London, Day 2

Well, seeing as I’ve received very little / no feedback on Day 1, I can see that you’re all really enjoying reading these. Never mind, I intend to keep going, with the help of more photographs and Google Maps.

Anyway, I awoke on the 2nd day. This was to be the main day we were there, and the only full day. We had intended to visit Brick Lane market at one point during the trip. Unfortunately, due to it only being open at the weekend, it was closed, so that was off the radar. There was, however, Borough Market just a short tube ride away, somewhere near London Bridge. We got there, and it was rather “foody”.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a market that’s got a dedicated “Turnips” section. Admittedly, I did spend rather a long time debating whether I should buy a small tub of Scorpion Chilli powder, but seeing as there was no prices on anything, I decided against it. I’m one of those people who’ll take something to a counter, ask how much it is, and then begrudgingly buy it even if it’s more than what I expected to pay.

It’s probably still there on the shelf now. On the plus side, I didn’t have to carry it around all day.

Accomplice bought a “weird” bacon sandwich, and while I was tempted to buy a sausage sandwich, I didn’t…. my word, the excitement I get up to, eh? No wonder nobody is reading this bloody thing.

We walked around the nearby area, and happened to stumble upon one of the replicas of “The Golden Hinde”.

It was a short walk to London Bridge tube station, so we headed off in its general direction. As you pass under London Bridge, there’s a tannoy that plays a creepy music-box rendition of “London Bridge Is Falling Down”. That’s rather worrisome, especially as you’re going under it as the time. No matter though, as I’m sure it’s built with far more sturdy materials than when that particular tune was written. It’s an old folk tune anyway, so it was probably written about polio anyway.

One of the sights I wanted to see while I was in London was the Olympic Park, in Stratford. It sort-of fitted with the other things we were going to see that day anyway (or so we thought), so we headed off in that general direction.

It seemed we were going out of the more popular area of London, as the tube carriage emptied further and further we went along the line. This had me feeling already that there wasn’t going to be too much there.

Well. After getting out of the tube station, you’re greeted with a shopping centre. Nothing much wrong with that, but it just feels a bit like “You’ve come all this way to see something. Great! Now spend some money!” And, spend I did! I bought myself a sausage roll from Greggs (yes, they have them down there too) and a bottle of wahter. And the sausage roll was *terrible*.

It was a short walk to the Olympic park from the shopping centre. Well, it would have been had we gone the right way, but instead we ended up walking around the not-very-decorative loading bays for the shopping centre. Oops.

Onto the stadium itself. The words “underwhelming” spring to mind. Maybe it was because they changed the shape of it since it was used for the Olympic Games, but I was expecting something much grander.

The athletics championships had just finished a couple of days prior to us going, and there were still traces of the signage left standing. Unfortunately, as the stadium had begun the transformation from an athletics track into a football stadium (which has to be done manually, and takes 15 days), nost of it was fenced off. There were still signs up for the athletics though, including a sighting of my new second-favourite fictional hedgehog, “Hero”…

After that, we were “Gone, Gone, Gone!” Next stop would be Abbey Road. It was a mere couple of stops on the DLR…. or WAS it?

Judging by the presence of that sentence, you’d be right in thinking it isn’t. At least, not the famous one, anyway.

We got off at the appropriate DLR station named “Abbey Road”, and made our way to the bridge that leads out on the road, only to be presented with a sign filled with really crap Beatles puns, something along the lines of “Are you looking for the Beatles’ Abbey Road and are in need of a little Help!? Well, you’ll need to get a Ticket To Ride to “another station”.

Accomplice had pretty much given up on the idea of seeing it. I clearly hadn’t. Therefore, we travelled the 34 minutes on the tube, followed by about another 10 minute walk, just to see a zebra crossing. And it’s not even the original zebra crossing, which was a little further up the road. But nothing stands in the way of a good photo opportunity.

OK, it’s entirely the wrong angle, but I wasn’t going to get Accomplice to stand in the middle of road and hold up traffic. I’d have known what the response would have been.

So, the whole premise of going here and seeing the non-touristy sights were going really well. There was one place I wanted to go that even the hardened tourist wouldn’t have thought of.

Part of my job involves entering data about London streets from emails into a database. It’s all very old fashioned, and something that could be automated very easily, but because of this, I became aware of a street called Chandos Place, upon which stands a Nandos. Therefore, we headed there andhad Nandos in Chandos. I wonder how many other people have done the following just for that very reason. Yeah, probably nobody.

As we were still in an “upmarket” part of London (Covent Garden, to be exact), it seemed only right to go and do something even more upmarket. It was time to take my very first trip to Harrods. After all, I’m sure I’d fit in, with my purple Slazenger polo shirt and Sports Direct walking boots. I’m sure it was the type of clientele the shop regularly does business with. Mind you, nobody in their right frame of mind actually buys anything from there. I mean, £1.80 for a bottle of coke? Come on, I’m sure there was a Tesco Express around the corner.

