Travels in England and Portugal: part 1–England

This is a somewhat belated post, really to explain the lack of blogging over the last few weeks

We spent the best part of six weeks in Europe, leaving in early September, so early that the day we left there were snow flurries, and when we got back in October everything was in leaf, the street trees covered in blossom and the back lawn was higher than the cat’s navel.

Our first port of call was Manchester, where J wanted to catch up with her cousin to discuss family history and old documents.

When we booked the flight, we’d originally planned to have a few days in London to ourselves, and then loop through Manchester and go on to Portugal, possibly on the train.

Well, we had to change that. J’s cousin had to be in Austria the week we’d originally planned to be in Manchester, so we decided to swap things around and go to Manchester first. We’d got one of these no changes whatsoever tickets to London, so we bought ourselves a BA flight from London to Manchester that afternoon, because (a) Singapore Airlines is almost never late, and (b) if we gave ourselves a generous margin stuffing around in Heathrow we should be able to cope with any minor delays.

Of course, and you guessed it, our flight from Melbourne was late into Singapore, we missed our connection to London, and the next available option meant we’d miss our BA flight to Manchester.

Now, strictly speaking, Singapore could have said that, as the Manchester booking was a separate ticket, it was our problem not theirs, but we whinged, and argued, and they got us onto a flight to Frankfurt and a connecting Lufthansa flight to Manchester at no extra cost to us.

Yes, it did mean we arrived six or seven hours later than planned, but we were there on the day we intended. All good (or so we thought).

So after a night in an airport hotel, we picked up our rental car which handily had a GPS, and set off to the Trafford centre to buy supplies for our stay in Hebden Bridge – we’d booked a cosy little AirBnB stay for a few days.

I couldn’t (after 15 years) remember the way to the Trafford Centre – so I flipped on the GPS, typed in Trafford Centre, hit the Go icon and set off, only to be rewarded by a stream of instructions SwissGerman. Fortunately with J looking at the map on the screen for me and listening to the road numbers -’jetzt an die aa funf zero sechs’ – we got there.

So after a quick language reset we did our shopping and set off to Hebden Bridge. J did her family history thing, but we didn’t get all the planned site visits done – the weather was bloody awful and not ideal for trekking over the moors to search for the location of eighteenth century farmsteads, so we did a few tourist things instead – like visiting the Bronte museum in Haworth in a deluge more reminiscent of the wet season in Queensland than an English autumn.

But we had fun, and J even found a few family graves to add to the story. All good.

And then it was back to London.

Which wasn’t as easy as we thought. When we went to check in online BA told us our booking was canceled. We’d asked Singapore to ask BA to hold our return Manchester London leg, but the message had obviously never got there, and we’d been bumped off the flight as ‘no shows’.

It was absolutely no use being upset about things, so we took the mature view, we had travel insurance, we had credit cards, we could claim a refund later, but for the moment we needed to get to London.

Ten minutes later I’d got us a pair of last minute first class train tickets to London. Despite my egalitarian urges it had to be first class as all the standard class tickets at times you actually wanted to travel had gone, so it was a case of suck it up and do it.

The cost wasn’t that eye watering – a 120 pounds or something like 200 dollars for the two of us for a fast, smooth journey on one of the Virgin pendolino tilt trains, free and fast wifi, complimentary tea and biscuits, a glass of wine if we wanted it. A flight would have been more, and not as much fun or as comfortable.

And I was quietly amazed at how good the journey was, I remember travelling the same journey on British Rail at the end of the seventies when it was ok, and in the early days of post privatisation rail travel when it was bloody awful – dirty overbooked trains, chronically late, and rolling stock that was as battered and antiquated as V/Line’s country services.

And then we were in London.

The weather was still terrible, cold, wet and generally off putting but we did have good day visiting the Alma Tadema exhibition at Leighton House – which is worth a visit for the building itself.

Lord Leighton was connected with the pre Raphaelites and various of their associates and furnished much of the downstairs in a manner reminiscent of a Moroccan riad from Marrakesh, even though the stunning blue tiles were acquired from Syria and points east to create a bit of exoticism in suburban Kensington.

One pleasant surprise was that our Oyster cards from 2010 still worked, still had credit on them, though not enough to be useful, and after topping up let us ride tube and the buses.

The other fund discovery was a wonderful food court in the hulk of old Barker’s department store on Kensington high street – excellent food at a decent price.

But despite these pluses, and the weather helped reinforce this, London felt like increasingly like an old museum stuffed with past glories and statues of unremembered generals and long forgotten conquests – like Vienna, living on past glories.

And then, we were off to Porto …

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About dgm

IT professional, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical and medieval historian ...
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