A Travellerspoint blog

A Country Welcome

sunny 17 °C
View Unnamed Trip on OrlandoN's travel map.

I don’t know why everyone thinks of British trains as being scruffy and never on time. I dare say past neglect has contributed to this now hopefully mythical idea. The fact is, the last two occasions I’ve travelled on trains here, they have been both on-time and clean. Not to mention very frequent.

You may have guessed that Ann and I have arrived in England. Funny really, because we don’t feel we have. Twenty-four hours ago we were saying farewell to family in Perth Western Australia; now we are just pulling out of Salisbury on a train bound for Axminster. The whole process has been a piece of cake in spite of the fact that we are both dishevelled, disorientated and desperately in need of showers.

We left Perth on time at 3:30 pm on Easter Monday aboard an A330 Airbus. The flight was uneventful and we landed in Singapore at about 9pm. To digress a moment, I have never understood why people complain about airline food. I quite like it. OK, it’s hardly haute cuisine, but I’ve eaten far worse. I think the environment contributes to the poor impression airline food has; after all you’re crammed in like battery hens in your seats, dropping great lumps of agneau avec pommes frites down your front every time your neighbour bumps you with his elbow - hardly an atmosphere conducive to fine dining.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. We had a two hour wait in Changi Airport; and while it’s a haven for women with an eye for pointless bits of coloured glass and a nose for exclusive French pongs, I find it all a bit boring. It is however the brightest, shiniest, cleanest and most attractive airport I’ve ever been too (and I’ve seen a few in my time).

The first moment of panic on the trip came when I noticed that the last call for our flight was flashing on the electronic departures board. Ann was working off her terror of flying by indulging in some jewellery shopping in ‘Madame Butterfly’ as I was making my way to Gate C23. I was already hacked off by her incessant griping so far on the trip (something to do with her terror of flying, or so she says); so when I realised I had to dash back several hundred metres dragging her bag and mine, I was ready to rip the head off anyone who got in my way.

Luckily halfway to Madame Butterfly I met her ambling back, oblivious to any urgency and the beads of sweat running down my back. As it was, we ended up at the end of a queue waiting to go through the transit passenger security check; so all was well. We sat at the boarding gate, one side of which looked out on to the planes docked at their stations. Adjacent to our gate sat a huge gleaming white monster that I recognised straight away as the new A380 Airbus. We were booked onto a 747, so I could only imagine what flying on the new Super Jumbo would be like. I was puzzled however by the fact that it seemed to be parked where we were due to board. I spoke to a chap next to Ann who said that it was indeed our plane. Yippee! It seems I was going to get my wish of flying in an A380!

It has to be said that cattle class on the A380 is much like that on any other plane: cramped and noisy. Sleeping was, as expected, somewhat fractured, sitting bolt upright one minute, then to the left side the next and so on. After a few hours of this one eventually sinks into a deeper than expected sleep, only to wake with a start when the ‘hostey’ rattles past with yet another drinks service.

Landed at Heathrow with a small bump (incredible when you think what a gigantic lumbering beast the A380 is). Customs and immigration was a mere formality for both of us. Even Ann being a foreign national was amazed at the swiftness with which she went through.

Now – how to get to Axminster to meet our motorhome sellers. A cheerful lady at airport information led us to another cheerful lady at the ‘National Express Coach & Rail’ booth; with the payment of £94 we were booked on a short coach trip to Woking, then a two hour train ride to Axminster. All terribly easy.

We arrived in Axminster just after midday and decided to have a quick lunch at the station café. The food was served by friendly staff, and we watched the passers-by wend their way to their various destinations. I have to take a moment now to say that since arriving in England (and that was three days ago) everyone has been warm, friendly and welcoming. And it’s not because we come from Down Under. The people have needed no prompting. It’s been fantastic.

We finally managed to call Helen who’d kindly offered to have her husband Steve pick us up in his estate car (station wagon to the folks back home). When he arrived he was nothing if not cheerful and easy-going in his manner, treating us as though we were relatives come to stay. He’s a tall slim chap, with fair complexion and boyish good looks; and the kind of countenance that makes you feel instantly at ease.

We arrived at the James’ home on North Street, a recently renovated semi-detached just two minutes from the town centre. An attractive woman walked down the drive to greet us - Helen, and it was like meeting up with a favourite cousin or sister – instant warmth.

