Sunday, 2 August 2015

Back in the good old UK

The ferry crossing was as smooth as ever, we arrived on time but there was a slight delay before we were allowed to start our engines and disembark. Someone couldn't find their car maybe?
We drove directly southwards, back along the roads we'd driven along last week. We were looking for a lunch spot and in the little village of Letterston we spotted the sign for one. We pulled in and all 3 of us had the Pensioner Special – abread roll, a cup of tea, cod, chips and mushy peas followed by ice cream. The restaurant was called – Something's Cooking. 
Apparently it's won awards for it's fish and chips – deservedly so.
Just as we finished our lunch the first drops of rain started to fall, and they got bigger and closer together as we headed home to St Albans.
The traffic got very heavy as we passed alongside the Welsh cities, Swansea, Cardiff and Newport, it was still busy as we crossed the Severn Bridge and bypassed Bristol and Bath but then it started to ease.
We stopped at a Motorway Services and had a pee and cuppa stop, we also bought fresh bread and milk as well as some sandwiches to have once we got home.
We exited the motorway south of Wantage because we didn't want to get involved in more heavy traffic around Reading and we certainly weren't going anywhere near the M25.
The rain had stopped by now and it was a lovely scenic drive through the Oxfordshire countryside across into Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. We arrived safely home around 7.40pm.
Door to door (from B & B to St Albans) approximately 12 hours, including stops for lunch and a coffee break as well as the 3 and a half hours ferry crossing and check in one hour before sailing.

We have 10 days of our holiday left, have a couple of dinner dates with old friends and a few places to go but basically we are relaxing, chilling out and getting ready to fly home.

The first day 'home' was of course time to do the washing, the weather was kind although it kept threatening to rain and leave the washing wetter than it was when it came out of the machine.
The next day we relaxed and then in the evening were collected by our good friends (old school mate and her husband, Cheryl and Bob) and we went into St Albans to the Little Marrakech restaurant. 
We had been before, but it was about 4 years ago, and the food was very good. Bob had, very sensibly booked a table and we had a very cosy booth, draped with voile curtains. We enjoyed a very nice meal but a couple of the dishes had a little bit too much tomato based sauce. Other than that it was a very enjoyable evening.  As we left we had to push through the crowds standing in the doorway waiting for a table, just as well we booked.

Then it was the weekend and the Saturday market was back in town. We love street markets.We both wandered down for a look around.
We are on holiday and so ….. off to lunch.
 Jim drove us to a little pub near Hitchin, called 'The Rusty Gun. The pub has a small farm area out the back, where the chickens and pigs can be found. For 1 pound you can buy a bag of feed to feed to the piglets, then you can come back in a few weeks and eat the nice fat piglet!!!
There wasn't a vast selection on the menu but it was, as we've had on all of our meals, very tasty. Michael and I both had a felafel and haloumi burger – may sound odd but it was very good. It wasn't a deliberate decision to have vegetarian meal because of the sweet little piggies.

That evening we had a light meal, a fry up with bacon and Irish black and white pudding, then we all relaxed in front of the tv.
Sunday was a day of rest and a traditional home cooked lunch, with strawberried and cream for dessert. I really should have gone for a long walk after lunch, but the clouds rolled in and there was a cold wind so I stayed put.
On Monday I did go for a long walk in the morning - around the shops of St Albans.
Then after lunch we were all on computers doing more family history research. A lot of work has been done by several family members and we are now trying to fill in a few gaps and link one line of cousins, really just collecting anecdotes and finding old addresses before that generation disappears. It's so very frustrating because some townships and some city streets are missing from the online records, and those missing streets are not listed as being missing. So you don't know if your relatives are not on record because the online records are deficient or they had moved away. To add to this frustration the relatives seem to change the spelling of their names , whether on a whim or due to illiteracy. A case in point is - Elizabeth (also called Eliza) Cashin (sometimes spelt Cassin), maiden name Mines : on her first child's birth register she is recorded as Elizabeth Cashin Mynes!
That evening we had another reunion with an old friend, I worked with Judy in London in the early 1970s and we have only managed to catch up a couple of times in the last 40 years. We think the last time was around 25 years ago!!! We met at the Six Bells pub,in St Michael's street St Albans (near Veralum museum). A very nice location and a nice quiet pub. The food was excellent. I can recommend the stuffed pepper with grilled haloumi, salad and new potatoes. Very, very good.
All too soon we had to say A Beintot – hoping that it won't be too long before we meet again.

