280. Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas

Dover’s finest

After the travel nightmare/random excitement that had gone on that day (depends how you look at it, really), we realised it had been a while since we had had any food. As we were about to leave the mother country for France, we thought we ought try the finest local cuisine so we could easily compare it to that of the French. In Dover, the finest local cuisine came from the local chippy – the ‘Golden Grill Fish Bar.’

A fine selection

Which classic grey skies and very few remaining pennies and pounds, it was the natural choice. If there’s one thing everyone knows about what the British eat, it is that fish and chips must always come with mushy peas. I had previously worked in Australia with a bunch of English and Irish expats, and had learned another hot tip: curry sauce. Luckily I’d had the fortune of dining with such masters of cuisine at the fine establishment that is Irish Murphey’s in Brisbane, and had learned that curry sauce in the United Kingdom is nothing at all like the vindaloo my former Indian Masterchef flatmate would make. Good thing I went into this experience armed with that knowledge.

Not at all what I was expecting

As it turns out, the curry sauce was a very wise choice, as the mushy peas were every bit as unappetising as one might guess. It was like dipping your chips into pea and ham soup, except that there’s no ham, or any kind of flavouring whatsoever to make it taste of, well, anything. After complaining about this to some English travellers I met later on in Croatia, they informed me that they must be doing it wrong in Dover. I’m not opposed to the idea of giving mushy peas another chance, but I can’t say I’d go out of my way to do so…

Exceptional advertising. Major drawcard right there

279. The Olympic Torch

We’re going to ignore the terrible photo taking skills and the fact that I almost missed the torch and remember I only had a few seconds to get the shot…

In what I’m happy to call at this early stage in my life as the most tolerable travel delay ever, we got stuck in Dover due to the arrival in the UK of the Olympic Torch. There are worse parades to get held up buy, and as we didn’t actually have any pre purchased tickets or accommodation to worry about losing out on, we were happy to stick around and tick this unplanned one-off off the bucket list.

Excitement filled!

It was a stunningly typical English day (read:rainy and grey) which probably helped us navigate to the front of the crowd. For anyone that marvels at the wonders of the torch staying lit over such large distances, each runner actually has their own torch. And it is gas fired. It’s really more like a giant, fancy looking barbeque lighter. We managed to position ourselves right by the “handover” where one incrediblynervous looking boy was standing holding his torch, waiting for the runner to come by. Naturally we heckled until he came over to let us take a photo with it. Win.

“Handover”

Not long after, the kid before him came jogging along, complete with an entourage. And I mean a serious entourage – there was actually a bus following him! As he arrived, he stopped and had a yarn with the other boy, they pressed the wee button on the next torch and off he went. Both of these kids had multiple minders with radios and all sorts telling them want to do and herding them into the bus when they were done. It was all very efficient, though it seems there were probably far more staff than necessary!

Torchbus

Kid #2

As the boy who’d just finished his leg walked toward the bus I overheard the cutest conversation as he was gasping for breath saying “I think that’s the fastest I’ve ever run! My arm was getting sore and normally I would have stopped and had a break, but I think I did OK. Did I do ok? Was I fast enough? I think I was fast enough…” and so on as he dissected all of his leg of the run in great detail. Bless.

278. When Life Became “The Amazing Race”

The task was simple. Fly from Amsterdam to London, pick up campervan, drive through Euro-tunnel to France, begin awesome camping adventure around Europe.

Well, that turned out to be the biggest false assumption of summer. Within about 5 minutes of setting off on this adventure, it had began to be a very difficult mission, and began to resemble an episode of “The Amazing Race.”

The first hurdle was getting to the airport at 5am. As we left with all our packs, waddling down to the tram stop, we waited a wee while for the tram that was supposed to come by to take us to an airport train, but anxiety levels were on the increase. With no trams in sight, it was time for a quick check of travel times, in which we decided our plans were probably far too ambitious and we weren’t likely to make it to the airport. Time for a Detour, or maybe a fast forward, depending on how you look at it! We opted to grab a taxi, though the next hurdle was finding one at 5am on a weekday in the suburbs! We spotted a hotel down the road and asked the concierge to call us one. I don’t think he saw us walking in the door so probably assumed we were staying there, which proved handy, as he started carrying our bags around! When the taxi driver arrived, he was definitely on the conservative side with his estimate of the distance to the airport, which made for an anxious ride, but in the end we made it just in time, and the price was less than that of a new flight.

