Bali – It’s not for everyone

It has been some time since I last wrote anything on this site and I apologise.  This has in large part been due to not quite knowing where to start.  I was recently lucky enough to visit Bali and I thought I would get a number of amazing stories to share and a number of great images that I would be able to put on the website and Facebook and I have to admit that when I got there I was very disappointed.

A scooter with gas bottles for delivery

A scooter with gas bottles for delivery

As I was visiting Bali to attend the wedding of a couple that are very dear to me, and for whom Bali is very dear, this disappointment left me in a quandary about what to say and what to write.  I want always to be fair to the places I visit and represent here, but also need to be true to myself with what I post and so I had to work through this one in my own time.  I have finally done this and realised that my opinions of any place are exactly that – my opinion. They are not fact and everyone who visits a place will have their own experience and all I can include here is my own perception of a place based on the experience I have had and, as such, here is my first Bali post.

I initially stayed in Kuta (just off Poppies 2) and then in the more salubrious environs of the Legian Beach Hotel, before a trip to Ubud and a return to Kuta.  My over arching feelings really comes down to two things.

Firstly, we went in late July/early August and everywhere was incredibly busy.  The tranquility I had expected – particualrly from Ubud – was not my experience.

People are silhouetted against the sunset over Kuta Beach

Sundowners at Kuta Beach

The second is that the place seems to have lost most of its soul somewhere between a Bintang vest and a penis shaped bottle opener.  In these highly commercial areas, it has without a doubt sold out its unique Balinese culture for trinkets meant to make adolescent backpackers titter and childish bumper stickers based on name calling and toilet humour.

As such I had to search much harder than I want to when on holiday in order to get away from the massage and tattoo parlours that seem to adorn every street corner to find the kindness, good nature and beauty that is the Bali of one’s imagining.

The Battle of Britain – cast in bronze

On the Victoria Embankment, just near the Westminster Bridge is a modern bronze sculpture cast by the same foundry that cast the lions in Trafalgar Square.  This artwork, over looking the Thames, gives London a fitting tribute to one of its toughest periods in recent history.

The left hand panel of the Battle of Britain Memorial shows the women working in a factory making a wing for a fighter plane

The left hand panel of the Battle of Britain Memorial shows women working in a factory making a wing for a fighter plane.

During the summer of 1940, the German Air Force started its onslaught for Britain.  Having the distinction of being the first major campaign to have ever been fought entirely by air forces, it also  prevented Germany from gaining its much desired superiority of the skies over Britain, eventually leading to the cancellation of Operation Sea Lion.  This was the planned amphibious and airborne invasion of the United Kingdom, something that no foreign force has achieved since the Battle of Fisbourne in 1797 – and that invasion by the Irish lasted only two days.

The central panel of the Battle of Britain Memorial shows the brave men of the RAF and their fighter planes

The central panel of the Battle of Britain Memorial shows the brave men of the RAF and their fighter planes.

The memorial, unveiled in 2005, shows several icons of the period.  On the right is St Paul’s Cathedral standing tall as London burns beside it, to the left are the women who took up roles in the factories to support the efforts of the men who had enlisted and at its core the brave men of the RAF scrambling for their aircraft to fight for “Dear Old Blighty”.  Around the outside of the monument are plaques that list the names of the 2,936 souls from 14 countries who played an active role in the campaign.

The right hand panel of the Battle of Britain memorial shows St Paul's standing tall as the men of the auxiliary fire service deal with London in flames

The right hand panel of the Battle of Britain memorial shows St Paul’s standing tall as the men of the auxiliary fire service deal with London in flames.

Whether a history lover or simply someone who can appreciate a fabulous art work the monument is a real must see on any visit to London, and I think a much deserved addition to my free to visit list for the British capital.

Queen Elizabeth Tower – London’s Leaning Tower

The Queen Elizabeth Tower is more widely known as Big Ben, although this was originally the nick name given to the massive bell of the clock in the tower.  Finished in 1853, the Clock Tower, as it was originally known, is one of London’s most iconic images and actually leans slightly to the north-west (about 23cm).

Big Ben behind the railings of the Palace of Westminster

Big Ben behind the railings of the Palace of Westminster.

The clock (which is the world’s second largest four faced chiming clock after the one on the Minneapolis City Hall), is famed for its precision and accuracy but it hasn’t always looked as it does today.  For two years during the First and then again in the Second World War, its face was darkened (and the bell silenced) to prevent attack by Germany, and during the Blitz part of the roof and two of the faces were damaged. When these were repaired, an additional five floor block was added.

