Saturday 29th May,2004 Sydney to Singapore to London
Well here we go again. We’re off to Sydney by train and then out to the International Airport for our trip to Europe. Despite major sucking up to the booking-in lady, we don’t get upgraded to Business Class but do get our two preferred seats at the back of the plane. We take off on British Airways at 3.30pm after finding that a whole row in the middle is empty. I jump across even before the plane takes off and have four seats for the whole flight to Singapore. After a couple of wines and a sleeping pill, I sleep most of the way while Mark watches movies. At Singapore we have one hour to walk around the airport before getting back on the plane where we’ve lost our four seats in the middle. No problem as we both pop more pills and sleep for most of the eleven hour trip to England. Amazingly, we manage to get our double membership as well.
Sunday 30th May,2004 London to Chelmsford
Despite being a twenty three hour flight we’ve travelled back in time and arrive at Heathrow at 5am on the 30th. I’m not sure if it’s the sleeping pills or jet lag but I can barely remember meeting Bridget at the gate and driving the one and a half hours to her house in Chelmsford. It’s only eight in the morning when we get here and manage to sleep for a couple of hours. I’m feeling much better now and Mark doesn’t seem to be jet-lagged at all.
Bridget and Andy’s house looks like so many we’ve seen in episodes of The Bill. It’s in a row of semi-detached houses all two stories with a glassed-in porch at the front and a small garden at the back. Inside is small and immaculate and our bedroom decorated in Asian style. Bridget has a quiche and a ham salad ready for lunch then she drives us to her old home village of Stock. It’s only about ten minutes away but we seem to be deep in the English countryside already.
On the way we stop to see where she and Andy had their wedding reception last September. It’s an old mansion with a barn at the back converted for parties and weddings. Just before coming into Stock we stop again to see where they spent their first night. This is very old-world and beautiful but getting quite a wedding theme happening here. We sit in the lovely sitting room downstairs then even have to go up to the top floor to look at the door to their actual room – seriously! Now we have to admire the gardens so Bridget can point out the window of their room. She’s really got to get over this wedding.
Now we drive on to Warley Park to watch Andy play golf. After a couple of holes I’ve definitely had enough so Mark and I sit outside the clubhouse for a drink while Bridget keeps going. She’s back in half an hour and we head for Stock. Bridget’s mum, Judy, has invited us for tea but before we get there we have to stop to see the church where the dreaded wedding took place. It really is a picture with an old graveyard and we even get to meet the vicar.
Judy’s address is ‘Fairlight’, Birch Lane in Stock and is every bit as cute and old-English as it sounds. Bridget grew up in this lovely two storied house set in a quiet laneway with a pretty garden in front and a green lawn at the back looking over even greener pastures and trees. Inside is comfortable and we’re introduced to Judy, Bridget’s sister Sally and Sally’s husband, Eric, and Brambles the dog. Soon Carolyn, Bridget’s other sister, arrives and we all decide to go for a walk before dinner. It’s eight thirty but still very light outside. We walk through the neighbouring lanes and along a greenway next to an overgrown field. We come across the local common which looks exactly what we’d expect a common to be. Men in long whites are playing cricket and are now just coming off for tea. Other locals are out walking their dogs and everyone is rugged up against the cool night air. Having Brambles with us we feel like we’re part of the village.
Back at the house we have a baked dinner with dessert then we all wash up before heading back to Chelmsford.
Monday 31st May,2004 Chelmsford to Aldeburgh
The light coming in through the window is so bright that we’re wide awake at 5.30am. Breakfast is in the sunny dining room downstairs then I ring Dad for his birthday.
This morning we’re off to Judy’s cottage in Aldeburgh. It’s a warm sunny day and after packing the car we set off at 11am. Driving along the A12 we soon turn off to visit the village of Dedham. This is in the Stour Valley in Essex and home of nineteenth century artist John Constable which is why it’s called ‘Constable Country’, stupid. Passing through the pretty High Street we park near the river and walk to the old mill.
We see a row of heads floating past as canoers row along a tiny canal then stop at a lock. Next to the mill a green field, cows and even stiles make the whole thing picture perfect. Walking back to the village we go into the cathedral and visit a few of the local shops. All the houses in the village have thatched roofs and all the houses and shops in the High Street are tiny with baby sized doorways that even I have to duck to get through. Mark looks like a giant next to them.
