Saturday, August 31, 2013

Istanbul But It Looks Like Constantinople!

We arrived in Istanbul late on Friday afternoon and it took over an hour to clear immigration even though every one was processed quickly.  There were just so many people and so many planes coming in.

We had a hotel upgrade next door to the one we stayed at in 2004.  It is right in the old town and very close to the special sights.

Last night we joined the throng of locals and tourists walking the narrow streets and looked at the famous landmarks - the Blue Mosque, Hagar Sofia, The Roman Cistern and many more.

We ate in a small local restaurant not far from our hotel.  We bought baklava and Turkish treats to eat back in our room.  On our room when we checked in, there was a large bowl of Turkish delight to welcome us so we added this to the feast.

This morning we visited Hagar Sofia, one of the most spectacular sights in Istanbul.  It was built as a church in 304 AD but burnt down twice till the present building was completed in the early 500s.  It was a church for 1200 years and a mosque for 500 years before Ataturk converted it to a museum in 1935.

There are Christian mosaics as well as Muslim symbols throughout this huge building.  Roman emperors were crowned here when Constantinople was the centre of the Roman Empire.

We will be back in Istanbul for 2 days in a week's time in the middle of our cruise which we are about to join shortly.

Inside Hagar Sofia viewed from the upper level.

Mosaic of The Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus.  Added at a later date were Emperor Constantine and Queen Irene.

Many a sermon has been preached from here.
Taken on the upper level.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Last day in London

Today was our last day in London before we fly to Istanbul in the morning to commence our next adventure with a luxury cruise on the Black Sea.

We attended to some business and managed to find time to vote at the Australian Embassy. This is the largest polling booth in the elections and possibly the most beautiful building. The voting takes place in the Grand Hall complete with chandeliers and a luxurious setting befitting a Royal presence.

Well reps of Kevin and Tony were in attendance!

We also walked the Thames and visited the Tate Britain.

Our next entry will be from Istanbul

 The flag flies over the Houses of Parliament
 Is this art?      Yes/No

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hampton Court

To celebrate our wedding anniversary, we visited Hampton Court Palace where Henry V111 lived in regal splendour.

Many monarchs lived here and the palace, which is very large, has been altered over the years to suit whichever king or queen was on the throne.

We visited several exhibitions including the Tudor kitchens and wine cellar - both vast cavernous places and the Royal chapel where a copy of Henry's crown is displayed.  The original was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell as was the large stained glass window in the chapel.

Queen Mary 11's exhibition featured several Royal beds from State bedchambers - where they actually held court, not slept!  This was called 'Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber'.

The Baroque Story told of the changes to the palace made by Christopher Wren and others for William and Mary of Orange when they took the crown from James 11 - fascinating stuff.

We toured William 111's private apartments which were still furnished with his State bed and the one he really used which was decorated with bright yellow hangings chosen by him - he must have been colour blind!

Throughout the day, we kept coming across characters role playing, including Henry V111 and Anne Boleyn.  Just before our departure we met the 2 of them in a courtyard and had a private audience.  King Henry presented Gail with a groat and threatened to have Robert beheaded because he made a salacious suggestion to Anne Boleyn - which was warmly received by her!

The gardens around the palace were truly beautiful with sweeping lawns, colourful flowers and topiary trees.  We saw the large grape vine from Henry's day which still gives grapes in September each year - now sold in the palace shop but up till the 1920s were only for Royal use. It is the largest grapevine in the world.

Rob joins the drunken courtiers.

Meeting Henry and Anne.

 The gardens.

Henry's astrological clock.

All the chimneys were beautifully decorated.

View from the Aquaduct

These photos show the real view as we crossed. The boat sat above the wall of the bridge. I stood and took the first photo..You can see the throttle of the boat
 My view as the boat glided through the air
Looking over the side.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Journey by Narrow Boat

We travelled to the border of England and North Wales to commence our narrow boat journey on the Ellesmere and Llangollen canals. This is a world apart from the Queen Mary 11 and whilst it had no grand ballroom, the scenery was breathtaking and the meals in the canal side pubs provided our daily shore excursions.

