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Paul's New Blog
Paul here. So today I started a new tech blog. Basically about stuff I find interesting in the technology field here in Taiwan and around the world. Anyway, if you want to visit the link is:
A Weekend in Taipei
Well we are back in Taipei. We will add the final installment to our London Days travelog a little later. We are still catching up on our sleep and assignments. We just saw a great photo set on the New York Times called A Weekend in Taipei. The article says:
"Taipei is as modern a city as any in Asia, but traditional night markets still thrive in many neighborhoods. The biggest ones resemble beachside boardwalks, with cheek-by-jowl crowds, fun-fair games, knickknack stores selling everything from chopsticks to DVD's and Taiwanese snack food. Called xiao chi's, or small eats, these include fried chicken and oyster omelets. Here diners eat at a crowded counter in the night market in the Shilin neighborhood."
(Original Article: A Weekend in Taipei)
Paul and Queenie
London Days 6: Windsor Castle
All journeys start at Waterloo
Yes, we once again went to Waterloo station, bought our tickets and headed off to Windsor and Eton River Edge station. We were there on Monday when we went to Canterbury and we have met countless people there and made countless tube changes there. It seems that Waterloo Tube Station is the vortex for travel in London, but at least the station is efficient and the trains frequent.
The quaint town of Windsor is dissected by the Thames River and overshadowed by Windsor Castle, the current home of the royal family. Windsor is like a typical English village: small and compact with a few attendant pubs and restaurants. There were also a few tourist shops. However, we were to learn later that the price of property in Windsor was very expensive, almost the equivalent to London Central. A one-bedroom room with bathroom in a bed and breakfast costs £80.00 per night or £1,200.00 per month.
(Queenie in Windsor)
(Mom in Windsor)
Windsor Castle itself is impressive. The tickets were pricey at £14.50 per person but included an audio tour in both English for Mom and Paul and Mandarin for Queenie. Getting into the castle required passing through a fairly thorough security check. We could only imagine in summer the time it would take to enter with the swarms of tourists that descend on this small town. One of the attendants told us that in the summer, there was no room to move inside the state apartments and that some of the rooms would close. During the summer many international tourists descend on this castle so it seems we came at the right place. The manager of the pub we had lunch at said summer was always good for them.
(Queenie and Mom in Windsor Castle)
Once inside the views of the battlements and the overview of Windsor are impressive. The audio guide mentioned that the Castle was first erected in AD1070 and has since then been both a working royal castle and tourist attraction. It was built on a rocky mound high above the flat plains of Windsor so that enemies approaching the castle could be seen at a distance and if attackers got to the castle wall they would have to overcome the height and walls.
The oldest part of the castle is the central battlement. Apparently a water well was bored 160 m beneath the battlement to ensure the castle had a constant water supply. The views from the top of the battlement must surely be impressive but this was not part of the tour.
As we entered the castle we immediately arrived at St. George’s gate. From there we got a great view of where the Queen and her family walk into and out of their residence. From there we walked down to St. George’s chapel. Apparently this chapel has had a daily service for over 600 years. The public is allowed to worship in the chapel which usually takes place at around 5:00pm. We unfortunately would not have the time to attend.
An attendant in the chapel said Napoleon Bonaparte’s son was buried in the Chapel as were some kings and queens. The chapel itself was incredibly beautiful. The architecture was gothic and reminiscent of Canterbury Cathedral and Westminister. We were told also that the Queen regularly attends services at the chapel and that the public are also welcome to join in during worship services. The attendants told us that the Queen sometimes pops her head in even when the public are worshipping.
In the central nave of the chapel is dedicated to the highest order of the realm, the Knights of the order of the garter. In all there are 24 knights. They were commemorated in a similar way to those in Westminister Abbey with living knights having their banners on hanging over their chairs and their coats of arms on the chairs once they pass away. Current knights of the order include Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Prince Charles. The Queen appoints the knights but the titles are not hereditary. The chapel is incredibly beautiful but we were not permitted to take pictures inside.
