I feel a bit of a fraud starting to blog already (everything that precedes this being mere preparation of course) as I’ve barely scratched the surface of the journey – yet. Still, I’m in a pub, I have good beer, I’m waiting for food and I have my iPad, so here goes.
Be warned, this is probably as boring as things get. If you have a low tolerance threshold for my waffle, I’d wait until I get to Singapore!
Today went pretty much exactly as I thought it would – a lot of waiting around.
Final domestic arrangements including dropping Kay off at her work and an unscheduled return home for really minor last-second ‘just-in-cases’. Oh, and buying Kay a surprise farewell bouquet! Creep! Then I kicked my heels at Kay’s house until 14:00 when I rang for a taxi. The chatty driver seemed only marginally impressed at my answer when he asked if I was anywhere good – the huge bag being a giveaway that I was going travelling, of course. (Incidentally, I weighed it last night and it comes in at 26Kg – well within my baggage allowance and it can be split into two bags for the 20Kg per bag limit for the Indian Pacific. Internal flights may be an issue). He spent most of the journey to the station telling me about his holiday house in Spain. “Lots of cheap holidays beat one big expensive one”, he told me. Wanna bet?
Inevitably I was really early — read: an hour — for the train, but got an unexpected bonus in that the first class lounge now opens until 18:30. EMT’s web site says it closes at 12:30 so I’d already bought my coffee. That turned out to be as well as the unattended pot in the lounge was evidently empty… to the disgruntlement of several other travellers (every
one of who produced either an iPad or an iPhone while they were waiting!)
The journey to St Pancras was spectacularly uneventful. A lightly loaded coach meaning lots of room. A girl sat across from me insisted on having the curtains fully drawn for some reason – it was a bright sunny day but she was on the left (i.e. east, shaded) side. Funny how little things cause inward grumbles! One pretty neat thing which really appealed to the geek in me was watching progress of our train, 1C57, on the Open Train Times live feed of West Hampstead signal box via EMT’s WiFi. Technology at its absolute best.
Damn that was good, but more about that shortly.
On arrival at St Pancras, a shade after 17:00, I had a mooch around the concourse. I have horrible memories of coming back from Boston on a Sunday morning with Jane many years ago, having canceled our lift due to BA messing us about (a long, but I bet familiar, story). We waited for a train at St. Pancras and it was a truly, truly dreadful hole of a place to be then. Today it could not be more different. There was a live band playing — causing quite a bottleneck as folk stopped to listen but that seemed ok to all concerned — and a real hubbub of activity, both travel related and commerce. A significant reason for my lingering was a need to dispose of the coffee I’d so far consumed and credit to the St Pancras authorities, it’s free to use the loos – quite unusual these days in a major public space.
I made my way down to the Piccadily line for a crowded, but again uneventful – if quite long – journey to Heathrow. It’s quite a while since I’ve travelled to or from LHR this way and I’d forgotten quite how long the journey is. Especially when jammed in a corner standing over a bulky bag. At Heathrow I went up to the central bus station and very soon one of the several service buses which go along Bath Road turned up. The Heathrow “Freeflow Zone” coming into its own!
At the Renaissance, there was a scrum of cabin crew checking-in, or so I thought. They were actually checking out for a night flight and were evidently from a Japanese airline – though they clearly weren’t the only cabin crew in residence. I went up to my room and dumped my bag, checking my phone to find a very special email from Kay (she’d found the flowers!). Next job was food as I’d somehow not bothered with lunch, so was starving.
A very short walk up the road to the Three Magpies, which I can’t recommend highly enough. The beer isn’t cheap (this is London) but it is top class. I’m drinking Windsor & Eton’s Conqueror Black IPA at 5%. The barman who served me enthused about it and insisted I take my first sip in his presence so he could see my reaction. Judging by what he rightly said about the extremely hoppy taste, it was because he likes his ale, not because he wanted to laugh at me! Food was a ‘mega mixed grill’. Odd that beer is stupidly expensive (£4.09/pint, but I cheerfully expect to experience much worse), but the food was an incredibly reasonable £9.99. Very Wetherspoon-esque.
As I sit typing this in the busy (full, when I arrived) Three Magpies, I get the definate impression that most if not all the customers are locals (several ‘senior’ couples) rather than travellers taking refuge from the many nearby hotels like me. Either way, it speaks volumes for the place.