Bletchley Park, August 2017

Jan and I recently watched The Imitation Game, which has inspired me to finally write about the day we spent at Bletchley Park last year! As I’m sure you know, Bletchley Park was the home of the WWII code-breakers. Really, I only had the vaguest idea of what went on there – something to do with decoding the German military’s secret messages? Likewise, although I had heard of Alan Turing, I had no idea who he actually was. Yes, clearly I was very ignorant.

Bletchley Park1

Located in a the grounds of a mansion in Bletchley, a small town that’s part of Milton Keynes, Bletchley Park was the home of home of the Government Code & Cypher School – now known as the Government Communications Headquarters – during the Second World War. Nobody actually knew that at the time though – the work being done at Bletchley Park was highly secret and only started to be discussed publicly in 1974. The site has been a museum since the 90’s and was restored to what it is now in 2014.

The exhibition starts in the welcome centre, where they have a short film and some information about the history of Bletchley Park. Once outside, you can enter some of the restored huts, which have partly been set up as they would have been originally and partly contain some interactive exhibits. Then the main exhibition is in Block B. There, you can read about the history of the Enigma – the machine the Germans used to write their code. Early models had been used commercially, so everybody knew they existed, but of course the military version was more complex. Block B also has an exhibition about Alan Turing, which is where I learned all about him and his sad fate for the first time. He was, of course, part of Hut 8 at Bletchley Park and instrumental in the invention of the machines that were used to crack the Enigma’s codes (although not quite to the extent depicted in the film!), but to computer scientists he is mostly known as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.

In a way, the exhibition at Bletchley Park was the perfect combination and Jan’s and my interests – the codebreaking, Colossus machine used for breaking ciphers (considered to be an early computer), and Alan Turin stuff for computer scientist Jan, and the linguistic component for me: obviously it wasn’t enough to just decrypt the messages… somebody had to translate the German (and later Japanese) text into English as well!

The exhibition was really interesting – it’s fascinating to think of all that happening not even that long ago, certainly within our grandparents’ lifetimes. But there was so much information. We were there for about 5 hours and didn’t even manage to see everything properly. We left right before closing time and I was actually pleased they weren’t open any longer since, by then, I was all museumed out. It was definitely a good start to our holiday though and I can highly recommend it to anyone who is at all interested in history, cryptography, computer science or languages. Tickets are valid for a year, so those who live closer can go back time and again. I feel like smaller doses will make it easier to take everything in 😉


Hexham Abbey

Every year, my family goes to the Queen’s Hall theatre in Hexham to watch a performance by the travelling theatre company Oddsocks. Usually we go in the evening, but this year my dad bought tickets for the afternoon matinee – presumably because of my brother (who is now 7). Before the performance, we met up with family friends who also always go to the performance for Sunday lunch. It was the first time Jan had actually seen Hexham in the light! Between the meal and the theatre, there was a little time to spare, so my grandparents suggested taking a walk to Hexham Abbey. There has been a church on the site of Hexham Abbey since approximately the year 674, but the current building dates from Norman times (1170-1250). Since the dissolution of the monastries in 1537, the Abbey has been the parish church of Hexham. The Eastern part of the Abbey was destroyed when the monastry was dissolved and rebuilt in 1860. Here are some photos:

The abbey from the outside
The abbey from the outside

Below the abbey, there is a crypt with relics from the original Wilfred’s Benedictine Abbey built in the 7th century. It’s only open twice a day, so we couldn’t go down but I have been down there before when I visited Hexham Abbey with school.

~Please note that I am now in Madeira for New Year and am again unable to reply to comments. Feel free to leave one though, and I will respond as soon as I can!~

If I had a time machine…

A few weeks ago, Jane from Is That You Darling made a list of ten years she would travel back to if she had a time machine. I wanted to steal the idea immediately, but first I had to think of ten times that I wanted to visit… it’s harder than it sounds, you know! Instead of using years, I’ve decided to organise mine a little differently. So here are the ten occasions/events that I would like to travel back in time to see (I’m assuming I would only be able to watch, not actually do anything, so no killing Hitler or anything like that!).

