Thursday, 3 March 2011

Road Trip! - Part, the Third

In my last post I mentioned the Welsh Train Drivers strike that necessitated me fleeing Wales via bus before I could catch a train to Salisbury.
So I arose on Monday morning and left the flat shortly before 8, made my way to the bus station and boarded a National Express Coach to Bristol.

On the way to the station I saw my first daffodils of the season.
How appropriate that I should see them in Wales!
I snoozed my way to Bristol Coach Station, then hopped another bus to Temple Meads train station. Arrived at the platform in plenty of time. So far, so good and all going nice and smoothly. Our train pulled up to the announcement:
" This is the 11.23 service to Portsmouth Harbour. Stopping at blah, blah, Salisbury, blah and blah. This is the service from Cardiff Central Station."

What?! What about the strike! Do you mean I needn't have bothered with buses?! I give up!

Anyway, confusion aside, I arrived in Salisbury at 12.30 and was met outside the station by Katy, looking all bright eyed and busy tailed! We walked into Salisbury town, which is sooo pretty that if I wasn't European, I'd probably combust from the overwhelming charm of it all.
We went for lunch in this lovely Tudor building, in fact we ate upstairs in 'The Great Hall'! A lovely place to begin our marathon catch-up session.

After that we ambled towards the Cathedral and in around the cloisters, it really is a stunning building and the area around the Cathedral is just too deliciously Georgian. Georgian architecture is my favourite, so I was in Hog Heaven!

It was a wonderful afternoon, pottering around the medieval town while discussing movies, travel, history and liguistics, but all too soon it was time to head back to the train station and the next stage of my journey. I took the 16.48 to Waterloo, then crossed London to Canary Wharf on the Underground. It was my first time at Canary Wharf and boy oh boy is it ever a swish do! Then on to Docklands Light Rail for the last leg to Lewisham, where I was met by Sophie.

A very smooth day's travel all in all. In hindsight I was clearly being lulled into a false sense of security.

With good food, good conversation and a long hot shower I was a very happy bunny indeed!
I booked my ticket for the National Express bus to Stansted Airport. I set it up as an M-ticket, which is supposed to be texted to your mobile phone. This however, was not happening with any great speed so I wrote down the ticket reference as a back up.
With a start the next day at 3am, the conversation was shorter than I'd have wished, but it was still worth it to travel to Edinburgh via Salisbury and London. With not working in Winchester next summer I don't know when I'll get to see Katy or Sophie again, so it was very important to me to grasp this oppurtunity.

The alarm went off at 3.15am the next morning and I rolled off the couch before I could fall asleep again. My flight was at 7.15, but after Friday's debacle I was taking no chances and had planned my journey to arrive at Stansted at 6am.
That turned out to be a life saving decision! (well, not literally!)

Between an inability to move efficiently at that God forsaken hour of the morning and the time it took to fumble my way towards an unknow bus stop, I missed the bus I wanted at 3.56. No major harm done, I told myself, there is another at 4.16.
And indeed at 4.16 another came towards me, so I bent down and got my suitcase and began moving out of the bus shelter to the side of the pavement. Then stood there helplessly as the 47 bus sailed past me!


I stood there thinking, "What the hell do I do now!" The trains weren't running that early, and even if I had a notion in God's earthly world where to find an ATM, I had no number for a taxi company. A panic attack was incipient when I noticed a girl walking towards me and stopping at the bus stop. Phew! At this hour of the morning you don't arise and go to bus stops for the hell of it! Sure enough a minute or two later an N47 stopped. I got on and asked for Liverpool St. Station.
"We don't go there. We only go to Trafalgar Sq."
Sigh. "Close enough."
"If you get out at London Bridge, you can change for Liverpool St there."
"Ok great, I'll do that then" says I, handing over my tenner for the bus fare (having being assured that London buses give change.)
"Have you anything smaller?"
"Well, I have," counting out change, "70p."

