International air travel garners excitement completely based on destination and imagination. Details of the actual traveling part seem often humdrum.
Up and at ’em Atom Ant. We pack, check, walk to tram stop, catch the number 6 tram to bus station and discover that tickets to the airport are purchased on the airport bus from the driver. Our travel planning has been conducted online however the online bus timetable information turns out to have been incorrect and the next bus does not leave for ages. We will be close cutting our arrival time for the international flight if we wait.
Thoughts about catching a cab are quickly dismissed by the cab driver quoting us double the combined bus fare.
Last time we were waiting for magic carpet rides to new exciting destinations in this bus terminal (the bus to Pula) there was a small Kebab shop offering tasty options. Today we find it closed and misguidedly elect to purchase some rolls from a cafe which arrive cooked to soggy microwaved cardboard perfection.
Finally the bus arrives, by now there is a small horde of passengers waiting. Expecting a rapid departure everyone boards quickly however it appears one of the passengers only has 200 Kuna notes which the driver is unable to change. Our departure time comes and goes, the driver goes into the office and returns still apparently unable to change the note. Time is ticking by, Pam is becoming nervous we are going to miss our check in times at the airport.
Ten minutes after the correct departure time for the bus we are still sitting stationary in the bus terminal. A passenger takes matters into his own hands and strides to the front of the bus waving notes in his hands. He can make change for the 200 Kuna.
No more delays affect our grey skies ride to the airport, we arrive five minutes prior to our allotted check in time. No worries.
The blanket of clouds that has been accompanying our day part as we are flying over the Alps. Despite our altitude magnificent snow covered peaks stretch to all horizons I can see through the glass bubble of the window.
Approaching Heathrow, passengers are advised regarding the need to complete entry cards for our UK arrival. As we are simply transferring to a flight to Manchester I am advised that I don’t need to complete an entry card.
Heathrow airport has security systems that far exceed anything Pam and I have so far encountered. We follow the bewildering maze of the airport corridors to the transfer terminal. Despite the advice given on the plane into Heathrow we have to show our passports to transfer flights. Pam goes through first and I am advised that I do need to complete an entry card after all. The person checking passports advises us to return to him once we have completed my card.
As we fill in the entry card there must have been a shift change for when we return we have to rejoin a growing queue. Pam goes to pass through as she has already had her bona fides checked. She is sharply reprimanded by the new guy who is now checking passports.
‘If I let you through without personally checking your details again it will earn me a massive fine’ he tells us. ‘This is just part of why I hate this place and this job’ he goes on ‘another three months and I am out of here’.
Pam and I can’t help but comment to ourselves about the contrast with the seemingly ever happy Croatian populace.
Apples and Oranges, maybe the difference lies in our not being able to understand everything the Croatian people said.
Shortly after our encounter with the disgruntled staff member the coloured line we are following through the airport brings us to an area where we are requested to stand within the borders of painted footprints on the floor and look straight into a little digital lens on a stick.
Ubiquitous queues for security follow.
Sitting at the departure gate during our hour long change over between flights I realise that for the first time in months I can understand the chatter of people around me.
It feels very strange to be back in a predominantly English speaking country.
Prior to boarding the flight to Manchester we have to stand in the footprints and gaze into the robot eye once more.
Pam jokes that if she goes missing in the UK this tired, wild hair, wide eyed photo will be the one circulated in the newspapers.
Like a celebrity mugshot.
As we drift down towards Manchester the sun falls below the horizon.
Compared to the labyrinth of Heathrow getting to the exit doors of Manchester airport is easy. Now we just have to contact the car rental firm where we have booked a car for the five weeks we will be house sitting in Anglesey.
Of course we don’t have a phone as the SIM card from Croatia has no function in England. Pam heads off in search of a place to buy a UK SIM card leaving me guarding the bags.
Returning with the SIM card Pam realises that we have to open the phone with a pin to insert it. Maybe the day of travel has softened our brains for we completely forget the plethora of safety pins we used to dry clothes while walking the Camino that we still have hanging from our backpacks.
We seek assistance from a young American girl sitting near us however she does not have anything suitable. Pam digs through her pack for her red flower hair clip.
As she finds it I sight one of the safety pins swinging from the back of her pack.
We have trouble organising the SIM card operation and in the end Pam sends me off in search of a public phone to contact the car hire firm.
Out in the chill of the Manchester evening we wait for the car hire group to come and pick us up. Their headquarters are at the Marriott hotel which is a few minutes drive from the airport and it is apparently standard practice for them to pick up arrivals from the airport.
Turns out our car is brand new, the odometer shows six miles as we leave the Marriott Hotel car park and set off down the road in search of the Hotel Britannia where we are booked to spend the night.
Pam has still not been able to get the phone operational and I am two steps away from useless when it comes to the intricacies of mobile phones so we are relying on Pam’s navigational skills and the previously saved photo of the map to the hotel to get us there.
We are hopelessly lost in no time and frustration levels inside the car are reaching fever pitch. We agree to stop, let off steam and sort out the phone so we can use live google maps.