Now the pub is beckoning so we find a cosy sitting room with old lounges and a huge fireplace. The ceiling is low with dark wooden beams and all the windows and doorways are at weird angles showing just how very old this place is. Mark and Andy have beers while Bridget and I have half lager shandies.
From here we drive to Flatford with Bridget and I in the back and Bridget being the queen of back seat drivers until Andy tells her to ‘shut it’. She doesn’t – go girl! Flatford is also in Constable Country and is even more typical of his paintings than Dedham. We stop the car in a field above the river and walk down past wheat fields and an old thatched cottage.
This place is like a postcard and so very ‘British’ – ducks, cows, a mill pond, an arched wooden bridge, rowing boats, picnicers and walkers. The Poms seem to love walking and they’re out in force here.
Bridget has brought a lovely picnic lunch so we set ourselves up on rugs next to the stream – sandwiches, green grapes (my favourite), plums and pears. Packing up after lunch, we walk past the mill pond then head back to the car.
Driving north we pass Ipswich then turn off the motorway towards the coast. Aldeburgh is a quaint seaside town with a busy High Street where Judy’s cottage is set in a row of old terrace houses. It’s called Rose Cottage and is painted white with pale aqua trim. Inside is unbelievably tiny with a front room right on the street, a kitchen and bathroom behind and two bedrooms upstairs. Mark and I have the big bedroom with a tiny lace curtained window that overlooks the High Street.
After settling in, we sit in the sun in the miniscule front courtyard and have a cup of tea. The cottage is in the most wonderful position with a pub two doors down and the best fish and chip shop in England on the next corner.
Bridget and Andy take us for a walk around town and down to the sea where we see our first pebble beach. They decide to go off shopping while Mark and I have a drink at the White Hart near the cottage. This has a busy holiday atmosphere with the sun pouring in through the high windows.
We’re ready for more English adventures so we line up at the chippy and take our cod and chips down to the beach. The pebbles are quite hard to walk on and the wind is chilly but we love it all. Seagulls are swooping around and everyone is eating fish and chips.
At Rose Cottage we sleep till seven o’clock then get ready for a night out at The Regatta. This is an expensive restaurant just across the street from the cottage and we have seafood and two bottles of wine. Bridget is feeling very tipsy which makes her even funnier than ever. It’s dark by now and quite cold even though this is their summer. At the Mill Inn we have a lovely time having more wine and beer and then head back along the sea wall to the Cross Keys for more drinks. A fun night.
Tuesday 1ST June, 2004 Aldeburgh to Chelmsford
Sleeping wasn’t a problem in our big comfy bed and we don’t wake till 8am. This morning is cool and a bit cloudy but we’re cosy and snug in our little cottage. Downstairs we set up a table in the front room in front of the fireplace while Andy and Bridget cook up a real English breakfast – sausages, baked beans, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and toast with orange juice. Mark and I wash up then make us all a ‘cuppa’ – would love to spend a few days here doing just this.
But no way will Bridget and Andy let us relax and we’re soon rugged up and off on yet another brisk walk. They know how I hate it which is why they make us do it. We set off through the marshes on the edge of town then along the river to the sea which apparently is slowly encroaching on the town.
Walking back along the sea wall we pass old wooden fishing cottages and watch the Poms doing their holiday thing. It’s like being transported back fifty years – even an old couple sitting on deck chairs on the pebble beach facing the water and him with a handkerchief tied on his head. As well as this, there’s a raised pond where children are sailing toy boats while their parents sit around the outside eating ice creams in cones. The sun is out by now so Bridget and I buy cones as well before we all walk back to the High Street and up the old Town Steps to get a view of this very traditional English seaside town.
Back at the cottage, we all jump in the car and drive to the village of Thorpeness a mile or so up the coast. It’s another holiday town but smaller than Aldeburgh and not as quaint. We buy bird food and watch people rowing around the lake while we feed the ducks. After an hour we’re back at the cottage and Bridget and I clean while Mark and Andy line up to buy fish and chips. At three o’clock we pack the car and head south towards home. About half way we turn off the motorway to drive through some of the beautiful Suffolk villages – Hadleigh, Kernsley and Lavenham.
