Thursday 8 September 2022

Bordeaux and Its Wine

Boarding the Cyrano de Bergerac

The train to Bordeaux from Biarritz on Thursday afternoon was a regional train which stopped at several places en route to Bordeaux. Given the length of time that it would take all the party with their suitcases to leave the train it was great to know that the train terminated at Bordeaux so that we could take our time getting off. We were met by a coach at the station and driven to the riverside quay where our cruise ship awaited, the MS Cyrano de Bergerac. Already aboard were the members of the other group from Biarritz who had been travelling Second Class and had gone on an earlier train, and three other groups: a Second Class and a First Class rail travelling group and a group that had arrived by air, all of them arranged by Great Rail Journeys. Andrew our Tour Manager handed over to Judy the Cruise Manager and said farewell; we would meet him again in a few days' time for our journey back to London. The ship was operated by CroisiEurope with whom we had never travelled before, and from now on nearly all of our meals were provided on the ship, with wine included at dinner. We were taken to our cabin and unpacked, then there was a welcome cocktail in the bar, an introduction to the crew and a briefing on the following day's activities by our Cruise Manager. The cabin was not quite as well-appointed as on the Amadeus ships we'd used on the Danube and the Rhine but it was comfortable and had effective air-conditioning and a great shower.

After the briefing came the first of our three-course dinners with wine. Delicious and sustaining. For now at least the "Biarritz" group members seemed to remain with people they'd met in Biarritz although we were outnumbered by people who had not met anyone else until they joined the ship that day. The ship stayed in Bordeaux all that night and we had a reasonable night's sleep undisturbed by movement.

Cadillac and the first wine tastings

The next morning, Saturday, at breakfast we "sailed" (that's the word they use, even though we were quite clearly motoring on the river) for Cadillac, a very small town on the river Garonne. The town was built in the days when this region, Aquitaine, was ruled by England and was a "bastide'" a planned new town of its day, built on a grid street pattern with a market place at its centre and surrounded by a defensive wall. We were taken on a guided tour of the town and introduced to its local sweet Sauternes wine which we were able to sample at the Office de Tourisme at the end of the tour. After the guided tour we had a short additional tour of our own around the few other streets and then returned to the ship with everyone else for lunch. 

After lunch as the ship sailed away back down the Garonne we listened to a lecture on the wines of Bordeaux and tasted three different Bordelais wines, by which time it was time to shower and change for dinner. I learnt a great deal about wines from this lecture but it was but the first of many lessons (and tastings) of Bordelais wines which I would experience on this holiday. 

The MS Cyrano de Bergerac eventually docked at Cussac, not even a hamlet, on the left bank of the Gironde estuary into which the Garonne flows. Again it remained moored overnight. Although there was a quiz in the longe bar that evening, it was time for bed after a busy day, especially as there was a relatively early start the next morning.

Vineyard Tours

Sunday's excursion was a real eye-opener for me as someone who enjoys wine but has never before visited such a major wine-producing area. I have to say that since this whole cruise the wine bottle labels will mean so much more to me, in terms of both information and emotion. At 08:30 we set off by coach to tour the Médoc area, between the Gironde estuary and the Atlantic Ocean. It was almost all vineyards. Very, very little else is grown in the region, only grapes. There are villages but the farms are all "châteaux". Actually, a wine château is very seldom a real castle, the strict meaning of "château": any winery which includes living accommodation is called a château in France. On our coach tour we were taught by a local guide Alexandre who told us about the different grape varieties, what is grown on which sort of soil and what style of wine it would produce, who owned the vineyards and how the wines were classified and priced. We ended the coach tour by visiting a small, family-owned organic winery and saw how the wines were made, sampling two vintages of their output. It was good to see the reality on the ground of what we had heard at the previous day's talk on board the ship, and to have our knowledge of grape varieties reinforced by hearing the information again from a different person in different circumstances. All meals were taken on the ship, and we sailed back along the Gironde, taking the eastern branch into the river Dordogne to dock at Libourne, another town founded by the English (originally known as "Leyburn," apparently, after the nobleman who was in charge of its development). We had a little time to explore the town after our arrival but it was so hot that we did not stay out for long.