After St. George’s Chapel we walked up to the State Apartments. This in reality is where we can see many of the rooms in the castle. Some of the rooms are closed up in the summer because the Queen and royal family use those parts of the castle. The castle is still used to welcome guests and formal state dinners are still held there.
We first walked through the miniature doll house given to one of the Queens and then into a room that held exhibitions of the state China and dinner sets. These dinner sets are impressive and are still used by the Queen on special occasions. Of course there were only a smattering on display but they were all impressive.
We next entered the drawing and sketch room where we saw a lot of drawings by some prominent artists. Apparently there are 600 sketches by Leonardo da Vinci. As we passed through the rest of the rooms there were many original paintings by famous artists of famous kings and queens.
The Fire of 1992
We were also told that in 1992 a new electrical during renovations caused a fire that damaged much of the castle. Because of the renovations many of the moveable objects had been removed. However, there was one room that still had the original paintings. Apparently Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, offered to run into the building to rescue one of the paintings. He was advised against it.
Two Impressive Rooms
The Waterloo room was built after the battle of Waterloo. The room was originally an outside room but was covered. The carpet was made by prisoners in Agra, India and was 80 yard long and weighed two tons. The chandeliers have a manual winch that is used to lower them and to lower the chandeliers takes about 30-minutes.
The other impressive room was the Guards Room with all the impressive weapons used by the Royal Guards. These weapons from down the ages decorate the walls. There are four busts in the guards room of brave men who defended the realm. These busts were of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill and one of Churchill’s ancestors.
We asked some of the attendants about the rold of the Queen in modern England. They confirmed our suspicions that she is merely a figurehead and symbold of England. She had now decision making authority and only signs off on decisions made in parliament. She seldom has much to say about current issues in parliament and even if she did she did not yield much authority. The royal family are however very involved in charity work and promoting charities around the world. They are perhaps very busy.
Leaving the Castle
The tour lasted about three hours. Afterwards we were famished. We headed off into town and found an Irish Pub called Maloneys which is being managed by a South African from Westville in Durban. We had a great lunch and a good chat.
Afterwards we went down to the river and fed the swans and ducks. Swans truly are beautiful and graceful. Feeding them was fun. One of the swans even ate out of our hands.
(Queenie, Mom and the Swans)
(Queenie and the Swan)
(The River Thames)
We then went for a walk through the old town of Windsor. We once again saw the sun go down. Windsor is truly a very beautiful English town perched on the River Thames. This small town with the castle is well worth the visit. We then jumped on the 6 o’clock train to be home by 7:30 pm in the evening. It was a successful and enjoyable day.
Until the next time,Ciao.
London Days 5: Remembering the Dead
Today we went to Westminister Abbey and the War Cabinet bunker, two historical monuments that reminds visitors of the depth of London’s history. London is an old city, a very old city. It has been around for more than 1000 years and Westminister Abbey has seen a lot of that history. Of course the War Cabinet bunker has only been around for 60 years but also evokes powerful emotions.
On the way to Westminister Abbey
Westminister Abbey, according to the Lonely Planet, is over 1000 years old and is one of the oldest examples of Gothic Architecture. Getting to the Abbey is easy. Getting there required a short ride on the tube to the Westminister station. Once again exiting the station gave us a tremendous view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
(Big Ben and Houses of Parliament)
We walked to the Abbey and passed a park with a bunch of statues of famous people. The first statue to greet us was one of Winston Churchill. Around the corner we also saw a statue of Nelson Mandela.
At the front of the park, opposite to the entrance to the Houses of Parliament, is a man with a permanent protest against the war in Iraq. Mom said this man used to have a large display and his pictures and/or pictures of him have been displayed at the Tate Modern Art Museum. Apparently police tried to close down the protest (which comprises tents and posters) but there was a large public outcry about the freedom of speech and the freedom of protest. Eventually the police relented and allowed him to stay as long as he downsized so as not to cause an obstruction. Apparently he did and, although he is married, has vowed to stay camped outside the Houses of Parliament until the war ends.
