The Final Countdown: Europe, North America travel blog


Monday 8th October

We are staying with Camilla and Peter in Hackney for a few days while we catch up with Irene Keane who is over from Wellington. We leave Cardiff at noon, arriving back in London around 3.30.

We check our visa requirements for Canada and the USA, we don’t need anything for Canada, but we have to apply for an ESTA Visa for the US, £17 for the two of us. Tony is unsure if the online site is to be trusted, but there is no other way to apply. It is also a worry that we have to agree to we waive the right of appeal should our application be declined. The way it reads we have no other option should this visa be declined. Tony spends a considerable about of time looking for other options, like applying directly at the US embassy in London, for example. But it seems that this is the only way, and he proceeds with the application.

There is a problem with the PC charger, the one bought last year has a broken wire, but if you bare the wires a wee bit and twist them together it will still work, for now. Tony pays £12 for a new one on Amazon, there are not many reviews for the product, it is not branded, but it is a far cry from the £45 he paid last year.

Tuesday, 9th October

We arrange to meet up with Irene at Stratford, and as we board the train at Hackney we are thinking we could be a bit late. Cynthea looks along the carriage, and there is Irene and her sister, Joanne.

Stratford certainly has had a makeover for the Olympics (it is where many of the events had been held). They have a smart new train station, and a new mall. Irene tells us there is a coffee shop run by Kiwis, and we go hunting for it. Apparently they had featured on a TV programme back home about New Zealanders who had their own successful businesses in London. We find Grind at the far end of the mall, and the Kiwi connection could not be more obvious. They do a great coffee and wonderful food.

After lunch we spend a few hours at the mall, the girls shopping for clothes, and Tony looking at new toys (that he cannot afford, but it was good to look). His phone is not an android one, and is a few years old, and it would be great to replace it with something more up to date. Cynthea has been looking at getting a tablet computer, so Tony checks out the latest in those too. Perhaps they will be cheaper in the USA, the ones we like are not in our price range over here…

It is getting near dark when Irene and Joanne leave. We head over to Sainsbury’s and buy some groceries before heading back to Hackney. We notice that the Meridian Line passes through the courtyard at the railway station.

Danny and Sonya’s son Liam is in London, living not far from Hackney, so Tony sends a text to see if we can catch up while we are here.

Wednesday, 10th October

It has been over a year since Jill and Jill were in London to bury their father’s ashes, and Cynthea wants to take some flowers to the grave. The Stoke-Newington cemetery is not far from where we are in Hackney, a short bus ride away. We are not sure where to get off the bus, but a couple of passengers help us out (had we been able to take the train from Hackney we would have been fine, we knew the way from the station). We had not picked up any flowers in Hackney, thinking there would be plenty of places selling flowers near a cemetery – well, we thought wrong. It took ages to find something, our lack of a foreign language being the biggest obstacle! Perhaps Muslims are not into buying flowers? We finally find a Sainsburys, and get a bunch of bright yellow chrysanthemums.

At the cemetery we call into the office but they do not hold recent records of plots, it is a volunteer group working here, and the council do not supply them with the details of recent interments. We try to remember the name of the chap who helped us last year when the ashes were buried, but no luck there either. It was a long shot that he would remember anyway. The office volunteers try to call the local council, but no one is available to assist there either. Tony remembers that Mr Knopp is buried with his mother, so he opens the computer and looks at the photos we took last year. Bingo, we have his mother’s name and date of death, so we can find the plot. We are given a map of the graveyard, and head off to find the plot. We would never have found it on our own. It seems someone has been here recently, the grave is not as overgrown as Tony expected it might be. We clear a few more brambles away, and check that the shrub that was planted last year is still growing. There is no vase for the flowers, so Tony digs a wee hole by the head stone, hopefully being stuck in damp earth the flowers will last a little longer.

We catch the bus back to Hackney, and laugh at the shop name across the road, Sellfridges, and they do. Cynthea gets a call from Malcolm, his, and Cristan’s, friend Nipper is critically ill and the family has been called, so the trip to Penzance has to be put off again. Cynthea is devastated that the trip has to be rescheduled, and we are also upset that Nipper is not well. He died later that night.

Back at Peter and Camilla’s we cancel the hotel in Penzance and then contact Pol in case we can go to Berlin after all. Unfortunately he is working the weekend, and the airfares are not cheap at the last minute. We look at the bus as an option, but that didn’t work out either. We will have to look at other options.

Thursday 11th, October

We travel into Oxford St and meet up with Irene. She and Cynthea want to go to Selfridges, Liberty and a couple of other stores, we do a lot of walking that day. Tony leaves them to it and spends time around Carnaby St, and Hamley’s Toy Store.

Friday 12th October

We spend the day organising more travels, and book a bus from London to Bruges in Belgium, costs us £130, a hostel is also booked £77 for three nights. We leave on Sunday. We email David and Catherine who couchsurfed with Amanda before we left NZ, they had invited us to stay in Liverpool, but are still travelling. Liverpool is still on our list of places to visit, and we ask if they know if anyone can host us for three or four days.

We head into Southbank to meet up with Lyndell. She is held up meeting us, so we walk to the tax office nearby to sort out Cynthea’s tax return. We are pleasantly surprised at how nicely we are treated, and how helpful the staff are. We meet Lyndell and have a meal, then walk along the river bank to the Millennium Bridge and cross to St Pauls. It is a beautiful sight seeing London by night. We had a coffee before heading back to Hackney.

Saturday, 13th October

We didn’t do a lot today, mainly tried to pack all our gear, without a lot of success. We decide to leave a bag at Peter and Camilla’s, and get it when we return from Bruges. When we come back we will have a couple of days in London before heading up to Liverpool. We hear back from Dave and Catherine, they are going to try and arrange somewhere for us to stay, but they don’t know any couchsurfers in Liverpool as they were not part of the organisation when they left home.

Sunday 14th October

We are up and about by 8am, even though we don’t have to be at the bus until around 1pm. Tony gets the ticket out to double check the time, and is horrified to see that what he thought was the departure time, was actually the arrival time in Bruges. It was a funny way the ticket was laid out, but it was still very clear that the bus left at 8am. We have missed it by 10 minutes, and the tickets are non refundable. We are really upset at such a stupid mistake, and decide we have nothing to lose by calling the bus company. The number we have to call is a premium one, so it will cost more than the usual call. We ask National Express to call us back, which they do. They ask Cynthea why we didn’t travel, but she is so upset she cannot actually talk to them properly. They very kindly change our tickets to the next day, the cost is £30. We ask if they can change the return date by one day so we still have the three days there, which they do.

Tony calls the hostel in Bruges and says that they are unable to travel today, but will be there tomorrow for three nights. They are happy to change dates, and there is no penalty to pay for the late notice.

We considered going to a hostel for the night, but Camilla says we may as well stay there, and in any case we wont save much time getting to the coach station. There is a bus to Victoria from Hackney, it will go to the main bus station, near the underground station, so it will be about 10 to 15 minutes walk to Victoria Coach. Tony thinks it is about time they built a tunnel between the trains and the coach station, and include a moving footpath. We check the TFL website for the bus timetables, and we are told it will take 50 minutes at the most on a Sunday morning. Yeah, right. We allow a lot more than that, and decide to catch the 5.45am bus and then we will have plenty of time to get there for the 7am check in.

We spend the rest of the day working on the diary and sorting the thousands of photos. We also look at the options for getting around the Lake District, and decide that we will bus to Windemere and get a rental car to go to York.



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