Thursday, May 31, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 25

The last hurrah!

After a meager breakfast it was off all the way to Fulham to visit "Stanford Bridge" the home of Chelsea Foot Ball Club. Bit of a ways out, and we didn't get to see the actual stadium grounds but - next time. 

Then it was time to cross London and head back out to Westminster to finally get to see the Abbey we'd missed the last time round. Coming up out in front of the Thames and "Big Ben" and the Houses of Parliament again, we realized how stupidly close to it we had actually been a couple weeks back! Nevertheless, a short walk later and we were there. I'd read up online that the price to get in was £16/each and had figured that to be a little out of our budget; but once we were standing there we decided to throw caution to the wind and eat crackers for a month of need be, let's go and have a look. And was it worth it!

Such a pity that you aren't allowed to take photos inside - I truly wish I could have captured some of the awesome splendor that exists all around and inside this magnificent hall of history and worship. The artwork and statues and monuments and graves - it was all just too much!!! "Poet's Corner" where all the famous giants of literature are laid to rest, or memorialized, was a special treat; seeing such names as Lewis Carol and Rudyard Kipling, T.S Elliot and so many many others.

It was also poignant to visit the "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" that lies surrounded by poppies; and just up from that, a floor-plaque dedicated to Winston Churchill. Interestingly, Charles Darwin is also laid here; though his flagstone is remarkably bare when compared to most of the others in the Abbey, with no epitaph or message or anything - just his name and dates. 

Leaving the Abbey behind we attempted to get to the next part of our journey, the Natural History Museum, through the tubes; but some line delays meant we had to catch a bus and then another tube before we would finally get there. Around that time it was time for lunch so we stopped and had a bite before making a quick change from our itinerary and visiting the V&A Museum first. 

Though we did a brief and very fast look through just the first floor, I found it to be almost like the British Museum in some of its displays; but well worth the visit nevertheless with some very interesting objects on display. Then it was the Natural History Museum and it's dinosaurs! Whilst the animatronic T-Rex was a hit, on the whole I had expected a bit more from this place and so was a little disappointed with it all. It was still fun to see some of the displays and exhibitions; but I almost felt a bit too old to be there, that it was all geared to preschoolers. Oh well!

Then it was time for the last scheduled stop on our list for the day - Harrods! Getting there was a quick bus hop away, but with my phone battery dying - and Jess's energy levels as well - things were getting tight as we still had to meet up with Sarah and Duncan for a quick bite at Waterloo Station. Seeing Harrods was lots of fun. I found it to be disarming at first - I didn't think it was that big at all - then I quickly reevaluated my first impressions; it is huge. And expensive! But it costs nothing to window shop. (Especially when you're looking at a tv that costs £66 000!!!)

With a last quick hop on a bus over to Oxford street on a whim, we finally set out for Waterloo, where we met up with our London hosts and made a quick beeline for a restaurant called "Ping Pong" for some of the dim sum that we'd been told the whole time we were here was supposedly so good. The place was packed! And the food was adventurous and tasty. I can't remember which of it all was supposed to be the dim sum - but I owned those chopsticks last night!

Finally, tired after a long day, we returned to Balham to pack our bags and have a last night's sleep in London. So hard to believe that it's time to head home already. Everything has flown by so fast it's ridiculous; but we're looking forward to seeing family and friends - and puppies - again back home. 

#TwinsOnTour : Day 24

When Tuesday dawned it meant it was time to say goodbye to Dubrovnik and Croatia both.

After packing bags and a hurried breakfast, we popped out one last time just up the road to a nearby market, then we returned to the hotel pool to kill some time until he taxi arrived to take us to the airport. 

Reading by the pool, everyone but I jumped in one last time while outside the worst thunderstorm of our whole week there raged outside. At one point we feared our plane might be grounded but, in what we've come to know as typical Dubrovnik style, it blew itself out and disappeared within 3 hours; meaning our flight left in perfect conditions. There had been some concern that we would make it to the airport on time what with there being a bit of gridlock around the roads; but it all worked out fine and we boarded our flight on time.

An uneventful few hours later and we were back on English soil. Catching the overland train back to Balham, though we were supposed to have an early night; we instead stayed up a bit and planned our last full day in London. There was a lot to get through!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 23

On our last full day in Dubrovnik we had planned an almost full day outing spent island hopping. Jumping on the boat at the city docks we cruised around the seaward walls of the city and out to sea. 

Our first stop of only 30 minutes was to the island of Korčula. We had just enough time to hike to the beach on the other side and check out the view before we had to head back to the boat. There was also an old church we had wanted to see but with no time left and no direction as to the right way to go, we had to let it go. 

Back on the boat we headed out to our next stop, the island of Šipan. Along the way the boat crew served us all lunch. We had ordered the fish a few days earlier when we booked the trip; and fresh fish is what we got - head, tail, bones, skin and all of freshly grilled mackerel. It took a while to get used to the idea of chomping right into it. But after a few nervous nibbles everyone decided it tasted great and then attacked it all with a little more abandon. All the leftovers were thrown overboard to the horde of seagulls that were following the boat. I got some great video of the chef feeding the gulls from his outstretched hand as they swooped in and plucked it out of his hand. 

Šipan was beautifully sad, with old abandoned houses everywhere and little kids selling sea shells for a few kuna each. My overall impression of Croatia, based on our time here in Dubrovnik, is that it is not a particularly wealthy country. Although, looking at how some people live in South Africa, the same can be said of us. 

Our last port of call, with the longest stay of 2 1/2 hours, was the island of Lopud. With promises of a sandy beach on the other side of the island we set off on foot; forsaking the offers of a golf cart ride as they were charging 20 Kuna each for just one way. So us cheapskates set off - and boy did we regret it. Our initial thoughts was that the beach could not have been that far off; but that was proved wrong as it was a rough 20 minute hike through steep, leg-aching inclines and sketchy downward bush trails before we arrived at the beach. 

