Saturday, December 29, 2012

Paris - Part One

On December 9, 2006, at about 2:30pm Adam and I said some marriage vows and signed away our independence. Over the years, we have been rather slack in our celebrations – once we both remembered the date, one year Adam forgot, twice I forgot, and one year we both forgot...
Us remembering
(Because it was the actual day)
Six years later, we (surprisingly) jointly remembered that our anniversary was coming up and so we decided to visit the great city of Paris to celebrate.
 On Thursday evening we took the Eurostar train from London to Paris, which I highly recommend. It was fast, there was no turbulence, you could visit the dining car and buy a variety of snacks, and – most importantly – the seats were bigger than aeroplane seats (and they came with footrests!) If only Air New Zealand could develop a long-haul craft based on a train carriage!

After arriving in Paris, we took the Metro to Luuk and Amy (our Kiwi friends)’s house in southern Paris. We spent two nights with them, and thoroughly enjoyed having a catch-up and the chance to just relax, drink coffee, and eat pastries with friends. The main street of their town, Antony, was well lit-up for Christmas and it was a great atmosphere for walking down to the local market together on Friday evening. 

(I have a lot of pictures from our Paris trip, so I will space out the blog posts so it doesn't take forever for the posts to load.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dickensian Christmas Festival

On the first weekend in December, we returned to Rochester for the Dickensian Christmas Festival. And promptly froze our bums off. And our fingers, toes, noses, legs, hands, etc.

This, from the council website:
Packed with shopping stalls, Rochester becomes a feast of Victorian delights. There are lamp-lit parades, carols to be sung, Father Christmas to be met and even a guaranteed snowfall, framed by Rochester’s fairytale cathedral and castle. You’ll also see some familiar, fabled characters from Dickens’ much-loved stories.
Rochester’s Dickensian Christmas has been held annually since 1988, which is fitting as Medway held such a special place in Charles Dickens’ life and work. The writer spent five of his childhood years in Medway from 1817 to 1822. He returned for the last few years of his life, dying at Gads Hill in 1870.”

The Festival takes place each year in early December, and includes market stalls, best costume competitions, mulled wine, and candlelight parades.

Heh heh don't you love this?
"1st Class Catering" are selling popcorn, lollies, candy floss, and hot chocolate...
Our Greengrocer friends Mike and Barb visited on the Saturday and highly recommended it to us, so we went along mid-Sunday afternoon. We intended to stay for the candlelight parade, but after 2 hours wandering around the stalls and listening to Victorian street entertainment, we decided we couldn’t stand around for another half an hour in the cold to await the beginning of the parade. 

It was a wonderful feeling to trudge through the busy streets in the falling darkness, all rugged up in winter woollies, the smell of mulled wine in the air, and groups of people huddled around cobbled street corners. It certainly felt very Victorian. Christmas, especially a Dickensian one, over this side of the globe truly has a magical feel to it.

View over the Medway from a park up a hill, where our car was parked.
(Click to enlarge)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Remembrance Day

In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, hostilities ceased on the Western front of World War One. In many allied countries, the date was declared a national holiday in order to celebrate the end of the war, and to commemorate fallen comrades and countrymen. According to the speaker at a recent seminar I attended, over time, the day has more of a celebratory atmosphere in France, while in Britain the occasion is a very sombre affair. 

During World War Two, the usual two-minute silence to remember those who gave their lives for their country was moved to the Sunday closest to 11 November. This was so that if 11 November fell on a weekday, wartime production would not be affected. Since this time, both the new Remembrance Sunday and the older Armistice Day (or Remembrance Day) have been recognised as official days of memorial. 

[For those readers who are not from New Zealand, in our home country we commemorate World War One and Two (along with other conflicts such as the Vietnamese and Korean Wars) on ANZAC Day, April 25th. In 1915, Winston Churchill formed a plan whereby the allies would take the Gallipoli Peninsula, capture Constantinople (capital of the Ottoman Empire, a key German ally), and try to attack Germany through the back door. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps were directed to land at Gallipoli on April 25th but when numerous unfortunate factors collided, things turned to custard and the Corps suffered heavy losses. Finally, after eight months of heavy fighting, the remaining troops were evacuated. Over 11,000 ANZACS were killed and many more were wounded. 

