And so it ends – England 2022 #6

Day 7 – June 30

Thursday was the last day we had anything planned or pre-booked. Today’s adventures were a boat ride to explore the “Jurassic Coast” and then meeting up with Rasa’s colleague Dai and his wife. The boat was leaving from Poole, a little bit further along the coast than Bournemouth (where we had been a few days earlier and where we would be meeting up with Dai) and since it had a precise departure time, so did we.

Again we had an in-room breakfast assembled from the M&S run the night before and hit the road early enough to get to the harbor in plenty of time. So early, in fact, we had time to wander a bit, which was a good thing because it was really cold, at least for us.

What this meant was that I asked at the ticket booth if the boat had blankets on board in case we got cold. For example, when we were in San Francisco back in 2015 and taking a boat under the Golden Gate Bridge, the boat had plenty of blankets for passengers who might be feeling a bit chilly. Then again, maybe they were prepared for it since, as the mighty Mark Twain has pointed out, the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. This boat did not offer that luxury. In Southern England, maybe they’re used to these cold temperatures, but we were shivering on land and really weren’t ready to get on a boat with cool ocean sprays. Therefore, since we had the time, off we went in search of a blanket.

To be fair, Rasa gets cold easy and she’d been talking about getting a blanket for the car the entire trip. We almost got one once except it turned out to be a towel, which just isn’t the same thing. So, off we went for a wander, in search of a warm blanket. We found the nearby high street with a number of charity shops and while we could have gotten some great deals on wedding dresses, none of them had blankets. When we were about to give up, Rasa spotted a blanket (or at least what looked like one) in the window display of a school uniform shop. In we went to check it out.

Turns out it was the last one they had and yes, indeed, it was a blanket, branded with The Rainbows, a precursor to Brownies and Girl Guides in the UK. We snapped it up. Then I realized that Rasa was onto something and I should probably get a knit cap to over my ears, since they get cold quite easily, so on our way back to the dock I popped into Rockit Poole, a music clothing and memorabilia shop specializing in Prince Paraphernalia and grabbed myself an Iron Maiden beanie.

Now that we were set for warmth, we headed back to the boat, the Solent Scene. This boat had two outdoor seating areas, an indoor deck with seating along the edges and a downstairs café, which opened as soon as we got underway. And as soon as we were underway, I was down there getting my girls hot beverages. When I returned with Rasa’s latte, though, I could tell she was angry about something.

I didn’t think it was me, so I asked what was wrong. She pointed to another couple with a child on the boat. Most of the folks on this tour were older, with a few in their thirties or so, but aside from us, there was only one other small family. I hadn’t really noticed them but then Rasa pointed out that the kid, a two-year-old girl, had Chicken Pox.

No, I thought. That can’t be right. Maybe the kid just had a skin condition? Who in their right mind would bring a kid with open and obvious Chicken Pox onto a closed environment boat with other people who may be vulnerable? Evidently, these people. Being that we were in England, and I could understand overheard conversations, the parents of this kid were excited about her infection, talking about the Pox Parties so now her whole class at school had it.

Needless to say, we avoided them the whole cruise.

The cruise, though was not what we expected. Not that it was bad, but we were expecting a circular route showing off sites, not a back-and-forth ferry service to Swanage. That’s on us. The first half of the trip, though, Monki was feeling motion sick. Her stomach hurt and she constantly had her “va-vay” feeling. We did our best to make her feel better, but nothing was working.

When we got to Swanage, there was a 20 minute wait to change passengers before we headed back. Monki and I got off the boat and ran around the dock, getting some relatively solid ground under feet. That did the trick and on the way back, she was fine, running around the boat (avoiding Chicken Pox girl) and taking pictures. (alas, it was to no avail – Monki contracted Chicken Pox two days before her birthday and so all plans were canceled and a good time was had without leaving the house.)

Returning to Poole, we still had time before we needed to head to Bournemouth to meet with Dai, so we put lunch on the agenda. We found a nice little place called Aroma Café, which had “American Style” Pancakes on the menu. Rasa ordered those. What came was more like crepes, but it was all tasty so no worries.

