Home at last

Home at last
Hobart, Australia

Hobart, Australia

And now we’re home.

I don’t know about Lil Sis, but I tried to sleep on the flight from Brunei to Melbourne. Every time I felt myself falling into sleep, some part of my body resisted and I woke up again. I can’t explain this any other way, just that my body was crying out for sleep, but wouldn’t let itself tip over into sleep. I can sleep on buses and in the car, but my body wouldn’t sleep on the plane. It was weird. And very frustrating because I was exhausted.

The trip back seemed to go a lot more quickly than the trip over, despite the lack of sleep. We arrived in Melbourne just before 6 am and had to go through the passport check. We have the new style passports with an electronic chip, so you can scan your passport when you get into the terminal, it prints you a ticket, which you then take to the entry (or is it exit?) gate, look at the camera and it recognises you and lets you through.

Only it doesn’t if you aren’t wearing glasses in your passport photo and are wearing them when you go through the checkpoint. Someone didn’t think of that did they? Sorry Mr Border Protection Official, I didn’t pay attention to your information leaflet.

Once I had that sorted (I blame exhaustion), we picked up our bags (finally), proceeded through customs and were out in the real world of the Tullamarine terminal. From there it was a matter of dropping off our bags (which had both mysteriously gained a kilo in weight between London and Melbourne), getting some breakfast and making our way to our departure gate for the last flight of the trip to Hobart.

It was all relatively simple, the flight was mercifully short and not very full, we got off the plane quickly and there was Juniordwarf and Slabs waiting for me at the gate. It was so good to see them and I was glad to be home.

So . . . now that I’m a seasoned traveller, I’m sure you want to hear some insightful travel tips.

So here they are:

1. I have no idea how many clothes to pack. I was expecting much cooler weather, so I had a lot of warmer clothes I didn’t wear. Don’t pack too many clothes. Example: you won’t need 6 pairs of leggings. You’ll probably end up wearing the same pair of jeans for a week.

2. Hotel rooms in the UK might not necessarily have a fridge in the room. It pays to check.

3. The stretchy pegless clothesline was a handy item, but neither of the hotels had anywhere convenient to hook it onto.

4. A tip from a friend: Take one UK power adaptor and a 4 plug powerboard to charge multiple devices. I found one that you can recharge USB devices via a USB connection as well as other devices through the power plugs.

5. My iPad was my best friend on the trip. I put all my travel documents on there and could access them very easily. And Skype was Juniordwarf’s best friend while I was away.

6. Things you don’t need (1): I didn’t use any of the puzzle or crossword books I took. I only read half of one of the Kindle books I bought for the flight because the inflight entertainment system on the place kept me entertained.

7. Things not to forget: Contact lenses.

8. If your phone isn’t unlocked and you think you can do without your smart phone, you can buy a cheap (£4.99) pre-paid phone for the UK (it’s called pay and go there). I used an O2 International SIM card, where phone calls back to Australia cost 3p per minute. Local calls were 25p per minute. The credit I had left covered a 2-minute phone call to Juniordwarf from Dubai at £2 per minute. At the end of the trip I still have about £4 in credit left over from a £20 initial load of the SIM. The vast majority of the call costs were for local calls rather than calls home.

9. The Alcatel phone isn’t one I’d recommend, as the SIM card kept slipping out of contact with the points in the phone and I had to reset it at least once a day. However, for £4.99 and 2 weeks, it was good enough.

10. Things you don’t need (2): You won’t have time to decorate your travel journal with pretty little scraps of paper and other scrapbooking stuff. You won’t even open the box. Leave it at home.

11. Travel money (1): I used the 28 Degrees Mastercard, which has no currency conversion fees, no transaction fees and no annual fees. The only unexpected thing was that I had to sign for every single transaction, despite having set a PIN before I left home and being told that you had to use a PIN overseas because signing credit card slips isn’t acceptable. People in some establishments were aware of this, and others had no idea how to process a signature transaction. Only one shop asked me for ID to verify I was who the card said I was.