The chimes of the clock are as famous to those in the UK as the clock tower itself, with television stations around the country sounding in midnight on New Year’s eve – but don’t get it wrong the first chime signals the hour, not the last.  Times Square has its ball and London its Bell.

London_20140912_262 Big Ben

Although it’s not possible for most people to access the tower, UK residents can arrange to join a tour of the inside.  This is done by contacting your local MP or Peer of the Realm if you happen to have one on speed dial.  If you are lucky enough to fit the bill, then plan ahead and get fit, as the tours tend to fill up 6 months in advance and includes climbing all 334 spiraling stone steps to the top.

Changing the Guard – But with horses

A much less well known spectacle that shows the pomp and ceremony of Royal London than the Changing of the Guard that occurs at Buckingham Palace is the Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard which takes place at Horse Guards at 11am each summer’s day (except Sundays when it occurs at 10am – please check on the day you plan to visit though as State ceremonies and duties will change this time table from time to time).

Horse Guardsmen lined up and ready

The “New Guard” are ready to take command.

The ceremony, as best I can understand it, really starts approximately 30 minutes before the actual changing ceremony when the relief leaves Hyde Park Barracks, heads along Constitutional Hill in Green Park, down The Mall and into the parade ground on the northern side of the buildings of Horse Guards, and lines up opposite the “old guard” that has already congregated there.

Changing of the Horse Guards

The first relief of the “new guard” takes over.

The guard has two groups within it and the first relief (those who will be on duty for the first 90 minutes) move into the central yard at the Whitehall side of the buildings and is joined from inside the Guard Room by those who were still “on guard” at the start of the ceremony.  The now relieved group from the “old guard” join their colleagues on the parade ground and the “old guard” return to the barracks while the second relief of the “new guard” head to the Guard Room.

Guards on horse back head to the Parade Ground

The current “relief” of the “old guard” head through the archway to join their colleagues on the parade ground.

Anyway, suffice to say that this is a beautiful spectacle that has been performed on this spot since the restoration of King Charles II in 1660.  As it is less well known than the ceremony at the Palace, the crowds are significantly smaller and there are also no fences between the public and the action.

Mounted guardsmen watches the gate to Horse Guards

Mounted guardsman of the “new guard” takes his position on duty at the gates.

This is a definite highlight on my free to visit list for this incredible city. To get there, either walk up from Green Park with the horses (get to Green Park by 10:15 if this is your plan) or get the tube to Charing Cross or Embankment stations, walking from these should take no more than 10 minutes.

St James’s Park – The oldest of London’s Royal Parks

The original landscape in this area was a large marshy water meadow on the edge of Westminster and in Medieval times a leper colony (called St James’s) was built in the area and this is the source of the park’s name.  In 1532, just 2 years after he “acquired” neighbouring York Place from Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII bought the land.

Henry quickly turned the meadow land into a deer park, building what is now the Palace of St James on the park’s north western edge as a hunting lodge – makes you wonder why when he already had a home on the other side of the park, but what a king wants….

The flowers and topiary in St James Park

The flowers and topiary in St James’s Park

His daughter, Elizabeth I, used the park to indulge her love of pomp and ceremony, holding fete’s in the park. Under her successor James I, the meadowland was ordered drained and became home to a collection of wild animals including an elephant and crocodiles as well as exotic birds kept in aviaries along the southern edge of the park – now known as Birdcage Walk.

Squirrel being hand fed by an old man in St James Park

A squirrel being hand fed by an old man in St James’s Park

Under Charles II a level of formality was imposed on the park with a French inspired garden that used a straight canal to contain the Tyburn River that runs through the park.  This layout remained largely intact until the 1820’s when the Prince Regent (later George IV) commissioned John Nash to remake the park.  Nash, working in the more natural style of the day, removed the canal and replaced it with the flowing lake shape we still see today.

Deck Chairs in St James Park

Deck chairs in St James’s Park

The modern Park makes an ideal location for a picnic (just bear in mind that the Royal Parks limit the size of a picnic group and – as at 1 July 2015 – for St James’s Park this limit is 20 people and cooking/barbecuing is prohibited).  If taking a picnic is “not your thing” then there are a number of kiosks offering snacks and drinks and a licensed restaurant offering simple food and drinks available within the grounds of the park.

Horse Guards shows behind the edge of John Nash's lake at the Eastern end of the St James's Park.

Horse Guards shows behind the edge of John Nash’s lake at the eastern end of St James’s Park.

For me, the key reason to visit, are the views it offers of London.  These are not the iconic views we are all used to but include beautiful and unexpected perspectives of some of London’s most famous landmarks.

