My Travel Book - 'Landing Up' in London (July 2)

So there we were. In London. Safe and sound. The tunnel did not collapse while we were crossing the Channel. And St Pancras International left me open-mouthed! Those of you who are unlucky enough to land in Paris at Gare du Nord from Northern Europe or Great-Britain will understand what I mean.

Gare du Nord is a very unsavoury area. Dirty and rather disreputable. St Pancras is modern, clean and very welcoming. And they even welcome you in English and French! “Par ici la sortie! Welcome to London!”

My first British cab driver was rather grumpy even though we never uttered one single word in French. I was appalled by the camera inside the cab that was recording all our moves… Not that we moved much considering the size of the cab and my huge bags in the way.

Popeye had booked us into a grand hotel as usual. Right in the heart of London. Not the City. More like in-between Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. Within walking distance of the whole caboodle. London, I mean!

During our ride from the station to the hotel, I gaped at every building, every street, e-ve-ry-thing. I was in London for the first time in my life and I loved every second of it. I was falling in love with a city I had wilfully avoided through aeons of time.

All my friends have been to London. Most of them several times. (It is rather trendy for French people to go spend the week-end in London thanks to the Eurostar.) I had never been to London. Never. Not even once when I was a student majoring in English. And I am still wondering why. Popeye went to London quite a few times when he was much younger. Swee’Pea did too. Not me. And as much as I kept dreaming of visiting cities like Dublin or Copenhagen, I never contemplated travelling to London. Ever.

And yet there I was, so happy to be there. So surprised to be this happy. Maybe I was feeling a little bit disappointed though. It was sunny and bright. Where was the London fog?

And the answer came at once. I’d have to come back. Many times. Just the way I go to Madrid - whenever I feel like it.

“Let’s go take a walk, Swee’Pea! Let’s go…”

We left the hotel while it was still daylight. We walked around for so long that it was really dark when we got back.

There were hundreds of tourists milling around. Lots of young people. Lots of French young people. Eating fish and chips of course. And drinking beer sitting on the sidewalks and on Westminster Bridge. I have to admit that I am not a big fan of young French tourists anywhere. Oh well. They did not manage to hamper my enthusiasm.

Night fell. We kept walking. I had left my camera at the hotel purposefully. Sometimes it is very productive for a photographer to stand back so to speak. Refraining from using one’s tool and allowing feelings and impressions to flow over. Refining one’s vision. Like sailors testing the wind before sailing away.

We were walking peacefully and aimlessly. And Swee’Pea drew his iPhone! First picture. I could not resist! Using a phone might be a lot of fun after all. You won’t believe it but I practically never take pictures with my phone. One needs to draw the line somewhere! A phone is for calling or texting. My cameras are for taking pictures.

Our first night in London was so mild, bewitching. And I committed an act of sacrilege. I drew my iPhone and took a picture. Well, it wasn’t bad. I took a second one… and never stopped until we left Great Britain three weeks later. (Which does not mean I did not use my Nikon. I did use it a lot, believe me!)

I remember that we walked through a place called “The Horse Guards Parade”. It was sandy, of course and there was a very strong fragrance in the air - horses had really been there not long ago. It was very dark and deserted but there was a cat sitting in the middle of the square watching us with great interest. Pedestrians, just imagine!

On our way back to the hotel, on a street way out of the touristy route, very calm and quiet, footsteps resounded behind us. Very hurried and hobnailed footsteps. The man overtook us quite easily and disappeared very quickly. Quite an apparition on a London sidewalk! Imagine a huge  man carrying a leather attaché case. Very distinguished. Well-cut dark single-breasted jacket. White shirt and dark tie. Full dress kilt hose. Tartan kilt. Black brogues.

My first Scotsman. In London. Looking like a banker or a Member of Parliament. You decide! Impressive, very impressive!

One lonely cat and one Scotsman. Horse scent all over the place. Red telephone boxes here and there. And Big Ben chiming in the distance.

London Art Trail Sculpture Gallery - What's in your DNA?

What a dream! And we were part of it!


*Good Night, and Good Luck*


My Travel Book - A Road Trip? Where To?


Ladies and gentlemen, dear readers, welcome aboard… again!

I am well and alive and ready to treat you to an incredible road trip I got back from last Sunday night.

As usual, it is quite a complicated story. Once upon time, there was a very sick woman whose son was working in Los Angeles. And she really did want to go visit him… but she never could. So she kept saying that after all, California was not really her thing…

Time went by, quite a few years actually. She started feeling better. Much better but by the time she was feeling really good, her son had left California and gone to work in South Africa.