12. Things not to forget: Contact lenses. (This bears repeating.)

13. Travel money (2): We got some GB pounds, Euros, $ Brunei, $ Singapore and UAE dirham before we left. The latter three were for use in the airports (Brunei accepts $ Brunei and Singapore), but they weren’t necessary, as both Brunei and Dubai airports accept $ Australian, and all you really have time for there is to buy is a drink and maybe a tacky souvenir (or is that just me?). Any major duty free purchases I would have used my credit card, so getting those currencies was really just for the novelty of having different currencies. The Euros were worth having for small purchases in Paris, but getting it in a single 100 Euro note (about $143) wasn’t helpful when buying postcards. (Sorry postcard retailers of Paris.)

14. A long black in the UK is called an Americano. And they give you milk on the side. I believe these are actually 2 different types of coffee (long black adds the coffee to the water and Americano adds water to the coffee), but no one I asked for a long black knew what it was. (Any coffee experts feel free to correct me, as I have no idea what I’m talking about. For the record, the coffee I make is a double shot added to hot water, so whatever that is, that’s what I drink.)

15. The sun still rises in the east and sets in the west in the northern hemisphere. (This is an in-joke and Lil Sis will understand. Everyone else will say ‘facepalm’.)

16. In England they drive on the left hand side of the road like we do, but if you stand on an escalator to get out of the Tube, you have to stand on the right hand side, not the left like we do. And as for which side of the path you’re supposed to walk on, we still have no idea.

17. I’m not sure if it was worth taking the laptop. It was good to be able to copy all our photos from our SD cards at the end of each day and have a backup of them in case something happened to the cards or cameras, but that’s really the only reason I’d take it. It was a real pain having to take it out of my bag and out of its case at every single airport screening point on the way over (5 times) and the way back (4 times). And it made my carry on bag heavy. So you need to balance this with the potential loss of your photos if something happens to your camera.

18. Your own headphones are most likely a lot better (and will fit you better) than the ones the airline will give you for the plane. Take them.

19. I kept resetting my camera’s time every stop we made. Usually after I’d taken a few photos. As a result, the times on my photos are all muddled. I think it would have worked better either to have left it on Australian time for the whole trip, or to have set it to UK time after we’d left Australia. The auto time failed dismally when I was in the UK and for the first day or so, every time I turned the camera on it decided it was an hour earlier than it actually was. I don’t think it recognised daylight saving. Sometimes devices can be too smart. I won’t rely on it again.

And that, my friends, is the story of my relatively small adventure. I had a great time, and am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to do this. Now I have to adjust back into my life again.

Until the next trip 🙂


Heading home

Heading home
Eastbourne, United Kingdom

Eastbourne, United Kingdom

And then, all too soon, yet not soon enough, it was time to go home. I’m not sure how people travel for weeks at a time and see heaps of stuff and keep themselves alert and interested. I’m exhausted and suffering attraction overload. I’ve seen what seems like so much, but there are so many many things I didn’t see and wish I had. I’ve loved what I’ve seen and am so grateful to have had this chance to make this journey and see my family.

But I miss Juniordwarf and Slabs. I’ve Skyped Juniordwarf almost every day, and he’s told me he’ll be going away for 2 weeks soon, just like I did. He’s going to see the Wizard of Oz, and he’ll be Skyping in to home and school. So I guess I’ll be living with an iPad version of him for 2 weeks. I can’t wait to see him.

So today we were treated to a beautiful red sunrise over the beach and I went for a final walk along the pier. They were up early working on the reconstruction. It’s going to be a big job, and I’ll be following its progress with interest over coming months.

I had a closer look at the Queen’s Hotel. It was built in a right angled shape to block the view of the less swanky boarding houses on the eastern side of the seafront from the posh hotels in the main part. It appears that the pier was similar to. Hobart’s ‘flannelette curtain’ and it just wasn’t on to go east of the pier.

In the model of the hotel we saw at the Heritage Centre, it looked like the back wall was a totally blank brick wall with no windows. Certainly I could see what looked like part of this wall from behind the hotel (I went east). I wondered if there were guest rooms there and, if there were, whether had no view or if they had some more acceptable fake seaside view.