It amazes us that as soon as we leave the motorway we’re in these tiny back laneways barely wide enough for two cars. The hedges are so high that we can’t see the countryside except for the odd two storey farmhouse and the steeples of churches. Hadleigh and Kernsley are much alike and very predictably English and pretty.
Lavenham is different. It’s a wool town dating back to medieval times with timber framed houses that look like they’re about to fall into the street. Almost the whole town is on a lean so you feel like you must have vertigo or else you’re going to get it. Apparently the shrinking of the timber frames over the centuries has created this weird effect.
We walk to the Market Square which is surrounded by some very odd looking buildings especially the guild hall built in the sixteenth century. It’s starting to rain so at the bottom of the hill in the High Street we find a cute pub also on a slant and stop in for a few lagers.
Arrive back home in Chelmsford about 6.30pm then Mark and Bridget make spaghetti and salad while I have a sleep (promise to wash up). Watch a soccer game at 8.30 then because the rain has stopped we sit out in the garden having a few bacardis. And then I wash up!
Wednesday 2nd June, 2004 Chelmsford to Cambridge to Chelmsford
Today we’re off to Cambridge with Bridget. Andy has to go back to work so the three of us set off about nine thirty. With a cloudless blue sky above we drive north up the A12. After an hour we pull into the Park/Drive centre on the outskirts of the city. Park/Drives are apparently all over England and keep the major cities clear of traffic. We leave our car in the huge parking lot and catch a bus into the centre of Cambridge. Bridget and I sit in the front seat at the top of the red double-decker and have panoramic views of the countryside and then Cambridge itself. We’re dropped in the centre of town and it’s only a short walk to the very picturesque Mill Pond on the River Cam. Here groups of students are sitting around on the grass drinking beer to celebrate the end of their exams.
The Anchor Pub is old and atmospheric and where the three of us find a cosy window seat and table overlooking the water. Mark has a beer while Bridget and I have our usual half lager shandies. We order lunch while watching the punts and ducks out on the incredibly beautiful pond. Weeping willows overhang the water on one bank with ancient stone buildings on the opposite side. After lasagna, curries and salad we hire a wooden punt for fifteen English pounds to explore the Backs of the river. The Backs is a very scenic part of the Cam that winds its way behind the colleges and beneath the old stone bridges that link them together.
Mark loves any sort of activity so punting is really his thing. Bridget and I sloth in the bottom of the punt while Mark steers us towards the willow trees and through a very green area to a larger pond surrounded by cafes. After ‘chucking a U-ey’ as Bridget says in her very posh voice we head towards the Backs and glide our way under the Mathematical Bridge and the very elaborate Bridge of Sighs.
Other punters are passing by and most are hopeless but having a great time. Kings College has wide grassy lawns right down to the water and Trinity College looks wonderful from a bend in the river. We see ducks all along the Backs and a family of them has followed us all the way from the Mill Pond.
Mark’s legs are getting sore so after an hour we drop off the punt to walk around the town and the colleges. Apparently exams are on so most of the colleges are closed to the public.
We do get to see Queens College and the smaller but more beautiful Clare College and then buy tickets for Kings College Chapel. This is spectacular to say the least – incredibly huge and ornate. Through a side door we manage to sneak into the college forecourt.
From here we wander around the tiny cobbled back streets where students are riding bicycles with baskets on the front. It’s a relaxed, unhurried town and no-one even bothers to chain up their bikes. At an outdoor market we buy a bag of green grapes even though they cost a mint. They’re so perfect they look too good to be real and taste better than any at home.
By mid afternoon we’ve had enough and catch the bus back to the Park/Drive then head for home. Not far from Chelmsford, Bridget stops for us to see Highlands House. I think she’s deliberately taken us the long way so we can have another brisk walk. We seem to walk for miles across pastures covered in yellow buttercups and along the longest driveway I’ve ever seen. The house is huge and looks so much like the White House that it’s soon to be used in an American movie.
In Chelmsford we stop at Tescos Supermarket so Mark and I can buy the groceries and more green grapes for the rest of the week. Mark cooks up a storm for dinner which as usual is the best. The rest of us do the dishes and then we all watch ‘Love Actually’.
