A Travellerspoint blog

February 2007

The Royal Opera and my first performance in London

... a very misleading tale of two sit-ins

overcast 9 °C

I hope the deliberately misleading title of this entry has some of you wondering how I made such a speedy rise to the top of the operatic tree here in London! Sadly, I am yet to make my Royal Opera debut. Last week, however, I was lucky enough to attend a final full dress rehearsal of Handel's Orlando. Jane has a director friend associated with the production and she very kindly asked me if I would like to come along. Australian Charles MacKerras was conducting so we were well represented. I had been very ill most of the previous night and was less than sparkling company. Jane was her usual polite self and tolerated my vagueness and rambling. She had warned me that the performance was quite lengthy and said I could make an early exit if it became too taxing. While it was long, there were two intervals which allowed us to get some air and stretch our legs. The theatre is glorious. Beautifully ornate in deep red and gold. I felt very regal sitting so close to the Royal box.

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The Royal Opera House

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Inside

The theatre has gowns worn by Dame Joan Sutherland and others on display as well as photos of famous performances from opera and ballet including Nureyev and Fonteyn.
The performances in Orlando were excellent, particularly the two female leads, fine voices and engaging performances all round. We had no inclination to leave early and enjoyed ourselves very much.
Before leaving Covent Garden, Jane showed me a specialty shop which stocks items perculiar to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. It had all the things an Aussie craves - Vita brits, Tim Tams, proper Milo and the biggest jars of Vegemite in the known universe. I got some licorice for Jen, Jane got some Vita wheat biscuits and we hopped on a bus for home. It was a fabulous day!

On the following weekend we went to the Half Moon hotel, in Putney, to help celebrate our friend Phil's birthday. Sally and Phil had taken us there previously to check out some Sunday jazz. It was a rainy old day but that didn't stop us having a good time. We met Phil's other friends and headed in to listen to the music. Dick Laurie has been the resident band leader at the Half Moon for about nine years. He heads a seven piece band including horn, sax and bone. I had a chat to him during one of the breaks and requested a song. During the last break, he invited me to have a sing with the band. Naturally I was keen to perform and when he called me up to the stage I sang a Nat King Cole song called 'Straighten up and fly right'. The arrangement was shaky but we pulled it off no problem. The crowd were very warm and Dick asked me if I would sing one more. I sang 'My funny valentine'. The band played it so well, great dynamics and it sounded a treat. The crowd loved it. I loved hving the opportunity to perform. The band are all middle aged and beyond and, as is often the case, were pros without ego. It was very generous to let me sing and it was wonderful to perform in London. I am inspired to do it some more.

Posted by StephenJen 02:30 Archived in England Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Our anniversary in the city of love (part three)

following a hunch

semi-overcast 9 °C
View Our Big Adventure on StephenJen's travel map.

Day three we wanted to hit a couple more of the iconic Paris landmarks. After yet more crepes we jumped on the metro to Cluny-La Sorbonne and walked about two blocks to Notre Dame. It is an impressive building and we were excited to see the famous gargoyles on its facade. We arrived in time to witness midday mass and the organist belted out a few slightly eerie tunes. It was magnificent. We could feel the history of this place, plus I'm sure I saw a hunchback... (may only have been an old woman). We wanted to climb up to the bell tower but, on this occasion, the line was lengthy and, after realising it was'nt moving, we decided to move on.

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Notre Dame

After quick stop for coffee, IMGP1117.jpg we headed to the Hotel for a quick kip and camera battery recharge.

As the afternoon light was fading we began our walk to the Obelisque at Place De Concorde. Evening fell as we strolled with the crowds along the Avenue De Champs Elysees. Arm in arm we were acutely aware how fortunate we were to be together, on this special day, in such a beautiful part of the world. The experience seemed more the stuff of movies, books or other people's lives, yet here we were... we had to pinch ourselves.

We could see, in the distance, Arc De Triomphe.

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It was bathed in light and looked magnificent. When we arrived we headed for a traffic crossing where we were able to pause and take this photograph

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We climbed the steep stairs to the top of the arc and, legs like jelly and gasping for breath, we took a look around the surrounding area. The Avenues looked amazing.

