This week we returned to England after 659 days of travelling the World. We departed Riga, Latvia with heavy hearts. A quick taxi ride to the airport (10 LVL) and then it was into the hands of RyanAir. We had to queue up to pay a security tax of €7 each. The queue was very long and hardly seemed to move, then a member of the airport staff went to a machine that looked like an ATM, this caught my interest and that of a few other people who were queuing.
I left Mrs.R in the main long queue for the official counters, and walked over to join the very short queue at the machine, paid with a bank card, and saved lots of time and aggro. Great, a good start to our bucket flight back to Blighty.
We then checked in at the RyanAir desk which was almost empty because the majority of passengers had remianed in the long queue to pay the security tax.
We quickly zipped through the security check, even with us both getting a thorough pat down, and then with a quick flash of our passports we reached airside.
There was not a lot in the airside section used by RyanAir, just a couple of shops, a cafe, and a moneychangers, but there was a smoking room, which made me happy. Even if there had of been more shops I doubt any of the passengers would have gone on a spending spree because RyanAir impose a very strict ‘one bag only’ allowance.
Boarding the ‘plane was a bit of a ‘free for all’ mainly because RyanAir do no allocate seats, but we got seated together. The ‘plane was almost full, but there were two seats vacant across the aisle from my seat, so after takeoff I changed seats, which meant we both had a decent amount of room. Highly unusual for a RyanAir flight, but most pleasant. The cabin-crew, trolley-dollies, or whatever politically correct name we’re supposed to call them these days were also unusual. Unusual in the fact that they were all very friendly and pleasant, not the normal rude crew we’ve experienced previously on RyanAir, which made a journey we were not looking forward to, because we didn’t particularly want to return to England, all the more bearable.
Once at Stansted airport we spent 40 minutes in yet another ‘free for all’ queue at immigration, passport control. As we stood, the only Brits, in the ‘queue’ with millions of other people, by which I really do mean millions, the ‘Welcome to United Kingdom’ signs loomed large above our downcast heads. It was true, we were back ‘home’.
Needless to say we got on the slowest queue. Eventually it was my turn, followed closely by Mrs.R. We were both scrutinised intently by the stern looking immigration officer. For the sweetest split-second it felt like we were going to be denied entry to Britain, but alas he waved us through. 😉
We walked through arrivals and we purchased a couple of National Express coach tickets to London Victoria (£10). The bus was meant to have free WiFi onboard, but when it arrived it was a replacement coach from KingsFerry, and there was no WiFi.
That was only the start of the amusement. The driver had a GPS stuck to the windscreen and was using it to navigate into London. We had only been heading down the M11 for about 10 minutes when the GPS told him to take the next exit, which he did, the direction was incorrect, but luckily he figured this out and rejoined the M11 heading South.
For some reason he kept the GPS on all the way to London Victoria coach station, and seemed to enjoy conversing with it. We were sitting in the front seats of the coach directly behind the driver, so Laura engaged the driver in conversation while I looked out of the window at the passing city scape. Although in her defense he did start the conversation, and being a serious chatterbox she was happy to be engaged.
The driver was a typical professional driver, he constantly moaned about black-cab drivers, buses, and more or less everyone on the roads, without any sense of irony that he too was a bus driver, all be it with a posher bus.
Despite us both having distinct London accents, the coach driver obviously thought it was our first time in the city, because he gave us a running commentary on all of the major landmarks; the Gherkin, St.Pauls etc. Laura happened to mention that we hadn’t seen the Shard, to which the driver said, ‘you should have told me, I’d have driven you right past it’. The driver and Laura chatted all the way from Stansted to Victoria which meant the journey went quite quickly, and it didn’t feel long before we arrived at our destination.
Video of the drive into London
The fun continued at Victoria Coach Station. We stopped at the entrance, unable to drive in to any of the coach bays, because there was a coach in front of us which had broken down. Our driver was not keen to let folks off the coach, (health and safety yadda yadda yadda) even after Laura promised to start a riot. 😉
After a while of sitting on the coach which was half in and half out of the coach station, and with much talk between our driver and various members of staff at the station one of the passengers, a Spanish lady, came to the front of the bus to ask what was going on. The driver told her he couldn’t get in to a parking bay, so therefore he couldn’t let any passengers disembark. The lady didn’t speak any English, the driver didn’t speak Spanish. It was interesting watching and listening as they both yacked away at the same time, neither of them listening or understanding. Eventually the lady returned, unimpressed, to her seat.
Laura then decided that she’d had enough ‘being held captive’ so she stood up and told the driver to open the door. I think he was about to refuse, but saw that Laura was going to open it anyway. She’d seen the door release button on the dashboard, so she was prepared to make her escape. 😮 The driver opened the door, just as Laura saw that several of the coaches that had by this time backed-up on the main road outside the coach station were starting to offload their passengers directly on to the tarmac. Apparently not all coach drivers adhere to the strict health and safety rules.
So, after what felt like longer than the actual journey from Stansted to Victoria, our waiting came to an end, we were free to breath fresh air. By which I mean we were back in London proper with all the lovely car fumes etc. It actually felt surprisingly good to be back ‘home’.