I bet you didn’t know that the carrier bags for Harrods used to be made in Hartlepool? I don’t know if they’re still are, but I always remember going to infants school with my PE kit in a Harrods carrier bag. My nanna worked for the company that made them. Obviously, I didn’t get the significance at the time, but I’m sure it’d raise a few smiles these days, wandering around this lovely little fishing village with a Harrods bag.

I was considering buying a music system, but even if I put together all of the money I have ever earned from all of my jobs, and not spent anything else ever, I’d probably still not come close on buying this…

It was at this point my Nandos started moving, and I thought it’d be a nice little thing to say I’ve had a cack in Harrods. If you’re a bloke, don’t bother. There’s bogs on every floor for women, and one bog in the entire place for blokes, and there was a queue a mile long. There’s one thing I absolutely detest in life, and that’s following someone into a cubicle It’s happened too often where I’ve dropped an absolute panblocker, and someone’s went in straight after me. One day, I know the tables are gonna turn, but not this time. I kept hold of it until we found somewhere else.

And that somewhere else was apparently “the only pub on Sloane Street”, known as The Gloucester. Finding the bogs was like playing something in The Crystal Maze (which has returned to our TV screens! Hurrah!) – go up some stairs, through the doors, disable the laser, though some other doors, etc. While we were in there, I also had a pint of “Camden Pale Ale”, which was a nice smooth pint. I have blocked the price of this from my mind. Accomplice would watch out of the window as the shiny and expensive cars would go by, and comment on each of them. I would simply nod politely and pretend I knew what was being said. I didn’t have a clue. When it comes to cars, you might as well speak Swahili to me.

We downed the pints and emerged once more into the setting sun. Apparently, we walked up Knightsbridge, Kensington Road, then onto Exhibition Road. Lots of large colleges around there. Walking around there made me feel like I was back in Berlin or Vienna. It certainly didn’t feel like London.

Another quick ride on the tube took us to Victoria. A station I believe I last frequented in 2003. We walked down Victoria Street. Another street lined with modern buildings and shops, and of course, some not-so-new buildings. It was, at this point, it became clear that all of my hopes of doing the non-touristy stuff came to an abrupt halt, as unbeknownst to me, the road led to the Houses of Parliament, and of course, Elizabeth Tower, a.k.a. Big Ben.

It was a mere five days before the big bell would stop sounding for four years, so I suppose it was nice to be one of the last to hear it in action one last time.

We made our way across Westminster Bridge, and headed down the river towards London Bridge, taking in the sights, stopping off for the odd sit-down along the way…

I’d avoided any type of curry, so I don’t know how that possibly could have happened.

As we were walking, something became apparent. My feet weren’t holding up as well as I thought they were going to. I’d pretty much avoided the problems with my left foot (more on that later, probably in the next part), but instead I was having problems with my right foot…

And, right on cue, just as we’d passed the ITV studios (home to none other than ITV’s “This Morning”, as you can clearly see), I felt a massive blister go. Oh, this didn’t feel like it was going to be good.

I struggled on, desperate for a sit down somewhere, but we kept on, and eventually made it back to London Bridge. It was about 9PM at the point, but that music-box thing I mentioned earlier was STILL playing. Creepy.

It was still relatively early, and we’d made plans to go somewhere and catch something to eat, but my feet decided not to play ball, so we headed back, calling in at McDonalds on the way, as it was just a short journey from the hotel. My word, if you know Hartlepool, you’ll know you always get your flurry of harmless chavs hanging around. It’s warm, it’s dry and it has free Wi-Fi. What’s not for chavs to love? Well, in London, it’s like that, but the chavs seem a little more… sinister, like if you look at them the wrong way, they’d stab you. I felt like the guy sat next to me was going to jump me, or something. Then a guy sat next to me, carrying a Primark bag, having a full-on conversation to himself.

“Right, that’s it, we’re going”…

We arrived back at the hotel at approximately 9:30. I nipped downstairs to the hotel bar to see what it was like. Not very good to be fair. One lager of dubious origin on draught, and a price tag around the £4.50 mark. I managed to have one before they ran out. I then had a 330ml bottle of Stella and paid about the same. If I’d have thought, I could have nipped to the pub across the road. Though if I thought @the Maccy D’s was rough, I dread to think how rough that pub might have been, especially on my own and with a Northern accent. Yeah, best to stay in the safety of the hotel I reckon.

As I was unwilling to mortage Mercury Towers for another small beverage, I headed back to the room in preparation for the 3rd and final day in the Capital…

London 2017, day 1.

Yes, I’m aware that I came back from London over a week ago, yet I’ve only just got around to starting to type out it. “Why is that”, I hear you ask. WIt’s because I’m in the middle of recovering from it. I’m under doctors’ orders to keep the weight off my right foot, because, possibly due to a case of worn / ill-fitting footwear, soft Hartlepudlian feet, and walking for approximately 30 miles in the course of three days, means that I managed to lose a large percentage of the skin on my foot.