After the war, ANZAC troops were remembered as good-humoured, courageous, and stoic. This ANZAC legend is often seen as a turning point in the emergence of New Zealand and Australian nationhood, distinct from their identities as mere colonies. Commemoration of both World Wars has traditionally taken place on April 25th, a day that marks great loss and sadness but also the birth of two brother nations.]

This year, the 11th of November fell on Remembrance Sunday, and we heard that there were to be special celebrations in the centre of London. Surviving veterans, as well as family members and current troops, marched to the cenotaph in Whitehall, and the Queen laid a wreath, and canon fire signalled a 2 minute silence. (You can watch a brief clip here:

We went along to celebrate the courage of living troops and to honour the deceased, who fought so that we may live in a better world. Whatever my personal views on armed conflict, I will honour the committment of our ancestors who so firmly believed in fighting for God, Queen, and country, and who helped to ensure that tyranny did not prevail. 

Waiting for the Veterans to emerge from Horse-guards Parade
Armed (police) gunmen hiding everywhere...

Lest We Forget
After the Police finally allowed us to leave - there was very strict crowd control - we walked to St James' Park for a sandwich and a bit of squirrel-spotting. A good end to a very special day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Movin' to the Country

Up until recently, we had taken a break from doing anything exciting as we were consumed with Moving House. Back in the day when you moved flats at the end of the Uni year, things weren’t this hard. But when you grow up you tend to expand, in terms of possessions (and in waistline...). When we packed up our Christchurch House, we were appalled at how much STUFF we had accumulated over the previous 5 years. And you can accumulate a lot in a 2.5 bedroom, 1.5 garage house. In the end, we sold some stuff, we took other things to the Free Store, we dumped huge piles of belongings, and for the rest we called on Adam’s father to bring a ute and trailer and help move our belongings into his garage. The final pile took up over half of the double garage.

Did I mention Adam’s parents have now built themselves a new garage?

(Aren’t parents great?)

So when it came time to move out of our small 1 bedroom London apartment, we didn’t think it would be that tricky. Until we thought about the logistics of moving house in a city where we know very few people to who could assist, travelling by car is extremely difficult, and everything we moved we would have to take down 5 flights of stairs and through two sets of key-access doors. Phew!

We started to think twice about moving, especially as I would no longer get to see my favourite little fox friends. In the end, the desire to escape the craziness of the city won out and we signed a lease on a terraced house in the country, within the commuter belt of London.

Our new house has a kitchen and lounge downstairs, a small patio garden, and two bedrooms upstairs. It is located in a small village (around 2000 people who are mostly commuters or retirees) that has two pubs and one local shop. How’s that for a change?!

I am really enjoying being in the country, especially the trees and wildlife. I’ve seen squirrels in the neighbouring trees (not as often as I’d like), foxes crossing the road in the dark when I go to fetch Adam from the train station, and plenty of birds. Also there is a fantastic network of ‘public footpaths’ that I am longing to explore, and now that I have some good quality outdoor boots I will able to get on with this “task”.

So while it has been a bit of hassle packing up house, cleaning, and moving to a new location, it is wonderful to be somewhere new and to experience another side of England. Also, our friends Mike and Barb (They sell great organic produce in the Greenwich area: helped with the move, and it was all over in much less time than we could have imagined. Thanks Mike and Barb, you guys are real heroes!
Cold but pretty
It snowed last week

Now we are trying to settle in to our new surroundings and enjoy the country life. So far, so good!
A local squirrel
One frosty morning

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Pocketful of Rye*

For my birthday, we decided to go on an adventure. Adam had done some research (aren’t we a fine pair!) and discovered a little village called Rye that was supposed to be worth a visit.

We jumped in our car and zoomed off to the M25 and then …. hit a traffic jam. It was a beautiful sunny day and trapped in our hot car we soon started to feel like rotisserie chickens.
The air-con in our car has packed up...
The drive to Rye took just under two hours and when we finally located a lovely shady picnic area we were relieved to be able to unpeel ourselves from the car and sit down on the grass for a picnic lunch. When we felt sufficiently refreshed, we followed a picturesque walk beside a stream and across a railway track into the centre of Rye.

