Tuesday 16 November 2021

Starting the Christmas Shopping

 By train to Leicester

Stamford, the town where I live, has some excellent shops and we seldom have to leave it for shopping, Christmas shopping included, but one thing we do lack is a department store and when it comes to seeking inspiration for gifts there is nothing quite like looking at a wide variety of possibilities under one roof. In addition there were a couple of things we needed for ourselves which we had failed to find in town, so the time had come to try elsewhere. In the past we had generally visited Peterborough, just thirteen train minutes away, or a free bus ride in my case! But Peterborough no longer has a department store either and the rest of its shops are no better, indeed perhaps not quite as good, as Stamford's. We thought we'd try Leicester which we've never used for shopping although we have been there for days out occasionally.

I booked tickets on Cross Country's Train Tickets app including seat reservations on the outward journey and on one of the busiest trains back just in case we needed to use a busy train, but with every intention of catching an earlier one if we were finished before the peak travel time. As we crossed the bridge to the westbound side of the station to catch our train it occurred to me that we had not been this way togethe since last summer's trip to Dorset with our granddaughter. Such has been the pandemic that the things we had been used to doing, like a visit to Leicester or Birmingham or beyond had just not been happening. So here was our "reset" day for travelling west!

The train was on time and the journey smooth. We had decided that the first thing we would do on arrival was find a coffee shop and have coffee, and behold, opposite the station was the Merchant of Venice Italian coffee shop, so that was where we went, acknowledging the statue of Thomas Cook, founder of the escorted railtour, as we passed. We greeted the staff in Italian as we walked in, having been in Venice not long before, and held a short conversation with one of them. We later found out that he was not Italian but had thought that we were because we greeted him in that language! I am not sure where he was from but we did find out that his colleague was Greek; such is multicultural Leicester! An Italian coffee shop with a William Shakespeare theme run by a Greek ...

And so off to the shops, including Blunts shoe shop near the station and coffee shop, an enormous footwear emporium (this one run by Asian people) with more shoes, boots, slippers and sandals - plus some bags, socks and stockings - than you can imagine. Then to John Lewis, now sadly absent from both Peterborough and Birmingham. There is one in Cambridge, but I think Leicester is nearer and unless you especially need books or academic dress then the rest of Leicester's shopping is probably more useful than Cambridge, too ... and the station is in the city centre, no bus required. The weather forecast had been for rain all day; we never let that put us off and had set out in mackintoshes and hats but in the event there was the faintest drizzle from time to time and I never really needed the hat which ended up in one of the shopping bags for the whole day. Our experience has generally been that we should never let the weather interfere with our plans unless the Met Office issues a warning - it is seldom as bad as forecast.

We achieved all that we needed to do in plenty of time and decided to return to the Merchant of Venice for lunch and then take the next train home, the 15:12. Lunch was great, with suitable Italian dishes and drinks, and then, laden with rather more baggage than we brought with us in the morning, we made our way to the station. Arriving at the station we were disappointed to see that our train was rather late - it did not really matter much except that we were stuck there on the platform just waiting for it. Still, at least Leicester is a fairly busy station with trains coming and going, so it was not too boring. The delay to our train slipped a bit more and a bit more, but then it started making up a little bit which was heartening. We never did find out what the problem had been: it was not mentioned in the announcements (which are automated on East Midlands Railway stations) nor by the train manager on board, and all the other trains had been on time. I cannot remember when I last travelled on a late train with no apology or explanation, probably the 1970s when most trains were not equipped with public address systems! It was not ever so late, about 12 minutes by the time we got to Stamford, and we were an hour or two earlier than we might have been anyway.

It had been a good day, and we decided that in future, on the odd occasions we needed a city for shopping, Leicester will be the place for us. And I noticed that in the event that we need to stay, there is a Premier Inn very near the station.

And now to start writing the Christmas Cards!

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