A beautiful cove filled with boats and sail ships and bars with umbrellas awaited us. Again we didn't hire any sun loungers as that was also expensive - and sand is free! The water at least was - marginally - warmer than back by our hotel; so I enjoyed a good swim in the shallow waters of the bay before heading back in.

A short time in the sun later and it was time to head back. This time there was no disputing the fact that we would catch a ride back!

Once the time came and everyone was back on the boat, we set off on the return part of our journey back to the city harbour. Once there, as it was already gone 5pm, we decided to have an early supper for once, and spare us the extra trip (and money) of going back to the hotel first and then coming back to the city. As we were already down by the docks, we headed for the little pasta/pizza place we knew to be just around the corner; since I had proved such a great place for dinner a few nights earlier. Again we were not disappointed, and apple cake desserts got smashed!

Back in the hotel we relaxed and enjoyed the last night that we would have in Dubrovnik. All in all it had been a wonderful and amazing stay; one that would be greatly treasured for its memories. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 22

Finally the day dawned that was the whole reason behind the trip we were on; the Twins' birthday.

We had planned something special for this day; going up in the cable car that takes one from the city walls right to the top of Mount Srd that overlooks the whole of the city and horizon.

Getting there seemed like a bit of a walk, though we finally had our tickets and were waiting in line to board the cablecar. It was all very modern and the ride time to the top is supposedly only 4 minutes; but all that wasn't enough to stop me from feeling a little apprehensive about going up in this funicular. On e we made it to the top though, I realize it hadn't been all that bad at all - in fact; I was more freaked out when we had gone on the London Eye!

The view from the top was most spectacular, and for a short time the weather was brilliant, allowing us to really appreciate the views of everything below. On the mountains behind us though, that was all changing very rapidly, with dark black clouds setting off warning signals and bells in the cablecar mountaintop base. We quickly snapped some more photos of the panorama before us and the famous cross atop the mount; and then it was back down to the bottom.

Wanting a place to get out the drizzling rain we found a little place called "Pupo" which made for a delightful and unexpected lunch. Once the rain cleared everyone decided to head back to the hotels as Jess and Sarah had booked themselves into the Wellness Centre for hot rock massages. I stayed to look around the city; specifically to finally find the Modern Museum with its Steve McCurry photographic exhibition.

I did finally after much walking find the expo, and my thoughts I the show are too much to put here, but it was very good and I was most glad to have been able to see it. Very haunting some of it. I also popped into a quick museum on the history of the patron saint of Dubrovnik, St Blaise, which was also very interesting; especially the war photos of when Dubrovnik was under fire in 1991.

Then it was back to the girls and out for a celebratory meal at "Marco Polo." All in all it had been an amazing day and a birthday I think the girls will not forget too soon. 

#TwinsOnTour : Day 21

Saturday was a lazy day. Well, a little lazy. We had planned to walk the city walls - and a couple of the stairs on that route were murder on the legs!

After another leisurely breakfast and bus drive into town we got off again outside the Pile Gate and entered the city - where it seemed that the old town was more congested than it had been at any other time we'd seen the entire week! Apparently another cruise ship had entered the harbour the day before and regurgitated a couple thousand American tourists all over the place! It was a relief to be above it all for a while, walking along the rooftops.

The walk itself was quite enjoyable, seeing the whole of the city from a different perspective and being able to look down the walls onto the outside ocean side. The weather threatened us a little with some rain which we could see all around us in the other bays along the coastline and out to sea (complete with thunder and lightning) but somehow we only got a few odd drops of rain before it seemed as though we were in some eye o the storm; with nothing but blue skies the rest of the day.

Completing the walls we also quickly visited the lone fort across from the city as it was included in the tour; and then it was time to head back to the hotel for some more R&R before coming back into the city for supper in the evening. 

Relying now on the sage advice of TripAdvisor we found a brilliant little pasta and pizza place that made great food and an incredible apple tart desert. Finally the gastronomic delicacies of some of our group were being sated.

Monday, May 28, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 20

With the guys finally here we decided to do something big on the Friday. Sea kayaking!

The weather wasn't great, pretty much cloudy, cold and overcast as well as threatening to rain - but we decided we had to go ahead and do this kayaking now, today, otherwise we wouldn't know when it might get better of if we'd even still have the time. So off we went.

Now, in all the pics of the water here it looks really warm and welcoming - it's not. The water temperature here would put hair on a polar bear's chest. More hair than it already has. And we were going out in this. So to say we had some trepidation would be an understatement. The kayaking brochure of the company we were soon this through said that wetsuits were available, so there was at least a glimmer of hope. And then that was dashed when we were told that there were none. But with no other option than to cancel - we bit the bullet and went for it.

Setting out was great - for the first 50m. Then my arms felt like that couldn't paddle anymore; and we still had the whole of Lokrum island to get around!

We did our best, stopping every now and then for the guide to explain something about the island as we toured around its coastline. Jess was an absolute machine; rowing nonstop. I, on the other hand, had to take numerous breaks. (I joke that she was the endurance and I was the power!!!) Eventually we made it around the island, past the docks where we had disembarked the day before, and then cut across the shipping lane to stop for lunch and a snorkel in a massive cave/cove on the mainlands shore. It felt so good to do no paddling for a while. Lunch was bland but filling - just a sandwich of Croatian origin - and then the snorkeling kit was out and people were hitting the frigid water. To be fair, we all had a go, just to be able to say that we had. But it wasn't much fun. The water was so cold I had an ice cream headache in 2 minutes of having my head underwater!

After a while we set back; thankfully this time with the currents in our favour, which made the journey home that much easier. After wrapping everything up our arms felt like lead. Exhausted, we all headed back to the hotel for a swim in the heated pool and to have a nap.

