Nov 27, 2011

London Pictures (how to tour London in 5 hours)

Warning - loads of photos, get your coffee/tea first.

Hope everyone is having a great weekend!   I had promised this last week that it would be up in a few days, well as per normal I got sidetracked ;-)    Crazy week going back to work after being away for 2 weeks and it made for a few rather long days in the office getting my feet back under me.  Mid-week we were off to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.   Now that was a show I would have loved to have had a camera at.  For anyone who has never seen their Christmas concert I highly recommend it.  One of the most amazing stage and light shows I have ever seen and the audio is outstanding.

So anyhow, back to London.   I had taken the red-eye flight into Heathrow from Ottawa so the goal is to stay up for the entire day so you can sleep good the next night and get yourself properly into the time zone.   I had done this a few years ago with others and their solution, which worked really well for me, was to do a whirlwind tour of London.  With the other 2 of my party in tow these pictures show the tour.  I was fortunate as I had gotten 4-5 hours of sleep on the plane, my companions had not so they were hurting ;-)

Click the images for a larger size.

After getting off the plane we had taken the Heathrow Connect rail to Hyde Park and fortunately found our hotel rooms were available.   Dropped our bags off and freshened up.  We then grabbed the tube and popped up at Westminster where the tour begins.  The first thing you see when coming out of the tube is the famous Big Ben and along the street you immediately find the famous red phone booths and all the tourists (me included) waiting our turn to get our photo taken inside.  Although I would rather have found a blue police box, but never ran across one in my travels.

I didn't dwell on Big Ben as there were people everywhere and I knew it would be more impressive later in the day as the sun went down.  Our next stop would then be Buckingham Palace but to get there you need to walk through St James Park.  We didn't do much exploring as it in itself could take a day but we took the main path through and looked at many of the birds that live alongside this lake in the middle of London.  Found ourselves a food stand and had a coffee (excuse me, an Cafe Americano) and a bite to eat.  Someday when I have a few days in London I really want to explore St James and Hyde Park.  Lots to see and lots of history.

Buckingham Palace!  What more can be said?  A pretty amazing place.

Peaking through the gates you can get a better view.  See the foot guards left and right. 

One of the things that struck me was the detailing on the fence around Buckingham.  Here are a few photos of some of the numerous things that adorn the fence.  I did a bit of research after the fact, not much out there but there are a couple of websites that explain some of the symbols.  The gold is actually a gold coating not paint as it lasts for around 30 years.

and yes, the gate has a keylock.  I found this really cool ;-)

I also took a few pictures of the Victoria Memorial but it's currently covered with scaffolding as it's being repaired or restored, so I won't bother posting them.

 To the north is Canada Gate which is the entrance to Green Park.  It really stands out with a very beautiful park behind it.   The coat of arms of several of the provinces are on the pillars and I noted that Newfoundland had been added latter.  I didn't prove if every province is represented on the fence but I believe they are ;-)

The only way to get a decent shot of the gate was a panorama.  This was the only one with the least amount of people.  On each of the pillars are provincial crests and the gold and black fence really does stand out.  I did note a few other fences from commonwealth countries but none were as imposing as Canada Gate!

 Green Park behind Canada Gate

The "tour" then continued with a walk down The Mall.  With all the traffic, no leaves and no flags flying it didn't really look as regal as on TV ;-)   but it was kinda cool.  At the end you come to Admiralty Arch before entering Trafalgar Square.

 Admiralty Arch

 The craziness of Trafalgar Square!   There were soooo many people running around and traffic everywhere, trying to take pictures was taking your life in your hands.  On the Wikipedia link and Google earth there are some really good panoramic pictures of the square.  Would love to get back here at night with little traffic and try shooting this great spot.

 On the far side of the square is the National Gallery.   The park in front was a ZOO!  There was some kind of protest going on. Not the occupy stuff but it seemed to be the Communist party and they were screaming into bullhorns and making quite the racket.   Above is a pool with the National Gallery in the background.  The big clock is their Olympic countdown clock.

 Standing on the steps of the National Gallery looking back at Trafalgar Square and the Olympic Clock.

