Tuesday, April 30, 2013

London Monday

We had our Oyster Cards and set off (with some confusion) on the Underground, from Islington to Westminster station - making it in time to meet Joel and hear Big Ben tolling the bells at 11 o'clock.

It was a sunny, cool London morning with clear blue skies and great views across the Thames to the London Eye. Tourists were everywhere, cramming the sight seeing boats, and there was a very long queue waiting to board the Eye.

Victoria Embankment looked impossibly green and manicured with lollypop coloured beds of tulips festooning the lawns.

We walked all the way from Westminster to St Paul's Cathedral and spent some time being awed by its amazing interior and crypt before making the climb to the whispering gallery and then the dome.

We love this view of London - looking much greyer now as the clouds gathered.

Refreshed by a lunch break at one of the ubiquitous Pret a Mangers we made our way across the Millenium Bridge to Tate - Modern.

We loved our visit here in 2011 and enjoyed introducing it to Ros and Pete. Its brilliant collection and  quirky architecture and layout gives it great energy.

Heading home, we caught a big red London bus from Liverpool St station (a 26 or 48 is what we were advised by the newspaper seller out the front in his very appealing Cockney accent). This was a great thrill for Ros and Pete who managed to get front row seats on the upper deck for the whole journey.  

We made our way to Queen Victoria Park in Hackney for a catch up with the rest of the family...and a beer at the Royal on the Park before making our way to the lovely old Hemingway on Victoria Park Road, where all 11 of us made ourselves at home for the evening, in amongst the old leather chesterfields, the deer heads, stuffed monkeys, Punch cartoons and some interesting artwork (especially in the bathrooms)........

As in all British pubs, kids and families are made to feel very welcome ....... games are provided and there's plenty of space...... and none of the guests seem to mind.

Ollie and Angus (and therefore Claire and Jeremy) woke up at 2.45am this morning (jet lagged) and have been awake ever since.  Claire and the boys left after a meal about 8.00pm utterly whacked. But we stay on even later and end up having a really late (but good) night together at this lovely old Hackney pub.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

London family

The first day of the Australian invasion of London dawns sunny and clear and we feel very good striding out from Islington along City Road towards Shoreditch.

With a bit of time to kill we admire the park beside the old St Leonard C of E church fronting Hackney Road.  What a gorgeous London Spring Sunday it is, with all the cherry trees and Manchurian Pears at their blooming peak.

It is such a thrill to meet up with Joel - all the way from Seoul - here at our meeting point on Columbia Road - on his birthday - at 10.30 in the morning - unbelievable!

We braved the crowds at the Columbia Road flower markets and enjoyed the East End barrow boys' banter as much as the gorgeous blooms. This shot was taken for me by Al J Zees' best cameraman (as well as considerable technical advantages, he also had the height advantage).

Without too many false turns we found our way eventually to the beautiful Victoria Park, Hackney....

..taking time to admire the canal boats moored beneath the bridge at the entrance to the park.....

..while Joel tried to show me how to do panorama shots with my iPhone (except mine is too old to know how!)

From Victoria Park it was only a few minutes to Davey and Cath's local - The Lauriston. In no time at all we'd INVADED the place - so many family members all gathered in the one place...in London....such a thrill!

Little Eddie is totally at ease in a social setting. His Australian cousins (MY Angus and Ollie) were very useful in helping him play Connect 4 very calmly at a table while the adults did lots of hugging and squealing (delightedly) together.

It took Papa no time at all to teach him how to spin those counters too!

Davey and Cath look so well and so happy - all set for an amazing week before the BIG day.

I counted 17 of us all up...we virtually took over The Lauriston for about four hours..the little kids coped well with all the static socialising, with time for drawing, puzzles, a short time out at the nearby park and lots of pizza for lunch.

...while we found lots to laugh about..being together feels so good.

These two wonderful women are the MOTB and the MIL-OTB. They have both had the challenge of working out the right wedding footwear for riding on a tractor.

Mal and Pat were able to join us after lunch, which really rounded the party out. They'd come all the way down from Cheshire for the afternoon (and bearing gifts!) just to make sure all the Australian family felt welcome.  It was such a special thing for them to do. For many members of the family it was the first time they'd met Mal and Pat...We'd been lucky enough to meet them two years ago and been able to keep in email, sharing photos, contact ever since.

