. On the way we passed the homes of Oscar Wilde (Grosvenor Square); Motoring and Aviation pioneer Charles Rolls (15 Conduit Street); Bourbon King of France, Charles X, and manufacturer, reformer and British Politician Sir Robert Peel (72 South Audley Street); novelist and playwright William Somerset Maugham (16 Upper Grosvenor Street); the house in Brook Street where the Bee Gees lived and wrote some of their early hit songs soon after their arrival in the UK as teenagers.

Jimi Hendrix's flat

Further down Brook Street we reached our first planned destination - the Hendrix/Handel Museum at 23-25 Brook Street, where baroque composer George Frederick Handel, and 60s guitarist and singer Jimi Hendrix once lived.


For the next hour or so we ticked off some more properties on our Monopoly board list, and came across the famous Claridges Hotel; the quirky Liberty department store, where we resisted the temptation to buy a scarf or two for Aus$400 each; the district of Soho, and Carnaby Street, about which the phrase Swinging London was coined in the sixties; Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.

William Shakespeare dodges the water jet fountain in Leicester Square

After lunch we headed back to Hyde Park Corner to visit Apsley House (home of the Duke of Wellington) and the Wellington Memorial Arch over the road in Hyde Park. Apsley House gives a fascinating glimpse into how the privileged of British high society once lived.

- Stephen Yarrow.

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