Sunday, May 27, 2012

Gosport Museums

After last weekend, a switch was flicked somewhere & it's been summer ever since. All week with temperatures sitting in the high twenties, it's been rather uncomfortable wandering around the plant at work. At least being pretty close to the Solent, there is usually a breeze around. With it not getting dark until well after nine now, I've been enjoying getting the only outdoors exercise my shoulder allows at the moment (walking) in the Forest, along the beach at Lepe and across numerous fields in the heat.

With a relatively free weekend on the cards, I thought it was a good weekend to visit Portsmouth for the first time in two and a half years. Considering it's less than an hour's drive away, a day-trip there was well overdue. Pleasingly, I remembered just in time that I'd stored the fact that Gosport would be worth a visit one day, after reading about it some months ago, somewhere in my mind. So I headed off to park at the wonderfully named museum, Explosion!, on the west side of Portsmouth Harbour just before anything opened. As I wandered around the old buildings, it was obvious that it's not far across the harbour to Portsmouth and all its things naval - both old & new. While the groundsmen finished off mowing the lawns, I ducked inside right at ten o'clock & bought my multi-pass ticket - Explosion!, the Royal Navy Submarine Musuem & a day-pass on a water-taxi between the two, Portsmouth & HMS Victory.

Explosion! (really the Museum of Naval Firepower) is at Priddy's Hard & centres around Grand Magazine which is an impressive brick structure built in 1771 to house gunpowder. I got through the first room, which was based around the memories of those that used to work at the Ordnance Depot, before ducking out to get the first water-taxi of the day to the submarine museum. The schedule is well timed so that when you step off the boat, having cruised past hundreds of boats packed in the marinas & numerous waterside apartments, you are soon able to get on a guided tour of the HMS Alliance. (Although not for long as major maintenance work is soon to begin.)

Being early in the day, there were only fifteen on the tour - which is more than plenty on a sub, I wouldn't have been keen on being a submariner in here with sixty other men - none of whom have showered for six weeks. A diesel sub laid down near the end of WWII, it was fairly antiquated - but that just makes all the various valves, large batteries, pipes & so forth more interesting compared to what I imagine are much less cluttered modern designs.

I usually struggle to get representative photos of the cramped conditions on subs, so here's a standard torpedo tube shot.
Our guide was excellent, having been a submariner for many, many years & actually having served on the Alliance. It's so much more interesting with stories of what being on the watch was like, the thrill of chasing & evading the Russians in the Artic, & as it's about the thirtieth anniversary of the Falklands War - a first hand account of being on the sub that sunk the Argentine cruiser Belgrano.

HMS Alliance - looking quite shabby outside, showing why it's down for major work starting soon

Other submarines of interest at the museum include Holland I, the Royal Navy's first submarine - built in 1901. It had a crew of just eight (it was quite small & used for coastal defence and basically to see what this submarining thing was all about), with a petrol engine and 25 tons of batteries for use under water. Having spent a little too long underwater (almost seventy years) after sinking while being towed to be scraped, she was raised again in 1982 and has been on display around various restoration works since.  In the main inside display area is the midget sub HMS X24 that was used in WWII to sneak in to heavily guarded harbours & deposit its two large bombs under targets (docks, ships & so on).

Holland I tail-fins & propellor
I rushed around the last of the very informative displays so that I could catch the next water-taxi across the harbour to Portsmouth for a spot of lunch (Italian market - yum) & some much needed clothes shopping (something that is always needed as I put it off so often) for an hour.  It was great tootling across the harbour dodging small yachts, superyachts, ferries & large power boats under the sun.

An hour was enough to scoff a couple of calzonnes, buy some clothes, gaze around at the sights - so it was back on the Jenny R for the double-leg back to Explosion! - via the main visitor attraction in town HMS Victory & HMS Warrior.

HMS Warrior
Back at Explosion! there was time to learn/be reminded about fighting sailships & various explosives before a very good multimedia presentation in the Grand Magazine. The Grand Magazine, with its eight foot thick brick walls, took three years to build and then another three years for the mortar to dry out (gunpowder doesn't like moisture so much). I was pleased to learn I was standing in the very room where explosives for Nelson's fleet at Trafalgar were stored prior to the battle. There was a great mix of military history, social history, physics & chemistry to keep me well interested. The stories of all the precautions that had to be taken over the 150+ years of work here were fascinating. As with many industries in both world wars, many women took over the jobs of the men that had gone to the front. Hearing how the women had to work with cordite (which had replaced gunpowder by that stage) was especially neat as it was in a munitions factory that my great-grandmother (Mum's mum's mum) worked and was awarded an OBE for preventing some sort of explosive disaster.