I reluctantly returned to our hotel, the Cavendish, which was directly across the road from the Eastbourne Bandstand. The east wing was destroyed in a bombing raid in May 1942, but it wasn’t repaired until the 1960s – it’s interesting how they didn’t try to duplicate the previous style but built it in what was a more modern style. Whether this was due to costs or unavailability of materials, or as a monument that the hotel has survived I don’t know.

My bag weighed in at 22.9 kg, which is 6.5 kg heavier than when I left home. That’s a lot of tacky souvenirs.

We’d booked and pre-paid a taxi to take us to Heathrow. Any other option involved at least 3 service changes, including from train to bus and back again, or leaving Eastbourne some time around 8.30 am. (That would never have happened.) Multiple service changes didn’t sound like fun. Especially not in this rain, which started falling right on cue as we were leaving.

Good old English weather. It took you 2 weeks, but you finally arrived.

We expected the journey to take a bit under 2 hours, but with road closures (and the ‘restructuring’ of the train services over the weekend) there was a lot of traffic on the road, and we arrived at Heathrow at about 2.40 pm. It was a long trip, but our driver was lovely and gave us a great commentary on the way.

Online check in proved to be only marginally faster than not having checked in. The check-in man mucked around for ages with our boarding passes and passports and we have no idea what the hold up was. All we know (because he told us at least twice) is we’ll have to pick up our bags in Melbourne, they won’t go all the way through.

Then security. I think I ended up carrying more stuff out of my bag than was left in my bag, after taking all the things out that needed to go through separately. I’m just glad I didn’t have to go through the process of turning everything on this time.

Finally we were on our way to Dubai. That was a 7 hour flight, followed by the Dubai March. We were told to get off the plane and make our way back to the plane as quickly as possible. If anyone knows why you have to go through security in Dubai when you’ve not even left the departure lounge I’d love to know, because at 4 am on Sunday morning, when you’re exhausted, it seems bizarre. A sign of how tired I was: I would have left my laptop on the security slider thing if Lil Sis hadn’t picked it up for me.

And as for getting back to the gate quickly, we had time to get some water, spend our last dirhams (or is the plural still dirham?), take a refreshment break, phone home and still be waiting at the gate for over 20 minutes.

The next leg was the 6880 km to Brunei, which took about 8 hours, arriving at about 5.30 pm on Sunday evening (8.30 pm home time). You already know my thoughts on this airport. It’s still being refurbished. I’ll say no more.

And now it’s time to get on the plane for the last international leg of our trip, to Melbourne. We’ll be arriving shortly before 6 am on Monday. Then we’ll nearly be home!

More history

More history
Eastbourne, United Kingdom

Eastbourne, United Kingdom

We don’t have amy plans for the rest of our trip. There are a few things on the ‘nice to see list’ and we might get to them, but really we want to spend time with our aunt and cousin and find out a bit more about our father.

Today we decided to go to the the Eastbourne Heritage Centre, to see what we could find. Before we went there, we went for a stroll down the road to find St John’s Church in Meads, which is where our father was baptised. He said he was unsure why he would have been baptised there, as Meads was the wealthier area of Eastbourne and his family hadn’t lived there.

We found the church easily enough, and discovered it had been a victim of bombing in May 1942, with only the tower surviving. It was restored in 1960, so the church we saw wasn’t the actual building our father had been baptised in. However I contacted the Eastbourne Library and the staff in the history centre were able to find some old pictures of the church for me, so at least we know what it looked like.

After visiting St John’s we went to the Heritage Centre, only to find it didn’t open until 2pm. So we wandered round the town and found Lil Sis a frock to wear out to dinner for our aunt’s birthday party tonight. There are heaps of charity shops here, and they have a lot of really good clothes, and she found a couple of nice dresses. I found a scarf.

Unfortunately I spent most of the charity shop tour engaged in a huge coughing fit – you know the type where you get a tickle in your throat, and you cough, and that irritates the tickle and you cough more and you can’t stop and you go really red in the face and tears are streaming down your face and you’re expecting the health authorities to pick you up and put you in quarantine for a month. Yeah, that. Unpleasant.

We made our way back to the Heritage Centre and we were a bit early, so we had lunch at the ice cream parlour across the road. Lunch. Of the sweet, frozen kind. As you do.

