1859 – 1974
Television and the cinema industry are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of the first James Bond film (Dr. No) in 1962. I can remember seeing Dr No at the pictures in Falmouth, which was playing to packed houses. The reason that I was in Falmouth was to join my first ship after leaving HMS Conway nautical training college. I’d been on the Conway for two years, and after graduating in the summer of 1962 I went to sea.
For many of us who left the Conway in ’62, we would not see again, or would we? Most of us went to sea, but with different companies, and only very occasionally would we ever cross the paths of another Conway. The group that left in ‘61 decided to have a reunion near the town of Conwy (note the spelling) in North Wales. It was such a success that a few of the 1962 leavers, who live in the UK, started to contact other ’62 leavers around the world, to see if there was any interest for a 50th anniversary reunion for the ’62 leavers. I am happy to say that quite a few were positive, including myself, so my wife and I started to plan a UK / European holiday created around the anticipated dates of the ’62 Conway reunion to maximise the use of the airfare.
I did a rough outline of what we might see & visit in the UK before and after the reunion. Fortunately the voluntary committee in the UK decided to hold the reunion from the 11th to the 14th of September. As much as I like and admire the Queen I wanted to avoid any large celebrations for the Diamond Jubilee because of the higher cost of airline tickets and hotel charges. Not being interested in sport, I also wanted to avoid the Olympic period, again because of the huge increases in London hotel rates.
My wife suggested that we visit the grave of my uncle, who was killed at the age of nineteen in World War One, and is buried in Belgium. My uncle was my father’s brother, and growing up in the UK in the 40’s & 50’s I knew that my parents were not wealthy enough to take a trip to Belgium. I thought that this was a great idea. All of my father’s generation are now dead, which made me, as an only child, the obvious link to visit my uncle’s grave.
Both my wife and I are in our late 60’s so the long flight to the UK was daunting. We have travelled this route a few times before, but then we were younger . . . so perhaps this time we could do economy in to Asia, and business for the long flight from Asia to Europe. This seemed a good idea so I started to research August departures for combi-tickets and found that they were all over $4,000 and many closer to $5,000, and premium economy were over $3,400. So it was back to the drawing board.
Then it dawn on me that according to Robert Louis Stevenson – ‘I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.’ This changed my thoughts.
Shortly after we had decided to attend the reunion a friend of ours asked me for some ideas for getting to the UK for him and his wife, because his wife’s mother was not very well. I told him that my wife & I would be doing the same trip, but we had to be in England for the 11th September and I was considering leaving around the 28th August. I suggested that they join us, and when in England we separate and do our own thing, and meet later and perhaps share time together in England, and on the way home. This was agreed, so now I was planning for four.
Over the past few years we have flown mainly with Malaysian Airlines to the UK and around Asia. So the first point of call was the price of four tickets to Kuala Lumpur on the afternoon of the 28th August. None of us like nighttime flying so it had to be the afternoon flight from Sydney. I did look at the cost of using MH (MH is the code for Malaysian Airlines) all the way to Colombo, in Sri Lanka. Why Colombo you may ask – well I took Robert Louis Stevenson’s advice and decided to treat the journey as part of the holiday.
The connecting flight out of Kuala Lumpur to Colombo on Malaysian Airlines was just before midnight KL time, and because we would have arrived in KL after an eight hour flight, plus the time change and a four hour flight from KL to Colombo we would be required to be on the go for around 24 to 28 hours – not really a holiday trip for ‘seniors’. We decided to break the journey and overnight in Kuala Lumpur and fly the following day to Colombo.
We stayed the night in Kuala Lumpur, in a local bed and breakfast home called Rumah Putih. It had all the trimmings that we wanted, and we had stayed there on a previous occasion. The B&B is owned and operated by an Englishman and his Malaysian wife. We arrived at the accommodation around 10.00 pm local time (midnight Sydney time) and this gave us a good night’s sleep, and we were back at the airport feeling refreshed for the 9.00 am Sri Lanka Airlines flight to Colombo.
Pool & patio
After take-off we were served breakfast, which helped pass the time, because the entertainment system left a lot to be desired.
We’d flown on Sri Lanka Airlines before and the configuration of the aircraft seating (2x4x2) is a little more pleasurable than the Malaysian Airlines (3x4x3), but then they are different aircraft. Malaysian’s aircraft being a B747 for long haul, and Sri Lanka being AB320 mainly short haul. The AB320 seating is, I think, a little more comfortable than the seating on a B747, although we did pay MH a little bit extra, which allowed us to pick four seats in the widest part of the aircraft.
The time difference between Kuala Lumpur and Colombo is two and a half hours, which means that a 9.00 am take off from Kuala Lumpur, followed by a three and a half hour flight, had us in Colombo by 10.00 am local time. A great time to arrive anywhere, because we had been refreshed with a night in bed, the day was ours.
I had arranged for our hotel (Paradise Beach) to meet us at the airport, because with four of us the actual cost per person is the same as a taxi. We were able to check in to the hotel on arrival, so by 11.30 am we had cleared customs and immigration, been transported to the hotel (about a 15 minute ride), checked – in and unpacked what we required for an overnight stay, and I’d even had a shower. A stroll around the hotel gardens and along the beach, just to get the feel of the place and all of a sudden it was lunchtime.
Pool area with the beach in the background.
In the afternoon we hired two motorised trishaws (tuk tuks) (the green vehicle) to visit the local town. The town is not a tourist town, but it was interesting as most new places are for a visitor. We’d been to Sri Lanka in 2006, and we loved the people and their food, but we’d only transited the area around the airport, because we’d stayed in Colombo city, and Mount Lavinia area, so this day allowed us to check out the local area.
In the evening we decided to visit a local restaurant that had been recommended by Trip Advisor. I’ll not name the restaurant, but they had 240 items on their menu. I just wondered how much fresh food they could store, on the off chance of being asked for a particular meal. They served Sri Lankan food, as well as British, Italian, plus a mixture of various Asian dishes. I doubt we will return.
Later that evening we were fortunate to see the reception and hear the music for a local wedding – it was a shame that the bride and groom had to contend with very heavy rain, but the hotel staff coped and all the guests were dry. It was early to bed as we would be up early for the next leg of our journey. Even though we overlooked the gardens, and the reception, the music was not loud enough to cause us any problem.
