London Bound

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May 29th 2008
Published: June 5th 2008
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The voyage across the channel was uneventful. I chatted with John, a sixty something retired fisherman who lives near London. As we drew closer to the white cliffs of Dover the weather turned nasty. John thought that was typical. We got off the boat and headed for the information desk. Jack had pre booked two National Express bus tickets online to London for one pound and five pounds respectively. Unfortunately the ferry trip took so long that he missed out on both of these discounted trips. He headed off with the others to pay twelve pound full fare. I headed off with John who said he would give me a lift to London in his car. Trouble is his car was parked in Ramsgate and we had to get a local bus to there.

The local bus took one hour twenty minutes to get us to our destination. I wished I’d got a twelve pound bus fare with the others. It was interesting scenery along the route but the clock was ticking and I was supposed to be at the B&B at around 14:00 in the afternoon. It was about 18:30 before we left Ramsgate after John and I had some take away fish and chips. Took him a while to find the car which belonged to a mate of his. John picked up his friend’s boat from France and gets paid for the privilege. It was a fiat people mover which John wasn’t familiar with. Still he seemed to get the hang of driving it until we hit a plastic bottle on the road that made an almighty din. Luckily there was no damage and it dislodged but it sounded bad for a moment there. After that we made good speed on the motorway. John dropped me off at the end of the district railway line at about 19:30. It was nice of him to give me a lift like that. We shook hands and parted company never to meet again no doubt.

The train pulled out soon after and traversed the ten stations proceeding Upton Park, my final destination. Got out onto the main drag and asked a couple of people where Central Park Rd was. One didn’t speak English and other two were plain ignorant. Panic rose inside we as I wondered if anyone around here had hear of this street. T a bus stop I finally struck pay dirt. A woman gave me clear directions to head toward a roundabout with a statue. Got there after ten minutes and found the road I was looking for with a little local help. I must have started at number two because it took ages to get to 192. When I finally found the place at around 20:30 there was no answer to the door. Then I saw a figure from behind the glass dart past. A minute later a shortish woman answers the door. Tells me that she was soaking the bath when I rang. She expected me at 13:00 and was thinking that I was going to be a no show. I apoligised for the ridiculous delay in arriving. And she offered me a cup of coffee. Also gave me a code I could use to access wireless internet here. That was a real bonus.

As she renewed her bath I tried logging onto the internet. Took me a while to get it up and running. When I did I was hit by a bombshell of an email. A friend has pulled out of our trip to Seville at the last minute leaving me scrambling for alternate accommodation. To say the least I was unimpressed. This is the second time he has done this to me in the space of a week or so. Twice bitten as they say. I sent an email back to him making it clear how pissed off I was. Luckily I was able to cancel the original room for two people and book elsewhere. Bottom line - I’ll never trust this ‘friend’ again. Proves one thing, you have to be flexible when travelling.

So the next morning I find myself stuck in a city I really didn’t intend visiting just to catch up with a person who has pulled the rug from under my travel plans. Not the happiest of situations. I walk around the local area to see what’s to see. It’s not a totally inspiring landscape in Upton Park. Streets are strewn with litter and the weather isn’t exactly benign. I walk down Green Street (the high street of this slice of London) and am taken aback by the multi cultural mix here. There’s Bollywood influence everywhere with a big dash of Caribbean culture as well. There’s a plethora of different shops many of which are eating establishments. Not so many pubs though and none of the little corner variety that I crave to see. England has changed quite a bit.

As the day drags on the mediocre weather takes a turn for the worse. It feels like a Melbourne winter with a constant down pour of rain. I ditch the shorts as a bad joke and change into gear more conducive to exploring polar regions. Is it any wonder that the Brits dream of immigrating to Oz in search of sun and warmth. I grab a bite to eat at a vegetarian restaurant I saw earlier. I discover that it is actually an Indian restaurant that doesn’t serve meat. Not exactly what I was looking for but I ordered a meal there anyway. It was okay without being particularly spectacular. Not expensive but not cheap either. The restaurant I frequented in Chiang Mai Thailand left it for dead. The Asian siren calls again.