The next day and we were off out for lunch – it really is turning into an eating holiday.
We got the bus to Watford, and went to Jimmys.
Apparently there are a few around the UK, these restaurants are like a food hall but you only make the one payment, then help yourself to whatever you fancy. This means that you can mix Italian, Mexican, Chinese and Indian all together, a little bit of each on your plate. There are fresh tasty salads, and scrumptious dessert (including a chocolate fountain and marshmallows for dipping). Soft drinks and coffee are included in the price.
After eating we wandered around the shops. Watford has a big shopping Mall, like the ones we have back in Aus and all of the main stores are huge – so much bigger than the High Street branches in St Albans.
We didn't buy a lot but I was happy to find the sandals that I'd like in St Albans but couldn't get in my size. As I paid by credit card the computerised till knew that I was from overseas - the receipt was printed, then a couple of discount offers and then a really long receipt which detailed the VAT paid and how to claim it back as a non-eu resident. The sandals cost 25 pounds, the VAT was 4 pounds 17pence. The administration cost to claim was 3 pounds 17pence, I could therefore get 1 pound back at the airport (if I stood in line and waited) –don't think I'll bother, thank you.
That night, after a very light dinner, we had another play with the Irish census and watched tv.
Wednesday is the other day that the market is held in St Albans, some of the stalls are the same but there are a few different stalls on each day. I walked into town and wandered along checking out all of the stalls. On Saturday mornings the place is packed, it was lovely this morning, nice and quiet with plenty of room to check out the stalls. I made two purchases – a set of 5 photo frames and a solar powered 'Dancing Queen'. Yes ER II shaking her booty and waving. I know just the place for it when we get home – on the window sill. You'll have to guess which room!
In the afternoon we were all set to catch a bus up to Harpenden to see the Mid Week Motor Show. It was due to start at 2pm and finish around 8pm, one of the very few mid week shows. Just as we were about to leave the house it rained; not just a shower, but RAIN. We decided to wait a while, have a cuppa and see how long it lasted. The rain turned into drizzle and then stopped but by now it was 3.30pm and it was so dark and overcast that we put the kettle on again and stayed in.
When Jim came home around pm he couldn't believe that we'd had rain, he'd been about 2 miles away and hadn't had any. Who knows, if we'd risked it the weather there might have been lovely, but we've had enough sightseeing in the rain on this trip.
We'd told Jim how good the Six Bells pub was so we all went there for dinner. It was rather more crowded than it had been on Monday night and the lasagne (that Michael had on Monday) was off the menu. On my recommendation Michael had the stuffed pepper and loved it. I had tuna steak and must say that I found it a little dry.
The car park was so full that we had been blocked in, I had to ask two people to move their cars so that we could get out. The street was full too. So, if thinking of going to the Six Bells go on a Monday night. The area around there, St Michaels, is very nice with some lovely old houses and there is a nice walk along the river, Ver.

The next day Michael tried a few van wreckers and then Fiat dealerships to find a particular part for the motorhome back in Aus. After a few false starts we got an address in St Albans. Jim happily drove us there and although not a total success (we didn't buy the part) we now have an authorised part number which can be ordered from Italy (they offered to order it for us but it would take 5 days).

We then drove on to one of our favourite shops – Aldi. I bought one item for the kitchen and then we went on to have a look around Asda. A huge supermarket, which sells everything else as well – clothes, electronics including televisions, camping gear etc. The sun seems to have deserted us, as the weather is now very cloudy and overcast with the forecast for rain over the next 3 days and a max temp around 20 degrees. I checked out the weather back home – lovely winter days – sunny and 22 degrees. 

The next morning as promised it rained - it started to sprinkle at 9.00am and continued throughout the day. After lunch I donned my red shower proof and borrowed an umbrella (I'd found out in Venice and Ljubljana that it was just shower proof, not rain proof) and set off to walk into St Albans. A couple of times I had to avoid the huge puddles across the road from blocked drains. (Apparently the road floods every time it rains, but as it only happens when it rains the council doesn't see any urgent need to do anything about it.)
 The streets were almost deserted, in wet weather gear it would have been quite pleasant.Yesterday in Asda I had been looking at a nice waterproof jacket but decided against it as I just wouldn't get much use out of it, who would have thought that we needed wet weather gear in UK in July!? 

