London Open Day – Container City

It has been a bit quiet on the blog front lately. Not through lack of things to do, but in fact that we haven’t really been home that much lately.

I have plenty of movies to catch you all up on but just seem to be enjoying the extra few days of sunshine that have been provided to us lately. I believe this now brings it up to a grand total of 15 (spectacular) sunny days for summer this year!

Those of you that know me well may be aware of my long held fascination to build with strawbale. Over the last couple of years my awareness of another interesting building practice has developed – shipping containers. What this results in is a continual learning process in trying to merge these two passions together.

When the London Open Day occurred and I heard that Trinity Buoy Wharf was on the list I had to be there to see container city which has been developed in this area. This has been high on my list of sites to visit should it be possible. It turns out that Trinity Buoy Wharf is open all the time as it is a home for artists studios and their businesses which are open for entry to their customers during normal business hours.

So after driving down to Kew, taking the train into the city, catching the Docklands Light Rail then walking about 2 miles we finally arrived at midday. It was a rather long trek but well worth it.

They have developed the container city in 3 stages which clearly shows the design changes they went through as they improved from experience.

The first stage was the stock standard shipping container, stacked one on one. The doors have been left rough and ready and just welded open to help create the balcony. This design is meant to show the raw concept with no attempt at hiding what they are.

Stage 1
Stage 1

The second stage was where the design firm decided to get a bit more funky, stacking at different angles, use of vibrant colours (a bit garish in my opinion for everyday living) and with this build there was greater structural requirements needed. It was stated during the day that this was a very difficult build with all the angles as it made putting the internal services in (i.e. water, electricity) very difficult. The person providing information on the site said that given the choice again, they wouldn’t repeat this design.

Stage 2
Stage 2
Stage 2
Stage 2

The third build they are up to looks fantastic however it hasn’t really left a lot of obvious traces to show the shipping containers. They have removed the container doors, put on verandahs that run around the front and interior of the buildings. It does look fabulous but I think it is starting to look too mainstream, too generic. We have plenty of these non-descript, bland buildings already available.

Stage 3
Stage 3

Movie: Bangkok Dangerous

Starring Nicholas Cage and set in Thailand I really wonder what the heck is was doing with this movie. It had potential but really lost the plot. Cage’s character is an assassin for hire who has some jobs in Bangkok. He normally hires a local errand runner to do the drop offs, help with sourcing information and supplies then disposes of them when he is done. This time around things are different. He takes the errand boy on side as a protege and in between falls in love with a local Thai girl who is deaf. Directed by Chun and Pang they have remade the “Hong Kong” version for the Hollywood market. Sometimes good “Hong Kong” cinema just doesn’t cross over. 1.5 out of 5.

Movie: The Duchess

I am not much of a Keira Knightley fan but the costuming and locations in this one were too good to pass by.

“A chronicle of the life of 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who was reviled for her extravagant political and personal life” – The Internet Movie Database

Starring Keira Knightley, a stunning Ralph Fiennes as the husband matched to Georgiana, Charlotte Rampling (of Swimming Pool) as Georgiana’s mother and Dominic Cooper as Charles Grey (the third person in the marriage).

There was much hype about the parallels between Diana and Charles’ married life but go in without any agendas, marvel at the costuming, enjoy Fiennes’ wonderful performance and the array of locations. 3.5 out of 5.

Movie: Babylon AD

As we have been travelling it has been 4 weeks since we last went to the cinema. We had seriously considered catching a movie while in France but I figured that the whole language issue might possibly limit the enjoyment of it 😉  I was pretty sure that the dialogue would consist of more than our limited french which revolves around being able to order coffee, various items of food and asking where the toilet is.

So, back in England and off to see Babylon AD starring Vin Diesel. Now if you are familiar with Vin’s past works you will know that it generally consists of action, limited conversation, limited facial expressions and a storyline that survives on lots of explosions and car chases. This was no exception.

Macho dude gets paid to escort important but freaky young chick safely out of cesspool that is Russia (many years from now). Bad dudes following them all the way, bit of martial arts thrown in with car chases, explosions and the like.

As you can tell I was rather unimpressed with this movie and in particular Vin Diesel. The dude is getting older, time to move on and actually try some acting. 2 out of 5.

Day 6-8 Germany

I have been a bit remiss in finishing the update on our trip to Germany. As it is when you get back from a holiday there is lots to catch up on and it has been a busy time at work more than anything.

Day 6 was a down day where Steve and I went to the Roland Centre to have a look around. We did intend to go back into Bremen town centre but I think we were rather tired so aimlessly wandering the shops was quite a nice day. One thing we always do when we visit another country is to go to a supermarket. You will be amazed at what you can learn about a place from what is in the normal, everyday supermarket. We used today to buy a few bits and pieces to take home for our work colleagues.

