Normandie 70 ans plus tard

As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy (6 June 1944), I’ve been reflecting on my visit to the region in 2012 and the continuing legacy of that fateful day. It was indeed an eerie experience walking on ground where thousands of soldiers had given their lives.

Gold Beach, near Arromanches-les-Bains, was one of the British landing zones. These days it seems to be a popular recreational beach, however reminders of its wartime role are ever-present. Remnants of the Mulberry Harbour built by the British to offload matériel lie scattered around Gold Beach.

Gold BeachMulberry Harbour, Gold BeachOmaha Beach, to the west, was one of the American landing zones. The terrain is steeper and more rugged, and it’s not hard to imagine how difficult it must’ve been for US forces landing here under enemy fire.

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach fortificationCimetière américain de Colleville-sur-Mer (Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial) looks over the beach and is a sombre reminder of the costs of war.

Normandy American Cemetery and MemorialReflecting Pool, Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial The photos above are also on my Flickr photostream.

SMP class of 2010

After four long years of blood, sweat and tears, my Sydney Medical Program colleagues and I have finally finished medical school! Congratulations to everyone in the SMP graduating class of 2010!

I was given the honour (and burden) of organising the official year photo for the Sydney Medical Program 2010 graduating cohort during Conference Week. Equipment used: Canon EOS 7D, Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM, Manfrotto 7302YB tripod. Thanks to Mian Bi for operating the shutter-release in the Concord photo, Dana Perrignon Roth for operating the shutter release in the whole-year photo, and Andrew Caterson for his crowd management expertise.

Sydney Medical Program 2010

The farewell for Concord Clinical School was held at Tintilla Estate – the Hunter Valley winery owned by the clinical school’s Associate Dean, Professor Robert Lusby. It was a great way to finish med school – a relaxing Sunday afternoon barbecue in the leafy surrounds of the prof’s vineyard.

Concord Clinical School farewell BBQ 2010

Full-size versions of the whole-year photo and clinical school photos are available on my Flickr photostream. Congratulations again to everyone in the cohort and best wishes for the years ahead!

London: First City of the Empire

London: capital of the United Kingdom and once the heart of the greatest empire the world has seen. I think English literary figure Dr Samuel Johnson said it best when he declared that, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…” These are a few thoughts from my time living in (East) London, whilst completing my medical elective at The Royal London Hospital (Dec 2009 – Jan 2010). As usual, photo highlights are available on my Flickr photostream.

Old, new, borrowed, blue

I took quite a few photos whilst in London. Inspired by one of the memes from the final episode of Doctor Who this year (The Big Bang), I present here a small selection (with more available on my Flickr “Britannia” set).

Something old – Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge, London

Something new – City Hall, SE1

City Hall, London

Something borrowed – King’s Library, The British Museum, WC1

King's Library, The British Museum

Something blue – police box, Earl’s Court SW5

Police box, Earl's Court

Getting around London

One of the first things to get to grips with when you spend a decent amount of time in London is the arcane British postcode system. Whilst the postcodes may look like bizarre jumbles of letters and numbers (e.g. my address E1 2DR), they’re actually derived systematically – the first half of the postcode (“outward code”) is composed of a letter sequence for the locality and a district number, e.g. OX1 for central Oxford and L4 for Anfield, Liverpool; and is helpfully marked on street signs. Central London is divided into EC (East Central) and WC (West Central), and the rest of Greater London is divided into the eight compass directions relative to the city centre. The “inward code” localises to a specific street/block/building.

Great Ormond St sign

The actual process of getting around London is quite an efficient (albeit sometimes painfully slow) process, thanks to city’s comprehensive public transport network (Transport for London). Perhaps the most essential item for the intrepid traveller is an Oyster Card, a stored-value smartcard that can be used on all Transport for London services and most National Rail services within Greater London.