Having had enough of travel for a while we postponed jumping on a train to Croydon, and instead decided to have a late pub lunch at The Willow Walk Pub opposite Victoria train station.
It felt weird going in to the pub, we’d been there before, when we were last in London, and although that was only two years ago, it felt like a different lifetime.
The pub was busy, not surprising as it’s a Wetherspoon pub, they’re known for their reasonably priced booze and food. We scanned the bar hoping for some interesting dark beer to wet our palates. We are both now fans of black, or dark beer, having drank rather a lot of it during our recent travels.
We were in luck as they had several guest beers on, we ordered a couple of pints, one Market Porter and one Dark Star Porter.
We found a table and perused the menu. It was Thursday, which meant it was Curry day! We ordered a chicken korma for Laura and a lamb rogan josh for me, both curries were served with pilau rice, naan bread, poppadoms, and mango chutney. The beer was good, the food was decent. We sat, we chatted, and eventually we left the pub to catch the train South.
We finally made it to Croydon, walked to our hotel which was to be our home for the next three nights, and called it a day. I was sound asleep by 8pm.
We headed into central Croydon. First off we went to the Post Office to send off my old driving license for renewal, and we then killed a some time doing a little light shopping, with a quick pint in the Weatherspoon pub in George Street. Well a pint of beer for me, but not for poor old Laura was the nominated driver because the next stop was Avis car rental on the Purley Way (Ampere Way) and as my driving licence photocard had expired I was excused from driving duties.
Hire car collected we drove, by we I mean Laura drove, to my parents house for ‘family business’, which occupied us for the rest of the day.
Shopping madness ensued. We headed over to Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent. First stop was John Lewis to purchase an electric razor for my father. Family commitment out of the way, it was then in to Zara and a new Summer suit for me.
I left Laura in Starbucks not drinking coffee.
She was happy sipping an apple, pineapple and kiwi fruit smoothie, the colour of which resembled baby poo, no doubt telling herself it was healthy. While Laura relaxed with her fruit drink, I sneaked off to the Apple Store with the excuse I was going to have a cigarette and visit the lavatory, but all the while I was buying us an iPhone5 each, and an iPad 3. The shopping experience in the Apple Store was very interesting. Their computer system was down, so all payments had to be done the old fashioned way, with a carbon slip and a manual swipe machine. It was all very 20th century for a 21st century product.
I returned to Starbucks and presented Laura with her with brand new shiny iPhone5. She was her normal enthusiastic self, bursting in to tears. They were not tears of joy at receiving the gift of an iPhone5, which she’s wanted since it was launched. They were tears of I don’t know what. My darling wife is not a fan of surprises. After her tears had stopped streaming down her face, Laura decided a white iPhone5 was not for her, so we both went to the Apple Store to swap one of the white iPhone5’s for a black iPhone5. Mrs.R said she’d told me that she wanted a black iPhone5, but apparently I don’t listen.
And that was the end of the days shopping trip.
We headed back to Croydon for more ‘family business’ and then we went for a much needed late lunch/early dinner at Combe Lodge. Our first hot meal in two days.
We checked-out of our temporary home at the Kirkdale Hotel, and we were both very happy to leave. It was a grotty dump. It smelt of mould and damp, the bedroom was shabby and small. The included breakfast was put together from very low quality ingredients. We had it only once during our three night stay. The only plus, was the fact that it had free off-road parking.
We motored down to Folkestone for a nights stay at Britannia Grand Burstin Hotel (The Harbour, Folkestone, CT20 1TX – +448456431229). This hotel turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. It was very cheap at only £23 a night, so I was not expecting much, but we ended up with a large room overlooking the harbour. There was free parking, and breakfast was also included, but we skipped it in favour of a sleep in.
On the way down to Folkestone we stopped for lunch in The Hop Pocket pub in Bossington. Then it was onto Folkestone.
Our first task was to sort out 2 nano sim cards for the new iPhone 5’s. We got one on Orange (EE) and another one on the 3 network from the Carphone Warehouse. Ideally we would have bought both on the 3 network, because their ‘all you can eat data’ is excellent, but the 3 shop had no prepaid nano sims, and the Carphone Warehouse only had one in stock.
Then is was off for a couple of beers. First stop was the East Kent Arms, an old school boozer. Sports on the telly, sticky carpet, and crap beer. Harsh but true. Then onto the Samuel Peto for a proper beer. This pub was much nicer than the previous, as was the beer. The Samuel Peto is a Wetherspoon pub which is housed in an old church.
That’s definitely a religion that works for me. A couple of pints of real later and we were feeling good.
To round the day off we had a fish supper back in our hotel room watching the great sea view. We are classy!
Photos of Folkestone
Video of an interesting phone box in Folkestone, Kent
We headed out of Folkestone to our new ‘home’ for the next 2 weeks in Romney Warren at the Marlie Farm Caravan Park. We arrived long before the 4pm check-in, so we did what any right-thinking person would do. We went to the local pub, the Warren Inn.
In the evening we went to the bar at the caravan site, there was bingo in play. It was surreal. There wasn’t a real live bingo caller, it was all televised. Not our cup of tea, but it seemed to be pleasing the other customers.