The rest of the museum is given over to various large mines, torpedos, shells, missiles & such forth. All very interesting & technical - but didn't hold my attention as much as the tales of the people that had to work in such a large & dangerous facility. All in all, a great day out with two fantastic museums & a time lounging in the sun on the back of a little boat pootling around the harbour - not bad for fifteen quid.

I had a bit of time to spare at the end so wandered in to Gosport - fifteen minutes past large old barracks that are now nice looking housing & newer apartment blocks. Gosport's High Street isn't so much to wander around, especially as I'd been over the harbour wandering around Gunwharf Quays a few hours previous.

Monday, May 21, 2012

On the Thames

After two rather strange events at the end of last week - I joined a gym & bought runners (need to burn energy somehow while I'm off the bike) - I headed up to London for the weekend. Mostly it was to catch up with people I haven't seen for some time. Since I last saw them two months ago just after my operation, Levi & Marki and Jeff have been to NYC, Czech & Turkey in different permutations. So with my Rome trip as well, there was a fair amount to discuss. Time was a bit limited as they were heading off to the O2 to see Kayne & Jay-Z (maybe I'm just boring, but I didn't see the attraction). However, someone had decided that a good way to get to the O2 (which is well away from the centre of London) was to get a ThamesClipper (a pretty fast catamaran passenger ferry) down the river.

I jumped at the chance as while I've walked over, under & beside; driven over, under & beside; cycled over, under & beside; and ridden trains over, under & beside the Thames many times over the last four years I've previously never found reason to get on a boat on the river. It was good fun watching so many landmarks slide by from a different vantage point - I particularly liked going under Tower Bridge.

Meeting up with more concert-going friends in the O2 (I'd never been in before - it really is an incredibly large tent with all sorts of shops, restaurants, a squash competition & of course the arena), I joined them for a very late lunch before riding buses back to Sidcup. Trish picked me up & went out to watch the Bexley Village world go by as we savoured our Moroccan meal. I'm not sure acoustic Lily Allen & Lady Gaga is traditional Moroccan music, but whatever.

Sunday was spent driving north into Essex & visiting various family - the main point of the weekend away. A very pleasant cup of tea with my great-uncle (Grandad's brother) as he regaled me with stories of his travels in WWII as a wireless operator. Still can't picture Blackpool as a place to go & learn Morse code or why exactly Alan was shipped to Brazil, Durban, Bombay, Iraq, Cairo & Libya. But then war doesn't make a lot of sense on much higher levels than that, so I'm really not too fussed. Always a delight to spend time with a very switched older generation (with a surprisingly good grasp on current news) - there's some small hope that I won't completely lose my marbles in fifty-odd years. Plus Alan was interested in my USA roadtrip (particularly Yellowstone) photos, so I got to show some of those.

A little bit back towards London, I spent the afternoon with Carly & her family. One of only two second-cousins on my maternal grandmother's side (compared to the plenty on grandad's side), it's been sometime since I've seen them - the kids & house are now much bigger. As Carly & David honeymooned in Banff, there's always plenty of Canada talk which is good fun; family also is a hot topic, as Carly's brother, father & grandfather are all quite funny (/crazy) there is generally much amusement.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Over the other side of Southampton Water

I woke yesterday to find out that there was but one day left of National Mills Weekend. That in itself isn't all that interesting, but it did give me a starting place for a bit of a local history day. Since I've moved down here, I haven't been past Southampton to the eastern or southern edge. The closest mill, Bursledon Windmill, took me past Southampton on the M27. Unfortunately, it's not operating at the moment as they are in the process of finding & funding a replacement for the large oak windshaft (the shaft at the centre of the sails that transfers the rotation to the main mill shaft). Windmills look a little odd without sails - the sail and the whole top of the structure have to come off. Maybe I'll still be around to check it out in 2014 - its bicentenary.

Naturally, inside the working mechanism was very similar to that which I saw at the closer-to-home Eling Tide Mill a few months ago. The miller, who was a lot younger than expected, was very happy to give me a personal tour - even if I didn't understand everything he said as he spoke rather quickly. I'll not bore you with details of the milling process, as it really was like the Eling Tide Mill.

For some time I've been curious what the tower is that I see across Southampton Water when I drive/ride down the road to work. From such distance, I couldn't tell if it was a church, a monument of something else. Someone told me that it was Netley Abbey, so with a quick check of the map I set off for Netley & then followed the signs to the abbey. When I found the abbey, it definitely wasn't what I'd been seeing from the Waterside. Nonetheless, there were some great old ruins with plenty of big walls still standing, a nice lawn & a good atmosphere with plenty of families around & kids running through the ruins. Dating from the 13th century, the monastery didn't survive the dissolution & was instead turned into a large country house, before being partially demolished & then allowed to fall into popular ruins in the 1800s - visited by the poet Thomas Gray, Austen & painted by Constable.

