Today was the day we boarded the ferry in Ouistreham for the channel crossing to Portsmouth, England. We arrived nice and early, parked the bikes alongside the cars and then roamed the boat to find a good possie for the crossing. We nabbed a prime location on a comfy seat in a corner by the window, so we had a sea view and we settled in for the 5 1/2 hour journey. The boat was absolutely full of French kids and families so France must be on school holidays again. They seem to be forever on holiday and Steve’s convinced he’s working in the wrong country!
The voyage was a smooth one and the time passed easily. Before long…LAND AHOY! we had our first sight of the English coast and what a picture it was…a monochromatic vision of grey! Yep, what a surprise, we were being greeted with a 9C temperature and pouring rain. Fair dinkum!
We returned to our bikes and got ready to disembark into the wet and woolly day. We pushed the bikes off with the cars, wheeled down the ramp and pulled up at the passport control booth where the nice man gave us a friendly welcome and asked if we had been given arrival forms to fill in. When we said we hadn’t, he said we should have been, so instead he just asked us some questions. Why are you here? (cycle touring around Europe, we’ve been on the road for three months) How long are you staying? (3 or 4 months) Where did you start your trip? (Portugal) “Portugal!” he exclaimed. Do you have an end date for the trip? (we have to be back at work in February next year) Oh, what do you do for work? (“I’m the principal of a school,” said Steve, “and Heidi’s in education too.”) “Are you really, good on you,” he said, with the tone of voice someone might use if you said you cleaned sewerage tunnels for a living – the tone that is a mix of admiration for doing an important job, combined with a tone of ‘I’m glad it’s you and not me.’ The nice man then bade us a friendly farewell and hoped we enjoyed our trip. As we cycled away I heard him turn to the fella beside him in the booth and say, “Cycle touring! Started in Portugal and they’ve been going for three months!” So maybe there aren’t too many like us who pass by their window!
We pedalled off in the rain, but it was still a fun ride. In all our wet weather gear and with the pedalling, we weren’t cold, there was no wind and we had a cycle lane, so the rain wasn’t really a bother. We did ride on the wrong side of the road a couple of times, but the sight of oncoming traffic soon gave us a clue that we had to switch back to the left! Honestly, changing languages, changing sides of the road, I’m sure it’s all making our brains fluffier, not sharper!
We arrived at our hotel and the friendly people gave us a space in the basement for the bikes, asked us about our trip and declared it “very impressive” when we said where we’d been for the last three months. They helped us carry our bags in and it was another case of me feeling very much like we had instantly lowered the tone of the place! There are a lot of hotels in Portsmouth and there are no budget ones at all! This place is very, very nice! Way too posh for the likes of us, but it’s all we could get, so as we traipsed in, all wet and disheveled, lugging a mountain of panniers, I felt like something the cat had dragged in to the palace ballroom. The hotel people were lovely though. When we got to our room, we found it to be…beautiful! Very classy and I didn’t want to touch anything and for some reason I kept whispering! It’s that sort of room. Very nice and plush and posh. Now it’s full of bicycle tourist and I’m sure if it could groan and roll its eyes it would!
We headed out for some roaming to look around Portsmouth and once again found ourselves exploring a new place in the cold and pouring rain! Why oh why do we get this weather?! It seems the only times we’ve had nice weather (twice in three months) have been times we haven’t been riding and have had a stop in a city (Seville – we stopped riding and stayed a few days and had shorts and t-shirt weather and Paris – we stopped riding and stayed for few days and had shorts and t-shirt weather!). Whenever we’re on the bikes or arriving in a new place for a short stop, we’ve had wind, rain or cold! Are the weather gremlins trying to send us a message?! Nonetheless, we wandered down to the harbour, strolled along the waterfront and into Old Portsmouth. We saw some lovely, “very English” houses and buildings and of course, the classic English pebble beach.
We also kept walking on the wrong side of the footpath! Our brains haven’t acclimatised to the switch yet! We also discovered that we may not stay in England for very long because the budget may go into meltdown! Steve felt like a snack, so we stopped at a cafe and Steve had a pastie and a coffee and I had a cup of tea (which was just a plain ol’ Tetley tea bag in hot water) and it was £8.00! About $16.00 for a pastie, a tea bag and a cup of coffee! We may just have to go back and live in Portugal for the rest of the year to let the budget recover, either that or we start washing windscreens at the traffic lights! We also had another attempt at finding trousers for Steve and went to half a dozen stores, with no success – too short, too tight, too loose…the search continues!
So we are now on English soil, with another country before us to explore, discover its stories, roam its towns, villages and cities, climb its hills and ride out its weather! More adventures await! More challenges to be faced! More gems and pearls to be found! I wonder what’s around the corner…?