I did have an accomplice with me for the trip, but this person doesn’t want to be named in the blog. It’s to be expected. I mean, who wants to openly admit sharing a hotel room with me? Therefore, this person will be named as “Accomplice”.

Aaaanyway. Onto the trip. I arranged athe the abode of Accomplice just before 9AM. Thankfully transport for us to get to Darlington had been pre-arranged, as the train was at 10:28. We were both expecting the A19 to be heaving at this time, so we set off at about 9. Half an hour later, (including a stop off to pick up excessive amounts of Pom-Bears), we were there. Darlington Station isn’t really a place you’d want to spend an hour at, but I guess it’s better than missing the train.

The train journey was uneventful, expect for the occasional piercing scream from the child in the seat in front. Admittedly, I was slightly hungover, so this didn’t really help matters. Headphones did, however.

So, we arrive in London with the sun shining. Hordes of fellow travellers depart the train, and off we go towards the hotel. It was about a 5 minute walk from King’s Cross to the hotel, though the weight of my bag made it feel more like 50. Accomplice had been to the same hotel previously, so at least we knew the way.

We were early for the hotel by about two hours so couldn’t check in, but were allowed to drop our bags. That was a weight off. I don’t know if that’s often a thing that hotels do. but it could have helped with the times I’ve been places and carried my bag around until check-in time. I’ll have to remember that.

Seeing as we were now bagless, it was time to have a walk around. Up Euston Road, along Great Portland Street, and down Oxford Street because we both agreed it was time to grab the tube, seeing as we’d pretty much just done a “lap”. I make no secret about hating the underground, but it’s so convenient. Could have done without the £12.30 price tag for a day ticket though. Sure, an Oyster card might have worked out cheaper, but you know I hate shellfish. A-haha, etc.

There were a few places I wanted to go. Not exactly touristy things. Camden, and The World’s End pub were two of these. I’ve never seen the film, but still always wanted to go there.

We had a brief walk around Camden. It was crowded, seeing as it was mid afternoon, in the height of summer.. Camden Market really is weird though. It’s all of the stuff you’ve never realised you’ve never needed and actually didn’t want, but with really nice food stalls. They also get arsey if you want to take a photo too.

We decided that we’d come back after things have died down a little. Our stomachs were rumbling, so it was time to find something to eat. A quick dash on the tube later, and we ended up in Leicester Square. Accomplice had informed me there was a nice Italian place “around here somewhere” that would satisfy our foodular needs. Turns out we couldn’t find it, and instead went to “Steak & Co.”

You genuinely can’t go wrong with a good steak, and at this point I was starving, so it seemed a perfect choice. We were provided with a menu. A complete waste of time. I felt like saying to the woman at the door “Two slabs of beef, chips, bit of pepper sause… STAT! But, before I’d plucked up the courage to talk to a female, the waiter was on-hand with a notepad.

“Yeah, I’ll have that. that, glass of coke, and can I have it medium rare please”.

“Oh, it comes rare, YOU cook it how you want.”

What kind of actual voodoo was this? I’m in a restaurant, and you want me to cook my steak? Oh, okay, my knowledge of steak barely expands above Frankie + Benny’s, but… prepare my own steak? Eh?

It turns out, they bring out the steak on a massive, hot stone, and you cut it, fry it, and add the ingredients as you see fit. Admittedly, I expected to spend the next two days in the hotel bog, but nope, I managed to somehow prepare a steak on a hot stone and cook it all by myself, without food poisoning. It came to just under £25 for steak, chips and a glass of coke, but my word, we’re still talking about that steak now.

So, happily fed, we headed back off to Camden.

Crap photo opportunities aside, we headed to The Worlds End.

Before I found out how much a pint of “Soft Southern Piss” would cost, a small voice beside me said “What do you want?” Holy cow. Accomplice had offered to buy a pint in what would surely be the most expensive establishment we’d ever been in. Pint of your finest lager please, Barkeep! Well, actually it was Brooklyn lager, but still at 5.60 a pint, I made it last about an hour.

Brewdog is a brand we both have a bit of an affection to. Accomplice likes trying the different ales they have on offer. I like it because there’s less chance of it tasting like cat piss. On a night out, I buy the bottles of IPA. On a night out like this, I bought the draught lager. I thought that it may have been better value for money, seeing as it was my round. Nope. Pretty much the same price. Two pints in, and over 11 quid light.

Unfortunately, Accomplice had bought a “dark lager. Not up to their usual standards of taste, and if I hadn’t have necked three quaretrs of it, it’d have ended up down the sink.

So, Camden was completed. The tube was still open, and there was time to do the touristy stuff. I’d never seen Tower Bridge lit up before, so seeing I had my camera, we headed down there. Of course, we did get slightly lost, but ended up walking past a bar called “Fuckoffee” I took photos, but they were shite. Maybe you’ll be able to work out the name from this…

The walk continued, and it suddenly dawned upon us that Tower Bridge probably wasn’t in the direction we were heading. The GPS that my phone recorded clearly proved this.

