Return to London

Return to London

There are a few people leaving the tour in Amsterdam, not returning with us to London. Steve is one of them and we say our goodbyes the night before, and I don’t see him in the morning. Oh well, I see he has at least accepted my Facebook friend request and we can keep in touch.

The weather today matches my mood. It had rained during the night and it’s cloudy, gloomy and drizzly. Halfway through the morning we stop for a toilet break, but I’ve barely left the bus when everyone starts heading back as the toilets at the servo aren’t functioning. We pull up again a little further down the road and have a coffee & pee. I’m not really watching the time, and we’re the last back to the bus, Ashley making “run! run!” signs at us as we approach. He’s worried we’ll miss our ferry across the channel.

But we make it. There are no other buses in front of us when we arrive and we all file into the British immigration office, with our passports and our completed arrival forms, to have them stamped. We drive onto the ferry, leave the bus and climb the stairs to the upper deck.

There are schoolchildren out the back on the open deck where I go to take photos, and schoolchildren in one of the lounges.

I buy a sandwich and find a quiet spot away from the noise and anyone else on our tour, stretching my legs out across a window ledge and working on my journal. Some teenagers come to sit by me for a while and I make room for them – they aren’t very noisy – and they go away after a while.

Merv sees me and asks me to come join them, but I tell him I need a break from the group. Later he comes and sits with me, holding a handful of cash. I’ve often sat with Merv and Ros but hadn’t asked about Merv’s work before. He’s retired now, but used to be a lawyer for an insurance company – Alliance, if I remember correctly, or, at least it was one of the big, well-known ones. With my usual (lack of) tact, I let him know I’m not too fond of insurance companies.

“Oh, don’t worry, I didn’t like it either. I wanted to get out of it, even resigned several times. But they’d talk me back into staying, and the years went by, and I ended up staying. Now I’m retired, it’s wonderful.”

Ros wanders past, her usual grin on her face.

“Where are you going?” Merv asks.

“I’m just going to have a look in the gift shop,” she says.

“Ohhhh! Blimey!” Merv expostulates.

“Just looking,” she sings as she keeps going.

Merv looks at the wad of cash he’s holding.

“Oh, you’ve got the money,” I say.

“No, she has a card,” he says as he tucks the cash into his pocket.

That reminds me and I go to get some British Pounds myself, but my card is declined. Maybe I didn’t push the card in right, or maybe it’s because my folders in my bank account are in the wrong order – to pick Euros first – but I decide not to try again, since they said it would cost me 3 pounds to get 50 pounds out and I was having second thoughts about doing it anyway. Here’s hoping I don’t have any trouble when I get to London.

Back on the bus and travelling in the dreary weather towards London, even Nada is quiet for a while. I’ll need to get off at the first stop, then catch a cab to my hotel. Flight Centre told me that the hotel I booked was the one used by Trafalgar, but that was incorrect, so the bus won’t drop me there. Nada and Mayra are also going to Russell Square, but to a different hotel, so we organise to share a cab.

We pass through Blackwall tunnel, built way back in 1898. It’s very narrow – just 2 lanes and not much space at the side of the bus – and a bit creepy. There’s a strong smell of fumes and I wonder how well it’s ventilated. I’m glad when we emerge.

Closer to London, the buildings get more interesting and Nada jumps up and starts taking photos. She’s hyperactive for sure. I wonder how her mother managed her, but it sounds like her mother was hyperactive too.

We pass an amazing building that looks like it’s built from stainless steel, like a number of tanks welded together offset and stacked on top of each other. Unfortunately my camera is in my bag and I don’t have enough time to get it out. I start to take more interest myself, waking up a bit, and thinking about the few days of holiday still ahead of me.

I hate goodbyes too, and decide I’m just going to wave rather than run round and kiss everyone. I’m surprised that most of the people are getting off at the same stop. I hug Aurora and a couple of others, and Hollywood (Graham) makes a point of coming to say goodbye and give me a kiss, and I jump off. It’s a bit of a rush and a scuffle to get our suitcases from the luggage compartment. I manage to say goodbye to Mossimo and touch his hand, and give Ashley a hug. I kiss Jenny and Deb goodbye – they hadn’t realised I wasn’t staying at the same hotel – and before I know it I’m left standing on the footpath alone with Nada and Mayra. The bus has gone and everyone else has crossed the road to go to their hotel.

At least I get to ride in an iconic London cab. We don’t need to wait long before one comes by. There are seats along the back and open space for suitcases, as well as extra jumpseats that are folded up. We haul our suitcases in as Mayra notices there’s a sign saying they don’t take credit cards.

“Let’s get in first and then worry about it,” Nada says, sensibly.

“I have a little bit,” I say. “It just depends how much it is.”

“Do you take euros?” Mayra asks.

“No,” answers the cabby, who sits behind a screen, talking to us via an intercom.

“That’s unusual, not taking credit card,” Nada says.

“Only about 3 cabs in London accept credit card,” the driver says.

“I have 10 pound,” I say. “How much is it likely to cost?”

“You’ll be lucky if it’s even 10 pound,” he replies.

Nada digs out euros to give to me as their share. Their stop is before mine. After they leave, the cabbie starts to talk to me.

“Are they friends of yours?” he asks.

I explain the situation, and we chat about his trips to Europe.

The hotel looks quite grand at first, but it is tired and slightly shabby grandeur. The French girl who checks me in is lovely, offering me the option of a quiet room at the back of the hotel, or a front room with a better view. I opt for the quiet room and take the lift to the 8th floor. The carpet is water stained and faded. My room is typical of the small hotels we’ve been staying at – small, a single bed, but clean and comfortable.

I sit down and make a list of what I need to do this evening to be ready for tomorrow. I check how to get to Luton by public transport but it looks like rather a lot of changes. I have a brainwave – maybe they have an airport shuttle.

On my way out to look around I ask at the porter’s desk. Yes, there’s an airport shuttle. But no, not to Luton. A cab will cost me a good 40 pound. I could walk to St Pancras station if I didn’t have too much luggage. Or I could get the bus to St Pancras. He gives me directions for walking, and I listen carefully to the first part of them and set out in the drizzle, dodging puddles and wishing I still had the umbrella that I carried around for half of the trip and which then went missing. It’s that time of day when people are finishing work and rushing home. I’m out of place, conspicuous with my meandering walk, stopping to consult my phone or take photos.

Of course I don’t find my way as directed. I stop, set my gps and try again. I come to an impressive elaborate building that is St Pancras Hotel. On the map I can see a Kings Cross St Pancras Station and a London St Pancras station. I check out the Kings Cross St Pancras station and head back towards the hotel where I’m staying.

I pass a shop called King of Felafel and go in there to buy a wrap. When I’m in sight of the hotel I cross the road to see Russell Square, a lovely park with huge trees, luscious lawns, and a small fountain in the middle.

I’ve had enough sightseeing and hunker back in my room. My felafel wrap surprises me with how good it is. The bread has a freshly-toasted crispness and the filling is felafel with hommous and roasted vegetables, way better than the typical wrap we get is Aus.

I go carefully through my luggage, clearing out any brochures and paperwork I no longer need and consolidating souvenirs into my suitcase, before I set my alarm and go to bed.

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