We checked-out of the hotel at 6.20 am and again used the hotel’s transport to the airport to check-in for our 9.30 am departure on Qatar Airways. This would be our first flight with Qatar Airways as we normally favoured Malaysian or Thai Airways. I think that Qatar is the new flavour of the month. The service was impeccable, the food was very good and the AVOD (entertainment system) had plenty of choices.
Security at Colombo Airport appeared to be chaotic. We joined a very long queue; in fact there were two queues that funneled people in to one small area. In this area the passengers themselves loaded suitcases and large cardboard cartons on to a single scanner conveyor belt from the baggage trolley that they were using. The passenger then passed through a scanner (often pushing their trolley, which set off the alarms) and on the other side collected their belongings and restacked them on the trolleys. They then joined another queue to check-in for their flight. Eventually some bright spark decided to open a second security counter, which caused a sudden rush from the rear of the queue that we were in, because the second counter was not near the first, but behind us. We now joined this second ‘rush’ only to find that three lines of people where focused on pushing through this second security area. After about forty minuets we found ourselves on the inside looking for the Qatar Airways check-in. We bought business class Qatar Airways tickets because they were not too expensive, so we thought we’d treat ourselves. After all 50 years is a long time between drinks and don’t forget Robert Louise. Although our final destination was the UK I also checked the cost of the tickets for various European capitals, as I knew that the British Government had increased the airport taxes for intercontinental flights. The cheapest ticket was to Paris, so I booked us to Paris and also booked us in to a hotel for a three night Paris stopover. The cost saving on the ticket, by using Paris, was enough to pay for the hotel. The British loss in airport taxes was the French gain in tourism, because the saving only paid for the hotel, but we had to eat and see the sites of Paris, which was extra. Perhaps a French politician suggested that the British should increase their airport taxes, I don’t know.
The check-in for economy was a rugby scrum, (four counters open), which did overflow to the business class check-in area. We queued at the business class check-in (one counter open) while one passenger was being checked-in. When he had finished and started to move away, others moved in to take his place from the economy line. Before I could say anything the check-in lady waved for our group and shouted at the press of people to get back in line. Overall it was fortunate that we left the hotel as early as we did, because by the time we had completed check-in it was well after eight o’clock. Further security checks for hand baggage (checked bags had been processed) and a short walk later and we were in the Business Class lounge – a haven of peace and quiet.
Araliya Lounge, Colombo
We were called about twenty minutes before take-off and boarded after all the other passengers. The AB 320 does not have a first class section, and the business class area is limited to twelve seats, configured two by two, with three rows of two seats on each side of the aircraft.
We were greeted by name and shown to our seats and offered a glass of Champaign – the only way to travel. The AVOD had plenty of choices, the food was very good in taste and eye appeal, and the wine was different than the wine I can afford at home. The cabin crew were very friendly and attentive without being ‘in your face’ all of the time. Nothing was too much trouble. My wife and I had an interesting chat with one of the stewardess (am I allowed to call a cabin crew member a stewardess in today’s pc world??) – anyway during our chat I asked how many languages did she speak – she reached seven before she was interrupted. She wasn’t bragging, to her it was just a fact that she had such a skill. She spoke her native tongue and was married to an Armenian so she could speak her husband’s language and so it went on. She was a very interesting person, who loved her job.
Our first stop would be Doha in Qatar, which is Qatar Airways hub. The flight was four and a half hours and we landed in Doha, on time, at 11.30 am local time Doha. Doha Airport is huge and flat due to being on reclaimed land from the Persian Gulf. We were ‘bussed’ from the aircraft to the business class transit lounge in the Premium Terminal. It was all very efficient. We were shown to the business class lounge where we found a beautiful setting. On one side was a complete restaurant area, and on the other nooks and alcoves where the four of us sat and made ourselves at home for the two-hour transit. After about an hour I checked the departure board and noticed that the Paris bound aircraft had been delayed. As I returned to my seat a Qatar Airways staff member approached my wife and friends and told us that the departure to Paris would be delayed for two or more hours. If you have to be delayed at an airport then being in the Premium Terminal Business Class lounge in Doha is the only place to be . . . . .
Buffet & Bar area
The delay was not as long as we anticipated before we were shown to the bus to take us out to the aircraft. As you see, even the airport shuttle bus was ‘different’. This layout is the business class bus. No one stands.
We were welcomed on board again, but this time on to a different aircraft, a B777, and shown to the left as one goes through the door. At first I thought we had been upgraded (due to the delay), but this B777 didn’t have a first class section, just business class in a 2 x 2 x 2 configuration. It might well have been first class because we had heaps of space and the large TV screen in the back of the seat in front was operated with a mouse like device rather than pushing buttons, and jumping from field to field as per the economy system. The mouse system allowed one to scroll across the screen in the same way as one does with a desktop computer.
Space was not a problem; even the toilets were larger than the normal aircraft toilet. The second picture shows the sleep suit and socks. As our flight was a daylight flight we were not offered the sleep suits.
This picture shows the distance between one seat and the one in front.
If I felt tired the seat converted to a 180-degree flat bed and I still couldn’t touch the seat in front and I am 6 ft 2 inches tall (188 cm).
During my working life, and now in retirement, I have flown with many airlines in all three classes. This sector on Qatar Airways was just fabulous, no wonder they have been voted as the best airline in the world by the public. I was offered a glass of port at the end of a beautiful presented and tasting lunch. I thought why not, and as it was poured I noticed that is was bottled in 1976, the year my son was born. The port slipped down without a problem.
Our scheduled time of arrival in Paris was 7.00 pm, but due to the delay in Doha we arrived just before 9.00 pm. Customs and immigration was not a problem and by 10.00 pm we were in a long queue for a taxi. I had considered booking a meet and greet service or an airport shuttle service, but I’d read reports that some of the shuttle services were unreliable and that passengers had waited over an hour or more for the prepaid shuttle. Although the queue for a taxi was quite long, it moved quickly as the stream of arriving taxis seemed endless.
