Thursday, November 27, 2008

To London We Go

Hating England as much as I do - and London in particular - it has to be something special which drags me up there to the frozen north these days.

The prospect of visiting my parents followed by 3 days of the International Magic Convention just about fits the bill, so we pack our biggest winter woollies, brush up on basic eastern European vocabulary so we can at least make basic conversation with the natives, and off we go. Not before dropping Harry off at kennels, however. This will be his first time in kennels on his own, now Benson has gone, and when we arrive he is the only one in the place. Hope he will be OK.

The decision to take the later train is the first bad one of the trip. Normally we go for one around 7am, but we decide to have a lie in and go for the one an hour later. Big mistake, as we arrive just in time for the train only to find the station car park is full. We have to make a mad dash to the Arenes, followed by an even madder dash down to the station dragging our luggage. We make the train - puffing and panting - with only 2 minutes to spare.

We decided to go via Lille rather than Paris, since we intend to do lots of shopping and are anticipating heavy cases on the return journey. The problem is that the winter schedule makes the connections a little tighter than we would like. We make the Lille connection and check in with only 5 minutes to spare.

As usual, the contrast between the luxury of the TGV and the spartan prison van atmosphere of the Eurostar is marked, and the journey from Lille to London is not much fun.

We are staying in the Travel Inn at Euston, chosen for being just around the corner from St Pancras, and right opposite the Shaw Theatre where the convention is being held. Chosen for convenience alone, then, this one is a bit of a gamble. This is our first time staying in this part of London, and we are expecting to have to fight our way through drug dealers and prostitutes on the way to the hotel.

We are amazed to find nothing of the sort - Pizza Express, Pret a Manger, Starbucks and Costa Coffee are all in evidence, the sure sign of an area about to undergo massive redevelopment and increase in house prices. There is a huge, rather posh looking, Novotel, the British Library, Indian, Chinese and sushi restaurants, and the hotel itself is pretty good (as good as a Travel Inn is ever likely to be, anyway) and a bargain at 90 quid a night.

The bane of the Travel Inn - the check-in process - is as slow as ever, and it leaves me with only 15 minutes to catch my train from Paddington to Swansea. Hailing a cab and fighting through the afternoon traffic, I make the train at a run with only 2 minutes to go. This has been a day of near misses for the trains, and I shudder to think what would have been the results of missing any one of them.

The journey to Swansea is uneventful, despite the border tax of two sheep and a leek being somewhat extortionate, though is still amazes me that it can take longer to get from London to Swansea than it does from Nimes to Paris! Mum and dad are there to meet me at the station - it has been an absolute age since I have seen them and we have lots to catch up on on the way home and over a wonderful home cooked meal. Great to see them again, though I slip right back into bad habits by eating most of the lemon cheesecake on offer!

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