Paris, or: je ne comprends pas français

 

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Saturday, 7 February 2015

Got up at a lazy 9:00 in the morning and went for a shower, before double checking that I had everything. I had a bit of trouble with the zip on my suitcase last night, but I managed to get it working okay again. I’m amazed nothing has gone missing so far. The Eurostar to Paris I was booked on wasn’t due to leave until 11:30, so I had plenty of time to get ready. Got to St Pancras International Station after a detour through the next-door Kings Cross Station (literally across the road) to take a picture of Platform 9 3/4 and the trolley disappearing into the wall. I was still a bit early, so had to wait another 30 minutes before I could go through the ticket barriers.

Eventually the train started preparing for boarding at 10:30, and I got through the ticket barriers, security scans, and passport control like a breeze. The interesting thing about the Eurostar is that the French have an immigration checkpoint in the UK terminal at St Pancras, and the UK has an immigration checkpoint in the French terminal at Gare du Nord. This is awesome, because it means not having to travel to France (or the UK) only to be denied entry, which is something I was actually (albeit needlessly) worried about when getting into the UK from Australia given the checks are at the UK end, after you arrive, after traveling for 24 hours and 12,000 miles.

The train left St Pancras at about 11:30, and I’d estimate that 45 minutes later it entered the Channel Tunnel (near Dover), spent 30 minutes underground, before emerging into the French countryside near Calais, another 75 minutes from Paris. The journey from St Pancras to Gare du Nord is about 500 km, and the top operational speed of the Eurostar’s British Rail Class 373 fleet is 300 km/h. Not bad going for a train 20 carriages and 400 metres long.

When I got out at Gare du Nord, I was immediately overwhelmed. It is difficult to prepare for the shock of having to deal with French being written and spoken everywhere. It made me stop, stand out of the way, and closely examine the signs. I needed to do three things: get some cash, get a Métro (subway/underground) ticket, and find the Métro itself. I spotted the sign I was after and started trundling in the direction of the Métro.

Gare du Nord’s international platforms are very accessible. There are no ticket controls, and once you exit them you are in the station proper and can go out onto the streets. This means there are a lot of people in the immediate vicinity, which can be tough, especially for people like me who are generally not comfortable in crowds. As I walked towards the Métro, a woman with a clipboard stopped me and asked if I spoke English. I didn’t have to be anywhere, so I stopped to see what she wanted. She started a spiel about deaf and blind children. When she had finished, I asked her what it was for, because I still didn’t know. I looked at the clipboard and it looked like a petition. She started her spiel again. I ignored her and examined the clipboard. I realised that it was asking for donations — people had written their names and pledged 10 Euros. I said “No, sorry, I don’t have any money” and gave her an apologetic smile. She rolled her eyes and took the clipboard back. If she thought I was lying, she was wrong: I had just gotten off the train and hadn’t been to an ATM yet.

I found an ATM and withdrew some cash. It gave me two 50 Euro bills. That wasn’t particularly useful — I was hoping for a smaller denomination. Oh well, I thought. So I went to get a Métro ticket from the ticket machine, which only took coins or cards, and refused to accept my Visa Debit for some reason. So I went to the nearest shop and bought a bottle of Coke to break a bill and get some coins. The machine accepted my coins and I was able to buy a Métro ticket for 1.80 Euro. I took the Métro from Gare du Nord to Étienne Marcel (lots of Métro stations are named after people) and walked to the café/bar where I was meeting Pirates at 5:00 pm, arriving about an hour before the meeting.

After buying an overpriced glass of cola at the café, I tried to send a text message to François, the French Pirate with whom I was meant to stay. Unfortunately my phone decided it didn’t want to send text messages: I was out of credit and the only way to recharge was to get online. I whipped out my laptop and connected to the café’s free wifi network, recharged my phone and managed to get a text to François, who texted me to tell me that his brother Thomas (i.e. Thomas Watanabe-Vermorel, a spokesperson for the French Pirates) would meet me at the café. Thomas met me okay, and I sat through the meeting which had a decent number of people considering the French Pirate Party’s size is about a quarter of Pirate Party Australia’s. They had a presentation that was intended to educate the less tech-savvy about protecting privacy online.

After the meeting I decided to get dinner, realising I had forgotten to eat all day at it was now past 7:00 pm. I walked up to Réamur-Sébastopol Métro Station and got the Métro to Rue Saint-Maur, then walked the short distance to François’ house. François had a mattress and a lamp and everything set up in his basement, and it was surprisingly comfortable and warm. I’m very grateful to him for letting me stay!

Saturday, 8 February 2015

Woke up and headed out. I decided to have a more leisurely day today and set out to see the four sights I wanted to see: Place de la Bastille, Notre Dame de Paris, La tour Eiffel and Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. First I got the Métro to Marcel Étienne so I could visit Le Bon Pêcheur again because, although expensive, I liked it and wanted somewhere decent to sit and eat. I had a delicious Thai-style chicken curry with rice, salad, sliced baguette, a beer and a cola. For 23 Euro all up, it was worth it. I chatted to dad for a bit because I hadn’t really been in touch with him in a while.