Oyster Card

London’s red double-decker buses are one of the city’s icons. Travelling by bus is a great way of absorbing the cityscape. It can also sometimes be a rather frustrating experience, thanks to the notorious traffic congestion in the city centre – it once took me almost an hour to travel 9 km from Whitechapel to Euston aboard the 205. Some routes are operated using “bendy buses” (articulated buses) where, unlike Sydney, passengers are allowed to board through any door – one of my cousins jokingly refers to them as “free buses” since many passengers don’t validate their Oyster Cards when entering through the rear doors.

Routemaster bus, Charing Cross

Routemaster bus, Charing Cross WC2

The other iconic mode of public transport is the London Underground, referred to as “the tube” by locals. The tube was the world’s first metro system and it shows… you very quickly become familiar with the multitude of stairs and tortuous tunnels within the stations. Also, many stations have narrow platforms that aren’t able to accommodate crowds – I did NOT appreciate being caught in stampede on an overcrowded platform at Bond Street Station (initially away from a fight that had broken out between two chavs, then subsequently onto the train once it arrived). Living in Whitechapel, I was often forced to contend with the Hammersmith & City Line, perhaps the worst line in the network for service frequency and reliability – so much so that one of the other medical students at my hospital preferred to commute from Euston on the painfully slow 205 bus (see above). Another other major issue with the tube is that there seems to be no mobile phone reception in underground stations and lines. Nevertheless, the network generally works quite well with mostly frequent and reliable services. I found the deep-level underground lines rather amusing because of the diminutive size of the rolling stock made necessary by the small tunnel diameter (e.g. 1996 Stock in the photo below). It can get quite claustrophobic inside the tiny deep-level tube trains!

Bond Street tube station

Jubilee Line 1996 Stock train approaching Bond Street tube station

Engineering work on the tube network means that train drivers sometimes have to override the digital voice announcement system and make passenger announcements themselves. One time, as I was travelling on a District Line train, the driver decided to employ British dry wit to entertaining effect (much to the confusion of several tourists aboard). A selection of quotes:

“Due to planned engineering work, there is no DLR service from Tower Gateway today. There is a special replacement magical mystery bus service operating.”

“This train will attempt to stop all stations, taking the scenic route to Richmond.”

“Trains do not stop at Cannon Street on Sunday, due to a complete lack of interest. The next station will be Mansion House.”

Life in Whitechapel

Whitechapel in London’s East End has an interesting history. It is associated with such diverse people as Jack the Ripper and Joseph Merrick (the “Elephant Man”). The Salvation Army was founded there. The bells for Big Ben, the Liberty Bell, and closer to home the University of Sydney Carillon were forged at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. In recent decades the area has become known for its large Muslim population (predominately Bengali), with East London Mosque being one of the largest in Britain. It is an area of historical and continuing socioeconomic disadvantage, and it’s not without reason that Whitechapel Road is the cheapest property on the Monopoly board (see my previous Monopoly photos).

Whitechapel Rd, Whitechapel

Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel E1

I lived in Whitechapel for over a month and, despite my reservations, gradually became accustomed to the character of the area: traversing through the slum-like Whitechapel Road Street Market to buy my groceries at Sainsbury’s supermarket, the halal adaptation of English breakfast served in the local cafés (turkey bacon, beef/chicken sausages, &c.), the ubiquitous fried chicken stores, the old Bengali man who ran the newspaper stand at Whitechapel tube station from whom I bought my copy of The Guardian every day, the sight of the Gherkin looming to the west, etc.

Catching up with friends/family

During my time in the UK, a few of my medical friends were also completing their electives elsewhere in London and/or dropping by. I variously managed to catch-up with Athina (St George’s Hospital), Martina (Eastman Dental Hospital), Owen (Israel) and Aileen (Germany). It was hilarious sharing our experiences with adapting to the freezing weather conditions (one unnamed friend slipped-over multiple times on the ice outside her hospital), inquisition by the UK Border Agency, jet lag, terrible coffee, language barriers (even in the UK) and just being on the opposite side of the planet in general.