Note that we didn’t suddenly swim over the other side of the river and back again. That’s just Google’s “Timeline” feature being slightly less creepy for a second.

Naturally, there were some night time river shots. One of which,


Yeah, not bad I suppose.

It was pushing 10pm by this point, so we walked the “short” distance between Tower Bridge and London Bridge, hopped on the tube and went back to the hotel.

Fasten your seatbelts, Day 2 is going to be a long one…

Amsterdam, day 1

I’ve just came back from a few days away, and my first visit to Amsterdam. Technically it’s my second, but you can hardly call Schiphol airport a visit.

So, the journey started on Tuesday morning. There were a group of about 12 of us, who meet up on a Monday night in the Mill House.

We boarded the coach, and instead of being all in a group, it turned out we were scattered all over the coach. We’d block-booked, so you’d have thought we’d all be in the same area of the coach, but no. Not that it actually mattered, because the next pickup was in Hull. I was perfectly happy with my seat anyway. Right at the back, and with a window seat. Couldn’t have been better. It gave me chance to photograph the loveliness of Hartlepool town centre, and the journey to Hull, which is where we would embark our floating hotel.

There was a brief stop in Ferrybridge, long enough to partake in some chips from Burger King. I also invested in two bottles of water. At 2 500ml bottles for £2, it was almost double the price of petrol. Still, it was cheaper than the pop, and with arguably less sugar, this was to be my choice.

Of course, that is, until we arrived in Hull. We got chance to have a stop-off which meant only one thing… a pub. Apparently, the nearest Weatherspoon’s was about 10 minutes’ walk away, so we just picked a street and headed down it, hoping for the best. It wasn’t long until we’d found a little place, namely “The Masters Bar”. Therefore, at 2PM, the first pint of the trip was to be consumed.

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The place was small. Really small. The beer was cheap and the locals friendly. Really couldn’t go wrong. It was freezing when we got in there, but it started warming up, or maybe that was the beer kicking in.

We had to be back at the bus station for 3:40PM. The other pick-up had already embarked by the time we’d got there, so the bus was a little more full than it was originally. Well, that’s natural, but you know what I mean.

There was only about 20 minutes left of the bus trip, and we arrived in the Hull docks at just after 4. Of course, there was the obligatory sit-around for about an hour while the customs searched the bus and checked the passports. Everything was in order, and none of us got dragged off the bus in handcuffs. That would have been a blog entry on its own.

Eventually, we got on board. I was surprised at how big it was, even though it’s the maritime equivalent of a Cityhopper plane. There was also the trick of working out who I was sharing the cabin with. There’d be two of us to a cabin, and after the bus mix-up, I wasn’t with who I was expecting!

I don’t think anything quite prepared me for just how small the cabins were going to be. I gathered they’d had to be small, but just how small would be a surprise. Turns out I didn’t take a photo so I’d just have to try and describe it. For those who have never been on one of these budget cruises before, the room was about 6 feet wide, and that’s including the beds attached to the wall. If one of us wanted to get past the other, we’d either have to get on the bed or press right against the wall.

Amenities were scarce. There weren’t any, basically. You’d have thought that seeing as the ship sailed between Rotterdam and Hull constantly, that there’d be two types of plug sockets on-board. No. Apparently, these must have cost extra to fit, because there was only one European socket. Or maybe it was the “special” cabins that got these. Needless to say I didn’t pack my European adaptor. Three days for my devices to survive.

Thankfully, I’d invested in an emergency battery charger while I was in Asda a few weeks ago, so I knew I’d at least get an extra few hours out of my phone. The camera would just have to survive on whatever juice it had remaining.

Anyway, back to the cabin. The only other thing in there, except for two bunk beds, was the bathroom. This was amazingly small. Shower, sink and toilet. This was also my first encounter with one of those vacuum toilet things. I was a bit alarmed when I was stood there having a pee to see the water level rise. I thought the toilet was blocked. Then I realised, you had to close the lid, and flush. There was an almighty roar, everything had gone, and the water level had returned to normal. Phew.

So, the next job was to find the bar. After all, there wasn’t going to be much else to do on the journey. A green sign on the wall read “Irish Bar”. Yup. This’ll do. Turns out there was literally nothing Irish about it Admittedly, they *were* playing The Corrs, but it was just the same as the other bars (there were three overall). A pint of Becks as £3.70. It could have been worse. It’s not as if you could nip over the road and get one, was it? You could have, of course, bought duty free on the ferry, but you weren’t allowed to drink it on the ship. You’d have to buy it and then pick it up as you got off the ferry on the return journey.

A couple of pints were consumed, and then we headed into the restaurant. I pictured scenes of dodgy, cold food, served to you as a set meal, slopped onto a plate. I can happily report this was not the case. If you didn’t like what was on offer, then you didn’t like food. There was everything. Including curry, and it was all-you-can-eat. Well, I was in my element. Unlimited curry. Of course, we hadn’t left the port yet, so I wasn’t quite sure how great my sea legs would be, and if I’d be spewing up everywhere within the first few miles. And, of course, I wanted to leave room for the beer.

