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Okay, so 14 hours was a bit of an overestimate. The flight time from Kuala Lumpur to Heathrow was a mere 10 hours. We left about half an hour late and arrived in Heathrow this morning at 05:20 British Summer Time.
As tired as we were after the first flight, this one was basically just an effort to get some semblance of sleep so that we would be able to face a full day of activity before crashing into bed tonight. The dinner meal on the flight was ocean perch for me, and some sort of tortellini for M., but she wasn't up to eating much.
We dozed on and off in our seats - thankful for the extra leg-room afforded by the bulkhead row. Neither of us noticed the delivery of a mid-flight snack - I just noticed it stuffed into my magazine holder when I looked later on.
In the middle of the night we saw the lights of the city of Ashkhabad in Turkmenistan pass by. By the time we reached Ukraine the sky was lightening with the dawn. We passed over Poland, northern Germany, and the Netherlands, before crossing the Channel and spotting the Thames estuary and London itself waking up to a clear June morning.
We landed at Heathrow and proceeded through immigration and on to collect our bags. Signs indicated foodstuffs could be quarantined by Customs, so we went through the red channel and asked a friendly official about M.'s tube of Vegemite, and he just grinned and waved us through. A turn around the corner and we were out in the external terminal area.
M. needed a decent coffee after the flight, so we stopped off at a coffee shop, sitting in comfy armchairs for a while. It was only at this point that I looked at the Lonely Planet for the first time and tried to work out a destination for us to drive to today. I wanted somewhere south-west of Heathrow, not too far away, because I didn't want to drive far on close to no sleep for the past 36 hours, and with something interesting there. A quick flip through the book brought me to Hampshire and the town of Winchester, which has a famed cathedral. So with that we settled our final destination for the day.
After a toilet stop at the terminal, we went to collect our hire car. The woman at the Avis counter was very helpful and did various things to get us into a slightly better car than the model we'd booked. After a few minutes there, we had to go out to the street and wait for an Avis courtesy bus to take us out to the main Avis drop-off and collection point outside the terminal area proper.
Once there, we proceeded to have a multi-barrelled debacle as the car we thought we had turned out to have the wrong registration number by one letter, and then it was taken from us and given to another couple while we were left hanging. Guys were running around like chooks with heads cut off, trying to get us into a car, with varying degrees of success, until we agreed to take a free upgrade to a Mercedes C180K SE. A big sign on the office stated that you would be in your car and driving away within 3 minutes of arriving at the depot. We were there for something like 30 minutes.
The car was scary to get used to, with a cruise control lever where the blinkers ought to be and no readily apparent parking brake at all! (I eventually discovered it was the bizarre foot lever on the left side of the driver footwell, by consulting the car's manual the first time we actually wanted to park.) We drove out of the rental place with barely an idea of what direction to head in, and only made any progress when we spotted signs pointing to Staines and I recognised the name as that of a place vaguely south of Heathrow. By following those signs and studiously avoiding anything that said London, we soon found ourselves away from the airport and tootling through some rural suburbs.
When we reached Staines it was time to stop for some map consultation. Unfortunately, parking places were tricky to find! After ending up in a dead end that led to a private company car park, we eventually found a Mercure hotel and a spot in their guest car park, while we went into reception and asked for directions. By this time, we knew we vaguely wanted either the A30 or M3 south-west. The guy at the reception desk pointed us to the M25 south, which would take us to the M3 junction.
Following his directions, we indeed got to the M25. But it looked like a car park itself, with traffic banked up as far as we could see and not moving at all. At the very last possible moment, before merging into this stationary nightmare, I spotted a sign promising the A30 to Bagshot - a bizarre name I recognised from my earlier perusal of the map as being vaguely in the right direction. Taking this blessed escape from the horror of the M25, we ended up on a pleasant country road with little traffic and heading in the right direction!
A little way along we got a bit hungry, so when we spotted signs pointing to shopping centre parking in the town of Camberley, we stopped in. We parked in a modern new centre, ending up paying £1.50 for the privilege when we left. While there we walked out past a cinema and some closed restaurants into a large and very new shopping mall which stretched on forever. Despite the shops being open after 09:00, there were virtually no other people around at all. We almost suspected it was a public holiday.
After looking fruitlessly for something quick to eat, M. asked a lady if there was a bakery nearby. The woman pointed us out to the High Street just outside a door of the mall and said there was one right across the street. We went across and found a delightful little bakery full of breads, cakes, pies, and other goodies. Despite being quite small, about half a dozen ladies were working there and each in turn asked us if we needed help. Eventually we bought a scone for M. and a Cornish pasty for me, which was hot and delicious. M. says the scone was very nice, very buttery.
We stopped off in Sainsbury's in the mall on the way back to the car to get some fresh fruit and a bottle of water. Then we returned to the car and found our way back to the A30 south-west towards Winchester.
The road was interesting in that it was lined almost all the way with dense trees either side - so it was like driving through a tunnel of green through a forest. But occasionally you could see through the screen of trees to houses beyond. It felt like we were passing through densely packed towns and not seeing any of the actual buildings because of the screen of trees.
Following the road was a bit hairy at times, as it passed through numerous roundabouts and the road signs didn't seem to adopt the principle of telling you that you need to go straight ahead to keep on the same road. It was just assumed - but the lack of confirmation that we were choosing the right exit off all these intersections was disconcerting. We attempted to follow directions to towns we knew we should be passing through, but even that failed as we took a wrong turn in a couple of places and had to backtrack a bit.