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We stayed with the James’ for 24 hours, in which time we enjoyed all the comforts of home. We ate with them, drank with them and chatted animatedly without the often difficult pauses new acquaintances have. We met Helen’s sister Sophie and her husband Joe, two wonderfully cheerful characters who live three doors down. They invited us all to have drinks at the end of their garden. Nothing terribly exciting in that, one would think except – their garden was a hundred yards long! It was narrow as most British backyards are, but this one (and all the neighbouring ones) climbed up and up and up, a seriously steep incline until we reached a lovely pine cabin perched at the top like an eagle’s eyrie. We all sat outside on the front decking looking out on the glorious Devon countryside, drinking gin and tonic, eating cheese, biscuits and garlic-stuffed olives. It was magic, except that it was very cold and I and Ann were rugged up like arctic explorers.

The next day, after a morning of organising MOTs and vehicle insurance, Ann and I ventured out in, what to me, was an enormously large vehicle, through roads that seemed enormously narrow. We’d booked an MOT nearby in Offwell for Friday; so we decided to stay close to Axminster until then. We ended up at a CL in Musbury (a CL is a Certified Location, a term used for small official campsites catering for no more than five caravans or motorhomes). It was a farmhouse run by a retired couple, both locals, and they were as pleasant a pair as you could hope to meet. We spent two nights there, and I’ve been sleeping more soundly than I have for the past six years. We’d been out buying up all the essentials for the motorhome, which included two duck down-filled duvets – and are they warm and cosy!

Friday came and went, the vehicle passed its MOT and we drove on past Axminster to another CL in Chickerell, just a few kilometres outside of Weymouth and on the south coast. We’re coming up to our second night here, And while it hasn’t been all smooth sailing (driving this big left-hand drive vehicle on these narrow fast roads has left me a gibbering wreck), the weather has been simply fantastic, and we’ve seen some beautiful villages.

We stopped for lunch at Abbottsbury, a wonderfully typical example of British country villages. At the Swan Inn I had a pint of the local ale and a steak and kidney pie and vegetables, while Ann had a wine and a stilton, leek and walnut pie. It was magic and the pub small, cosy and atmospheric. The village itself was tidy and photogenic, with thatched stone cottages hugging the absurdly narrow streets and quaint antique shops, art galleries and the like.

Whilst walking past one of the stone cottages, Ann happened to notice some knitted stuffed toys. There was Wallace and Gromit, some Beatrix Potter figures, and some ‘Dickensian’ mice. Ann tapped apprehensively at the cottage door, and it was opened by an elderly gent who ushered us into a tiny front room. A small, kindly very elderly lady stood up from her armchair and welcomed us – this could only happen in Britain. It was a scene of quintessential country life that seems almost hard to grasp for we townfolk from the 21st century. Ann bought a Dickensian mouse carrying a lantern, and after a few friendly exchanges about the wonderful sunny weather we left.

More soon…

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 11:47 Archived in England Comments (0)

Fear of Flying!

How promises are made.

sunny 25 °C

Fear of Flying
Yes! I love travelling! With a passion, but I hate flying! In fact, getting to the destination has always been an issue for me- particularly if it involves planes. I have an irrational fear of flying and despite all the statistics of how safe flying is- I just don’t believe it until we safely touch down! That’s when I start to relax and take in the first sights, sounds and smells of the country we have landed in.

On the day we travel Orlando says I am a nightmare! The day starts with the final checking of the luggage and the start of my obsessive scrutiny of the location of the passports, e tickets and other documentation. Time for a quick shower, breakfast and then there is the wait for the lift to the airport. Getting to the airport is usually via a kind family member, often my mother- a great traveller. She has no irrational fears and anxieties about travel- she loves everything about it. I wish I had some of her optimism! I always think we will miss our flight despite my mother’s lead foot! We never have.

I dislike airports-in fact I think it is the queuing and the eternal waiting to check in the luggage which starts my anxiety. I am not known for my patience and this is the time I usually get very fed up! There are often lots of people milling around, all looking lost and impatient. There never appears to be enough staff on to check passports, assign seats and check in the luggage. The nightmare continues.

When we are finally issued with our boarding pass O and I head up to get a coffee and have a chat with any of our family members who have come out to see us off. Then, despite the protestations of O I do some shopping- often a bargain is to be found. Funnily enough my anxiety is non existent at this time!

Then we are given a boarding announcement, here starts the irrational fear of flying. I grab O’s hand and charge to the boarding gate, check the boarding pass over and over and stand in queue. My desire to leave screaming from the airport is kept in check with my impatience to get to our assigned seats. Yes! Yes! Let’s get the old, infirmed and families with screaming children on first (groan!)

At last we get to our seats and spend a good ten minutes checking to see where my book and other important items are. ( Essentially to take my mind off the ghastly experience of the take off and landing!) By this stage O has made sure no annoying brat is banging his or her small feet on the back of his chair ( a point of considerable irritation for most flyers.)