Finally we pull up in front of the Hotel Britannia. The reception is unattended and at last a surly young man tears himself away from his mobile phone entertainment and comes to assist us. Begrudgingly he gives us our room key and tells us where to park the car.
Hotel Britannia is a rabbit warren of narrow corridors winding up and down short staircases. As the door swings open on our room we see that it has not been serviced since the previous guests departure.
It takes us a little time to find our way back through the maze with our backpacks on and by the time we are standing in front of the reception desk again we are in no mood for surly employees.
Surprisingly the young gentleman is quite apologetic and rapidly finds us a new room. We head off down another narrow corridor that passes by the gym and pool that form part of the Britannia complex. At least this time there are no stairs to negotiate with our heavy packs.
It is almost 9:00pm by the time we finally are able to think about relaxing. The bar at the Britannia is still serving counter meals. We wash them down with a couple of well earned drinks before making our way exhausted back to our room.
It has been a big day.
Manchester to Anglesey
Dulcet tones of the early morning pump class in the gym wake us early in the morning and reignite our eagerness to escape the Britannia.
Packed in no time we drop our room key into the departure slot in the reception desk and greet the new day. There has been rain during the night however early morning weather conditions are crisp and fine.
Blue skies above scudding clouds.
Grateful to be driving on the side of the road I have driven most of my life I had observed many details of English suburban driving that I was not so familiar with the previous night.
Little things like narrow streets lined with cars parked half on footpaths, their wing mirrors folded closed, lining both sides of streets reducing traffic flow to the narrow corridor between, with opposing traffic flows forced to wait in small gaps between parked cars.
Little things like huge double decker buses circling wide around tiny roundabouts.
Little things like weirdly placed poles in the middle of the road for pedestrian crossings.
Assumptions based on previous experience can be found wanting with changes in circumstance.
We are eager to hit the road. I start the car and we leave the Britannia car park. I have not factored in the cold air outside.
By the time we have gone fifty meters, despite having turned on the de-mister, the cold windscreen has become so covered in condensation it is completely opaque and impossible to view through against the blinding morning sun.
Little things like rows of closely parked cars and double decker buses along with poles hiding in the middle of the road suddenly take on very new and potentially extremely costly meanings.
Pam is screeching for me to stop, I have a line of cars boring up my arse, there is no gap to pull over, I can’t freakin’ see anything ahead of me.
A double decker bus looms up and passes beside us heading the opposite direction.
Pam is really panicking by now which is not helping me at all. At last I spy a spot to pull over and wait for the de-mister to have some effect.
With the windscreen’s transparency restored we forge on. Our first task for the day is to find a place where we can buy a few supplies. Our european plugs for charging the phone and ipad are useless in the UK, I desperately need some anti-inflammatory cream for my singing knees and we want to buy some tinned fish for the cat where we are going to be house sitting.
A little food bribery goes a long way when it comes to instant animal rapport.
As we go to obtain our parking ticket from the automated dispenser at the shopping mall car park a lovely lady leaving offers us the hour she has remaining on her ticket.
An hour should be plenty of time. We find a pharmacy and buy some double strength cream for my knees. The place is full of mobile phone shops however none of them sell UK plugs with multiple USB jacks. A gaming store advises us to walk up the street to an electrical shop they are sure will sell the correct plugs.
Pam is always keen to walk new paths.
We return to the car park past a music store. I buy the latest Pearl Jam CD Lightning Bolt for Pam.
Once we have been on the highway for half an hour and Pam is sure we no longer have to listen to the google maps instructions she puts it in the CD player.
Cars are zooming past us as we drive along at 60 miles per hour which is the closest easy approximation to Australia’s usual 100km/hour highway maximum speed. There are no speed signs on the side of the highway.
‘Either almost everyone is speeding or we are driving way too slow’ I say to Pam and ask her to check the Googles for UK highway speed limits.
Once I have set the cruise control for the correct 70 miles per hour our road trip continues more peacefully.
The Isle of Anglesey is the most North Western part of Wales and is separated from the mainland from by the narrow Menai Strait. The fifth largest offshore island of the UK a full one third of the island’s 714 square kilometer area has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
A couple of hours after leaving the shopping mall we are crossing the Britannia Bridge that leads the freeway from the mainland up through the centre of the island.
Almost immediately after crossing the Britannia Bridge we leave the freeway, turn right and make our way along country roads through a series of small towns and villages.
Pastures separated into a series of fields by low stone walls and hedges. The countryside looks immediately fertile green enticing. Buildings are mostly stone walled with black slate roofs and look ready to stand the harsh test of time.
One last stop at the last town before our destination to buy some tinned fish pieces.
We turn left from the one lane each direction country road onto a very narrow country lane.
High hedges block views around corners and grass verges to the side look so wet and boggy I would not dare attempt to leave the narrow strip of bitumen in our tiny front wheel drive car. I wonder to myself what I would do in the case of an approaching vehicle.
No need to stress Pam out with unnecessary minutia.
Our destination Deri Fawr is listed on Google Maps however under the illusion that this describes an area rather than a property I pass the gravel drive entrance and am forced to drive on to a small cluster of homes further down the road to find a place to turn around.
