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Thursday, May 31, 2012

"On the road again..."

It's been a few days since I last blogged. I've practically been on an internet blackout since returning to England. One thing that America does really well is free wi-fi spots. The U.K... not so much. McDonalds supposedly has it in every restaurant (if you can find one... not so common over here) but even then, you have to sign in, get them to SMS you a code, input the code... It's just messy, when it should be really simple.

The last two places I've stayed haven't had wi-fi at all, and thankfully my B&B in Bath (where I'm staying 2 nights) has it so I can surf and blog to my heart's content. Hurrah!

Now all this wi-fi talk might make me sound like a selfish yuppie, but it has actually had a serious effect on my holiday for a simple reason... I'm driving myself around the U.K. without a map...! I'm navigating by road signs.

I just took it for granted that when I hired a car it would come with a free GPS sat-nav. I was wrong. Thrifty don't even hire them out! So here I was in Maidstone, accepting the keys from the Thrifty lady, and she was suggesting maybe I could find a department store somewhere and buy a sat-nav? I wasn't very happy, but I figured that's what I'd have to do.

Thankfully across the road was a big Sainsburys, and they stocked them. When I took my Tomtom up to the service desk though, I read that before it could be used it had to be plugged into a computer to get all of the map data downloaded... Obviously I don't have a computer (I don't think iPads count) so that was that. The thought of having an automated navigator was out.

So if you can imagine for a moment, being in a place completely and absolutely unfamiliar to you (I'd certainly never been to Maidstone before!) with no idea which direction you're even facing, and having to find your way to a destination 50 miles away that's not on any road signs! Aaaarrrghghgh!! (I do happen to get a wee bit stressed in this kind of situation, but there was no way around it except through it...) Knowing that I needed to travel south-east, I found signs to Hastings, which I knew was south. So I took a fairly massive detour to Hastings, turned left and went along the coast until I hit Dover. Made it!

Dover itself was... quite unimpressive, but I came to see the famous White Cliffs, and they are definitely striking. Since I arrived in the early evening pretty frazzled though, I didn't pay them much mind. I figured I'd see them the following morning.

Well, the following morning was so darn FOGGY I couldn't see more than a couple of metres in front of my face!! So the White Cliffs were white all right... Completely hidden in the fog!!

I did the walk along the cliff edge anyway, it was actually pretty awesome with all the fog swirling up over the cliff, and I hardly saw another person on my walk, just horses and bunnies. (Who'd be that stupid to walk the cliffs at a time like that??)

After that I drove myself back to Hastings and this time visited the town of Battle and did the tour on the site where the famous Battle of Hastings happened a thousand years ago. I wasn't expecting much, but this ended up being one of my favourite parts of the trip so far! My main reason for touring England was to immerse myself in the history, learn about the past while walking in the footsteps of the people in the history books. And the audio tour at the Battle site is really great, it puts you right in the story as you're walking the fields where it actually took place. Very, very impressed by that one, I was like some kind of over-excited history geek! I see that they do an annual re-enactment of the entire battle once a year. That would be so cool to see! (or even be a part of!!)

Last night's bed-stop was Brighton. It's all very well to have the address of your hotel, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't have a map of the town! First I had to find a place to park, pay the ridiculous amount of money (£3.50 an hour!! That's like 6 bucks!!) and then try and find an information centre, since not a single shop, cafe or restaurant seemed to be offering free wi-fi! VERY frustrating!! Finally found the info centre. It had just closed. Brilliant. Any ideas, anyone? Because I was fresh out, and I had to get back to the car before the parking ran out. (sigh) By absolute fluke I passed by a wall near the beach that had a big map of the city, which I scanned and scanned until I found my road. Huzzah! Then it was back to the car just in time to get stuck in peak-hour traffic. (Did I mention I had a really great day yesterday...?)

Finally made it to the hotel and walked along the famous Brighton Pier in the evening. And wouldn't you know it? Just as I was approaching, this massive fog rolled in from the sea and covered the pier so that you couldn't even see it anymore!

Today I drove to Bath via Southampton so that I could visit family friends Pauline, Lindsay and Jack. Once again I was cursing my lack of navigation. I could follow the road signs (and my newly acquired Britain road atlas) to Southampton, sure. But once I got there how was I supposed to find a specific address? I found a big shopping centre, went to the information booth (no wi-fi at all...) and asked the girl if she could look the address up. She jumped on Google maps and then sort of said, "Oh, that's really far away, I don't know how to tell you to get there." My response was: "Could you at least tell me what DIRECTION I need to drive in?" She squinted at the screen and then said, "Nnnnot really." *groan*

I went outside the shops, found a town map that pointed me toward the info centre. I walked there, only to find it apparently doesn't exist anymore.

My salvation came from Burger King. God bless you, Burger King!! They had free wi-fi, so I put the address into my mobile, it plotted a course for me, and I could drive to Brook Lane with a map in my hand! (As it turns out, I'd completely overshot the mark by about 10 minutes, but that was okay, I didn't mind doubling back as long as I knew where I was going!)

So I called in to see Pauline, Lins and Jack. It was wonderful to see them again, it has been quite a while. Last time I visited them was with Andrew back in 2001. I told Lins this, and he looked thoughtful for a moment, until I reminded him that Andrew was really sick. Suddenly a light bulb went on above his head. "That's right, and I took him to the doctors!" he said. They've got great memories, full of details. They were still reminiscing about the trip when we took them to Broken Hill, and I think that was back in 1986 or 1987!

I stayed and chatted for about an hour and a half, and then I had to hit he road again to get myself to Bath before peak hour.

So here I am! I've been for a quick wander around the city, couldn't resist going to the movies and seeing a preview screening of Snow White & the Huntsman. (comes out tomorrow officially) Really enjoyed it, definitely recommended. Not for the kiddies though!

With my wonderful internet here I have actually discovered how I can hire a Ready-To-Go Sat-Nav that will get delivered here tomorrow morning! Yay!! So from now on I shall have a navigator to tell me where to go. Phew! That will make things SO much easier!

Tomorrow I'm going to see some more of Bath, learn a bit of history, and then the day after I'm heading north through the Cotswolds to Wolverhampton.

I'm doing a lot of driving, but I don't mind too much. I think I've got to get some new CDs. I've listened to Newsies about 20 times now. The radio is great too. BBC2 is awesome. They interview lots of interesting people, play good music and there's no ads!

Oh, by the way, there's a small little celebration going on in this country this weekend. The Queen's Jubilee. Not sure how much they're talking about it back home, but here it's EVERYWHERE! Can't escape Lizzy's face! Massive to-do happening in London. It's gonna be crazy, glad I'm not there!

I wonder if anyone's actually read all the way to the bottom of this blog. If you have, hi! I've been long-winded, but it is pretty lonely travelling on your own. Often I just wish I had someone to talk to, so today that's YOU! :-)

Thanks for reading!

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