The Final Countdown: Europe, North America travel blog

Tony, Cynthea, Liam

Liam and Ellie

Thursday 18th October

We have a few hours to fill in before catching the bus to London this afternoon (Tony double checked the departure time last night!). We find a hostel in London, in West Greenwich, £52 for two nights. Tony also looks up the TFL website to see what bus to catch, and downloads a map to his laptop.

We check out, the hostel stores our packs and we head off to the Salvador Dali museum in the Belfry on Markt Square. This expo features all original works, drawings (including erotica), sculptures and a movie. Cynthea used the “audio” guide, it was actually a tablet with decent sized screen, Tony used it a little too, but found it took a bit of getting used to carrying around. We were not overly enthralled with the exhibition, although it is difficult to say what we expected. We knew a few of works, and a lot on display here had not been actively reproduced. There was a gift shop, and there was never an opportunity lost to hawk something for sale. It was an interesting display, but perhaps would have been better appreciated by someone more “in” to the arts.

After lunch we caught the bus to the station, arriving with a good half an hour to spare. The bus stop was open to the elements, and the weather had turned cool again, so we settled in at the shelter and kept an eye on the bus stop (our bus was coming from Amsterdam). The timetable is fairly general, once the bus gets on the way. With such a huge distance to cover there is lot that will affect the journey. Passengers waiting for the bus to Amsterdam were getting worried as their bus (from London) was now nearly an hour late. We were getting a bit concerned too, as it was nearly half an hour late for us. Tony looked up the number to call the head office back in the UK and had started to make the call when a bus arrived. It was ours, so we made sure the others had the number to call it themselves, and we hurried over to the bus.

The driver had to double park as there was another bus in his slot, and before long there was an official reading the riot act. We knew that many of these bus stations had a time limit on how long a bus could stop for, but we also thought that the reaction here was a bit overboard. Then the police were called over, and we wondered just what the problem was, and if we would ever get away. The driver pulls away and starts to leave, but the bus is stopped again by the police. It turns out that the bus station had changed many of the “official” stops, but neither Eurolines head office, nor their drivers, knew of the change. Neither do the passengers for that matter, it will be fun for anyone trying to catch the bus over the next few days.

We finally head off to Calais and the Amsterdam bus shortly after leaving the station. There is a short stop near Calais to spend the last of our Euros. French border control is fine, with no hassles, but a few metres on at the UK control every one has to get off the bus with their belongings and claim their luggage. We then have to wait in a room and once everyone from the bus is present they begin processing us. We are through without too many hassles.

We drove through the New Cross area, and Tony was hoping the bus driver could just let them off there, it would save nearly two hours going all the way into Victoria and coming back out again. But that isn’t possible, and around 8pm we arrive at Victoria Coach. We walk 15 minutes to the bus depot, and Tony goes to the information office to double check which bus we should take. They insist that a different bus to New Cross station will be better, so we head to the stop. According to the hostel website it is “on the doorstep”, so we are not too worried. Tony is not sure that the advice given is correct, so double checks with the bus driver, and again we are assured we have the correct bus. Nearly an hour later the driver tells every one it is the end of the line, we are at New Cross Gate station. We are miles from where we need to be! Tony has words with the driver again, and the response if very off hand. He tells us we are only “one stop” from where we need to be, and we get off as there is no other option. We are not impressed, especially as we have a lot of gear.

Cynthea is all for catching a taxi, but none have their hire lights on. We think they are on a break, though at 9pm it is a bit late for that. Tony goes to New Cross Gate train station, but it is now closed, and there isn’t a taxi in sight. We decide to start walking, we are on the A2, so there is plenty of traffic, but we soon notice that none of the taxis are operating. We even frantically try to hail taxis that obviously are not working, just in case someone decides to take pity on us. At the next bus stop Tony gets on the next bus and asks advice from that driver. She says we are not far from the street we need, but Cynthea’s GPS tells a different story. The map that Tony downloaded is of little use, it had us being dropped at a bus stop in a different road.

New Cross Station is just ahead, but there are no taxis there either. Cynthea tells Tony to carry on ahead and come back after he has checked in at the hostel, but he is not keen on leaving her alone. We have figured out by now that the taxis do not stop in this area! We just have to keep our wits about us, and carry on, though it is hard not to stand out as we are the only white faces around. Another mile down the road we stop at a shop to clarify directions. We are assured yet again that we are not far, so we carry on.

It is with great relief that we arrive at the street. Helpful locals confirm that the hostel is just along the road, and so it is. We arrive just before the doors shut for the night at 11pm. We are shattered, and that is an understatement. At least we never felt unsafe walking here, uneasy, yes, but not unsafe. Reception is in the bar, it is quite busy, with a lot of travellers and a few, mostly West Indian, locals. It is quite noisy with the music. We find out later that there was no trouble getting in at any hour, because the bar is open until late, but they don’t want people checking in at all hours. The staff here are really nice, friendly and welcoming.

