Walking in Cambridgeshire.

After a slow start this morning (due to spending too much time on the internet as per usual), Luke and I finally grabbed the new map and headed out on foot to explore and practice our navigation skills.

A charming country church.

We walked through little copses and along quiet country roads. We saw a number of cute little rabbits but no pheasants. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned my favourite countryside game of pheasant spotting. Pretty much every time I’m in a car or on a train going through fields I’m looking for pheasants. Even though Andrew says they’re ‘dumb as a brick’ I think they’re extremely pretty – like birds of paradise, really. They also tend to stand in places where they’re easy to spot (as would I if I looked as good as them). Luke will tell you, should you ever ask, how ridiculously excited I get whenever I see one – and because I’m in a car or on a train there’s almost never time for anyone else to see them too so it’s also like they’re my secret. Which is all beside the point because I didn’t see any today. Boo.

So many trees covered in blossoms.

We initially headed for a nearby village called Dry Drayton but there was nowhere to get lunch so we headed to the next village, where the pub wasn’t serving meals and didn’t even have packets of chips for sale (criminal!) but the guy behind the bar gave us instructions to get to a shop half an hour away. So we walked. And walked. And walked and came across one of those stretches of road that goes on forever, has no footpaths and lots of traffic. We continued along for a while, alternately stepping in mud and almost being knocked into a ditch, before getting quite cranky. At that point, fortunately, we spotted a path that went off between some fields and was signposted as ‘Cambridge 3 miles’.

After a short stretch in which we were encouraged by the signage to stay on the path rather than get shot into a million pieces due to the paddocks on either side being a military firing range (and we could hear them firing), we came across the charming village of Coton. We stopped at the pub and ate some generous tapas portions before heading on to Cambridge and then catching the bus back to Bar Hill.

Blossom trees everywhere!

A not-too-shabby 17kms in total. It felt really, really good to walk a decent distance for the first time this trip.

Almost at the end!

Several lessons were learned today.

Firstly, pack food and water. Feeling compelled to buy whatever is on offer simply because there are no other options is less than ideal.

Secondly, stay on the map. When we took the directions from the guy at the pub they led us off the map and we both felt more anxious.

Thirdly, plan ahead if deciding to stop for a break – make sure the place will be open and serving food if that is what is planned.

Lastly, get off our lazy butts and leave the house before lunchtime. I used to get up before 6am to go walking… what’s happened to me?!

Possibly the biggest disappointment of the day – apparently we’ve missed the opportunity to see some Morris dancing. Shame.

Embarrassing Confessions of the Financial Kind.

But first..

The view from a bridge over the river Cam.

Yesterday Luke and I caught the bus into Cambridge (we’re in a little suburb that’s out along a freeway) and our first stop was a camping store to find an OS map. Now, even though Luke assures me that there is barely a handful of people in this world who are as interested in maps as I am, I’m going to explain that an OS map is an Ordnance Survey map. They were created by the army to help defend England in the 18th century by accurately mapping the south of England.

And when the army said they were going to ‘accurately map’ they didn’t muck around. OS maps are incredible. They have *everything*. They show every dirt track that is open to the public, small groups of trees (and differentiate between coniferous and non coniferous) and buildings, four kinds of rocky ground, about 30 types or buildings… it’s amazing and incredibly useful.

Not to mention hilarious.

One of the things I like most about England is that there are public footpaths pretty much everywhere. In Australia you just wouldn’t think to walk across fields (usually because there’s barbed wire to negotiate, deadly animals,  it’d take all day and there’s cars for goodness sake) but here it’s only a kilometre or two to the next village and the most direct route is through a farm, between two fields, past the pond and up a lane. It helps that it’s just so darn pretty too.

England is made for walking. Later in our visit I’m hoping to tick something off my bucket list by walking across England via Hadrian’s Wall, 80 miles of scenic countryside where Scotland and England meet. We’re going to cheat slightly and use a porter company that takes our bags from hotel to hotel while we do the walking in between. Pretty much my ideal way to get around.

But back to yesterday. We bought two OS maps, one for Cambridge and the other for Bar Hill and decided, since it was starting to rain, to head along the river to the Green Dragon a couple of kilometres away. The Green Dragon is a wattle and daub building that has been a hotel since medieval times. When I first moved to Cambridge Andrew and I lived just around the corner from it. They used to do the most epic Sunday roasts you could possibly imagine but the menu is a lot more generic these days and their lawn down to the river was being dug up by a gas company. A shame, but it was a nice walk anyhow and lunch was cheap.

We walked back into town and did some shopping before catching the bus back to Bar Hill. I’d promised to make chilli for dinner so we bought ingredients and also a phone card to finally solve our bank issues. Feel free to skip the next bit unless you’re fascinated by tales of ineptitude. Anyone who knows what I’m like with money will not be in the least surprised.

Before we left Australia we decided that we’d deal with our finances in the following way:

  1. Cash: we’d spend from a shared pool of money. This has worked pretty well since we’re eating, traveling and staying together all the time. Much, much easier than splitting every single meal and hotel etc. I took out $1000 AUD each in baht, euros, pounds and US dollars before we left and Luke paid me for half or it. Then when we need to top up we get out cash in turns.
  2. Cards: I have three cards –  one 28 Degrees credit card that has no international fees and no interest if paid off within the month, and my regular NAB credit and debit cards. Luke has a 28 Degrees credit card, another credit card and a travel card.
  3. I’d record all our spending in my diary. So far we’ve written down nearly every cent we’ve spent but I haven’t yet tallied it all up yet. Our first 9 days in Thailand came to $120 a day each and we stayed in a 5 star resort for most of it, so not a bad effort.
  4. Budgeting: we are aiming for an average of $100 (not including flights) a day.