Eventually we arrived at Winchester, following the main road in from the north. We tried to find somewhere to pull over and check a map, but once in the centre of town, there was no parking along all the streets. We found a pay and display car park and pulled in there. I asked a nearby couple if they could identify our location on the Lonely Planet map and after some fumbling around they eventually located it. We were only a few blocks from the town centre and the tourist office, where we could find and book some accommodation for the night. So we paid for parking the car for an hour and took to the streets on foot.
We soon located the tourist office and a nice young lady there helped us to find the Williams' B&B, on a street across from a park on a hill overlooking the town from the west. This was after some ringing around to about four different places that were either full or not answering - so getting them to do all the work was worth the £5 booking fee. We walked back to the car and navigated our way through the narrow medieval streets of the town centre to Clifton Road and our accommodation for the night.
There was only street parking, requiring a permit, so after checking in with Mr and Mrs Williams, we parked the car on their driveway behind the car of a friend of theirs who was visiting. The Wiliams - Bert and Jo - are a very friendly couple, about in their 60s. They showed us to our room on the first floor, up a very steep flight of stairs in this old house - one of a set of identical brick row houses that look about 200 years old. There's a second floor above us and also a lower ground floor down another flight of stairs from the ground level front entrance. A glance out our rear-facing window shows we are perched on quite a steep hill and the lower ground floor leads out on to a narrow stretch of garden that falls away steeply to the west.
We have a private bathroom in the room next to us, accessed via the hallway. It contains an enormous cast iron claw-foot bathtub, but no shower facilities. So the first cause of business was to have baths to wash off the grime of roughly 36 hours of travel and change into some fresh clothes. The bath felt very good and it would have been easy to crawl into bed and sleep afterwards, but it was only lunchtime and we needed to stay awake to beat the jetlag.
So after only a brief rest we ventured out on foot to the amazement of Bert and Jo, who thought we might simply fall into bed and sleep. We walked across Oram's Arbour (the park) to where a collection of military museums sits, at the west end of the town centre. Not having much time, we skipped those to concentrate on the Great Hall - part of the remains of Winchester Castle from the 1100s. It contains King Edward I's famed Round Table - a table he had made to recall the legend of King Arthur. The hall was impressively old and large, with stained glass windows depicting various kings and bishops and other people important to medieval Hampshire.
Nearby, a small section of some old Roman walls survived with tunnels showing just how cold a castle could be despite the hot sunshine outside. These led towards the Westgate - one of the original gates of the city - which had a nice view from on top looking straight down the High Street. There were also museum displays inside showing various medieval relics, watched over by a bored looking guy who was reading a book.
Walking down the High Street was amazing, as it was a mix of buildings ranging from the merely 100 years old to half-timbered black and white structures of medieval appearance, all jumbled together and all fitted out with modern shop interiors. One particularly old and impressive building housed a pizza and pasta joint.
Having eaten nothing but our fruit since Camberley, we needed some nourishment. M. got an iced coffee from a coffee shop while I found a place selling about 40 different types of Cornish pasty with different fillings. I picked up a chicken and mushroom one and we continued down the street towards the cathedral.
In front of the cathedral is a grassy area shaded in parts by large trees. The grass was full of what looked like uni students sitting and lying around in small groups enjoying the warmth of the day. We found a shaded bench to sit on while we finished our refreshments and admired the sun on the west-facing entrance to the grand cathedral.
Entering the cathedral, we paid the £6 fee and spent the next hour or two wandering around its cavernous interior, admiring the intricate carvings, the numerous plaques and memorials, and the giant stained glass windows above the entrance. The windows are a random jumble of bits of broken glass from the cathedral's original windows, which were smashed in the Civil War and then reassembled to form the new windows in 1660.
Many stone slabs laid in the floor marked the resting places of various luminaries. One in particular marked the grave of Jane Austen, who died in a house just around the corner from the cathedral. There were also the bones of various saints and lots of interesting sculpture and decoration. We missed a tour of the crypt, but poked our noses in to see a small part of it.
We exited the cathedral about 16:00 and took the short walk to see Jane Austen's last residence, now a private home. A plaque on the wall marked the house, but a hand-written sign on the window affirmed that the home was privately owned and that tourists were not welcome to knock on the door. A bit further on we came to the ruins of Wolvesey Castle - the 12th century residence of the local bishop. These ruined walls were quite sprawling and impressive. From there we headed back to the cathedral to wait for the 17:30 Evensong service, performed by the cathedral choir. We rested again on the lawn in the warm afternoon shade.
Not being familiar with Anglican liturgy, I was under the mistaken impression that the Evensong was more like a choral concert than the actual religious service that it turned out to be. Nevertheless, the choral singing was impressive and worth the time. The choir consisted of boys and men and there were only about two dozen other people in the quire of the cathedral for the service. It finished at 18:15, and we departed to find some dinner.
We went to the Gandhi Indian restaurant on the High Street, across from the tourist office, and were shown into a booth by a guy with an Indian accent much stronger than those we typically hear in Australia. We ordered some vegetable patties and onion pakoras for starters, then dhal and chicken korma with rice, and some peshwari naan for the mains. The food came quickly and was all pretty good, except the chicken was a little tougher than I'm used to in Indian cooking. The dhal was thick was onions and very good.
Dinner done, we ambled slowly west up the hill to our accommodation for the night and turned in early, with the sun still above the horizon at 20:30, to get a solid sleep and be fresh for tomorrow.
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