I head to The Duke Of Edinburgh for a pint of Guinness or three. The Irish barman is friendly enough and serves me a pint for two-pound eighty-pence. Pretty good value and the foaming black liquid went down like a treat. I told the Irishman that I was heading to Seville in Spain. It wasn’t hard to see the look of envy in his face. After three of these I was primed to head back to the B&B. I checked my email and found that my friend had replied and was expecting me to catch up with a mutual friend for dinner. Normally I would have jumped at the chance of seeing an old friend, However I was in such a foul mood over the cancelled Seville trip I knew I’d be bad company. It’s a real shame as I haven’t seen this person in decades.

The following day I bought a travel card and explored London by bus and train. First off I went to Stratford to find out where my airport bus left from. It was a large transport hub comprising of tube and bus stations. There was an information booth opposite where I got off from on the bus. It looked all official and professional except there was one problem; no one was sitting inside of it. Guess I was asking a bit much expecting an information booth to actually be manned. Even the French aren’t this slack and that’s saying something. So I ask an official looking guy with a badge what’s the go. He directs me over to a far flung spot where a bus has just turned up. The driver tells me that the Stansted airport buses leave from where he was parked every half hour. I’m glad I checked out the lay of the land before fronting up with a full back pack.

I headed off to catch a train, satisfied that I’d done my forward planning for tomorrow’s trip to the airport. In took a tube train to Bond street to see if there was any good shopping to be had. Nothing really stood out. The whole place seemed to have gone up market with multitudes of people flowing along the footpaths. Not really my cup of tea. I abandoned the street after half an hour of wandering aimlessly. I retreated to the underground and took a train to Notting Hill Bridge. I figured it was the same Notting Hill as in the movie so I checked it out. Looked okay but was nothing spectacular. Don’t
Know what I expected to see, Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. Walking hand in hand down the street. Not very likely.

Nature was calling so I headed back to the underground and caught a train to Earl’s Court. As soon as I walked through the turnstile I spotted a hi tech loo to the side. I assumed I’d have to pay to use it but I was wrong. I closed the door and did the deed and washed my hands in the dimly lit space in front of me. Not sure how I was supposed to automatically dry my hands though. I then proceeded to walk the main the street. The place looked similar to how I’d remembered it thirteen years ago but it had also changed. Seemed as if it had gone up market a bit and was probably way out of my price range these days.

Caught a bus heading toward Victoria station. I didn’t have any business there, just wanted to look out onto the street from the comfort of the bus. It was a single Decker which got pretty crowded after a few stops. It was taking its time wending through the heaving city traffic so I hoped out and searched for a tube station near by. I was getting sick of the city with its crowds and bus fumes and wanted to escape to the burbs. The closest tube station I came across was closed. I thought that was a bit strange. A railway worker there said I’d have to walk to Harrods to get onto a train. Sure enough there was a station right next to this temple to consumerism.

It was good to be on a train and away from the jostle of the city sidewalk crowd. Half an hour later I was back in Upton Park. Mind you it was pretty crowded walking up the stairs on this local train station as well. Maybe everyone clogs the system on a Friday afternoon? Had a pint of Guinness and then went back to the B&B. There was a long queue waiting to use the ATM. Maybe there’s a lack of machines over here? Went out again for food but found that the place selling Traditional jelly eels was shut. Bit strange closing your doors before 07:00 on a busy Friday night. Picked up some chicken and chips from Sam’s take away instead. Gave the guy behind the counter three pound and he conveniently forgot to give me change. He aploigised and the chicken was delicious.

Popped my head into a pub on the way back but it looked like a bucks turn inside so kept moving. Checked out the other local and ordered a pint of Guinness followed by a John Smith. (traditional ale) Tasted a bit like watered down Guinness to me. No wonder it’s not a big seller. Barmaid was too busy to chat and everyone else was tied up in their own conversations. Some guy walked up to the bar and began chatting to his girlfriend. H kept squeezing me out which was really uncomfortable. Took the hint and left the pub. When I got back discovered that there were two new mystery guests staying in the next room.