We returned in the evening to the city for supper at a restaurant that TripAdvisor has ranked as number one in Dubrovnik; "Restaurant Dubrovnik." Needless to say, this award is very much deserved, and a highly recommended meal was eaten by all. There is a reason this place is número uno, that much is guaranteed!

#TwinsOnTour : Day 19

Thursday; the day that Sarah's husband, Duncan, as well as his mother and sister, Barbara and Bronwyn, also were all due to arrive in Dubrovnik. Although, as they were only to arrive late in the evening, the day was ours again to do with as we want - so we chose to visit and explore the island of Lokrum off the city itself.

We caught the ferry (a small transport boat) from the city docks; paying 50 Kuna for a return ticket. Although the island is only a couple hundred meters away, it took the ferry around 15 minutes to get there and tie up at the island's own small dock.

We followed the ramp and the ensuing path which led us straight to the old abandoned Benedictan Monastery on the island. The monks who had lived here had been on the island for nearly 600 years until a change of ownership of the island forced them to leave its idyll. Walking through the ruins and gardens we met the famous residents of the island, the peacocks. They were everywhere! And very friendly too, letting people come right up close to them, just as they also came close to the island visitors, hoping for snacks and tidbits.

We followed on with our exploration; we saw the Dead Sea (an almost cut off rock pool on the island), the botanical gardens, an old well, and then decided to brave the walk up to the fort on the top of the island, Fort Bravo.

We started up the paved and rocky path called "Pathway to Paradise." When asked why it was called this, I couldn't say, except to think it could. E the island's version of the "Stairway to Heaven." the walk itself was deceptive: one starts off thinking it isn't that bad at all, and then the incline hits you, and goes on, and on, and on, and on...!

Eventually - much out of breath - we all three made it to the top and could climb the fort and marvel at its views of the city walls just off the coast. It becomes very much apparent why the spot was chosen as a lookout point when doing a 360 degree turn around from the peak.

Starting downhill we got caught in a sudden rain shower, which wasn't enough to drench us, just make us a bit sodden. What the rain did do though was slow us down enough to miss the 3pm ferry back to the mainland. So we had to wait and read our books for an hour before the boat returned to take us back to the city docks.

For supper we took a walk into the hotel complex not that far from our own and chose a little pizza place. The girls weren't that impressed, but I wasn't too fussy; I was just happy to have a pizza!

Then it was back to the hotel to wait for. He others to arrive; although they landed so late we were already half asleep before we heard a knock on our balcony door and opened it to see Duncan's smiley face saying "hello!" The rest of the crew were finally here and the serious holidaying could begin. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 18

Wednesday in Dubrovnik and already Jess and Sarah had booked spa treatments for their special birthday treat on the coming Sunday as well as pedicures for this very afternoon.

As a result the morning was quite relaxed. Just before 1pm the girls went to get pampered and I set off to the Old Town to explore. I had intended to see the one exhibition on show; a display of photographer Steve McCurry (famous for his Time cover entitled "Afghan Girl") and some of his works. Unfortunately I didn't know where to find it so settled for exploring the city and taking photos.

I accidentally discovered the Maritime Museum and so  ventured in and checked out its history. Very cool; especially as Dubrovnik was pretty much built on its naval history and power.

Leaving the museum I also discovered the local drinking spot outside of the city walls called "Buža" which literally means "Hole in the wall" in the old language. To get there you have to walk through a hole in the outer walls of the city to a remarkable view. I made a note of how to get there and then left the city to meet Jess and Sarah at the bus stop by the Pile gate.

Unfortunately there was a bit of a mixup in meeting up with the girls once their treatments were done. What with us having no cellphone numbers in Croatia we had no way to contact one another and had agreed to meet at 4:30pm outside the city. They arrived just as I left meaning we missed each other and they only got back to the hotel and hour and a bit later. (It takes the bus around 15-20 minutes to get into town so on e there you may as well look around a little before returning). 

Once we were all together again at the hotel we jumped back on a bus, returned to the city, and had a lovely seafood dinner at one of the cosy restaurants in one of Dubrovnik's charming back alleys.

We didn't get up to much, but it had been another awesome day on holiday. 

#TwinsOnTour : Day 17

Our first full day in Dubrovnik! We slept in a little and just made it in time for the last hour of the free buffet breakfast the hotel offers. (A trend that would continue for the rest of the time we were here!)

Stocking up on the fried meat, cold meat, cereals, fruits and pastries on offer (an instant fave being Nutella and pancakes!!) we ducked out on the local bus into town, ready to explore.

The Old Town of Dubrovnik is very beautiful. Walking along and around its streets is quite the adventure. I'm sure at the time most things were built for practical reasons and over time it has all become very romantic. It's almost difficult to describe, and definitely difficult to do when typing on a smartphone. (I certainly don't feel inspired on this thing - sorry) But its a marvelous place full of surprises and history and if you ever get the chance to explore an old city of several hundred years, then this should be one of them.

Leaving the city we ducked out to the local main harbour Gruž, as Sarah was looking for a costume, so we explored some shops, made our purchases and went back to the hotel. The water of the cove here on the hotel's beach looks very inviting - until you actually get a taste of the temperature - and then, not so appealing anymore! It's colder than a Cape Town beach in winter! Drakensburg river water cold! So we spent some time in the heated pool and ordered toasted sandwiches (what arrived was something altogether) and then spent the evening relaxing and enjoying the view.

With the remainder of our friends and family joining us in a few days time, we didn't immediately want to do any major big things until they arrived. So instead, we just enjoyed the slow leisurely pace of things after the constant running around that was our time in London. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 16

The early morning wake up was brutal. I don't think any of us felt anything but half like a zombie, but the taxi was coming and we had no other choice to get to the airport on time, so we managed. Can't say that speeding along English roads in a taxi at 150mph didn't wake us up just a little!