For some reason we are booked into two separate rooms, so there is a bit of juggling about so we can be together. Tony pays for the room and we head upstairs, we are on the third floor, and there is no lift. There should be a kitchen too, but we find out it is closed (it is now another dorm room), nor is there a separate lounge room anymore (also now a dorm room). There are supposed to be facilities we can use downstairs, but staff has to supervise anyone using them, and they are usually too busy in the bar. It is an insurance requirement, we are told, as there have been a couple of fires, so that is why the full kitchen was closed. That makes us feel really safe!

There is an internet connection in the bar, but the music is cranked up, and we have trouble concentrating. We have had an email from Dave and Catherine, Dave’s parents are able to host us in Liverpool, so that is great. We are expected Friday or Saturday, so we try and book a bus to Liverpool, but none of our cards work, nor will the discount code that National Express sent us. The music got louder, and we head off to bed.

The room is full, there is a chap from Greece in with us, and it is his first time in a hostel. There is also a French guy in the next bunk, he is an ignorant prick, one of those that gives their nationality a bad name. At 1am he is rummaging through his bag, pulling everything out of plastic bags and making a racket while everyone is trying to sleep. We tell him to be quiet, and next we know he is on his laptop until all hours. There is quite a glow from the screen lighting up the room, making it difficult to sleep. Tony goes to get his eyeshades, but they must be packed away. He notices that the French guy is now sleeping, with the laptop still open, Tony is tempted to shut the lid, but the guy wakes up and starts tapping the screen. By 5am Tony is well sick of it, others in the room are also pissed off. Tony tells him to shut it down, and he replies that he is charging it. Tony tells him that the f***ing laptop will charge with the lid closed, but it will be bloody difficult to charge with it shoved up his arse. The arrogant prick suddenly cannot understand English, but a couple of others say something and he takes the laptop under the blankets. If he tries that again tonight, he will have difficulty walking!

Friday 19th October

Breakfast was in the bar, just a basic one of cornflakes, toast, tea and coffee, but at 9am it is all over and everything is cleared away. A few come down late, but no amount of pleading gets them breakfast. Our Greek room mate is annoyed with the French guy, and we tell him most people are not like that, and have some courtesy. We send a message to Liam, and arrange to meet at the Greenwich markets. Once again the bar staff are really helpful with information on getting around.

We try to book our bus tickets but the website is still not working, so Tony calls their call centre. It is a premium number, so Tony asks them to call him back, which they do. The cheap website deals are not available, nor can Tony use the discount code, so we are forced to pay the full fare for tomorrow’s bus, £32.50. We are talking to the cleaner, and she says that she intensely dislikes the French guy, he has been here a few days, and is very rude. She avoids him because she will lose her job if she smacks him in the mouth, and she very much wants to do that. We are thrilled that he is being moved to another room, perhaps the others complained too.

We send a message to Camilla to arrange a time to collect our gear from Hackney. She is in Belgium for a swimming contest, but Peter will be home around 6pm.

Greenwich is not far, but Cynthea has had enough walking, and it is raining again, so we head to Deptford and take the DLR. We get off at Greenwich, and realise too late that we should have got off at the next stop. Bugger, so much for not walking far. It is a bit of a hike in the drizzle to get to the markets, and we have a text from Liam letting us know he is running late. We wander around the market while we wait, the food stalls are tempting and we grab a quick snack. Many of the stall holders have changed since Tony was last here in August, there are lots of different things for sale. He had hoped the Doctor Who stall would be here, but sadly he is not (probably just as well where the wallet is concerned!). Cynthea gets a couple of necklaces (two for £15) that can be shaped, she has not seen them before (but we reckon everyone will have them by the time we get home!).

Liam and Ellie arrive, and we head to the pub for pie ‘n ‘pud for lunch, £12.50 for two meals, drinks and a dessert. We spend a few hours catching up, out of the weather. Liam is off to Canada soon to work at a ski field, we reckon that a young fella from Surfers is in for a hell of a shock, even for an Aussie that has spent a bit of time acclimatising under English skies.

We do a bit of shopping for tea and catch the DLR back to Deptford. Then we head out to Hackney, we will need to be quick as Peter is going out soon. We collect our things and say our goodbyes, and head back to Journeys.

Our travel insurance is due for renewal, and this time needs to include the US and Canada. The cover is not that great from the company we are with, the excess for most claims is $100, but with many items there is a $250 claim limit, so we would only end up with $150. However it is taking forever to sort through the other options. In the end we decide that the most important aspect is the medical cover, so we will make do with them again. It costs $NZ213 each for two months with World Nomads.

We get to use the microwave to heat some soup for tea to have with a salad, but don’t have too late a night, we need to catch up on the sleep we didn’t get last night. The others are still up so we pack our bags before we turn in for the night. The room is full again tonight, but everyone is respectful. Those of us that were here last night are very pleased a certain Frenchman is no longer in the room.

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