After finishing up at Le Bon Pêcheur, I walked east to Place de Bastille, through Place des Vosges. The monument there is similar to Nelson’s column and other pillar-style monuments, and is in the centre of a roundabout. From the side I was on, taking pictures, I spotted “Je Suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) stencilled on a box nearby (the kind that is used for power distribution). I had actually been reconsidering my visit to Paris in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre due to uncertainty as to what state Paris would be in, but generally Paris seems fine. However, on my walk to the Cathedral of Notre Dame I did spot three soldiers on patrol carrying automatic weapons. Walking to Notre Dame meant heading south for a bit along Boulevard Henri IV, across the bridge to Île Saint-Louis in the middle of the Seine, then walking literally down the centre of the island west and over a bridge to Île de la Cité on which the Cathedral is built. On the bridge were rollerbladers showing off some quite fancy stuff, which I managed to get some videos and pictures of. I got some good pics of the exterior of the Cathedral, but the line to go inside was insanely long — and as everyone who has read this knows, I hate long lines. The Cathedral is actually quite small compared to the minsters and cathedrals in England.

I got the Métro again, this time from Cité (on the island) to Montparnasse Bienvenüe where it was a really long walk to transfer to Métro Line 6 to get to Bir-Hakeim where the Eiffel Tower is nearby. On the Métro I was serenaded by some accordionists who were worth giving a few dollars to for the entertainment! As soon as you exit the Métro station at Bir-Hakeim you can see the Eiffel Tower looming over the city. The Eiffel Tower is impressive; it’s not merely a tourist attraction. I would say that it is much more striking than Notre Dame. A massive black lattice-like construction. It is an amazing feat of architecture and engineering, and it is easy to see its allure. I walked northwest across the Seine towards the Arc de Triomphe. I approached it from the side rather than the front, having it slowly revealed to me. It’s extremely well lit at night, a gold colour against the dark sky. I managed to get a few shots from the side, including a really cool long-exposure shot, and from the front, standing on a pedestrian island in peak hour.

I made my way back to François’ house at Rue Saint-Maur and they insisted on giving me dinner: pasta and pancakes. François’ mother had made the jam for the pancakes, and it was delicious. After a long day, I said goodnight and went to bed. Although I hadn’t had an awful time, I generally didn’t like Paris and was glad to be leaving for Antwerp the next day. I think the combination of an unfamiliar language, the dirt and grime and smell of the city, and the number of people had worn me down a bit so I wasn’t able to fully appreciate it.

A visit to Pirate Party UK’s Manchester HQ

Thursday, 5 February 2015

I was feeling poorly today: sore head, sore jaw, sore ears, sore throat and generally tired with a runny nose. Looked up my symptoms to see why my jaw and ears would be hurting, and it looks like it’s a sinus infection. I’ll have to see a doctor if it doesn’t clear up within a few days.

I turned on the heating, sorted out my dirty laundry, and did some washing. Tomorrow I’m heading back down to London, staying the night at the Crestfield Hotel (like I did when I went up to Leeds), and then getting the Eurostar to Paris in the morning. While my washing was on the go I popped around the corner to a pub — the Three Horses — and had a burger and a drink for £6.49, a bargain!

I curled up on the sofa watching TV and sorting through pictures. Andy Halsall, now a candidate for PPUK and at one stage my British counterpart, texted me about meeting up in Manchester tomorrow. Despite leaving in the evening for London, I really can’t miss this opportunity!

Friday, 6 February 2015

Okay, today was a rush. Up at 8:00 am, made sure I had everything, packed my suitcase, had a shower, left Levi’s at 10:00, got the train to Shipley at 10:45, changed to the Leeds train, and then jumped on the train to Manchester Piccadilly Station, arriving at 12:30 and met Andy at the station. We got the bus up to the Salford office.

Not going to lie: it’s not the prettiest office or building or area, but it’s clearly functional and has plenty of space for people to work and for various printers and computers. Andy introduced me Sam Clark, the treasurer of Pirate Party UK, and a candidate for the upcoming General Election. Before we left the office, they gave me a souvenir t-shirt to take back home with me!

Sam treated Andy and myself to lunch, which was very generous of him! We headed back to the station at around 3:00, after having a long chat about how the Pirate Movement is going and what we can do to foster multilateral cooperation. It sounds like PPUK will support our reform proposal for Pirate Parties International, and if unsuccessful I imagine we’ll be working a lot more closely on a direct level.

Back at the station we got coffee and I got the train back to Keighley, and was picked up by Levi (who was picking Julie up at about the same time). Got back to theirs, did final checks, and said goodbye to Julie. Levi dropped me back at the station and we said goodbye.

It was a hard goodbye for me. I cried on the train — the first time I’ve cried in a long time now. I’m really going to miss them. I made it back to Kings Cross without trouble and checked in.

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Auld Reekie: two days in Edinburgh

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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Left Levi and Julie’s at about 8:30 am I think, and got the train to Leeds and from Leeds to Edinburgh, arriving at 1:00 pm. I walked from Edinburgh Waverley Station (named after the series of novels by Sir Walter Scott) along Princes Street, a major road in Edinburgh’s New Town (which is more or less the entirety of the area north of the train line) to the hotel I was staying at in Frederick Street.

Fortunately my room was ready for me to occupy, despite my arriving almost an hour before the actual check in time. Despite booking the cheapest single room at the hotel, I was given a family room with a double bed for no extra charge! I took the map I had been offered at reception and marked the places I wanted to visit n their order.

I headed out to my first tourist attraction: the Scott Monument, built to honour the author and historian Sir Walter Scott (named above). Although possibly best-known as an author, Sir Walter was important as an historian, and in 1818 he re-discovered the Crown Jewels of Scotland which had been hidden in Edinburgh Castle since the early Eighteenth Century. The Scott Monument is impressive, at over 60 metres high and strikingly black, and was inaugurated in 1846, 14 years after Sir Walter’s death.