Dinner was completed successfully, and we ended up in the main bar. This would be the one where all of the “entertainment” was to be taking place. A large projector was showing what else you could do on board, such as the cinema, piano lounge, etc. The cinema would have cost money, so this was scratched immediately off the menu. There was also a casino. Was I feeling lucky? Good lord, no. I gave that a suitably wide berth, unlike the cabin I’d be sleeping in.

We all ended up downstairs in the main bar. Of course, the first showing was of the obligatory safety video. Don’t panic. This is where your life jackets are. Mackerel have the right of way, and so on. This was to be the best entertainment. They even showed it three times, in different languages.

Of course, if you weren’t in the bar at the time, you won’t have seen the video, so I have no idea what everyone else would have done… it soon became crystal clear why.

Because if you’ve been on this ship more than once, you’d know to avoid the on-board entertainment like the plague. Now, I’ve been taught that if you can’t say nice things about anybody, then don’t say anything at all.

Next morning we…. Hahah, I jest. Seriously, this was the worst sound system I have ever heard. Below is a picture of where we were sat, and the proximity to the stage.

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It was so quiet, you couldn’t actually understand what they were saying, and the choices of songs were absolutely atrocious. It was strange hearing the lady singing songs quite clearly meant for blokes to sing. Examples of this escape my mind. The backing tracks sounded like they’ve been put through one of those internet tools that you can use to strip vocals off and just leave the instrumentals behind. The results were astonishing.

There were three of them, the singer, a bassist and a guitarist. The bassist seemed utterly pointless, as the tracks already had a bassline. In fact for the last part of the show, he just gave up and sat in the audience. The singer was just about there, and the guitarist did perform pretty well. None of them were anything to write home about… oh wait, I just did.

It suddenly became apparent that while you were sat down, you didn’t realise that much you were on a ferry. The movement wasn’t too bad. It was only when you got up to go for a pee, you run into problems. I nipped to the bogs, and pointed Petite Percy at the porcelain, only to almost fall backwards. I thought the Becks was kicking in… nope, just the movement of the ship. Phew.

It must have been about 1 when I called it a night. The times were hazy. Literally. Was it GMT? Was it CET? All I knew is that there would be a tannoy announcement to wake us up. My cabin buddy had already retired to the cabin many hours before. Attempting to sleep would be an experience, but I’d became prepared. I’d preloaded the23rd anniversary of “Crap From The Past”, hosted by Ron Boogiemonster Gerber onto my MP3 player. This turned out to be a smart move. I never knew that “What’s Love Got To Do With It” was originally recorded by Bucks Fizz. No, really.

After that eye opener, my eyes closed, and the slow rhythmic vibration of the ship lulled me off to sleep…

Taking the high road…. day 2 (and horribly incomplete)

Look, I’m *never* going to finish the Scotland trip write-up. I hate having one of those “real life” things. Here’s the partial write-up of day 2, complete with placeholders where I wanted photos to go, because I really am *that* lazy!

Oops, I hadn’t forgotten about this, I’ve just had a few things to do in my “extra curricular” time, and I’ve been laden with manflu, so I’ve hardly had the time or the patience to sit down at the computr. Anyway, onto Day 2. I awoke with very little of a hangover, and it would be the first time I’d get a decent look out of the hotel window just to see what the view was like. Let’s just say when I opened the window, I almost spat my complimentary cup of tea and biscuits all over the window. It was stunning.

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I’ve stayed in many hotels over the years, and this was the first one I’ve had with a decent view. Normally, I’m looking over a service road, or the back of another building or a car park, but this was something different. 10 points for the view. In fact, the whole of the exterior was quite pretty, and looked more like something out of Norway than Scotland

pic of hotel

Breakfast was consumed, which, of course, consisted of one of those rare commodities… hotel toast. It’s just so different to normal toast and I don’t know why. It’s the same product, and I assume the same cooking method. It’s just different. I’ve tried to explain this to people and they don’t understand what I’m going on about. It’s also when I say that milk tastes different if you drink it outside. they don’t understand that either. It just does. It really, really does.

I digress, and before I become accused of having a point to any of these blog postings, let’s just say we boarded the coach, and headed off deep in to the highlands. Well, you’ll be glad to know, if you’ve seen one picture of a foggy mountainside, you’ve seen them all. So, I took 90 photos. Our first destination was Fort William. We didn’t stay there that long, just enough time to stop in the shadow of Ben Nevis (which, due to the low cloud, you couldn’t actually see the summit) and to get an overpriced drink from the “Wool Shop”. Cor, exciting times. Me and Chris decided to have a quick walk around the streets to see if we could find a cheap paper shop, but unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.