On Monday morning we were picked up by coach and taken to explore the small town of St Emilion and the surrounding wine-growing region, culminating with a visit to another small independent chateau where the owner (whose grandparents founded the business) described the way he grew the grapes and made the wine, a St Emilion Grand Cru whose price varies from vintage to vintage but is always in tens of Euros per bottle - the better one we tasted was €69, so I don't think I'll be buying many cases ... The town of St Emilion, supposedly founded by the hermit of that name, was fascination and included a monolithic church; that is, a church carved out of one of the limestone hills on which the town is built. It seems to have had a difficult history and has not been used as a church for a very long time now. The contrast between the cold and dark inside the monolithic church and the bright, hot sunshine of the vineyards was especially striking!

Three days, four wine tastings and several lessons about French wine and while not an expert I was beginning to feel that I did know a worthwhile amount now and would be able to envisage the landscape and even have some idea about the people when I read wine labels in future. I am also beginning to feel as if Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine are old friends of mine ....

It's not all about the wine!

Ready for the gala dinner
On Monday evening, while we enjoyed a gala dinner on board, the MS Cyrano do Bergerac left Libourne and sailed during the evening to Royan, on the right bank of the Gironde estuary where the river is indistinguishable from the Atlantic Ocean. The gala dinner was preceded by an aperitif and most of us made some attempt to dress for it, although ti was two days earlier than originally planned.

Arrival at Royan was well after midnight and I woke at one stage to find a landing stage outside the cabin window - we had left the curtains open to enable us to fall asleep with a view of the gibbous moon over the ocean, but I thought that they should be closed now that land was just a few metres away.

Tuesday's excursion was very different from the last three. We were out all day and visited two towns and no vineyards! Lunch was in a hotel restaurant rather than back on the ship and wine was only mentioned in general and in passing by the guides. Eleanor of Aquitaine still figured in the history, though, along with Henry II of England. The first visit was to Rochefort and specifically to the historic dockyard where the French navy's ships used to be built. This included a demonstration of rope-making in the Corderie Royal. If you've seen the ropewalk at Chatham Dockyard in Kent you'll be familiar with the process. Unlike Chatham and Portsmouth, though, there are no historic ships to see at Rochefort. We boarded the coaches once more and took an early lunch (noon) at a hotel in Rochefort: rather rushed but of a very decent standard and with wine included as well as water - back on the ship wine was only included with dinner, not lunch. So ... although we had no wine-tasting this day we had wine with lunch instead. You have to like wine to get the most out of this trip!

From Rochefort the coaches took us to La Rochelle ("The Little Rock"). Our visit there began with a guided tour of the most historic sites and then some free time to explore before taking the coach back to Royan to rejoin the ship. The history of the town is strongly bound up with trade with England, and like a lot of seafaring towns in France and in England it now struggles with a history involving the trading of slaves between Africa and the Caribbean. The Town Hall in La Rochelle bears witness to the past wealth and power of the town. In the free time to took a stroll past the historic harbour to the beach and back along a stretch of the town wall.

Our coach driver took us back to the ship by way of a little tour of Royan which nicely rounded off a full day of sightseeing, but after dinner we also went for a walk around the town on our own to see things a little closer and simply to be close to the sea (technically an estuary, rather like, say, Southend-on-Sea). 

Overnight the Ship made its way back up the Gironde estuary to Bordeaux. I woke at one stage in the night to feel considerable movement from the waves - this river cruiser does not have stabilisers you'd have on an ocean-going ship and yet here it was effectively at sea ... but this did not last long and the next time I woke we had arrived back in Bordeaux and I was looking across the river to the familiar sight of the right bank.