We never spoke to the protestor but we are sure that if we did he would have spoken to us and shared his concerns about the war. From what we could see from afar, the message is consistent with others who oppose the war. One would think though that the parliamentarians have become desensitized to his message and perhaps he should rethink his approach. For better or for worse he is there until the end. We certainly hope the end is in sight.
The entry tickets to Westminister Abbey were £10.00 per person but no photography was permitted inside. Apparently this was to show respect to the building, which is still used as an active place of worship. While we were there we did see a communion service being carried out. We were told that Westminister Abbey was not a cathedral because it did not have a bishop’s chair. But once inside it certainly looked like a cathedral.
As we stepped inside we immediately walked on the graves of long dead souls: kings, admirals and other heroes of the empire. The dead bodies and tombs all around the Abbey were many.
One of the areas was very austere: there were chairs on either side of a large hall with a clear path to the altar. There were coats of arms placed on the back of the chairs and above the chairs were wooden statues of knights with half drawn swords, helmets and different flags flying above them. One of the guides explained that this room was for the second highest order of knights in the realm. The flags represented those who had been knighted into the order of Bath and were still living. The title was not hereditary and when the knight died the flag would be removed and the family coat of arms placed on the back of the chair. The half drawn sword symbolized the willingness of the knight to defend the realm at all costs. The knights were all living and according to the guide they were now retired fleet commanders, admirals and generals and, as members of the order, were permitted to use the chapel for their own personal ceremonies: marriages of children and baptisms of grandchildren etc.
We continued to walk through the halls of this tremendous Abbey. The high vaulted ceilings were similar to those we had seen in Canterbury. We continued to see the memorials to the dead, the tombstones and the graves. We saw the memorials for the Poets where Shakespeare, Keats, Kipling and Austen, among others, had been immortalized. At the back of the Church were memorials to Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
One of the most compelling memorials was to the unknown soldier. The memorial read:
The most illustrious of the land
And buried here on Armistice Day
11 Nov. 1920 in the presence of
His Majesty King George V
His Ministers of State
The chiefs of his forces
And a vast concourse of the nation
Thus are commemorated the many
Multitudes who during the Great War
1914 – 1918 gave the most that
Man can give
For King and Country
For loved ones home and empire
For the sacred cause of justice and
The freedom of the world
They buried him among the kinds
Had done Good toward God
And toward his house
Another compelling display was for the martyrs of the 20th century outside the Abbey. Ten martyrs are remembered, but they are symbolic of those who have suffered and died for their beliefs and who continue to do so all over the world today. Indeed today there are many who are dying and suffering for their beliefs in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Bhutan to name a few countries. Many people today believe that the world is free, unfortunately this is a fallacy. This reminder is apt. It is neccessary for those of us who live in free lands to be reminded of the oppressed and to never forget and to always advocate on their behalf wherever we can.
(Outside the Exit)
While Queenie was amazed at the level of respect the nation has given to the heroes of the country, she could not help but be amazed at the entry free charged. She commented that business model of building a huge and illustrious building, then filling it with dead people and asking the living to pay a high-ticket price to visit the dead was a compelling business model. However those who preceded us in ancient years were not to know that in modern times this would be a tourist attraction. Despite the high prices and restrictions on photography, this building is a must see in London.
Westminister Abbey and Modern England
Paul’s observation is that Westminister Abbey now seems to be a ceremonial structure that does not advocate a proactive and continued faith now but, rather points us to a time past when Christianity and faith were taken seriously in England. When Christianity was the cornerstone of its culture and where heroes of the Christian faith arose. Sadly, the tourist echoes in the walls of Westminister seem to reflect the echoes of empty souls in the Land of England.
The War Cabinet and Churchill Museum
We then went to the War cabinet and Churchill museum. Both of these displays were located in the bunker where the leaders of the country conducted business and directed their forces during the war. The Churchill museum is an eye opener on the man, the legend and his life.
