“Planes, trains & automobiles”
Our Trek to The UK
Eeek! We’re so excited to be returning to the UK. In 2015 we spent 6 glorious weeks here, and vowed to return; this time for a longer duration. Six house/pet sitting assignments spanning a 114 day period. Heaven.
The journey to get here…Hell. When you travel full-time, you have to expect the occasional hiccup. It comes with the territory. To be a global traveler, afterall, you need to be able to turn on a dime and just roll with it, right? But when you factor in a lack of sleep, a lack of control, a crazy rip roaring diet during travel, you’re playing a whole new ballgame. “Just rolling with it” is kind of a joke at this point.
We literally did the whole “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” journey. Oh, and add “buses” to that mix as well. Travel time from Cape Cod to Cornwall should take about 15 hours total, that includes clearing airport security, getting through Customs & Immigration, train wait times, and the requisite arriving to the bus stop 30 minutes before schedule on The Cape to head to Logan Airport. Our trek? Twenty-seven hours. Twelve…freaking…hours longer.
A week before our journey, our bus from Cape Cod to the airport was cancelled. No 4:45 now. Just a 2:30 or 8:00 pm option. Our flight out of Boston was scheduled for 9:20 pm, so take 8:00 pm out of the mix. Arrival time to Logan Airport: 3:50 pm. A whopping 5.5 hours prior to flight. The check in counters weren’t even due to be open for another 90 minutes.
We head to a restaurant/bar to try to pass some time until the counters open up. It’s July 1, and I’ve committed myself to a “Dry July”. Great! You can usually pass a lot more time in an airport bar if you’re nursing a glass of vino or a brewsky, but they are eyeing you up to leave a lot quicker when you’re sipping on water and coffee. We finally take off at 10:40 instead of 9:20. No biggie. Take-offs are often delayed, and hey, we’re full of anticipation, we’re bright and alert, and our bellies are full. The pilot was awesome, and was able to shave off 45 minutes from the delay by taking a different flight path. Yay!
Gatwick Airport Station was a zoo. That’s to be expected at a major airport. Customs and Immigration were pleasant and welcoming, all baggage was accounted for, and the train ticket counter was found easily, making pick-up of our prepaid tickets a snap. So now we wait for almost 3 hours. The original 11:09 train? Cancelled. No sit-down restaurants or cafes to be found. Just little walk-up coffee shops and a sprinkling of benches in the lobby…that’s it. Once you put your ticket in the slot and walk through the stiles, there’s no turning back (and no seats on the platforms either…see the photo of me perched on a steel beam?). So we slowly sipped on coffee and tried to pass the time, all the while balancing our luggage and trying to ignore the evil eye of others who looked on waiting for us to give up our coveted seats. Out of sheer boredom, we finally did a walk around and found a place to get a SIM card for our phones. Thirty minutes or so later, we’re off to catch our train.
The first leg of our journey from London to Exeter was a scenic and leisurely ride to Reading. We sat in First Class (yes, we got a fantastic deal!), and actually met a friendly couple across the aisle who engaged in conversation with us. And where were they from? Canada. Their journey was taking them to Chesterfield (remember when sofas were chesterfields?) to visit family. The hour and a half with them was pleasant and the time passed quickly. But now we found ourselves falling like a ton of bricks. So…very…tired! A one hour layover in Reading gave us time to grab a healthy bite to eat. Unlike Gatwick’s station, we had some choices between a number of restaurants and cafes – with seats.
From Reading, we now had a 2.5 hour journey to Exeter. First Class on this leg was very opulent…supple leather seating arranged in a foursome with a table in between, free wifi, outlets, and a snack bar nearby if needed. Across from us sat 2 young gentlemen who were French-speaking, offering us no indication of being able to speak or understand English. Not even a nod or a smile. Crickets.
Ninety minutes in, our train comes to a slow down and then a stop. Overhead we hear “would the train manager please call the driver”, followed by an announcement telling us about a problem with the signals on the tracks. A short wait, and we carry on. A few minutes later, the same announcement, and once again we’re stopped. We slowly carry on to Tiverton Station and make an unscheduled stop. We’re told that there is a massive signal outage from Tiverton to Exeter, but we’re reassured that we’ll be on our way in 30 minutes. Seventy minutes later, we start again, now having to stop at each and every signal, proceeding with caution until we get to Exeter. Normal travel time between the 2 points is less than half an hour. Today, it was over an hour. We finally arrive at Exeter Station exhausted, hangry and pretty much pissy all around. Now to catch a cab and get to Exeter Airport to pick up our car hire.
We originally had bus tickets to get from the train to the airport. Pure exhaustion hinders your thought processes. We both agree that we don’t have it in us to hop on a bus, fight with our luggage, squeeze in amongst other passengers…we’ve had enough. It costs us 23 Pounds – CA$44, but who gives a flying…well, you know. We’ve decided to write a strongly worded letter to the Great Western Railway, requesting a refund. We shall see what comes of THAT!
Relief. We picked up our Fiat 500 (cute car!), knowing we’re on our last leg to Cornwall. Mark’s ability to drive on the left here is superb. All of that Australian driving paid off.
So, now we can just relax and enjoy the beautiful Cornish countryside. But wait…it all comes back to me…those harrowingly narrow roads flanked by the Cornish Hedges! Ya, they look like greenery and they’re quite beautiful, but don’t let that fool you. They’re actually rocks disguised as hedges! I’ll be closing my eyes and doing a lot of praying while exploring Cornwall over the next 6 weeks.
Update…we are awaiting our refund for the entire purchase price of our tickets through Great Western Railroad. And we didn’t even have to get ugly about it. Anytime they delay you by more than 2 hours, they issue a refund.
Just glad to be here. Finally!
Linda & Mark