Reports on Current and Past Events

1 Oxford 28 800x534 Bridge of Sighs

Thursday 6th September 2018   DAY TRIP TO OXFORD

The weather set fair as we speedily negotiated the M25 and M40, arriving in Oxford ahead of schedule. You can always rely on Golden Boy for exquisite service.

I have never been there before and was immediately taken by the super stonework and rising turrets of Oxford’s dreaming spires. After a necessary comfort stop and coffee in Boswell’s, my U3A buddy and I mooched. We found the covered market, an absolute treat, but as we had a Footprints Walking Tour booked, there was no time to purchase any delights.

Our tour guide, Martin from Merton, was excellent. Humorously knowledgeable about the city of Oxford and its history, his lively tour, past Balliol, Trinity, the Bodleian, the Sheldonian (complete with marquee and Bankers’ function!), Hertford College, the Radcliffe Camera, All Souls, Oriel and of course his own beloved Merton, was full of amusing anecdotes, interesting historical facts and the passionate rivalries between the colleges and their different quirks and customs. The Bear pub, with its myriad ties, hanging from the walls; little lanes and back alleys, we were fully immersed in a University Challenge extravaganza!

The two hours seemed to pass very quickly, but Martin had advised us of a suitable hostelry for a late luncheon. Fish and chips, with a half-pint of local beer, at the Turf, an ancient and historical tavern down a lane by the Bridge of Sighs, was a welcome repast.

Once replete we ventured forth, across the meadows and past Christ Church, then back towards the Ashmolean in time for our GB service homeward.

Another good U3A day out.
Liz Cooper

Enid Norbury:
Thank you for shepherding us on the recent trip.  It was a very pleasant day as I was able to visit Worcester College gardens and also see a splendid new building recently built there. My granddaughter was there a 
few years ago and the garden is beautiful so I do like to see it from time to time; I was very lucky to be able to go into the new building too - a most impressive design using lovely creamy stone and light oak woodwork of impeccable workmanship - no expense spared.  It is the gift of an oil prince who studied there, so -unsurprising!

Ron Tarling: I completed my itinerary plus a tour of the Westgate shopping horror searching for the toilets which turned out to be in the roof garden. But as a reward I had a fantastic all-round view of the city!

Ann-Marie Parker
Great day. Walked off the coach with someone who had never been to Oxford before and loved it

Anne-Marie (Pennington)
I just wanted to thank you for arranging a super day in Oxford yesterday, I really enjoyed it and we were so lucky with the weather.

