Goodbye to La Belle France and "hello" to Old Blighty!
18.04.2013 - 18.04.2013 16 °C
We left Paris this morning. I can tell you dear friends and readers that this was not easy. We slept well and were wide awake and ready to get up when the alarm went off at 0500. It had been a warm night and the sky was turning blue from the grey of dawn and a gentle breeze promised a lovely day. We finished the last minute packing and got ourselves ready and were well and truly ready and waiting when the taxi arrived at seven o'clock. Why the early start I hear some of you ask. Or I would if I'd mentioned that our train left at 0915! Well, we're used to Melbourne morning traffic and the congestion around the city and the airport etc at that time of the morning and we didn't want to take any chances. You may hear a hollow laugh from me as there was virtually no traffic on the road and we could at times have fired a shotgun outside the Elysees Palace and not hit a soul - not something we're advocating by the way!
We had breakfast at the Gare du Nord and our departure was somewhat assisted by the fact that a) it rained just before we left (actually, it wasn't rain, it was the street cleaners cleaning up but it's easier to think of it as rain - easier to leave anyway!) and b) we had the worst coffee we've had in France! It's hard to wax lyrical when you're drinking dishwater. The process of going through Passport Control and security was not a problem and we boarded our carriage on the Eurostar with a minimum of fuss and were soon comfortable. The trip was very pleasant - my only teeny gripe was getting side by side seats with our back to the "engine" but it's a small matter. A second breakfast on board produced a nice roll, butter and jam and some yoghurt but some more ordinary coffee and the time in the tunnel itself passed without fuss - despite our jokes about fishes swimming by. We arrived in Ebbsfleet on time and were ready to disembark as it's a short stop and we had four cases - yes four - to get off. This happened without trouble and a porter helped us to the station level where we got a cab to the hire car.
We'd requested a mini-van (because we'd anticipated the four cases) and had hoped to get a VW Sharan (the name alone had sparked weeks of Ozzy Osborne impersonations) but we ended up with another (bloody)Peugeot - this time a larger 5008. It takes the cases - just - but isn't the most comfortable car around and I'm glad we're not driving big distances or having to keep it for too long.
First stop for the day was the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour - for me - and the car park of same for Hugh. We had a slight issue when I misread the pace notes and we ended up in a Bus Only road - as a gentleman (!) was happy to tell us we may be up for a fine there - so we used the Pulfords' GPS (thank you guys) and were soon on the right road. Once we found the motorway we were laughing - ho ho - and followed the signs to the studios. We were quite early - despite the issues - and had lunch in the cafeteria before Hugh headed back to the car for a read and a snooze and I joined the line.
I will post some photos but I can say that this was absolutely wonderful and that even if you're just a minor fan - or you've seen the films/read the books - you should make sure you go to the tour if you have the chance. It was - dare I say - absolutely magical and I loved every minute of it. I'd have liked it more with another enthusiast so, when I win tattslotto, I'm coming back with Keri or someone!! I did the whole broom riding experience - even if there are plenty of my former staff who think that this is my normal form of transportation - and I have the photos and DVD to prove it. There is so much to see and you could easily spend hours there. I don't think I was more than a couple of hours and, luckily, Hugh had a good sleep and read while he was waiting for me and didn't seem to have noticed my absence. I had a good wander through the gift shop and bought a few lovely things for others and for me. I resisted the temptation to buy a wand - might wish I hadn't - but bought a few other things.
We had no trouble from finding our way from the studio to our hotel in Milton Keynes. It's not the most salubrious place but it's clean, the bed is big and firm (but not as firm as Paris thank God) and the staff were nice - plus it's cheap. We had dinner in the pub which is attached and had fish and chips. Had a clear sign we're not in Kansas any more - when I asked for a bottle of wine there was a ten minute delay while they found the corkscrew - that wouldn't happen in France.
It's been a big day and tomorrow will be different again. Ready for an early night to prepare!