Heading south adjacent to the coastline, I eventually found my quarry in Royal Victoria Park. There were throngs of people around due to a Boat Jumble (whatever that is), so I left my investigations for a while & strolled along the beach south for most of an hour. It was quite breezy - that & the water explains the popular sailing club - but still more than pleasant walking in the sun with short sleeves. With such a busy port at the top of Southampton Water there is always plenty of maritime activity to watch - Isle of Wight slow & fast ferries, cruise liners, container ships, tankers & pleasure-craft. I also got a different view of the Fawley Refinery (which is really close to work & home). At the River Hamble I could walk no further, so turned around rather than taking a swim.

The limitations of the camera on my phone become apparent zooming in on distant scenery - part of Fawley Refinery

That small collection of chimneys over yonder is where I work.

Back at the parking lot, the crowds had thinned a bit & I popped into what turned out to be a chapel. I had been trying to work out why this building was standing alone in the middle of a nice big park. The informative displays inside, well worth the pound entry fee (unfortunately I'd run out of cash to join the departing tour up the tower), cleared all that up for me. In the 1850s this site was chosen to build a military hospital & the chapel stood in the centre. The hospital when completed was the longest building in the world at the time (435m/quarter-mile). It was built after the shocking conditions for the wounded in the Crimea became well known. But as these rather damning words from the prime-minister of the time suggest, it wasn't very well designed. "It seems to me that at Netley all consideration of what would best tend to the comfort and recovery of the patients has been sacrificed to the vanity of the architect, whose sole object has been to make a building which should cut a dash when looked at from Southampton River. Pray stop all work."

Alas, it was too late & this behemoth that was 138 wards & 1000 beds was opened. It was used more & more with the wounded coming back from the Boer Wars, WWI & WWII. The place was so large that it had its own reservoir, power station, railway station, gas works & pier. But all the corridors were on the sea-facing front and ventilation & conditions weren't great. Out the back the Red Cross also established a large temporary medical facility. When the Americans took it over near the end of WWII, they were shocked at the state of the Victorian plumbing & other facilities (and also apparently took to driving jeeps up the corridors, they were so large). Such a dated facility didn't last much longer & most of the hospital was demolished in 1966 after a large fire - there was an awful lot of rubble & I still drive over some of it whenever I go in to town, as it was used for the Totton flyover.

The chapel in the centre

The chapel standing alone today (or yesterday rather)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lazy weekends with sun

After a really dry & mild winter, some bright spark decided that most of the lower half of England was in drought. Naturally, it has pretty much rained since then. I haven't been too perturbed as I'm still unable to get outside riding, or even running, & the rain makes a nice change & things are growing. Strangely, the last couple of weekend have had most of the week's sunshine allotment so I've had a spot of walking in various different places.

The May Bank Holiday weekend was mostly a recovery from the Rome trip & delayed-flight consequences - but I did pop over to Poole (a couple of towns west) to visit Mum's cousin Pamela. After a good lunch, many cups of tea & much catching up of recent travels & family gossip I popped down to Sandbanks for a stroll along the beach. There's some pretty big homes down there, but I wasn't surprised as I keep hearing how Harry Redknapp lives there. Apparently, by area it has the fourth highest property value in the world. But I just wanted to walk along the beach in the sun catching up on podcasts, not buy a house - so that what I did.

Looking across towards Swannage

This must be a popular place in summer - those curious English things, beach-huts, were two-storied

This weekend just ending has mostly been spent eating & walking. Friday night I was around at (workmate) Henry's place - I was trying to see if The Castle was funny outside of Australia & NZ circles. I didn't hold out much hope as Henry has never seen the Holy Grail or The Princess Bride & therefore doesn't understand a large percentage of my babbling. The film is looking really dated now (it's been sometime since I've watched it), but I'm pleased to report that it was apparently funny from an Englishman's point of view. We then set about making a pavlova while Nicole diligently wrote reports - there are many reasons I'm not a teacher, & taking work home is one of them.

A Full English (breakfast) Saturday morning necessitated a big walk along the Barton-on-Sea cliffs to Milford & then finding a route back home inland on the footpaths that dot the countryside, but don't necessarily go in a straight line.

Across the Solent to the Isle of Wight

First barbecue of the summer at another workmate's house back over on the side of the Forest where I live & we all work. It was just warm enough to spend most of the evening outside in a T-shirt (although I drew the line at shorts) eating much meat (the NZ lamb steaks were pretty good, it must be said). We retreated inside to devour the pavlova (the pavlova is only getting so much mention as it was the first I've ever had to make) & play boardgames.

Nicole destroyed the symmetry by not liking kiwifruit

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What have the Romans ever done for us?

The aqueduct.

With my sling off, physio started and a few days left to use up my annual leave allowance before the end of the leave year, it was a great opportunity to finally get to Rome - it's been top of my list for some time.