At the airport we changed some cash for local Croatian currency and got some magazines and books for our holiday. There was vey little reading done on the plane as we were all too tired. 

As this was our first flight on an EasyJet plane I will say that I was vey impressed with everything. Sure the little on-flight luxuries are now at a charge; but the service and crew were fantastic and the flight efficient and quick. With a short nodding off, we landed in Dubrovnik.

Approaching the airport we were treated to some amazing views out the airplane windows of the Dalmatian coastline. The mountainous hills of the area blocking off the views from the ground of the airport meant that we had to wait until the bus we were taking to the city got onto the coastline before we could truly appreciate the beauty of where we were. Rounding a bend and seeing Dubrovnik laid out before us was a special treat. I'd seen the same view on my computer desktop at work for so long that it almost seemed wierd to finally have it right in front of my eyes.

A short taxi ride later from where the bus dropped us off outside the Pile gate of the city (pronounced "Pee-leh") we were finally checked in at our hotel. The Valamar Dubrovnik President Hotel is located just perfectly on the coast with the most amazing views of the ocean and islands. 

Despite being exhausted we went for a walkabout and found ourselves on the pebble beach outside the hotel looking to try and get some lunch - seeing as all we'd had the whole day was a pastry at the airport at 5:30am! Everything was closed up and we had to wait a while before our chef was ready to cook us our burgers. But they got smashed!

Retiring to our rooms we all finally collapsed and napped for a couple of hours. Waking up after sunset we took a bus ride into the city and found ourselves at a restaurant right outside the old city walls. The area is quite the hustle and bustle even until late in the evening with tourists and locals alike flooding the area.  It has quite the pleasant vibe.

Then it was back to the hotel on the reliable public transport bus and to a massive and comfortable bed.

Monday, May 21, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 15

Sunday morning was a nice relaxed breakfast before heading off to Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush. Jess and Sarah had fun shopping up a storm but I on the other hand was a bit disappointed with everything on offer; just not my style, and not for those prices either!

Then it was off to see our old friends Tyrone and Susan and the newest addition to their family, Megan. As they stay in Farborough, it was a long train ride away, and so unfortunately we couldn't stay as long as what we would have liked. Seeing our friends was a great way to catch up again, and all too soon we were back on the train home. 

Once there we had to arrange everything for our trip to Dubrovnik the next morning.  The worst part being that because our flight was so early we had to arrange a four o'clock in the morning taxi ride to the airport.

At one point we contemplated staying up the whole night, but sanity prevailed, and at midnight we hit the hay.

In just a few hour's time we would be in the "Jewel of the Adriatic!"

#TwinsOnTour : Day 14

Saturday was a busy day...! With a lot of catching up to do, there was a lot on the agenda. 

We started off catching the relevant tubes to Baker Street and getting into Madame Tussaurds. What fun seeing all the celebrities up close and... waxy. Some of the statues were done extremely well, with some of the older ones showing a bit of age. What was really nice was seeing how tall some of the models were - I had no idea James Dean was so short! Also of note was the Marvel experience at Madame's. Lots of fun seeing characters from comics and film in front of you; and the 4D show was pretty good. (Why 4D I hear you ask? Go and see.)

Then it was off to the London Dungeon, with a quick lunch along the way at GBK. It was a pity I couldn't take any pictures inside the Dungeon. Having been once before when I was very small, I remembered some things about it, but there seemed to be a lot new as well. Makes sense seeing I was last there some 25 years ago! On the whole the experience was fun, but there are some areas that could do with improving.

Then it was he London Eye experience. That was something else. Seeing London from so high up was brilliant and scary - for me at least - all at the same time. Though the light was going down by the time we got there we still managed to get some great pics and views of the Thames and all of London it seemed!

Leaving the riverside we parted ways; Jess and Sarah were off to go watch "Legally Blonde" in Woking at the New Victoria Theatre, and Duncan and I were off to watch Chelsea play Bayern Munich in the UEFA Championship Final at a pub somewhere.

Whilst Duncs and I watched the - equally painful and enthralling - game of football at the Bedford Inn in  Balham (proving ultimately to be rewarding as Chelsea won!) Jess and Sarah had a BLAST at their show, comic home later then the "boys" and singing show tunes the rest of the night. 

It had been a really long day, and we were. Oth just so grateful that Jess had pulled through it all and kept herself together; ultimately proving that she had rounded the bend in her sickness and was fast on the mend - just in time for the next leg of our trip to Croatia. 

#TwinsOnTour : Day 13

After a much needed lie-in, Jess was starting to feel a little more human; although we still decided that the best thing for her was another day of rest.

Nothing much to report that happened this day, other than chilling at home in Balham. I don't even know what we did all day as I didn't even get to watch Sherlock Holmes 2 which I was particularly keen for. 

But it was all worth it knowing that we still wanted to make the most of our last weekend in London, and that Jess would be better up for it all having taken the break she needed. 

#TwinsOnTour : Day 12

Thursday, and we were to return back to London in the afternoon on the same coach that had brought us to Dorset. (Don't know if it was the literal same bus, but the number displayed was the same, so you get my drift.)

There was just enough time in the morning to go and make a few more quick visits, so we bundled our bags into the car boot and set off; Jess scrounging up the little strength she had. (She really is a remarkable woman, my wife! I love her to bits!)

We drove out to the little village of Morten, famous for being the final resting place of T. E. Lawrence, or as he is more famously known, "Lawrence of Arabia. "

After seeing his headstone we popped into the little church nearby which is equally famous for its etched glass windows. Not stained-glass as some churches, but etched, with the most remarkable designs. 

Then it was to the little tearoom next door, which had been converted from an old school house, for some coffee and Dorset cream scones. Very tasty. (We were also treated to the ghost story of this little place, but I'll leave that for another time!)