Wednesday was spent entirely in Bordeaux. There was an optional coach tour of the city followed by an optional walking tour: we opted for the coach tour which took us to places we should not otherwise see and our guide told us not only about the history of the city but also of current plans for its development, which are considerable. Much substantial building work is taking place, mostly on "brownfield" sites with the city and its population and economy are expanding. 

We said farewell to the guide after the coach tour and explored the central area on our own, returning to the ship for lunch and then setting off again for a further walk, including the buying of a few gifts to take home. There is so much to see in Bordeaux but for us just soaking up the atmosphere of a beautiful town is enough. Parks, monuments, churches, cathedrals, squares and streets, and coffee on a little street corner in the sunshine just made a super day out. After dinner we set off for one last walk along the riverside and drank a pina colada on the sun deck (moon deck?).

The Train Journey Home

On Thursday morning we were ready to go home. The small group that was flying home left us at 04:00 (or so it was planned: I did not see them off!) for their flight; we left at 08:00 for the station and were soon on our TGV for Paris Montparnasse. The trip, about two hours, passed off smoothly and at Gare Montparnasse we all went to the coach which was waiting to take us to Gare du Nord. This was held up by parked vehicles and unloading vans here and there and the ventilation system was not working properly (but the driver eventually opened the roof lights which helped enormously). At Gare du Nord we all scanned our tickets and scanned our passports (twice) and had the passports stamped and then divested ourselves of everything metal before having our luggage scanned and then we were IN, ready to wait for the boarding of our Eurostar train to London. Neither the escalator up to the Eurostar terminal nor the escalator down to our platform seemed to be working, but I am fit enough to carry luggage up and down stairs and so was not too inconvenienced by this. The train was away on time and I swapped my Euro wallet for my UK wallet in preparation for arrival in London.

As usual in Standard Premier Class a light meal was served soon after leaving Paris and it was very enjoyable, with a glass of chilled rosé wine. We fell into conversation with a couple sitting opposite who were on their way home from a holiday in Croatia, which made our journey look short. It is easy to cover much of Europe by train and arriving somewhere this way gives you a real sense of having travelled. You see the scenery, you meet the people, and when you arrive you know how far you've come. If there's some hassle checking in for the cross-channel trains there is comfort in knowing that is it almost certainly better than the hassle at airports, and definitely shorter - the reason our airborne companions had to leave so early was not only that the airport was further away than the rail station, but also that they had to check in two hours before scheduled departure which, on a budget airline, was early. How ever we travel, the journey will be certain to begin and end with a train, so it seems to me that travelling by train all the way makes a lot of sense. Some say it's cheaper to fly, and it may be, but I reckon that by the time you have added the cost of getting to and from airports at both ends and parking your car if that's how you do it, then it ay not be all that much cheaper. There is also the question of whether that saving in cost is really worth getting up at 03:30 to catch the flight ... It depends on priorities. For me the experience of travelling, along with the proven environmental benefits, outweighs everything else.

We arrived on time at St Pancras and made our way over to Kings Cross - this took a while as we were in the last coach of the Eurostar train - and found that a Leeds train, calling at Peterborough, was already boarding, so we took that. Seat reservations did not seem to be working but the train was not too busy and we easily found somewhere suitable to sit. Another light meal (all we needed was the cheese course) and we were at Peterborough. The train, a British Rail InterCity 225 set, was in good time at Peterborough and we were able to get the Stamford train that left only four minutes later. That may well have been our fastest ever journey from Paris to Stamford. At Gare du Nord we had seen the news on our smartphones that our royal family was hurrying to Balmoral because of concerns about the Queen's health, and the significance of that was emphasised when we took a taxi home from Stamford station, and hearing that we had been abroad our driver told us that the Queen was very ill. When we arrived home the BBC announced that she had died. A sad end to a wonderful holiday. Long live the King.