Didn't see a whole heap Thursday night after the plane & train in to the city centre - just enough to find my hotel & a late bowl of pasta. First priority, after breakfast of course, was to get out & see that Rome icon, the Colisseum. Like many cities around this part of the world, it's really easy to walk between all the main attractions & Rome is no different. I got through the gates early enough that it wasn't too busy & I could gaze at the vastness & wonder at all the ancient engineering in relative peace.

Right next door is the Forum, which was the centre of Roman public life - there are all sorts of ruins of temples, palaces & such like. By now it was getting busy and also proper hot - well hot compared to what I've been used to. With the sun streaming down & temperatures touching 30ÂșC, I was starting to swelter overdressed in jeans. But it was time to walk a bit to try & find some lunch out of the touristy area.
So over the Tiber I went & wandered aimlessly through narrow streets before popping in to a small store. While contemplating all the cheeses & cold meats on display I noticed a small sign over a staircase pointing to a cafeteria up the stairs.  Lo & behold there was a small cafe up there with a large rooftop courtyard - excellent.
More walking & I was back near the Forum checking out the museums & statues around Capitolini, before heading up a huge staircase & around Foro di Triani.
Typical dinner while I'm out exploring cities is to get on the Metro & head out of the city centre & get off at any stop that I feel like & wander around aimlessly until I find a restaurant that looks likely.  This served me well as I had some great meals in little restaurants surrounded by crowds of loud & excited Italians. While I remember, there were very few British accents around, most of the native English speakers I heard were Americans & a few Australians.
Heading in to the Metro stop just around the corner from my hotel - Repubblica
After the heat of Friday & all that walking, I was proper exhausted so started a little more slowly on Saturday with a wander down to Trevi Fountain - which is well impressive, but not very fountainy. Rather some elaborate waterfalls.
Not a great picture, but it's one of the few I have of me in Rome - so you'll have to tolerate it.
Not far from Trevi is the Pantheon, which quickly became my favourite sight in Rome.  It started life nearly 2000 years ago as a Roman temple, before eventually being taken over by the Church. With large Corinthian columns out front it starts out pretty impressively, but then you wander in & see the huge dome that is both 43 metres across & high. It's astoundingly large considering how old it is - it's still the largest dome ever built with unreinforced concrete.  Then you see the big hole in the top & the engineering becomes more incredible - the geometric pattern on the ceiling was neat too as the sun slowly moved around as it shone through the oculus.

More wandering to find food got me fed, into a castle (Castel Sant Angelo) with good views, popping in to Vatican City & then over the river again up a decent hill into a big park with more views back over the city - before realising my legs were about to fall off again, so a bus home to rest before dinner was a good idea.  That evening I was well off the beaten track until I crossed the Tiber again & found that bridge with all the padlocks on some of the railings - there were thousands & some of the metalwork (more likely the welds) had failed.

Sunday morning I avoided free day at the Vatican museums due to crowds & took a long bus ride south to visit the catacombs.  Dad's got much better photos from forty years ago as he was allowed to take photos & there will still many bones down there. Still, it was interesting wandering a small length of the miles of tunnels where various tombs have been sitting for centuries.

For some reason, mostly just curiosity as to what other parts of the city look like, I thought it was a good idea to walk all the back in to town.  I came across a fascinating grocery store, a huge park, some sort of fun run (an oxymoron if there ever was one) & what I thought was ruins of a huge old castle. Intrigued I went in, and found out this massive complex was once baths. Incredible that they bothered to have 9000 men building these over six years.

More wanderings took me to the Spanish Steps (not far from hotel), which were alive with colour & people.

Monday was Vatican day, I spent most of the day in the smallest country in the world.  With May 1 (the following day) being a public holiday, the queues were very long - but worth it.  A completely insane collection of art - this is just part of the similarly decorated hundreds of metres to walk through just to get in to the Sistine Chapel.  Which of course is something else besides, but no photos again.

More hours spent queuing to get in to St Peter's Basilica & somehow I ended up queuing to go up the dome as well. It was sometime before I realised this, so I figured I may as well pay my five euros and climb the 551 stairs to the top.  That was well worth it as first you got to the bottom of the dome inside & could look down at the people below & marvel at the intricacies of the dome paintings & mosaics. 
With the ascent of a much tighter spiral staircase the steady stream of people led me in between the two layers of the dome as we gradually bent our necks further & further to keep from bruising our heads. The views all around were well worth the climb.
Yes, the camera is horizontal - it is a dome after all

Down to St Peter's Square & beyond to the Tiber

Looking up to the dome.
I still had time to return at various times to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon & Trevi Fountain around packing up, enjoying more of the local cuisine & getting to the airport. Only downside to the long weekend was the three and a half hour delay to my flight home - I've been a little slow at work since then, but a three day week isn't too hard to survive tired.

Some more of the photos I took are here.