In the first part, my father and I explored part of the US, now we would tour the UK on a fourteen day odyssey through England, Scotland,
Ireland and Wales. This was 2005, a few years after 9/11 but before the London bombings. In fact, not long before the bombings in London and to think we would
visit those very train stations and probably stood where the terrorists would stand months later. This part of the trip would bring a romantic development but more on that later in the post.
We arrived in London’s Heathrow
airport, I with a bit of a cold and the rain continuing was not a good start but the rest of the the trip sure made up for it. We got a shuttle to the hotel but our room wasn’t quite ready so we did what most Aussies do in that situation.. We
sat in the pub and had a beer till the room was ours. It was a tiny room compared to the ones we’d had in the US. This was something we would get use to in the UK. We have cousins in London so we made arrangements to see them later
that day. We caught a cab and went to see our cousins and had some more beer, wine and nibblies at their apartment but dinner was back at the hotel. The following day we were booked on a tour of London.
The day tour took us around the city sights, a boat cruise along the Thames and walking through the Tower. I got to see the real ravens, larger than the Australian crows but their wings were clipped so they wouldn’t
leave the tower. Long time ago, it was said that if the ravens left the tower then London would fall. The day tour ended and we were dropped off near Harrods
so we wandered around the big department store too and got an icecream, was a little expensive especially given the exchange rates at the time. That is something else we would have to get use to while in the UK.
The next day was to be the first day of our 14day tour of Britain and Ireland with Cosmos Tours.
We met our Tour Director and Driver, interesting people and many stories to tell. The first day took us from London to Coventry. Along the way we saw the sights at Hampton Court, Oxford,
Anne Hathaways house, the birthplace of Shakespeare and Winston Churchills grave. A friend of mine back in Oz wondered if there were some free music publications aka ‘mags’ in the UK so I found one in Oxford for him, I would keep it for him
till I got back. This was the first of a few times that I would actively seek these ‘mags’.
The next leg was Coventry to Scotch Corner, usual process in the morning… bags out of the room early for collection then breakfast in the hotel and on the bus for the days touring. We toured Coventry
Cathedral, you could say a ‘bombed out wreck of a building’ but left standing after the war. We had lunch in York where we visited The Shambles, The Minster Cathedral, walked along a castle wall and toured the Richard III museum. Strangely,
the most interesting display was the National Rail Museum which houses a very large collection of trains from various times. Getting to Scotch Corner I settled in for Dinner and then drinks in the bar, we met some of the locals. By this time, if
not before it became obvious that accents are so different across the UK. Although, before I went to the US, I never really noticed my own accent but there and in the UK it became an issue when talking to others. Some folks you just have to do the nod
and smile and then the ‘sorry, what was that??’ They might be speaking English but not as I know it.
3rd day saw us moving from Scotch Corner to Edinburgh, Scotland. Along the way we saw Abbeys such as
Jedburgh and Melrose plus the famous Hadrians Wall or what’s left of it. The weather at this point was mostly sunny but still cool for a bloke from Queensland Australia. We certainly didn’t see the daily rain that many others talked
4th day was mostly touring around Edinburgh, the morning was the official tour of the city followed by an afternoon just wandering about. The
main event for me was visiting Edinburgh Castle, home of the Royal Military Tattoo that we watch every New Year. When you see it on television the parade ground looks flat but when you see it for real, it is far from flat it is sloping and a little rough.
After an afternoon wandering around the city getting a music mag, we had a dinner show where I tried Haggis. Didn’t like it much as it was too peppery for my taste but it went down well with the Scottish Whiskey. After the show there
were more drinks in the hotel bar, always an interesting time and the beginnings of my many conversations with a certain young lady who I would come to know well on this tour. She was travelling with her mum, she was from a different state in Australia
and we got along really well.
On the 5th day we said goodbye to Edinburgh and headed to Mold, North Wales. Along the way we toured Liverpool , not a particularly clean city from what we could see but there was much
redevelopment. Saw the sights of Gretna Green, Grasmere and the Liverpool Abbey. This day ended in a smoky bar with some of the tour group.
From Mold we would venture into Ireland and make our way to Dublin, part of this days journey involved a ferry ride. This ferry ride is memorable as the young lady I had become friends with was a Nurse and during the trip across the sea another passenger had a fit. They called for a nurse or
doctor on board and of course this young lass heard the call and was soon aiding the woman and her family. One of the family members was carrying on about what should have been done but I thought she handled it professionally, after all she didn’t
have to step in.
The 7th day was all about Dublin. We visited St Patricks Cathedral, the National Gallery of Ireland and Temple Bar. That night was Irish Night at another hotel so it was again dinner and a bit of
entertainment followed by drinks back at the hotel bar. All these late nights followed by early wake up in the morning, one would think I would be sick but I wasn’t, I guess it was the great company that kept me going.