I crossed over to the Old Town, situated more or less south of the railway line that divides it from the New Town, heading towards Edinburgh Castle that overlooks the city. Most of the Old Town seems to have been built on slopes that lead up to the Castle, which would have made it very easy to defend: the only suitable approach is via the front door, more or less.

Edinburgh Castle has a number of interesting things, including three museums (the National War Museum, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum, and the Royal Scots Regimental Museum) and naturally many very old buildings. The oldest building in Edinburgh, St Margaret’s Chapel, is within the Castle’s walls. St Margaret I am familiar with given my fascination with medieval genealogy. She was an Anglo-Saxon Princess from Wessex, the daughter of Prince Edward the Exile, himself a son of King Edmund Ironside. Her brother Edgar Ætheling was proclaimed King of England by the Witanagemot following the death of King Harold II in 1066; King William I (the Conqueror) had defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings and most people know the rest. Perhaps more interesting is that St Margaret married King Malcolm III of Scotland, and three of their sons became Kings of Scotland. The chapel was likely built by her son, King David I.

Another thing of interest, as I briefly mentioned earlier, is that Sir Walter Scott discovered the Scottish Crown Jewels walled up within the Castle in 1818. The jewels consist of the Crown of Scotland refashioned on the orders of King James V in 1540, the Sceptre of Scotland given by Pope Alexander VI to King James IV in 1494, and the Sword of State given to James IV by Pope Julius II in 1507. They were used at the coronations of Mary Queen of Scots, James VI and Charles I; but I’m not sure if they were used past this. They symbolised the Scottish Monarchy in the Scottish Parliament after 1603 — because James VI inherited the throne of England in 1603, he was ordinarily resident in England rather than Scotland. After the Acts of Union in 1707 replaced the English and Scottish Parliaments with a single Parliament for the United Kingdom, the Scottish Crown Jewels were no longer needed. They’re now on display in Edinburgh Castle, in the very room that Sir Walter discovered them. You can’t take pictures, sadly, but I got to get up close to the display cabinet!

I was tired and not feeling well after Edinburgh Castle, so I started walking down the Royal Mile to look for something to eat before going back to my hotel for an early night. Along the way I popped into a whisky specialists and bought a bottle of single malt scotch whisky for dad. I trundled back to the hotel after grabbing a pizza.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Got up and checked out early. My first stop was to be Calton Hill. A good view of the city, but unfortunately not that interesting otherwise! I rushed onward to the ruins of Holyrood Abbey which, I discovered, could only be accessed by buying a ticket to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Rather than wander around what is essentially a museum, I decided to take a break and have a coffee at the café next to the Palace and worked out how I wanted to go about the next few hours. I decided that climbing Arthur’s Seat was a better thing to do first, as I wanted to make the most of the daylight and my train wasn’t until 6:30 pm so I still had about five or six hours to go.

Arthur’s Seat is the tallest mountain in Edinburgh, which is perhaps not saying much, but it still is very beautiful and a prominent feature of the city. It is possible to climb to the very top of the 250 metre peak. It’s not that big, but it’s big enough. I hid my bag and the bottle of whisky behind a rock and started to climb taking what was initially an easy trail. It obviously got harder as it got steeper, and I think it would have taken me about an hour to get to the top, scrabbling over rocks and almost vertical stairs hewn from what seemed to be volcanic rock.

The view was definitely worth it! You get a 360 degree view of the entire city and out to sea! (However, much to my dismay, even at 250 metres above sea level, after climbing to the very top of the tallest thing in sight, I found a small herd of American tourists and their puke-worthy can-do attitude at the summit). It was freezing up there, so after a few photographs I headed back down, found my belongings where I had left them, and went for another coffee.

Next I decided to tour the Palace of Holyroodhouse. I optimistically asked an attended if she would be able to mind my now rather heavy bag, but she predictably declined. I suppose that’s fair enough. I was taking photos in the entrance room, and another attendant, quick to hear the shutter of my camera, leaned over the first floor railing and told me “Sir, there’s no photography.” Okay…I guess that’s reasonable? (Not really, because I hate places that refuse to let you take pictures. Even the British Museum is okay with it). So I put my camera inside my bag and lugged the thing around. No place to put my bag and no photos. Fun stuff.

The room I found most interesting was the Great Gallery, where I believe the Queen formally knights people, including Sir Sean Connery. The Gallery is lined with portraits of the monarchs of Scotland going back to the legendary king Fergus I, claimed to have reigned from 330 BC to 305 BC, about 1100 years before the first generally accept king of Scotland, Kenneth I, reigned. The portraits were commissioned by Charles II and painted by the Dutch artist Jacob de Wet. As I couldn’t take photos, I wanted to write everything down. There were originally 110 portraits, but apparently only 89 are still hanging. I actually counted only 15 missing, for a total of 96, because it seems that at some point a portrait of James VII was added as portrait number 111. Surprisingly little information exists as to which portraits are missing, and why James VII was added and when.

I put my bag down so I could write more easily, and an attendant noticed it and called another attendant in, who suggested that it was my bag, to which I confirmed it was. He told me I had to keep it close for reasons of “security”, despite being in the same room as me, and barely 10 feet from me. If they’d had a cloakroom or had let me take pictures, things would have been much easier. So every few steps I had to walk back to my bag, and drag it over to where I wanted to look next.