Day 7 was a visit to the Focke Museum in Bremen. So many different areas of German and Bremen history are covered here. They even have some rebuilt farm buildings with thatch roofing and great displays inside. I really enjoyed seeing the traditional bee hives and farm sheds. Other displays of interest at the Focke Museum is the silverware that is a speciality of the area, glass work, stunning paintings and marine history of the area. Later that night we went out for ice cream at Friedhelm’s favourite ice cream shop. I understand why. I have never been to a place before that has a whole menu for ice cream only and the styles, flavours and presentation is magnificent.

Day 8 was the final full day in Germany so today Friedhelm and Ulla took us on a drive to Luneburg. We went through the Luneburger Heide which is a magnificent area of natural beauty. There is a whole areas of fields full of purple heather. As it had been quite wet the heather was not out as fully as it normally was but you still got the idea as to how beautiful it is. We took a ride on a horse drawn coach through roads surrounding the fields which was great fun. We picked up some honey produced from bees in the area of the heather fields. From here we then went to Luneburg which is a fabulous town with a river running through it. We had a great lunch there and walked the streets taking photos and soaking up the sun.

Even though we had a big day that night Friedhelm, Steve and myself drove into Bremen city centre as they had some light displays on to celebrate the opening of their music festival. Huge lights we set up in the main square where they illuminated the buildings. It looked great so I hope the photos give you an idea as to what it was like. We enjoyed a final german sausage and ice cream on our last night. Thanks Friedhelm for suggesting seeing the light show.

In all, our trip to Germany was great fun. I think we have both come away from Germany having enjoyed the people, the ease of transport and cleanliness of the country. Both of us agree that for some reason Germany feels familiar and homely. More than anything that probably comes down to the hospitality of Friedhelm and Ulla. Thanks so much.

One last imagine from Germany was the fields of flowers near Stuhr. The idea being that you pick the flowers yourself and leave the money in an honesty box. The fields looked great. Especially the sun flowers. Amazingly no one seems to steal them.


Located under an hour from Bristol, Stow-on-the-Wold is quintessential England. A large proportion of original stone homes built in the traditional yellow Cotswold stone and set in a small village centred around the public library and church. My research states that most of these homes date from the 16th century. The town is located in the Cotswold Hills of Gloucestershire and has a population of around 2000 however this number significantly increases in the weekend with bus loads of tourists.

The library is well worth a visit for a large number of stunning paintings of significant people in English history, such as Oliver Cromwell.

If you are into antiques then this town has a large number of stores to browse. Don’t think you are going to get a bargain though although some places do appear to have some reasonably priced items. I would imagine you would have to know your stuff and how to negotiate for a better price.

Finally after over 2 weeks of rain it was a water free weekend. Hooray!


Over the last 2 days I have been undertaking the ITIL Foundation course for work. Having been 13 odd years since I last studied for an exam it has been rather daunting. It is the final day tomorrow and I sit the exam. I have been thinking for a while now about finishing off my degree however diversifying from marketing to leadership and management. After the last 2 days I have realised that I have been just plain lazy really not to do it. There is always an excuse of some sort, too expensive, not enough time, indecisive about what degree etc. Anyway, we’ll see how I go tomorrow and maybe that will be the catalyst for change (or the nail in the coffin).

Two weeks and still raining

The sound of rain on the roof is very relaxing, unless you have heard that sound for 2 solid weeks. We did have 2 days of respite but this morning it started again. Did I mention that I am OVER THE RAIN!!! So as I prepare to catch my train to work, I contemplate having to pull on my wet weather gear, trudge through the rain and then de-gear at the other end. However I am very thankful that we have not had to endure any flooding such as other areas of the country.

Bremerhaven, Germany – Day 5

It was another early start to the day in order to get on the road heading to Bremerhaven. We were fortunate this week that the annual boat festival was on so there would be plenty of boats to see, music and general festive activity.

First stop however was to the docks for some fish. I have never seen such wonderful displays, types and such amazing prices for fish. There was one container that held 6 smoked fish for only 9 Euro. We generally don’t eat a lot of fish at home due to expense, lack of knowledge regarding cooking and general lack of inspiration when it comes to knowing what to do with it. However, we do love smoked fish and they do this wonderfully in Bremerhaven. One shop had huge smoking ovens which I just couldn’t resist taking a photo of. The smell of the fresh chopped wood, smokey ovens and smoking fish was marvellous. Needless to say Ulla purchased some fish to take home for dinner that night.

We had to stop for some “pre-lunch” lunch of course so we each chose our fish with bread. I was going to have smoked salmon but thought I would try something completely foreign to me so went for a “raw” fish. I can’t remember what type but it was fabulous. Steve had a crumbed, cooked fish. He has never been a fan of raw fish. Wise man.

Then we were back in the car, off to the Bremerhaven ship festival. What a sight to see as we got nearer. Construction is heavily underway here. A new hotel has been built that is quite reminiscent of the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai. Some of the architecture out this way is fantastic. I especially enjoyed a new centre that was being built which was a long, curved, glass encased structure.

