London 12 Cities Challenge Part 2

London_1Welcome to Part 2 of our London and Canterbury Bucket List Challenge update. If you missed Part 1 about Canterbury, you can check it out here. As a quick recap: we took a combined trip to Canterbury and London earlier in April, a three-day, two-night break to make the most of our time and to keep costs down a little.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been to London, and in fact we’ve made a point of doing the ‘tourist thing’ in the past with a visit to The Tower (highly recommended), Harrods, Carnaby Street etc, so choosing what to do in the short amount of time we had was difficult. In the end, we chose as our first port of call, Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle

London_2We arrived at Windsor via a short train hop from Slough train station where we’d left the car. It’s possible to drive directly to Windsor village, but given that it was approaching Easter we expected that the car parks might be busy so chose the train as an alternative. It’s a very quick journey with a dedicated line running between Slough and Windsor.

Just ahead of arriving at the station, you get a great view of the castle, set up on the hill and overlooking the fields to one side and the village (which was out of our view) to the other. Windsor village is quaint and was very busy. My over-riding memory is of lots of shops and people, buses and cars and cobbled streets!

From the station it’s just a short walk to the entrance to the castle. We had already bought our tickets online and were able to fast-trak the paying queue and go straight to security. It’s a little like airport security where you need to empty your pockets and put your bags on a conveyor that x-rays the contents while you walk through an alarmed security gate!

Once inside, we collected our complementary audio and headed into the grounds. Tip – take your own earphones!

We were immediately greeted by Prince Charles…no, not in person, but on the audio! The Prince welcomed us to the Castle, reminding us that it’s a living castle, with lots of people living and working there, as well as an ancient and magnificent monument preserved for future generations. The grounds are beautiful but functional, both for modern times with roads to accommodate traffic and for days-gone-by with castle walls exhibiting arrow slits to afford protection during times of conflict.

We immediately noted that the Royal Standard was flying, indicating that the Queen was in residence! There was something quite exciting about knowing that we were so close to the Queen, London_3even though clearly there was no chance that we were actually going to bump into Her at any point!

After taking a tour around the outside of the Castle, we made our way inside to tour the various rooms opened to the public. Of the many rooms we saw, St George’s Hall stood out as particularly interesting. A long chamber, sumptuously carpeted, the walls and ceiling decorated with carved wooden beams and rare paintings, but most notably for the hundreds of wooden shields depicting coats of arms that decorate the walls and ceilings.

Each coat of arms represents a current of former Knight of the Order of the Garter. Founded in 1348 by Edward III, the Order represents the oldest British Order of Chivalry. Consisting of the Monarch plus 25 knights and honours those who have held public office, served the Monarch or contributed to the nation in some way.

As we looked at the insignia on the walls and ceiling we noticed that some were completely white. These shields belonged to those knights who had been disgraced by crime or treason, for example, Charles I who was executed in 1649.

We were also told (via the audio) that this room had been extensively damaged in the fire that hit the Castle in 1992. The restoration work is striking in the way that it blends with the old effortlessly.

As you can imagine there are many treasures on display at the Castle one of which, is the suit of armour worn by King Henry VIII. The armour is displayed in a glass case and from the front looks ‘normal’, however, move to the side of the display case and it’s possible to see how the sides of the breast plate were extended to accommodate the King’s expanding waistline! It’s details like this that bring the history to life and corroborate the familiar pictures of the robust King!

We spent around four hours at the Castle, so this is just a tiny snippet of the things we saw. There are a number of rooms each with unique and priceless art. The history is fascinating and the treasures well worth the visit. My only disappointment was the lack of ‘modern’ history on display. I would have liked to have seen some pictures, photos or other memorabilia of our most recent Royal family, and, whilst there are pictures of the Queen, these are few, which I felt was a missed opportunity. In some ways it made the visit a little impersonal. But this is a small point, and should not put anyone off from visiting what is a wonderful, living Castle.