So, that was Fort William, for now. We’d return on the way back, but onto our main destination… Fort Augustus. The reason for this is to visit the most famous loch of them all. Loch Ness. Would we see the infamous Nessie? Sadly, not, unfortunately, there was another just as ugly creature stood at the edge of the water. That’ll be me, taking the photos.

loch ness photo

Ho hum. Well, we’d seen the vast expanse of water. It appeared to be the same as the other expanses of water which we had seen in the day, and so, it was off to explore the village. And by that, I mean explore the nearest pub. You’ll be shocked, saddened, and probably even a little appalled to learn that I had a coke. I really wasn’t feeling the love for the beer, and considering there was the coach ride back to contend with, I didn’t want anything alcoholic pressing on my bladder.

So, we left the pub and explored the rest of the village. There was a museum (which was closed) and a Londis. I was rather happy at the fact the Londis sold “Atomic Fireballs”, a confectionery I hadn’t seen since I was about 13. I’m pretty sure they’d reduced the heat content, but the good old cinnamon flavour was still there. It was the only place I’d seen where things like water were reasonably priced too. I could have drank the water in the hotel (I don’t believe in all of that “change of water makes you shit through the eye of a needle” malarky), but the beakers provided in the hotel were the size of thimbles, and I didn’t fancy having to get up if I was thirsty during the night. Oh, and they had schotch-flavoured condoms on the front counter. I’m lining up the QI klaxon for the raft of predictable jokes that is going to make the comments.

The journey back included the afore-mentioned stop in Fort William. Maybe it was because it was a week day. Maybe it was because it was going on 4PM, but there was very little there. The “High Street” had very little going for it. Naturally there were the charity shops, but as Chris was with me, I didn’t want to just visit those. I’d save that for Edinburgh later on in the week! So, a few 30-second charity shops a Tesco and a museum later, we headed back to the coach, and time to photograph the things I’d neard about on the coach, but didn’t get the chance to photograph, including this…

I can’t remember if it had an official name, but the legend has it, that a farmer buried his dead sheepdog, named Domino, at the base of this rock, and shortly after, a tree started growing out of the rock. Awww.

So, er, that’ll be my Scotland trip. Days 3, 4 and 5 involved Edinburgh, a shirt, a squirrel, the Forth Road bridge, an epic game of cards in the dark, and at the very end, an aching arse. Make of that what you will, because I’ll probably never, ever write any of it up. Oh well!

Vienna calling, the sodding journey home.

This one doesn’t deserve a day number, as it really wasn’t a part of the holiday, possibly one of the most infuriating 15 hours of my life. You may be interested to know that I’m still halfway through the last day while I’m typing this, but I’ve had a bit to drink, and really fell like I need to get this vitriol out of my system before I bite someone’s face off.

Admittedly, the day started off perfectly. We’d packed early and headed off into the reception 30 minutes before the driver was ready to pick us up. he was a really nice guy, and he has a good chat about what had happened on our trip. He didn’t seem surprised about the conversation we’d experienced on Day 6. In fact, he seemed a bit surprised that we didn’t go for it, and also gave us some tips for locations of that nature should we ever return.

We arrived at the airport, thanked the driver for his excellent service, and this is where things started to go just that little bit pear-shaped. After typing our details into the self-checkin computer, we got our boarding passes and luggage things printed. Jonathan was entirely exempt from the baggage procedure, as his case fitted in hand luggage. Remember, our bags would need to go to Heathrow. We’d pick them up, then make our way to Gatwick for the flight back to Newcastle.

Anyway, Chris went to one desk, I went to another. We both had the same “credentials”. Our bags disappeared up the conveyor, and we headed up through the check-in gates. At this point, all I wanted, and cared about was free wi-fi, which the airport seemed to offer. It wasn’t until we were sat in the departure gate, did I manage to get connected. Some of you may remember my “Hello From Vienna” post, where I said “Or rather, the airport, as I sit in the departure lounge awaiting part one of what will be an awful journey back.” You’ll have to forgive the typos. It’s a touchscreen. I think it all came down the fact I knew we were against the clock. I also thought that Chris was going to bail the Gatwick – Newcastle flight, opting to stay with Jonathan for a bit.

Nothing could prepare me for the horror that would lie ahead. Moments after posting that blog post, I needed the toilet. I headed off to the cubicle, and without me noticing, it turned out to be one of those freaky German “shelf” toilets. You poo onto what is literally a shelf, presumably so you can erm… “examine your stool”. Trust me, there were no surprises, except the one I got when I stood up, looked down and thought I’d used the toilet incorrectly.

The gate opened, and we headed off onto the plane. Chris really hated the experience. At this point, I had nothing to hate.

The flight was brilliant. I oddly fell asleep, waking just as we were coming back to the British Isles. The path down below the clouds was literally like the set of Eastenders. I almost lost a testicle when we flew over the Millennium Dome / O2 Arena. The other testicle nearly burst when we flew near Wimbledon’s grounds. Unfortunately, this would be the last happy experience I’d have on the entire trip. Usual shit ensued, as we passed through passport control. We headed off to baggage. Chris’s turned up. I stood there, waiting. The board said “Still offloading”. By the time there was one bag left, I was freaking out. It wasn’t mine, obviously. The board still said offloading, but after this bag went around the fourth time, I expected a holy fuckup.

