Monday, 19 November 2018

The Leafy Suburbs

Through London by train to the edge of Kent

I have now been to see the new, spacious London Bridge station and finally, years after my daughter moved to Orpington, been there by train. Every previous trip has needed me to take the car for one reason or another but this time, to meet our new grandson, we could go by rail. And it was really rather simple! And, once out of London, a lot more scenic than the Thames estuary which we pass on the road trip.

The route is straightforward enough: up (or is it "down"?) to London the usual way, then across London to London Bridge station for one of the frequent fast trains to Orpington; returning the same way and trying to get a decent connection to Stamford and home.

Tickets are the issue here: with only a vague idea of the timing of the birth (as ever) we could not buy tickets far in advance, and so we had to choose our trains carefully to get decent fares. Mercifully the best train back had cheap First Class seats left, and we were able to find one there that was not too bad. Once in London we used our Oysters, which are linked with our Senior Railcards, to get about, taking us all the rest of the way to Orpington and back - with the daily fare cap. This is far cheaper than buying through return tickets all the way, although it does not include First Class on the trains in London, of course.

We took a mid-morning train from Stamford to Peterborough and then had just a few minutes' connection there for our LNER train to London. Although our seats were reserved in coach L, we moved on to coach M where there were many empty seats (and less smell of other people's delicious breakfasts!). We were served coffee, fruit juice and toast for this short inter-city trip and on arrival at Kings Cross made our way across the road to St Pancras International - we did not go straight to our next train, though, but called first of all at Fortnum and Mason where we replenished our stock of St Pancras Blend tea, available only from their St Pancras shop. We rather like it and every time we have a cup of tea we are reminded of our travels - especially as the teapot was bought at the Tate St Ives art gallery on one of our early rail tours!

And so to the "cellar" platforms for the Thameslink train to London Bridge. This was my first trip on the new Thameslink trains which are a standard twelve coaches long, so at this time of the day there is plenty of space. They are reputed to have rather too-firm seats but I have to say that it felt all right to me. Whether I would still say that if I were travelling all the way to Brighton on one I cannot say, of course. It is now possible to get a Thameslink train through from Peterborough to London Bridge without having to change, and the standard class off-peak fare is very cheap, but it is much slower than LNER, stopping frequently, and carries no catering: as so often, you get what you pay for. 

At London Bridge we left the platform by lift down to the new concourse which now links all of the platforms, enabling much easier changes of train. This used to be such a difficult and worn-out place but is now quite a pleasant, although still busy, station. We found a train whose first stop was Orpington and which was due to leave in one minute - we dashed to the platform just a tad too late to see the doors closing as the train dispatcher sent it on its way. The next, though, was on the adjacent platform in only ten minutes' time, so it was not a big deal. I have to say that when we were there every train was on time: off-peak this is often the case, but in busy times it only takes one small thing to go wrong and everything soon fouls up. Simply taking too long to get everyone on the train can cause multiple delays in places like this.

The ride to Orpington was great: views of the rooftops of east London, with distant views of the City and of Canary Wharf, to begin with, and then out into the suburbs the bigger houses and trees. Thousands upon thousands of trees, and this is autumn so the colours were gorgeous - two weeks earlier would have been better, but they were still good now. At one point we could see nothing but trees either side! Come winter there will be houses among them, but for now just the tree canopy.

We left Orpington station on the side where the taxis wait and took a cab to the family's home. We had a shopping trolley with us (yes, really! No, not the sort supermarkets have, the two-wheeled sort for taking things home.) because we were taking Lincolnshire sausages, potatoes and vegetables to cook lunch for our sleep-deprived daughter and son-in-law as well as gifts for the new grandchild from various Lincolnshire and Peterborough family members. We asked the cabbie for his business card and then called him when it was time to leave, walking back onto the station just as a train for London Bridge was arriving at the platform - brilliant! 

Darkness was falling now and we could see little. At London Bridge we made our way to the Thameslink platform for a train back to St Pancras and met someone we knew from Stamford. She was waiting for one of the through stopping trains direct to Peterborough which left several minutes after the one we took, so we said our farewells after a few minutes' chat and then we had a little time to wait at Kings Cross in the First Class Lounge before our train. I find the Lounge a rather depressing place, actually, although it does beat standing on the concourse. There are free nibbles and (non-alcoholic) drinks but there is no variety from visit to visit and the d├ęcor is "Virgin" red which is not as restful as you might expect a lounge to be. 