Our only issue so far has been with our cards. It takes 3 days for any money moved to Luke’s travel card to show up so we’ve had to plan ahead and keep an eye on when it’s getting low. The travel card has been our main source of extra cash because (to no one’s surprise, particularly my own) I’ve lost my debit card somewhere along the way and don’t have the pin numbers for my other two credit cards (yes. I know). To explain (sort of), I pretty much exclusively use my debit card or cash when I’m at home and only use my credit card online and, somehow, the need for a pin didn’t occur to me until we left. Luke (much more surprisingly since he is actually good with money and keeping track of stuff like that) also didn’t have the pin for his credit card.

On top of all this we had the added problem of sms id on my accounts, which means I can’t transfer large amounts of money without a code that is sent to my Australian phone number, and Luke’s bank changing their operations in a manner that was difficult to resolve from overseas and caused him to be unable to access one of his accounts.

So, between our stupidity and banks changing their rules we’ve been mildly inconvenienced and we couldn’t sort it out until we got to the UK because we were either out of phone range or didn’t know where to get international calling cards. Luke has an international sim in his phone but the rates are extortionate and there was no way we wanted to be several dollars a minute to be kept on hold for god knows how long.

To cut an extremely long and boring story slightly shorter, we bought a phone card that is a few pence a minute to Australia and we called our banks and sorted everything out. At no point have we been without money, and we have been able to use our cards to buy tickets and pay for hotels and meals so it’s been ok, I just prefer to have as many options as possible when it comes to paying for things.

I suppose the lesson in all this is that it’s good to have multiple cards and multiple accounts just in case and it’s good to travel with someone who makes up for what you lack.

Cambridge

I lived in Cambridge in 2002 and coming back has been a trip down the proverbial memory lane. We haven’t actually been into town yet and I’m curious to discover how sharp my memories of the place are. Just being with Andrew and the whole Englishness of the suburb he’s living in is almost like déjà vu.

Last night we went to a lovely country pub owned by Andrew’s former boss and met up with a bunch of his workmates, quite a few of whom I’d met years ago. It was like a window into what life would have been like if I’d stayed. If the food at the pub was anything to go by I’d definitely be a lot fatter. Chicken, camembert and cranberry pie – so good!

The pub was called The Golden Ball and it was everything a pub should be. Lots of wood paneling and red carpet, a fire was going and there was the constant hum of conversation. There were even little pots of original edition Trivial Pursuit cards on each table. Sitting there, with a group of nice, funny people my age was just so comfortable.

We stayed til nearly midnight then Andrew decided to leave his car and a friend of his, Andrea, kindly gave us a lift home. We fell (gently) onto our air mattresses and had a solid night’s sleep.

….ooo000ooo….

This morning we walked back to the pub to pick up Andrew’s car. It was a beautiful hour or so’s walk through the countryside. We saw horses, a prize winning village and many daffodils. We couldn’t help but remark on how much better it was than walking in Slovakia, what with the easily-identifiable path and signposts and the general lack of snakes.

We decided to stop back into the pub for a quick drink and then drove into Cambridge where it was raining then sunny then raining then sunny and altogether quite like Melbourne. Everything looked pretty much as I remembered it. Including the hordes of people clogging the footpaths.

Luke got a long-overdue haircut, Andrew and I bought lollies at the market and then repaired to a charming, old-school pub for drinks. I found two ciders on tap that I hadn’t tried before and had a half pint of each before Luke came back.

 

We went for a wander around the city centre and now we’re back home at Andrew’s thinking about what to have for dinner and what our plans are going to be for the next week. Everything hinges on hearing back from Matt and whether we’ll have a car or not.

Bratislava to Cambridge – a quick update.

We left rainy Bratislava at 10am after an inordinately expensive taxi ride (when will I learn to look for a meter right away?!) to the airport and then the expected undignified crush to get onto the non-allocated Ryanair flight. Crammed together like sardines, we were at least grateful that the flight was only 2 and a half hours.

Stansted airport was bathed in glorious sunshine when we got there and after a long wait in a short line at customs we emerged, ready to give Matt a big hug and head to the nearest pub for a pint and a catch up. No Matt at the arrivals gate so we waited. And waited. And waited. Luke tried to call, sent messages to no avail. We’d spoken to Matt only the week before to confirm that he was picking us up so we started to get worried, both for his sake and ours. After a couple of hours and considering plans of hiring a car, heading to Nottingham by coach or catching the train into London and staying at a hostel, I realised that my friend (and former housemate when I lived in the UK) Andrew wasn’t too far away. We called him and he offered to come pick us up, which was amazingly generous, and was with us in half an hour. Thank god Cambridge is so close to Stansted!

We were overjoyed at Andrew’s arrival – he’s such a champ. He’s just bought his own place so we’re staying there for the moment and working out what we’re doing. This coming week was supposed to be a long drive along the south coast with the car that Matt was buying but we still haven’t heard from him. My guess is he’s either mixed up the dates or he’s had some sort of accident on the road and couldn’t reach us.

Hopefully we’ll find out what happened soon, but until then we’re hanging out at Andrew’s doing internet stuff, eating ridiculously cheap cheese from the omg-huge Tesco across the way. Apparently the third largest in the UK. It’s seriously the size of an aircraft hanger and just as charming.

…..oo00oo…..

To jump forward in time, since I wrote the above Matt called us to say that he thought we were arriving tomorrow and he feels awful about getting mixed up and hopefully will have acquired a car by the end of the weekend.

Fingers crossed! Now we’re off to the pub.