London and St Paul’s Cathedral

London_4After visiting Windsor, we headed to Canterbury where we were staying and the next morning we caught the high-speed train into London. That was a good decision, we loved the train!

In less than an hour we reached St Pancras station, grabbed a coffee from one of the many cafes and then spent the next half an hour trying to work out which tube we needed to get on! For any Londoners (or ex-Londoners) who may be reading, I must admit that we found it a complete mystery and in the end had to ask someone to help! In the end, the journey underground was easy and quick, but frankly, we might still be there if we hadn’t asked for help!

We emerged from the tube to lovely sunshine (we’ve been so lucky with the weather with all our trips so far!) and just a short walk to St Pauls Cathedral. Caught in the sunshine, St Pauls is like a massive porcelain white megalith, trapped between modern glass buildings and endlessly noisy traffic.

The current St Pauls is the fifth cathedral to have been built on the site, the first having been founded in AD604. None of the previous structures survived, the previous (fourth) cathedral having been gutted by the Great Fire of London in 1666.

We climbed the steps, famously climbed by Lady Diana Spencer on her wedding day to Prince Charles, and entered the Cathedral. As with previous attractions, we were given a complementary audio which would guide us around the huge building. Even while we were there, services were being conducted. Tourists mingled with pilgrims who mingled with regular parishioners, but the mix worked well and felt comfortable.

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, St Pauls stands out for its appearance of wealth. Compared to other cathedrals that we’ve visited, St Pauls has the most ornate and golden ceilings. There are many beautiful mosaics which glitter in the light. We were told (via the audio) that the mosaics are made of individual pieces of glass, which explains why they reflect the light so well.

Of course, no visit to St Pauls would be complete without the climb to the Whispering Gallery. The Gallery sits in the dome, some 259 stepsLondon_5 from ground level. We climbed the winding stair case, which became narrower and narrower until we reached a corridor that led out to the Gallery. For those of you that know me, you will already know that I’m not a fan of heights and so this was quite a challenge for me. The view back down to the floor of the cathedral is splendid, but, frankly this was where my bravery crumbled and I made a hasty retreat back down the winding stair case!

Luckily my braver hubby continued the climb from the Gallery, until he was able to step outside on to the roof of St Pauls. It’s thanks to him that we have the shots of the London skyline!

The Cathedral is the final resting place of many notable and famous people. Beneath the Cathedral is a crypt which covers the same floor area as the structure above (which is unusual for a church and is the biggest in Europe). In the crypt are many burials and memorials, the first burial having been that of Sir Christopher Wren in 1723. The crypt also houses the tomb of Lord Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, although a tribute to Wellington is also displayed in the Nave (at ground level) in the form of Wellington on his horse, Copenhagan.

After spending a few hours exploring the Cathedral, we decided to have some lunch in situ. Unusually, the café is located underground in the crypt and we ate amongst the memorials of past parishioners!

There is much, much more I could write about our visit to St Pauls, but in the interests of brevity(!), I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story. But, if you have the opportunity, then a visit to St Pauls is definitely worth the effort.London_6

So there you have it!  We have now visited 5 cities in our Visit 12 UK Cities in 12 Months Bucket List Challenge!  I’m excited that we have managed to keep to our plan and have had fun, learned lots and enjoyed ourselves into the bargain.

Our next city is…well, you can find out next month when I’ll share our latest adventure with you!

To check out our earlier trips, click below:

Bristol

Gloucester

Salisbury & Stonehenge

Canterbury

Harri Davies Interview – Living The Music Dream!

Harri_Davies!It’s not often that I get to meet a musician-in-the-making, but a couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to be able to interview a budding new artist by the name of Harri Davies. ‘Budding’ might be too weak a word in this context as Harri has already been played on BBC Wales’ Adam Walton show, gigs frequently and will shortly be appearing at the Hay Festival on 30th May. In any event, meeting Harri was a delightful experience and I’m sure after reading about Harri, you will love him too!