With lunch out of the way, it was time to head out. In Bournemouth, we met up with Dai and his wife Jenny for coffee and snacks in the café at the Oceanarium. It was delightful to just sit and chat for a couple of hours. Rasa had been working with Dai for a while now, but this was only the second time they were meeting in person (the first was the conference back in Manchester) and it was the first time they got to meet each other’s families.

As the afternoon ended, we said goodbye and headed back to West Quay in Southampton yet again for dinner. We were getting to know parts of that mall really well.

Everything was good and, honestly, we’d been on the go for a week so I think we were all looking forward to just getting back to the hotel and resting for a bit. I wanted to write some postcards and maybe read a little.

Alas, this was not to be. When we got there, we gave Monki the hotel room key, something we did pretty much every night, but when she inserted it into the door lock…nothing happened. No green light came on. Just the red light. That was odd. We still had two more nights at this hotel. And this time, I was pretty sure there was no one inside who could have locked the door.

Down I went to the front desk. They rekeyed the card and we tried again. Nothing. We did this a few more times and still nothing, not even with the master key. They thought about offering us a different room, but with all of our stuff inside the locked one, we wouldn’t have been able to really make use of it.

The manager now took over and asked us to wait down in the lobby, which we did. As we sat there, we’d see him run back and forth with various pieces of equipment. Every now and again, I’d go to the front desk where I’d find him and the clerk on the phone with the hotel’s tech support or the support of the lock manufacturer.

Eventually, after about 3 hours, they were able to get us back into our room, and we were able to laugh about it, but it certainly could have put a bit of a damper on things.

Day 8 – July 1

Our last full day of vacation was here. The only specific thing on our agenda today was to go to Forbidden Planet, a geeky comic book/memorabilia shop I always visit when I’m in the UK. Thankfully, it was right by West Quay so we could park in the same place we’d been parking every night and just walk to where we needed to go.

In the end, I didn’t find anything for me, but it was nice to just browse. Rasa and Monki, though, found a pretty cool Marvel cookbook with recipes for donuts which I’m hoping will be made sometime this summer!

As we were walking towards Forbidden Planet, we passed a place called Primark. Sean had told me about this place, citing it as an inexpensive clothing shop, so we decided to pop in. We walked out with a couple of shirts and a cool Minnie Mouse hat for Monki. And it really was cheap!

With those errands out of the way, we had to decide what to do. Nearby, was a place Sean had told me about and had been kind of on our radar since first planning this trip, a national park called New Forest. The reason Sean had mentioned it was in the village of Lyndhurst was the final resting place of the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice Hargreaves (née Liddell). As we all know, I’m a huge Alice fan (and sorry to have missed out on more of its history when we were in Oxford, but next time for sure) so this sounded like something interesting to see.

Lyndhurst is also known for free-range horses and a couple of other things, so we decided to check it out. The first thing we saw upon entering the quaint tourist village was a high-end Ferrari dealership. Rasa immediately wanted to go and check that out. We (eventually) found the visitor center and parking and then found the dealership. You have to wonder about a small village car shop where the least expensive vehicle is well into six figures.

After ogling cars for a little bit, we continued on our way to see the horses, currently occupying Bolton’s Bench, across from the Alice Hargreaves designed War Memorial. Then we headed back into town, looking for a place to eat. Rasa had suggested we maybe find a place for afternoon tea (When in England…) and not only was this our last day but if we were going to find a cute little place to make this happen, Lyndhurst was it.

We stumbled across a café called The Greenwood Tree Cafe which looked promising. The first thing Rasa noticed on the menu was “American-style” pancakes. Noting our slight disappointment the day before, I asked what that meant. Our server explained it was the big, fluffy pancakes we were looking for, so Rasa and I both ordered that. Monki, meanwhile, was ordering off the kids’ menu (naturally).  On that menu was something called a “Rainbow Scone.” We kinda figured we had to order it.

What came was not what we were expecting. It was a scone, sure, but it was completely rainbow, with multi-colored concentric circles throughout! Really impressive feat of baking. And it tasted good, too.

Leaving the café, it was just a short walk up the street to see Alice’s grave. It was relatively easy to find, in the cemetery of a working church, and I dutifully took pictures and paid my respects. As we were walking back, Rasa was confused.