Then it was to the bus station. The drive back to London was most stressful as Jess was feeling the effects of being up and about a bit and was feeling exceptionally I'll at this point. Thankfully she managed to sleep almost the whole way home on the bus, so that was good. A short tube ride later and we were home; our Dorset adventure complete.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 11

Wednesday morning saw Jess feeling like a train had driven all over her entire head and body. Despite her brave face, she was not feeling well at all. A quick bit of research in Google and I was of a mind that she was suffering from a sinus infection as a result of the cold she's recently, and still, had. Popping out for a visit down to the local pharmacy for some medicine, the resident pharmacist on duty recommended a few pills combined with much rest and relaxation to let the infection run its course. Jess obliged even though I knew she didn't want to; and so she stayed behind resting in bed while my aunt, Hilary, and I went out to explore Poole.

We started back at Corfe Castle, where we paid the required fee and were allowed to walk up and explore the castle ruins. Having seen it from the road below the day before, it was great to be able to actually go up to the top for a close inspection. With the sun blessing us with incredible weather, it was the most beautiful day overhead, and the views we were treated to were fantastic. Coming down from the ruins we stopped for a quick bite and a coffee in the local tearoom before heading on.

Next stop was Lullworth Cove, an old smugglers' cove that was now a picturesque bay and hive of visitors and commercialism. So quaint and pretty, the water was incredibly clear and blue, and the smell of kelp took me right back to childhood visits to Seapoint in Cape Town. One of the things I loved most about this little cove was the stream of fresh water that happily gurgled down into the sea. A most picture-perfect countryside village to settle down into!

Then a short stop over the hill to visit the neighbouring attraction that is "Durdle Door" being a massive hole in a cliff wall. (Don't ask me why it's called that as I still don't know. Someone Google it and tell me.) Feeling not too energetic we drove to the new site, although we could have walked there over the cliff walkways as much folk were already doing. There was still a short walk to be had once we reached the cliff-top parking areas, as we had to walk practically all the way down to the beach cliffs to get our amazing views of the coves below, and Durdle Door itself.

Then it was time to return back to Corfe Mullen. Of interest is that, much of our journey through the countryside was through land that is owned and operated by the British Military, who still conduct live firing exercises with both tank and infantry! The one route we wanted to take we had to journey around and make another way as the road was closed for the military's training. It was a bit unnerving to see signs telling people to beware of live ammo and guns etc. I was hoping that our moving car in the countryside would not be mistaken for a tricky tank target!

Back home, Jess was feeling very much still the same, but we managed to go out to a local pub to have supper with my aunt and uncle and their son, my cousin Adam, whom I also had not seen in some eleven years or so. It was great to catch up, all of us together again, and kind of weird too, as it seems that through the wonders of modern communication, you still feel in touch with folk, even though you may not be sitting in front of them physically most of the time. Still, nothing beats sitting around a table in person when catching up. (Although the pub we were at was experiencing some great difficulties that evening and everything ran quite slow! But - the food was good - and Jess finally got her English mushy peas.)

#TwinsOnTour : Day 10

With Jess feeling not too much better - and if anything even a little worse - we got ready Tuesday for our trip to visit my family in Corfe Mullen, in the Poole and Dorset areas of England.

Getting to Victoria Station and then running down the road to the coach station where the buses awaited; we managed to make it in the nick of time. Thankfully our bus was running a few minutes late and that gave us some time to catch our breath while waiting for it to arrive.

The ride itself was for the most part uneventful. The countryside was pretty to watch go by and we entertained ourselves by listening to music and playing games on my phone. As I was following our journey on the GPS application on my iPhone, it soon became apparent that we were going to Bournemouth first, and then Poole. This made sense to me at the time as I was expecting to be dropped off outside my family's house just outside of Poole, and I figured this would happen on the return leg to London. This was not to be though. After some discussion with the bus driver I realised our last stop would be at the Poole bus stop, and we would have to catch a local bus to my aunt and uncles' house. Who should greet us as we disembarked though - but them! And they gave us a ride back to their place.

After dropping off our bags and catching up a little we went for a ride around the Poole harbour and surrounding countrysides that included a trip across the ferry at the Poole harbour mouth, and stops at the seaside town of Swanage (where we had coffee), an amazing viewpoint (where you could see the entire local landscape laid out before you), another gorgeous little town (whose name fails me) and then a stop below an ancient castle called, Corfe Castle ("corfe" meaning "gap" which makes sense as the castle is in the gap between two massive hills).

Then it was time to go home to an early supper and earlier bed. All in all, a great first day to catch up with family that I hadn't seen in quite a few good many years.

#TwinsOnTour : Day 9

We were back in Balham, and Jess was not feeling well - at all. Deciding to take it easy and let her recharge, we spent the day in, catching up on washing and other admin, including watching series on LoveFilm.com - a "duvet day" it was.

In the evening we got ready for our big theatre evening out at the Apollo Theatre outside the Victoria Station in central London, where we were going to watch, "Wicked", being the prequel of sorts to the "Wizard of Oz" telling the back-story between the good and evil witches involved in that original story.

Now, I hadn't been to anything even remotely theatre-like in close on 2 decades.. so this was always going to seem new to me and my meagre impressions of theatre... but what a show! To give you an idea of how much I was into the act; when the curtain came down at half-time for an intermission break, I was a bit devastated as I thought that was the end of the show!

"Wicked" has got to be the greatest theatre show I've ever seen (yes, I know that number is very low, but still...) with an amazing story and play (get it?) on the original tale, characters that are funny and believable, incredible backdrops and set changes, and just all round pure brilliance! It was an incredible evening and I was so happy I went. (I won't give away any spoilers just yet; let's just say I was happy with how the show ended.)

If you get the chance - see this show!

Friday, May 18, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 8

Super Sunday had finally arrived! The day Jess had been looking forward to the most so far on our trip ... Disneyland Paris!