Jamie's Italian

I also caught-up with my English cousins on a few occasions. On the final occasion we had dinner at the London branch of Jamie’s Italian (as in Jamie Oliver) in Canary Wharf E14. The restaurant doesn’t take bookings, but it was well worth the hour-long wait. I still find the British concept of eating spaghetti with knife and fork quite amusing – as with coffee, the Brits clearly don’t have the Italian influence that we have in Australia – but then Jamie’s spaghetti bolognese was actually the best I’ve ever had!

Coffee – rewarding disloyalty

The general standard of coffee served in the UK is rather poor. I should’ve known it was a sign of things to come when my first cup of coffee on English soil was burnt to the point of being undrinkable. The second warning sign was when I discovered that the Brits consider the “flat white”, an ordinary Australian variant of café latte, to be a novel and highly regarded espresso drink. The first part of my salvation came when I discovered a café named “Flat White” (17 Berwick St, Soho W1) . As the name suggests, it’s actually run by an Antipodean partnership – who would’ve thought that we in the “colonies” would be the ones to rescue the Brits from coffee hell.

Coffee disloyalty card

The second part of my salvation came when I discovered the Prufrock Disloyalty Card, the brainchild of Gwilym Davies (World Barista Champion 2009). Gwilym’s idea was to promote the emerging East London coffee scene with the offer of a free coffee from him for visiting each of the places listed. Most of the places were a bit out of the way for me, however the places I managed to get to (The Espresso Room, Nude Espresso and the Whitecross Coffee Cart) were excellent.

Whitecross Coffee Cart

Whitecross Coffee Cart – Pitch 42, Whitecross St, Barbican EC1

The sun never sets…

While the British Empire may be no more, there are certain benefits from once being the centre of the greatest empire the world has seen. One of these is the vast collections of antiquities from across the world that are housed in Britain’s museums. Furthermore, in a rather enlightened public policy decision, entry to all national museums in Britain is free! I managed to spend several full days just at the stalwart British Museum. I also particularly enjoyed exploring the V&A Museum (art & design), the Wellcome Trust collections (history of medicine) at the Wellcome Collection and Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum’s Darwin Centre.

Natural History Museum

Central Hall, Natural History Museum

V&A Museum

Paul & Jill Ruddock Gallery (room 50a), V&A Museum

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone, British Museum

Photo Monopoly

Whilst I was in London (Dec 2009 – Jan 2010) I met-up with my friend (and fellow Sydney Medical School student) Owen, who’d dropped by en route to his elective attachment in Tel Aviv. Over a drink in a Hammersmith pub, we made a bet about whether I’d be able to take a photo at each place on the Monopoly board during the rest of my time in London. It became clear, as I was hunting for all the places on the board, that some of the properties were chosen completely arbitrarily (e.g. Vine St, which has no significance whatsoever). And whilst it wasn’t entirely straightforward – Mayfair and The Angel aren’t streets, and Old Kent Rd was out of the way in Southwark, SE1 – I did eventually manage to get the photos and win the bet! So, without any further ado… (Photos are available at higher resolution on my Flickr photo monopoly set).

Railways set

Whilst Kings Cross and Liverpool Street are major National Rail stations, I found the choice of Marylebone and Fenchurch Street stations a little puzzling as they are two of the smallest stations in London. I think Paddington and Euston stations would’ve been better choices (even in the 1930s).

King's Cross, Marylebone, Fenchurch St and Liverpool St railway stations

Brown set

The photo here was taken on Whitechapel Rd, Whitechapel, E1, just outside The Royal London Hospital facing towards the City (“The Gherkin” building at 30 St Mary Axe is clearly visible). This is an area of historical and continuing socioeconomic disadvantage, reflected in its selection as the cheapest property on the board. I lived here for over a month and will reserve my thoughts for another post. In contrast, A2 Old Kent Road, Southwark, SE1, was quite typical of the A-roads leading out of central London.

Whitechapel Rd, Whitechapel

Getting there
Whitechapel Rd: Whitechapel tube station
Old Kent Rd: Elephant & Castle tube station then bus or ~2 km walk

Sky blue set

The Angel is a building on the northwest corner of Pentonville Rd and Islington High St, Islington, N1. Originally a coaching inn near the start of the Great North Rd (A1), the historical building lends its name to the surrounding area in Islington (e.g. Angel tube station). Pentonville Rd and Euston Rd, part of A501, are major roads in N1 and NW1 heading west from The Angel.