That evening we were joining our friends Cheryl and Bob again, Bob was once again kindly picking us up and we were going to their house for a curry. The rain continued, there was a road closure causing huge tail backs and we were glad to be just driving across town not trying to get home after day's work. The meal was lovely, not too hot, really tasty. We had a nice chat but, as always, it was soon time to say goodbye. Bob drove us home, in the rain.

The next morning the sun came out, time to quickly do some washing. Then with fingers crossed that it would stay fine we went out to lunch. Jim drove us to a little pub by the Grand Union Canal in Boxmoor,  near Hemel Hempstead.
The entry to The Three Horseshoes is down a very narrow road - Winkwell Lane. Just as you round a bend there is a very narrow bridge and then the canal - we got there as a boat was going down the canal so the swing bridge was open. After a short wait we moved on but the queue on the other side stretched out passed the entrance to the pub car park. We couldn't turn right and they couldn't move because there was a queue of traffic behind us blocking the narrow bridge and laneway. We drove on and found a gap in the traffic by the 'overflow' pub car park. 
We walked back and got a table outside, on the canal bank, next to the bridge. Lunch was very nice  (the reviews on tripadvisor are mixed, but our expereince was of freshly cooked pies, a lovely mushroom stroganoff, nice sausages and chips but it was a on the dear side for pub grub).
Afterwards we were delighted that a couple of boats came along and the swing bridge was opened. 

Then we persuaded Jim not to head back up the lane but to turn right out of the car park, under the railway bridge and see where the road lead to. It must go somewhere we reckoned as there was a lot of traffic about, they must be going somewhere. 

 The road was not quite as narrow as the lane had been but it was certainly only one car wide, with a few passing places. We passed some lovely houses and some farms and riding stables; we hoped that we wouldn't meet a tractor or horse float. 
After some encouraging words Jim drove on and was pleased to see a junction ahead. We were on the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead, which was to our right - we turned left.
When we had left St Albans we noticed on the road side that the Dacorum Steam and Country  Fayre  was being held this weekend, in Potten End. We asked where that was, Jim didn't know so we decided to look it up and maybe head off there tomorrow. 
As we turned left heading away from Hemel, we saw another sign for the Steam Fayre, then another and then lots of parked cars and men in high visibility vest directing traffic - we were in Potten End! "Turn left here Jim", we cried, he did and we were soon parked and on our way into the Fayre.
It was not a huge affair, but a nice afternoon out. There were old trucks, some old 'showman's' campers, and of course some steam engines.


There were some beautiful birds of prey (Kestrels, a Harris Hawk, a Black Kite and a Steppes Kite) and a very good demonstration of horseshoeing by a blacksmith.

The ground was not too muddy but there were some deep ruts were the huge trucks had driven around, we kept an eye on the weather and fortunately the black clouds rolled on by. 
The proceeds of the Fayre go to the local Hospice, last year this little fayre raised over 120,000 pounds!
Then we carried on our way, we went into Berkhampstead. A lovely little town, not too crowded.
It was around 3.00pm but some market stalls were already packing up. we walked along the main street, checked out a very good Oxfam book shop (no purchases) and then drove out to the National Trust property, Ashridge estate. 

 Ashridge Estate is a 2,000 hectare (5,000 acres) area of the Chiltern Hills with beech and oak woodlands, commons and chalk downlands. These very different landscapes each support a rich variety of wildlife, including carpets of bluebells in spring, rare butterflies in summer and the fallow deer that rut in autumn.
 The Bridgewater Monument sits on top of the Chilterns Plateau in the Ashridge Estate, it was built in 1832 to commemorate the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, a pioneer of 19th century canal building.

As the weather was turning a little cool and it was late in the afternoon we didn't head off for a walk through the forest nor did we climb the monument.

 We bought an ice cream, checked out the shop and then headed home.
 The next day we were back to winter, we woke to the sound of raindrops, and like Friday it was set in for the day. No sightseeing walks around St Albans today. We settled down with the Sunday newspapers and there we stayed.
I sorted through our collected items, discarding some, trimming others and soon had the packing sorted. Whether it is under the weight allowance remains to be seen but apart from from about 5 books we haven't bought anything like our usual 'stuff'.We had a lovely roast chicken dinner that night, followed by another serve of strawberries and cream, our last strawberries for a few weeks.
 The next morning we rang the taxi company to confirm our pick up time this afternoon. We were almost ready. Jim insisted on one more meal out, so we went out to an old hotel for a carvery lunch. This hotel has recently been sold and is in the throes of winding down its current operation and remodelling the hotel into a flash wedding / hotel venue. 
 The food was as good as always and after lunch we had one last walk through town.

