After a very disturbed night’s sleep, we were up and off to the airport on the Heathrow Express. As seems to be our experience these past few days, the train was virtually empty, with no flights departing from Terminal 3 and only a handful of planes leaving from Terminal 2, our destination.
Check in went very smoothly, the Qantas agent confiding that there was no weighing of luggage on this flight, we could have brought the kitchen sink if we had wanted! There’s nothing we have left behind that we think we would need in Australia however, and we were soon off through security.
Heathrow is eerily quiet. None of the usual constant flight announcements echoing throughout the terminal, hardly any food outlets open, and then only for takeaway. Many of the seats have signs on them encouraging people to keep their distance, and there is hand sanitiser on every corner.
Even the internet is super fast with hardly any users allowing some final farewells with friends and family.
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for continuing to follow our adventures, and for all of the well wishes for our journey, it’s wonderful to know you’re out there and we are not just writing for ourselves!
Our next post will be from a very hot Darwin quarantine centre on the other side of the world….hard to imagine! The adventure continues….
Its our last day in the UK. we fly back to Australia tomorrow. Rarely have we felt so conflicted. We are going to miss so much about being here in the UK, and yet we’re have so much to look forward to when we get back to Sydney after our quarantine in Darwin.
So with the day to ourselves, we decided to lace up our walking boots for one last jaunt in the autumnal sunshine. A cold snap had obliged us by providing a last chance to get rugged up, feel our cheeks cold in the wind, and smell the fallen leaves as they accumulate in piles, just urging to be kicked.
The deserted streets of London’s first day of the second national lockdown gave us plenty of elbow room to explore.
We walked from our hotel, adjacent to Paddington Station (chosen to give us easy access to the Heathrow Express in the morning) and headed over to the Thames via Hyde Park and Chelsea, admiring the rows of luxury cars that lined the mews and the boutiques all shut up.
Some of the cavalry even turned out to see us off, which was nice.
From Chelsea we crossed over the Albert Bridge and across to Battersea Park, where we enjoyed freshly filled vegan baguettes in the rose garden.
Then it was all the way down to Westminster Palace with armed police everywhere as the terror threat status is “severe”, before then heading back via St James Park.
We headed back through St. James’s Park, giving Buckingham Palace a wave as we then headed back across to Hyde Park. Just under 19km (12 miles) though some of the tourist highlights of London, and hardly a soul to be seen. Brilliant.
We have had plenty of time to reflect on what we will miss and what we are looking forward to. If I had to pick the top three on each list it would be as follows:
So what will we miss? Well the majority of our “blood family” is here, on a time time zone that makes it harder to connect on line when we go back. It’s not that we have been able to actually spend heaps of time with them, given the constraints of the various restrictions we have had, but the time that we have has been brilliant.
Secondly we will miss the changes that the seasons bring. The colours, the smells, the sounds, even here in the city the autumnal colours are spectacular in the parks. The different feel you get walking in the varying temperatures and weather, the coziness of turning up your collar against a chill wind. We just feel more engaged with the natural world watching everything change.
Finally, and we have talked together about this a lot, we will miss the feeling we get of having more values in common with the Brits. The courtesy shown by drivers, or service providers, pretty much everybody has a please or thank you, or sorry in their sentence. It just feels…nice. There’s no pushing and shoving, no macho aggressive behaviour. It just feels good.
However, Australia beckons with our “adopted family” and lovely fur child, our joint number one on the list of what’s pulling us back. They have been the people who we have spent such a chunk of our lives with, in Catherine‘s case, most of her adult life. There are going to be some wonderful reunions, some long lunches and even longer dinners!
And yes it will also be lovely to be able to sit outside in the evenings, there haven’t been many times we have done that over here. There’s just something so wonderful about being able to extend your outdoor time right though the dark hours especially when there’s a pile of freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters close at hand, and chilled bottle of something crisp to wash them down.
Finally, it is those great wild open deserted spaces, whether they be miles of brilliant white sand on a beach, or the endless eucalyptus forests stretching to the horizon. The emptiness is just so serene, although this year I think it will be tougher to find the quiet spots with everyone staycationing in Australia.