8th day was spent moving from Dublin to Ennis. Ireland seemed so green and lush, mostly sunny but still cool and windy. Along the way we went through Galway. We would go to Bunratty Castle for dinner and a show and this would be
the start of my stardom on this tour. This show called for audience participation and it was to be a demonstration of irish dancing. Now, they fill you up with food and drink and then ask a couple of members of the audience to come up on stage.
I was asked to get up on stage and despite telling them that I had ‘two left feet’ they got me up to dance with a lovely young Irish lass. Let’s just say I left her with bruised feet and even the commentator said I should have
more heavily insisted to sit this one out. The next day on the tour bus, the tour leader started calling me ‘twinkle toes’… Yeah right! I thought later there would have been a bunch of video cameras capturing the action on stage,
I hope I haven’t ended up on youtube or something. Maybe one of those ‘funniest home videos’ shows… Oh Crap! J
The 9th day in the bus and a topic of conversation was my own dismal efforts at dancing. Saw us moving from Ennis to Tralee touring the ‘ring of Kerry’. We had a carriage ride and a group photo was taken.
Seems I am yet again in the back of the group photo and while trying to pop my head into view was being blocked by another member of the tour group, a cheeky bloke, a salesman from Oz who was travelling with his wife. This night would end in a good old
fashioned pub crawl. During my time in Ireland I sampled plenty of Guinness and Kilkenny. I was already a fan of these stouts back home but initially in Ireland I struggled with the taste, I think it was the serving temperature. I kept going
though and further developed a taste for it. Sitting on a pint of Guinness is a great way to drink socially without getting too drunk too quick… besides people tend to ‘shout’ you less when you’re there with a pint in your hand.
It meant that I could just get them at my pace.
On the 10th day, we went from Tralee to Waterford, stopping at Blarney Castle. There’s not much of the castle left but it is the place for all those who want the ‘gift
of the gab’ to ‘kiss the blarney stone’. After climbing a rather awkward staircase to the top of the the tower, you line up and wait for your turn with plenty of others. To ‘kiss the stone’ you have to lie on your
back on the hard stone surface and lean your head through a hole in the wall. This is done at an awkward angle and all that is between you and the ground many metres below is a small grate and a little old man holding your jacket. The ‘stone’
is on the upper lip of this hole in the wall and has been kissed many thousands of times before by all manner of people willing to put their bodies on the line. Let me just say I laid back and tried to manoeuvre myself into place with a few instructions
from the little old man holding me but to no avail, I don’t know if it was the long night of drinking the night before or what but as soon as the blood rushed to my head I got this overwhelming feeling to withdraw. I had just seen my dad
do it without too much effort and he had his photo but I would not get mine. I guess that’s why I don’t have the ‘gift of the gab’.
On the 11th day we had another ferry ride to look forward to, this time from Waterford to Cardiff, Wales. We visited the ‘longest mall’ and took in the sights along the way. The night was
spent touring Cardiff Castle followed by dinner and another show where I sampled some Mead and yet again was called up on stage this time I ended up making bear noises as part of a storytelling
show. My bear was not to be beat, even though I was not the first one chosen through the audition process. Because others were too scared to get up, I was then asked and could not find a valid excuse, at least it didn’t involve dancing.
Yet again, I think there will be video footage of this somewhere, I really hope it never surfaces, thankfully there is none on my video footage of the trip. After returning from the Castle, a few of the group went to another hotel where there was
an over-30s dance thing happening. I couldn’t let my two left feet go fast enough when dancing with the young lass. I do remember dancing along to some Tom Jones number, the things you do in foreign countries eh?
The next day was getting from Cardiff back to London. Along the way we saw Stonehenge, albeit from the fence surrounding the site. We saw yet
another Abbey, this time at Salisbury before arriving back at the hotel in Kensington. After saying a few goodbyes we shared a cab with the young lady who had got my attention over this trip and her mum, they were staying at the same hotel. I thought
this was to be the end of our time together, turns out they were going on to another tour of Europe, similar to ours but with a few more stops so we might run into them. It was mother’s day back in Oz so I rang mum, we had been doing
this throughout the tour whenever we could get a phone that worked with our phone card.
The last day in London before we headed to Europe was spent just washing clothes at the local Laundromat followed by a walk to Camden Markets before
later that evening meeting up with a friend we met on our tour of SouthEast Asia several years before. We would meet and have a couple of drinks and then dine at a Nepalese Restaurant.
Stay tuned for my next post… which
will be, you guessed it…. Destination Europe and the emergence of Bad Aussee…