Regardless of what anyone says, Churchill was an inspiring leader, and inspiring man and Great Britain and world are forever indebted to his strength and leadership. His commitment to leading England to victory in the war and his strength of character and undying spirit are evident in the museum. Although we are told of many of his shortcomings, we are also shown a great deal of the stresses he endured.
The war cabinet bunker and the museum are well worth the effort. The entrance fee includes a well devised audio tour and a tremendous walk through the museum where you can listen to Churchill’s most famous and inspiring speeches during the Battle of Britain and where you can view and edited video of his grand funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1965, when he passed away at the age of 90.
The Jubilee Walk
We then left the museum, walked along the Jubilee Walk. This is a stunning park. We caught it in the late afternoon light and the beautiful lake in the middle of city with the birds were refreshing. London's parks continue to surprise. The Jubilee walk leads up to Trafalgar Square. When walking next to the park the famous statue of Lord Nelson can be seen looking down on the park and on all the buildings and people below. As one walks, the history of the place overwhelms a person. There is just so much history, so many memories, such a rich past.
(Park on the Jubilee Walk)
(Mom on the Jubilee Walk)
The Horse Guards
(Horse Guard Mueseum Building)
We then quite accidentally stumbled upon the changing of the Horse Guards. We first saw a display of the cavalry and their trumpets and were able to talk to a serving member in the guards. He told me that they are an active regiment engaged in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He told us that most members serve two years in the ceremonial outfit and then two years in the operational outfit. The regiments are very much alive and the soldiers are very much engaged in real life battles today.
We then went to the front of the museum and saw the actual changing of the guards. This was a long and protracted affair and reminded Paul of his own year in the military, but it was not as intense as this.
(Changing of the Guard)
(The Guard Changes)
Walking around London and England one is constantly reminded of the wars that England have fought. There are deep memories of both world wars and the memorials that are even being erected now in remembrance of those who fell in those awful wars abound. We saw one in Green Park commemorating those from Asia, the Caribbean and Africa who had fought and died with the allies. We saw a memorial outside Canterbury remembering those who fell in the first Great War. We saw these reminders of the battles fought everywhere.
There are also many statues of old heroes scattered throughout the city. One we saw today was of Clive of India, and the other one was the famous one of Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square.
(Clive of India)
(Into the Past, Into the Future)
Britain is a proud nation, a fiercely independent nation, a nation that has fought bitter wars and has not yielded to any force in the recent past. Perhaps that is why when Rowan Williams recently passed comments about the possibility of Sharia law being used in the UK, there was such a protest. This proud nation has fought, bled and died for the democracy and the rights they have today. It is doubtful that they will give these rights away very easily, even if it is at the suggestion of the Archbishop.
Today has been amazing, who knows what tomorrow will bring.
London Days 4: A Canterbury Tale
So we decided to spend a day in Canterbury. We woke up in the morning and once again the weather was spectacular. Although it was chilly the sky was blue and the sun bright. We did what we normally do in the morning: Woke up and went to El Rio for a traditional English breakfast. After that we hopped on the tube at Willesden Green, jumped off at Waterloo, bought train tickets and jumped onto the over-ground train at Waterloo East. 90 minutes later we disembarked at the Canterbury West station.
On the train going into Cambridge there we read some interesting articles in the newspaper about the coldest winter in Europe in at least 10 years. Apparently in one part of England, temperatures the previous night dropped to –14°C. The newspaper even said that some of the so-called melted glaciers had reclaimed all the missing ice. The article went on to challenge the concept of global warming by using anecdotal evidence of the freezing conditions in China and Russia. The paper also noted that it had snowed as far South as the Middle East. Judith saw snow in Turkey and the schools in Turkey were closed because of the snow. But, anecdotal evidence is just that: anecdotal. Climate change does need serious study and we should pollute the earth less irrespective of the climate: Its just the decent thing to do.