I met Harri Davies one cold, wet Saturday afternoon at a coffee shop in Cardiff. The 21-year-old, tall, fair-haired and blue-eyed, greeted me with a bear hug like we were old friends, and, within just a few slurps of coffee, that’s how it felt!

Harri first embarked on his musical career at the age of 14 when he picked up a guitar and started working his way through genres such as blues, rock, jazz and soul. These days Harri is into acoustic jazz and working on soul in a pop-song format.

About the music

He tells me the most stressful part of the job is writing the song. “Songwriters experience ‘writers block’ in the same way as book writers…” this reminds me of a familiar scenario when he says that “we’re not in control of our inspiration”. So true, but we both agree that you’ve just got to keep with it, keep pushing until eventually the creative process takes form and comes to life.

Harri sees the song writing process in two parts:

“First,” he says, “you need to create the framework with the chords, melody and lyrics, but it’s the second stage where you paint in the textures that lifts the song to another level. The trick,” he says, “is to plan the song, but to make it sound like it’s not much effort.”

That’s probably easier said than done, but something that Harri is definitely managing to achieve.

Inspiration

Harri is inspired not only by the love of music, but, like others, finds motivation in the work of other artists such as John Martyn and Nick Drake: “Their work makes me want to create something so good that others will want to connect with it.” It’s strong stuff, and clearly Harri plans to aim high.

He says he is driven to want to make something out of his life (not bad for a 21-year-old!) and that he is competitive. He fittingly points out that “talent is common, but drive to unearth talent is rare”. A statement that all of us with a passion to make change should heed!

What does success mean to you?

“I want to achieve a stable financial future from music where I’m able to sustain my lifestyle whilst pursuing my passion.”

This is something that we should all aspire to in the long term so that we can do our dreams and passions justice. After all, a passion without an income is a hobby!

Harri goes on to say that he wants to “make the best music for me” and wants to feel that “others have a spiritual connection to it. In this way I will be able to leave a legacy.”

Talent is common, but drive to unearth talent is rare.

When asked about how he’s changed since starting this journey, Harri says “I think change is inevitable, as one thing leads to another and you will eventually emerge as a fully formed artist. Your journey would have sculpted your identity.”

“I guess I have changed quite a bit since I started this journey. I think all aspects of it are intertwined and push each other forward. For example the more musical knowledge you gain the more confidence it gives you to perform. Or the more time you spend performing the more comfortable you feel talking to large groups of people.”

What advice would you give someone just starting out?

“Well for someone who’s literally starting out I think it’s just the same for everyone. But say you started writing songs, or wanted to gig, I think the faster you can make the transition from enthusiast to professional in the way you perceive yourself the better.”

That’s good advice and squarely based on the idea that your self-perception or, put another way, ‘self-belief’ is fundamental to how far you will go with your dreams and passions. He continues:

“It’s a bit of a funny one, I remember feeling a bit embarrassed when I set up a Facebook page for myself. But when you start declaring to the world that you are serious about it people will respond well to you. Showing that you have initiative is important.”

This is so true! We all experience a certain level of self-consciousness when we embark on something ‘public’, but, by and large, most people will be supportive…and let’s be honest, those who aren’t, well, you know my take on Naysayers!

What plans do you have for the future?

“I have a vague idea of where I’d like my musical career to head. Right now I’m working on pop songs that are influenced by an eclectic mix of genres. I think I’d like to spend more time doing this, but then work on instrumental jazz pieces and composition later on. This has always excited me as it’s a completely different kind of musical expression that’s not confined to short forms like pop songs.”

But Harri’s interests don’t end there, and he surprises me with…

“Later on in life I’d like to study/work in astronomy or physics research, I have a very strong connection with it and would love to explore more of it. It might sound a bit naive seeing as it takes a lifetime’s work – but I would love to give it a go.”

