Friday, 31 January 2014

First trip of 2014, Day One

I'm sure I've already used the heading "A weekend in France" and if I have not, I might want it again. So today was the start of our long weekend mini-break to compete at the Coupe de Druides, which this year is dance-only and is being held in Tours.

This meant getting up early to leave by shortly after 7:00 am, not helped by an attack of cystitis, fortunately not severe, but enough to wake me several times in the night. We made our booked crossing, which always feels slightly like a failure, as it feels we've won if we get on an earlier one. But we had 20 minutes to wait in the terminal, enough to buy a new road atlas and for me to discover where I should have bought a new travel hairdryer - the one I bought on Amazon is practically full-size.

Smooth journey, stopping three times, and arriving at the hotel about 6:00 on. Hotel is really lovely, just the kind of place I like. Very warm welcome, large, comfortable beds, and somehow very French. Also cheap!

After a cup of tea (not provided but I brought my trusty travel kettle), we went out for a walk and found the rink, and then looked for a restaurant. Found a very nice one called L'Entracte, not far from the hotel, and had a delicious, if meat-heavy, meal.
Then wandered back to the hotel and a relatively early night.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Travelling First Class

I had never travelled First Class in my life before last Saturday, when I went up to Crewe for the day.  Now that I have a Senior Railcard, the Weekend First option was not impossibly expensive, and I thought I would treat myself.

The outward journey was via London Midland, a train company I had not used before and, frankly, I don't think I mind if I never use them again!  I would have regretted paying for a First Class ticket had the train not been so full as to be standing-room only between London and Stoke-on-Trent.  The seats were no bigger or more comfortable than in standard class, and the compartment was not at one end of the train so there were a constant stream of people walking through trying to find either a seat or a lavatory that was working (in vain!).  And it was COLD!  The heating seemed to have been turned off in favour of the air-conditioning!  At least in First Class I had a seat and nobody sat next to me so I could spread out a bit.  Plus I could plug in my phone while listening to Saturday morning radio (via Internet, which ate my data rather, but I couldn't get a signal on the FM bands).   Nobody checked my ticket at all - good thing I'm honest - although the guard did say there was an inspector on the train and First Class Tickets Would Be Checked.  They weren't.  On the whole I was not very impressed.

I was, however, very impressed with the facilities at Crewe station, which were both clean and free to use, not a common combination.

My time in Crewe was lovely, apart from being severely hailed on just before I arrived - I had gone to attend a friend's husband's induction to the Pastorate of a Baptist church, and there were other friends there, too, which was great.  After a lovely tea, some kind people let me share their taxi to the station - it had stopped raining and I would happily have walked, but it was nice not to have to.

Then the First Class really kicked in.  I was able to go to the First Class lounge which was very comfortable and had free Wifi and was warm and clean.  I made myself a cup of Earl Grey to drink while I waited.  I was going home with Virgin Trains, and as the train was non-stop the waitress suggested I sat where I pleased, so I had a lovely four-seat bay all to myself.  I didn't want any tea or coffee, but did have an orange juice, although I passed on the snack box, having had a huge tea.  Really, I should have had one and eaten it another time....

Virgin trains were blissfully comfortable and had free WiFi, and plugs, so I turned on my phone's maps and had great fun watching the train careering through the countryside.  Well, while I was awake, that is.  I did sleep between Stafford and Milton Keynes!  The only blight on the journey was that the train was rather late, the earlier storms had caused some damage to the overhead lines.  But when you are sitting snug and warm and it is dark outside, this doesn't really matter!

Virgin Trains did cost about twice as much as London Midland, and you can quite see why.  I am not sure whether I would travel First Class again - certainly not on Southern or South-Eastern, it really isn't worth it.  If I could get a decent bargain on Virgin, though... well, their First Class is worth it!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

A visit to the Museum of London Docklands

I had always wanted to go to the Museum of London Docklands, and finally had the opportunity to take my elder grandson, the Boy, now 3½ .  We met up at Westfield Stratford City, and after coffee and Babycinos we left the Daughter and Boy Too with her friends and their babies of roughly the same age as Boy Too, while the Boy and I made ourselves comfortable (he loved, as I knew he would, the loos in the parent/child room there, which have a big one and a little one in the same space so you can pee comfortably together, and then two wash-basins at varying heights so you can wash your hands together, too.  But there was no way to dry them ("We'll have to shake!" said the Boy) until you got out and there were some paper towels in the nappy-changing area.

We set off on the DLR to West India Quay and then walked to the Museum. I thought at first we had gone the wrong way, but Google navigation soon confirmed we were right.  However, when we arrived it was about 11:30 am and we were told that the children's play area - which is very, very well-reviewed - did not open until 2:00. We hired an activity backpack, but much of the stuff was too young for him - a couple of very easy puzzles, and a book that he dismissed, scornfully, as suitable for his baby brother.  There were some binoculars, though, which he loved, a friendly dolphin finger puppet, ditto, and some shapes which you were supposed to match, but he didn't fancy that.

I think I would have enjoyed the museum better without him.  It wasn't very suitable for young children, as there was an awful lot of reading, and I think you had to know about things coming in big ships and how they used to come to London.  However, he liked the mock-up of Old London Bridge, and showed me which house he would like to live in!  And he liked a lot of the model ships, and was very, very brave when it came to Sailortown, a reconstruction of how the sailors would have lived back in the day, which was very dark and gloomy and spooky, and he hated it, so we came out - and then he insisted on going back in for another go, even though it was scary. He also loved - so did I - the boxes of spices, tea, coffee and sugar that were there to be looked at and sniffed and identified.  The cloves smelt gorgeous!

We had a very disappointing lunch in the cafĂ© - expensive and my salad was incredibly dry and nasty, and my tomato quiche was very odd, although not unpleasant.  I wish I'd chosen a sandwich that looked nice, but it didn't happen.  The Boy had a "kiddies' sandwich" - cheese in white bread - and a pirate chocolate (we thought it was cheese) which was disappointing by being merely a lump of chocolate, not printed like the chocolate coins he got for Christmas and has been enjoying.

Then we went back home via the DLR, the Central Line and the W16 bus, and arrived home a good 45 minutes before the others.  "I expect Mummy's doing boring shopping!" said the Boy.  So we made ourselves drinks and another cheese sandwich as we were still hungry.  Not the most satisfactory day out ever, alas, but not the worst.