It‘s worrying to leave friends and family here, given the transmission rates, especially since we wont be able to easily get back should there be a problem, but we really have no good option of where to stay. So it’s on that plane tomorrow we go.
Thanks again to all our family and friends here who have made this trip, even in these tough times, so memorable. It has been such an eye opener for us to see three seasons come and go in this beautiful country. To feel the joy of reconnecting with family, and to eat properly cooked fish and chips, which is what we are about to do now as our “Last Supper” 🙂
PS. We both just heard – both negative for Covid-19 – we’re definitely off tomorrow!
Location: Portsmouth, Hampshire, Honiton, Devon and London, UK
We left Brighton and made our way along the coast to Portsmouth, arriving in time to tune in our little TV and listen to Boris’s Saturday afternoon address of the nation. Except the 4pm address was delayed to 5pm….then the 5pm to 6pm….and the 6pm to…who knows when, because by then we were sipping our first gin and tonics with my sister Elle and brother in law John! They prepared a delicious spaghetti bolognaise and which we enjoyed with the usual sprinkling of funny stories, laughter and some rather delicious red wine.
After dinner we heard confirmation of the announcement – the UK is to go into a countrywide ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown as of Thursday the 5th November. All non-essential shops are to close, and foreign travel is banned. Thankfully the Australian Embassy in London countered that to confirm that the repatriation flight we’re on is still going to leave on Saturday, and that we are exempt from that rule.
All too soon it was Sunday morning and we said farewell, pointing Truffy’s nose westwards to a campsite just outside Honiton in Devon.
It was our final chance to use the services, clean out the toilet thoroughly and basically get Truffy ready for storage.
On Monday we were welcomed to our friends’ Karen and Dan house, where we tackled the final washing requirements and they were very conveniently having a new part of their loft boarded…just in time for us to avail ourselves of a small portion of space for Truffy’s soft furnishings and a few bits and pieces we aren’t taking back to Australia. We are so grateful to these generous friends for their welcome help – conveniently located just 15 minutes drive from where we are storing our motorhome.
Over the next three days, we prepared Truffy for winter – draining out the tanks, blowing out all the water from the pipes, and after our last storage experience, setting up some mouse bait stations in the hope we can save some of our wiring from nibbling teeth!
Finally it was time to store Truffy. We awoke to a crisp, clear morning and a fabulous view over the frosty white rooftops of Honiton and to the fields beyond. The perfect farewell memory for this stunning part of the UK. The autumn trees were positively glowing as we drove along empty roads to the storage place and parked Truffy up for the last time.
We both felt rather sad driving away. Although this year didn’t bring us the travel adventures we initially expected, we have had some incredible times these past few months, reconnecting with our homeland, watching the seasons change and relishing all the weathers and temperatures that come hand in hand with them.
While we don’t know when we will be able to return we do at least feel comfortable that Truffy’s in safe hands and will hopefully not be in too bad a shape when we eventually return.
Stepping onto an empty train platform at Honiton, followed by a nearly empty train to London, we were reminded that these are strange times, with more to come. This is the first day of the UK’s second Covid-19 lockdown.
Our first step along the way to getting back to Australia was to get a Covid-19 test done. This was included in the price of our ticket with the results being sent simultaneously back to us as well as Qantas sometime in the next 48 hours. Getting a negative result means we can board the plane on Saturday morning…hopefully sooner than that given our flight leaves in a little more than 36 hours’ time!
We caught a taxi to Fenchurch Street where the testing centre was located. It was all very casual and ramshackle, nothing like the NHS centre I had attended for a test two weeks ago. We were called in to be tested one by one, sat in a chair in a tiny cupboard-like office, beside a bin overflowing with cardboard boxes and used tissues. Definitely not the most hygienic testing facility – we both left feeling slightly violated and with the distinct impression we had been placed in more danger of being exposed to the virus than we have in any of our previous weeks of travel.