The opening of the Heritage Centre was beset by drama and mishap, and 40 minutes after the advertised opening time, we were able to go in. The ground floor has some interesting pictures of the development of the town and the upper floor has an exhibition about Eastbourne in World War II. This was the part that interested us most, as this is when our father was here – well actually he wasn’t; he was evacuated in July 1940 with a lot of other children. Originally Eastbourne was one of the places children from London were evacuated to – our Dad’s family even hosted one – but this changed later in 1940 when the bombs started falling on Eastbourne.

Eastbourne was the most bombed southern coastal town in England during World War II and, while many people evacuated, many stayed on to keep the town running.

You wouldn’t know it to see the town now, but the photos of the devastation at the time were pretty harrowing. Because I don’t know the place well, it was hard for me to imagine what it would have been like.

We asked at the Heritage Centre if they knew of a particular address that Dad said was the house he was born in. They didn’t know, but referred us to the library to have a look in the old street directories. That’s a job for tomorrow. We spent the rest of the afternoon with our aunt and cousin, before going back to the hotel to get changed.

One of us looked swanky and gorgeous, the other one looked barely passable. I’ll let you decide which was which.

It was a fun night and we met some more relatives. The less said about my heroic attempt at rescuing a bottle of wine that ended up in the birthday girl wearing the contents of my glass the better.

Pevensey Castle

Pevensey Castle
Pevensey, United Kingdom

Pevensey, United Kingdom

FIrst up this morning we spent some time exploring the Eastbourne Pier, which is one of Eastbourne’s most famous sights. It was built in the 1860s and 70s, and the sightseeing tour commentary said it was built so people could go out to sea without getting their feet wet.

It’s about 300 metres long and houses a number of shops and attractions. Sadly the old building closest to the beach was destroyed by a fire a couple of months ago, but they managed to save the rest of the pier and it was reopened last weekend, so we were lucky to be able to see it.

Once we’d looked around the pier, we got on the Hop on Hop off bus to finish off our tour of Eastbourne – today we went east of the pier and back into town again.

Then it was time to continue the family history trail.

Our Dad was a draughtsman in the Royal Engineers Corps, but this wasn’t something I knew growing up. I knew he was good at drawing, a skill that bypassed me, but I didn’t know the use he had put this skill to.

He left a folio of his drawings, which included some drawings of Pevensey Castle near Eastbourne. So we thought it would be nice to go and see the castle for ourselves. We mentioned this to our Aunt yesterday. She’d seen the drawing, and thought it was a good idea, but she did say she didn’t think Dad had ever been there.

No matter, we were going.

Pevensey is a very small town a short bus ride out of Eastbourne. We successfully caught our first English bus.

The castle was originally a Roman fort built in about 290AD and was used by the Normans in around 1066 and they added to the original Roman structure. We heard stories about the castle coming under siege several times, and it was abandoned in the 16th century and fell into disrepair. Its most recent use was in World War II, when the surrounding area was considered to be a potential target area for a German invasion.

One of the pictures that Dad drew was dated 1957, so we think it’s possible he did go to the castle, because he left England for New Zealand in 1957. He could have gone there before he left and done the drawings – or maybe he did them on the boat journey. I guess it doesn’t really matter – we’ve seen the original now, and the drawings are pretty good.

We tried to work out where they might have been done, and take the same photo. We got close but it wasn’t an easy thing to figure out.

The white cliffs of Eastbourne

The white cliffs of Eastbourne
Beachy Head, United Kingdom

Beachy Head, United Kingdom

As on our first day in London, we decided to use our first day in Eastbourne to explore the city a bit with the Hop on Hop off bus tour. The tour goes along the seafront, then up to Beachy Head and does a lap around the road through the Sussex Downs and the town of East Dean and back into town and back along the seafront.

Lil Sis was keen to see the white cliffs around Beachy Head and Birling Gap. These are much the same as the white cliffs of Dover, and of many other areas along the south coast of England. These cliffs are continuously retreating due to a natural process of erosion and rock falls, which is always exposing new white chalk, which gives the cliffs their renowned white colouring.

The rate of erosion averages about a metre per year, and the tour commentary said in one recent year almost 7 metres of cliff was lost in some areas. Apparently the erosion happens in fits and starts rather than being a gradual process.