Eddie had a long sleep in amongst all the noise and mayhem. When he woke up he felt like a dance - especially when a good old Jimi Hendrix was playing.

It was after 4.00pm when we finally left and The Lauriston could settle down again to a quiet finish to their Sunday trading. We paid a little visit to Davey and Cath's flat and then walked all the way back to Islington along the canal.

By now it was quite cold - but it was still an interesting walk seeing life on the canal boats up closea. At one stage we were lucky enough to see two boats using the lock system to pass from one level of the canal to another - fascinating; never seen that before!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hamburger Bahnhof and the Reichstag

On our last full day in Berlin we took the tram to Hackescher Markt and spent some time wandering around the renovated courtyards of Hackeshe Hofe, a complex of apartments and interlocking courtyard spaces originally built in 1906-7 by young Jewish idealists. When this area was part of East Berlin and the GDR they were forgotten, crumbling, derelict buildings. They were restored in the 1990s according to the original plans, and now form part of the glamorous shopping district of a reborn Mitte.

We continued walking north west on Oranienberger Strasse, the "spine" of the former wealthy and vibrant Jewish quarter of old Berlin. We come to the Neue Synagoge, a partial reconstruction of the almost terminally damaged original. Work started on reconstructing the dome and the facade in 1989. Behind the facade there are now offices and a small museum - more reminders of Berlin's violent past. 

Further along we come to the (in)famous Tacheles building.  It had been vacant and derelict for years in old East Berlin. The building was squatted by artists after the fall of the wall in 1989 who then dominated the artistic sensibilities of the whole district for a decade or so. The government offered to sell the building (cheaply) to the squatters in1997 but they refused the offer. In 1998 it was bought by a German company who are currently engaged in its reconstruction......but it looks like they have an awfully long way to go yet.

After a few false moves we eventually find our way left into Invalidenstrasse and are then surprised by our discovery of Sarah Wiener im Hamburger Bahnhof Cafe Restaurant on the banks of this offshoot of the River Spree. It all looks very charming today but I am taking the pic below from a bridge that used to form part of the wall where there were many deaths from people trying to escape across it.

We had lunch here before visiting the Hamburger Barnhof, Museum for Contemporary Art. The museum was opened in 1997 in a beautifully converted former railway station. It draws its exhibitions from the incredible Flick (note, that is not the Frick) collection. Although this visit I was most impressed by the the works in the temporary exhibition - collected works from the Marx collection.  Marx (not Karl!) obviously knew his stuff and has collected some wonderful Warhols, Lichtensteins, Rauschenbergs and the rest of their ilk. 

I thought Warhol's Mao was just stunning - and I had never seen it before (and his 10 Foot Flowers).

We were fortunate enough, granted that I didn't get on to the booking website until earlier in the the week, to be allowed a space on the 8.00pm roster to view the the Reichstag's Dome on our last evening in Berlin (the last space left for the week). Since it was opened in 1894 to house the German Diet it's been severely damaged by fire in 1933, almost obliterated by allied bombing at the end of WW11 and left with nothing much done to it after the war.  Like so much else in Berlin the building was fully restored (virtually reconstructed) after reunification in 1990. It now houses the Bundestag (the Federal Government Diet) since 1999.

It was quite stressful making our way in - VERY TIGHT security, very officious. I didn't have a printed copy of our booking (no printer you see) and we had our passports examined and full security check. Physically, the building is not easy to enter now with special air locks and security lifts and there is no way you can just wander around the building, everything is VERY closely monitored - anyway we made it in....

This is a pic of Rob on the roof of the Reichstag looking out over the River Spree and the old East Berlin.

And this is a crap copy of a (not bad) pic of Rob in the grounds of the Reichstag overlooking the River Spree and the old East Berlin in 1975.  In those days the badly damaged building was not the Bundestag and you could wander all around and over it.

The newly constructed dome of the Reichstag is a technological, environmental and aesthetic marvel (in my humble opinion).  It opens up the parliamentary chambers to light, air and movement (and heating and cooling) and symbolises the transparency of the new Republic's democratic government.

This was an amazing thing to do on our last night in Berlin...and it even gave us one last magical view of the Brandenberg Tor.  Auf wiedersehen Berlin; you are one amazing city.