The canal is a world heritage site and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is one of the seven wonders of the waterways.  It is the tallest aqueduct in Great Britain and its 18 arches are held together with oxblood and Welsh flannel.  It is 127 feet in the air above the River Dee.

We travelled over 2 major aqueducts and through 2 long tunnels, one of which was just on 300 metres, operated locks and swing bridges and then repeated the journey to travel up to LLangollen .  This canal was even narrower and shallow with a fast current.

It was hard work at times  but a totally enjoyable experience with breathtaking scenery -  the boat actually sits above the canal crossing the aqueducts and there is not even a rail on 1 side.  There is a real camaraderie amongst the boating fraternity which carried on into the pubs where we enjoyed our lunches and dinners.

The Pontcysllte Aqueduct which opened in 1805.
Entering the tunnel - will we fit?  Our boat was 50 feet -  3 inches narrower than the tunnel.
The Chirk Aqueduct with the rail aqueduct next to it.
Rob entering the lock.
In Llangollen.
Our boat - the Hurley.
Gail negotiates her first bridge - we passed under about 100 of them.

Gail working the lock - the lock key was enormous!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Buckingham Palace

This was our first opportunity to visit Buckingham Palace because on previous visits the queen was in residence.  This time the queen and Prince Phillip were in Scotland shooting peasants!

We were able to tour the Royal Mews and saw the gold coronation carriage and the 1988 Australian coach  but no sign of the one more recently donated by Australia.

We also visited the Queens's Gallery which had a display of Tudor and Stuart paintings along with artwork by members of the Royal family.

The most spectacular was the State Rooms.  We were able to visit a significant portion.  This included art, furniture, sculpture set up as if the queen was in residence.  There was also a special jubilee display which was very interesting and included the coronet, jewels, dresses etc worn on the actual day of the coronation.

There are no photos in this area as they were not allowed.  We also toured the gardens.

 The Coronation Coach.  This weighs 4 tons and takes 8 horses to pull it at walking pace.
 Filling in for the queen.
How many bears can you have in one shop?

Southhampton to London

We were picked up at the pier as we disembarked and headed for London with stops at Salisbury Cathedral, Stonehenge and Windsor Castle.

The cathedral was truly magnificent and has the highest steeple in Britain, all on a foundation only 3 feet deep.  It is one of the great churches of the British Isles.

We were delighted to revisit Stonehenge.  We have been fascinated with stone circles throughout Europe and it was great to have the opportunity to visit the best known of them all.

Our final stop was Windsor where we visited the castle.  This is the largest castle in the world and we had an extensive tour through the grounds and the State Rooms.  The State Rooms were fantastic but sorry no photos allowed.


Salisbury Cathedral
 The interior of the Cathedral

The Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle.  we think the man on the mower was preparing for the next cricket test.

The Atlantic Crossing

We transferred by taxi to the Brooklyn Terminal and in a matter of minutes, completed formalities, boarded QM 11 and in a matter of moments checked into our suite.  We had a pleasant lunch in the Kings Court and settled down for the afternoon to watch the New York skyline shrink into the distance from our balcony.

We were on the starboard side so had a magnificent view of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty as we sailed out of the harbor.

We had a crossing packed with food, wine, shows, deck walking and even the odd lecture and in no time we arrived in Southhampton.

 The magnificent Manhattan skyline.

Sailing by the Statue of Liberty.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Last Day in New York

At long last the sun was out so we caught the subway and walked down to the UN Building.

We couldn't tour the site today but we took photos of the impressive structure and then visited Tudor City.  This is a city within a city consisting of 12 large apartment blocks built in a Tudor Gothic style with adjacent gardens and parks.

We had a stop at the impressive Grand Central Station with its cavernous main hall, then walked by the Chrysler Building which actually looks better from a distance.  We lunched in Greenwich Village before heading back to our apartment.

The evening was a night on Broadway.  We went to Chicago.  There were so many shows to choose from we found it really difficult to pick. 

After the fabulous show, we walked down Broadway marveling at the lights, the huge crowds, the buzz of this vibrant city.

We are currently finishing our packing and leave in about 1 hour for our trip across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 11.  This will be our last post for a week.