We immediately felt at home when we came across this group of bikers enjoying their fish ‘n’ chips and icecreams in the sunshine. It reminded us of our favourite café in Nelson - Zumo Coffee House - where the local bikies congregate for their Sunday morning latte. 

As we walked around, we discovered the history of this beautiful town.

Before the Norman Conquest, Rye was a small fishing community located on the edge of the sea, but it quickly grew in importance as a trading port. (Over time, the sea has retreated, and the flat land around Rye is now covered with grass and grazing sheep. It still has a fishing fleet, however, as it is located at the junction of three rivers.)

A door suitable for a midget!
Rye was given to the Benedictine Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy as part of the Saxon Manor of Rameslie. It remained in Norman hands until 1247. By the 13th century, Kings Henry III and Edward I had consolidated the defence of the realm with the Charter of the Cinque Ports, under which towns along the coast of Kent and Sussex were to provide safe harbour, a quota of ships, and men to sail them. In return for their support, the ports - including Rye and Winchelsea, defined as 'Antient Towns' - were granted common rights and privileges, with freedom from taxes and custom duties, trading concessions, and rights to hold judicial courts. As a result the Cinque Ports became one of the richest and most important maritime economies in Europe, laying the foundations for Britain's maritime power.

During this period, Rye was fortified and four gates and a town wall were completed around 1380. The French attacked on a regular basis, testing the defences and raiding the port. Even the Spanish tried their luck in 1350, but Edward III and his son, the Black Prince, routed a fleet of 40 Spanish vessels in Rye Bay.

With the coming of bigger ships and larger deep-water ports, Rye's economy began to decline, and fishing and particularly smuggling (including owling, the smuggling of wool) became more important. Imposition of taxes on goods had encouraged smuggling since 1301, but by the end of the 17th century it became widespread throughout the counties of Kent and Sussex, with wool being the largest commodity. When luxury goods were also added, smuggling became a criminal pursuit. Smugglers' hoards were stored in the town’s old vaulted cellars, and tunnels and passageways were used for transferring goods.
The Mermaid Inn
The Mermaid Inn, dated to around 1156, was a popular haunt for smugglers, and it is connected by secret passageway to The Old Bell Inn.  The inn had a strong connection with the notorious Hawkhurst Gang who controlled territory from Kent to Dorset during the 1730s and 1740s. The violent Gang carried out at least two murders, and some members were sentenced to death by hanging.

Rye is now a town of around 4,200 inhabitants and relies on tourism to keep its economy going. One of the oldest buildings in Rye is Ypres Tower, which was built in 1249 as "Baddings Tower", to defend the town from the French, and was later named after its owner John de Ypres. The "Landgate" (the only surviving one of four original fortified entrances to Rye) dates from 1329 in the early years of the reign of King Edward III. It is still the only vehicular route into the medieval centre of Rye.

After exploring the town for a bit, we stopped for coffee and cake, and then summoned all our energy to climb up this hill towards the Mermaid Inn.
Some climb!
Not doing any smuggling at the Mermaid Inn
This pretty window caught my attention
Before returning home, we decided it would be lovely to drive to the coast and see the seaside. It was such a beautiful day that many locals were out enjoying the sun and - for the hardy ones – the surf. We sat and soaked up some rays for a bit, and then we headed home for a tasty birthday dinner.

So as you can see, Rye is a beautiful town with an interesting history. I’d have liked to check out those smuggler’s tunnels, but we didn’t know about them at the time of the visit – so I guess we’ll have to go back sometime and take one of the tours that apparently allows you to view some of these ancient routes.
Me looking excited about the thought of a smuggling adventure.
"Quick! Anne, Dick, George, and Ju - get the bicycles, ginger beer and some canned tongue,
oh and where's that infernal dog?"

*Or, Rye Rye Rye My Delilah; The Birthday in the Rye; Ryeme and reason; feel free to comment and add your own poor puns...