Wednesday 7 September 2022

The Basque Country

By Train to Biarritz

As I write, it has been announced that the Queen will not be returning to London to appoint the new Prime Minister but that the appointee will have to travel to Balmoral to see her instead. Apparently the last time a Prime Minister designate travelled to visit the monarch, it was to Edward VII who was not at Balmoral but in Biarritz, on the west coast of France, where he visited so often that several things, including a principal street, are named after him. As it happens, I am writing this in Biarritz, but in my case on my very first visit and nothing has been named after me ... It is a beautiful town and I can well see why anyone would wish to return, and yet my own visit here was a bit of an impulse purchase, really, although I have long wanted to visit the place, never having been to the west of France before.

Since Great Rail Journeys recommenced escorted tours as pandemic restrictions eased, they have taken to sending advertising email sometimes offering small incentives to book early for forthcoming tours (or, presumably, to take up spaces on tours coming up soon), and one such message I received was about a river cruise on the Dordogne from Bordeaux, preceded by three nights in Biarritz and I thought that this just ticked so many boxes on my mental list (I had started writing down the list before the pandemic wrecked our ability to plan anything!) that we had to do it. It was hard to fit into the calendar but would be worth it. We would have long enough to explore Biarritz since the included activities were minimal (but worthwhile) and would then get to see something of France's wine industry which we had never done before. So we booked, paying for the First Class upgrade and taking the free upgrades offered as inducement to book. Waiting for the great day of departure was not too much of an issue because (a) it was not long and (b) we already had our summer holiday to come before it, and a short break in London. We had to think through the packing because we'd need seaside clothing and cruise clothing, too, and weather was expected to be variable. 

We travelled to London the afternoon before departure, with open First Class CIV (international package trip) tickets supplied by Great Rail Journeys and the journey went very well, the usual connection at Peterborough into a train for London which had come only from Lincoln and was still providing its full catering. We checked in at our usual Premier Inn and went for a stroll around the St Pancras shops to get something for a light supper - although I managed to buy a new jacket as well ...

We met Andrew our GRJ Tour Manager at their office at St Pancras and then went to wait for the train. We were in very good time and sailed through the ticket barriers, security check and passport check and then waited for the train to be announced, with far more time in hand than we needed. I bought coffee and we found seats together, although the departure area was very busy and seats together were hard to find. Eventually it was announced that our train would be twenty minutes late because it was late coming in, so the departure area became even busier as people kept arriving for later trains and we had not gone. The delay was not a problem as we had plenty of time in Paris for changing stations and GRJ had arranged for the transfer to be made by coach. Soon we were aboard the train and speeding off to Paris, a light breakfast served on the way.

At Paris our coach took us, via the notorious Peripherique, from Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse where we had just half an hour to take lunch in one of the many cafés at the station before boarding the TGV heading for Hendaye which would take us Biarritz, a journey of about four hours. 

The whole GRJ party was quite big this time. Our Tour Manager Andrew had about thirty in his group and another Tour Manager Gareth had about twenty who had not gone for the First Class upgrade, so at Biarritz there were over fifty of us needing to take the subway to the exit, all of us with quite a lot of luggage and most of us not wanting to take heavy suitcases via the stairs. It took a while to take all our things via the lifts. A coach took us to the hotel, a trip of about ten minutes: the station is a long way from the town centre - but if we come here one day on our own, we did note that there is a service bus so we would be able to cope.

A Seaside Holiday

The Plaza Hotel was amazing. The usual facilities and a good room, but with a stunning view and the hotel itself was an art deco building on a street corner overlooking La Grande Plage, and we had a second-floor window with a beach view. We could not have asked for more.

Although we were quite late arriving at Biarritz dinner was not included on this day, so we set off into the streets to find some supper. We did not need a lot and settled on a "Sicilian street food" café a short walk from the hotel, just what we needed, followed by a walk along the seafront after dark.

