Onwards…..and literally upwards…..at least if you see forward progress as North being up….
In what was an increasingly familiar routine, my belongings get repacked, and I am out for an early morning departure. This particular days’ journey is probably the longest and most complex of the ones in my trip. A bus back to Bristol from Glastonbury, and a walk to the Bus station through Bristol. It is early Sunday morning so the streets are pretty deserted, and for the first time during my trip, it’s raining. I like Bristol, having spent some time here growing up, and if/when I return to the UK, it’s somewhere I would be tempted to settle in.
A short wait in the bus station, and I take a bus up to Birmingham Bus Station. We aren’t a million miles from both the place my mom was born (Wolverhampton) and where I grew up (Walsall) but they, alas, will be out of reach for me today. A change to another bus, and onwards to Nottingham. I am not sure if I have been here before, at least, if I had, it wouldn’t have been since I was too young to remember.
An hour by train brings me to a place called Grantham, and now its around 4pm, I have been travelling since about 7.30am, but the journey plan went smoothly, and I am feeling fine. I can tell this is certainly new territory for me. It seems to be a quiet northern town, nothing much of note here. A wait for a bus, and then another 50 minutes or so, and I am finally at the destination, Caythorpe, to see another long time passed old friend, Andi. We probably havent seen each other for 28, 29 years, since I left the Isle Of Wight, to go to University. She is now married, and works from home, travelling the country, selling pottery items that the couple makes in fares and shows all over the UK.
I was lucky to be able to grab a few spare days with her, as she is usually off around the UK for one of the shows, but it seems my trip coincided with her being at home for a few days, so it was worth travelling up to say hi.
The couple live in a rustic countryside type house, with a huge back garden and outhouse, and also a custom built workshop where they run their business Snail Pottery from.
The evening is uneventful, I settle in, and crash out relatively early, due to the long days travel. It is another somewhat flying visit unfortunately, a short couple of days before I leave again, so the next day, we set out to Lincoln, a City about an hour away by car. We use the car journey to catch up with each others’ lives, and that familiar comfortable feeling kicks in, when you realize that your absent friends are still friends, and that although lots of life events have transpired since you saw each other, at heart, nothing much has changed personality wise. Things feel reassuringly familiar, ageless, timeless, like picking up from where you left off.
The main focus of Lincoln is the Cathedral and neighboring castle, set into the most English of English marketplaces you can imagine. If you combine all of the popular cliches from historical dramas, Harry Potter and whatever you imagine a quaint English Village style place to be (complete with bunting), then you will see it here.
Both the cathedral and the castle are paid tourist places, but fortunately, you can walk around both to get a good idea of the place without paying. The Cathedral is notable for being the place where the Magna Carta was signed, probably the foundation document for modern English law, similar to the American Declaration of Independence. It is a typically beautiful structure. I admire Andi’s patience, as I know she has seen this place a million times before, but she still gives me the full tour guide experience.
We wander aimlessly and happily around, popping in to some of the artisan’s shops (Andi knows seemingly every local craftsman in the area) and a quick look in a gallery, and finish, as expected, with Pub food and an ice cream, and make our way back home. The rest of the afternoon and evening passes by. Good company and good conversation. The married couple compliment each other well, and seem to have a good thing going, both in the relationship, and the business partnership. They have carved out quite the niche for themselves, and seem to be happy and successful.
The night ends with home cooked food and a double dose of Dr. Who, which is not a bad way to end the experience!
The next morning comes all too soon, and it’s another morning start, this time, heading to my final UK destination, London, and one more stop to see an old friend before returning to Canada. This time the journey is a little less complex. Andi drives me back to Grantham, and it is a train ride back to Nottingham, and one bus journey down the motorway to the capital.
The drizzle follows me to London, which makes my arrival feel more like….well, home really.
I work my way across the capital to my final Airbnb destination, across on the east side of the city. Another unpacking and arrival, a familiar feeling by now. It is Tuesday evening, and the prospect of returning to Canada on Friday begins to factor in my thoughts, but I am determined to make the most of the remainder of time I have in the capital before the journey home.
