Published: September 9th 2007September 8th 2007
The prospect of going to England to see Andrew and Sue was exciting for us, as it had been almost twelve months since we said good-bye to them on Mallorca, and also because we had never before been to England, and were looking forward to greenery, clean air and blue skies!
It was great to see Andrew’s smiling face when we at last got through customs at Heathrow when we arrived. Sue and her friend Christina were still in Cardiff, her graduation from Cardiff University having taken place the day before.
Andrew drove us back to the house where he and Sue are renting a room from a young man who has a partner expecting a baby within a couple of months. They moved out into her place for the duration of our stay. The house is small and two storey, very similar to the “houses” we used to see in shows like “George and Mildred” years ago - a living room and kitchen downstairs, with bedrooms and bathroom upstairs, and very small, and attached to other “houses” with a similar layout and design.
Sue and Christina arrived by bus the next day, Sunday, and Christina stayed with us that night.
Andrew slept on the (extremely comfortable and sleep-inducing) couch, Sue and Christina in another room and we in Andrew & Sue’s room. The next day, Sue and Andrew had to go to work, so we and Christina walked down to the old town of Stevenage for a look around and to get a few things from the local supermarket for lunch. After we got back, we walked with Christina to the bus stop where she boarded a bus for Stansted airport, from where she flew back to Germany.
For the rest of that week, we went for a daily walk and got our bearings while Sue and Andrew went to work. We had two days in London, where we took a guided bus tour of the city and explored other sights on foot. The highlight of these two days was the Tower of London, where many people spent their final days before being executed on the chopping block!
Then on the Sunday night we flew to Mallorca. We picked up a hire car - a Ford Ka, really only a pregnant rollerskate, but it was cheap to hire and cheap to run - and drove the thirty minutes or so
from the airport to Sue’s dad’s place. It was OK driving on the wrong (right) side of the road, but I had to keep my mind on the job when we came to roundabouts. We had a lovely week in Mallorca, with great weather, and swam nearly every day. Then on the Friday we flew back to London, where Andrew once again picked us up.
On Saturday we hired a car from Stevenage and on Sunday we all went for a drive to Cambridge, about an hour from here. It is a beautiful city, with lots of history (as so many places in Britain have) and the day was pleasant and sunny, though not overly hot. We had a guided tour on a punt on the river Cam, which flows behind a lot of the colleges associated with Cambridge University. Being a Sunday, there was also a street market, so we purchased fresh fruit direct from the orchardists, and walked around the city to see some wonderful sights, including Cambridge Cathedral and the front view of the university and the colleges.
On Monday we caught up on washing then headed off on Tuesday for Canterbury. It was in Canterbury Cathedral
that St. Thomas Beckett was murdered because of his stand against the reigning king, Henry II (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/becket.htm). We also saw a hospital that he founded during his time as Archbishop of Canterbury. We then headed for Dover, to see the “white cliffs” but decided to by pass it on the advice of the lady who owned the B&B we were to stay at that night. We saw similar white cliffs at Beachy Head, not far from the B&B, and also the giant chalk drawings of the horse and a man with a spear, etched into the countryside to expose the underlying chalky rock. For the next few days we stayed at B&B’s mostly very good although, like everything in England, very expensive. We basically followed the south coast along from east to west, then turned inland and headed for Salisbury Plain, where we saw the awe-inspiring Stonehenge. Then we headed for Bath, which is built on an ancient Roman settlement and takes its name from the ancient Roman baths which were constructed there, and which have recently been refurbished. However the exorbitant cost helped us to decide not to go in and make use of them. We headed next day
(Friday) for Cardiff and met up with Sue and Andrew that night. They drove over after work. That weekend we spent looking around the countryside in Southeast Wales, which contains, in Andrew’s opinion, some of the best and most beautiful countryside in Britain. And so we found ourselves in Laugharne, on the estuary of the River Taf, on Saturday night. After our special dinner in a cozy and friendly Tapas bar for Brenda’s birthday, we went for a walk past the eerie ruins of Laugharne Castle, which is quite spectacular by night. In Laugharne also is the home of the poet Dylan Thomas, which we saw, along with the boathouse he used as a writing room.
On our way back from there, we called in at Oxford, and while it was also a pretty town, and famous for its university, we all preferred Cambridge. We arrived back in Stevenage quite late Sunday night, having had tea at Oxford before the two and a half hour drive back.