I was bothered that we might have to take two taxis due to the amount of luggage we had; four large suitcases and each of us had a hand luggage. Some of the taxis looked small and I thought we’d have to wait for a larger vehicle. Eventually we were at the front of the queue and the attendant, who was guiding taxis and passengers, looked at me and asked how many (I must look English or Australian as he spoke in English), I said four and mentioned our luggage. He glanced at the bags and said ‘Don’t worry, they’ll fit,’ and waved over a medium size vehicle. The four suitcases did fit (only just) in the back, and we all sat with our hand luggage on our knees. I had warned our friends that after the first suitcase we would pay extra for each additional bag placed in the luggage area, but anything on our knee was not charged. As it happened, we needn’t have worried, as our smaller bags wouldn’t have fitted in the back anyway. The drive to the hotel was quiet fast, and lasted about 30 minutes. The cost was Euro 50.00, which was cheaper than the shuttle service, and the meet and greet service for four. The driver was pleasant and a safe driver. It was about 1030. pm that we arrived at our hotel.
Hotel France Albion
Checking in was a dream as we had already paid for our three nights stay to secure the lowest possible rate. In addition to the room charges, breakfast was extra, which was charged daily at Euo 13.00 per person. The dining room was in the cellar, note the curved ceiling, but we never felt claustrophobic. Breakfast was pleasant with plenty of hot, as well as cold, food.
We did try a local café as we had been told that the cafes were cheaper than this particular hotel. What we found was that the café was a little cheaper (not much), but you didn’t have any where near the choice nor could or help yourself to another glass of juice if you wished. So the following day we returned to the hotel.
Our room, (we booked a superior double) on the sixth floor, was small (14 sq mtrs) but not too small considering that this was Paris, and we had to fit the hotel to our budget. Compared to Asian rooms it was small, but it was adequate for the three nights, and the shower was good and strong. The hotel supplied various soaps and shampoo as well as tea and coffee making facilities in the room.
Our superior room’s, bathroom was behind the photographer, the door shown is the entrance door.
After breakfast on the first day we had booked a walking tour of Montmartre. We walked the short distance from the hotel to the meeting place at the Moulin Rouge. There we met Virginia in the foyer, where she gave us a brief history of the Moulin Rouge and of the area of Montmarte.
The walk was for three hours, during which we covered the main parts (and few hidden parts) of Montmartre. As you would expect Virginia was a fund of knowledge of the places, the people who lived in various house, particularly if they were famous. She showed us how to move from street to street, without walking the full length of one street only to walk down a parallel street. What looked like private garage doors or back entrances to gardens where in fact links from street to street to save the long walk.
Areas of Montmartre were just as I imagined; cobbled streets and steep steps. The only sound that was missing was the sound of the accordion. Maybe I’ll take up smoking Gauloises again.
All though the day was cool, it didn’t take us long to get warm because Montmartre, being a hill, demanded that we maximise the time with Virginia.
Remember ‘Amelie’, the film? This is the actual shop where Amelie buys three hazelnuts and an artichoke. It was filmed here,not in a studio.
Of course who doesn’t take photos from the steps of Sacre Coeur.
The place itself – Sacre Coeur
The walking tour ended and we made our way back towards the hotel. We must have walked for miles, but at least we enjoyed the exercise and found ourselves at the Galleries Lafayette. Which is a large shopping centre inside a famous landmark.
As you see only the best names . . . .
The ceiling Galleries Lafayette
There are plenty of small bars in the area so my friend and I had a quiet sit down, while our wives sampled the shops in Galleries Lafayette – now this is what I call shopping!
The following day we had a choice of the metro to Arc de Triomphe or we could walk. It was Sunday, the roads were quiet, so we decided to walk. It took us about 40 minutes to reach the Arc de Triomphe, but it wasn’t a boring walk as it allowed us to take in Paris and see the locals starting their day. Eventually we saw the monument in the distance.
We used the tunnels to cross the road because of the traffic. I waited quite a long time to take this picture without road traffic. It was a quick grab between a bus and a car. As you see we had a beautiful day for sightseeing.
To get in to the A de T one has two choices – climbing the 284 steps did not seem such a good idea due to old knees, but they do have a lift which takes you near the top and you only have 48 steps to the viewing area. I managed the 48 steps. Coming down was easier and of course at the end of the downward 48 steps is a souvenir shop. At least the books and various souvenirs didn’t look tacky. The staff in the shop was very friendly and polite.
From the A de T we walked down the Champs-Élysées and made our way to the river. One just has to walk along the Seine on a beautiful summer’s afternoon.
Taken from the Pont de la Concorde
Pont de la Concorde, a popular photo spot for brides –
We couldn’t have asked for a better day to walk around Paris, but even we started to get tired and began to check out likely spots for a tea break. Our original idea was to picnic on the bank of the Seine and enjoy the view. We thought that we would have been able to buy the makings for a pic-nic close to the river bank, but we were wrong.
We crossed Jardine des Tuileries, which was hot and dusty and didn’t have the feeling a garden at all. The restaurants in the gardens we found a little expensive so we gave them a miss and eventually found Chambol Café on Rue Cambon, where we stopped for a late lunch. Typical French café with rows of bottles behind the bar, beer on tap and good food. We asked the waiter to explain why the beer had two prices alongside the same volume of beer, and we were told that if we sat at the bar (about three feet away) the beer is cheaper, but as we chose to sit at a table the beer was more expensive . . . . the fact that I went to the bar to buy the beer, and I carried it back to the table, didn’t get me a discount. As we finished our meal we noticed quite a few people entering the shop across the road, so of course our wives wanted to see what the shop was called – we should have known – it was Chanel ! At least while the ladies visited Chanel the males had time for another beer or two.
Unfortunately we were only in Paris for three nights (two days) so the following day we left for Lille on the TGV, (very fast train similar to Eurostar). I had booked first class tickets on the TGV to Lille. The train left from Gare du Nord (the same station as the Eurostar). Although the hotel was not too far from the station, because of our luggage we ordered a taxi. The station is imposing, but we soon found our way around and realised we had an hour to wait for departure time. We’d left the hotel early to allow for traffic problems, but as luck would have it we arrived with plenty of time.