The Angel, Islington

Getting there
The Angel, Islington: Angel tube station
Euston Rd: Kings Cross St Pancras, Euston, Euston Square or Warren Street tube stations
Pentonville Rd: Angel or Kings Cross St Pancras tube stations

Purple set

The three streets in this group radiate outwards from Charing Cross, the historical centre of London. Whitehall and Northumberland Ave are home to many British government offices, whilst Pall Mall is home to St James’s Palace and various traditional gentlemen’s clubs.

Whitehall

Getting there
Pall Mall: Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus or Green Park tube stations
Whitehall: Westminster, Embankment or Charing Cross tube stations
Northumberland Ave: Embankment or Charing Cross tube stations

Orange set

This group appears to be the most arbitrarily selected on the board. Bow St is a street in the Covent Garden district, WC2, and the location of the Royal Opera House. Great Marlborough St (presumably the “Great” was dropped for formatting reasons) in the Soho district, W1, is the location of the Tudor wing of the historical Liberty & Co. department store. Vine St is in the Piccadilly Circus district, W1, and is of no apparent significance.

Great Marlborough St, Soho

Getting there
Bow St: Covent Garden tube station
Great Marlborough St: Oxford Circus tube station
Vine St: Piccadilly Circus tube station

Red set

Trafalgar Square, WC2, is a famous public square adjacent to Charing Cross in the heart of London. It is the location of Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery. Strand and Fleet St, part of A4, are major streets heading east from Trafalgar Square. Important buildings on Strand include Australia House, King’s College London and the Royal Courts of Justice. Fleet St continues to be synonymous with the British press, although all major news agencies have since moved their offices elsewhere.

Fleet Street

Getting there
Strand: Charing Cross, Leicester Square, Embankment or Temple tube stations
Fleet St: Temple or St Pauls tube station
Trafalgar Square: Charing Cross tube station

Yellow set

Coventry St is the main thoroughfare between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. Leicester Square is at the centre of London’s cinema and theatre district. Piccadilly, part of A4, is the home of the Fortnum & Mason department store, Ritz Hotel, Royal Academy of Arts, and Hatchard’s bookshop.

Piccadilly

Getting there
Leicester Square: Leicester Square tube station
Coventry St: Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus tube stations
Piccadilly: Piccadilly Circus or Green Park tube stations

Green set

This group is the heart of London’s shopping district. Regent and Oxford Streets are the major shopping streets of London, intersecting at Oxford Circus. Of note, the flagship stores of Selfridges & Co. and John Lewis on Oxford St are the second and third largest department stores in the UK respectively. New/Old Bond Street (the two streets are contiguous) is another major shopping street in the upmarket Mayfair district.

Regent St, Mayfair

Getting there
Regent St: Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus tube stations
Oxford St: Marble Arch, Bond Street, Oxford Circus or Tottenham Court Road tube stations
New/Old Bond St: Bond Street, Oxford Circus or Green Park tube stations

Navy set

The upmarket Mayfair district is the home of many luxury shops and hotels. Although Park Lane no longer enjoys the prestige it had in the 1930s, as it has since become a major road on A4202, it nonetheless still features several 5-star hotels and luxury car showrooms. Marble Arch is located at the northern end of Park Lane. In choosing a landmark to represent Mayfair, I decided that The May Fair Hotel would serve as a fitting metaphor for the board game.

May Fair Hotel, Mayfair

Getting there
Park Ln: Marble Arch or Hyde Park Corner tube stations
Mayfair: Bond Street, Green Park, Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch or Oxford Circus tube stations

Caerdydd

My first “international” trip within Europe was to Cardiff (Caerdydd), capital city of Wales (Cymru). Although part of the United Kingdom, Wales retains a distinctive cultural identity (see Ali G’s take on Wales)… and it’s only a 2 hours away from London by train! And so it was that I found myself aboard a First Great Western InterCity 125 diesel train making the journey between London Paddington and Cardiff Central (Caerdydd Canolog) via the Great Western Main Line. It was a pleasant journey, though I was a little disappointed at not getting to see the Severn Estuary due to the Severn railway crossing being a seven-kilometre tunnel underneath the river. Photo highlights from Cardiff available on my Flickr photostream.