After finishing up at Holyroodhouse I had dinner and got the train back to Leeds, and then Keighley, and walked back up the hill to Levi and Julie’s.

Britain’s most romantic ruin: Whitby Abbey

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Sunday, 1 February 2015

It’s a long way to Whitby and the famous Abbey there, which was dubbed the UK’s most romantic ruin in 2011. I went from Keighley to Leeds and then Leeds to Scarborough by train, then an hour by bus to Whitby. I got there as the sun was on its way down, and climbed the 199 steps to the Abbey, at my “own risk” according to a sign at the top.

Whitby Abbey is gorgeous, and I have to agree with its description. It was built in the 13th Century atop a hill overlooking the town and surrounding areas on three sides, and the North Sea on the other. Brrrrr! The cold winds blowing across my face weren’t bearable for long!

I enjoyed the trip there, long though it was. Three and a half hours each direction. I made it back though! Julie says it’s great that I’m making an effort to do the less-touristy things. I’m afraid I don’t have much to say about it beyond that, but I took some pictures, so they should make up for it.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Lingered around the house today so that I could have a bit of a rest. It does get exhausting travelling so I’m trying not to overdo things. Tomorrow I’m off to Edinburgh for two days, so I want to be up and out the door early.

Started sorting through photos. I really have taken a few! Also tried to make a start on the Pirate Times article I promised to have ready for tomorrow. It’s been really hard to put down in writing what I want to actually say.

Julie and Levi came home and we watched a bit of telly and had dinner. Turns out Julie hates University Challenge, but I don’t mind it. It’s hard not to recall the famous episode of The Young Ones though (“ra ra ra, we’re going to smash the oiks!”). I am surprised that Oxbridge colleges do remarkably well — every episode I’ve seen has had one of them win a landslide victory. I guess the brightest of Oxbridge must be the brightest all round.

Also, Nick Clegg was on The Last Leg — what?!

Let the Banner of York Fly High

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Keighley: Friday, 30 January 2015

I decided that after all my travels, I needed to rest up and sleep in, so that’s what I did. I got up around 11:00, had a shower and watched a bit of telly while writing up some of my adventures and sorting through the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken already.

I’m quite impressed with how well my camera is holding up. It’s a Sony Alpha 6000 mirrorless with interchangeable lenses, so it’s significantly more compact than a bulky DSLR. I bought it especially for this trip and was worried about its power consumption based on reviews. But I’m getting at least 1,000 shots a day without draining the battery!

I also worked out how to use Levi’s washing machine, so I did all my laundry and hung it up to dry, skeptical about the ability for a clothes rack to dry clothes in the middle of winter. Wandered down the road a bit and got something to eat. I suggested we go out for dinner (my treat) to a place Levi recommended. So he, Julie and myself went to the Balti House Indian restaurant in Keighley — it was delicious.

York: Saturday, 31 January 2015

Today was Julie’s birthday, so I made sure to wish her a happy one before rushing off to York where I was meeting Pirates — Phil and his wife — for coffee. It was good to catch up and discuss what’s been going on. They seemed a little jealous of Australia’s elected and proportional upper house of Parliament. After spending about an hour with them, I walked back down into York.

My first stop was Clifford’s Tower, the keep of York Castle which sits atop a sizeable motte (mound). The keep was built in the mid-13th century, and despite being a ruin now you can still walk up the steps and go inside. The attendant who sold me my ticket asked if I was a UK resident (because if you are, you can give a small donation and claim it back on tax), and was then surprised when I told her where I was from: “You don’t sound Australian!” she said. I went right up the top of the ramparts, where you get an amazing view of York, with the Minster looking surprisingly distant. It was windy at the top, but I did get a good panorama shot. I bought a “ruler ruler” (the shop attendant described it as his favourite joke) — a ruler that lists the kings and queens of England on it, and a poster of the history of England. These are gifts for my little brother, whose birthday I will just miss (so I’m getting him a bundle of stuff for when I get back).

From Clifford’s Tower I walked to York Castle Museum, which has a variety of displays from the last four centuries, including rooms done up to look as they would in the Restoration, Georgian and Victorian eras, as well as sections on the First World War and the 1960s. There’s an entire area — Kirkgate — made up to look like a Victorian era street, complete with school, pharmacy, sweet shop, grocery store and horse and carriage. Two curiosities that stood out were a World War I bulletproof vest (described as essentially useless), and a packet of 007 elastic bands from the 1960s. Consumerism has hardly gotten worse over the last 50 years.

After the Museum I headed back towards the middle of York, and Jorvik Viking Centre, but the line was far too long: as I neared it, I wondered what people were queueing for, and when I rounded the corner I found out. Rather than waste time hanging about (though I’m sure it would be interesting — something for a later trip) I walked up to the significantly less busy York Minster.

York Minster must be at least as big as Westminster Abbey, and is equally as impressive architecturally, both inside and out. It’s crazy how large these buildings are! In the pictures I’ve seen before they don’t look anywhere near as big. There’s a statue of Constantine the Great next to the Minster, who I didn’t know had actually been proclaimed Roman Emperor in York in 306 AD.

Next stop was the York Museum Gardens, which contains three ruins I found were of particular interest. The first is St Leonard’s Hospital, which was built in the 13th Century and was the largest hospital in medieval England. You can walk through the ruins and look at the beautiful ceiling. A short way down is the Multangular Tower that formed the west corner of the Roman fort Eboracum, and was constructed in the late 1st Century. Additions to the tower during the middle ages are evident by the upper part being made of larger chunks of stone. The last ruin I saw was that of St Mary’s Abbey, dating from the 13th Century. As part of the Disestablishment of the Monasteries in the 16th Century (under Henry VIII), it was disestablished in 1539.