Catching the hotel shuttle we arrived outside the gates of the "Magical Kingdom" itself. Upon entering the park we had to get Jess her "Minnie Mouse" ears straightaway before smashing a super quick coffee and pastry at one of the many restaurants. Running from there to our first ride of the day, "Big Thunder Mountain", we were met with our first queue of the day; a 45 minute one. Our thoughts and fears were that all the other queues of the day woud prove to be equally long, or worse! Thankfully, that was not to be the case at all, and most of the other rides we would go on that day, would actually pass by relatively quickly.

But, back to the rides.

"Big Thunder Mountain" was a blast, more so for being the first of the day and setting the pace for what was to come. Having been on big rollercoasters before in my youth, I wasn't that afraid at all of what could possibly be delivered, and so was fairly relaxed and was attempting to put the girls at ease as well. A trick to know what the ride will be like is to look at the safety handlebars. If it's just a little metal bar - then the ride will be tame. If it's the buckleseat, over-the-head safety handlebars - then the ride will be a bit more vicious.

Having faced their first ride of the day and being in good spirits, we shot off to the second ride we were looking to do, "Indianna Jones' Temple of Doom". As I said, the queue was practically non-existant, and we shot to the front and to the ride itself. Here was our first evidence that this ride would be a little different to the last; with the more serious safety handlebars already mentioned. Shorter than the first ride, but still a massive hit with all of us, it was a great little spin - literally! I think there were a couple corkscrews in there with at least one very unexpecte loop the loop! And it was all just in time too as just as we came to the end of the ride it was closed for temporary maintenance.

Next was the "Pirates of the Carribbean" and "Haunted House" rides which proved to be more sightseeing tours than actual thrill rides, although we could still appreciate some of the labour and crafting that had gone into the rides, but they were definitely more for little kids than big ones.

As time was fast running out - we had to leave the park at 3:30pm to catch our shuttle back to the hotel in order to catch our RER trian back to Paris that would enable us to make our EuroStar back to England - we decided to leave the Disneyland part of the park and cross over to the Walt Disney Studios part of it all. Here we caught what can only be described as the most insane ride of the day, the "Rock n' Roller Coaster with Aerosmith". Was it a little silly - c'mon, Aerosmith, really? - yes, it was. Was it an absolute epileptic-inducing experience of lights, lasers, twists, turns, breakneck G-force acrobatics and hairpin manouvers all at mach 5? You betcha!

Unfortunately that ride proved to be the last of the day - as much for our running out of time to go and wait in queues, as it was that after the last ride we'd been on we were now a little more fragile than we had been an hour earlier. So we wandered around before finally beating it out of there.

It had been a super-busy weekend on top of a super-busy week... and the long trip back home via all the trains would be the cherry on the cake - or the straw on the camel's back - that would finally take its toll on one of our members.

#TwinsOnTour : Day 7

We started out early (well, earli-ish) and pulled in to a Starbucks for a super quick brekkie. Highlights of this was my trying to order a bottle of water from the lady behind the counter. Mass confusion enjoyed by both Jess and Sarah alike. Eventually, after much sign language and impressions, I simply asked for "Evian" and lo, and behold, I got my water.

We caught a quick bus to Trocadero and walked through towards the Eiffel Tower herself. The sun was out beautifully and the views looking down twards the Grande Dame were magnificent. For the first time I truly felt like I was in Paris. Unfortunately, so were a couple thousand other tourists and the queues to get to the top of the tower were quite long, especially as the one elavator was under maintenance/broken or something. So we took the stairs to the first floor.

Much huffing and puffing later we reached the first floor to another wonderful view over all of Paris. We seemed so high up, I can't imagine what the view from the very topmust be like. Not such a great friend of heights myself, I feel I may have not handled the altitude too well - so maybe a good thing we didn't go all the way.

By now it was getting a bit close to lunch so we walked all the way along the Champ-de-Mars through Paris to a little cafe that we discovered just down from the Museum d'Orsay. Along the way we walked past the Hotel des Invalides with its great golden dome; being the spot where Napolean is buried.

After finishing lunch we took a quick walk up to the museum I had wanted to visit. Seeing the cost to get in, and realising I would benefit more from teh experience, Jess and Sarah opted to wait outside while I enjoyed a quick tour. The main art I wanted to see was Degas' "ballarina" paintings - however - there turned out to be an exhibition of his work on, so I duly bought a ticket for thaqt as well. Turned out it was for all his nude work and experimentation! Still, jokes aside, it was a great exhibition and seeing his line and brushwork up close was a real treat (plus, it wasn't half as graphic as I feared). Leaving that I rushed to and fro throughout the museum desperate to find the ballarinas. Foolishly eschewing a map it took me longer than usual, but I finally, finally! found the right hall on the 5th floor; and there they were. SO great to see them, although, I had hoped there would be more than just two - but, whatever. I had seen them and other top artists along the way: Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Van Gogh Toulouse-Letrec and others.

Leaving the museum behind us we walked across to the Concorde for crepes and drinks, before walking through the Jardin de Tuileries towards the Louvre. Buying tickets I started to worry that it was too close to closing time and that we might not get to see the Mona Lisa after all, yet the qeues proved to be remarkably light, and not only that, but the painting herself was a lot larger than what everyone had said it was. There was so much to see in the Louvre, and we managed to see a little more on the way out, but, mission accomplished, we left to try and get to Sacre Coer. And that's where everything went horribly wrong.

Somehow we ended up nowhere near where I thought we ought to be in an area that was decidedly dodgy, and with the light fading fast I made an executive decision to call it off and head back home to the Arc de Triomphe and our luggage - which we had left at the hotel. The worst part was, catching a glimpse of the basilica through the rear window of the bus that was taking us home and realising how dastardly close to it we had come. Oh well, no regrets.

A quick walk down the Champs-Elysees we found what we were looking for; the famous "Laduree" with its mouthwatering maccaroons; then it was off to finally retrieve our bags and have supper at "Noodle Panda."

