01.04.2013 - 01.04.2013
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As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”; except in our case. Yes we will miss London but we are off to see more great things so the sting of leaving is pretty mild. Considering four of us have had colds for the past week we still kept up a pretty brisk pace this week, so we opted to change things up with a more lazy start to our travel day (at least for the girls and Helen).
A good deal of travel is about logistics. Where are you going to get food and shelter? Where is the next landmark or attraction to visit? How are we going to get from A to B? Where are we going to get the money to pay for all this? I guess the last question is not really about logistics but if anyone has a line on some extra cash we are game to check it out. Today’s logistics were all about transportation. In order to satisfy the budget, I secured a much better deal by picking up our six week car rental from Heathrow rather than from a closer and more convenient location within London. The catch is this meant a fairly long tube ride to Heathrow.
The usual quick Underground travel has been complicated by the fact that several tube lines have been closed over the Easter holiday for maintenance. It took Muriel and me 90 minutes to get to Heathrow, which is a bit of slog when you know you need to drive back into London to pick up the rest of crew and then find your way out again. The silver lining is that the cost of our public transit journey to Heathrow was a mere three pounds each.
When we arrived at the car rental desk we were greeted by a little sign that said no one was operating the airport office and to head out the doors to take a 15 minute shuttle ride to their main office. So by the time we got to our car rental location we had been travelling for a full two hours. What you do to save a buck!
Our car pickup was an interesting illustration of where technology is taking us. For the first minute I was served by a person behind a desk but the rest of the transaction took place at a kiosk with a video phone. Here an attendant based in Ireland completed my rental agreement and told me what stall to pick my car up in. It is just a further step into a virtual world.
I had arranged to get a station wagon model of car so we could transport more food staples as we move from home to home over the next six weeks. We will average a new location every four days but would rather not rebuild our larder of staples from scratch each time we move. I was a little surprised to find that the station wagon parked in the rental stall was a Skoda. Skoda has been around for a long time but it has been the butt of as many jokes as its Russian cousin, the Lada. One joke in the 1980s about a Skoda went something like this. How do you double the value of a Skoda? You fill its tank with petrol. Fortunately, today’s Skoda is a subsidiary of Volkswagon and the cars have an appearance more like a BMW and drive like a Volkswagon.
I was thankful I had a six day refresher on driving on the left side of the road a few months ago in Malta. The drive back into London went smoothly although the traffic was thick. I said to Muriel that I was glad that the hardest driving would be done before I even picked up Helen and kids as we would be heading out of London. I had not really thought this through. Our house is in the north of London and we are heading to the south of England to the small village of Plumpton Green. If you punch this information into a GPS it efficiently plots a straight line from A to B which in our case took us pretty much straight through the heart of London. A straight line drive in London consists of many lines connected by circles (also known as roundabouts). Our fifty mile journey would take two and a half hours and take us within spitting distance of Buckingham Palace. I treated everyone to three times around the rotary next to Hyde Park around the Wellington monument. We truly came to understand the size of a city of 14 million people and the maze of road and traffic it creates. I must say that four and a half months of European and Turkish driving practice is finally paying off. Although the drive was a bit of a slog it was far from stressful. I can happily report that I have not singed any ears with any verbal outbursts. Perhaps this was a disappointment for Helen—having read about other incidents with relish from our earlier blog posts she may have been eagerly anticipating a live rendition. No worries. There is still time, I still have to drive in Cardiff before she parts ways with us.
Plumpton Green is your quintessential English village with one main road and a few short branch streets off it. It is situated in the gently rolling landscape of Sussex. Here we have rented a small backyard cottage. It is a bit of tight fit for five us but Abby is being a trooper and sleeping on some couch cushions on the floor to make it work. With Plumpton Green being fairly small we needed to drive a few miles to find a reasonably sized grocery store. It being Easter Monday, our selection was limited to a Lidl store. We had encountered this chain in Malta and found it a very basic grocery store for its overall size. Its limited wares said a great deal about what are not considered British staples. In a Lidl store, you will not find much in the way of salad dressing (two bottles in the whole store); there is no such thing as coffee cream; and brown bread is far from popular. As an aside, we were surprised to find that the all important British staple, beer, is relatively expensive.
Around the Lidl store you could see the influx of American chains such as Blockbuster (yes they are still in business here), KFC and Papa John’s Pizza. Despite this, the British identity does not seem to be in great danger since fish and chips shops and pubs are still as common as thick British accents.
We enjoyed a home cooked meal of curried chicken and salad along with some British beer (I complain about the price but still can’t resist). It was nice to finish off the evening with some nice wine and conversation. It has been a treat having Helen here in more ways than one. I like having someone to share a bottle of wine with for one. She has the task of choosing the wine and has been batting a thousand in her choices. You can get wine from all over the world here at very reasonable prices. Who thought we would be choosing wine over beer in England!