My last stop before heading back to Keighley was the National Rail Museum. This is an amazing collection of locomotives and rolling stock. You can get up close to all of the trains and go inside most of the driver’s compartments and carriages. I was impressed by the Mallard — it’s always been one of my favourites, and I loved seeing it up close. The Winston Churchill Pacific-class locomotive is also quite impressive. I started thinking about whether they’ve ever had a Hogwarts Express exhibition and then wondered how the Hogwarts Express works: the train is hidden, the platform is hidden, but at some point it must cross into the real world. How else would Ron and Harry manage to spot it while flying in the car (which didn’t go through the barrier between platforms 9 and 10 at King’s Cross). So does the Hogwarts Express cross into our world, or did they somehow cross into the magical world? Confusing.

I got the train from York to Leeds, and then Leeds back to Keighley where I met up with Levi and Julie, their friend Emma and her boyfriend Matt, another friend called Jenny, Julie’s brother Rob (who looks like the spitting image of Simon Pegg, and also resembles Tintin), and Levi’s workmate Joe. We got drunk, played Cards Against Humanity and had a great time!

The other side: a day trip to Hull

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Another late start! It snowed properly overnight, and so the ground was covered by a layer of snow. I rugged up and headed down to the train station to get a train to Leeds, and then on to Hull. Along the way down I took great pleasure in stomping on the snow and picking up handfuls to play with. It’s rather childish, but I am still amazed and amused by the weird substance. It’s very new to me. Keighley is very picturesque with its steep hills and rows of houses covered in snow.

I bought my return ticket to Leeds and waited for the train. It’s ironic that a sign on the platform reads “A warm welcome to Keighley” while there’s snow all about. The train came and I was on my way! I just missed the connection at Leeds for Hull, so I got lunch and waited. It was freezing! The train was warm and comfortable though.

Snow-covered fields flew past as the train sped towards the east. My gosh the Humber Estuary enormous! It must be at least as wide as Sydney Harbour. The bridge that spans it is equally enormous. My first stop was the sweet shop to pick up some fudge to take back home with me. Then a little further down to the Hull Maritime Museum.

The Maritime Museum is very interesting because Hull was a major centre for whaling in the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and so has an expansive collection on the subject. Of course, while I object to whaling, it is still a significant part of history and was fascinating. Though some of the methods used were frankly gruesome and disturbing. Entry is free and the Museum has collections relating to trawling among others.

After this I walked to the Wilberforce House Museum. This has a sort of personal aspect to it. For those who don’t know, I live on the outskirts of a town called Wilberforce that is on the fringe of Western Sydney. The town is named after the British Member of Parliament William Wilberforce, possible the most prominent campaigner for the abolition of slavery in Britain. To be standing in a museum where he was actually born is to be looking at an extension of local history from back home.

The Museum is dedicated to William Wilberforce’s life and work, as well as to the history of slavery and the abolition movement. I felt sick looking at some of the anti-escape/restraining/punishment devices. I don’t recall the names and I didn’t feel like taking pictures because I doubt I’d’ve been able to hold the camera steady. There were chains, obviously, to go around the neck and wrists and ankles, but also an iron collar with four rods sticking outwards at right angles with hooks on the ends. It was designed to be prohibitively difficult to move in, preventing slaves from being able to sleep properly, and the hooks would latch onto things preventing escape. Another one was a long stick with a fork in the top and a bar of metal across the fork. The slave’s neck was placed in the fork and the bar was fastened across the back of their neck. This made it impossible to move and was an inexpensive restraint.

How could someone do that to a fellow human being and think that’s okay? Some terrible human behaviour can be justified to an extent, but I just can’t see how anyone can justify treating a living, breathing, thinking, feeling and talking human that way. It’s not like slaves couldn’t indicate their lack of consent or couldn’t cry out. People must’ve known that they were exploiting — in every sense of the word — another class of fellow human beings.

By all accounts William Wilberforce was an upstanding and respected member of society. His legacy is inspiring, though sadly by no means complete. It’s sad that after so long slavery is still a major problem.

I decided to leave and walked to Holy Trinity Church. This church was built in the 14th Century, and unfortunately I don’t know too much about it except that it is considered an exemplar of medieval architecture and is where William Wilberforce was christened or baptised. It’s definitely beautiful and, again, enormous. Is anything small here? The answer seems to be “no!” (or “no-oh” if you’re from Yorkshire).

A stop in for a pint and a check on the train times indicated I had enough time to get to the station before the train to Leeds left, but when I got there I’d missed it! I was there five minutes early though! I had to wait an hour for the next one. The journey back to Keighley turned out to be a long one! Picked up some heat patches for my knee (which is sore for some reason, and seems to be related to the cold) and a glue stick so I could stick various things into my travel diary (upon which my blog posts are based).

Life in a Northern Town: Keighley

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Left the house today at about half-ten and wandered down into Keighley (Keith-lee, remember?) Town Centre. Grabbed breakfast/lunch and then visited Cliffe Castle Museum. The Museum is interesting in that it contains a wide variety of bits and pieces, not all of which relate to the family that lived there or even the area. This includes local geography and geology, pre-history, industrial revolution era machines, and Roman artefacts such as a rather large hoard of Roman coins discovered nearby in 1998. Free entry and easily an hour of strolling around.