Thursday 3rd June, 2004 Chelmsford to London to Chelmsford
Today we’re off to London to see the Queen. Wake at seven and watch Eastenders while emailing home and eating breakfast. Andy has to work again so Bridget drives Mark and I to Shenfield where we leave the car at Andy’s parent’s house and walk to the station. It’s less than half an hour to the centre of London where we jump out at Liverpool Street Station and catch our first Underground train to St James Park Station. Up in the sunshine it’s only a short walk to Buckingham Palace – can’t believe it’s right here in the middle of the city. Thousands of people already crowd the pavements and every other vantage point in the area.
The Palace was built in 1803 and is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II. The flag is flying which means she’s at home today. The palace sits at the end of The Mall while the huge roundabout in front is dominated by the Queen Victoria monument which at the moment has about a million people draped all over it trying to catch a better glimpse of the Changing of the Guard. This happens every day when the Foot Guards of the Household Regiment change shifts in the forecourt of the palace. The guards and the band are dressed in the traditional red uniforms and tall bearskin hats – all very serious carrying out this time-honoured tradition but the whole thing seems to lose its dignity when the band strikes up with a medley of James Bond themes.
From here we walk to St James Park which runs next to the Mall and is a quiet haven from the chaos of London’s streets. We sit in deckchairs to enjoy the flower beds and the duck pond until it looks like we’re going to be asked to pay for our chairs. The Mall looks wonderful, lined with huge leafy trees and English flags with Buckingham Palace at one end and the Admiralty Arch at the other. Through the arch we can see Trafalgar Square and Nelsons Column both of which sit at a busy intersection of red double decker buses and black English cabs. The square has a fountain in the middle and surrounded by the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery.
From Trafalgar Square we head down to Whitehall to find somewhere to eat. Bridget knows a famous pub where people like Tony Blair often come for lunch. Vaulted, ornate ceilings, tall arched windows and lots of polished wood are the real thing while soft lighting adds to the atmosphere. Nearby we stop to watch the Queens Guards where one of the horses unceremoniously spreads its back legs and urinates like a fire hose all over the footpath. Just a few metres away is Number Ten Downing Street but it’s blocked off in case someone decides to chuck a bomb at old Tony for being George Bush’s partner in crime in the Iraqi war – good idea.
And just a few more metres down Whitehall are the Houses of Parliament. These are made up of the House of Commons and the House of Lords both built in 1840 in neogothic style – I just read this. Big Ben is still the most famous of its features and we hear it strike eleven o’clock. Across the road is Westminster Abbey – so many things in walking distance of each other. A long line of people are buying tickets but we can’t be bothered waiting so we just check out the exterior.
Now we cross the Thames at Westminster Bridge and pass the London Aquarium to the British Airways London Eye – a huge ferris wheel holding thirty two capsules or ‘gondolas’ that takes thirty minutes to do a complete rotation and gives views for up to twenty five miles away. I can’t decide if I like it or I hate it but it definitely looks out of place opposite the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey – I suppose ‘that’s progress’ as they say. We line up for half an hour and pay twelve pounds each for the ride.
We decide we’ve had enough of sights and head for a pub in Soho – back across the Thames at the Sovereign Bridge, past Trafalgar Square, up to Leicester Square, through Chinatown and into Soho. This is an interesting sleazy area of strip joints, pubs and open air fruit and vegetable markets. At a very dodgy looking pub we stop for a drink. It’s gothic and probably gay but we talk to a group of ‘lads’ who definitely aren’t gay. Ready for home we walk to Charing Cross station to catch the Underground to Liverpool Street station and another train back to Shenfield.
At six o’clock we’re back in the car with Andy driving and heading for the small village of Margareting Tyne. A soft misty rain makes the countryside look soft and green. At the village we pull into an old English pub called The White Hart where Judy is meeting us for dinner. It’s lovely sitting at a table near the window watching the rain falling outside. Dinner is beef and ale pie and sausages and mash – very English. Judy is great company and it’s a good night all round.
Friday 4th June, 2004 Chelmsford to London to Chelmsford
Our second day in London. Andy is working again today so the three of us catch the train from Shenfield to Liverpool Street station. From here we catch our first black London cab to Jamie Oliver’s restaurant ‘Fifteen’ in the East End.
It’s at the end of an uneventful alley and Jamie is nowhere to be seen but it thrills me anyway. Inside we soak up the atmosphere and order drinks which is all we can afford. We then lunch at a picturesque old pub nearby called the Three Crowns which we can afford.
