We flew from Cork to Gatwick with Ryan Air - one of the original deep discount airlines. I was surprised by the efficiency with which they managed to turn around a full plane with 180 passengers, from landing to take off, in about 30 minutes - amazing. I guess that's one of the reasons they manage to keep prices so low and still be in business. Passengers are cramped in like sardines and pay extra for almost anything, including not having a boarding pass on arrival, but for the price it is hard to complain.
At Gatwick we picked up a rental car and drove for a few hours to Winborne where we stayed with my brother, Peter and his wife Isabelle and their two children, Greg and Lucie, both of whom were home. Winborne is a very pleasant small town, just north of Bournemouth in Dorset on the South Coast of England. The countryside around is classically English and very beautiful.
One day we drove up to Clevedon for lunch with Margie and Paul and Pauline and Robin. It is only 70 miles but takes 2.5 hours as the country roads are relatively small and windy. We had a very good lunch at a pub overlooking the Severn Estuary, or Bristol Channel , as it is also known. Another day, Peter and I drove to Lulworth Cove and had a great walk along the cliffs and down into the cove. It was very sunny though cool in the breeze. The water was remarkably clear and blue - almost Mediterranean looking. All four of us also drove with Peter and Greg to Oxford for the day. We wandered the narrow streets around the colleges for hours - and even managed to buy phones for Jessi and Kris for their European trip.
After saying goodbye to Peter and family, we checked into a hotel near Gatwick airport for 2 nights. Rather than face the challenges of driving and parking in London, we took the express train into Victoria Station. We wandered around Piccadilly, Regent Street and Oxford Circus - partly to shop and partly to watch a march by a group of protestors who had broken away from a far larger march by 250,000 people who were demonstrating against government cutbacks.
The protestors were almost surrounded by police, most in full riot gear, while convoys of police vehicles packed with more riot police roared around and hovered in the side streets. The centre of the breakaway demonstration was in the middle of Oxford Circus. While Jessi shopped in a store on the corner of the Circus, we watched the crowd and the police. The protestors wre joined by a group of apparent anarchists, dressed in black and wearing balaclavas or scarves to hide their faces. It was clear that his latter group were looking for trouble. Shortly after we wandered off and headed towards Kings College, the group started smashing windows and setting fire to things, until the police arrested many of them. It was quite an excitement for us for a while. The previous time we had been in London, almost in the same place, was the day of the July bombings, when many people were killed on the Underground and in a bus.
After wandering around Kings College and Somerset House, we walked along the South Bank to Blackfriars Bridge and then up Fleet Street, where we had a drink in the Cheshire Cheese, a pub dating from the 16th century and once frequented by Samuel Johnson. In more recent years, when I was down the road at Kings, it was a hangout for journalists - though almost all the newspapers have now moved, the journalists with them, leaving tourists as the primary visitors to the pub.
Covent Garden was surprisingly busy and we found it difficult to find a restaurant with room for us. We ended up in a spanish tapas restaurant and had a good meal before returning to our hotel at Gatwick.
The following morning we had an early start and took Jessi and Krista to the airport. We said goodbye to each other after our 3 months of travel together. It had been an amazing time with so many sights, experiences and adventures - and we were all still talking to each other! The girls set off to Malaga and the start of another 3 month adventure. Sue and I made our way to Heathrow and for the flight back to Vancouver, where I was due to start work on the following day.
Some travel statistics on our trip:
Days travelled: 92
Number of flights and kms flown: 21 - 48,578
# different places stayed overnight: 39
countries visited: 10
boat rides: 16 - 360 kms
train trips: 4 - 1430 kms
mini-buses: 3 - 510 kms
cars: 5 - 5,270 kms
taxis, tuk-tuks, motor bike, elephants and camels
total kms travelled: 56,129 (not including taxis, tuk-tuks,motor-bike, camel and elephant)