This is my story.

A few more years went by. Swee’ Pea came back from South Africa and has spent this last year travelling all over the world. Sometimes I went with him. Sometimes I did not and travelled on my own.

And one day, after a long journey to South Africa and probably while the three of us were in Vienna, we sat down and started seriously planning our next trip together — California!

My plans went wild. We’d fly to New York and then to Montreal and then to California. There would be a road trip from LA to San Francisco and many (private) flights all over places I had never been to. The Grand Canyon to start with. And Catalina Island. And Lake Tahoe. And. And. And. (I may have mentioned it already. Swee’ Pea is a fully fledged pilot in the States.) And then there was a train trip and another road trip as well…

At first the planning went fine. We agreed on many things. My check-ups were fine.

Then I started feeling very tired and my last check-up was a little bit scary. Not scary scary but I knew that this trip could turn into a difficult time in our lives which is not the point for travelling as far as California.

I was feeling very discouraged. Went to the hospital once more. Got clearance. But by then, we were getting awfully late in our schedule…
“Let’s go somewhere else then. I want to travel to a place I have never been before in my life. Not too far away. Not too hot. No flying. No jet lag. 

Let’s go by train or by boat to… Scandinavia maybe or let’s take a boat to Ireland and rent a car and go on a road trip there”, I said.

Swee’ Pea looked at me. “Not Scandinavia”, he said. “I’ve already been there this Spring. And I spent a lot of time in Ireland when I was younger”.

“Let’s go to… Great Britain. I have only been to London a couple of times and a long time ago”, he said with a big grin on his face.

Flabbergasted I was. Great Britain! Who would want to go spend three weeks on a road trip through Great Britain? Besides the fact that the Eurostar and the Channel tunnel have always scared me to death. You know how much I dread boating. Imagine poor Olive going well under the sea! (I would definitely hate “to be under the sea In an octopus's garden in the shade”… even though I love the song!)

I was adamant that I did not want to fly though. Not because I am afraid to. Only because it gets more and more complicated to go through security with my cameras and lenses. I can pull through if it means going away on a long trip. But flying to London. No.

We sat down and started planning the trip which would start more or less five weeks later.

Swee’ Pea is very good at prepping for trips. He uses Google maps a lot and TripAdvisor and booking.com and then it gets all planned on Google Drive because we have to share… since we may not be at the same place… Actually part of the planning occurred while he was away on another continent while I was either in Belgium or Brittany.

I’ll spare you my tears when I realised that I would not visit all of England, Scotland and Ireland in three weeks. It does sound childish, doesn’t it! But it did bother me a lot!

From Swee’Pea’s outline, I devised a much complicated road, using ferries to Ireland back to Scotland… hopping from island to island and back to England… actually more like a six months journey than a three weeks trip!

Luckily, I outgrew my unconscious teenage tendencies quite rapidly and
totally agreed to follow his plans. Which were great actually. We’d start in London where we’d spend a couple of days with Popeye. Then we’d drive West up to Edinburgh, through several national parks. We’d spend four days in Edinburgh with Popeye again and try to get a couple of days into ‘real’ Scotland. And then, we’d drive East back down to London where we’d meet with P. again and travel back together to Paris on the Eurostar the following day.

We agreed on one point (actually several points!). We’d try to avoid “big” cities as much as possible. We’d spend as much time as possible driving through the “wild”… There were a few castles and cathedrals to visit though. Other than that, we’d decide on the spot where to go and how to get there… We only knew where we’d be at the beginning of the day and where we’d sleep at night. We booked hotel rooms along the way though. Safety-first precaution. Which proved to be a very good decision considering the time of the year… Vacation time in England!

And I tried to refrain from browsing travel guides too much because I wanted to avoid to set my mind on a special place to visit and then not being able to do it. I did not want to end up feeling frustrated! Since I had never been to England, everything would be unfamiliar and the trip would really be a discovery trip. We’d then decide whether to come back some time later, like next year, and  explore the area more satisfactorily,
Great Britain (should I say England and Scotland) being so close to France and Belgium after all.

Swee’Pea came back to Paris. We packed and left on the 2nd of July.

“London calling, yes, I was there, too
An' you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!
London calling at the top of the dial
And after all this, won't you give me a smile?” (©The Clash - “London Calling”)

*Good Night, and Good Luck*