At this point I had one of the negative experiences of London.  We waded through the people into the Gallery which is open to the public.  I didn't see any signs anywhere saying that photography was forbidden.  I had absolutely no interest in the paintings, in fact I found them rather boring, but what did impress me was the architecture of the building.  I raised my camera to take a non-flash picture of the doomed sky light and an art nazi jumped me.   This old geezer physically grabbed me and freaked at me.  There was no sense in arguing or pointing out that I had not interest in taking a pictures of the paintings.  In my opinion anything that is a  National Gallery belongs to the people, not a bunch of art snobs who take care of the gallery.   It was followed up by yet another art snob suddenly freaking cause she couldn't find a particular painting.   I decided at that point I was probably better suited outside with the protesting communists then the art snobs inside.   Time to move on! hahaha
We continued our walk and completed our circle walk by arriving back at Westminster.   The goal at this point was to get my weary traveling companions on a river boat up to Tower Bridge.  When you stand on the corner at Westminster you have a great view of the London Eye and you turn around and there is Big Ben.

I got the boys on the boat and it was starting to drizzle so we moved down inside of the boat and grabbed seats right up front.  Just as I took this picture I noted that one of the guys beside me was fast asleep, I went to nudge the other guy on the other side to point out that the guy only to discover he was asleep was well ;-)   Here I was happily snapping away and the guys on either side of me were sawing logs.   I was really disappointed at this point because the last time I took the tour there was a commentator who told wonderful stories the whole way up the river.  This time they played a boring tape.  I continually apologized to the guys for hyping up the ride.  I was to be vindicated later.

 Westminster Palace as seen from the Thames River.

 Numerous sites to see as you move up the river but none is more fascinating as coming up on Tower Bridge.

We got off the tour boat at Tower Bridge and wondered along the walk ways beside the Tower of London but given the late time of the day going inside for a tour was out of the question.  

 One thing I noted right away is that London is much further north then Ottawa (51n vice 45n) thus it gets dark really early!   Felt like I was back in Newfoundland.   While walking along the side of the gates around the Tower of London the lights began to come on resulting in the series of shots above.   Both times I have been to London I have to admit that my night shots have been more dramatic and interesting.   With no tripod and a camera that doesn't like high ISO numbers makes for a challenge.  But I think it was worth it.   Again, would love to spend more time in London just to do night time photography with less people wondering around.

 Tower Bridge is a sight to behold when the darkness kicks in

 I'm guessing this is the architecture that Prince Charles is so freaked about.  Can't say that I like seeing all the modern style buildings starting to dominate the London Skyline but it does look pretty cool at night.
 We grabbed the last boat of the day returning to Westminster.  This time I was rewarded with the same boat I'd had on my previous visit and the commentator was back!   As before he gave a wonderfully funny account and history lesson as we headed back down (or is it up) the river.  I know at the end he got a few pounds thrown into the bucket for the great tour.   Above is one of the numerous bridges along the route, this one lite up red, the name escapes me ;-)

Interesting story behind this OXO in the sky.  It is indeed the OXO company that makes the stock that we put in our gravy.   The river is considered a royal route, therefore no advertising is allowed.  When the OXO Tower was built in the late 1800's they put windows inside that had the OXO shape.  At night when a light was lit inside, there was OXO for all to see - a nice slide around the advertising ban.  Apparently is was a very contentious topic for many years, in the end the OXO stayed.

 The London Eye lit up at night

 Westminster Palace.  I wish I would have had more time to get the exposure right but the boat was moving and had to grab the shot.  Thus the washed out clock.

 I thought this was cool, being able to see both Big Ben and the London Eye all in one shot.  My 17-50mm Tamron was stretched to the limit but what a great job this lens did for me.

 Big Ben with a proper exposure.  I'm not sure if the green is normal or not.  Someone was commenting that the green was only there because it was Guy Fawkes weekend/day?  I stand to be corrected.

The London Eye

By this time my companions (and I) were exhausted.  Back on the tube to the hotel, supper and a beer followed by 12 glorious hours of sleep to break the time zone change curse.   That folks is how to tour London in around 5 hours by foot.   I would say the entire trip cost around 20 pounds with tube and boat tickets.   Naturally we couldn't see everything that we'd like to see but I can't think of a better way to stay awake for a day, get some great photos and have fun doing it on the cheap ;-)

I can't say enough for my Tamron 17-50mm F2.8 lens.   All the pictures in this post, most of the Stonehenge post and all the pictures in the Bath post were taken with this lens.  It has become my prime walk around lens.  It deals with the low light conditions I experiences, amazing clarity and sharpness and the colours were accurate throughout.  Almost no distortion, even at 17mm's. These can still be found on e-bay for around $400.00 cdn (stay away from Henry's on this one, there is a Canadian dealer on e-bay who is good and over 100 less in price)   Considering the cost of a similar Nikon lens that is just a hair better, this is a great lens folks.  My poor old D200 is getting a bit long in the tooth when compared to what's out there today but it continue to be a trouper during this trip.  