Historic Palaces – Great Value Multiple Ticket

The Historic Royal Palaces is the organisation responsible for managing 5 of London’s best Royal Palaces.  Three of these are in central London:

Tower of London from outside the western walls

Tower of London from outside the western walls

The others are a little bit further afield:

  • Hampton Court; and
  • Kew Palace.

If you are a regular visitor to London – or stay-cation there – or are a first time visitor looking to make the most of your trip by visiting 3 or more of these sites, then make sure you plan ahead and get yourself an Annual Membership.

Membership costs £47 for an Adult or £90 for a family with 2 Adults and up to 6 children (to understand the value that this represents you need to bear in mind that for a single visit by a family with 2 adults and 2 children to the Tower of London it will cost you £67.20, even if you book at discounted online prices – prices validated 11 Jul 2015).

In addition to your entry fees being covered there are extra exhibitions and tours available to members that are not open to the public so make sure to check on the Historic Royal Palaces’ website (click here),  to see what special events are on when you are expecting to visit.

One of the Chandeliers at the Whitehall Palaces Banqueting Hall

One of the chandeliers at the Banqueting Hall

Although most of these events are planned for specific days over the summer, some are available regularly.  For instance, the Tower has New Members tours – taken by one of the Yeoman Guards (a “Beefeater”) – and although similar tours are available to the public, the members tours are smaller and more intimate. The other is a rooftop tour of Hampton Court that runs on alternate Saturday and Sundays through the summer.

In addition to the member events and unlimited entry to all 5 sites, you will also get some other events that include:

  • The ability to skip the queue at entry;
  • A great souvenir book;
  • Money off at some of the food outlets (trust me when I say that the cost of a bottle of water means you will appreciate every discount you can get hold of!); and
  • Discounts on some of the items in the Palaces’ shops.

So if you plan to visit only one of these spots then pay on arrival but otherwise I recommend a little forward planning.

The Palace of Whitehall’s Banqueting Hall

The finest of all of the royal palaces in London at the time of Henry VIII and the envy of Europe, the Palace of Whitehall started life not as the palace of kings, but as the home of Archbishops and Cardinals.  Initially called York Place, it was the home of the Archbishops of York from the 1400’s, and in 1514 one of the great house’s most famous residents, Thomas Wolsey, was made Archbishop and took up residence.

The atmospheric undercroft of the Banqueting Hall

The atmospheric undercroft of the Banqueting Hall

In the 1520’s Wolsey and Henry “fell out” and the King stripped him of all his assets, including York Place.  This gave Henry a royal foothold back in Westminster – at this time he and his court were based in Lambeth after the original Westminster Palace was destroyed by fire in 1512.

As was Henry’s way he quickly renamed it Whitehall and set about creating a home fit for one of the most powerful men on earth and much of this revolved around his entertainment.  He added tilt yards for jousting, a cockpit for cock fights and a great hall and by his death the Palace occupied 23 acres of London’s prime real estate.

In 1581 the first of a series of banqueting halls was built in the Palace by Elizabeth I, finally ending with the building we see today. James I engaged Inigo Jones to build the current hall as a home to the court masques – extravagant theatrical entertainments that were a favourite of all the Stuart Kings.

One of the Chandeliers at the Whitehall Palaces Banqueting Hall

One of the chandeliers in the Whitehall Palace’s Banqueting Hall

In 1636 the hall received the fantastic ceiling paintings that we can still see in situ today.  Commissioned by Charles I, the 58 sq meters of paintings from the Flemish master Rubens cost a hefty £3,000 (that would be equivalent to many hundreds of thousands of pounds in today’s money).

In 1649 the Banqueting hall had its most infamous moment when on a bitterly cold January day, Charles I wearing two shirts so he did not shiver and appear afraid, stepped out of one of the Hall’s windows and onto the gallows that had been erected for his execution.

In 1691 a fire destroyed a number of the Palace’s original structures, then a second fire in 1698 destroyed all remaining buildings except the Hall.  It is thanks to this one survivor that we are able to make sense of the remaining images of the Palace and get a true understanding of just how grand this residence, once described by a visiting Venetian diplomat as Europe’s finest, actually was.

To visit the Banqueting Hall take the tube to Westminster and walk up Whitehall for about 200m.

Natural History Museum – More than just a museum

The towers that flank the amazing entrance to the museum

The towers over the amazing entrance to the museum

The Natural History Museum is a great day out but don’t forget to look at the building as well as the exhibits.  This is, in my mind, one of the architectural treasures of London.

Intricately carved columns that flank the entry to the museum

Intricately carved columns flank the entry to the museum

The museum, which was built on the site of the 1862 International Exhibition, is a true case of making a swan from a ugly duckling.  The original building for the International Exhibition was described at the time as the ugliest building in the world, but the same can definitely not be said of the wonderful building that was created on the site in the 1880’s.