  • My grandparents wedding. My dad’s parents are one of the few couples I know who are still a) together and b) happy. Next year they will be celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary! It would be lovely to go back and see where it all began.
  • When England won the 1966 World Cup. I’ve seen how people react when England wins even insignificant football matches, so the atmosphere when they won the World Cup must have been amazing!
  • The Rocky Horror Show. I would love to go back and see this performed by the original cast!
  • The building of Stonehenge. Then I could find out once and for all how – and why – they did it!
  • The opening of the Berlin wall. Although I was alive when the Berlin wall was opened, I didn’t pay much attention to it… mostly because I was six years old at the time! Also, we were living in Northern Ireland then, on an army base. On the rare occasions that I watched the news, other items seemed more relevant to me.  I would love to go back to November 1989 and watch the celebrations when people in East and West Berlin were finally reunited.
Part of the Berlin Wall that has been left as it was
Part of the Berlin Wall that has been left as it was
  • The “I Have  Dream” speech.  Stealing this one from Jane, but I agree that it must have been amazing to be part of that crowd.
  • The moment the apple fell on Newton’s head. I just think it would be incredibly cool to witness a Eureka! moment (and I would prefer not to disturb Archimedes in his bath…).
  • The creation of Metamorphosis I. I’ve been to the Escher Museum in The Hague and I find M.C. Escher’s artwork fascinating! It would be so interesting to sit and watch him create one of them.
  • Kitty Hawk at the time of the Wright brothers’ first flight. We take flying so much for granted now, it would be fascinating to witness the very first time!
  • Hannibal coming over the Alps. Those elephants must have been quite  a sight!

So there you have it… ten historical events and far too many exclamation marks 😉

Where yould you go back to?

Travel theme: Stone

This week, the travel theme on Where’s My Backpack is stone, which gave me the perfect opportunity to showcase one of the most famous stone structures in my home county…. Hadrian’s Wall. Here are some photos of the wall and the surrounding countryside:

Hadrian’s wall was a 73-mile long Roman defensive structure built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Construction probably started some time in AD 122 and the wall was completed within a period of six years. Sections of the wall still exist along the route, although some of the stone was removed and used as building material at various points and to the west of the River Irthing the wall was made of turf, which is now long gone. The Hadrian’s Wall Footpath follows the line of the wall from Wallsend in Tyne and Wear to Bowness-on-Solway in North-West Cumbria… a route of 84 miles. There is also a Hadrian’s Wall bus service that stops at the main sights along the wall, including various Roman forts.

To join in with this week’s travel theme, check out Ailsa’s blog post.

Weil der Stadt

We haven’t been to any German towns this year yet, but if I’m going to complete my 30 German Towns Before 30 challenge I need to get on with it, so today I shall go back in time…

Weil der Stadt Marktplatz
Weil der Stadt Marktplatz

Jan and I visited Weil der Stadt on 22 November 2011 – never the best time to visit a new place (cold and grey springs to mind!) but the ideal conditions for day trips only exist for about 4 months of the year so occasionally you just have to bite the bullet* and go anyway.

The town is called Weil der Stadt to distinguish it from other Weils (such as Weil am Rhein). The word “weil” is actually German for “because”, but the town name has nothing to do with that (it was originally spelled “Wile”, as we discovered in the town museum). Shame 😉

Weil der Stadt is mostly famous for being the birth place of the astronomer Joannes Kepler, or at least it is to those who have ever heard of Kepler, which I hadn’t. (Jan had but didn’t know where he was born).
Here he is:

Kepler statue
Kepler statue

Kepler’s birth place is now a museum, and because Jan is interested in all things sciencey we went in. I seem to remember finding it interesting at the time, although I now no longer remember anything I read there. In this photo, the Kepler birth house is the white building on the corner:

Kepler birth house and other pretty buildings
Kepler birth house and other pretty buildings

Here’s a better photo. Shame about the dull, cloudy November sky!

