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London

If you’ve been to London, you’ll know how expensive it is, and accommodation is ridiculous (unless you’re on a corporate account and don’t care).

When we arrived in April we stayed in Camberwell.  Not a great part of London, but convenient.  However, the AirBNB we stayed is not somewhere I would visit again.

I started looking way back in April for accommodation in October.

I found an early bird special and booked us into Palmers Lodge; a boutique hostel with good reviews, located centrally in the north west. Even a hostel was costing £80 (AUS$160 per night) for a private room.

The Lodge website provided directions from the Eurostar to Finchley Station.  I had diligently planned the most direct route. I had even sent both Don and Jane the instructions (just in case we got separated – a possibility, for reasons I can’t put in writing).

Of course, neither Don or Jane had read them and were relying on me. The instructions direct you to Finchley road station, I discovered three stations; West, East and Central Finchley.

I made, what I thought was an intelligent assumption; that there are a) three stations on Finchley Road and b) Finchley Central would be the correct station, give the instructions did not mention West or East.

It’s been a long day – we’ve been transiting for over 10 hours, having taken the TVG from Lyon to Paris and changed in Paris to the Eurostar.

Over the last 7 months Don and I have learnt a few things about what works well (& what doesn’t) between us.

We clearly nagivate life in very different ways. Generally, we are both heading in the same direction, but we both get there by very different routes.

At times (like today), this can cause some friction; after a long day of travel, we are tired and conversations are snappy.

We board the train for Finchley Central.  Realising it was a 30 minute ride probably should have caused some concern.  I knew the Hostel was centrally located, one of the reasons we chose it. We seem to be heading too far out of London.

But I am also adamant that this is the directions the hostel gave. At Finchley Central station we ask the attendant for directions to College Cresent.

His blank look confirmed that this was possibly not the right spot. We told him we were staying at Palmer Cottage and that’s when the light bulb went on.

“Oh, you need Finchley Road, not Finchley Central, people make that mistake all the time”.

He promptly pulled out his smartphone, looked up the best route to get us there and directed us to the bus on the corner.

OK, I have trouble admitting I am wrong and this would have to be the first time I’ve put it in writing: “I was wrong”!

But really, four tube stations all named Finchley and the fourth is nowhere near the others? We could do nothing but laugh as we hopped on the bus for a 40 minute ride back the other way.

It seemed today was meant to be a comedy of errors. I’ve booked two ‘twin’ rooms, thinking nothing of the use of the word ‘twin’. Having spent many a night in twin accommodation, I assumed it would be two single beds!

Well, I should have read the fine print – twin in this case means two bunks! If you’ve been to London, you will also know that rooms are generally tiny. This one was no exception.

Two of the smallest bunk beds are crammed behind the door. The beds are so small you have to wake-up and think about rolling over so as not to fall out. We couldn’t both be in the room unless one was sitting on a bed.

A pre-moulded bathroom is also squeezed into another corner, it’s a bit like getting into a port-a-loo with a shower. That’s what you get for £80.

The hostel is pretty nice; a large Victorian mansion, with a lovely common room full of comfy leather lounges. There is also a bar area serving drinks and food at backpacker prices.

It was well located (once you got there) and served us well for our short stint in the city.

We are relieved to see a mix of ages amongst the guest.  We are not the only ‘oldies’ staying at a hostel.

One of the things that strikes us is how quiet the lounge room is.  Both Jane and I stayed in hostels/backpackers pre-smartphones and laptops.  It was a place to meet people; people from all over the world, who all share a common passion – travelling on the cheap.

You made friends, shared travel stories, hooked-up (in the innocent, or not so innocent sense), to travel to the next destination, or simply to share a meal and have a beer with.

Here, no one is talking, they are all staring at an illuminated screen.

Maybe they are all chatting with each other online via tinder, Facebook or whatever the latest messaging app is?  But if not, they are surely missing out on one of the most significant and enriching aspects of travel?

