Ah, what a weekend! So exhausting and so fun! My mom and I seriously thought about it over the weekend and came to the conclusion that we’ve been going to London every year for the past 15 years with the exception of one year when I had been struck down with a flu or some other kind of poor health. But rarely has a weekend been as nice and relaxing as it was this year. Maybe it was the awesome weather, maybe we just play well together by now, who knows.
Many people who I tell about this little family tradition of ours thinks we’re crazy. Because we don’t fly over to England, we go by bus. It’s just part of the deal. We started it in ’97 when flying wasn’t as cheap and convenient as it is today and since then, it’s just become part of the plan, I guess. We always go with the same couple who organize the trips. Every weekend in late November / December, they organize a Christmas Shopping trip to London for anyone who would like to go with them. They don’t advertise it, it’s just word of mouth. If you enjoy it, you’ll tell friends, family and co-workers about it and eventually, some of them will choose to give it a go, too. The difference between these bus trips and the ones you can book elsewhere is that it’s always so relaxed and there are none of the, sorry, terrible people who’ll make good use of the long drive to get wasted. And every year on the first advent weekend, we’re part of a travel group.
Of course, these weekends are always bloody exhausting. As was this one. As usual, the trip started at a couple minutes before midnight on Friday night when the bus picked us up. And as usual, I hadn’t managed to nap in the afternoon. So it didn’t take long for me to fall asleep. There’s something soothing and reassuring about being cuddled into a bus seat with your blanket. It really does sound more uncomfortable than it is. You don’t really notice how awkward it is to sleep in a sitting position till you wake up.
We reached the port of Calais sometime around five or six in the morning, I think. This year, there was a longer wait because there were a lot of coaches to be checked one one member of our travel group had issues with his ID card. The passport controls before check-in are always the first harsh moment of the trip. You’re barely awake and already, you have to get off the bus, out into the freezing cold, then stand in line inside a pretty unfriendly little container till you get called up to a counter where an equally unfriendly and grumpy British guy stares at you as if you were a criminal. This year, I was lucky enough to get called up by the least intimidating one. And, of course, compared to the guy whose ID card was causing trouble, I had drawn the lucky card.
Luckily, we didn’t have to wait for long before we could board the ferry. There are several ferries sailing for P&O and I think by now, I’ve seen them all. They’re all pretty much the same, only the layout changes. The interior is quite similar, as are the facilities. They all offer one or two shops, some kind of bar / coffee shop and a place to get food which ranges from a proper a la carte restaurant up to fast food joints. As usual, we just hurried to find a place to settle down. Depending on how crowded the ships get, you can get unlucky and not find a proper place, so you’ll have to settle in some uncomfortable chairs somewhere in an aisle or sit on the stairs or something, so it’s always a good idea to find a quiet place and then split up so someone can go and get drinks / food while the other(s) stay(s) seated with the bags. This time, we settled in a shabby but comfy enough bar area. All you really need to make it through the trip is a good book, if you ask me. It was a bit unfortunate that it seemed to be right above the engine so it got quite noisy but the rattling also managed to lull me to sleep. The only annoyance were two groups of noisy and clearly drunk French guys (hence the annoyed look on my face). Now, I don’t live near the ports in France or England,
so I can’t judge how common it would be to take the ferry back and forth. But it seems that every single year we have such groups on the ferry. They never really seem to be on any particular trip, for leisure or business. I don’t know if they just go over to do some shopping in the town by the port and then go back or whatever they’re doing. They just seem to be really at ease, like they’re using the ferry’s facilities quite often. When they’re not noisy like the group this year, I quite like the diversity of the passengers. You see a lot of elder people, as well as groups of kids. They seem to be from all parts of the world as well as all ‘levels’ of the society. My mom and I often try to guess where people are from. By now we’re really good at it, too, though neither of us can point out what exactly it is that makes it so obvious.
Once we arrived in Dover, we were delighted to find that the white cliffs were alight with bright sunshine. I always love the moment when the bus leaves the ferry and we all get a first look at the cliffs. Those who’d been there before always smile in recognition. Those whose first time it is always gasp and stare in wonder. And the effect is even better when the sun is shining because they seem so much brighter and bigger then.
It was another two hour drive till London which I used to catch up on some more sleep. I love waking up to the sight of the suburbs of London passing by. Even though we’ve been to the city with this group fourteen times already, we always join the organizers for a little sightseeing trip with the bus. They pretty much just drive around the West End, passing by all the sights, give a few facts and anecdotes. I’ve heard it all before and by now, I could probably do the little tour myself but it’s just my way of saying hello to this wonderful city. On these weekends, we only have
one day there and there’s no way to see everything and notice all the little changes when you’re only exploring everything by foot. This way, I got to take a look at the Shard, see several other building sights where no things are being pulled up and got to say hi to the Clock Tower, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park without losing any time that was planned for the Natural History Museum, food and shopping this year. It’s also convenient to be able to say you saw ridiculous things like the Winter Wonder Land without having to shove and pull your way across the huge fair.
By the time we’d finished the tour and were out on our feet near Piccadilly Circus, it was around 11am and I was feeling the by now familiar excitement of wanting to do and see and touch everything at once.