Back in another cab we pass the Bank of England and the London Stock Exchange then stop at the Monument in Pudding Lane. It’s over sixty metres high and was designed by Christopher Wren to mark the spot where the Great Fire of London began in 1666.
Onward now to the Tower of London. Mark and I use our fake student cards to get in for 9.5EP then take a tour with a beefeater. He’s an excellent guide and makes the whole experience very real. We see where Anne Boleyn was beheaded then sit in the chapel to hear more of the Tower’s gory history. After the tour we visit the castle where the Crown Jewels are kept then do our own tour of the White Tower.
Back out on the banks of the Thames is the beautiful Tower Bridge. It was built in 1894 and, as you’d expect, has a tower at either end. We’re just in time to see it open to let through a magnificent, pristine white passenger liner. There’s a carnival atmosphere here with cafes and food stalls and lots of people. Walking along the Embankment next to the Thames we come across a very modern and trendy bar with big windows overlooking the river. It’s so good to sit down and we sprawl out on tan leather lounges drinking Pims and beers. A television is on and Bridget’s hero Tim Henman is playing in the French Open. Lots of people dressed in business clothes here so we get our first look at upmarket London for a change.
Close by is St Paul’s Cathedral which was also designed by Christopher Wren in 1675. Unfortunately it’s being renovated so the whole thing, except for the great dome itself, is encased in a plastic bag. Can’t be bothered going in and anyway we want to get to a television in a pub so Bridget can see her darling Tim Henman finish his match. We’ve planned to meet Andy at Covent Garden so we jump in a cab and head for there now.
Covent Garden used to be London’s famous fruit and vegetable market but now it’s a tourist trap selling expensively horrible things to expensively horrible tourists. The domed structure itself is very graceful but now its colourful history can only be left to the imagination. While Bridget goes off to do some shopping Mark and I watch a cockney busker performing in a courtyard next to the dome. We sit on the pavement with hundreds of tourists then see Bridget and Andy across from us.
We decide to have dinner here in Covent Garden and choose a cute Italian restaurant set beneath the pavement. After pizzas, pasta and wine, which cost an arm and a leg, we all walk to St Martin’s Theatre in the West End. We’re here to see Agatha Christie’s play ‘The Mousetrap’ and a sign in the foyer tells us that this is performance 21,471. It’s been running for an unbelievable fifty three years! I’ve read all of her books as well as her autobiography so seeing this play will be the ultimate for me. The theatre itself is small, old and beautiful with a tiny upstairs bar where we order drinks for half time. Bridget had bought the tickets months ago ($90AUD each) so we have good seats in the upstairs balcony. Everything is opulent with lots of red velvet, soft lighting and fabulous carved ceilings. The play is typical Agatha Christie – a whodunit with a dead body, lots of red herrings and everyone a suspect. At half time we drink wine in the bar then back inside for the finale. After the cast bows to a great applause we’re asked to keep the murderer a secret. In honour of my darling Agatha my lips are sealed forever.
In the taxi to the station we drive along the embankment next to the Thames – very beautiful at night as all cities are. On the way back to Shenfield Bridget keeps us laughing as usual.
Saturday 5th June, 2004 Chelmsford to London
This morning we have a leisurely breakfast, watch the wedding video and get on the internet to book a room at a hostel for our last night in London. Luckily we manage to get a double room at the Holland Park Youth Hostel. Andy has already left for work so Bridget drives us to Chelmsford Station.
It’s sad to say goodbye to Bridget but at the same time I feel for the first time on this trip a sense of excitement and expectation. We’re alone to make our own plans and do things our way. Love the feeling of not knowing what’s around the corner.
At Liverpool Street Station we catch the Underground to Holland Park Station then walk through the park to look for the hostel. It’s so lovely in here – like being a thousand miles from anywhere with squirrels scurrying around under a canopy of trees. The hostel is gorgeous – an old gothic mansion and we have a room in the original house. Actually it’s more like a cupboard than a room but we do have it to ourselves.
Wasting no time we head for Earl’s Court where we stop for sausages and mash and drinks at the Builder’s Arms. Back through Holland Park we end up at Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace which was the home of Diana, the Princess of Wales. I remember watching her funeral on television and seeing her coffin come out of these very gates.