The time goes quickly and before I know it, Harri’s having to rush away as he’s playing that evening! His energy and enthusiasm for his work is palpable and I’m left with a feeling that Harri will achieve not only his musical aspirations but will also break into the world of astronomy and physics when the time is right for him!

Another quick hug and Harri’s heading out the door and on to his next gig. I can’t wait to see this young man make his mark on the musical world as I have no doubt with his determination and passion that things will be happening very soon!

Thanks Harri, it was such a pleasure to meet you!

You can connect with Harri at the following resources:

Harri on Facebook

Harri on Twitter

5 Valuable Reasons to Indulge in Self-Reflection

Self-Reflect_1Self-reflection gets a bad rap sometimes. It has many close cousins from wallowing and self-indulgence to over-analysing leading to self-doubt and paralysis when action is needed. But this is to ignore the benefits that a good ‘ole positive self-reflection can have on our lives if we’re prepared to heed what our deeper selves have to say and then make some alterations in our perceptions, how we approach life and/or others and how we live with ourselves.

There’s also a potential downside when maybe we don’t like what we see, but with an open-mind and the right attitude, these negative revelations can also be turned around. Indeed, it’s through these most challenging insights that the greatest gains may be made.

Get To Know Yourself Better

We all think we know ourselves well, but this often isn’t the case. Can you remember a time when, after an experience, you’ve wondered why you did or said something? Maybe you felt bad about your reaction or surprised at your depth of feelings in reaction to something someone said or did? If this is the case, then maybe that self-knowledge you believe you have isn’t as precise as you think.Continue Reading

Are You My Second Chance Winner?!

Winner_2Unfortunately the first name drawn this month has not claimed their prize within the allotted time :(  but that means there’s a chance for another winner to claim :) !  So without further ado…

…the winner is…

Becky Songprasert!

Congratulations Becky, you are my March second-chance winner!



Your prize – The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is waiting for you to claim, so don’t waste any time, email me from the email address you used to sign up and let me know your postal address and your prize will be winging its way to you!  And while you’re here, why not leave a comment to let everyone know you’re a winner :) !!

You have 14 days to claim your prize, so don’t delay!

It’s easy, just hit the ‘reply’ button from any email I’ve sent you, let me know your postal address and that’s it!

Alternatively you can email me direct at Nicola@achieveyourbestlife.com with your details.

I can’t wait to hear from you!

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Don’t forget, my FREE monthly prize draw will run until 31 December 2015, so there are still 9 prizes up for grabs! For your chance to win, just sign up using the form below (it’s free!)!

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Bucket List Challenge: Canterbury Part 1

Canterbury_2
River Tour

Bucket List Challenge: 12 UK Cities in 12 Months

London and Canterbury – Part 1

Our 12 UK Cities in 12 Months Bucket List challenge stepped up a notch in March when we took a 3-day break and visited two cities in one go. Doing it this way enabled us to combine the travel and time costs to cover two cities which are over 200 miles away. It was also very hectic and we were worn-out when we got back home, but it was definitely worth it!

Our visits took us to London and Canterbury and today in Part 1 I’m going to cover our visit to Canterbury, a city which is situated on the south-eastern side of the UK and close to the English Channel and France.

Canterbury is easily described as an ‘olde-worlde’ city, with cobbled streets and dark beamed buildings and the hotel we stayed in dated from the 17th century and boasted narrow corridors, oak beams and leaded windows. The floors were also squeaky and the doorways quite low in places leading to the odd bump to the head!

Being so close to France, there was a strong contingent of French students on (I imagine) school trips visiting the city, so there was lots of hustle and bustle and a lively atmosphere.

As has become customary on our City trips, we had earmarked a visit to the Cathedral, but other than that, our itinerary was fluid. The weather was bright and sunny, but a little on the cold side, so a good day to wrap up warm and see the sights.Continue Reading