Checking out the Motherland and preparing for Europe

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Europe » United Kingdom
June 11th 1974
Published: September 22nd 2021
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I was met on arrival at the Sundowner’s base in London by my Sydney girlfriend Sue and we hung around for about an hour, lining up accommodation, collecting letters and luggage, and saying my various goodbyes to all my fellow travellers of the last 80 days. We then booked into the Hotel Trianon in Earls Court (where else would an Aussie backpacker go?!) at a very moderate GBP5 per night B&B for a good room with its own facilities.

That afternoon, we went into Piccadilly Circus to check it out and ended up taking a 90 minute tour of London (75p) on a double decker, giving us the full transport treatment of cab, metro and d-d bus all on the first day. We saw all the main sights of London and got orientated, so it was a really worthwhile trip.

The following afternoon, some sightseeing preceded a photo stop with all the birds in Trafalgar Square. We then hopped up to Oxford Street for some shopping at Marks & Sparks and Carnaby Street, before catching the tube back from Piccadilly. We had dinner that evening with Bob and Julie (who by that stage had become an ‘item’) at the Hot Pot, a great meal of minestrone, spag bol and apple crumble, washed down with a wine. We all then went down to Sundowners for a nostalgic viewing of the overland film and the few grogs with the ex-troops at ‘The King’s Head’.

After breakfast next day, we took the tube into Green Park and walked through this and St James Park. We also checked out ‘Buck House’ and Westminster Abbey etc on the way to Whitehall, where we got to view the Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard and the Horse Guards. I then took the tube to Moorgate by myself where I met up with my English cousin Peter for lunch, steak and kidney pie with cauliflower and a pint of bitter – good English tucker! Then it was back to meet up with Bob and Sue at Earls Court and then out to Northfields to check out some second-hand Kombis for our upcoming Europe trip. We weren’t very impressed with either the quality or the prices, so we decided to leave any further searches until after the weekend.

The following day we took the 9am tube to Liverpool St Station and then connected with the onward train to Cambridge (1 hour trip, GBP1.60 fare). We arrived just before midday and had a rip-off lunch before taking a 30-minute canoe trip up the River Cam. After that it was just a relaxed stroll through ‘The Backs’ of the University Colleges, checking out the punts and the lilywhite sunbathing students as well as the great architecture and gardens. The city itself is not surprisingly very student-oriented with a predominance of semi-detached houses. We were very lucky to get a warm cloudless day for our trip. Around mid-afternoon, we decided to make it up to Ely so we hitched the 16 miles there with a minimum of hassles. We checked out the famous cathedral, which was unfortunately covered in scaffolding, and listened to the choir practice before making it back to London on the 6pm train. From there it was a late Chinese dinner at Earls Court before crashing around 10pm.

First trip next day was down to Buckingham Palace in time to see the end of the Parade of Trooping the Colour. Very colourful with the Horse Guards, Palace Guards, Grenadier Guards, Brass Bands etc as well as a brief glimpse of ‘Ma’am’ taking the salute on her pony, while the rest of the Royal Family gave us the royal wave (not personally!) from the landing in the Palace. We then made our way to Baker Street for Madame Tussauds Waxworks, which was good value as there was a greater variety of celebs than I had imagined. Our evening activity was a trip into Leicester Square for dinner at the Golden Egg – a good value portion of minestrone, ravioli and pancakes. We then took in a midnight showing of ‘Papillon’, which was probably a bit disappointing after reading the book. We got out after 2pm and with the lack of taxis we had to walk all the way back to the hotel, a full hour’s walk but a good view of London at night.

We slept in next morning (well, it was a Sunday!) until 10am, but so too did the cooks so we didn’t miss breakfast. It was a late getaway, and we didn’t reach Petticoat Lane until midday. It is a great market to just wander through, but I suspect buying clothes there could be a bit of a hassle. From there, we walked down to the Thames, crossed over the Tower Bridge then returned to the city over London Bridge. We took the tube from Monument through to Charing Cross where we had lunch in bright sunshine in the park listening to the Air Force Brass Band. We followed this up with a 30-minute cruise down the Thames from Charing Cross pier to the Tower Bridge. That evening Sue and I had our final dinner out together at ‘The Hungry Years’, and with Sue scheduled to fly back to Sydney the following day, we decided amicably to go our own ways in the future, given the uncertainties as to where either of us would be in the foreseeable future.