The difference between 1st and 2nd class was not a lot of money, so we decided to treat ourselves and travel 1st Class. As I’d never traveled 1st Class on a train I was quite looking forward to the experience. The ticket stated that we were booked in coach 2 and gave our seat numbers. As we approached the train we could see the second coach from the engine and it had a large #2 on the side, in addition the small neon sign by the coach door flashed # 1, so we assumed that this was the first class area of coach # 2. We found our seats, but they were not positioned as I expected after seeing the coach plans. Instead of the four of us being around a table our friends were across the aisle. The area had a limited number of seats and was split from the rest of the coach by an electronic door, so I assumed that this was the correct area. Later when the ticket inspector checked our tickets he never said anything other than ‘Good morning’. On reaching Lille (an hours fast ride from Paris, which is just over 200 km), we had to walk the length of the train to exit the station, and this is when I realised that we had been in the wrong coach, and we had traveled 2nd class for a first class price, so I still haven’t experienced first class rail.
I’d allowed us 20-minute transit time at Lille station. Wrong, the station was so crowded and the queues so long to gain information about the best way of getting to Ypres in Belgium, that we missed the connection. We hadn’t bought our onward tickets as this next journey is classed as a ‘local’, and local tickets could not be bought via the web. Eventually we bought our tickets and we knew that we would have to change at Kortrijk, which is just inside Belgium. We had about fifteen minutes to change platforms / trains and from investigation the station only had eight platforms, so it didn’t look too daunting. My investigation on the internet about Kortrijk station gave me the impression that to get from one platform to another was via a subway system, which would not be too hard as there were ramps from the platform to the subway, so with wheeled suitcases this would be easy. Wrong again – we could not find ramps only steep steps down to the subway and more steps up to the required platform. With four suitcases and only two males to manhandle them down and up the stairways, we only just made the connection.
Ypres railways station is quaint, old world charm, large open spaced car park, empty taxi rank, and very quiet on Sunday afternoon. After checking around and realising that we would not be able to find a taxi without some help, we visited the railway ticket office. The ticket office employee was very helpful and ‘phoned for a taxi, a large one for four people with four large suitcases and cabin bags. The taxi arrived within a few minutes and we were soon at our accommodation close to Menin Gate.
Ypres Railway station
After checking in to our hotel – The Albion – no connection at all with our Paris hotel of a similar name – we explored the town. The centre (Grote market) is not a large area, but it is a very interesting area. A large square dominated by the Cloth Hall, which we thought had been built some hundreds of years ago until we realised that Ypres had been destroyed in WW1, and rebuilt as it was before the start of the war. The Cloth Hall we so admired as being a piece of history was rebuilt in 1928! The people of Ypres used the original plans and as much of the old stones as they could to rebuild their buildings. All the ‘old’ houses of Ypres, along with many farms and villages in the surrounding areas, which were also destroyed, were rebuilt as close as possible to how they looked prior to 1914. The town has a very nice ‘feel’, and we found the people to be very friendly and pleasant.
In the evening (Sunday) we joined many others at the Menin Gate for the 8.00 pm short remembrance ceremony, to honour the 56,000 allied troops who do not have a known grave after the battles around Ypres. Each name is carved on the walls of the Gate.
Names and more names and these are ‘only’ those without a grave.
Behind the crowd are columns & columns of names. It is a very moving ceremony, which is held every evening at 8.00 pm, having been started in 1928. The buglers who play the ‘Last Post’ are all volunteers.
The following morning we were picked up by our ‘Battlefield’ guide Jacques, for a four-hour guided tour of the Messines battlefield area. My uncle was killed in this battle in 1917, and buried in Croonaert Chapel Cemetery. When arranging the tour I mentioned that if it was possible I would like to see his grave. We were shown various military advantage points as Jacques explained how the battle was fought.
After some time (about an hour) we were shown the German trenches at Bayernwald
I was surprised to see how small it is with ‘only’ 66 graves. It is in the middle of a field, which is farmed for crops (wheat I think). It is not a church cemetery just a well-maintained area behind a small wall that remembers those who died. I found the grave of my uncle and this was when Jacques offered me a small white cross and a single poppy to place on the grave.
As I placed the small cross on my uncle’s grave, Jacques quoted the words of the poem ‘For the Fallen’ , which is also known as the ‘Ode of Remembrance’ by Laurence Binyon –
They went with songs to the battle; they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
It was a very moving moment for us all, which will be remembered by my wife & I, and our friends, for a very long time. The thoughtfulness of Flanders Battlefield Tours, and Jacques in particular, offering the cross and poppy, was something that I never expected. At the end of the tour I was presented with a folder, which contained all the known details of my uncle, a copy his service record and details of the part that his regiment (Cheshire Regiment) played in the Messines Battle.
On leaving Croonaert Chapel Cemetery we moved to ‘Hill 60’, you may have seen the film, which came out in 2010.
Poster from the film.
This is the memorial to the Australians involved in the tunnelling under Hill 60. The dark spots on the plaque are bullet holes from WW2. Hill 60 is 60 metres above sea level – hence the name. The hill is a man made hill from the spoil after creating a railway line cutting in 1850.
On the right is a German pillbox on Hill 60. After the tunnelers had finished their work and placed mines (about 53,000 pounds of explosives) in the tunnels under the German lines they waited for the offensive to begin in the early hours of 7th June 1917. The Hill 60 mine was part of 23 mines placed below the enemy lines. The explosion of the mines was heard in London.
Today the remains of the blast at Hill 60 is now a large lake overgrown with vegetation. To illustrate how large the explosion was I took a photograph of our guide, who stood at one side of the crater, (the person inside the orange circle) and I stood at the other side. The experience of touring the battlefield and having detail aspects of the battle explained was well worth the long trip from Australia.
The following day was the Eurostar to London where we would separate as a group, because my wife & I would see a close friend in Liverpool, and attend the HMS Conway reunion in North Wales, and the other couple would visit relatives. We had planned to return to Lille, via the two train trips, but after experiencing the stairs at Kortrijk station we decide to find out how much a dedicated taxi would cost. When split four ways the cost was not too expensive, but the benefit was missing Kortrijk station and not having to climb up & down stairs with suitcases, particularly as we are ‘seniors.’ In addition we wouldn’t have to walk the 400 to 500 meters dragging our suitcases from Flanders Station to the Europe Station in Lille. The taxi (minibus) took about 45 minutes and it was an interesting ride as the route was new to all of us.