We left and caught a very quiet tube train from the city to Paddington Station where we checked into the Hilton Hotel for the next couple of nights. Thanks to the lockdown, there is no eating out at a restaurant tonight – just an UberEats delivery in our room.
We have one final day left in the UK before we fly, and with few shops open and nothing left to do or prepare, there’s a lovely sense of freedom about the day ahead. A chance to just breathe and enjoy London for its outdoor spaces and cool temperatures before our upcoming time in Darwin’s 34°C quarantine.
Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, Hastings, East Sussex and London.
After a lovely morning out with Hayley and the boys, we said goodbye to them and drove a short way south to my cousin’s house in the village of Little Gaddesden. It’s getting to the point now that we are constantly saying goodbye, not knowing whether we will be stopped from seeing family because of Australia’s restrictions on people leaving the country, or by local lockdowns. It is heart wrenching either way.
A lovely relaxed evening with Karen and Iain ensued, a delicious Sunday roast and some fine wine consumed. Monday morning dawned bright and sunny, so Karen, Mark and I set off on a walk (map of our route).
Little Gaddesden is surrounded by the beautiful countryside of the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), most notably the Ashridge Estate, the location of Ashridge House, a magnificent mansion built in the 1800s on the site of an old priory built in the 1300s.
We followed a Roman road (known locally as ‘spooky lane’ with several reports of ghosts and witchcraft links) which was sunk by the third Earl of Bridgewater some time in the 1600s to allow his wife to travel in a carriage down the road hidden from the peasants. The green brick walls covered by winding tree roots and ivy certainly looked mysterious.
Footpaths wind their way through the countryside in every direction, the vibrant colours of autumn catching our eyes. We walked across fields and down lanes, our ramble finding it’s half way point conveniently at a gastro pub in the lovely old village of Frithsden.
After a delicious lunch, we looped back around via a restored ancient woodland and the Ashridge Estate, spotting a couple of shy does in the bushes near Karen’s house. They were members of a large herd of fallow deer living wild around here, descendants of deer originally introduced during the 13th century for hunting and venison.
Tuesday morning saw us once again saying our farewells as we pointed Truffy’s nose further south to East Sussex to spend some time with my mum.
We had a relaxing few days there, making the most of a sunny afternoon for a stroll around St Leonards.
On Friday morning Mark and I caught a train up to London. Mark went off to have a look around the outdoor shops while I caught a tube across to Hammersmith to have some more injections in my neck, always a joy!
London was eerily quiet, being in Tier 2 of the alert levels (high), many people were staying away from the public transport and working from home.
Charing Cross Hospital (not anywhere near Charing Cross Station, interestingly enough!) also had few people around as I found my way to the ENT outpatient clinic, had my temperature checked (35.8°C) and waited for the team to be ready to see me. The procedure went as planned, with some great news – there is no sign at all of any scarring in my trachea – I am 100% open! That’s the first time that has happened since 2016.
It was hard to celebrate however, as my vocal cord was temporarily frozen by the local anaesthetic and I had no voice, but I made my way back across London to reunite with Mark and head back to Hastings.
Fish and chips from the local chippy concluded our time in Hastings, and after lunch the next day (voice back working, to Mark’s chagrin!), we farewelled mum for a few days and travelled a short way across country to Brighton… It is the start of an exciting week – my sister’s getting married (Covid-19 style!).
When bad weather is given a name, you know it’s not going to be a fleeting visit, and this has been the case with Storm Ellen. Ellen is a combination of two storms – a tropical storm that originated off the east coast of the USA which met up with another storm coming from Greenland. Is this just weather or the impact of climate change? Nevertheless, the resultant high winds and rain have been what we have been ‘enjoying’ here the past week.
We moved inland from Bude to a farm near Holsworthy, a small market town just across the border into Devon. It is very rural, with few major roads, predominantly a network of tiny narrow lanes, winding around and over the rolling hills, joining up little villages and farms. It makes for ideal walking and cycling territory, and with a break in the rain we went for an explore.
Holsworthy holds a small market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so we drove in to check it out. It really was small, but we found a lady selling a whole stall of vegan cakes. Being dairy-free, this was very exciting for me (I rarely can consume cake!), and we selected a chocolate orange cake which was divine, and ideal for an afternoon of sheltering from the rain with a cup of tea.