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We spent some time just taking in the view before heading for home.

We stopped at a smallish restaurant for dinner, followed by some of the best cheese we have ever eaten and a good glass of merlot. On the way home we passed over the tunnel where Diana Spencer perished. People had left all manner of tributes there, and had written tributes on the bridge rail. We headed home via the Eiffel. At night, on the hour until ten past, the Eiffel lights up like a christmas tree. Hundreds of sparkling lights light up the city, reflecting off the windows of all the adjacent buildings. It is wonderful. Upon arriving at the tower, we waited for a few minutes and were lucky enough to end our evening with this photo.

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perfect!

Posted by StephenJen 02:52 Archived in France Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Our anniversary in the city of love (part two)

Fine arts and French tarts

sunny 11 °C
View Our Big Adventure on StephenJen's travel map.

Our first day had ended with a really nice evening walk about town followed by dinner at the nearby brasserie on Grenelle.

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Sunday started with petit dejeuner at a local bistro. We only ordered items which I could confidently pronounce, namely crepes with chocolate or jam and vienna coffee, and as a result Jen almost went into a sugar coma.

We decided to head to the Louvre. We took a long scenic route past the tower and along the Seine to the Place De La Concorde. It was another perfect day and it was nice to see the locals seated on the grassed areas or around the fountains, while the children floated old style wooden sailing boats pushing them away from the fountain edges with long thin canes. We continued up Jardin Des Tuileries until we saw the famous glass pyramid of the Musee Du Louvre (a la Da Vinci code).

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We had read that it would take about 9 months to see everything in the museum and, as we had some time constraints, we decided to see the big drawcards. After getting a bit lost, we came to a packed room and there on the wall, and as everyone says... much smaller than we had imagined, hung the Mona Lisa. It was quite surreal. Not the painting... the experience. We were not permitted to take a photo, so you can't see it here but let me tell you folks, the Mona Lisa is a hard act to follow. We found a contender though...

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Jen (and some chick who likes milo)

We had a look at some of the French painters before heading back to the hotel and dressing up for a special night out.

One of the things Jen had especially wanted to do in Paris was to see a burlesque show at the legendary Moulin Rouge. We took the metro into the seedy part of Paris (Pigalle) and looked for the famous windmill that sits atop the Moulin Rouge.

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The room was magnificent. A deep red theme, bathed in lamplight. We were seated at the front of the second tier of tables with a lovely French couple. We had very limited French and they had very limited English but we managed to exchange pleasantries and explained that this was our anniversary weekend. The meal was delicious, complete with the mandatory escargot. Our tablemates disappeared for a moment after dinner before returning with a gift to mark our first wedding anniversary- a moulin rouge keyring with a small windmill which spins - we were very touched. The show itself was pretty cheesy and, to be honest, the dancing was a bit ordinary. The girls were all unbelievably attractive with perfect figures but, as is often the case, tall people can't dance well. The show included a number of variety acts including comics and a magician. The show came to a conclusion with the much anticipated can can. We all clapped along in time and the room was filled with energy and national pride on the part of the French.
It was a wonderful evening out to celebrate our first year of marriage. Just Jen and myself.... and 30 topless women... ahhhh romance!

Posted by StephenJen 13:23 Archived in France Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

Our anniversary in the city of love (part one)

Getting an Eiffel of the French capital.

sunny 11 °C
View Our Big Adventure on StephenJen's travel map.

Our short trip to Paris started with an early departure from Waterloo station aboard the Eurostar. After an informative taxi ride with our driver Hal (itosis). We finally breathed in again and jumped onto our train. We were very happy to receive a stamp in our passports. We want to be able to look back at all the countries we visit.
The eurostar is very comfortable and the journey was very speedy indeed in only a couple of hours we found ourselves in France at the Gare Du Nord rail station. We found the ticket machines for the metro, but found we had no coins. I had done some, very last minute, language study on the train and managed to negotiate the purchase of Coca Cola in order to get change. We worked out which line we needed and were off to Dupleix. Our hotel, the Eiffel Capitol, was conveniently close to the station, so we checked in and quickly headed out for a walk to get our bearings. As we have found throughout our time in Europe thus far, the weather has smiled upon us. We found ourselves in the middle of a glorious, sun-filled afternoon in Paris (note the irony Wayne, AB and other jazz players).