Soon our train was indicated and we made our way to the platform, this time our reserved seats were fine and we settled in the for the trip home. This time we were served sandwiches, crisps and cake with beer and wine as well as hot drinks. The train made a very neat connection with East Midlands Trains' extra little service to Stamford, noisier and less spacious than the usual Cross Country Turbostar, but if we were to be late and miss it, the next Cross Country one is only about twenty minutes later, very handy. But we were not late and did catch it and then took another taxi home from Stamford station. A great family day, and a great train ride, too, partly on a route new to us.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Forthcoming Holidays and Trips

Next year's programme of train trips in the UK and Europe takes shape

Already booked for next year are one holiday in Switzerland with Great Rail Journeys and one short break with Statesman Rail, with a handful of other short breaks under consideration and a plan coming together for a west country holiday, together with our usual few days in Sussex in the summer. How can I manage all this time off, you might ask; today I announced that at the end of January next year I shall be retiring and so for now, at least, we shall travel a bit. I need, I think, to make "the list" a real physical item and not just something vaguely washing about in my head.

In addition am currently planning another little outing for local people this December. Details of these group outings can be found by choosing the "Come with me" tab to the top right of this pane, and the plan this time is to travel to Birmingham for Christmas shopping, during the time of the Birmingham German Market, the largest in the UK. If you live in or near Stamford and are interested in coming on any of these little outings, do have a look at the "Come with me" page and sign up to the mailing list so that I can keep you informed about plans. I intend to do at least another two of these in 2019, possibly more.

Meanwhile trips to London are proliferating now that two more grandchildren have been born there. So we are kept on the move!

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

A Lesson in Cocktail Making

Essential train travel!

Last Christmas I was given a couple of vouchers for a public cocktail-making class at TT Liquor in London. Although we visited London a fair number of times this year it took until October to fit in the visit to TT Liquor, which is on Dalston Road in Shoreditch, not a part of town we often visit (in fact, I think I've been just once before). This is, of course, just the sort of thing for public transport, for driving after making and tasting four cocktails (and drinking the one with which we were welcomed to the session) is not recommended! The public sessions are held on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons so I checked availability online and telephoned to book us into one on a date we could make and then set about buying train tickets. We allowed plenty of time before (to ensure we did not miss it) and afterwards (to ensure that we were fit and well). We caught to 08:00 from Stamford, travelling Standard Class on this section of the route, and then changed trains at Peterborough to travel First Class to London, and wait of just a few minutes. We had a very smooth and easy ride to Kings Cross with the light Saturday breakfast served as soon as we left Peterborough.

On arrival in London we caught a bus to Bethnal Green, for we had decided to spend the morning at the Museum of Childhood there, an outstation of the Victoria & Albert, which had recently been refurbished. The bus ride was interesting in itself and involved a change of buses at Ludgate Hill. We saw all that we wanted (all that there is, really!) at the museum and also had a very decent lunch there before taking another bus to Shoreditch for the main event, the Public Masterclass at TT Liquor. The Oyster Card makes this sort of thing so simple, and with our Senior Railcards we get a discount on London transport, too. There was a bit of a walk up Shoreditch High Street before we spotted the venue just after the street becomes Dalston Road.

Using the Mexican Elbow to squeeze fruit
There was a bit of a delay getting started because a delivery had not arrived and staff had to got out and buy the fruit that was needed not only for the public class we were attending but for another event going on at the same time. Eventually we were called through and made ourselves at home in our classroom. There were seven others taking part and two training bars set up facing the teacher's bar at the front, all stocked with the ingredients and equipment we were going to need, some shared with others and some were there was one each. Each bar had a sink for washing, one for waste, one filled with ice cubes and one with crushed ice. We introduced ourselves to each other over the welcome cocktail and heard a bit about what goes on at TT, and then we were into the first lesson which was my favourite cocktail of the whole day, a lychee martini. I'll be able to make them myself because we have been sent by email the recipes for all four of the cocktails we made, although I am not sure I'll be making the zombie which we did last!

There was no hanging about once we got going, quickly preparing the next drink while enjoying drinking the one we had just made, although we did not lose time because of the late start: the class was allowed to overrun so that were were not short of time.

The most helpful thing about the class was not so much the actual recipes but the techniques. I learnt how to shake properly (using a two-part shaker; I have only used the three-part one at home) and the way to prepare mint leaves properly. I may need to look again at ice-making and buy some more equipment ... And having enough fruit juices at is important: if a cocktail is to be refreshing and thirst-quenching it need not be all alcohol!

Tea on the train - not bad for a weekend offering,
smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches
We walked back to Kings Cross. Booked on the 18:18 Leeds train back to Peterborough we had plenty of time. We were open to getting a bus or the Underground but did not need to do so, since there was plenty of time, even to stop for a cup of tea on the way. It was unbelievably sunny and warm for October, about 24 degrees Celsius. As usual we waited in the First Class lounge at the station, and our train was a little late. There had been some sort of hold-up and it came in late from its previous turn. We were not worried by this as we had a long wait for our connection at Peterborough and were in little danger of missing it. Indeed, having had tea and sandwiches on the train, we had time at Peterborough to have another hot drink at the Great Northern Hotel, provided free-of-charge for First Class ticket-holders by LNER. And so the train back to Stamford and a taxi home - after all the walking we had done that seemed like a great way to end the day, and although it was dark by now, it was very warm still and the night was still young.