The next day I was off to Seville. Found out who the mystery guests were at breakfast. They were girls from the Czech republic staying over here for a day or two. I also found out that check out is 10:00. Bit of a pain as I wasn’t planning on catching the bus to the airport until 13:00. Was okay for me to leave my luggage. Won’t stay at this B&B again. Don’t think the owner liked me much plus the breakfast was ordinary, room tiny and shower a trickle. Did have great wireless internet on the positive side. So I trot off at ten to 10:00 to kill three hours.

Found a large park down the other end of Central Park Road. Walked across it and headed to a retail center. Discovered East Ham’s high street which seemed to stretch forever with all variety of shops. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be one book store amongst them. Would have liked to have picked up a travel guide. When I got back from this long hike I found a Wetherspoon pub in another main street. I can see why they are so popular. The beer is dirt cheap and they have a good variety of ales. They must be making it hard on the old traditional pub. I ordered a pint of an award winning dark beer. It was okay but I still think I prefer my pint of Guinness. I looked around and was surprised not to see a black face in sight. It was like it was a British embassy in a foreign land where people of Indian and Caribbean descent dominated the footpath outside. Walked back to the B&B and picked up my bags. Don’t think Daisy was too heart broken to see me go.

Waited at Stratford bus station for the shuttle to Stansted airport. There was a group of young Poms smoking and chatting about their impending ski trip. The bus pulls up and everyone throws their big luggage in the bottom of the coach. I grab a seat watch as four skin heads seem to loiter around the bus. They throw a bag or two into the storage area and then proceed to sit right in front of me. I assumed they were English but they poke with what sounded like Russian accents. I hear the clanckle of bottles and then see them drinking beer from bottles. Next they play some rap/hip hop God knows what through a mini ghetto blaster. Oh the joys of travel. I slip on my seat belt and brace myself for a bumpy ride.

Stansted airport is much bigger than I expected. There was even a traffic jam getting to the bus stop bay. I followed the bus group into the terminal. It was pretty busy in the departures area with a plethora of check ins for Easy Jet and Ryan Air. It struck me that this seemed to be a white boys flying club. Nothing like the racial mix in West Ham. Maybe I was just in an enclave and got a jaundiced view of Britain’s current cultural make up? As usual I couldn’t see the departure board so had to ask someone if my flight was checking in. It seemed like there was quite a bit of confusion here as to which queues people should stand in. I had no idea what I was doing and had to change queues after a futile twenty minutes of standing in the wrong line. I saw several other confused people have to change lines when they realised they were in the wrong place. Abysmal organisation skills shown here by the airlines. It seemed as if every Ryan Air flight was departing at the same time.

It took close to an hour to get checked in. Gave me a chance to chat with an English guy who was going on a hire car trip of the region. He’d been to Spain before and was interested in the Moorish history. Took some of the pain out of queuing for so long. It was 16:00 when I finally got my boarding pass and the gate 42 closed at 16:30 or so the boarding pass said. So I did a mad dash to the loo followed by a mad dash through security which was banked up forever. Had to remove my belt again and Scholl my mineral water before being let through. The it was a sprint to the departure gate which seemed miles off. I get there and there’s no one waiting to board. What’s going on I think.

I bump into another passenger flying to Seville who informs me that the boarding gate has been changed to # 56. God they only issued me the blooding thing half an hour ago and change the gate number on me. Ryan Air has a way of putting the adventure back into air travel. When I finally make it to the boarding gate there are lots of passengers ahead of me. Surprise, surprise. I’m convinced I’m going to be screwed when it comes to first in first serve seat allocation. My pessimism was ill founded as it turns out as I scored a window seat in the last row of the plane. An amorous French couple sat next me thinking this is the back row of a darkened cinema. Time to get a room kids. The pilot
launches into his pre flight spiel which closely resembles a standup routine. I think he said if you wish to light up feel free but it will be on the wing of the plane. At the end of his speech he was rewarded with a round of applause by appreciative Brits. That’s a first.

Additional photos below
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5th June 2008

London Bound
In and out of London so fast! It's like you haven't stopped moving since you left Melbourne. Are planning to stay put somewhere for a few days? Let's hope the weather in Seville turns out to be better. Put your feet up when you get there and have a few beers.
6th June 2008

The Tardis?
Is that the Tardis in Earl's Court I spy?

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