When the stewards go through the emergency procedures this is when my palms start sweating and my nerves begin to fray. I check to see where the emergency exits are and count the rows of seats. Visions of planes falling out of the sky and crashing in a ball of flame on the tarmac fill my head!

The plane begins to taxi towards the runway the engines get very noisy and the stewards casually walk away to buckle up. At this point my desire to unbuckle my seat belt and run screaming for the exit point reaches a crescendo! I grab O’s arm for comfort- but by this stage he is a little fed up with my paranoia.

The pilot starts to rev up the engine and then the plane hurtles down the run way. EEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!! More visions of planes exploding at the end of the runway fill my head. O’s arm is squeezed to the point blood flow is stopped and I begin to pray. God and I have this agreement that if we take off and land safely; I will work on being a better person. Lots of promises are made!

(The fact is we travel a lot and we have never had a bad experience flying. But this doesn’t help.) Still more visions of the plane’s wings falling off and the plane spinning to planet Earth.

The plane heads up through the clouds for an eternity and then finally it begins to level out. Yes we made it up safely. Nothing untoward happened. I breathe a great sigh of relief and begin to feel much better. O and I check the menu and in flight entertainment. The meals always sound impressive- but the portion size is a worry! Where is that drinks trolley?

We have taken off safely, God has received many thanks And I promise I will be a better person tomorrow!

AF

Posted by AnnaFisher 02:53 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

School's Out For Summer

semi-overcast 28 °C

Three weeks to go! This trip has been in the pipeline for three years and I must say that despite all this time to plan, everything has been left (big sigh!) to the last minute. I seem to work best under pressure and so am testing this theory out again!!

After working for ten years at Mirrabooka Senior High School I have been granted leave. The school was very kind in allowing me six months long service leave and then another three months (leave without pay) to travel. After some discussion with Orlando and the principal I decided to work first term of the year then take the rest of the year off (i.e. terms two, three and four.)

O and I thought we would like to begin our travels when the weather was getting warmer. As Term One finishes in early April we decided to book our trip then. I have only ever travelled to Europe in the autumn and winter and was really pleased we could go in spring for the first part of the trip. Beautiful temperate weather.

So teaching Term One should be a piece of cake?! Easy? Not so. No, it has been business as usual. First term’s weather is usually hot and humid. I always thought it was rather odd that the Education Department started the school year during the hottest and most unpleasant time of the year. But this year the weather has been a nightmare! Perth has had a heat wave for the last three months and teaching during 40 degrees has not been easy. Three months of unrelenting heat has been awful.

In amongst coping with the weather I have been teaching two new courses of study with mixed year 11 and 12 classes, helping my co worker Lorraine with mentoring a student teacher and running most of the Visual Art classes’ year 8-12. Love my job and I love where I work- the staff are supportive, the students are challenging but real characters and the job is never dull. But this term has been exhausting.

So packing up has taken a back seat to getting the school work up and running smoothly and it is only now I am sorting, packing and getting organised for the trip. In amongst the packing, O and I have been doing the rounds of seeing friends and family. This too has been frantic as we are going out five or six night a week to dinners and get togethers. Fun? Yes, but am relishing time alone, just the two of us when we can!

As Orlando and I are contemplating a real sea change in moving country, occupation and lifestyle, I am feeling excited and a little daunted. I am excited about the prospect of meeting new people, seeing new places, travelling in a motor home and sharing space with by beloved. (The last point is probably the most daunting as O and I have never lived under the same roof for longer than four weeks!) But I am glad we have decided to take this challenge and are joining the ‘not so grey nomads’ in a trip of a lifetime.

Ann Fisher (AF)

Posted by AnnaFisher 23:26 Archived in Australia Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Boxing Clever - A Moving Experience

semi-overcast

OK – where were we? It’s been six weeks and we’re only three from leaving. Organising and packing have been incredibly difficult against a backdrop of the hottest summer on record here in Perth; the heat making it almost impossible to get enthusiastic about boxing up and shifting household items.

Emotionally it’s been difficult too; after all, we’re not just going on holiday. This is a watershed in our lives, planning a (semi-) permanent move to Europe. When you’re twenty you think nothing of moving halfway across the world, but at that age you’re rarely carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. At middle-age you feel like a Galapagos tortoise lumbering along looking for lush grazing fields.

I can’t say it’s not incredibly exciting; it’s just that we’re both too exhausted to think that far ahead. The real excitement starts when we pass through that nondescript partitioned wall at the airport proclaiming ‘Passengers Only Past This Point’.