Welsh / Cymraeg

Prior to this trip I’d never really encountered the Welsh culture/language (a little ironic given that I live in a place named “New South Wales”) besides the curious adoption of “eisteddfod” into the Australian vernacular. The Welsh and English languages are remarkably different considering the geographical proximity (although the reasons for the Celtic vs Germanic/Romance origins are fairly self-evident from British history). For example, this typical specimen of Welsh: Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith i’w gyfieithu. (translation)

Cardiff Central / Caerdydd Canolog

Cardiff Bay / Bae Caerdydd

Cardiff Bay is perhaps the best example of the city’s urban renewal since the 1990s. Recent developments around the picturesque bay area include: the Wales Millennium Centre (Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru), the National Assembly of Wales Senedd, Roald Dahl Plass, Mermaid Quay precinct, &c.

Roald Dahl Plass, Water Tower and Wales Millennium Centre
Roald Dahl Plass, The Water Tower, and Wales Millennium Centre; Cardiff Bay

Then, of course, there’s the Doctor Who Up-Close Exhibition in the Red Dragon Centre, Cardiff Bay. The current series of Doctor Who (2005– ) is filmed and produced in Cardiff and so it’s only fitting that there’s a permanent Doctor Who exhibition located there.

Doctor Who Up-Close Exhibition, Cardiff

Welsh food

Although the humble leek is a national symbol of Wales, there’s a whole lot more to Welsh cuisine (plus I don’t really like leeks). Two traditional Welsh dishes I tried for the first time whilst I was there were Welsh cakes and Welsh rarebit…

Welsh cakes (picau ar y maen)

Welsh cakes are kind of like a cross between scones and pikelets, usually containing sultanas. The best ones that I tried were freshly made at Fabulous Welshcakes (Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay). I also bought a pack from one of the stalls at the Riverside Market for the train ride back to London, which were also rather good and left me with a craving for Welsh cakes when I got back to to the capital. Back in London, however, it proved surprisingly difficult to find Welsh food – I eventually managed to find some hidden away in the baked goods section at Waitrose, an upmarket supermarket chain.

Welsh cakes from Fabulous Welshcakes, Cardiff Bay

Welsh rarebit

Welsh rarebit is essentially glorified cheese on toast… usually with beer (ale) mixed into the cheese! The rather odd name, a corruption of the original “Welsh rabbit”, for a dish that doesn’t actually contain rabbit apparently originates from the days when rabbit was the poor man’s meat in Britain – the Welsh were reputedly so poor that they couldn’t even afford rabbit and had to make-do with cheese. I tried a rather posh variant of Welsh rarebit at Mimosa Kitchen & Bar (Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay), which incorporated mushroom and pancetta into the cheese with a very tasty result!

Welsh rarebit, Mimosa Kitchen & Bar, Cardiff Bay

I didn’t get the chance to try any cawl unfortunately, although given how much I enjoyed scouse in Liverpool it’ll be high on my to-do list next time I visit the UK.

Panto-time!

Looking for something to do in the evening, I went to see Robin Hood: The Pantomime Adventure starring John Barrowman (of Doctor Who and Torchwood fame) at New Theatre. Pantomimes are a type of musical-comedy theatrical production and a Christmas/New Year tradition in Britain. It was another interesting new experience as I’d never been to a panto before. Some of the highlights included: the way audience participation was integrated into the performance, the innuendo (particularly around Barrowman’s orientation), numerous Welsh/British in-jokes and the Doctor Who references. It turned out to be a very entertaining night!

Robin Hood pantomime, New Theatre, Cardiff
Programme cover from Robin Hood, New Theatre, Cardiff