From there I walked back down the hill (Keighley is built in a valley) and up the other side to East Riddlesden Hall, which is a 17th Century manor house, and was the home of prominent royalist James Murgatroyd. Although the house itself was closed, and will not open again until March, the grounds remain open to walk around. There’s a big duck pond with a load of ducks all quacking, of course. The house has been used for filming not just one, but two adaptations, of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and I can see why. It looks just as I pictured Wuthering Heights while reading the book.

After looking around the barn and the house proper, I left to return to Levi and Julie’s. It started snowing and the wind was blowing quite hard, so I took shelter at a bus stop. Unfortunately the snow did not let up, so I brave it and started walking, getting covered in ice. Eventually I came across a takeaway shop and went inside to wait for the snow to stop. Meanwhile I had a delicious and inexpensive chicken curry.

Eventually the snow did stop, but continued on and off as I walked. Snow makes a delightful crunching sound when you walk on it. This is the first time I can remember having seen snow up close. After a wrong turn took me about a mile in almost entirely the wrong direction, I made it back to Levi and Julie’s.

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Back in Central London and heading up North

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Monday, 26 January 2015

Made my way from Sean’s to King’s Cross Station and then to the Crestfield Hotel where I checked in. The room was spacious, had an en suite, and was only on the second floor this time! (Though the British do not seem to believe in putting elevators in hotels apparently). Convenient location for the British Museum and King’s Cross/St Pancras International Stations.

After checking in, I headed out to grab a late breakfast/lunch/early dinner. The café I stumbled across was okay. Unsure of their hygiene standards though: the sign on the door said it was “generally satisfactory.” Slightly worrying, but I’m alive!

The British Museum is enormous! I managed to get through most of one level, but that took nearly two hours. I saw about a third of the Egyptian stuff (the rest is on higher levels) and maybe half the Greek stuff. You really need a full day or two to appreciate, say I decided I’d have to come back the next morning too.

I was impressed by the fact that the Assyrian carvings were in good condition and presented in the same style as an art gallery with slabs of rock hanging off the walls. The Egyptian artefacts are incredibly too: great stone monuments and sarcophagi. These are things I’ve really only read about, and to come so close is truly amazing. I was standing literally less than a foot from the Rosetta Stone.

I’ve always been interested in history — I took Modern, Ancient and Extension History at school — but it’s really something else to be this close. You can practically reach out and touch history! Afterwards, when it started to close, I left, got a little bit lost, found a pub (a recurring theme, right?) and then wandered back to my hotel.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Checked out, left my luggage at the hotel, had breakfast and raced back to the Museum. Looked through the rest of the Egyptian Collection, including mummies of course! They sure did loot a lot of stuff from Egypt. The European Collection was fascinating too — especially the Sutton Hoo Mask. Like the Rosetta Stone, this is something I’ve read a lot about, but never actually seen. To stare at it in its three dimensional glory is just unbelievable!

The Roman statues are interesting, including one of the Emperor Septimius Severus, described as “the last great Emperor before the crisis of the third century engulfed the empire.” Other areas I looked at were the Asian, African, Islamic and American Collections, but there are simply too many cool things that I can’t really describe them without failing to do them justice. It’s really something worth visiting if you’re in London.

I made my way back to King’s Cross to get the train to Leeds. I saw Platform 9 3/4, but I didn’t take pictures because (a) I had luggage that I didn’t want to leave unattended, (b) I had a train to catch, and (c) there were just too many tourists around it already! I got the train and was surprised at two things: again, how much the English countryside looks like rural New South Wales, and how quickly the trains go — 125 miles per hour (200 kph) was the top speed I saw. That’s insane.

Got the train from Leeds to Keighley and Levi picked me up from the station. We had dinner and then went to the pub. Keighley is pronounced “Keith-lee.” I’m sure there is a reason for this, but I’m equally sure the reason is not a particularly good one.

Oxford and Hackney

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Oxford: Saturday, 24 January 2015

Got the bus with with Gefion from hers and Markus’ to the City Centre of Oxford (which was my first ride in a double-decker bus: they’re surprisingly tall and look too wide for the road). We had breakfast at a university cafeteria-like thing, which was quite good and free because Markus had to use up his food allowance (I didn’t really understand it, but hey). Markus left to return to work on his paper, so Gefion and I looked around the city at various buildings, all of which are enormous

Oxford is not what I expected. The town is dotted with college buildings and buildings owned by the colleges, such that there is no actual campus. Instead, it’s a town with a university embedded in it, or rather the other way around: a university with a town built into it. Something like that.

Unlike London, which would have expanded to meet civil needs, Oxford appears to have expanded to meet academic needs, and so there is always something to look at. In London there are a lot more buildings between landmarks, because obviously people need to live and work there. At Oxford, however, it is clear that the colleges are the important parts, and buildings get scattered between them as necessary in order to support the goings on in the colleges. We looked in at the Divinity School, which is very pretty inside and was built in the 15th Century.

Eventually we found our way to Keble College, apparently one of the newer colleges. Gefion told me about the Destroy Keble Society, a secret society whose members must steal a brick from Keble College in order to join. It seems to have been formed of students at the nearby St John’s College who considered the red brick Keble College to be an eyesore. However, Keble is not actually ugly in my opinion, and has a great big chapel with a high ceiling and pipe organ.