The head of a mouse looks out from the bottom of one of the pillars flanking the entrance.

The head of a mouse looks out from the bottom of one of the pillars flanking the entrance

An eagle on the base of a pillar in the museum's entryway

An eagle on the base of a pillar in the museum’s entryway

The terracotta facing, intricately carved animal motifs, and majestic staircase in the main hall, ensure that the building is as big a star at the Museum as the rocks and bones that make up the exhibitions inside it.

If you are visiting in the early summer months  before schools are out, then my advice would be to avoid weekday mornings as the museum is a real “school trip staple”.  It is best to visit in the afternoons when the children have returned to their schools for their end of day pick ups or even on a weekend.

To get to the museum the best tube is South Kensington from which the museum is signposted.  Another of the great offerings within London which is free to visit.

Is this London’s best looking church?

The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich is another of the wonderful locations (it’s adjacent to the Painted Hall – see Greenwich’s Painted Gem) that one should visit on a trip around this beautiful part of London –  especially since entry is free unless you feel moved to make a donation.

Ornate Ceiling Rose

Details of the exquisite ceiling rose from the centre of the church

Unlike many churches in the UK that combine elements of design from many styles, this is an example of pure Neoclassical design and is a fine example of architecture in the 1700’s and a testament to the quality of the skills of the painter decorator in England during the Georgian Era.  The Chapel has a magnificent painted ceiling reminiscent of a piece of Wedgwood china from the period. All of which, in my mind at least, puts it into the running of being one of the most beautiful of all of the churches in London.

Ornate Plasterwork

Details of the ornate plaster and paintwork on the underside of the church’s galleries.

Another of the features not to miss is the chapel’s organ that cost £1,000 at the time of its installation in 1798 when it was commissioned from one of the country’s finest organ builders, Samuel Green (in today’s money, that would be equivalent to around £130,000).

I definitely think that this together with the Painted Hall are must see destinations for any visitor that makes it to Greenwich – the Chapel is a short walk from the DLR station (Cutty Sark) and the river bus wharf (Greenwich Pier).

Tower of London – Royal Zoo

Kendra Haste Baboon sitting on Wall at Tower of London

This Baboon is one of the Kendra Haste animals on exhibition at the Tower of London to remind us of the beasts that once lived in the tower.

One of the lesser known roles that the Tower of London has played in its 1,000 year history is the 600 years it spent as home to the Royal Menagerie.  From the reign of Henry III in the 1200’s, who received a “white bear” from the King of Norway, until 1835 when it was decided to move the animals from the Tower to the new Zoological Gardens at Regents Park (London Zoo), there were large numbers of animals in the cages of the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London.

Kendra Haste's depiction of Henry III's polar bear at the Tower of London

The Kendra Haste depiction of Henry III’s “white bear”

As seems to have been the usual ,the Sheriffs of the City of London were tasked with paying to look after the  Henry’s polar bear.  About a year after its arrival it appears that one of them decided the costs were unnecessary and the bear was chained on a long chain that gave it sufficient room to enter the Thames and fish for his own supper – at this time the water of the Thames was clean and full of salmon.

Kendra Haste Elephant peers through an opening in the walls at the Tower of London

This Kendra Haste Elephant peaks through an opening in the curtain wall of the Tower of London.

The largest of the animals that was housed in the Tower was an African elephant received in 1255 from the French King and was the cause of much excitement with the public coming to the Tower in droves to see the elephant.

Unfortunately, as the centuries passed, the lives of the animals in the Tower were not always happy.  In the reign of James I, the animals were ordered to be pitted against each other for his own entertainment.  He built a platform in the grounds from which he could watch the Royal Games and see these animals tear each other apart.

Kendra Haste's fighting Baboons

Kendra Haste injects life into the animals of the Tower of London with this fighting troop of baboons.

The Tower was of course also home to various species of monkeys and in the 1780’s they were kept in a furnished room for the amusement of the public who were amazed by the human like qualities of the animals.  It appears from reports at the time that this was rethought after one monkey injured a child (having his leg ripped open).

This was certainly not the only incident with the animals in the Tower.  In 1686, Mary Jenkinson learnt that stroking a lion was not a good idea when it mauled her arm and tore the flesh open all the way to the bone.

The wonderful, fun sculptures made of wire add a great deal to the story of the animals in the Tower and are certainly worth keeping an eye out for when you visit the Tower of London (see more of her amazing work at ).  The installation in the Tower is expected to run until 2021.