Mark did a little research and found a vineyard about an hour’s cycle away which offered tours and tasting. The wine industry in the UK is growing rapidly and some of the more established vineyards are achieving a great reputation, though to date, British wine accounts for only 1% of consumption here. Its another sign of the changing climate, with the South of France often reaching summer temperatures in the mid to late 30s, and parts of the UK now much more similar to temperatures of France of the past.
We didn’t get very far, with a thorn wedging itself into my rear bike tire, and after 5km I was off my bike and pushing it back to camp. Perhaps it was for the best. Once back, the weather changed , with blustery showers accompanied by strong gusts of wind. We rebooked the wine tasting for next weekend, when hopefully the weather will be more favourable.
Friday morning we drove off to Exeter, about an hour’s journey south-east. My breathing had been doing really well, but slowly starting to decline, so I had an appointment to have some steroid injections at Charing Cross Hospital in London. I farewelled Mark, donned my face covering and settled onto the train to Paddington.
All went well at the hospital, with a successful procedure and my trachea looking really good apparently, and soon I was off to stay the night with friends in Twickenham. I first met Jacky face to face back in 2017, but we had been friends for a couple of years before that, having met online through the support group I run for patients with idiopathic subglottic stenosis. She and her husband Austin were amazing hosts, taking me out in Twickenham to an Italian restaurant, followed by a stroll along the River Thames.
Before I caught the train back to Exeter, we enjoyed a Saturday morning explore along the riverside, opening my eyes to a new side of Twickenham, which I previously only knew for hosting rugby matches. Lovely parks, historic houses, art galleries, barges and birds on the river, it was really interesting and very unexpected.
We’ve been in the UK for six months now, and in all that time had not managed to go for a pub Sunday lunch. Linda, one of the owners of the campsite we’re staying on (Headon Farm), had recommended lunch at The Black River Inn in the village of Black Torrington, so we booked ourselves in.
It was a 40 minute cycle across country to Black Torrington, following some of Route 3, a cycle network along quiet lanes and cycle paths between Land’s End and Bristol. We were grateful for our motors on the rolling hills, particularly on the way home.
A brilliant dining experience, well deserved of their great reputation. They even served Wicked Wolf ale, the beer sold by our old neighbour in West Bagborough.
The coming week is going to take on a different pace, with my sister Helen coming camping with her family, and friends from Honiton also joining us for a couple of nights. We’re really looking forward to it – whatever the weather, we’ll brave it together!
Life is becoming quite surreal, yes more so than usual! As the coronavirus takes hold globally and ever increasing measures are put in place to help protect health systems and patients, our travel life is certainly not going as we expected.
Mr A and I went our separate ways on Sunday, him heading up to Doncaster to get a new levelling system fitted on Truffy (means we can travel with a washing machine instead of giant ramps, and getting us level each night will be much easier). I meanwhile headed south to stay with my cousin and her family in Little Gaddesden in Hertfordshire.
Bumping elbows instead of hugging, administering hand sanitiser at every opportunity and washing hands for a good 20 seconds, we are doing as much as we can, but one is all too aware of the invisible enemy out there. Every cough is quickly smothered with an excuse, a lack of fever or breathlessness appreciated. I had an element of anxiety that I might be introducing our invisible enemy into the healthy household, despite not having knowingly been in contact with anyone with Covid-19. They too had the same fears with my cousin’s daughter Ella still going to school.
My reason for heading south was a doctor’s appointment in London. I’d had some unusual blood test results earlier this year, so was off to see a specialist at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. Until the morning, I was neither sure whether the appointment was still happening, nor whether my mum would still take the train up from Hastings to meet me there.
It turns out, both happened. With unfamiliar trepidation I caught a train down to London, careful to disinfect everything I came into contact with – the touch-screen ticket machine, the arm of the seat I sat in. There was hardly another person on the train.