The real surprise of the day were the number of ships in the harbour for the festival. All the tall ships with an incredible amount of rigging was just an amazing sight. It almost felt like we were being invaded by a fleet of ships. I think the ominous weather also helped to provide this feeling.

After adding a german sausage to our earlier meal of fish , listening to some of the Police Band orchestra and generally taking it all in, we then visited a submarine museum. Having never been on a sub before I was up for a look. I can’t believe the cramped conditions they lived in onboard this sub let alone having to deal with all the valves, pipes, wires and everything else that is right in your face. I didn’t feel claustrophobic at all but I would imagine cabin fever would kick in pretty quickly after a very short time on board.

After taking a drive around the docks to view the huge car parking buildings stacked with brand new vehicles just off the ships, acres of tractors, boats, tyres, trucks etc, we headed back to Bremen very weary after a long and exciting day. Hope the photos manage to do it some justice.

Hamburg, Germany – Day 4

It was an early start to the day with a car trip to the Roland Center then a tram ride to Bremen Hauptbanhof before getting our train to Hamburg. Thankfully Ulla and Friedhelm had done all the homework before hand and had it perfectly worked out!

The train trip is only around 1.5 hours and quite pleasant. What makes it even more enjoyable is that all the connections throughout the whole day were on time and clean. Train travel can be incredibly enjoyable and I really do prefer to travel this way however it needs to be efficient and cost effective. In Germany it does appear to be.

We arrived into Hamburg and spent the rest of the day walking everywhere. This is the best way to see a place. First off it was to the Rathaus which is located in a very large square and is a very impressive building. On the way we stopped into a church on the way but I have forgotten the name of it. I do remember that it is on Bergstrasse (Mountain Street) named with tongue firmly in cheek. North Germany is incredibly flat however with a bit of looking Bergstrasse does has the slightest rise to it. See the germans do have a sense of humour :).  Friedhelm spoke to one of the attendents inside and he was happy to provide us with a brief personal guide regarding the stained glass windows. There was also a tale to tell about one of the brass door knockers on the front church doors. It was the original one from the initial building of the church back in the 18th century and was in the image of a very menacing leopard. The other knocker was in the image of a lion and you could tell people preferred that one as you could see where people had been rubbing its nose.

The Rathaus was rather magnificient and has a lovely inner court garden with fountain. On a sunny day I could imagine that this would be a very popular place to eat during your lunch break.

From the Rathaus we went down to the water and walked around the little lake (Binnenalster) to sit down and had some lunch. Although it was a bit chilly the rain held off and it was a pleasant afternoon stop. Next we headed towards the Botanical Gardens called Planten un Blomen however we had to stop for an ice cream along the way. Yum!

The botanical gardens are well worth a visit for the hothouse which has a magnificent display of cacti and succulents. The park has some great water toys for the kids (small and large kids alike) and is towered over by a huge telecom mast that looks really quite majestic and arty in amongst the trees.

With such a big tower looming we headed towards this, however it is no longer open for viewing trips to the top. Oh well, we headed to St Michaels church instead. With a huge statue of Martin Luther outside and a very impressive tower this church just draws you to it. For a fee you can go up the tower (either by foot or lift). After seeing the 123 metre tower the lift was the best option. This church has had a hard life. In 1750 it was struck by lightning and a large portion of it burnt, 1906 a fire started it in during some construction on it and again was badly damaged during World War 2. What was left of the tower has been rebuilt to what we see today. After about a 10 minute wait we were on our way up. Even though it was overcast and rainy weather the views were great. Hamburg is the 4th largest port in Europe and is the gate to Germany. From the tower you can see the spectacular harbour, hundreds of cranes, the ports in action, the boats on the water and generally great views across the city. Well worth the ride up.

At one point on our walking tour around town Friedhelm brought our attention to a brass sign in the pavement. It was a simple brass sign with a name, date and small inscription. We began to notice them more often now since having been pointed out to us. They were memorial plaques for past Jewish residents. The plaque stated the persons name, date they were forceibly taken from their home and what later happened to them during the war. It was quite surreal to then look around the streets today and imagine it in a past time. Quite spooky.

It was now time to hit the water and take a boat ride down the harbour for dinner. We headed for Finkenwerder. We got off the boat here for a grand dinner of what Hamburg is well known for fish and of course a beer. I tried a local beer while Ulla and Friedhelm went for the local speciality which is called Alsterwasser. Back in NZ we call it a shandy (1/2 beer, 1/2 lemonade). I had sole as my choice of fish and the bratkatofflen (sauteed potatoes). It was delicious.

After the meal we had to catch the boat back into Hamburg in time to catch our train home to Bremen. Again all the connections were well timed and we made a sleepy journey back to Bremen with tired feet but heads full of all we had seen. I really enjoyed Hamburg. The architecture in areas was really exciting, the waterways buzzing with life and great company to share the day with.