The first cab off the rank was something to eat. On the corner of the Boulevard De Grenelle was a creperie. Feeling full of confidence I ordered in French. Hazelnut chocolate for Jen, same for me but with the addition of Banana. "Britain?" asked the vendor. "Australie" I answered. He looked confused... Jen looked confused..."No thanks, not for me" jen said. He made our food, we paid and kept walking. It turned out he had asked if we wanted butter. Ooops.

We walked about a block and Jen nudged me. She grinned and I looked up over the buildings... at the Eiffel Tower. Man! is it tall.

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Look what we found around a corner

We speedily made our way in it's direction. We had heard stories of the enormous lines and lengthy waits for the trip up the tower, but a sunny day in the middle of winter seemed to have caught the public by suprise and in less than 30 mins we were packing into the elevator and heading for the second level. I thought the lift was never going to stop and we were a little freaked out by the height. When we stepped out and caught the sight of Paris from above we were struck by its beauty. We will let the pics speak for themselves. The only thing left to say is that if we thought that was high... the top was like looking out of a plane! An entirely amazing place, in a lovely town.

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Jen gets very high

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View over the Seine to Palais De Chaillot

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View accross Champ De Mars. The large building at the end is Ecole Militaire

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View of Arc De Triomphe

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Jen at one of the Eiffel Telescopes

Posted by StephenJen 04:57 Archived in France Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Mad dogs and Englishmen...

why our favourite pub is... well... our favourite.

all seasons in one day 8 °C

In recent days Jen, myself and our housemate Dave have been trotting down to one of our local public houses, The Wheatsheaf. It has a very warm and relaxed atmosphere, comfy (well worn in) big armchairs and lounges, many fine ales and lagers, a friendly host and his charming bitch.. Maggie.

When we first met Maggie she was lying in a heap on the floor... naked. She was begging for food at an adjacent table and eventually came to us looking for a hand out. We dropped a bit of the fat left from our meals and she seemed gratified. We tried to extend our hands in friendship, but she was reticent to return our greeting. After some coaxing with a bit of food she mounted the back of our lounge and I was able to rub her tummy for a while. By closing time we felt sure we would eventually become friends.

Last night our entire household - Jen, Mark, Kelly, myself and Dave (plus Dave's pseudo Canadian cousin Sarah) - decided to visit the Wheat for a rollicking night of trivia. It was quite busy and most of the groups participated in the trivia. Our witty Irish host collected our 1 pound coins, we collected a jug of Fosters and a jug of something called "Snakebite" (beer, cider & grenadine) and we were off and running.

We had a very good first round and were positioned about 4th. Our second round started with a football question.. we all looked to Mark (sport nut) he didn't let us down! Kellys thorough knowledge of all things celebrity had us icorrectly identifying Anna Nicole Smiths chin (if only we listened to her about the Lasagna question!)

With questions spanning food, history, picture questions on movies and music, and many others, we felt a little shaky... maybe it was that fourth jug... not quite sure. We exchanged our answer sheets and waited. When the dust settled we had finished in equal first place! We were ecstatic!

It was then... a lone voice, in a low Irish tone, said those immortal words.... SUDDEN DEATH PLAY-OFF. I reluctantly rose and stepped to the centre of the room. A hush fell over the crowd (and I think some women fainted) "Name the year" said our host. My throat dried, body tensed. The clues ensued. 1998 is shrieked. WRONG! 1997 shouted the opposition. Wrong! And so it went, guess for guess. Like two proud heavyweight boxers in a world title fight ( bearing in mind we were both middle-aged, overweight and had no clue what bloody year it was). It seemed that everyone else in the room apart from the two of us actually able to answer knew the answer! 1995 is screamed. Wrong! '1994' said the little balding Indian man. We have a winner!