Grand Central Station.  Can you find Wally?  Or Jeanie and Gail?
The UN Building.

A thought provoking message across the road from the UN.
Tudor City.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

New York Landmarks

It rained overnight but cleared a bit by the time we set out.  We needed an indoor venue so headed for Macy's, the largest department store in the world.  It was certainly large with 2 buildings joined together but not over the top classy apart from the 1st 2 floors.

After late morning coffee, it had cleared enough to head for the Empire State Building.  The rain had just cleared and we were ahead of the crowds.  Took a series of lifts to the top and spent over an hour looking at the 360 degrees views.  It brings home just how large New York is.  We have never seen so many skyscrapers.  In the far south, we could just make out the Statue of Liberty and had close up views of iconic buildings like the Chrysler.  Even the photos won't tell the full story.

After lunch, we headed to the Morgan Library and Museum.  This was a magnificent building with marble upon marble and one of the world's great collection of rare books.  It has a major focus on manuscripts ranging from cuneiform to begging letters from Mozart for financial help.  The library holds 3 copies of the 50 copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the world. 

There was also an exhibition of recently acquired painting including some real gems.

The building and the collection were in total harmony.  A magnificent sight!

We walked up to the Chrysler Building that pre dates the Empire State by 1 year but is still as modern as the day it was built -  the city's top architectural gem.

Our next stop was the New York Public Library with its old world charm -  huge public reading rooms that don't appear to have changed from the day they were built.  We all enjoyed the special exhibition on children's literature.

In nearby Bryant Park, there is a fascinating open air reading room where you can borrow books and magazines and read in the sun.  By now the sun was out.  A modern concept for an old world library.

We walked down to Times Square and marveled at the rush hour buzz and crammed onto an express Metro to go back home.  We unwound with a bottle of bubbly and a home cooked meal.

Here we are at Macy's.

 On top of the Empire State Building.

View from the top.

The Morgan Library.

 The Chrysler Building.
 Inside the reading Room.
Reading in Bryant Park.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Back in New York

We came back from Boston by Greyhound bus.  The service was excellent and whilst we did not see a great deal of the countryside, it was fast, cheap and efficient.


We returned to the same apartment where we had been a week earlier to find our bags waiting for us.


We spent the afternoon down at the Hudson River Park as we are only 1 apartment block from the riverside walk.  It was buzzing with activity on the Sunday afternoon – walkers, joggers and cyclists along with restaurants, wild life, dogs all adjacent to marinas and shipping.


Today with the threat of rain, we changed our plans to visit museums.  Our 1st visit was to the Guggenheim where we found the building more fascinating than the art.  We had very high expectations but found the collection not quite to our taste.


We strolled through Central Park, past the main lake down to the Museum of the City of New York.  This   There was an interesting exhibition “A Beautiful Way to Go” focusing on the people who are interred in New York’s Green Wood Cemetery.  It featured not just the people but their contributions to the world. Among those were the Steinway family of piano fame, Samuel Morse (Morse Code), Underwood, the inventor of the typewriter and Leonard Bernstein.


The George Washington Bridge from the Hudson River WalkDucks

Ducks on the Hudson River

We saw this squirrel enjoying the sunshine.

New York skyline seen across the Jackie Kennedy Onassis lake in Central Park

Painting of the Statue of Liberty on its day of dedication.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Freedom Trail

Today in Boston we walked the Freedom Trail.  This historic walk traces the events leading up to America’s revolutionary birth and its founding as an independent nation.

The trail is marked with a row of red bricks and extends for 6 km.   It is well signposted and there are many old examples of colonial architecture along the way.

We looked churches from the 17th century, meeting houses and graveyards.  We toured Paul Revere’s house and by the end of the day were totally exhausted so we caught the Metro to the site of the Boston Tea Party.  This was very touristy but quite entertaining.

At the end of the show, we visited the tea house and had the worst cups of tea we have ever drunk.  I think the Americans should stick to coffee!

The Massachusetts State House

Innovative street furniture

A giant of Boston history

The bowsprit of the boat from the Boston Tea Party

Paul Revere's house

Anyone for an ale?