Mum and I met at Hampstead tube. It felt very strange only to do a very brief and careful hug after not seeing each other since November, but with both of us in high risk categories (mum over 70 and me with an airway disease) we were being ultra cautious. Mum spent the first 20 or so years of her life in the Hampstead/Gospel Oak area, so this was a real trip down memory lane for her.
It was a beautiful spring day, blue skies and a gentle breeze, the air clear and the streets not crowded. We strolled up as far as Hampstead Heath and enjoyed the views over the city, life going on with new leaf buds fit to burst, daffodils bobbing in the breeze and blackbirds singing in the trees. You cant help but wonder whether mother nature has her own plans for saving the planet by wiping out the cause of so much damage…let’s hope not!
We enjoyed delicious vegan lunch in a bright little cafe then it was down to the hospital.
An hour later and we were off, catching the number 24 bus to Camden Road, the same route mum used to take to work when she lived in London, BC (before Catherine!).
It is expected that soon over 70s will be asked to completely avoid any social contact. This may well be the last time I see mum in person for weeks, or even months, but it is worth it to keep her well and safe. We farewelled and headed home on nearly empty trains, repeating the regular sanitising and social avoidance.
It’s a tough time to be travelling. Watching people in France in a two week lockdown makes us wonder what we are in for. Our family is so close, and while we would love to spend time with them, it looks like we might have to keep our distance. Our plans remain forever fluid as we adjust them by the moment, hoping that one day this will be just another experience we lived through and survived.
Our flight from Vienna left without a hitch and we travelled across London to a hotel near Kings Cross, where we had planned to spend the night. We had just missed a heavy rain shower and everything was shining and glistening as we wheeled our cases along the street.
After dropping our cases, we went off for an explore, the spring sunshine coming out for the end of the day.
Seeing this area of London through our post-Vienna eyes we noticed the stark contrasts. The numerous homeless people sat shivering and begging for money along the street were something that was hidden in Austria, but here so visible. The beautiful buildings are still there, but all too often nestled next to 1960s and 70s monstrosities, little apparent thought given to blending the building styles.
We saw a sign pointing towards the Regents Canal, a waterway that has been substantially revitalised in recent years. It was busy with people enjoying Sunday afternoon, strolling home along the towpath with shopping in hand, or stopping at one of the waterside bars for a glass of wine or a pint.
It’s definitely an area that is in the midst of being revitalised, with old tower blocks being demolished in favour of interesting open air bars and shopping, eating and entertainment precincts.
Later that evening we met up with London-based friend Jacky for our first British curry, opting to go to north Indian restaurant, Yatri, attracted by its great reviews. It certainly deserved its good reputation, with delicious food and a modern cosy atmosphere.
On Monday morning we took the train up to Nottinghamshire, jumping off at Bingham Station, where we were met by one of the Fuller’s Leisure team and escorted to Truffy, our motorhome.
They had been working on a few warranty issues and upgrades while we were back in Australia, and after a tour around all the new amendments and features, we drove off up to our friends’ house, just south of Lincoln.
We’ve enjoyed a lovely week with our friends John and Catriona, who so generously have opened their home and driveway to us to allow us to get ourselves sorted. We even have our own wing to the house – it’s going to be hard to leave!
A 14km (9 mile) walk on Thursday from our friends’ home along a rail trail took us straight into Lincoln, a historical university city with a castle and cathedral. We relished the sunny day, wrapped up against the chilly wind that seems to come straight from Siberia!
While in Lincoln we caught up with my cousin’s daughter, Hannah, and treated her to dinner. We can still remember our student days, appreciating any signs of civilisation and it was good to hear how she was doing six months into her course.
Where to from here?
Our plans were originally to head off to Spain on a ferry two weeks tomorrow. But now with the rapidly spreading Covid-19 virus and estimates that around 70% of the population will catch it, being stuck with an underprepared medical system in Spain is not too attractive. Add in the complexities with my airway disease, and you could end up with a potentially life threatening situation (there are no specialists in iSGS in either Spain or Portugal). As borders are starting to be closed off, this seems like an unnecessary risk to take.