Kensington Gardens merges with Hyde Park and contains the Albert Memorial which itself sits in front of the huge domed roof of the Royal Albert Hall. Here Mark feeds a tiny squirrel with a chocolate chip muesli bar.
We lay on the grass near the Serpentine to get our bearings as we want to visit London’s most famous department store, Harrods. It’s in Knightsbridge which is only a fifteen minute walk away. The store is jammed with tourists so we have a quick wander around the food hall, buy a Harrods tea caddy and get the hell out of here. Outside we catch a black cab to Nottinghill Gate (no more walking thanks) and get dropped off at Portobello Road. The Portobello Road Markets are one of London’s oldest and most famous markets especially for antiques and second hand clothes and knick knacks. The market seems to run forever and we walk through it and up the hill back towards Nottinghill Gate. We stop at a few stalls but not in a shopping mood.
This whole area is packed with locals and tourists and even all the pubs are full. At a trendy pub on a corner of Pembridge Road we squeeze in at a table then find a quieter pub further from the markets called the Old Swan. We order chips with cheese and bacon and have a few drinks till it’s time to meet Bryan and Turid at five o’clock.
Since meeting them in Vietnam in 2001 we’ve kept up regular emails and because they just happen to be here in England to see their kids at exactly the same week that we’re here we decided to meet. At 5pm we’re to see them outside the Bank of Scotland and here they are. They both look fantastic but I think I’m prejudiced.
They show us the flat they own in Notting Hill that they rent out for a fortune which allows them to live in Cyprus without having to work. From here we walk down to their old local and sit at a table outside for drinks and lots of catching up. For dinner we go back up to the main street and just manage to nab a table at the packed to the rafters Churchill Hotel. This is a fabulous local with a typical old world atmosphere and pictures of Winston Churchill on the walls. At 9.30 we say goodbye but know we’ll see them again one day.
It’s been fantastic to see Bryan and Turid but again we have that feeling of freedom when saying goodbye as we walk back towards our hostel. We get lost for a while but eventually find Holland Park which is so beautiful and peaceful in the fading light. An opera is being held in a marquis next to the hostel and the park is filled with the strains of an orchestra and sopranos. We’re more than a little drunk as we mime the opera outside the marquis. After collecting our Bacardi from the room we sit in the hostel garden. Too many drinks later we fall into our bunks fully clothed.
Sunday 6th June, 2004 London to Guernsey
Last night was probably not a good time to over indulge in the Bacardi and I definitely deserve my hangover this morning. Thankfully Mark is feeling okay. We wake at six, check out and walk through the park to find a cab to take us to Victoria Station. We whiz past Buckingham Palace but we’re too tired to care. At Victoria we catch the Gatwick Express for 11EP each for the half hour ride out to Gatwick Airport. It’s packed even this early and we have to walk a mile to get to our gate. Boarding our Flybe plane we take off at 8.30am for the forty minute trip to Guernsey. The weather is beautiful today with clear blue skies and we soon see Guernsey as an emerald green patch on the blue waters of the English Channel.
Julie is here to meet us at the tiny airport and she looks suntanned and healthy. She drives us through the prettiest laneways and countryside we’ve ever seen. Most of the cottages are made from local stone and all have flowering gardens and hedges bordering the road. Apparently the streets are two way but are so narrow that if we meet another car one of us has to pull up onto the footpath to let the other one pass.
We soon arrive at a grey stone cottage with a field opposite and the channel beyond. This is Julie’s son’s house and she’s minding it while Nick and his wife are whale watching in Alaska. She gives Mark and me the main bedroom on the top floor. It’s a tiny attic room with one window looking over the field and the other up the laneway. After a quick shower we’re off to explore the island. It’s only eight miles by twelve miles so we can see most of it today. I’ve been feeling a bit better but sitting in the back seat and driving through these twisting laneways isn’t doing my stomach much good at all.
We stop at a few beaches and to get our bearings at a lookout. Guernsey isn’t part of England but one of the Channel Islands and even has its own currency. And because it’s closer to France than England all the street names are in French and most of the cafes and hotels have French names.
We have a drink at Hotel Bon Port on a cliff overlooking the water then have hamburgers and chips at a beach café further around the island.
After lunch we head back to the cottage to get ready for a barbeque at friends of Julie’s over near St Peter Port, the capital. This is Chris and Wimple’s house and they’ve invited six other couples over to meet us. Have a nice night with these very friendly people.