I head back out to the center and have a walk around familiar locations to get my bearings again. It feels nice to be back…not quite a tourist, not quite a resident…just soaking in familiar sights, sounds, smells, noting the new buildings that have sprung up since I left, and the disappearance of old haunts. The old expression, everything changes, and nothing changes.
I am aware that time is short, so the next day, I want to pack in as many experiences as possible. I start with a run, heading towards the center, relying on google maps, but this time the normally reliable app deserts me, as many of the River Thames over and underground crossings are being fixed or blocked off, so I end up spinning in multiple circles trying to figure out a route forward.
The run is somewhat awkward, but it’s still good running in different places. It brings new challenges, new environments, and it’s a great way of seeing a place. After the run, and with the help of public transportation, I end up at the Victoria and Albert Museum to see ‘Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains‘. It’s a band-approved complete retrospective historical exhibition, taking the viewer through a series of rooms, from the early days right up to the present day, through a series of multimedia exhibitions. You go through the exhibition with headphones that activate as you pass various video screens showing footage and interviews with the band. Each main room covers a different period of their history, numerous props and artifacts. Pretty visually interesting, even if you aren’t a big fan of the band, it’s great to see different periods of rock music history reflected through this internationally known band, and how they moved through time.
The afternoon was spent seeing a stage show called ‘The Comedy About A Bank Robbery‘, created by the same team that made the award-winning ‘The Play That Goes Wrong‘ which I was fortunate enough to see with the original British cast as they opened it in Broadway, NY, back in April. As the British cast are still in NY, the London show had a different cast. Ticket price was surprisingly affordable, for a second row seat, 30 pounds. I have to admit, I didn’t find it as fantastically funny as their first hit play, but there were some really funny and inventive moments…a couple of notable stage setups that were fantastically inventive, and pretty much worth the ticket alone…but The Play That Goes Wrong will be my favorite stage experience, probably for some time to come.
Soon after the play, and a quick bite to eat, and then I was off to see Baby Driver on it’s opening night in the cinema center of London, in Leicester Square. Giant building sized, twin 4k projection screens, Dolby Surround sound, all that….it comes with a hefty price though, 20GBP plus….that about the price I could have bought the film when it gets released on Blu-Ray. Pretty expensive, but it’s hard to be surprised given the general cost of living in London.
The final day brings soaking up some sights and sounds from the center of the city, including some places I haven’t really visited as a tourist for a while, including Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and other places around that area, and a meetup with Saur, an old friend from my days in London. This time I saw him 4 years ago, on my last trip to the UK, so the passage of time isn’t as long, and we slip in to an easy routine. We go to a Chinatown restaurant that has been a 20 year tradition between us, Wong Kei. It was famously known as ‘the rudest restaurant in London, in fact, tourists would flock to the place just to be badly treated by the waiters….however, they cleaned up their act and now it’s a more regular Chinese restaurant. I am a fan of tradition with friends, and it was nice to eat here and catch up again.
Then it was off to his apartment, and we spent a few hours just hanging out and chatting, before I had to head back to my airbnb.
The final evening in the UK…..the final night of my vacation….lots going through my head. My return flight was leaving at a very early 6.15am, so I had to get to the airport for about 4am in order to check in. This meant leaving my airbnb at about 2.15 am to get across London, and get the train out of the center to the airport, so sleep was just a couple of hours.
I was making good time on public transport, so I got off the night bus a few stops early, and walked past St. Pauls Cathedral at about 2.30am….London was quiet. You could turn down a side street and find yourself completely alone, away from the main road traffic. I lingered, reluctant to finalize my journey, taking in the sights of a middle of the night city, drinking in the atmosphere, absorbing what I could.
The station to get the train to the airport was based on the River Thames, within eyesight of Tower Bridge, so I snapped a final picture before my return journey.
This time, the pull of home was more than my last trip to the UK….perhaps it was because I saw more old friends, perhaps because of the amount of time I was away from home. I think it was a mixture of things. Obviously you are seeing your home country through fresh eyes, and you are also free of the burdens of ‘regular’ life, job, finances, commitment, etc, being on vacation, free from responsibilities and timetables, but still, the UK had more lasting appeal to me this time than before. Whether this translates to a more permanent move in the not-too-distant future remains to be seen, but it was certainly nice revisiting people from my past, and experiencing more of the UK.
Thanks for travelling with me.