Jane has one full day in London. We decide to spend the day around Shoreditch. It’s a busy area with lots of Sunday markets.

Our favourites are the Food Market in the old Trueman Brewery and the Spitalfields Markets which host an eclectic range of stalls from jewellery and clothing (vintage and new), to door knobs and sheepskins.

Angela (My Niece/Jane’s Daughter) has generously offered to shout the three of us a meal in London. This is to celebrate Jane’s recent birthday, Don’s upcoming 50th and that I am simply her favourite Aunt!!

The invitation came with a couple of recommendations; Hawksmoor being one that happens to be in Spitalfields. We couldn’t secure a table until late afternoon, but that suited us. It could be a late lunch/early dinner.

Hawksmoor specialises in meat and we haven’t had a good steak in months, probably not since Turkey (of all places). The steaks are sold by the gram and the smallest started at around 500 grams. We are not gluttonous people – even when someone else is paying.

None of us could devour a 500gm steak on our own, but we could share one. We opted for the most expensive cut (of course) – the Chateaubriand.

It was a succulent 800gms cooked to perfection (medium rare of course). At £13.00/100gms (you do the maths), it would possibly be the most expensive piece of meat I have ever eaten.

The meal is savoured with a decent bottle of red and triple cooked chips, it was also one of the best. Thanks Ang and Ben – it was a great meal.

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Bon voyage ma soeur

After 24 days of traveling, Jane is ready. I can see the travel fatigue setting in and the longing for her family, or at least her own bed!

She’s enjoyed herself, I have no doubt, but she is ready to go home.

What not many people know is that it had been touch and go that she even made the trip.  My Niece Victoria (Torsie) had been in hospital just a week before Jane departed and I knew Jane was apprehensive about leaving her.

Torsie is fully dependant on Jane for care and my Sister excels at the care she gives her. It’s a fulltime job, not just 9 to 5, it’s 24 x 7.  Somehow she also fits in working part time and being a wonderful mother to 4 more.

Upon turning 19 in November, the respite care that gives Jane exactly that: well deserved respite, disappears. This was perhaps a last opportunity, because leaving Torsie in the future for any great length, will be more complex.

Torsie is the youngest of five, she has three adoring sisters and a brother, as well as three brother-in-laws and some doting grandparents. It is with their encouragement and confidence in their support (along with the assurances from Doctors), that Jane got on the plane.

It is over the past three weeks that I have truly gained an insight into what giving that ‘care’ really means.

By watching Jane enjoy what we take for granted; waking when you want; taking afternoon siestas; being able to make plans as we go and change them at the last moment.  Not living everyday by a schedule is a luxury for her.

There had been regular updates of course, with photos and Skype.  Torsie was well looked after; apparently enjoying her holiday and all the attention. She had endless visitors, including frequent visits from her 87 year old grandparents, I think my Mum enjoyed being able to Skype us with the latest news.

I should at this point, also make special recognition of Don, who did not hesitate to include my Sister in our travels.  Even contributing his own frequent flyer points!

Don has spent the last three weeks patiently waiting for Jane and I; as we visited churches (lots of churches), shopped or at least window shopped in every town and generally dawdled about. He quickly came to expect us to be late to every rendezvous!

But, it was a rare opportunity to spend this time with my Sister and hopefully provide her with a bit of adventure!  It is a time that I will always treasure.

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Just a little bit more…

I’d like to end the post there, but we still have two more days in London.

Seven months ago, our first destination had been Johannesburg, where we had stayed with the Browns.  They have now moved back to the UK and it seemed fitting to spend one of our last nights with them.

We spend the night out at Woking, taking them through the tales of our travels and catching up on their news.  We get to say Hi to Alison’s parents via Skype, who we stayed with in Choma (Zambia), many months ago.

On our very last night we have dinner with some of Don’s old work colleagues (from Planwell); Leeanne, Dale, Elissa and partner Ian –  all doing different things around the world.

Before we know it, our time in Europe is over and we are on a plane to the USA.