Charles Bridge Norman Anderson

With about a thousand years of architecture virtually untouched by natural disaster or war, few other cities anywhere in Europe compare with Prague. Straddling the slow moving Vltava River ( no, I can’t pronounce it either), with a steep wooded hill to one side, the city retains much of its medieval layout and the street facades remain smothered in a rich mantle of Baroque, Racoco and Art Nouveau, all of which escaped the vanities and excesses of twentieth century redevelopment.
Sunday 16th September
Our Ryanair flight to Prague was uneventful (thankfully) and we were met at a warm and sunny Airport by our excellent guide, Petr who was to accompany us for the next few days. After our check-in at the conveniently situated Ibis hotel, we had a short orientation guided walk around the area before heading into the Municipal House for our pre-booked evening meal. Restored in the 1990s after decades of neglect, it is one of Prague’s most exuberant and sensual buildings in the Art Nouveau design.
Monday 17th September
(A gloriously warm morning). Kitted out with the latest electronic devices (receiver and earpiece) we had a guided tour of the Prague Castle Complex sitting on the hill west of the river. Founded in the 9th century, it comprises a palace, 3 churches and a monastery, and is the official seat of the President of the Republic. It’s larger than the size of 7 football pitches and has 3 courtyards. The enormous St Vitus Cathedral dominates the interior of the castle complex. It also houses the St Georges Basilica with its iconic twin towers, nicknamed Adam and Eve. Tucked around the edge of the complex walls is the famous Golden Lane of artisan houses, with almost every alternate dwelling it seemed, boasting a plaque claiming to have housed Franz Kafka at some stage of his life.
Petr, our helpful and efficient guide managed to book us an exclusive evening River Cruise with a meal including drinks. We were treated to a welcome aperitif, a famous/infamous Czech concoction, maybe called something like bechorovka. (I’m open to challenge on this). These were lined up on our arrival; small shots of clear liquid with no obvious aroma. After checking carefully that there was not the faintest whiff of paint stripper, we downed them trustingly without suffering any long term after effects. The meal included a side of hot cooked ham, dumplings, goulash, pickled fish, fried cheese and many other Czech specialities plus any 3 drinks of our choosing. We all enjoyed a very pleasant evening, and I’m glad to report that the tone wasn’t lowered by any raucous singing. Petr’s english was extremely good and he could tell us everything about anything, in a good and interesting way. He was very proud of the Czech beer (the best in the world) and he advised us to steer clear of the wine as it was rubbish.
Tuesday 18th September
(Clear sky, warm sun). Today we had a comprehensive guided walking tour with Petr taking in the Old Town Square (unfortunately the famous Astronomical Clock was under wraps but luckily someone had a digital watch). Wenceslas Square was given a cursory dismissive gesture by Petr who thought it was without merit, so we passed by the end of it without further ado. Indeed, it has very little in terms of notable architecture and has still to shake off its seedy reputation it acquired in the 1990s. The Jewish Quarter was interesting with its oxymoronic Old New Synagogue (built in the 13th Century). There was also the Old Jewish Cemetery where there are an incredible 100,000 people buried there far outnumbering the 12,000 headstones, as many as 12 layers deep. We also got to the Charles Bridge (as iconic as the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence) which some of us explored at a later date in our own time. In the afternoon we had a guided tour of the National Gallery housed in the Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia. This contained a comprehensive collection of medieval art.
Wednesday 19th September
(Weather getting warmer each day). This morning we took a coach to Benesov to visit the Konopiste Castle, the palatial palace residence of the ill-fated Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914. He apparently spent much of his time at Konopiste to escape the Habsburg Court’s snobbish disapproval of his wife. However the Duke’s fanatical preoccupation was hunting and killing all kinds of animals and birds. One gallery floor is lined with hundreds upon hundreds of stuffed heads and bodies with plaques indicating places and dates. It is claimed that he shot and killed over 300,000 creatures. Just before he was assassinated, rumour has it that he experienced a Damascene moment en route to his taxidermist, and was about to establish and set up the Czech equivalent of the RSPCA, but the Sarajevo incident intervened. (No, forget that. I just made it up but it would be a good story wouldn’t it?).
Thanks to our congenial and pastoral guide, Petr, at our request, arranged for most of us to go to a Classical Concert that evening in the precinct of St Michael’s Monastery in the Old Town featuring popular excerpts from Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Dvorak, Ravel, Verdi, Bizet and others. It was described as a ‘Concert by Candlelight’. Actually, only 2 candles featured, and not 4 otherwise the serene cultural composure might have been in jeopardy (fork handles?). An enjoyable meal was had back at the Municipal House, sitting outside on the terrace. By now, some of us had been gingerly trying out the local wine as an accompaniment to our evening meal, and (with apologies to Petr) found it to be approachable and inoffensive.
Thursday 20th September
(Another warm day). After a leisurely breakfast, we headed up to the Sternberg Palace, home to the National Gallery’s collection of 14th-18th Century European Art including work by Goya, Rembrandt and Durer amongst others. After lunch we took the coach back to the Airport for our return flight back. And the Ryanair crisis this time? There wasn’t one!
A most enjoyable trip, and as ever our sincere thanks to Wynne for a well constructed and informative time in Prague. Oh, and did I mention the weather?
Norman Anderson

A trip to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on Tuesday, 10th July began with groups travelling from Hertford East and Hertford North stations to join up for lunch at the Salvation Army Cafe near the Millenium Bridge. As lunch finished, we could see from the local TV screen that the flypast, to celebrate 100 years of the RAF, had started and as we headed for the Millenium Bridge, which was packed solid with people looking up, we saw the beginning of the Flypast coming over St Pauls, certainly a bonus and not something we had planned. We stood for sometime with dozens of other tourists, workers and members of the Salvation Army watching the Flypast - amazing.
The afternoon finished off with an excellent matinee performance of 'As You Like It" at Shakespeare's Globe to a packed audience, noisy but very well behaved 'groundlings' and a rather tall Rosalind.

Mo Askew

See GALLERY for pictures.

sandringham july 2018 1

On a hot July morning a coach load of intrepid explorers, more used to venturing in to London, travelled to North Norfolk and the Queen’s Sandringham estate. As one who has not been before, I can well understand why she likes it!