Wednesday, the first full day in Biarritz was unallocated until dinner, and we used the morning for a long walk northwards along the shore, beginning with a walk to the famous lighthouse. The café there was just right for the morning coffee break, then we set off again exploring further along the coast, returning to the centre of biarritz by bus. "Lunch" consisted of a locally-made ice-cream on the beach, La Grande Plage. We had a walk along the beach and then went back to our room to prepare for the included dinner at the Café de la Grande Plage. Like many others, we gathered at the hotel bar for a cocktail while waiting for the start of dinner: it was lovely to sit in the sun on the sea front at Biarritz sipping cocktails! During dinner the sun set over the Bay of Biscay outside the window, and the dinner itself was a very good three-course set meal.

Climbing a Mountain by Train

On Thursday were the two inclusive activities of the stay in Biarritz, a ride on the Petit Train de la Rhune to the summit of the Rhune mountain on the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees, followed by lunch at a cider producer on the way back. This began with a coach trip to Col de Saint Ignace where the mountain railway terminal is: the railway is a metre-gauge rack railway with each train consisting of two coaches and a vintage electric locomotive with what is probably a unique overhead electrical system. Our party had a coach allocated to it on one of the trains and we all travelled to the top where there was the inevitable café-restaurant and gift shop, and an opportunity, between the clouds, to take some photographs of the distant scene, and of the vultures (yes, vultures) whirling overhead. 

We had an hour or so at the summit before it was time to take a train back down and board the coach for our appointment with the cider maker Txopinondo (pronounced something like "Chopinondo" - it's Basque!) for a cider tasting and excellent three-course lunch. We chose a thin breakfast that morning between the previous evening's dinner and this day's lunch. The cider tasting was interesting: we were given in turn a taste of one of the ciders, which had to be poured from a height in order to aerate it to give the best taste and texture, so there were wet hands in plenty the first time. After that we went to eat and every now and then a member of the staff would call out that it was time for a drink ("Txotx," I think he yelled, which sounded like "church" to most of us) and we went to try another cider, poured the same way. The number going each subsequent time was quite small, but I did try each of them. I think you have to, really .... There was water, apple juice and red wine on the tables for those who did not want to keep on with the cider or who thought that red wine was correct with the steak that was the main course. I steered clear of the wine but did use the water and apple juice to supplement the five ciders.

France seems to take Basque culture seriously. The region is known as "Pays Basque," "Basque Country," and the Basque flag appears alongside the French and EU flags on public buildings, and signs are often bilingual in French and Basque (like the English and Welsh or English and Scottish signs in the UK). This close to the border there are also many signs in Spanish, and some in the ubiquitous English, too, and we did hear some Spanish spoken. The cider culture is pure Basque, though.

Back at the hotel that afternoon I wrote my postcards but it was too late to buy stamps at La Poste so they had to await the following day to be posted. I did some work on this blog and then very little was needed for supper after the wonderful lunch, so I had a fruit salad from a local supermarket, and we both walked out to try to see the sun set over the Bay of Biscay but cloud cover meant that this was not as dramatic as it might have been. 

We had one more morning in Biarritz and we did not waste it. As well as buying the postage stamps, we visited the market (Les Halles) and saw the amazing range of quality food on offer. Some rain interrupted our walking but we did get one final stroll along the sea front before it was time for the whole group to gather and make our way by coach to Biarritz station (in the rain) for the train out to Bordeaux. With thirty of us, all with luggage, plus quite a lot of local people to load during a short station stop, there was quite a scramble to board the train and then there was the issue of getting us all upstairs into the First Class section on the upper deck of a duplex coach, with our cases. There were no reservations on this regional train and the group took up nearly all the seating in that section. But we were on our way, and the weather improved as we went. The next adventure would begin soon!