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I have to say that I’ve made one interesting observation about shifting house. It seems that whenever you move, you invariably have three loads of stuff to sort through – the stuff you want to keep, the stuff you don’t and the stuff you’re not sure about. Well, the first is easy – it’s all the good furniture, the hi-fi and telly, pots and pans, jewellery, pictures, toiletries and the like. The second is equally so – all the broken, worn and tired items, the unwanted gifts, the neglected rowing machine and the things you’ve just grown tired of.

The third category is the tough one – it’s all those things you’ve had with you for years and you just don’t know where they really belong in your life. Often it’s memorabilia – old photos, tacky souvenirs of long-forgotten holidays, meaningful cards from long-dead relatives or former lovers, or items you’re just not sure if you’re going to use in the future. This last category is particularly relevant for the guys, especially if you’re handy. Sheds full of timber off-cuts, boxes of assorted screws, brackets, bolts and the bolster chisel you’ve only used once. All good gear, but you just never know if you’ll need them again.

So what do we do? Well of course we choose the path of least resistance. We box up the ‘don’t know’ items, take them with us to our new home and sort them out at a later date, using the excuse that we’re too pushed for time to decide right now. Of course we know what happens next, don’t we readers? The ‘don’t knows’ are stored out of sight in the new place, anywhere where we’re not constantly reminded that we have to make a decision on their fate. They go in the garage, up in the roof space, the spare room or - the best place - in the shed, where they’re guaranteed never to be found again.

Anyway, before getting off track completely, my point is that this third category almost never gets discarded; you travel through life carrying with you this cornucopia of trash, simply because you can’t part with it.

To my original point – packing has been particularly difficult because we’ve made a conscious decision to sort out the ‘don’t knows’ before we move. However I’m assisted in this by something a good friend once told me, an axiom I now keep close by at such trying times – “if you don’t know if you need something or not, then you probably don’t”.

Thanks Adriaan – you’ve made packing just a little less stressful!

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 23:14 Archived in Australia Tagged packing Comments (0)

There's no Place like (Motor) Home!

OK – it’s been a couple of weeks, and while it doesn’t seem as though much has happened, a huge amount has in fact been achieved. We’ve bought our motor home – yay!

It all happened about 10 days ago on the weekend while Ann and I both sat, laptops on laps, bolt upright in bed on a swelteringly hot Perth day. While she was manically looking on the Net for houses to buy in France, I plodded through entry after entry of motor homes on a site called 'Pre-Loved'.

I found three, all about the same price - around £20,000. One was a 2000 model, a second 2004, and a third 2006. I promptly contacted all the owners for more details, but I was keenest about the 2006 Ford Transit with Italian coach-built body. Keen because, while it was £5000 more than our budget would allow, its newness hinted at a good resale price when the time came to offload it.

I got responses from all three vendors, with a promise to send more detailed photos. Never heard back from the 2000 van; so that left two. The 2004 van looked nice, but the upholstery was beige with huge checks, like a pair of John Daly’s trousers! It also lacked one or two of the items we’d decided were important for our rig.

That left the 2006 motor home, the one we were really interested in. A week’s worth of frantic to’ing and fro’ing by email resulted in us transferring a deposit of £2000 to a seemingly very decent couple living in Devon. I only corresponded with Helen, the wife, but she has bent over backwards to help us.

A couple of obstacles threatened to scupper the negotiations. First off, Helen James and her hubby Steve wanted the cash from the sale to purchase a smaller campervan – they were afraid, quite understandably, that given a couple more months, prices for recreational vehicles would rise as the summer season approached. Having to wait for us to arrive in England meant that their new van might cost them more. Secondly, another interested party was driving down from Oxford in a couple of days. We were worried that any immediate cash offer would ruin our chances. We even offered an additional cash incentive to try to sweeten the deal.

A couple of days passed with no further word from Helen – surely we’d lost out to this Oxford upstart. I was just about to start searching the Net again, when good news arrived. Helen asked us for a 10% deposit, and the van was ours! Phew!

The thought that we wouldn’t now have to hire a car and traipse around the south of England looking for a motor home came as a huge relief. OK, we’re paying slightly more than the original asking price, but hey, a fortnight’s car hire, food and accommodation would have cost the same.

I touch base with Helen every couple of days to ask her how the search for her new campervan is going; we seemed to have established a rapport that goes well beyond two parties in a business transaction. I quietly hope that we’ve already made friends with the James’s – and we haven’t even left Australia’s sunny shores!

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 02:19 Archived in Australia Tagged transportation Comments (0)

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