Monday 7th June,2004 Guernsey
Our second day in Guernsey and the weather is perfect again – hot and sunny. Julie has to work today so we’re free to make our own plans. We spend a lazy morning emailing, playing with Flint, reading and diary writing in the sun in the back garden. At ten o’clock we pack our day packs and decide to walk down to the seaside.
We walk through pretty laneways and notice that lots of houses have little wooden boxes filled with vegetables, fruit, books or flowers in their front gardens. You just take what you want and leave the money in a cash box. The rest of the walk is lovely – hedges, fields and pretty cottages.
At Vazon Beach we buy ice creams and water at the kiosk then sit on the beach in our swimmers. So nice to be in the sun again. Most of the beach is sand and a few surfers are out catching waves further down.
The water is too cold for a swim so we walk along the sea wall stopping to look at some of the old battlements.
At the Vazon Hotel we sit out in the garden courtyard for a beer then follow the Green Way past the golf course to a lovely old pub further up the hill. After another beer in the sitting room overlooking the garden we walk up through another Green Way back to the cottage. On the way Mark buys tomatoes and a lettuce from one of the little wooden boxes to make us a salad for lunch.
After a short siesta we run down the hill to catch a local bus into St Peter Port. It’s a half hour drive through small villages and we even see a few Guernsey cows in the fields over the hedges. St Peter Port is a good sized town and most of the island’s 65,000 population work here. In town we walk around the cobbled streets then visit Julie in her little ticket box down at the harbour. She works here four days a week selling tickets for boats to the outer islands and ferries to France and England. Today she’s booked us on a cruise at six o’clock so while we wait we stop in at The Sailors Arms overlooking the water.
At a quarter to six we line up with a group of about sixty tourists and board our boat for the Puffin Patrol. This is a two hour cruise around the islands off Guernsey and runs every night during the summer months. As we pull out of the harbour we pass the very impressive fort that stands at the entrance then head out to Herme Island.
Binoculars are handed out to everyone so we can all do a spot of bird watching, darling. A guide tells us about the sea birds that live around here and we all become experts on recognizing terns, shags and gulls. We pass smaller islands which are owned by millionaires and one even has a castle. At last we spot the puffins – the cutest little sea birds that look like tiny toys. Mark and I soon realize that we’re in the company of some serious twitchers. We almost get bowled over when someone spies a particularly good specimen of something or other and people are hanging off the roof to get the best view. The best part for us is just cruising around at this lovely time of day.
Julie meets us at the dock then she drives us to the other side of the island to watch the sun set over the water. We sit at an outdoor table of a popular pub and order food and wine till the sun slides below the horizon at about nine thirty. Home by ten then all watch television.
Tuesday 8th June,2004 Guernsey
Julie is working again today and since the weather is a bit cloudy we decide to just hang around the house. It’s a good chance to get ready for Italy so we do a few loads of washing and catch up on some sleep. At lunch time we buy tomatoes from one of the little boxes down the laneway and Mark makes us another healthy salad.
When Julie comes home we all drive to another part of the island to see the Little Chapel. It’s a replica of a cathedral somewhere but this is made from local pebbles, shells and thousands of tiny bits of broken tiles. It’s set in a flowering overgrown garden and just big enough to walk inside – beautiful.
After showers back at the cottage we make our way to St Peters Port to visit Julie’s friends Jane and Ian. They live in the narrowest of streets where the houses are so small they all look like dolls houses. We sit in their tiny back garden drinking wine then walk to a fancy French restaurant for dinner. Afterwards we all sit at the bar for drinks then it’s home to bed for our last night in Guernsey.
Wednesday 9th June,2004 Guernsey to London
Our plane leaves at 7am so we’re up at 5.30 and leave at six o’clock for the short drive to the airport. We’ve left Julie a present and some money on the kitchen table as she wouldn’t let us pay for anything. The flight to London is only an hour and we soon see the English coastline and the green countryside below us before we land at Gatwick at eight o’clock. Our Rome flight leaves from Heathrow so we catch an airport bus at 18EP each for the one and a half hour drive from Gatwick.
At Heathrow’s incredibly busy Terminal 1 we book in at 10am, eat then sleep on a row of seats before our plane takes off at 1.15pm. The plane is squashed, packed and the food is horrible – goodbye England!