So instead, we are planning to practice our relative social isolation by travelling around the UK. At the moment we are thinking that Devon and Cornwall might be attractive options, as well as Wales. Our next couple of weeks will be with family and friends, inter dispersed with some medical visits, and hopefully remaining healthy. We are pretty good at changing our plans on the fly, so will play things by ear over the coming weeks and months…we’ll keep you posted!
Location: Newark & Harby, Nottinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, London and Hastings, East Sussex, UK
Our final week in the UK for a while went quickly, the autumn temperatures dropping and the wet weather continuing. We are so fortunate to have good friends John and Catriona living not far from where we are storing Truffy, with a nice flat driveway on which we spent a good day avoiding the showers and getting him prepared to store.
The Hymer Owner’s Group was again invaluable in its help providing an essential checklist on all the many things we needed to do to ensure our little camper would make it through a British winter unscathed, and we set about draining tanks, blowing water out of pipes, cleaning and removing soft furnishings. We are so grateful for our friends’ large attic space where we have stored anything that might freeze or suffer from damp.
We made sure we were finished by the weekend when friends Stuart, Karen, Barny and Mel arrived for a farewell/reunion, revisiting our memories of our last time together back in June in La Marche, Italy. It was a fun weekend with a few gins sampled from around the country – with contributions from as far apart as the Outer Hebrides, Cornwall and Hastings.
While the others enjoyed the Wales-South Africa rugby match on Sunday morning, we jumped on our bikes for a final ride, enjoying the emergence of bright sunshine but braving the chilly temperatures to ride 15km along a rail trail from the village of Harby to the River Trent. Apparently funding has been secured by a community group to extend this path all the way to Nottingham – we look forward to doing that once it is completed.
Sunday afternoon saw us heading out for a stroll around Whisby Nature Park, an old quarry which has been transformed into a wetland environment with walks and bird hides.
Our short walk blew out the cobwebs before we all farewelled each other until next year.
On Monday it was time to drive to Hawton Waters to store Truffy. We left him locked up safe and sound and went off on our way. From here we hired a car and drove south to Milton Keynes.
Mr A: While Mrs A was off to London then Hastings I had a few magic days with my daughters in Milton Keynes. I would count as the highlight of our trip this year the opportunity to spend time with them, and their children. two of my grandkids were away with this time, but the two who were around were plenty to handle!
I am just amazed when I watch mums of young children just power through the endless challenges of parenting, especially when it’s school holidays as it was this week.
We had a couple of outings, a walk along the River Ouse was declared “enjoyable” by my older grandson, quite an accolade really considering mum had to prise him away from his Minecraft game!
That night I took my two daughters out for a meal, and what an absolute pleasure that was. Turkish and Lebanese fine dining, in the best company.
Wednesday was a trip out to an open farm, the coldest place I have ever stood in. I have gone so soft in the Australian sun. The boys loved it though, interacting with the animals and playing on the farm toys.
Mrs A: Mr A dropped me at Milton Keynes Station and I took the train into London. There I spent a lovely evening in Twickenham staying at a friend’s house. Jacky is another of the wonderful women I’ve met through my rare disease – making special friends is certainly one of the unexpected benefits of running the support group.
Tuesday morning saw me back at Charing Cross Hospital for my next airway examination and set of steroid injections. I was fairly anxious about this appointment given my breathing had declined over the past month, and I was worried the scarring was quickly returning. It was with some relief I was told I just have an infection and the scar has remained at bay.
After my appointment I travelled over to Charing Cross Station (nowhere near the hospital of the same name) and met my mum at Trafalgar Square. We spent a great afternoon visiting the Royal Acadamy of Arts for an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s self portraits followed by a browse around the Covent Garden Market stalls.
We concluded our London day out with a pre-dinner drink at the Fortnum and Mason Wine Bar, followed by dinner at Viet Food in Chinatown.
It was a fun mother-daughter catch up and chance to treat mum for her birthday which I missed in September.