On arrival we entered the Europe Station over an hour before departure, which we thought wasn’t a bad thing as it allowed us to familiarise ourselves, and not having to rush like mad. We looked around for the departure platform for the Eurostar to London. We expected the signage to be ‘obvious’ in the extreme, but we were wrong. We did find an information booth, but the queue for assistance was quite large, and people seemed to be taking about six minutes to have their questions answered. The queue was about twenty people long, and we had less than an hour to go, for departure.
Leaving the ladies to ‘guard’ the suitcases, my friend and I wandered around the station until at the far end we noticed a small queue forming. As we drew near we realised that this was the Eurostar platform area – passport control etc. Although the UK is in the EEC it is not a member of the Schengen agreement, which allows free movement of citizens after they have entered one of the twenty-one member countries of the Schengen agreement.
After clearing French control we had to clear the British control. By doing this in Lille the British have a better chance of stopping illegal immigrants. In addition the passengers are free to leave St Pancras International railways station as soon as they alight from the train.
Lille Eurostar platform after immigration. By the time we were on the platform we were technically in the UK.
St. Pancras Int’l railway station, London.
It was at St Pancras that we separated from our friends – they caught a train to Yorkshire from Kings Cross, and we legged it for about fifteen minutes to Euston Station to catch a train to Liverpool.
The Virgin train from Euston, London to Lime Street, Liverpool, left on time, arrived on time and was clean and efficient, and they gave me 48 frequent flyer points, because I am an Virgin Atlantic frequent flyer, which was a nice touch.
We stayed with our Liverpool friend for five nights. Liverpool is always a memory town for my wife and I, because my wife was born in Liverpool, and I was born across the river in Birkenhead.
During our stay in Liverpool I visited Europcar, a car hire company, to arrange for a hire car for a week. I planned to leave Liverpool on a Sunday and drive to Hey on Wye for a couple of nights before driving back to North Wales for the reunion and then to Oxford where we would meet our travelling friends for the remainder of our holiday.
I’d used Europcar some years earlier, and found the to be efficient and not too expensive. I booked it on Tuesday and told them that I would collect the car on Friday afternoon around 4.00 pm. The car would not be used on Saturday, but I wanted to make sure that everything was in order.
I arrived at the Europcar depot at 4.00 pm on Friday, only to be told that there would be a delay as the car was being cleaned. While in the waiting room I couldn’t help but over hear some of the conversations. One man, who was obviously a regular customer, arrived to collect his car. For some reason he became quite ‘excited’ and began speaking loudly. Although I consider myself a Scouse, still with a Liverpool accent (born & bred on Merseyside) and was in my fifth day of re-tuning my ears to the Scouse accent, I could not understand a word this man said. He was a Liverpudlian with a very, very strong accent. It was so strong that I had no idea what he was saying, but the lady behind the counter nodded her head at the right time and seemed quite happy with the one-way conversation. Eventually the Scouse left and drove away in his hire car. By 5.00 pm I was getting a little concerned as they had hired out their complete fleet and I was still ‘car-less’. Just after 5.00 pm the lady came out of the back office and started to apologise to me that the car had taken so long, but that they didn’t have any models of the car that I’d booked, and for which I’d paid. Fortunately, before I could say anything, I was told that they had upgraded my booking to a higher standard of car, and the cleaning had just finished. It was outside and the manger wished to explain how to drive the vehicle. I thought this a little strange as I had experience of manual and automatic cars and I told Europcar this fact when booking. I thought perhaps it was a Continental car with the steering on the ‘wrong’ side for British roads, and went out to meet the manager. It was then that I realised the car was an electric car. The manager explained to me about the lack of key ignition, and that if I stayed below 30 mph (about 50 km per hour) it would not use any petrol – only battery power. The battery recharged itself as we motored along. I’d never driven a battery car and it took a little time to get used to the silence. The only sound was the tyres on the road, so it was different to say the least. It only had 2,800 miles on the clock.
Very fuel efficient, and cruised at a steady 70 mph on the freeways. Any travelling over 30 mph the petrol engine automatically took over. The on-board computer worked out the optimum fuel usage when on petrol. It was a pleasure to drive.We said goodbye to our friend and left Liverpool at 9.00 am on Sunday, 9th September. I’d printed out a map from Google, and I also had an AA map, which showed all the main roads & freeways. Life was not meant to be easy – our first problem was leaving Liverpool! We followed the Google map, but because of the lack of signposts, and that many of the streets were not named, we became lost. We eventually did get out of the ‘Pool and headed for the Hay of Wye via the A49. We came off the A49 to the A44 to cut across country to our destination. It seemed a good idea at the time, but again due to lack of road signs in the small country lanes, we ended up going around in circles until we found a pub (don’t we always find pubs . . ) and as it was called the Kangaroo Inn and we are from Sydney, we had to stop and ask our way. The publican was very friendly and gave us correct directions. The pub was named after a ship called SS Kangaroo, because part of the vessel’s timber was used to build the pub. This is according the inn’s web site.
The problem is that the pub was built in 1840, yet the SS Kangaroo (shown in the inn sign) wasn’t built until 1853. Perhaps the timber for the pub came from one of the four HMS Kangaroo vessels built between 1795 & 1829.
Eventually we found our way to Whitney of Wye, where we came across a toll bridge that would shorten our drive to Hay on Wye for £0.80. We paid the toll and drove the short distance to Hay on Wye.
The first toll bridge was built in 1779, and was washed away. A further two replacements met the same fate. The current bridge, built in 1797, was refurbished in 1993. Because of an Act of Parliament in 1779, the current owners are not obliged to pay income tax on their profits, council rates, stamp duty, business rates or capital gains tax; what they do have to pay is the upkeep of the bridge and toll house, because it is a grade II UK listed property. It was worth the £0.80 to experience driving over such an old bridge.
We reached Hay on Wye and drove slowly through the town looking for the name of the main road leading to our accommodation, Oxford Street. Of course with my track record we didn’t find it and after driving through the town, we turned around and drove back through the town, hoping to spot the street name. The ability to park on this main road and ask a local was the obvious thing to do, except the place was full of ‘NO STOPPING’ signs – at least they had signs! The town was very quiet, with few people around, because it was Sunday afternoon.