While Andrew and Sue were at work the next day, we returned the hire car and caught up on washing and ironing, and some general cleaning. On the Tuesday we went into London
again and continued our walking exploration of some places we didn’t get to see earlier, including Buck palace. We were hoping to have a cup of tea with “her indoors”, but she wasn’t there! How inconsiderate!
On Thursday night we flew from Stansted to Germany, where once again we picked up a hire car and drove to Sue’s mum’s place in Aachen, about two hours away. It was after midnight when we got there, but Sue’s mum Eva and her partner Pit had waited up for us. She had cooked some soup, which we had on our arrival and then we all headed off to bed around 2 am. It was great to see them again, after meeting them for the first time twelve months ago, and later the next day, Sue’s sister Ruth and her partner Vid arrived. The four young ones spent the afternoon cooking and getting salads ready for a big birthday party the next day, which was both Sue’s (25th) and Ruth’s (30th) birthday. We were taken by Eva on a bit of a tour of Aachen, including the art gallery, which was exhibiting work by an American artist Chuck Close. His paintings are of family
members and they are done so well that you’d swear they were colour photographs, but they are HUGE!
The next day we had the party at a little pub in a little town called Nideggen, where Vid’s mum owns the pub. Many members of Sue’s family as well as friends of both girls were there. It was a great night with great food and great beer. Fortunately many people speak good English in Germany (they put most of us Aussies to shame when it comes to speaking a second language), and they were very friendly and happy to speak with us. We left with Eva and Pit around 12.30 and went back home to Aachen where we opened a bottle of red wine and sat up chatting until about 2.00 am. The following day after a very late brunch, we packed our things and drove back to the airport to fly back to London. On Monday we had another catch up day of washing etc. and then Tuesday had our fourth (and last) day in London, where we went to Madame Tussaud’s, the Beatles museum and souvenir shop and St Paul’s Cathedral, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren after
the old cathedral was destroyed in the great fire of London in 1666. I have to say, though, that while the building itself is a spectacular piece of architecture, and looks very impressive from the outside, I must agree with Queen Victoria’s assessment of it, in that I found it “dirty, dingy and undevotional”, and certainly not worth the exorbitant price of nine pounds fifty each to get in!
On our last night in England, Andrew took us to an Indian restaurant here in Stevenage. We had a great meal, and after paying the bill and having what we couldn’t cram into our already overstuffed stomachs made into “doggy bags”, the waiter brought a bottle of champagne “on the house”, to wish us well for our trip back to China. So we poured a politely small amount into our glasses, toasted each other and the staff of the restaurant, quaffed our glasses and resealed the bottle and brought it home with us.
And so we faced the prospect of returning to China, with all its sights, sounds and smells! On the one hand we didn’t want to go back because it would mean the end of the holiday and leaving
Sue and Andrew. On the other hand it would mean we would get to experience some warm weather (the highest temp. in England while we were there had only been about 23 deg.) and a chance to earn some more money and replenish our bank account. We said good-bye to Sue on our final morning about 10 to 7 before she and Andrew left for work. Andrew came back from work about midday and drove us to Heathrow, which is huge and hectic and has unbelievably heightened security measures, so we allowed three hours before our flight to check in.
Imagine our horror and surprise when the guy at the check-in desk told us that he could not put us in seats together, as the plane was already almost fully booked! Despite our protests, he could do nothing for us, but suggested that when the checking in closed, which was about half an hour before the scheduled take-off time, we approach the customer service desk and see if some arrangement could be made to suit us. He said that there was a large tour group of young people, so there would be many singles and maybe someone would not mind
changing seats so that we could sit together. So with little hope of any solution, we went to the customer service desk and explained our situation, and asked if there were any arrangement that could be made whereby we could sit together. The girl said that the prospects did not look good. We hen asked if there was any chance of an upgrade, whereupon she printed two new boarding passes for us and upgraded us to “World Traveller Plus”, which is not as good as business class, but a step up from the “Plebs Class” on British Airways. The seats were good because they had a little more legroom and reclined a little further than the economy seats, so our flight back was quite tolerable.
We arrived back in Beijing around 10.30 am local time to familiar sights, sounds and smells, and set about finding the shuttle bus to take us back to TEDA, tired and flat but in a sense relieved to be back on the ground and knowing that within a couple of hours we would be back in our apartment where we could veg and sleep off the jet lag.
There are more photos below