Once at the airport, a bit of a “road block” as he dropped us in completely the wrong place! A bit of sprinting around like headless chickens later we managed to get to our check-in desk in the nick of time.

Once arriving in London (with a major grilling at customs, despite heading back out of the country less than 24 hours later!), the next task was navigating through the underground system and finding the rental company. The underground was a total mess, as they completed the last of the pre-olympics works. The timetables were pretty much no help at all, and we took forever, getting beached at a few stations to finally get where we wanted to go. Once we eventually got to the right station, we were really in the middle of nowhere. Once again waddling around with all our bags,  trying to find a street sign so we could correctly orientate our terrible map!

Finally, around midday, we found the tiny, barely marked office of ‘Spaceships UK’ and went through a very long process of paperwork, and probably really annoyed the poor man as we asked a million questions and got them to show us everything from how to set up all the awnings etc to how to check the oil. Better safe than sorry! To be fair, they also left as waiting as they were trying to add a whole bunch of stickers with their logo etc to the van and slogans like “traveller’s adventures.” We had a bit of a debate with them over that, saying “Don’t you think that kind of screams out ‘rob me I’m a tourist’?” As they assured us it would be fine, we eventually got them to cut back on some of the tacky branding. We later learned we probably should have been a bit more adamant on that front…

Next stop, driving. As I pulled out of the carpark and set off, it was incredibly stressful – who would have thought that only 6 months of driving on the right side of the road would cause me to have to think twice about everything when driving on the left! So we switched drivers – Claire would drive on the left, and I’d take over when we were on the right in France!

What should have been a simple drive down to Dover also turned out to be quite complex! When I’d looked up prices to get over to France, the Eurotunnel and ferry were about the same, so we opted for the tunnel as it was faster. After plugging it into the GPS, we then discovered she was pretty free and easy with her direction giving, often telling us to turn left after we’d gone past etc. We got there in the end, only to find out that even though it is a tunnel, you actually have to book in a time to drive across and purchase tickets in advance, or they go up in price. Who would have thought? Though of course it took a long time to work this out, as we pulled up to a whole bunch of unmanned gates that did everything electronically. After literally driving around in circles we managed to find one where we could press a button and ask for help, and a woman appeared from God knows where. After informing us of the rules, she then told us it would cost almost £250 to drive through the tunnel and the next opening wasn’t for another few hours! Ummm no thanks.

So we opted to take the detour down to the ferry, and hope we could get on one that night. As we neared the town of Dover and the harbour, there were actual roadblock and detour signs everywhere, and the odd one that simply said “Event !” We had no idea what was going on, but we couldn’t get to the ferry. We decided to head toward the town, find a petrol station and ask what was going on. As we got closer there was a lot more sign-age and advertising and we realised that the olympic torch was arriving off the ferry, touching down in the UK for the first time. Well we could hardly be annoyed at being held up if it meant we had the opportunity to see the Olympic torch! So we parked up and headed in to town to join the crowds and check it out. It was about 6pm by this stage.

Once all the crowds dispersed, we head to the harbour and tried to investigate the ferry. We definitely had some deja vu as we drove around a massive complex, following arrows and lanes and signs, having to go through what I like to call “car customs” where they looked around with torches to make sure we weren’t smuggling drugs or illegal immigrants, walked through a huge empty office complex and finally found a little wee building before we could even enquire about tickets, let alone get on a ferry. Luckily the different companies had desks in the same building, and we managed to get a ticket to the 9pm ferry. The whole day had been cold, miserable and rainy, we’d been up since 5am, and finally at 11pm we touched down on French soil!

The next problem, which we’d been a bit preoccupied to work out, was where to park up and sleep. We decided to head into the town centre of Calais, and we found a big, well lit car-park  Problem was there were some bars around, and we didn’t fancy the safety factor of trying to sleep where there were drunks about! There was some sign-age to a campsite/campervan park so we headed there and at last we could relax. Definitely made us think a bit of advanced planning of where to actually sleep each night was a very good idea!

All in all a marathon of a day, including 3 countries, 4 cities, a taxi ride, a flight, 5 trains, and a ferry ride. I just wish there was a prize! Getting a photo with the Olympic torch was a good bonus though I suppose…