But a fleeting moment in the sun. A lifetime in shame.
Although the publican did reward our fine performance with a free jug of snakebite.

We will re-group and return to the Wheat next week... and cover ourselves in glory, for we are brave... we are easily intoxicated... and damn it... we are AUSTRALIANS!!

Flying the Flag....

Stephen.

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Jen & Kelly

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Kelly, Mark & Stephen

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Dave & Sarah

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Maggie

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Stephen & Maggie

To see all the pics - click here

BTW: regarding "why our favourite" etc. The very coolest thing about London pubs is the fact that you are able to take your best (four legged) friend inside with you for a drink. I wish our little black buddy was here to share a night out! Having Maggie come and attack our shoelaces or play fetch or just fall asleep in the armchair beside us, warms our hearts. Having said farewell to our own dogs,having Maggie (and an array of other local dogs) to pat is very nice indeed.

Bye all and give your pets a pat (they're worth it).

Stephen.

Posted by StephenJen 12:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged events Comments (1)

Valentines Day

sunny

Hi everyone!

Happy Valentines Day! For those of you that dont already know - Stephen and I actually celebrated Valentines Day twice! We woke up on the 13th, had showers and got dressed up nicely before one of the housemates informed us that we were a day early!
You lose track of dates when you are in holiday mode....

Anyway.... On the 14th we got up and got dressed up again and headed to the London Eye for a special champagne flight - thanks to Stephen! He took me on the thing i most wanted to do in London... despite being scared of heights!

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The London Eye

We got to check in and wait in the Belvedere Room, where i was given a single rose and we each got a delicious chocolate for the "flight". At 2pm we were ushered through straight into our pod on the eye (much to the dismay of those people who had normal tickets and had to queue!), with about 5 other couples.

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Stephen and I on the Eye!

We coped marvellously with the whole fear of heights issue, and only suffered a brief spell of vertigo as we neared the top of the eye. It is a VERY long way down.... We were given champage and looked out over every angle of London for 30 minutes. It was Awesome!

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One of the views from the London Eye

Best Valentines Day ever! (Though we had hoped to see someone propose - no-one did... though our "host" mentioned that last year there had been 50 proposals on the eye).

That afternoon we headed down to Trafalgar Square and had a wander round in the sunshine... saw one person feeding the pigeons but unfortunately they have now officially banned the feeding of them in this area.... Trafalgar Square is cool, especially on such a sunny day... there were people everywhere....

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Stephen at Trafalgar Square

To see LOTS more photos of London Eye & Trafalgar Square - click here

Posted by StephenJen 12:42 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Victoria & Albert Museum and Harrods!

all seasons in one day

Today we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum and Harrods, where we saw the Born to Rock Exhibition (yes - something FREE in Harrods!)....

The V&A was amazing - we especially liked the Fashion Exhibition that is on at the moment and the musical instruments section....

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Instruments at the V&A

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Cast at the V&A

I really want to see the Kylie exhibition that has just opened too, however the line was way too long for us to consider it today! Thats okay - its an excuse to go back!

After this - we dropped into Harrods and wandered around looking for celebrities and things we could afford (we didnt see either one of these things...).... before heading up to the Born to Rock Exhibtion... which i thought was VERY cool - basically an exhibtion of rare, vintage and custom electric guitars... as well as stories behind them, etc.

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Harrods

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Born to Rock Exhibition

Stephen then shopped around for a Grand Piano, and we settled on one that was 16,000 GBP. Not Bad. We might get two.

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Something closer to our budget (well.... almost)

We jumped off the bus in Chelsea on the way back and had a wander around looking at rich people. Stephen thinks he saw Elizabeth Hurley (Shes a model/bad actress for those that dont know)... but i missed her!

Anyway - thats all for now - enjoy the pics (and as usual - if you want to see all of the pics... click here.... )

Stay safe all...

Love Jen x0x

Posted by StephenJen 13:18 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

London Wetlands Centre

rain

Hi all

Well, we hummed and ahh'd over whether we would go to theWetlands Centre with Jane today as though it had started out a sunny morning, by 11am it was pouring with rain. We spoke to Jane on the phone and agreed we would rug up and brave the rain - after all - wetlands are supposed to be wet, right?