I headed off to the baggage desk. I handed my receipt to the guy behind the counter…

Him: “oh yeah, there’s been a mistake. Your bag has landed, but it’s going to Gatwick via van… it won’t make it to your connecting Newcastle flight”. Slightly pissed off, I completed the paperwork, It took ages. It also became apparent that because the plane was delayed and so was the baggage, the three hours we had to travel 50 miles from Heathrow to Gatwick had considerably shrunk.

Jonathan lives in Surbiton, so the plan was to get a taxi to there. He’d drive us the rest of the way to Gatwick.

We jumped into a black cab, £20 each to Surbiton. After my bag shenanigans, I was happy to pay. All I wanted to do was get home. Something became very clear. The bag and plane delay meant that we’d be cutting things incredibly fine. Jonathan did his best to get us there in time, though traffic going through Surbiton didn’t help at all. I don’t think I’ve ever heard C or J get so angry. It was plain sailing from there to Gatwick, until we got close to the airport, there was another half-mile of traffic to the entrance. Chris, probably rightly, thought “fuck this”, and jumped out, heading towards the terminus. I’d got what little baggage I’d accumulated and ran after Chris. Be aware, my feet were still on fire at this point, and I’m watching the clock. I think we had about 17 minutes. We arrive in the South Terminal, with no sign of the British Airways travel desk. Chris asks someone, who points us to the North Terminal. A train takes us over there, and we arrive at the North Terminal… Whoo, British Airways desk. there we go. About 4 minutes to spare. We go to check in.

Him: “We don’t do flights to Newcastle from here”…

Instantly, I check the paperwork. Something stares back at me. A little block of toner that reads “Flybe”.

“Well, you’ll have to go to the Flybe check-in desk, won’t you”, was the reply from this instantly dislikable bastard. That was it, game over as far as I was concerned. Defeated, by the rudest bit of customer service I’ve ever had. Technically I wasn’t actually a BA customer, but you know what I mean. The paperwork I was holding was the victim of a fit of rage. My work colleagues will know this as a “pissy fit”. I was in rage mode at this point, but Chris remembers the afore-mentioned twat shouting at me to pick it up. I didn’t, and as far as I know they’re still on the floor there. I was defeated at this point. How long would it take us to get back to the South Terminal? Dunno. It felt like the longest journey I’ve ever had. Jonathan was there, wondering where WE were. Turns out he was the only one who read the itinerary correctly and knew where we should check in at. We went to the Flybe check-in desk. One of those stupid auto-check in machines wouldn’t allow us to do it, so I went to the desk. I ask if we’re too late to check in. the cheery woman behind the desk gleefully answered that we were still on time… “Oh, thank God for that”, I reply. the last two hours of shit were instantly flushed away.

“So, zis is for the… 8pm flight, yaa?”

There. Right there. That moment. That second. That question. That exact statement. The answer was no. We wanted the 16:20 flight.

“Ahh, sorree, ze check-in is closed”.

The holiday was over. We were stranded. I said something to the woman behind the desk. I can’t remember my exact words, but it was on the lines of “If BA hadn’t lost my baggage, we’d have been on time”. I knew there was nothing she could have done. Technically I do this type of job myself, so her completely apathetic “Oh dear” was noted, yet duly ignored, as the directed towards the customer service desk

Technically, we were stuck, and I’ve never felt so broken in a long while. It’s the first time I’ve ever missed a flight. I didn’t even bother contacting the customer service desk. the mood I was in probably would have seen us (or, at least me) being escorted out of the airport. I have watched countless hours of shows like “Airport”, and they show people kicking off. I always thought they were over-reacting. I felt ashamed and positively gutted that I was now one of those.

My world had ended. I was in London, no flight home, no baggage, nothing. I rang Daddykins, pretty much in tears about the whole situation, mainly through rage rather than actual emotion. Nothing he could say would reassure me that I’d see Hartlepool again without denting my wallet with money I didn’t have. Something I’ve only just realised, is that all of the photos, facebook updates, tweet, phone calls and Endomondo reports provide a pretty accurate timeline of what happened, and if some stupid bitch in Vienna hadn’t sent my bags to the wrong airport, we’d have made it.

There was nothing for it, we would have to get the train back. Chris knew there was a Grand Central back to Hartlepool at about 19:00, from Kings Cross. This was probably the lowest moment. I was in the back of Jonathan’s car. He’d disappeared somewhere to pay the parking charges, Chris was wandering about somewhere. I was in the odd position of feeling the early stages of dehydration, while at the same time busting for a pee. Add that to how depressed how I was, the feeling wasn’t great. Add that to the fact that I rehydrated myself at a petrol station and paid more for the water than what the petrol cost, checked my funds at a cash point and realising, after drawing out the cost of the train fare, I literally had £16 to last me 19 days.