The authorities have decided that they won’t do anything to the area, and will let nature take its course. This includes not protecting any buildings that are close to the cliff face – basically once the cliff retreats so close to a building as to make it unsafe, the building will be demolished.

To quote the visitor guide – ‘Change here is inevitable, and adapting to it rather than trying to hold back the tide is the best way to secure a sustainable future for people and wildlife.’

It’s a bit surreal. There is a series of photos in the Visitor Centre showing how much the cliff at Birling Gap has receded over the past 100 years, and how many buildings have been lost.

After a slight hiccup, we got off the bus at the Beachy Point Visitor Centre and walked up to the track that follows the edge of the cliff. The first thing we noticed was the lack of fencing around the cliff edge and the very few signs that warned of ay danger. I guess this is because they’d have to move the fence every couple of years, and they assume that people are sufficiently aware of the danger of getting to close to the edge of an unstable cliff to keep a safe distance.

The first point of interest was the Beachy Head lighthouse. It’s actually on the beach rather than being on top of the cliffs like you might think a lighthouse would be. The reason for this is that the older lighthouse, Belle Toute, at the top of the cliff, used to get so obscured by fog that ships didn’t see it. Not a particularly useful lighthouse then.

The other interesting thing about Belle Tout is that it was in danger of being a victim of cliff erosion and they went to the trouble of moving it back 17 metres from the cliff in 1999. By my calculations, this gives it an expected lifespan in the new location of 17 years, which will run out in 2016. Whether they’re going to move it again, no one said.

We continued on the track past Belle Toute to Birling Gap, Here there is a visitor centre, a row of houses and steps down to the beach. I feel a bit sorry for the row of houses, because some have already been demolished and you can see the patching of the side wall of the house that is now closest to the cliff, and you wonder how much longer that house has left.

Once we’d walked down to the pebble beach and had a close up look at the cliffs, we caught the bus back to town (eventually), and it was time to visit our Aunt.

We had a fun afternoon and dinner with her and our youngest cousin.

The sunniest place in the UK

The sunniest place in the UK
Eastbourne, United Kingdom

Eastbourne, United Kingdom

After a week in London, it was time to move on. It hardly seems like a week ago that we arrived in England and had our first meal at an English pub. It seems like so much longer than that. We’ve done so much and seen so many things, yet barely scraped the surface.

After getting a minor hiccup with our next hotel reservation sorted, we checked out of the Imperial Hotel in Bloomsbury. We had to get to Victoria Station for our train to Eastbourne, and decided that the best way to do this with luggage would be without having to change tube services. So rather than walk the couple of blocks to Russell Square Station and have to change onto the Victoria line, we got a cab to Kings Cross Station so we only had to get on one train. It was £10 well spent.

The cab driver might have muttered something like ‘feels like you’ve got a house in there’ as he helped us get our luggage out of the cab, and we’re still not sure why the bags are suddenly 5kg heavier than when we arrived. I just hope I’m not 5kg heavier.

The train to Eastbourne was with Southern Rail, and it took about an hour and a half. Somewhere along the way it started to rain, and I wondered if finally I might get some use out of the extravagant purchase that was my travel coat. I packed for cooler weather and possible rain, neither of which have eventuated. I have way too many cool weather clothes and nowhere near enough warm weather ones. Who’d have thought.

We arrived in Eastbourne just before midday and took another cab to our hotel. First cab on the rank rule applies here, as we found when we thought we’d take the second-in-line van for our luggage, rather than the sedan at the front. It fitted easily though, so we were fine.

We have a beautiful sea view room, and the hotel feels very swanky. I feel very under-dressed.

I think if you add my and Lil Sis’ ages together you might get the average age of the guests here.

Unlike our London hotel, this one has a fridge in the room, and it even has a library. There are small bowls of sugar cubes on the table in the bar complete with little tongs. It’s a bit posh!

We can see the Eastbourne Pier from our window – part of this burnt down a couple of months ago, which is sad, as this is one of Eastbourne’s iconic attractions. I believe the rest of the pier was re-opened to the public on the weekend, so we should be able to go and have a look.