At last we are crunching down the dark gravel drive towards the white washed stone house.
Deri Fawr is a three acre property owned by an older couple Paul and Mavis. The main two story dwelling is semi-surrounded by lower buildings along that serve as farm sheds and self catering accommodation for paying guests. A couple of fixed site caravans offer increased guest spaces.
Paul and Mavis come out to greet us and welcome us into the warm enclave of their home.
We are introduced from afar to Martin who is their pugnacious looking ginger cat.
Martin is extremely wary of strangers and we have been warned in advance regarding his likely suspicion of us.
No time like the present, Pam opens one of the cans of fish we have brought and puts it in his food bowl. Her efforts are rewarded by him eating a few pieces.
We are off to a good start.
Paul and Mavis are amazed by Martin deciding that a good place for a rest is the seat next to Pam as we sit chatting around the dining table.
Martin obviously knows a sweet heart when he sees one.
Scudding low clouds of the morning have thickened as the day passed and as we chat during the late afternoon it has begun to lightly rain.
Paul and Mavis have lists of what they need to show us to maintain the property and animals that live here.
In addition to ten young egg laying ducks that Paul and Mavis call the Jemimas there are also three older, retired from egg laying, ducks to care for. Paul also feeds local wild birds through the winter months.
Paul and I set out into the chilly afternoon drizzle so that he can show me procedures for feeding and housing this menagerie leaving Mavis to run Pam through the complexities of the house and guest accommodation requirements.
During our chat inside I had observed a spark in Paul’s eye that tells me he would have been quite the handful in his prime. Outside he tells me how during the more than twenty years they have lived on the property he has restored the main building and built the surrounding stone structures himself.
A run of health problems that have included two heart attacks and a protracted battle with bowel cancer in the last two years have left him far from his prime yet still unbowed.
We feed and house the ducks for the night, take a short tour round the caravans and guest accommodation and return to the main house.
Chatting around the table as Mavis prepares a lovely vegetarian meal on their AGA oven (AGA’s are ovens heated by Kerosine fuel and never turn off, they are completely impractical for life in our home state Queensland, Australia as they release an enormous amount of heat however we discover they are a real status symbol in the much cooler UK)
Paul and Mavis tell us an enormous amount of detail about Anglesey.
Mavis has been a teacher for many years prior to retiring and has learned to speak Welsh to effectively communicate with Anglesey children, 60% of whom speak Welsh as their first language. Paul has a real passion for Anglesey as well as a great memory and tells us many stories about the islands history.
They are traveling to Tasmania, Australia for five weeks and are extremely interested in the native flora and fauna. We do our best to give them accurate information.
The evening passes quickly. Paul and Mavis are a lovely lively couple whom we have a lot in common with.
Even Martin is warming to us by the end of the night. He surprises Paul and Mavis by rubbing up against both our legs.
The next day is full of practicalities, Paul takes Pam and I for a drive, he needs to pick up a SIM card for their phone to use in Australia as well as duck feed and hay for their nests.
I buy a pair of Wellingtons that just manage to fit my wide feet.
On our return he and I muck out the Jemima’s nesting area thoroughly.
They spend their nights sheltered in an old converted pig sty. The entry to their shelter is accessed by a door so low that I need to climb in on all fours and be careful with my skull once inside. We do some small repairs on potholes in the long gravel drive in the freezing rain that has begun to fall.
Inside the warmth of the house Pam has been learning more about the details of the house. Mavis tells her of the series of tradesmen coming to fix things that have being going awry in the harsh winter the Uk has been experiencing.
The WiFi is no longer working after a big storm, the AGA has been turning off for the first time in years, window cleaners, roof repairs, the list is long.
Paul shows me how to work the heating (which coming from Queensland I have absolutely no experience with) in both the house and the units.
There is at least one of the units being rented during our stay and Pam learns procedures for readying the units should more bookings occur during our stay.
Paul and Mavis sell the duck eggs to locals for three pound per dozen. Pam learns the egg cleaning and selling procedures.
Paul and Mavis are long time vegetarians. We dine like kings and queens on AGA prepared vegetarian feasts. Paul and Mavis have travelled widely and regale us with stories of their adventures. We have a few of our own to add to the mix.
Martin sits on Pam’s lap during our second evening. Paul and Mavis are now astonished by how he is taking to us.
Animals like me and LOVE Pam.
We do our best to stay out of Paul and Mavis’s way on the last day before they leave for Australia. They are busy finalising their packing however Paul still takes time to mark the most scenic walks on maps of the long Anglesey Coastal route.
Pam prepares a delicious vege pie for the evening meal.
Paul and Mavis are flying business with Emirates and part of the flight offer includes having an Emirates driver pick them up from their home.
Early the next morning he arrives. I chat to him after carrying the bags to the car. He is an interesting chap, served in the armed forces and was part of the UK component of the UN peacekeeping forces in Croatia.
Paul and Mavis set off on the first leg of their latest adventure.
We have the run of Deri Fawr and the island beyond.
Pam and Mick