Leaving Paris behind us, we caught the RER line direct from the Arc straight to Val d'Europe and DIsneyland Paris. Typical us, though, we came out the wrong side of the tube station at nearly 11pm into the freezing cold of night, and wandered around a bit until we saw the right hotel entrance. Not well signposted to say the least. Is it too much to ask for large flashing neon signs, or is that too American? Nevertheless, we were checked in and could call it a night after a very long day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thoughts for Today by Dan Strickland and Crosswalk.com

This was in my inbox this morning and was just too well written to not share. Enjoy!

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"So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death." Romans 8:1-2 NLT

When Christians keep trying to please God by keeping the Law, they are hanging on to an old relationship. They do not understand that when we become believers, we enter a new relationship with God through Christ.

Two things can happen when we continue trying to earn God's approval. We may feel proud because we think we are doing so well. But that only proves we do not understand the depth of our sinfulness. Or we may feel frustrated and defeated because no matter how hard we try, we fail to be perfect.

Consider this …

Romans 3 mentions things that control every non-Christian: sin, death, and the Law. But today's scripture (among many others) makes it clear we have been set free from the domination of sin and death through our identification with Christ.

Romans 7 shows that our union with Christ also brings us freedom from the Law. The Law has always had one function - to condemn sin. The Law points us to what is right, but it gives us no ability to choose to do what is right. The Law is not a measure to see how good we are but a code that condemns everyone, for all have sinned.

That's why Jesus came. We have all sinned. And on the cross he paid the penalty for our sin. When we receive him into our life and choose to serve him, we are no longer bound by the law. He sets us free!

Does that mean we are free to sin? Of course not. But it means we should walk in obedience out of our love and devotion to God, not to make ourselves worthy for heaven. Only Jesus can do that.

Prayer

Father, thank you for setting me from the Law and sin and death through Jesus. Help me to serve you not out of a sense of duty or a need to fulfill the law, but out of love and devotion. I thank you for Jesus and the great price he paid to set me free. In his name . .

Update Due

Haven't kept up to date, so will try catch up a little tomorrow while typing on the coach to Poole. I don't want to fall too far behind.

Monday, May 14, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 6

Friday started super early; with us not wanting to miss our EuroStar train to Paris we ended up getting to the local underground just in time to catch the 5:28am tube to King's Cross/St. Pancras station. Hopping aboard the EuroStar, it was a short ride later and then we were in Paris.

To say it was a bit of a culture shock when we disembarked would be the understatement of the year. We couldn't find any ATM machines, we didn't know how to buy the correct tickets to get started... and no one knew (or admitted knowing) any English that we could ask. After nearly an hour we had - finally - succeeded in getting money (from the ATM in the Post Office next door) and purchased tickets from the correct booth. We were on our way!

Walking down towards where I thought the Notre Dame Cathedral was, we passed through several neighbourhoods - and rain showers - along the way. We stopped briefly for me to try and get an internet Micro-SIM from a cellphone store. Surprise! No english speaking employees. Much guesswork, hand gestures, and 20 Euro later, I had my card... but no 3G signal. Surprise number two: I finally got told in rough English that it takes two days for the SIM to activate. But - we're only in Paris for two days... so... yeah. Goodbye 20 Euros. Nice knowing you.

Determined to not let the waste of time and money detract from the trip, we continued on down the street towards the Seine and the Cathedral. Really great to see our first big Parisean attraction - along with every other tourist!

Wandering around we made our way past Pont Neuf and onto the Champs-Elysees. We didn't go into St Chapelle as - feeling a little lost and bewildered - we didn't feel like standing in a queue, and just wanted to check in to our hotel. Trying to catch a bus proved a nightmare; heck, even finding a bus stop took us a while. Eventually we decided to catch a tube as it would take us straight to the Arc de Triomphe and the general area of our hotel. Emerging from the metro we managed to find a friendly bus driver who put our hotel address into his iPhone and showed us the way. What a relief to finally be in a place of security and comfort once we'd checked into our room!

Jess was shattered and had a nap almost immediately. I acquainted myself with the room's free wifi and then also had a quick 40 winks. Finally using the free bus, metro and RER mapbook that I'd been given at our arrival in Gare du Nord, I realised how easy the bus system actually was. Hindsight being 20/20 and all that.

Using said system, getting back to Gare du Nord to meet Sarah upon her evening arrival was a breeze! Catching the bus was a good idea as we even rolled pass Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge.

After walking around a little bit - little Paris side streets all look alike, even more so at night - we finally were all back at our hotel room where we crashed and got ready for our big day out around Paris the next day.

Friday, May 11, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 5

Thursday was a big day. Realizing that time in London was fast slipping away, Jess wanted to hit as many items on our list as possible. I duly obliged by putting together an itinerary for the day.

We started by catching our first overland train to London Bridge. We walked across London Bridge and down to the Tower of London. The tour was super fun and very informative. We had an amazing guide with some great stories. The Crown Jewels were great, but the guards move you by quite quickly, so there isn't that much time to view them.

We left the Tower of London and went across Tower Bridge. (I finally realized that I've been calling it London Bridge for years... Oops) We went up into the actual tower and across the walkways at the top on the bridge tour, which was very interesting. All I could think of was Holmes' and Blackwood's fight at the end of Sherlock Holmes.

Leaving the bridge we walked all the way past Shakespeare's Globe theatre, Borough Market, across the Millenium Bridge and up to St Paul's Cathedral. We unfortunately got to the cathedral just too late to take advantage of the last tour so we left it for another day. Instead we took a series of mishaps and misunderstandings and wrong tubes in the pouring rain to finally end up at the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street. This was a real treat and was glad to check it off our list.