Kepler Museum
Kepler Museum

After checking out the museum, we went for a walk around town. Our route first took us down the street next to the museum in the direction of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The tower of St. Peter & St. Paul's church
The tower of St. Peter & St. Paul’s church

Later, we discovered a Narrenbrunnen (Fool’s Fountain). Unlike Karlsruhe, Weil der Stadt actually does carnival (known as Fastnacht in that area of Germany, or Fasnet in the local dialect).


There are several towers dotted around the town, along the old town wall. Here is one of them.

Seilerturm, Weil der Stadt
Seilerturm, Weil der Stadt

It was once a prison. These days, you can get married in there if you wish!

Weil der Stadt doesn’t have quite the fairytale prettiness of places like Tübingen or Calw, but it is pretty enough in its own way. If you like taking photos of old buildings, towers and the remains of town walls then there’s plenty to see. The Kepler museum is interesting and worth a visit if you’re into astronomy or learning about famous scientist’s lives. There is also a town museum (I think everything was German only though) and, now, a doll’s museum! I don’t think that last one existed when we were there (I would surely have tracked it down if it did!).

Half-timbered houses
Half-timbered houses
Rooftops and towers
Rooftops and towers

* The German for this is “In den saueren Apfel beißen” – “to bite into the sour apple”. I prefer this to the English phrase!

Worms (not the squishy, wiggly kind)

I thought it was about time I did another post for my 30 German towns before 30 thing, otherwise I’m never going to get past 5 (despite the fact that I have definitely been to more than 5 places in Germany!), so I went through all my old photo albums and came up with… Worms. To pronounce it, think of the English word warm, then add an s to the end and pronounce the W as if it were a V. That comes somewhere close to the German pronunciation (it really has nothing to do with the wiggly invertebrates… that would be Wurm in German).

Worms is famous (well… for a given value of “famous”) for a few reasons. The first is that it has what is thought to be the oldest Jewish cemetry in situ in the world. Yes, that would be the one in the photo above. The second is due to its connections with the Nibelungenlied. For those that aren’t familiar with it, it’s a mediavel epic poem/saga – basically like a German version of Beowulf, except Beowulf kills a monster whereas the hero in the Nibelungenlied slays a dragon then bathes in its blood… as you do. Actually, while we were in Worms they had loads of dragons everywhere, sponsored by various shops and things. I’m not sure whether they had anything to do with the Nibelungenlied, but they looked pretty cool. Here’s the one sponsored by Sparkasse (a bank, hence the coin in the dragon’s back).

Oh, there’s another thing Worms is known for, at least if you have a clue about the Lutherean church (which I don’t). Does the Diet of Worms say anything to you? No, it has nothing to do with the eating of invertebrates (ick!) In this particular case, a Diet is an assembly, and this particular assembly was held at Worms. Hence the Diet of Worms – suddenly it all makes sense. Maybe. One thing that came out of the Diet of Worlms was the Edict of Worms, a decree by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (later Charles I of Spain) which said “[…] we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour the said Martin Luther”. I don’t have to tell you who Martin Luther was, do I? Good, ’cause that’s enough of a history lesson for one day!

We were in Worms at Easter, which was the end of March that year (2008 in case you were wondering), so theoretically spring, but it was COLD, so we didn’t actually spend that much time walking around. Instead we went into the Nibelungen Museum, which is interesting but the audio tour takes AGES. It’s built inside the old town walls, which is cool but means it isn’t exactly warm! Here’s a not-that-brilliant photo of the town walls (these were taken with my old digital camera, which was even cheaper and lower quality than the one I have now). The bit along the top under the roof is where you walk along as part of the audio tour of the museum.

Worms is a nice little town with quite a lot of history behind it – it may even be the oldest town in Germany (Trier also lays claim to the title). We went into the town museum, which was interesting with loads of maps showing how the town has developed over the years. I would recommend choosing a slightly warmer day than we did though! Here are few more photos. I didn’t actually get that many though, what with us spending most of the time trying to hide from the cold…

Inside the cathedral
Town Hall
River Rhine, viewed from the Nibelungen Bridge