Wednesday was an opportunity to spend some time with my 97 year old grandmother. She has been unwell recently and spent some time in hospital with pneumonia and cellulitis, and hearing she was back on antibiotics I made it a priority to get in and see her. It’s one of the challenges of travelling, especially when you’re on the other side of the world, wondering whether it will be the last time you see someone you love. She was in great spirits, rosy cheeks from her infection, but still full of smiles and laughter and could still remember ‘Catherine visiting all the way from Orstralia!’.
Thursday: So now its time to head back to Australia, heads crammed with memories of so many wonderful experiences. Time with friends and family, as well as learning about so many new places. Our dream to travel in Europe, converted to memories of 8 different countries.
People travel for pleasure for lots of different reasons. For us it‘s the opportunity to make new friends, deepen the existing relationships we have, explore new countries and try to understand a little of their culture and history. It’s been simply amazing. To get to share this with adventure with someone as smart, funny, positive and gorgeous as my wife/husband – truly awesome.
Sunshine is never guaranteed in the UK, particularly during September, but we were very fortunate to get a glorious weekend served up. Despite having a bad reputation, Friday the 13th dawned bright and sunny and mum and I left Hastings and drove over to my sister’s home in Brighton.
After a little shopping, mum and I met Helen and niece Isabel for lunch in a local pizza restaurant, Fatto A Mano. Named as one of The Guardian’s top independent pizza restaurants in 2015, they are well known in Brighton and Hove for their light pizza bases and delicious toppings. They even had three choices of vegan pizza meaning I could join in with a flavoursome meal!
We had a lovely afternoon around the shops in Brighton and North Laine, after which mum drove back to Hastings.
Saturday morning, Helen and I said goodbye to Stu and the kids and went up to Brighton Station to catch a train to London for a sister escape. Helen and Stu both work so hard with their children and work life, and H really deserved a break. For me, selfishly perhaps, I adore my sister’s company and over the past two decades have not enjoyed it enough, and so wanted just one night for the two of us to chat, enjoy and just be together.
Our intention was to whizz up to London, leave our luggage at our hotel and explore. Unfortunately the trains had other ideas, and what should have been an hour journey took around three hours and three trains! It seems Friday the 13th’s reputation has transferred to Saturday the 14th.
Finally we did make it to our hotel near Earl’s Court, and St James’s Park was our next destination. We have memories of visiting this area as children on day trips with our mum, feeding the sparrows with pots of seed bought from little old men, now long gone. The weather was spectacular, and perfect for walking through the gardens.
St James’s Park is the oldest of the royal parks and is surrounded by three palaces – Buckingham Palace is the most famous, St James’s Palace, built for Henry the 8th in 1532, and the Palace of Westminster (dating back to the 11th century) – better known these days as the Houses of Parliament (which has been held there since the 1300s).
Horse Guard’s Parade remains part of the park, created during the 18th century, and too are the golden ornate gateways dedicated to the dominions – Australia, South Africa and Canada.
From here, we crossed into the cool shadiness of Green Park and made our way over to the Canada Memorial for a sit down, watching as wood pigeons flew down for a drink.
After all this exploring we went back to the hotel for showers and to get ready for our night out.
We had an early dinner at a delicious Thai restaurant near Earl’s Court Station (Siam Secret – definitely recommend for authentic Thai food) before catching the train to Piccadilly Circus and the Princes Theatre for our evening’s entertainment – The Book of Mormon. This show is one of the most successful musicals of all time, and the 14th longest running show on Broadway (as of July this year).
We really enjoyed the show, packed full of laughter. Maybe don’t go along if you’re sensitive to the odd swear word, a Mormon or not open to thinking slightly differently about religion (apparently 10-15 people walk out of the show each night)) but for entertainment value it was fabulous.
We exited the show on an absolute high, wishing the show could have continued for another hour, and strolled around to Leicester Square, Chinatown and Covent Garden, just people watching and lapping up the atmosphere of a Saturday night in London.
Sunday: Our night in the hotel included breakfast, so we feasted to get our money’s worth before rolling out of the door on Sunday morning for a stroll. We had no plan as to where to go, but explored the streets of Earls Court and Kensington, deciding it would be an area that would suit us quite nicely, if anyone out there would be willing to donate us a house or apartment!