Our first stop after checking in was the Rainbows Launderette in Seaview Road (the road doesn’t actually have a sea view). The man there was lovely and very helpful and I give this place the thumbs up. While our washing was washing, we walked through the town to the Visitor Centre to pick up some brochures. Eastbourne seems to be one of those places where there’s the tourist centre (aka the beachfront, with its row of massive hotels) and the town centre which is the real world.

Right now we’re in the bar looking out over the beach, sampling the different beers. The WiFi is a lot better here than in our rooms (the receptionist asked if we wanted WiFi when we got here, adding ‘you look like the type of people who do’ – I guess pulling out the iPad to give her our reservation details gave that away), so sadly I might be spending a lot of time here.

I’m very sad about this.


Last day in London

Last day in London
London, United Kingdom

London, United Kingdom

We had no plans for today. It was our last day in London so we thought we’d just see what we felt like doing on the day.

We decided that we couldn’t in all good conscience stay 2 blocks from the British Museum and not go there, so that was our first stop. Lil Sis wanted to see the Rosetta Stone, and we duly located it, viewed it and were suitably impressed. Equally as impressive was the vast array of Rosetta Stone souvenirs. You name it, they had it: UBS sticks, paperweights, keyrings, fridge magnets, bookmarks, travel card holders, jigsaw puzzles . . .

We spent some time browsing through the British history section of the museum, looking at the artefacts from Celtic and Roman times. One of the features was the Lewis Chessmen (the most famous chess set in the world) (also available on a wide range of souvenir products). I was lining up a shot of the board when a man with a much bigger camera than mine, and therefore clearly superior to me elbowed me aside to take a photo. Then, not 60 seconds later, I was looking at the exhibit from the other side when a French tour group arrived to take up position exactly where I was standing. The tour guide manoeuvered herself into place precisely, while announcing loudly to the group, but obviously intended for me to hear, that tour groups had priority.

I don’t recall seeing any signs in the museum advising non-members of tour groups of this, but she said it so authoritatively I’m totally sure she was completely correct. I mean tour groups are the only people on schedules aren’t they?

Wedged tightly between this tour guide and the glass of the exhibit, I wasn’t exactly sure how she expected me to move out of the way so that her precious tour group could have the priority viewing that they were so clearly entitled to. I felt like staying there and listening to her talk, but I heard her saying something about non-group members not being welcome. She looked most offended, however, when she had to move so I could make my escape.

Of course a visit to London wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory bump-into-someone-you-know-at-a-famous- landmark routine. For us it was Lil Sis’s TAFE teacher at the British Museum.

After we’d had enough of that, we took the train to St Paul’s. We wanted to climb up to the top of the dome to look out over London.

We forgot one thing.

It’s Sunday.

They don’t allow people to tour St Paul’s Cathedral on Sundays on account of all the services that are going on. You can go in, but they ask you not to walk around. (You can, however, buy postcards.) So we saw what we could and then made our way, haphazardly, to the Millennium Bridge across the Thames.

This bridge is a footbridge only, and apparently was closed as soon as it was opened because on the first day, there were so many people on it the whole thing started swinging and they needed to further reinforce it.

We walked past the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe, but you don’t get a very good view of it, and had lunch at a Turkish restaurant nearby.

After lunch – which ended up being about 4pm – we did the 10 minute highlights tour of Tate Modern (we looked through the surrealists gallery). The vague plan was to make our way to the Freemason Temple via a couple of pubs and then head back to the hotel for an early night.

What we actually did involved a lot of walking, a couple of pubs and a lot more photos for the Monopoly Crawl. This became somewhat addictive, as we checked the map to see how close we were to the next street we needed, and debated whether it was too far or whether we should keep going.

So we ended up with a night time tour of some of the swankier parts of London. We admitted defeat when we got to the point that we’d need to go on more than one train to get to a couple of the further away places (but kicked ourselves when we realised how close we’d been to them at the Tower of London). I think we did well to get what we got, as we were really only in London for 3 and a half days.

We missed a couple of train stations, a couple of streets (some that we got from buses rather than going there), the Waterworks (we think Tate Modern used to be the Electric Company), and actually going to Gaol. That last one is probably a good thing.