“I thought her name was Alice?” She asked.

“Yup,” I agreed.

“But that tombstone was for a man, Reginald Hargreaves?”

Mrs. Reginald Hargreaves.”

“But I thought her name was Alice?” Rasa asked again.

“It was,” I said. “It would be like if you were known solely as ‘Mrs. Jaq Greenspon.’”

“That’s stupid. She should get her own name.”

“Yup,” I agreed again.

Not sure what to do next, we drove around a bit within the forest and then I suggested going to Hurst Castle (Not Hearst Castle), a former fortress on the coast, just across from the Isle of Wight.

We never actually made it to the castle. We got close, but it’s not accessible by car, only by ferry or walking a mile and a half or so and by the time we got to the area, it was late in the day, and cold, so we just decided to walk a little of the way and enjoy the cold beach.

It was a rocky beach, too, so even on a beautiful day it wouldn’t be someplace you wanted to pitch an umbrella, but we made it out to a collection of large boulders and Monki and I walked out to see the surf close-up.

Before it got too late in the day (even though I had gotten better at driving over the week, I still really didn’t relish driving at night) we figured we should head back. This was our last night and we had sorting and packing to get done.

Back at the hotel, after making sure our key worked, we thought about dinner. Yes, we could have gone back to West Quay but two times in one day seemed a bit outrageous. Besides, we could just get some sandwiches at the hotel.

Except… Something interesting about this hotel. It’s a beautiful manor house, with a number of event rooms, but for some reason, they also hired out the public lobby. And this night there was a wedding. What this meant for us was that the kitchen closed at 5pm instead of the customary 9 or 10. Huge pain, but what could we do?

Then the incredibly nice woman working the bar said she’d check and see if the kitchen would take our order. (Have I mentioned that the staff at this place was just top notch? They were) And yes, the kitchen would let us order off the bar menu. Whew, we were saved.

We had dinner in the room and Rasa watched a documentary on Marks & Spencer, (apropos, really) while organizing for our travel day on Saturday.

Day 9 – July 2

I admit it. I wasn’t sure she could do it, but Rasa absolutely got everything packed perfectly, and our checked bag, which had been 15kg on the way over, had merely gained half a kilo so we were still well under weight. It was all good.

As we were leaving the hotel, Monki made sure to say a special goodbye to the elevator. See, she had formed a friendship with the slow piece of equipment. Whenever we’d press the button to call it, she would greet it. Then, once inside, she would ask it to close doors and take us to whatever floor we needed (2nd or ground – which for us would really be 3rd and 1st, but the British are strange) and then, when we arrived at the floor, as we exited the elevator, she would thank it. She did this for 5 days, every time we got in or left. It only made sense she would say goodbye to it.

Our flight out of Bristol was scheduled to leave at 5:25pm, and I had gotten an email from RyanAir asking us to be at the airport 3 hours early, and it was a little over two hours to drive there, so when we checked out at 9am, we had a couple of hours leeway. Looking at the map, both Stonehenge and Cheddar Gorge (a place Dai and Jenny had told us about) were on the way, so we thought we’d stop by and see what we could see.

Stonehenge was first.

I’d been to the Salisbury Plain a couple of decades back and then, the visitor center was next to the parking lot and the attraction was just outside the door. I figured we could swing by, see the monoliths from a distance, pick up something fun from the gift shop and be on our way.

When we got there this time, however, things had changed. The visitor center was nowhere near the actual monument (and was much bigger besides). And the cost to get in had gone up considerably. For the three of us, they were looking to grab almost £75. This was too much. This entrance fee did cover a shuttle bus to transport guests the mile and a half to see the big rocks close-up, but it just didn’t seem worth it at the moment. They do make provisions and there is an option to walk the distance for free (and even then not get as close as you can with the shuttle) but even so it was going to be a pass for us.

So we did what I said we’d do originally, made a quick pass through the gift shop and got back on the road.