On arrival, we were greeted with coffee and yummy biscuits in our own ‘Private Function’ area of the restaurant, where we were supplied with our tickets and thence left to our own devices, with the instruction to return for lunch at 2:00.

Some chose to travel in golf buggies, others strolled.

It was a glorious day, not too hot to wander around the grounds, enjoying some magnificent trees, open spaces, avenues, flower beds, a horse, a Buddha  and, inevitably, acres of parched grass. I particularly enjoyed the pretty Woodland Walk wherein I found some welcome shade and The Royal Dogs memorial wall.

The House itself is, of course, grand, but one could imagine family meals, pianos being played at Christmas, charades in the drawing room and small royals and dogs chasing around the place. Like most homes, there are family photographs everywhere. The stewards and guides were most helpful, informative and unobtrusive.

Passing by the equine statue of Estimate, a winner of the Ascot Gold Cup and one of the Queen’s favourite horses, I searched out the Museum, where one can view carriages, carts, cars and more cars, along with many photographs, family trees, knick-knacks and other memorabilia, all with their own little bit of history, displayed on numerous boards, giving a comprehensive account of Sandringham’s royal past up to the 21st century.

Returning to the main visitors area for lunch, I strolled by beautifully planted lakes, complete with carp, through wooded shades, where fuchsias hid from the sun, and everywhere superb views of the house, from a variety of angles. I was a tad camera happy!

Back to the Private Function area, our pre-booked two course lunch took much longer than anticipated, thanks to a simple choice, but of exceptional quality and over-whelming quantity. The table service was excellent and nothing was too much trouble. We lingered over coffee.

There was just enough time to sprint (!) across to the church, (you know…the one the Queen goes to at Christmas). This is a very pretty little church, with interesting brickwork and inside a beautiful roof, but I think we were all stunned by the silver altar and pulpit.

Inside the gift shops, our Explorers could be found purchasing a variety of plants, jams, pickles, pens, books, magnets, mugs, frocks and tops, all at surprisingly reasonable prices, before a final loo visit and a soporific journey back to Hertford.

As ever, Golden Boy coach and driver were magnificent, but a huge vote of thanks goes to the wonderful Mo Askew for organising a terrific


Liz Cooper

For photos of the outing, see GALLERY


A visit to Cutlers Hall, 'The Worshipful Company of Cutlers', on a bitterly cold February day, proved an enlightening experience.  Situated just behind St Paul's Cathedral and Paternoster Square, we were met by the Beadle, David, and John, the assistant Beadle, and enjoyed coffee and biscuits in the magnificent hall before our tour started. 

A 'House of Cutlers' was mentioned in 1285, the original building bought in 1451. The new hall was built in 1666 but was burnt down three months later in the Great Fire. One article which survived the Great Fire was a wooden carving depicting an odd looking elephant with a castle on its back, a carving dated 1546, being the original meaning of Elephant & Castle and not as widely believed to relate to the Infanta de Castilla. The elephant is significant to Cutlers Hall and all portraits depicting the various Masters depict an elephant in the painting.  Rather a strange carving of an elephant but, as our guide said, most people in 1546 had never seen an elephant!!

Three of our group were promoted for the occasion, Christine and June became wardens and Carole became The Master for the day for the purposes of the tour and wore the appropriate robes.  Cutlers Hall backs onto The Old Bailey and from an upstairs window we were shown Hanging Yard, so called for obvious reasons.  Our tour finished at the magnificent Banqueting Hall with a toast of port to the Master (Carole).

Mo Askew


         Cutlers Hall 02 2018 360x640       Cutlers Hall 02 2018 2 640x360


Forty two U3A members had a wonderful six days in Florence. Our hotel overlooked the river Arno and was a stone's throw from the Ponte Vecchio. Excellent tour guides shepherded us around the Uffizi Gallery, the Galleria dell’Accademia and several others, leaving us leisure time to explore Florence as we wished. We spent one day in Siena and, one evening, many of us went to a concert of Italian opera at a nearby church. Not everything went well. Our flight home from Pisa was cancelled at short notice because of local transport strikes. We had to make a six-hour coach journey to Nice airport in order to get home. Never mind. We did it. Thanks a million Wynne. We are your greatest fans.
Jean Williams