St Peter's Street St Albans, on a non-market day.The flower seller infront of the Town Hall, with the spire of the Abbey visible in the distance.

Our taxi arrived exactly on time and although we had allowed plenty of time to get to Heathrow we were a little worried by the volume of traffic on the streets of St Albans, I suppose it was to be expected at 5.30pm. The driver said that once we cleared the bottom of the main street the traffic would clear - and it did. We then had to get on to the M25 and travel down to Heathrow.  Surprise, surprise the traffic was flowing freely and we cruised along the M25 very smoothly, arriving at Terminal 2 only 45 minutes later!!
Checking in is always awful, in this instance we tried electronic check in but something didn't gel so we needed to go to a desk.......what can I say - long queues, passengers with incorrect visas, excess baggage, language problems etc. staff having to leave their desks to get further help, at one point out of 6 desks only one was manned; but we eventually were checked in (The bags were each only 20 kgs! I could have bought more stuff!!) and proceeded to security. 
This was actually quicker than check in, we both had to remove our shoes which had set off the body scanner, these were x-rayed and we passed on through okay.
We had just over 3 hours to wait so we went for something to eat. We didn't want a repeat of our last flight home (Michael had food poisoning and was vomiting on the plane) so we opted for a fresh(ish) meal not sandwiches. There are no 'fast food' outlets in Terminal 2 so we headed to "Leons" burgers. The only burger on offer was a chicken burger - er no thanks. We had a 'wrap' and small chips each, then a nice coffee.
Our gate was a 15 minute walk away, so we set off. When we got to the bottom of the tallest escalator we'd ever seen, we were offered a ride on the buggy so we climbed aboard. He could only take us part of the way but every little bit helps. As we got to the gate the flight was boarding, we were well and truly homeward bound now.
Long haul flights are what they are and you get through them as well as you can. Poor Michael really did have a hard time not only coping with cramped leg room but the person in front lay his seat back almost before we were airborne. I think we did manage a couple of hours sleep.
We had a very swift, smooth transfer in Singapore and were soon airborne again. Michael's bad luck continued, this time, although there was more leg room, the person behind him seemed to have a restless leg problem and was kicking the back of Michael's seat. The person in front lay back, of course, but at least the hostess asked him to sit up when the meal was served.
 Due to a late connection with another flight we had been a few minutes late leaving Singapore and we didn't make up this time on the flight, arriving in Perth 10 minutes late. 
So we arrived on Wednesday in the very, very early morning (00:10). 
For the first time we used our e tagged passports and were soon through to the baggage claim area.
I thought we were nice and lucky when as Michael was getting a trolley I spotted one of our bags, then we waited for the second bag.... and waited......and waited........ as the same few sad bags continued to circle on the carousel we realised that our second bag was not going to appear. We found the right desk - filled in the form and joined a really long queue (2 other flights had arrived in the meantime), to pass through customs and quarantine out into the night.and proceeded to security.
Finally at 01:10 on Wednesday morning we walked through the doors to find our friend and neighbour, Graham, sitting quietly reading, we were only 1 hour 15 minutes late!!!
It was around 3:00am when we climbed into bed, my head was spinning as I tried to think what was packed in the missing suitcase. Mostly Michael's clothes I decided, possibly more shirts and trousers lost! 

We woke around 10:30 the next morning and as we were having breakfast we had a phone call from a nice young man who told me that our missing bag was with a courier and would be delivered to us around 2:30p pm. (I suspect it had been left behind in Singapore and then put on the next flight).

The bag arrived at almost exactly 2:30pm -  it was undamaged and had todays date written on it in bold highlighter, adding to my suspicions that it had been left behind somewhere and had been flown to Perth in the early hours. I'm really glad that it did appear because although it was mostly Michael's clothes it also had my lovely new sandals in it, and the phone chargers.
In no time at all everything was unpacked, we then checked through all the mail that had arrived in our absence - no outstanding bills I'm pleased to say.

  Now we have to check the block, do the jobs needed and get fire safe for summer. In between times we will try and get out and about in this great state...... and that story can be found at 


                                                              A Bientot


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