Our next stop was Cheddar Gorge, which was not what we were expecting at all. It had been described as the UK equivalent of the Grand Canyon, and my preliminary search for tickets said it was free. In reality, it wasn’t free, and it was a more a series of caves to explore. Of course, we didn’t actually discover this until we had braved some serious rain and narrow roads to find a too tight parking spot. By that point, we again were at the “gift shop and go” mentality, which is kind of sad. I think in a few years, this might actually be a cool destination and sight to see. The pictures look amazing.

Basically, by the time we got there, we were all just a bit tired and already anticipating getting to the airport and getting home so we didn’t (and couldn’t) appreciate it for what it was.

What it did do, though, was put us into some weird back roads to get to the airport, which should have only been a 20 minute ride. Instead, we found ourselves (again, in sometimes heavy rain) on streets I wasn’t sure were actually contained two lanes of travel. There were points I had to stop and pull unto driveways to let cars going the other way get past us. And then, the main route was closed due to construction so we were detoured the long way around (this partially worked out since we needed to fill the gas tank and found the cheapest gas we’d seen all trip). By the time we actually found the airport, both Rasa and I were so frazzled we missed the tiny directional sign letting us know that rental car return was in the opposite direction of the main terminal building. We only discovered this after entering the drop and go area (and were still charged £5 for the privilege).

We got the car dropped off, caught the shuttle back to the terminal and were ready to check in, three hours before departure.

Except…

You guessed it; the luggage drop didn’t open until 2 hours before departure. When I mentioned the email to the guy working, he just sighed and, exasperated, said yes, he knew about that, but that’s not the way things worked. So in an already stressful situation, the airline was working hard to make things even more stressful.

When we finally did get to the check in desk, I was trying to remain upbeat and was doing a great job until they tried to get me to put Monki’s booster seat into oversize baggage under the plane.

“They let us take it on the plane on the way here,” I explained.

“Well they shouldn’t have,” was the reply.

I admit, I got a little hot and irritated, the final result of which was a crying Monki, afraid her seat would be destroyed and the desk clerk dismissively telling me I could try to get it on at the gate and see what they said. I said okay and we left.

Security was fine, and we were able to calm Monki down a bit. The only hitch was that we had filled her little thermos with water for the plane and I had to dump it before they would let us through. It didn’t count as a baby thing since she was over 3.

The airport itself was packed. Fully half the flights on the board were delayed or cancelled and our flight was showing that a gate assignment would come at 4:45, 40 minutes before our scheduled departure time. This meant we had time to stand in line at Burger King to get and eat an overpriced meal before going to get on our plane.

Sure enough, at 4:45, there was no gate assignment. Nor at 4:50 or even 5. Our gate assignment didn’t come until 5:15, at which point everyone ran to the gate, was hustled through a ticket check and then quickly let outside to board the plane.

No one said a word about the booster seat I carried.

We got on the plane, put the seat down and Monki sat in it and still, no one said a word.

The only thing was that I hadn’t had a chance to refill the water thermos, so I asked the flight attendant if she could do it for me. I explained the delicate nature of Monki’s stomach, and the woman graciously gave me a bottle of water and asked if I needed any sick bags? I readily agreed. We’d originally brought some paper lunch bags to serve that purpose, but it was discovered they didn’t hold up well to moisture so instead, we had various plastic packaging bags we were using in the car in case Monki got her “va-vay” feeling. Official sick bags were a welcome addition. Especially since Monki hadn’t needed any all trip, despite often having the feeling.

As you can guess, it was a good thing we had them.

The entire flight was great, no problems until the descent into Kaunas and turbulence hit. Monki said she was feeling it and Rasa was johnny on the spot with the bag. There was a little drop of sick which escaped but almost all of it made it into the bag!

Monki felt bad about it, but we explained she was doing great and they had these bags specifically because people got sick. After that, it was all good. The plane landed, we got our car and headed home.

On the ride, Rasa looked at me and quietly worried about the state of the fish. We had been gone 9 days and even though we’d left them a vacation pellet of food, what if something had happened to them?

The fish were fine.

The tank, on the hand, had sprung a slow leak, the water level was half of what it should have been, the filter had exploded, and we had to spend a couple of hours cleaning up before we could finally get to bed.

It really was a great, if eventful, vacation!

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