Now, when we arrived at the station there was nothing spectacular to see. As is our wont we went in search of tourist information. We found a sign showing us the general direction of the information center and headed off in that direction. We then turned a corner and the first part of the old town hit us. An old castle battlement of sorts and some very small and old houses bordered the road. Once again the ancient architecture was beautiful.
However, we still couldn’t find the information booth. We walked past the castle battlement and into the small town of Canterbury. The main street in Canterbury is covered in bricks with ancient buildings on either side serving as pubs or as historical museums and sights. What was especially beautiful were the traditional English pub signs on the outside of the pubs with the pubs having names such as The Hobgoblin and The Cricketer.
We arrived at an ancient building that had been around for 800 years and served as a charity to old people. The building, St. Thomas’s hospital used to serve as a refuge for the poor pilgrims when they came to Cambridge to pay their respects to St. Thomas. For £1.00 we could go inside and take a look at where the pilgrims slept, ate and prayed. There wasn’t really much to see but the man selling us the tickets was only too happy to explain some of the history of Canterbury to us.
We left the hospital and continued down the main street passing all kinds of interesting and fascinating shops while looking for the information desk. The main street reminded us of Taksim in Turkey, except it was a much smaller version of that shopping district.
Sadly though, in the eve of the gate to the cathedral, was that modern shop: Starbucks. They were at the bottom of the Forbidden City in Beijing and here they were again. People have to drink coffee I guess and at least the décor had been made to match the cathedral gate.
Tickets for the cathedral were around £7.00 per person. We bought the tickets and went in. The building inside was even more impressive for a first time visitor. The high, vaulted ceilings and the tremendous space and height amazed. Of course when we went in Paul was asked to remove his beanie as a sign of respect.
The lady at the front door of the Cathedral was very friendly and helpful and even showed us a stained glass window of Adam that was 800 years old. The stained glass windows and the huge archways and the sense of history within the Cathedral kept us in awe.
We walked the length and breadth of the cathedral. There were very few religious icons however and this apparently was due to Oliver Cromwell destroying all images and icons during the English Reformation. The reformation frowned upon the worship of icons and Cromwell apparently also started to discourage pilgrimages to the cathedral when he came to power.
We saw the spot where Thomas Becket was murdered and walked the length and breadth of the cathedral. All of it inspired. The only part left that is used as an active church is the basement where services are apparently held ever day.
(Inside the Cathedral)
(Outside the Cathedral)
After spending an hour or more in the cathedral we went to the Canterbury Tales museum. This little museum is an excellent option if you are only in Canterbury for a day. A guided audio tour takes you from room to room reading out some of Chaucer’s stories. We thought it was very well done and it took about 40 minutes. Queenie got scared inside the museum as it was quite dark and there were a lot of strange noises.
Of course there was not enough time for all the stories but there were enough stories to whet the appetite. The tales that were included were of death, of marriage and joy, on deceit and prophecy. All the stories and the attendant displays were well done. Some of the displays are shown below.
(Displays in the Cantebury Tales Museum)
We next walked up to the old Norman castle. The castle was a little disappointing. It is only a shell. The old walls gave us an idea of how the castles were constructed, but the actual castle was very small and only a shell as most of the interior had been destroyed.
We then headed back off into the main town for a meal. On the way we walked into a beautiful park. One of the shocking elements of England met us. With all the beauty around us, there were a group of teens, no older than 15, puffing away on cigarettes and drinking away at 3:30pm.
We then found a restaurant in the town and were surprised by how expensive some of the restaurants were. We stopped in for a meal at The Cricketer only to be told they stopped serving food at 3:00pm. We were shocked. Coming from 24-hour Asia means that we really do have to manage the times we eat: we are not used to doing this.
We finally found the famous South African fast food joint Nando’s Chicken and decided that would be good enough for dinner. Afterwards Mom went to the Oxfam bookstore and bought a huge, 7 kg Bible for Judith who now apparently collects books.
Anyway, that’s it for now.
Until the next time God Bless
Queenie and Paul
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