We drove out to Barnes (not too far from home at all) and went in courtesy of Jane as she has compimentary guestpasses having been a volunteer there for some years.

Jane gave us a personal tour of one side of the centre before lunch, then had her afternoon tour as a volunteer in the afternoon - which also turned out to be a personalised tour as the wet weather had put the crowds off!

All the better for us though - the birds were in fine form and really put on a show for us - they were loving the rain! Jane taught us so much about the different types of birds we saw, with the aid of a great pair of binoculars! Just as well there was no quiz at the end though - i am not sure howmuch we will retain!

The centre is fantastic and i would highly recommend anyone coming to London must go there, its amazing that something so amazing could be so close to one of the biggest cities in the world.

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See more of our pics from the London Wetlands Centre here.

Posted by StephenJen 14:11 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Its snowing ! ! !

snow -2 °C

This is what we woke up to this morning!

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Snow from our window at 7:15am

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Tree in Hurlingham Park

If you want to see more of the glorious stuff... see more pics here

Jen x0x

Posted by StephenJen 00:39 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Socceroos vs Denmark

overcast

Well, we went and saw the Socceroos vs Denmark at Loftus Road Stadium (Queens Park Rangers) at White City.

We were full of Australian Pride and hopeful that we could go home feeling even prouder. It did not work out that way. We sucked. We finally scored one and lost 3-1.

Great to see so many Aussies out supporting the Socceroos though hopefully next time we do a bit better.

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See some more photos here

Posted by StephenJen 13:53 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged events Comments (0)

Day out with Jane

Fulham Palace & Hurlingham Club

semi-overcast 9 °C

Well, we caught up with Jane today - for those that dont know - Jane is Jens Mums cousin who has lived in London for some time and who we caught up with back in Melbourne a few months ago.

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Putney Bridge over the Thames

We met up in Putney and took a great walk down the Thames to Fulham Palace - which was fantastic. There were so many birds and it was so quiet that you would not know you were so close to such a huge city! We had a Hot Choc and a yummy pastry before taking a walk around the grounds.

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Grounds at Fulham Palace

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Our new friend the Squirrel at Fulham Palace

After this we went back to Janes place and had a snack and a quick drink

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Jen and Jane at Janes Place

....before heading to her exclusive club - The Hurlingham Club where she was able to sign us in and give us a tour of a place we would never be able to see under normal circumstances! It was a great day out and we may even bump into Jane out and about as we are in the same general area!

Take Care all
Jen x0x

Posted by StephenJen 03:19 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

Our New Digs...

overcast 8 °C

Hi everyone.

Well, we have moved into our new place and have been in here for nearly a week now! Its very cool, and we are coping quite well with sharing with other peple which is something we were both nervous about. We are in with some pretty cool people who are very helpful in answering all the questions we have about just about everything!

Here are some pics of our place...

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Stephen in our room

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The loungeroom

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View from the balcony

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View from the front door over a school and towards Parsons Green

It actually looks smaller than it is in real life, its actually quite a spacious flat compared to some others that we looked at!

So, we have a few things planned for next week - we are going to see the football on Tuesday - Australia vs Denmark which will be cool - all of the housemates are going together... will let you know how it goes....

Oh - for those of you that dont know - i went for my fisrt job interview yesterday - and withing ten minutes of walking out of the interview - they had called my consultant and offered me the position. Very bizzare. Its a great job - but have told them that i will not start until 21st (After we come back from Paris) and my consultant will let me know if one closer to home comes up for me in the meantime. This is a great job which i think i could do standing on my head - along the same lines as what i was doing at home - but would be a 40 minute bus ride there each morning (which i actually wouldnt mind too much - am loving double deckers buses!).

Anyway - its afer 11am and i am still not dressed and ready to go - so will leave it there as we are catching up with Sally and Phil again today...

Take Care
Jen x0x

Posted by StephenJen 02:28 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

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