Eventually we headed back to Gefion and Markus’. I enjoyed their company immensely and am extremely grateful for their hospitality. This was my last night in Oxford before I return to London, and they have been incredibly generous in letting my stay in their spare room for two nights.

Hackney: Sunday, 25 January 2015

Not much on the agenda today. I got the bus from Oxford to Victoria Coach Station, and then the Tube to Bethnal Green, and walked to Sean’s place to stay the night with him in Hackney. Being around midday, the coach ride was pleasant and I got to see my first glimpse of the English countryside. It looks remarkably like Western New South Wales, once you get over the Blue Mountains: the similarity between it and the drive to Mudgee is uncanny! The bus had free wifi (at the rate I’m going I’ll have to do a review page for everything) which was handy for finishing my blog post for the first few days in London.

I got to Sean’s without difficulty. He looks well and seems to be enjoying living here. Sean and I studied music together, but he didn’t complete the degree, and instead went into graphic design. He’s been living in London for about 18 months and goes back at the end of this year.

I went out to get dinner and then went looking for a pub. I witnessed what was certainly a drug deal: a girl walked up to a guy in the park, they swapped something, and then headed in opposite directions. I haven’t even seen that back home, and I live in Western Sydney!

I found a pub, but decided against going inside because there was a guy outside it giving me a weird look and when I confronted him about it he just grinned and mumbled then laughed. So I went to the one just across the road and was accosted by a recently-made-homeless sound engineer who was rapping for loose change. I gave him a few pounds and bought him a drink.

While sitting outside, the guy from the first pub came by and sat next to me. Then he started rambling about war and the apocalypse and various other nutjobby things. After about ten or fifteen minutes of nonsensical banter he asked my quite brazenly “do you have anything, even a pound?” and suggested I buy him a drink. When I declined giving him either money or alcohol, he said I was boring, to which I replied “fine” and left, going back to Sean’s.

Three days in London

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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Despite waking up with a slight headache, I took some painkillers, snoozed for a bit, went for a shower and my head was much better by the time I headed out. Got the Tube (which was very quick) to St John’s Wood and visited Abbey Road. The crossing is smaller than it looks on the album cover! I managed to stand roughly where I’d assume the photographer was standing when they took the picture that became one of the world’s most iconic album covers.

From here I walked roughly south onto Baker Street and popped into the Sherlock Holmes Museum. The wax figures of various criminals were incredibly creepy, and the museum itself is quite a cool window into late-19th Century London. The head of the Hound of the Baskervilles is mounted on the wall. It was well worth the £10 admission. Another museum followed — the Wallace Collection. It’s an interesting assortment of things from different periods, and entry is free! Paintings from various eras, and rooms with massive mirrors from the 18th and 19th Centuries. There is also an impressive collection of arms and armour from the late-15th to 18th Centuries, including European, Middle Eastern and East Asian items.

On my way to get lunch at a recommended café I lost my bearings and wanted to get out of the cold. I’m a pretty good traveller, but I do get nervous when I am disoriented. I spotted the irresistibly-named Cock and Lion pub, and popped inside for a pint. Sitting down and having a drink and a think is a good way to keep calm. Worked out where I was and that I was in fact heading in the right direction. So after trying a pint of Landlord (which was enjoyable), I continued along Wigmore Street, and had lunch at the Little Portland Café on Little Portland Street, just south of the corner of Wigmore and Regent Streets. Got myself a full English breakfast for under £6 — bacon, sausage, hashbrown, two eggs (done just right), baked beans, mushrooms, two slices of toast and a cup of tea.

Afterwards I walked over to the British Library (quite a long walk) and poked around. They’ve got lots of neat stuff: early medieval music manuscripts, handwritten Beatles’ lyrics, the “original” Beowulf, religious texts from all religions (including the oldest-known New Testament, from 4th Century Palestine I believe). Couldn’t take any pics though, so I settled for buying a book on Magna Carta and a pen as mementos.

Got the Tube nearby to Baker Street because my legs hurt and I didn’t want to walk. Met three Pirates at the Metropolitan Bar — Stephen, Harley and Chris. They were good company, and I got some good ideas regarding project management that might help us realise a few projects and improve member engagement. It would work a bit like a wiki where each project gets its own page and mailing list and volunteers are funnelled towards projects. I parted ways with Stephen at Green Park, and Harley at Victoria.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

I took the short walk from my hotel to Buckingham Palace — I was staying a street or two over from Buckingham Palace Road. Buckingham Palace is enormous, and it was packed: every other place has had far fewer tourists. I think it’s interesting that they carry on doing what they do. It seems mostly for the benefit of tourists, a sort of “irrelevancy-as-spectactle” where tourists go because they continue to do the traditional things, and they only do the traditional things to attract tourists. However, it is definitely worth visiting.

Next I walked down to the Regency Café on Regency Street and had another full breakfast. I highly recommend it, though it is very busy, and the woman who took my order (you have to order before sitting) asked me quietly “What would you like dear?” before shouting “TWO SETS, ONE WITH BEANS!” and then resuming normal volume while asking if I wanted tea or coffee with that, and then again in her loud voice “TOAST TO GO WITH A SET.” Only one egg and no hashbrown or mushrooms (unlike the Little Portland Café of yesterday), but delicious nonetheless. Another breakfast for under £6. Oh, but don’t try the mustard. Trust me. Just don’t. I walked across the road to a pub called the Royal Oak and had a pint of London Pride. The drink was a bit bubblier and cheaper than the other pubs I’ve been to, and the barmaid let me sample a few beers so I could decide what to have.