In the end I decide to drive through the town again and take the first main road on the left, which was Lion Street. Main road is a very loose word considering the left turn took me past the town clock in to labyrinth of narrow streets – some were ‘one way’ streets. After a few narrow tries at dodgem car racing we found a real road and exited the centre of town. The roadway opened up with fields and a few isolated homes, so I thought that the best thing to do would be to ring the accommodation and ask directions. We pulled in to a small dead end street, with a few houses on each side and parked. My phone call was promptly answered, and after I’d explained where I was parked, the owner of the accommodation asked me to stand at the corner of the street as he was going to find me. A few minutes later I saw someone waving at me across the main road and a little to our left. We had arrived at the correct road, and we were about one hundred yards short of our accommodation!
We received a very warm welcome from Jim & Margaret who own York House .
York House from the bottom of their garden.
York House garden
Hay on Wye is famous for its bookshops – second hand bookshops. After unpacking we strolled in to town, which took about ten minutes. Our accommodation is in England, and as we cross the small bridge over the River Monnow we enter Wales, and Hay on Wye.
Hay on Wye, late on a Sunday afternoon in September, is a quiet town. We did find a couple of bookshops open and they whetted my appetite for a closer look the following day. Being the town of books it has about twenty-nine second-hand bookshops from large emporiums that are packed with every subject under the sun, to street stalls in the grounds of the old castle.
Of the twenty-nine bookshops in Hay on Wye my wife & I managed to get round twenty-six. There were many books that I would love to read and own, but due to the airline weight restrictions I had to forgo that pleasure, and rely on my Kindle.
Hay on Wye was a town that demanded that one should walk everywhere. The streets are friendly (unless you are a driver and lost), the people are friendly and the pubs are a joy. They are real pubs, selling real ale as well as some national & international brands.
Tuesday morning came all too quickly as we packed the car again and headed to Deganwy on the Conwy River in North Wales for the Conway reunion.The weather was fine and the drive was a pleasure, and we didn’t get lost this time! From H on W to Deganwy took us four hours through the mountains of Wales, with spectacular views.
Our accommodation was just up the road from the hotel – bed & breakfast at a guesthouse – every penny counts when you come so far. I booked us in to the Tideways B&B and mentioned the fact to a friend in New Zealand, who was in my class at Conway. I knew he and his wife would be attending the reunion. He booked the Tideways and mentioned to another class mate about Tideways – the third room was sold. In fact old Conway’s, who were in the same class in 1960, and attending the 50th reunion anniversary, booked all five of the available rooms, at the Tideways.
The reunion went very well and outside ‘entertainment’ had been arranged. Even though I spent many happy holidays in North Wales, as a child, (my Mother came from Caernarvon, now known as Caernarfon) I’d never visited the peak of Snowdon. A trip on the Snowdon Railway had been organised, regardless of weather. Normally one would only pay to take the train to the top if it was a clear day and you had the chance of seeing the view as far as the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. This time it didn’t bother any of us that we might be fogged in, it was all part of the reunion fun.
Nothing changes where the weather is concerned – light rain before getting on the train, and half way up we entered a fog bank with rain, so the view was limited to say the least. On reaching the top 1,085 metres (3,560 feet) we were given thirty minutes for a cup of coffee before the train would return to the base station. There is the facility to walk (some run) from the base of the mountain to the top, so we could have walked down, but none of us felt inclined to do so.
At the top where the train stops, is a café, but that it not the exact top of Snowdon. We had to pass through the coffee shop to scale the last few feet. It was raining, foggy and it was windy. I did climb to the top, but made sure my glasses were in my pocket as the wind was strong enough to blow them off ones face.
Yours truly without glasses, but wet & cold
Of course all of us at the reunion had to visit where we spent our informative year – Plas Newydd on the Isle of Anglesey. Plas Newydd is Welsh for ‘New Home’ and it was in the grounds of Plas Newydd that HMS Conway was located, after the old wooden ship foundered in 1953.
HMS Conway (left) was a naval training ship for officers, based in the River Mersey. During the Liverpool blitz she was moved to a mooring off Bangor in North Wales, and later to a position off Plas Newydd. (coloured photo)
In 1953 she was being towed back to Birkenhead for a refit when the tide and currents became too strong for the tugs. She ran aground, broke her back and was beyond repair.
HMS Conway was Britain’s last floating commissioned ship-of-the-line. HMS Victory is still in commission, but she is not afloat.
The cadets were moved to tents, and then in to huts, in the grounds of the Marquis of Anglesey’s estate at Plas Newydd. It is a beautiful setting with views across the Menai Straits to Snowdonia.
Plas Newydd from the landward side and & from the Menai Straits.
The camp, where we lived for two years. Plas Newydd can be seen at the top of the picture.
We all had a great time and how many times did I hear ‘Remember when . . .’ which was the whole point of the trip for me. It was well worth the effort to reactivate old friendships, and refresh memories of so long ago. I wonder if we will have as many at the 75th anniversary . . . .
The reunion went from Tuesday afternoon to Friday morning. The planning and organising had taken the UK committee months and months of hard work, and if they are reading this – thank you one and all for a great 50th Reunion! It was a sad parting as we said goodbye to my old Conway chums on the Friday morning – all good times come to end, and perhaps there will be another gathering in the not to distant future. Perhaps in Asia next time, a half way reunion – hint – hint.
It didn’t take long for us to repack the car, make our farewells and head for the next part of our holiday – Oxford.
In Oxford we would meet up with our Australian friends, who would be driving to Oxford from Yorkshire. The drive from N. Wales was pleasurable and the car performed well. Including a short break, the whole journey took us four hours.
We checked in to our Oxford accommodation, Tilbury Lodge, around 1.30 pm only to meet our friends who had arrived a few minutes earlier. On arrival we were offered tea & coffee and Maureen had her own gluten free cakes & biscuits.
Tilbury Lodge from the road.
When I booked the various accommodations I informed the person with whom I made the booking, that my wife is a coeliac, and if possible could they make available gluten free items for breakfast. All but the Paris accommodation made an effort to supply gluten free bread, muffins and Danishes for breakfast, and gluten free biscuits in the bedrooms as part of their service, couldn’t fault any of them.