We wound our way through the streets to Kensington Palace, which has been in the royal family since the 17th century. Presently it is the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Catherine) among others, but like the Queen, they didn’t invite us in.
We enjoyed strolling through Kensington Gardens and through into Hyde Park, finding ice creams on our way through. We stopped at the Princess Diana memorial fountain, a circular water feature made from Cornish granite, full of children playing and visitors cooling their feet. We of course had to join in.
As our afternoon led to a close we were sad to head back to the hotel and collect our luggage, and make our way in separate directions home.
It was a fantastic weekend – so special spending time with my mum and sister, every moment and memory treasured. Helen headed back to Brighton, while I travelled north to meet up with Mark and his daughters in Milton Keynes.
Friday: We farewelled mainland Europe and after a four hour cruise from Dieppe to Newhaven were soon pulling up at the campground in Brighton, now very familiar being our third visit in Truffy.
My sister Helen soon arrived with our niece and nephew for a visit, and presents were exchanged – a birthday gift for Elliot and a little something from Slovenia for Isabel. Our next stop was one of the many fish and chip shops along Brighton seafront, where a feast was purchased and taken to the Hilton Hotel. There we joined Mark’s daughter Hayley and her children Luke and James who’d travelled down to join us for the weekend. We munched on our goodies before helping put the kids to bed for the night.
Mark and I strolled the 4km back to camp along the seafront, welcoming the chance to walk off the fish and chips and stretch our legs after a big day of travelling. We’ve gone back an hour on our journey across the English Channel too, and are feeling the jet lag!
Saturday morning we were off back to catch up with the family in Brighton.
Mark joined Hayley, Luke and James on an open top bus tour, then I met them at Brighton Pier, soon to be joined by Helen, her fiancé Stu, and their kids. Officially I think we worked out these are step-second-cousins, but we decided to just call them cousins. They all got along just fine given it’s their first visit. We hope it isn’t the last.
We had a lovely morning with them, and in the afternoon Mr A and I both had hair cuts to make ourselves more presentable!
All this family action has not only been to welcome us back to old Blighty, but also to help celebrate Mr A’s birthday. We concluded our Saturday with a celebratory delicious curry and some fine wine with Helen and Stu.
Sunday morning dawned clear and crisp, and Mr A was soon back on another open top bus with Hayley and the kids doing another tour of Brighton. I joined them later for a spot of lunch on the beach.
It was great seeing the boys enjoying their time on the seafront. Having grown up near the beach just along the coast, I was able to share all the games and adventures Helen and I had enjoyed in our childhood, and soon had Luke and James hunting for sea glass amongst the pebbles.
Before long it was time for us all to catch the train up to London. Hayley, James and Luke were heading home to Milton Keynes, while Mr A and I had booked a hotel for the night and were meeting Zoe, Mark’s oldest daughter for a birthday eve dinner in Chinatown. We ate a delicious Vietnamese meal at VietFood, coupled with a bottle of French red. It was great to spend some time with Zoe minus children, lovely as they are.
It always amazes me how the streets of London are never quiet, even on a Sunday night. Especially around Leicester Square there were street artists, break dancers, buskers and many visitors, all vibrant and exciting. By the time we farewelled Zoe, however, we were exhausted and ready to go back to the hotel and crash.
Monday morning was Mr A’s birthday officially, and we were at the location of his chosen birthday gift bright and early. He’d chosen a Tudor watch – the sister company of Rolex. He’d been wanting a watch since his 60th birthday but it has taken until now to select the right one. The chosen option looks fabulous and makes for a very happy Mr A.
There followed a little browsing around the shops before meeting up with ‘best man’ Martin for a spot of lunch…
Mark and I have not had cold weather for around four years, so do not own any suitable clothing for the dropping temperatures. We decided that wearing all our clothes at once was getting a little tiring and that we ought to invest in warmer coats. The streets around Carnaby Street helped us out there.
After a successful afternoon’s shopping, we travelled back to Brighton, bidding farewell to Helen, Stu and the kids on our way back to Truffy.