That pretty much ends my photos from the trip to the UK.  Thanks for all the comments and hope everyone enjoyed them!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Nov 19, 2011

A Day at the Roman Baths

Be warned, tons of pictures below, grab a coffee or tea before reading!

Continuing my story backwards.....  The city of Bath -,_Somerset

One week ago today, last Saturday (12 Nov), I spent the day in the city of Bath with Jason and Adam!

Once again, Jason's car and they came and picked me up at the hotel at 8am in the morning.  For those who know these 2 characters having them show up on time and at 8am in the morning was a small miracle on itself.  But I can't thank then enough for a great day.

In 2008 I managed to see Bath for a few hours but we arrived rather late in the day so was unable to visit the Roman Bath's and most of the other sites as it was getting dark.   But I was able to tell that this was a city to revisit, the best picture I got that trip was this one;

(click the images for bigger versions)

Ever since then I've been wanting to get back.   ;-)

For those who don't know about Bath and it's history, I recommend reading the link I put at the top.   A very long story but basically, the area has hot springs, the Romans found the place and couldn't figure it out so they figured it was a magical place given to them by the gods.  So they built themselves some luxurious bathtubs where they hung out all day because they were special and deserved it.  This was all around 47AD.  Over time the Romans left and it was abandoned for many years until the site was "rediscovered" and the kings and queens decided it was their turn to soak in the tubs.    That's my version and I'm sticking to it!  hahaha.

Actually the whole city just drips of history and is a must see if you visit England.  Even with all the tourists all over the place it is an amazing place.  Given that most of the buildings here are older then Canada it's quite the feeling to be around all this stuff.

We arrived around 9am before many of the tourists landed so we got an early start.   The first big thing you see when you arrive at is the Abbey, you can't miss it.

Thinking back on it, I didn't see anything as to if the church is ever open to enter but to be honest I never looked.  It must be amazing inside.  Something to check out on my next visit.

Given the small number of tourists we immediately took to the Roman Baths.  Inside your issued with a phone type device that you hold up to your ear for an audio tour (they also had these at Stonehenge and Avebury) and you type numbers into the keypad as you arrive at different spots along the way.  I gave up on it around a quarter of the way through as I found it was getting rather irritating.

The baths are a bit deceptive as they have been rebuilt numerous times.  Some of it is Roman and some of it is from the English.  Although they seem to concentrate mostly on the Roman history surrounding the site.

 The balcony above the bath below is from a later era but the piece below is actually just above the Roman Baths.  It's very stunning to be standing on this spot and be able to see the baths below and the Abbey next door.  The colour actually is green making it not very appealing to look at but the water is around 47C and the steam can be seen rising from it.

Looking in the other direction.  If you look close you can see there are statues all along the top railing as you walk about the bath.

 The only way to really capture how these look was via panormas.  If you look you can see the flaws in the stitching but the images are way to cool not to publish.  Can you image hanging out here in the bath ;-)  Get your toga!

Once inside your assaulted with many of the artifacts and history displays of the site.  All very intersting and took about 2 hours to run through.

 This is what they believed was from the front entrance to the bath.  As you can see, pieces are missing.  The image below is what they believed the rest of it looked like.  A nice use of a light show!

Must have been something to see.

 Naturally they found bodies in the ruins, how would you like to be on show for all to see?  Not the burial shroud on the bottom shelf.

  Throughout there are many carvings, figureheads and monument markers like the ones above.

 Some of the mosaic floors that were recovered.  Some very interesting work.

  The figurehead on the right is the gilt bronze head from the cult statue of Sulis Minerva from the temple.  It was found in Stall street in 1727.  Can you image finding something like this in your backyard?

 Throughout the site they found coins from many eras and from all over Europe.

The picture on the left is of an overflow of the water rising from the spring.   The spring gushes about 1.1 million litres per day upwards.

To the right are the pillars that were made to hold the floor up.  I've heard 2 stories about these.  One was that the hot air was allowed to circulate underneath to warm the floors and the other was that slaves would crawl underneath and light fires to keep the floors warm.

One of the many statues above the baths.

 Jason hanging out in front of the bath.

and myself.

 We then started walking around the city.   Archways over the city roads and very interesting rounded buildings.

We found a real estate listing for apartments in this building - oh my!

Figured I'd stop writing and let you take the photos of this beautiful city in for yourself.