Friday 2 September 2022

Strike-dodging in London and Windsor

 A Quick Turn Round

As well as staying occasionally to look after our grandchildren in London when our son and his wife are away, we also sometimes simply stay in their house when all of them are away on holiday. This year much of their holiday in Greece coincided with our on the south coast of England (our holiday had the hotter weather!), but we were back several days before they were, so as there were things we wanted to in London and Windsor we decided to go and stay just the day after we returned from the coast. It was tight but quite feasible, allowing some quick jobs to be done on  the day we were home and then a rapid trip to London for the first night.

The idea was to stay at the house in Shepherds Bush for three nights, tripping out to a couple of things in London on each of the first two days (on one of which the railways, including London Overground would be on strike) and the last of which the Underground would be on strike - although none of the strike days was fixed when we made the arrangement, They were a complications, and didn't quite go to plan, but they did not stop us having a great time!

Our first train, from Stamford to London on a Tuesday evening, was on time and we met at the station, each with our own luggage, as my wife was attending a meeting nearby that finished just before we left. The next train, and LNER express to London from Peterborough, was shown as cancelled following some overhead wire problems much earlier in the day, so I had rapidly booked a couple of seats on the next train to ensure that we could still travel. When we arrived at Peterborough we found that this train was heavily delayed and that another one would leave before that, so again, I started to book seats on that one ... while I was doing so, completely unannounced and unexpected a LNER train arrived at the platform heading south. I asked the Train Manager, who was standing at a nearby door, if the train was going to London and if we could board and he assured it was and we could so we did and found a couple of handy seats together, too. The train had come from Edinburgh and to this day I am convinced it was the one we were first booked to travel on and which was supposed to have been cancelled. Whatever, as far as LNER was concerned we had been inconvenienced and by the time we arrived in London the Delay Repay compensation had already been sent to my credit card account: I wouldn't have applied for it as we were hardly late at all as it happened, but I was signed up for automatic Delay Repay and they just sent it! We were soon in our temporary home and asleep awaiting the first outings of our visit to London.

Unusual National Trust Destinations

After breakfast at home we took the Hammersmith & City line back to Kings Cross to take a bus to Homerton. We were en route to visit the only National Trust scrapyard that I'm aware of! It is Sutton House and Breakers Yard, a historic house with a long and complex history including having been used as a squat in the twentieth century and whose garden was at one stage a yard for the breaking up of vehicles. Visits are by guided tour by appointment (self-guided at weekends) and it has a wealth of history - the National Trust website is the place to go for information - much of which has been preserved by accident. We arrived too early for our booked tour and took coffee at a corner coffee house not far away and found, almost by accident, my mother-in-law's secondary school to which she must have travelled daily from Bethnal Green, quite a trek.

We had "pencilled in" a visit to "Superbloom" at the Tower of London moat but had not booked ahead because after the very hot, dry summer we were not at all sure it would be worth a visit this year. We took a bus from Hackney to Aldwych and then walked to the Tower and ascertained that it was indeed "past it" for this year and resolved to visit at some time in the future. This is a project with no termination date, designed to provide a home for insects and other wildlife in the heart of London where there had been only grass before. A path meanders through the planting and I am sure that in wetter years it will be a splendid sight in late spring and early summer. I look forward to it.

Having decided not to visit Superbloom we had time to spare, and another unusual National Trust property sprang to mind, The George Inn, a pub in Borough High Street, the last remaining timber galleried inn in London. It is a fully-functioning public house with a decent range of real ales and all that you would expect of a city public house. They also do decent meals and so we had our lunch there, accompanied by a pint of Greene King Abbot Ale. I actually walked right past The George on a previous visit to Borough High Street without noticing it because I was looking for something else and The George is barely visible from the street, hiding behind other buildings until you walk into its forecourt.

That evening we watched the Netflix film, "The Dig," a  dramatisation of the discovery and excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship burial just before the start of the Second World War. Sutton Hoo is a National Trust site and has only recently become a really good visitor experience and when we visited a few weeks before (a rare outing by car, so it will not be appearing in this weblog!), we heard about the film and were now able to see it at our son's home using his Netflix account, having no pay TV channels ourselves, we so rarely watch any TV. This set the scene for the following day's first activity!

