Homeward Bound

My trip to the UK was long overdue. My mission was clear; to see my parents and to bring back as many things as I could fit into two suitcases

My friend Paweł came along for “the ride”. The long journey started with a bus trip to the train station. Trains seem to move slower in Poland than they do in England. Gazing out of the windows is one of my favourite pastimes when travelling by train. Countryside, countryside and more countryside, interspersed with houses typical of the Polish countryside, ie no two the same. I was suitably impressed with the names of the stations “Tunel”, “Niedzwiedz” (Bear). Maybe I just wasn’t being attentive enough, but I don’t recall seeing either a tunnel or a bear.

At the airport I heard something that I was able to experience something that I hadn’t experienced for quite a while. Instead of just understanding discrete words of overheard conversation I could understand absolutely everything. Quite a few other Brits seemed to be heading home too.

As we boarded the plane it started snowing in earnest. Luckily, the flight was uneventful, even though it was Friday the 13th. At the UK end it was a blissfully short 25 minute train ride from Gatwick to Brighton. Taking the taxi from the station to my house I noticed many changes, shops and restaurants changing hands. Approaching my house I noticed a major change to the landscape, the so-called Brighton Eye.

The first evening out in Brighton was a chance for me to be reunited with my beloved cider and for Paweł to try various sorts of exotic ales. We avoided the gay bars and headed to The Font (a church converted into a pub) to have a drink with Magda, a woman whom I’d only previously known via the internet. Then we headed to Latest Music Bar for some live music and more overpriced drinks.

Saturday was to be a day of being sociable and going to see my family. There are two basic choices when it comes to getting to my home town. There is the so-called fast road to Eastbourne, the A27. In rush hour it’s anything but fast. But, in the evening or late at night, it provided a very fast way or getting to/from my friend’s house in Pevensey.

The coast road is altogether more scenic. A road I had commuted along, driven along for joyrides with dates or just simply cruised along to see friends and family in Eastbourne. On, this occasion, we took the bus. Normally I would only take the bus in exceptional circumstances, namely excessive alcohol intake or to drop the car off to have some work done on it. I had planned for us to take the bus to the top off the cliffs at Beachy Head rising 180metres or so above sea level, from where we would walk down to the beach, taking in some spectacular scenery along the way. Unfortunately the bus that would drop us at the right place only runs on Sundays, so a slight change of plan was need.

I felt like a tour guide on the bus trip, pointing out key points on the bus route. “This is where I had my first date with Kasia”, “This is where I took here after the car got a flat tyre that same evening”. Of course there were other girls that had accompanied me along the coast road.

So, after arriving in Eastbourne town centre we got the taxi to Holywell and our little hike commenced, leading us along the cliff edge then down the cliffside path down to the beach at Cow Gap for some lunch. Now, who says us Brits don’t do interesting place names? Cow Gap deserves a 5-star interestingness rating for its name. Is it really accessible to cows? The path with steep steps which you have to get there seems more suitable for mountain goats. And, as for Holywell, (pronounced Holly Well) was there really a holy well there?

After having our fill of cheese sandwiches we walked back to our starting point (taking a slightly different route) for a panoramic view over Eastbourne. My brother picked us up and drove us to see Mum and Dad. Then, we headed over to his house for a few cups of tea and more cheese sandwiches.

Sunday was set aside for visiting London, so that Paweł could see the iconic landmarks of London. I hadn’t been to London for a quite a while, so I was quite looking forward to it too. Normally my trips to London involved shopping, art galleries and drinking. This time the objective was to see as many tourist attractions in a short a time as possible. I was prepared for it to be fairly physically exhausting, so I was well prepared; comfortable shoes and a generous supply of cheese sandwiches.

My role as a tour guide continued. Most of the stops on our tourist trail I’d seen before to a greater or less extent. As a child I had queued in line to see to the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. More recently I had sat next to the fountains at the entrance to Buckingham Palace strumming my guitar while taking in the hot summer sun. There were, however, a few new sights for me, such as St Pauls Cathedral, complete with “Occupy” encampment outside, or the Burghers of Calais sculpture in the park next to the Houses of Parliament.

By the end of the afternoon after maybe six hours on our feet we began to tire and took the tube to Piccadilly Circus to see the statue of Eros. Then another tube ride to Hyde Park Corner before walking back to Victoria and getting the train back to Brighton. I spent the last day in England packing, frequently weighing my suitcases to make sure I stayed within the weight allowance. Choosing what to take wasn’t too difficult, I had a list. The most important thing to take was my computer, anything else was just a bonus.

The journey back to Poland didn’t go quite as smoothly as it should. It was a straightforward coach ride to Gatwick (as opposed to the bus/train/shuttle train/shuttle bus trip from home in Kielce to Krakow’s Balice airport). We boarded the plane and the captain soon announced that there would be a slightly delay while we waited for an engineer to sign a piece of paperwork. But, he assured us, we would still arrive on time as weather conditions were favourable. After a while the captain announced that there was a small technical problem. Then the plane started making alarming sounds. The captain made the decision to transfer us to another plane. After fuelling and de-icing we were finally ready to fly. Any time we had saved on the trip to the airport had now been lost. But, at least, we didn’t have to worry about the wings/engine falling off mid-flight.

Back in Poland the snow that we had left behind on the outward journey was still there. And so, nine or ten hours after setting off from Brighton I was able to return to the place (with all its faults and merits) that I now call home.

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The Brighton Eye
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Notwithstanding Brighton Pavillion, this scene is the most photographed site in Brighton
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Cow Gap and Paweł on his way back from the luxurious toilet facilities
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Monty Got A Raw Deal, so says the R.E.M song
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The Burghers of Calais, there is a fascinating story behind this statue
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This sofa looks pretty comfy, on the "beach" near South Bank
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The Occupy camp outside St Pauls
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Suki (in Polish) means bitches. Our visit to Chinatown in Soho fortunately coincided with the forthcoming Chinese New Year celebrations
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The Font, church-turned-pub Brighton

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