Bonjour from France! Here’s what we’ve been up to:
- We decided to head into Cambridge for dinner, it was Valentines Day after all. Cambridge was another unbelievable town. One of the things I find incredible about places like Cambridge is that, firstly it’s full of buildings that are hundreds of years old, but secondly those building aren’t museums or derelict ruins, quite often they’re still being used. In Edinburgh, the old parliament house, built in the 17th century is now used by the supreme court. Similarly, in Cambridge, the buildings dating from hundreds of years ago are still being used as lecture theaters, meeting halls and students accommodation. So as we passed under these ancient windows we could peek in and see the familiar scene of a student’s room. We drove around for a while, then parked and walked around for a while, looking for a nice place to eat. There were people everywhere, even though it was eight o’clock in the evening, the place was literally crawling with students. Also bicycles, bicycles were everywhere.
- We found this Indian restaurant. We figured it must be good because there were plenty of Indian people eating inside. We went in and ordered. Apart from being one of the spiciest meals I have eaten in a long time, it was also one of the deliciousest. They say if you want some good Indian food and you can’t get to India, head to England. Sounds about right.
- In the morning, we had a decision to make. It was 10am by the time we had breakfasted, packed and farewelled our host and we didn’t need to be at the airport until 5pm. We considered driving around to Windsor again to give the castle another crack, or checking out Hampton Court, roughly in the same vicinity. Finally we thought perhaps the best thing would be to head back to London and check it out once more, this time without the snow.
- After some fine driving on my part, and some excellent navigating on Anna’s, we pulled in to a parking spot in London’s city centre. We had a fantastic couple of hours checking out Buckingham Palace, Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park, this time without the snow and with plenty of crowds (it being a Sunday afternoon). This was certainly one of the highlights so far. Where the snow had made everything quite beautiful, the lack of snow had brought these places to life. Check out these “before and after” pictures.
- My plan had been to pull out of London by 2.30pm, get to Gatwick Airport and return the car at 3.30pm, get to the check-in queue by 4pm, check in by 5pm to get a good seat and then relax in the airport for a bit. Unfortunately things didn’t go exactly according to plan. We didn’t get back to the car until 3pm. Then, with heavy traffic and Gatwick being much further away than I had estimated, we didn’t get to the airport until 5pm. We returned the car to the rental company in the South Terminal, then had to catch a shuttle train to the North terminal in order to checkin, around 5.10pm (Our plane was due to leave at 6.40pm, but for some reason, I had in my mind it left at 6pm). Arriving at our check-in area we saw a huge mass of people, which turned out to be the queue we were supposed to be standing in. Another half an hour later later, we finally checked in went through security with an easy forty minutes before our flight was going to leave.
- I looked on my boarding pass to see what gate we supposed to be at. It said “TV”. This had me stumped for a bit until I figured out that we were supposed to check the TV to get our gate number. I looked at one of the screens and after our flight number it said “Please Wait”. Oh well, they must still be sorting out a gate for our plane, I thought to myself. So Anna and I went and got a milkshake each and relaxed for a bit. After I had finished my milkshake and Anna had half finished hers, Anna noticed that our flight number had changed from “Please Wait” to “Now Closing”, this time with a gate number – 109, possibly the furthest gate from our location. We grabbed our bags and started running. Anna, not wanting the remainder of her milkshake, tossed it towards a rubbish bin as we ran past. Now, I have never actually seen Anna play basketball, so I can’t accurately comment on her usual form, on this occasion however she missed her target. The cup ricocheted off the top of the bin a splattered onto a lady sitting nearby. We paused momentarily to shower her with apologies and scrape up what we could and then bolted off again. Anna is still highly embarrassed by this event and would like to issue a public apology to the random lady who she threw her milkshake at.
- Our jog across the terminal (motivated in equal measures by a desire not to miss our flight, and a desire to flee the country in shame for soaking an innocent lady in strawberry milk) was largely unnecessary. When we got to gate 109, there was a huge crowd of people waiting. Apparently there was another flight also boarding at this gate prior to ours. So we took a seat and waited a good fifteen minutes before we were able to board our flight to Grenoble, France.
- Arriving in France, at the small Grenoble Airport we collected our bags and headed to the bus to take us into the city. France is the seventh country I have visited in my life, but the first country that does not have English as an official language. We needed to use the bathroom, to I strolled up to the bus driver to ask him if there was enough time before the bus left. I had gotten as far a friendly “Bonjour” when I remembered I that I don’t actually speak French at all. I babble out a clumsy “Me femme…toilet…um” and pointed to my watch helpfully. The bus driver clearly had no idea what I was trying to say. I stood there dumbly for a couple of seconds before a fellow passenger was able to interpret for me. It’s quite an eye-opening experience to be standing at a small airport late at night, not being able to speak the language and relying on the helpfulness of strangers to determine if you were on the right bus, or had enough time to go to the toilet. As the bus pulled out – driving on the wrong side of the road, past strange signs and through unfamiliar landscape, I began to get the feeling that I was quite a long way from home. And then we passed a McDonalds next to a KFC and I felt much better.