After unpacking we had two cars to return to the care hire agents. Fortunately the agents were not too far apart, so we returned my car first, as our friend’s agent was closer to the town centre and the walk from the agent to the town was quite short.
I’d booked us in to the Tilbury Lodge for three nights. As in most English towns three nights is never long enough to do anything but ‘taste’ the sites with an idea that perhaps next time we will stay longer. We strolled around Oxford to get the feel of the place because it was our first visit for all of us. We used to live in the UK (for 35 years) and we never managed to see Oxford. We had to move to Australia before we made our first visit.
Don’t you just love education?
The Turf Tavern is famous for its list of famous customers.
To date Bob Hawke is Australia’s longest serving labour Prime Minister – March ’83 to Dec ‘91
We decide that the next day we would visit Blenheim Palace
Where Sir Winston Churchill was born.
What an interesting day- beautiful weather, interesting guides and a stately home that is still being used as such. The gardens at the back are magnificent.
Had to take this shot as it epitomises my idea of England. The particular shade of the grass is so English. This was the side garden, what a lawn.
We were not allowed to take pictures inside the house, but if you are ever in the area do pay this house a visit.
Back of the house.
The following day was Sunday and nothing really started until around 11.00 am So we decided to do an hour and a half guided tour around the colleges.
This guided walk would be closest I would ever get to attending an Oxford college. The guide was middle aged and looked as if he had been around the colleges for years. He didn’t wear a gown, but he did have a light fawn jacket with leather patches on his elbows, very donnish, but very entertaining.
Bridge of Sighs
We had a great morning of history, and more history, and everything is still in use.
Part of the old defence wall of Oxford.
The doorway through which a certain Mr. Potter of Hogwarts, walked.
The real Hogwarts dining room.
All to soon it was Monday, and we had to leave Oxford for London.
When ‘building’ the holiday I considered that we would have the cost of a taxi from Tilbury Lodge to the railway station, a train from Oxford to Paddington station in London, followed by another taxi from Paddington station to our London accommodation. This whole operation would require more manhandling of bags for the males; not an attractive scenario.
For £95.00 I was able to hire a MPV vehicle, which included a driver to pick us up at Tilbury Lodge at 9.00 am and have us in our London accommodation by 11.00 am. The additional cost over taxis / rail / taxi, plus baggage handling up and down stairs & lifts was £5.00 per person – a no ‘brainer’ as they say. The journey took us an hour and three quarters door to door.
AFE at our age – anything for ease.
Our London address was Parliament View -1 Albert Embankment, London, an apartment overlooking the Houses of Parliament.
The view from the living room and also from both bedrooms.
This apartment had everything – from dishwasher to clothes washer and everything in between – a little expensive for two people, but for four it was cheaper than two rooms in many of the local hotels, and we had much more room. If we return to London, with another couple, I’d definitely stay here again.
Living / dining area
The location is in the heart of London and only a walk away from the underground and along the most photographed embankment in more films than I can remember. We did see a film crew and all the actors having their lunch one day. It turns out that Sam Neil was staring in the film that was being made. Not sure of the title, but I think it might be ‘Mariah Mundai & the Midas box’. I’ve not seen it yet.
I started this blog with a comment about James Bond, and now we see where ‘007’ is supposed to have received his instructions from ‘M’. Ten minutes walk from our apartment, away from the Houses of Parliament, is the MI6 building – we did remember to smile for the cameras each time we passed this building.
We’d all visited London a number of times before, so the main sites were not our main focus this holiday, except for a visit to Buckingham Palace. The ladies wanted time to visit various shops, and the men wanted the shops to be near a pub. Everyone would be happy.
On our second day we walked the short distance from the accommodation to Buckingham palace (about fifteen minutes) and presented our prepaid tickets for a tour of the Palace. Being September the Queen is always in Scotland so the Palace is open to the public. Although my wife & I had visited the Palace in 2009 it wasn’t a hardship to return and do it all again.
Oh, so so very British.
They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We saw a guard in a sentry-box.
The rear of Buckingham Palace; everyone walks down the same steps as the Queen when she holds a garden party.
Buckingham Palace rear garden.
It is forbidden to take photographs inside the Palace.
This is from an advert to tour the Palace.
I was keen to use the Dockland Light Rail (DLR) system as I had read that it had been extended since our last visit. As 2012 was the Olympic year we decided to use the DLR to visit the Westfield shopping area near Olympic Park; as this was the largest shopping centre in Europe and it would keep the ladies happy, and I figured that there must be a nearby pub.
I used to be in the merchant navy and I have docked a number of times in London during the 1960’s. What a change to today. What used to be working docks is now all up market apartments and boat holding areas. I wonder why I felt nostalgic for the old dirty streets around King George V docks? The place is a lot cleaner today, but is it because it has lost its old heart?
With three hundred shops for the ladies, my friend and I wandered outside to find a pub. I was sure we would find a dock land pub, but how wrong I was. The whole area had changed and the pubs had been replaced with shops! Back in to the shopping centre until we found our way to a particular level that had a few bars – the problem was that they didn’t open until Noon and it was only 11.15 am. Oh, for the European system . . . .
Just before Noon one bar opened it was OK, but I couldn’t help wondering how much it had cost to give the place a ‘distressed’ look when most of the earlier pubs in the area were doing their best to look ‘smart’. I suppose the distressed look is in, and I am too old to appreciate the subtlety. At least the beer & the staff we were OK. I did price a pork pie and couldn’t believe that a small pub pork pie could be so expensive, but I suppose the rent that the bar owner was paying demanded high food prices. I didn’t buy the pie.
From this giant shopping area we made our way, via the DLR, to North Greenwich to ride the cable car across the Thames to the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
All my yesterday’s above
As we left the cable car terminal I was able to see the extent of the changes to the Royal Dock area that I knew in the ‘60’s.
It was strange to hear the airline style comments when crossing the Thames in the cable car. Being sponsored by Emirate Airlines I shouldn’t have been surprised. The ride was about five minutes but with great views.