Finally we headed off to meet up with Sarah and her husband, Duncan, at Covent Garden only to be delayed as there was a fire at the Liverpool station. We made it off at a different station and caught the tube we wanted only to be faced with lifts at the exit. Along with everyone else leaving the station. Rather than wait we took the stairs to the surface. All 193 of them. To say my legs were wooden when we got to the top would be an understatement.

Meeting up we all enjoyed a fat free yoghurt at "Snog" before eating out at a Vietnamese restaurant. We got home late but there was no rest allowed as we had to ready ourselves for the early start to to Paris.

#TwinsOnTour : Day 4

We started the day out by going to the British Museum. Super interesting and chuffed to actually see the Rosetta Stone. As a designer who studied history, this is literally one of the greatest finds of the last 200 odd years and was the key to unlocking hieroglyphics. We also managed to make it through the Egyptian, Ancient Middle East and Japanese exhibits before leaving the museum.

We quickly trotted across the road to meet Jess's sister, Sarah, who works for GroupM in Tottenham Court. We found a Starbucks and enjoyed coffee on the second floor before going up to the terrace of Sarah's office. The views from the 8th floor of London's skyline was awesome.

Leaving that we ambled down to Covent Garden and spent a while looking through all the little stores and shops and things. Then it was home time. Jess and I picked up some salmon and goods from the stores and Jess made the most incredible salmon and mashed potatoes with asparagus and beans. Delicious!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 3

Our first day truly on our own in London! We set out - us two intrepid explorers - intent on making our way to Westminister Cathedral. I failed a little in my duty as official tour navigator as it took me a while to get used to using my iphone's GPS/Map settings; but after a short interesting excursion through some side areas of London, we finally made it.

As we arrived at Westminster, the morning mass was just finishing, which was perfect - unintentional - timing on our side as we were then free to mosey on around the whole cathedral free of annoying anyone. The artwork of mosaics and other marble arts etc on the inside walls and ceilings was truly impressive. The amount of time and effort that must have gone into building it all seems just ridiculous.

Leaving the cathedral we stopped for a quick bite before aking our way to Buckingham Palace. Up til then we hadn't seen too many other tourists - boy, did that change! The Palace square was agog with cameras and tourists both. A veritable flood of flashes! We anaged to take a couple snaps and even saw someone of importance enter into the Palace under a flashing blue police escort. (I jokingly said it must be the queen, but Jess says she saw a man in the backseat... Bonny Prince Charlie maybe?)

We then headed off down the lane towards Admiralty Arch and saw a strange hubbub of cheering and clapping going on. Turns out it was the culmination of some lady finishing a marathon. Nothing much special about that I hear you say, other than the fact she is paralysed from the waist down and was walking with the aid of a specially designed exoskeleton! We cheered her on and then continued our wak down to Trafalgar Square.

There Lord Nelson awaited us and we unceremoniously climbed aboard his watchguard of lions and took happy snaps. Then it was a quick bus (our first ride on a double-decker!) down to Westminster and to see Big Ben and the House of Lords. Since it was then close to 2pm we decided to head back home as we were meeting friends for dinner in the evening.

We caught the tube once more to South Wimbledon were they picked us up and we had a delightful and fun evening at a local pub. Much catching up later, we caught the tube back home - me still a little cautious as we walked down the little streets late at night. Never can be too careful...

Tomorrow - The British Museum and maybe St Pauls.

Monday, May 7, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 2

Slept in a bit today to recover from the jet lag. (At least we think that's what was making us both feel sleepy, drowsy and a bit off-balance). Then it was a great smash up breakfast of eggs, bacon and potatoes before popping into town to draw some cash and organize sim cards for phones and Oyster cards for the Tube.

Then it was to experience the tube for the first time. Quite jacked up I thought. So easy to figure out and the actual trains themselves are quite cute. All so very organized. Although it seems the norm is to all keep quiet and to yourself - something we battled with as we were all chipper and chatty.

Getting off at Bond St station we proceeded to traipse up and down Oxford and Regent streets looking at all the stores. Walking into hot stuffy stores after being in the cold outdoor drizzle took some getting used to. We hit so many stores - thank goodness we only picked up two tops. Most impressive of them all was Selfridges; the multi-stores temple of all things consumerist. Designer labels all over the place. It was a maze of expensive labels.

Afternoon saw us taking a slow walk around parts of Charing Cross and Leicester Square; we saw the Odeon and Apollo theatres. We hunted for some dim sum in Chinatown for supper but they apparently get done only for lunches so we missed out. That was enough to call it a day and head home.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

#TwinsOnTour : Day 1

We left Durban on our Emirates flight at 7pm local time. The plane was pretty smart with screens in the back of the chairs so we could watch movies, play games etc, entertain oneself basically. Everything went well until it was time to try and sleep - near impossible with a plane crammed full of people like sardines; half of whose spawn was crying and screaming through the night. Sleep was fitful at best. Our being used to SA time didn't help too much either. I've never been so tired and yet had "breakfast" at 1am before. I don't recommend it.

Finally after what seemed an age we arrived at Dubai in the early morning. The sun hadn't yet risen so we didn't see much of the place flying in. Stepping into the airport felt like entering a sci-fi space station: all quite as we walked through the de-embarking areas before suddenly stepping into a cacophany of noise and people; languages of all nations. 

Our second flight left Dubai at 8am, and with a second wind and a near empty plane, the second leg of our journey passed like a slice of paradise. We were even able to spread out over three seats each and take a much needed nap. 

Landing in a typical rainy London at noon, we enjoyed a massive coffee each before our hosts arrived to collect us. Driving through the surrounds was very eye-opening; having not been in the UK since I was 7 and this being Jess's first time ever. 

After helping us unpack and unwind for a while, Sarah and Duncan took us on a walk around the Balham suburbs including the common, with a stop at Starbucks. So many cute and wonderful little shops and the like. The area is super neat. I may just run out of camera space. Looking forward to a full and fun day tomorrow.