Great. So now I'm on the wrong bus with unacceptable cash! I stand there like a right lemon and as the bus continues to the next stop, I'm wondering what's the next move? Do I have to get off or what?
Luckily for me, the bus driver is nicer than I would expect anyone to be a 4.20 on a cold Spring morning. A few stops later, we see the 47 ahead, the one which had sailed past me.
He points this out and says this is the bus I want, he'll catch it for me.
Darling man!
He overtakes the bus and at the next stop, pulls up in front of it. I dash out of the bus yelling "Thank you so much, you've been very kind!"

So finally I'm on the right bus and he DOES have change of a tenner! Yaaay!
It's the little things, isn't it!
Even better, each stop is announced, so I don't have to be in a dither wondering how will I know we're at Liverpool St.
I arrive at Livsrpool St. Station at 4.40, which is cutting it fine, but with a little luck I might still catch the 4.45 Stansted bus that I'm aiming for.

Aaah, will I ever lose this air of innocence and optimism?!

I follow the signs for the bus station to find stands which are clearly for city buses only. Not a sign of National Express anywhere, so I turn back into the station to find some official to quiz. Now, this is where it being 5am is clearly begining to affect my brain. There is an official standing in front of the National Express Train to Stansted, but all I can absorb is the National Express part, so I toddle up to him and tell him I have a ticket reference. He directs me to the ticket office, where he says they'll print off my ticket for me. No worries!
Off I go and proffer my reference number to the man behind the glass.
"Do you have the card that the ticket was paid with?"
"No, it was a friend's card"
(because my card is an Irish Laser card, which English websites will have no truck with!)
"Without the card we will not be able to redeem the ticket."
"How much is a new ticket to Stansted?"
At this news I drop my face in my hands.
"I don't have £21. Where is the nearest ATM?"
I head towards the ATM bemoaning the chain of events that have brought me to this. Missing the plane on Friday had cost me money and I was walking to the ATM not knowing if the money I had transferred to my account had arrived yet.
But just then, I woke up a little bit more. £21, hang on. That's the price of the train ticket!
I return to the man behind the glass and say, "Blame it on the fact that it is 5 in the morning and I'm not awake yet, but I'm looking for the National Express Bus to Stansted."
"Ok, you catch that bus at Stratford."
I blink at him, utterly non plussed.
"How do I get to Stratford?"
Take the train from Platform 13, £3.40."

I buy the ticket and amble to Platform 13, wondering why on earth, if I have bought and paid for a bus ticket from Liverpool St Station to Stansted, I am now getting on a train?!
The train leaves at 5.29 and I am doing sums furiously in my head to work out what time I'll get to Stansted. Please dear God, don't let it be Friday all over again!
Stratford is the first stop and only takes a few minutes. Once outside the station I only have to wander aimlessly for five minutes before finding the National Express A9 to Stansted. I approach the bus praying hard that the driver won't give me any problems with the reservation number, because the ticket still hasn't been texted to my phone. I gird myself for some serious arguing, wheedling and general begging.
And need none of it!!!
I show him my number, and say I ordered an m-ticket but for some reason I'm not getting it.
He examines it closely, as if divining arcane secrets, then hands it back to me, saying, alright.


We pull away from the station at 5.40am. The website had pegged the journey time as between 30 and 50 minutes and I'm banking on the early hour to translate to the shorter time. I pour over my boarding pass, checking that the gate closes at 6.45. Barring some major holdup going through security, I should be safe.

And so it proves. The bus gets us there at 6.20 and I zip through the airport at a jog, blessing suitcases with wheels!
Security is slow but steady and I make the gate at 6.45 to join the end of the boarding queue.

Oh the relief! Once settled in my seat, I break out my Kindle. I don't want to sleep on this flight because at this point, I'm cruising so far beyond the point of exhaustion that I feel quite fine.
I don't want to crash and burn till I arrive at the house in Edinburgh.

We make good time and land in Edinburgh Airport at 8.15. I head out of the airport and enjoy the smug satisfaction of being a local - which is to say, I catch the cheaper no.35 bus instead of the Airport Express.

I arrive in Colinton just before 10 and settle in with Earl Grey tea to drink and a warm toddler to cuddle.