The following day we did a walking tour, which started at the Monument if you get the chance there are several different walks. We have ‘done’ the Dickens’ walk and the City of London walk (the City is only a square mile). The guide was very informative and a good ‘chatter’ as she walked us down back alleyways that had been used by locals for hundreds of years.
We met some interesting people (Liverymen) and found quiet church gardens in the heart of the city.
Our four nights in London ended all to soon and once again it was time for us to move on, and our next stop was Paris to start the journey home.
The 8.30 am Eurostar soon had us in Paris at 11.50 am – just in time for lunch.
After checking in to the same hotel in Paris (Hotel France Albion) that we used at the beginning of our holiday, it was a short walk to St George Tavern. We didn’t know of this place beforehand, but just noticed it as we were walking around looking for a likely lunchtime café. The food was just great, and the staff, who were a mix of French and Swedish, were very helpful.
After lunch we decide to walk to the top of Monmarte again, to buy a few souvenirs. Just before we reached the top it started to rain, and did it rain! Within a short time everyone was soaked.
We did feel sorry for the young couple that had just been married and arrived in Montmarte to have their wedding photographs.
The young couple are a little damp; they are sitting down, with the professional photographer kneeling.
As the rain grew heavier we decided to make our way back to the hotel. Obviously everyone else thought the same thing, and we were unable to find a taxi, so we decided to walk. We walked down hill and zig-zagged, as we thought to the correct area at the bottom. Only it wasn’t the bottom of the hill were we expected to be, and we had another thirty odd minutes walk to reach an area that we recognised. We did see a different part of Paris though, mainly north African Parisians.
In the evening we ate at a local cafe, and on the way back to the hotel my friend and I clicked these two picture, which epitomised Paris in the rain – it made one feel that we should be sitting and watching the world go by.
The following morning was our departure time from Europe to Sydney.Check-in at the airport went smoothly, after which we were given a pass to the Air France business class lounge (Qatar Airways do not yet have their own lounge in Paris). What a disappointment for such a prestige airline as Air France. We had packets of peanuts, croissants & jam for breakfast – they didn’t have any hot food, and it was a queue to create your own coffee from a single machine. The place was packed with travellers. While in the lounge I checked on the internet for any comments about Air France’s Paris airport lounge (Charles de Gaul airport), and received dozens of complaints about this particular lounge. It appears to have been in the process of being ‘upgraded’ for some time. I suppose it could be the home carrier syndrome – you’ll fly with us anyway! Well my wife & I will not be flying with Air France in the future. They have a lot to learn from Asian & Middle East carriers.
The return flight with Qatar Airways was a s good as the outbound flights, and after leaving Paris at 11.50 am – still hungry, until the lunchtime canapes and a calming glass of Champagne – we arrived in Doha at 6.55 pm (same day, local time) to connect with the Colombo flight an hour later. We arrived in Colombo on schedule at 3.25 am local time – a big mistake.
What seemed simple on paper, and a small wait of four hours, was interminable from 3.25 am to 7.40 am, waiting for the Sri Lanka airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur.
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 2.00 pm (allowing for time change – we flew in to the future). Immigration and customs went smoothly and I’d booked transport for the four of us from KLIA (Kuala Lumpur Int’l Airport) to Melaka (Malacca), about a two-hour drive. After exiting the control area I walked slowly along the meeters & greeters looking for my name, and the driver of the transport. Couldn’t see him, so we waited about ten minutes and I walked back along the line, just in case the driver was late. Nothing!
It was obvious to the group of meeters & greeters that something was wrong. One of the drivers in the group stepped forward and asked if he could help. The bottom line is that we had to hire another vehicle and driver, at a price of 50% more than the contracted price. Fortunately I had not paid for the first driver & vehicle. Everything is relative – the cost should have been around $47 and we ended up paying $70 per couple. The $23 difference is not a lot in our world, but I’ll be more careful in future picking transport companies.
We stayed at the Casa del Rio, because the last time we visited Melaka we saw the hotel being built, and thought it looked a great place to stay. We’d stayed at the Casa del Mar in Langkawi in 2011, and the Casa del Rio is in the same group (as is the Concorde Hotel in KL and the Concorde Inn near KLIA as well as Hard Rock Cafe). The company has my name on file, so it was nice to receive this leaf, along with cold drinks on arrival. Pity about the name being the wrong way around for our culture – but it is the thought that counts. The scar on my chin is a due to shaving on the aircraft when we hit an air pocket – it took most of the day to stop bleeding.
We arrived about 5.00 pm, checked in and all met downstairs around 6.30 pm.
View from our balcony Evening view from the waterside bar area.
This is not the swimming pool, which is on the roof, but the reception area, along with a library, breakfast room, bar etc. It was very pleasant to sit in the shaded alcoves around this ornamental pool with a cool drink. I must say that the food in both the Casa del Mar (Langkawi) & the Casa del Rio (Melaka) was excellent, and not too expensive considering the standard of the hotel. The cost would have been below a good Sydney restaurant.
The bedrooms are large and very comfortable. The bathroom is well equipped with separate bath & shower and plenty of work areas. Wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again.
Our stay in Malacca was nothing but a rest time – sounds funny having a rest after such a holiday, but a quiet time was appreciated. We visited most, if not all, of the historic sites during our last visit and all we wanted to do was ‘veg out’, which we did.
The Geographer Bar
The only place to be on Jonker Street for lunch, while the ladies window shop.
All good things come to an end and we had to return to Kuala Lumpur for our last night to catch a 9.00 am flight the following day to Sydney. The problem was that I’d booked the Rumah Putih for B & B on the wrong night! I’d booked the accommodation for the night that we land in Sydney rather than the night before and of course when we arrived at Rumah Putih they were full!
The owner, James, did look a little surprised when we all turned up asking for our old rooms. As soon as it was realised that I’d stuffed up, James started ring around for alternative accommodation. Would you believe it that every hotel close to the airport, in our price bracket, was full? Eventually he found a hotel in Putrajaya (the new capital of Malaysia) and I was able to book it using my computer, because it was cheaper to book over the net than in person. James was kind enough to drive us to the hotel. It was lesson for me to be more careful, or buy a calendar.
The following morning we were on the 9.00 am flight to Sydney – our holiday was over.
I took this in the garden of York House in Hay on Wye – an English rose.