At this point, it was about 16:30. I know this because of my facebook posts. Despite feeling like shit, I thought my troubles might have given someone a smile, so I kept updating facebook. Chad *loved* it. Cunt.

The next part of the ordeal was to get back from Gatwick to Surbiton train station. Remember, we still had a time limit. The M25 had an accident which slowed down things considerably. I’d already resigned myself to sleeping in a bush that evening. I just left him in charge. Two tickets were purchased from Surbiton to Vauxhall, and from there to Kings Cross. Basically, a Zone 1-6 £8 day thing. I’d give you all the details, but I’ve literally just given the ticket away to a guy called Geoff who likes such things. Glad you found my blog by the way.

The train picked us up at Surbiton and trook us past some sites such as the Battersa Power station. OK, by sights, I mean one. It was raining, and I really didn’t care

Chris was like a man possessed though the underground tunnels. I literally had to tell him to slow down, thanks to my feet. He told me afterwards, that we were actually extremely late getting the train. We arrive at Kings Cross / St. Pancreas (or whatever it’s called), to see a familiar looking train sat, waiting at the platform. We were at least guaranteed to get home, though we didn’t actually have a ticket. We’d get one when the conductor came around.

I went for a much needed piss at this point. I don’t care about the rule of not flushing the bog at the station. It’s 2011. These things should have tanks, or something. I sat back at my seat, and Chris delivered the ‘bad’. There was a broken down train somewhere near Peterborough, and we’d be stuck in the station for about an hour. I could have cried. Some of you would have noticed the photo of me on facebook, of someone “entirely fucked off with the British transport system”. Well, that was took right at that moment.

Eventually, the train set off. At the first opportunity, I headed off to the bar. I didn’t realise they had an entire carriage dedicated to being a bar. Obviously, everything was out of cans / bottles. I didn’t care, I was happy to return to my seat, my cold Stella ready to be consumed.

We’d got a table seat. Now, on the Grand Central, they have “game boards” printed onto the table. Apparently, you can “rent” game sets for your journey. Some tables have Cluedo, some have Monopoly, but they all have chess/draughts boards printed on them. this journey was going to be filled with abject tedium. Thankfully, I had a bag of Euro coins on me. Plenty of 1cent and 2cent coins. Enough to have a game of draughts!

Things were going swimmingly, until another train went past. The sudden shockwave caused the coins to be scattered all over the board, and the game had to be abandoned. Thanks to a genius bit of real-life bugfixing by yours truly (we simply moved the pieces towards the edge of the squares so when a train went past, there was less change of movement to other squares), we were able to complete a few games. Each game turned out to be a lengthy battle of cunning and stealth, taking much longer than a game of draughts really should. Eventually, the Stella I was drinking in the previous picture made it hard to distinguish between the 1 cent and 2 cent coins, so the games were abandoned.

My mind turned to the fact that we hadn’t actually paid anything for this journey. My heart would stop at every whoosh of the sliding doors. Amusingly, one of those whooshes turned out to be one of the management types at Employment Palace. We didn’t exchange words, more of an acknowledgement of “Is that… nah, it can’t be…”

Stations went past, and we were getting closer to home. Still there was no conductor. We arrived in Hartlepool at 10:48, and my mood instantly lightened. We didn’t actually pay a bean for the journey home. All it cost me was 5 hours of my life, which is, to be fair far less than the time I’ve taken typing these blogs on the holiday, uploading the photos and deleting Chad’s comments.

I’d made arrangements for Daddykins to pick me up once we’d returned back to the town. There was just one thing I had to do. As soon as I left the train station, I was straight down to my favourite Indian… “Chicken vindaloo, pilau rice, naan bread and chips please”.

I’d originally intended to finish the posting there, but if you’ve managed to read this far, another few paragraphs clearly can’t hurt. I thought I’d update you with my baggage story. Pretty much, my entire wardrobe was in that case, compressed to a “zip file” (you have to zip the case to close it, see what I did there? Maybe that’s now zip files got their name? Meh). I don’t think I mentioned what I got given. A stock letter with a claim number scrawled on the top in biro.

I was home, and my baggage still hadn’t turned up at my doorstep. I thought I’d give the website a go. Facebook describes in perfect, stunning HD quality what happened, and my reaction.

Once again, I was spitting blood. I wasn’t shitting blood, but I’m sure that afore-mentioned vindaloo pushed me close to the edge. I gave it a couple of hours, and tried the website again. No joy. I just had to ring their 0844 number via the house phone. Naturally, I was forced into one of those pressy-button scenarios, with images of my bag being fed into an industrial crusher flashing before my eyes.

After pressing some buttons, I was transferred to an Indian call centre. You’ll be disappointed to hear that my experience with them was commendable. The guy promised me that my bag would be here by 5. True to his word, there was a knock on the door at 4:45PM, my bag arrived safe and sound.

Two days later, I arrived back at Employment Palace, only to find this was the backdrop to one of the computers I use…