Following Sue’s departure, it was back to the hotel to pick up my kit and go with Bob and Andy to look for alternative accommodation. We settled on Warwick Court, a dormitory type of place at GBP1.50 per night, which was just down the road from the Trianon. Bob and I later adjourned to ‘The Kings Head’ for a few ales and some serious travel planning for our upcoming Kombi trip through Europe. We trekked down to Australia House after lunch to check out the selection of Kombis there and settled on one for GBP830 after many inspections and hassles, especially over the oil leak. We then met up with Greg, from Le Mans Pacesetter trip, who checked out the mechanics for us and gave it a pretty good bill of health. Finally, we took it for a test run out to the Crystal Palace campsite before catching the tube back to Victoria for a few celebratory ales.

Bob and I were downtown early next morning to sort out our finances with the bank and to join AA (GBP27) and get 6 months van insurance (GBP129) before going up to Sloan Square to complete the Kombi deal. A drive around in the Kombi with Andy, Julie and Peta preceded a celebratory lunch.

We vacated our dormitory accommodation at Warwick Lodge early the next day and took the Kombi to a quiet spot to rearrange and pack. Back to Earls Court for breakfast but couldn’t park due to parking meters and residents permits, so finally gave it away and made it over to Crystal Palace. It took over an hour to get there due to my poor navigation, but we finally checked into the campsite there for 4 nights at 75p per night. We then made it into town by bus and first to pick up the insurance, maps, guidebooks and a GB sticker. Attempts to find a duplicate key, bookshop and channel crossing booking were both unsuccessful and frustrating.

Late that afternoon, I took a train to Moorgate where I met up with cousin Peter after work. We then took the overground up to Hatfield, arriving around 7pm. A short walk around Hatfield showed me the local countryside, Hatfield House, and many rows of really attractive terraced houses. I went out to dinner with Peter and Ruth to the Salisbury Inn, where I had a great meal of asparagus soup and veal Cecile, as well as good service. We talked and drank till about midnight before we returned, and I crashed at their place.

It was a late rising next morning with Peter’s alarm clock failing him. But I had a delicious breakfast of cereal, bacon and eggs before joining Peter on the train to his office at Victoria. Bob and I then finally managed to book a ferry crossing to France with Hover Lloyd for GBP20.50. We strolled along the Mall to Piccadilly Circus in the bright sunshine and then picked up some brochures from a couple of tourist bureaus before retiring to Crystal Palace after lunch. The afternoon was spent mainly at a wholesale grocer where we picked up a heap of canned groceries as well as a stereo cassette unit for the van. Then it was back to camp for a clean-up of the Kombi before retiring for our first night in the van.

Next morning, we tried our first home-cooked breakfast of porridge, toast and jam, which was moderately successful. A shopping day, first locally, then down at a major complex at Croydon netted us utensils, books, insurance etc. A macaroni meal in Trafalgar Square preceded a visit to the Odeon theatre to watch the highly amusing movie ‘A Touch of Class’. From there it was a walk to Victoria Station to catch the last train back to Crystal Palace.

Our final day in the UK (this time around), a Saturday, was basically just a day of preparations before heading off for our Kombi tour of Europe. With most shops closed, it was a day of sorting through all our belongings, down to the laundromat for a complete wardrobe wash, and the finicky job of trying to fit all our gear into the smallest spaces in the van. We met up in the afternoon with Julie and Peta, who were back from staying with Peta’s aunt in Surrey, and spent most of the time with them and Andy having a few ales and talking about times ahead. We had a final English meal together at the campsite before retiring early so we could all get away early the next day.


22nd September 2021

I can't wait to read about your next adventure...
which I'm sure will bring back many memories!
29th September 2021
Sue at Cambridge University

Nice setting
Good memories. Travel fills the soul.

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