I went to Middlesex Guildhall next — where the Supreme Court of England and Wales is housed. The building itself was completed in 1913, but it was renovated at a cost of £60 million (I was told) just before the court took up residence there in 2009. The security was a bit weird, much like getting on a plane. Metal detector and my bag had to be scanned. But I had a nice chat with one of the guards in what was courtroom two or three I think.

Right across the road is Westminster Abbey. The building is enormous and is literally the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Although expensive to get inside (£18), it’s well worth it and I spent over an hour in there, looking around. If I thought the outside was amazing, the interior is even more so. The ceilings are incredibly high and it just reeks of history. You’re not allowed to take photos inside unfortunately! I bought a book about Westminster Abbey to make up for this.

Across from the abbey and Supreme Court is the Palace of Westminster where the Houses of Parliament sit. I decided not to get up close because I was tired and too much in awe of Westminster Abbey. I did take lots of pictures of Elizabeth Tower (not Big Ben, as anyone with a basic knowledge of the history of London will know that Big Ben is the name of the bell, not the tower).

From here I walked up Whitehall, past Downing Street, and on to Trafalgar Square. Unintended innuendo ahead: Nelson’s Column is MASSIVE (hurr hurr). But seriously, I was not expecting it. Nelson himself is this tiny figure overlooking London atop a pillar that is easily the tallest thing in sight. Trafalgar Square itself is just as I remember it from playing the London level on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4! It’s uncanny, but they really did replicate the area well. Ironically, for all its reputation, I’ve only saw one pigeon in Trafalgar Square! My last stop for the day was the nearby Admiralty Arch. It’s enormous and beautiful also. I got there as the sun was setting behind it and took a few pics!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Woke up a bit earlier today and started sorting out my plans. Checked out of the hotel after making sure I had everything (I generally tend to unpack and repack when I’m done with something to save having my belongings scattered around the hotel room). Left my luggage at the hotel for a small fee so that I could collect it once I’d finished sightseeing.

My first destination was the Tower of London. It’s massive: a great old castle in the middle of London. It’s quite a sight! The tower inside is surrounded by a fairly large enclosure and what looks to be a moat. The enclosure comprises tall, thick stone walls. After that I went a little way west to the Monument to the Great Fire of London, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and simply referred to as “the Monument” (it even has an underground station named after it!). It’s a pillar, but, unlike Nelson’s Column, it doesn’t clear the horizon. It still looks quite imposing, but I’m certain it’s not as tall.

From here I walked across London Bridge, crossing south over the Thames. There’s a great view from London Bridge of the iconic Tower Bridge and I took lots of pictures. I really need to get myself a better zoom lens for my next trip! Going west along the Thames, I saw the replica of Francis Drake’s Golden Hind and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which appears to be a fairly faithful reconstruction. Bought a small trinket (a little ship in a globe bottle) for my little brother, because I’ll miss his birthday and want to bring him back a bunch of stuff — sadly I’ve not found much worth getting yet!

Stopped in at the Anchor, a nearby pub, for my routine lunchtime pint and to get out of the cold. One thing I’ve noticed about pubs is that the selection of beers is remarkably inconsistent. Back home, every pub has the same lowest common denominator beers: Carlton Draught, Victoria Bitter, Coopers, Tooheys New, and increasingly often I can find Matilda Bay Fat Yak on tap. Here it’s very hit and miss. Not everyone serves London Pride or 1730 or Landlord (which are the best three that I’ve tried so far). Usually though they offer you a small taste of everything if you ask them to recommend you an English ale.

After all this I crossed back over the Thames via the Millennium Bridge, which looks just like it does in Harry Potter — especially as it’s winter. St Paul’s Cathedral looms up as you cross the bridge. It’s iconic, and impressive outside, but inside is nowhere near as interesting from what I could see as Westminster Abbey was, so I decided against paying the £20 entrance fee.

Around the corner is the Central Criminal Court — better known as the Old Bailey. I couldn’t help but picture it blowing up as in V for Vendetta. After taking lots of snaps, I spotted a souvenir shop, and yet again was disappointed. Same old trinkets that you can pretty much get at home: clocks, pencil sharpeners, mugs, tins, etc. A bit old hat. However, a block down I did find something of interest: Hardy’s Original Sweetshop. The salesman was incredibly enthusiastic to all customers, and offered us samples of whatever we wanted. Decided to bring back a variety of sherberts (boiled sweets with sherbert in the middle), including sherbert lemons. Hopefully my sister gets the Harry Potter allusion. Only £5 for 400 grams!

I Popped into Temple Church next (if you’ve read or seen the Da Vinci Code you’ll know of it), and they offered me the student discount even after I said I wasn’t a student in the UK. It’s cheap anyway — £5 regular admission, £3 students/pensioners. Temple Church is very pleasant, despite being a Templar Den (Assassin’s Creed anyone?).

A short walk down Fleet Street and onto the Strand took me to the Royal Courts of Justice, an architectural masterpiece! Now I’m sitting in the Cheshire Cheese — an old pub just down a side street. From Wikipedia:

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is one of a number of pubs in London to have been rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666. There has been a pub at this location since 1538 … The literary figures Oliver Goldsmith, Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton and Dr. Johnson are all said to have been ‘regulars’.

I’m sipping a pint of Tribute, staying warm until I can collect my luggage and get the train to Oxford where I’m staying with Gefion and Markus.