British Museum and Marble Hill House

At Sutton Hoo, which is in Suffolk, near Woodbridge, you can see the site of the ship burial and other royal burial mounds and you can visit the home of the landowner of the time, Edith Pretty, and learn about the discovery of the astounding Anglo-Saxon burial chamber. You can only see replicas of the actual artefacts found there, though, as the originals were given by Mrs Pretty to the British Museum so that they could be conserved and seen by the greatest number of people, this being a find of international significance. the Sutton Hoo display at the British Museum was our first destination (after coffee at a nearby coffee shop, of course) on the Thursday morning. We did not stay to look at anything else in this vast museum which we have visited on other occasions. Indeed, we had seen the Sutton Hoo discoveries before but they meant much less to us until we had visited the site of the discovery.

From there we tried out the new Elizabeth Line from Tottenham Court Road to Paddington, and then the District Line out to Richmond to visit Marble Hill House which had been closed for conservation work
last time we were visiting historic houses in that part of London. The Elizabeth Line is very impressive although we need to work out a more efficient way of getting from its platforms at Paddington to the District Line platforms. Marble Hill House had been the Georgian home of courtier Henrietta Howard, a woman who made her way in what was very much a man's world in her time. We had lunch at a fabulous little Italian restaurant in Richmond before we walked to Marble Hill, and after a cup of tea there we took the bus back to Richmond and then the District Line back to Hammersmith from where we walked home to Shepherds Bush. We had been on a journey of discovery around the homes of two very different women who had come to be landowners and homeowners in times when this was not common for women. It had been good to do.

Windsor, the Coronation Dress and Robe of State

Thursday had been the day of a rail strike and this had had slight repercussions for the extremities of the District Line which share tracks with London Overground, a national rail service affected by strike action, but thus had not affected our travel more than a little. Friday, though, was the day of an Underground strike and many local buses in west London were also subject to strike action. I had planned the trip to Windsor on the Friday because Friday was not a national rail strike day and the expectation was that by the time we would be travelling the Overground and Southwestern Railway would both be running almost normally. It unravelled a bit when we turned up (early, just in case) at Shepherds Bush station to see that trains to Clapham Junction were running to time, only to see "On time" replaced by "Cancelled" not only for the next train, but also for the one ten minutes later and the one after that, so we left the station and scrambled, along with a trainload of other people, onto a bus for Clapham Junction. It was crowded but we got there, and the bus, one of the few running in that part of London, made good time through the streets and we arrived at the Junction in time to catch the train we had originally planned to take.

Given that we had to go home that evening and were not yet sure how we were going to manage it, we decided not to make too much of a day in Windsor and went straight to the castle some fifty minutes ahead of our booked time. No-one cared at all about the time printed on our tickets, or even looked at it, and we went straight in. Coffee (with Platinum Pudding and the Platinum variation on Victoria Sponge!) came first and sustained us the for the day.

The main purpose of the trip to Windsor was to see Her Majesty the Queen's Coronation Dress and Robe of State which were part of a special exhibition for her Platinum Jubilee celebrations. No special ticket was required, though, as a simple admission ticket to the Castle included the special exhibition as part of the normal tour of the state rooms. While there we enjoyed a visit to the model house designed by Edwin Lutyens and given to Queen Mary and known as her "doll's house" but in fact is a celebration of British domestic architecture, design and technology and to me as both a modeller and an enthusiast of twentieth-century design was absolutely fascinating.

The Queen's Coronation Dress and Robe were displayed along with much reading material and photographs showing their design and manufacture as well as a lot of information about the coronation itself. I am old enough to remember the Queen as a young monarch but was unborn at the time of her coronation and to see in close-up these impressive garments which I had previously seen only in grainy old TV images was well worth all the trouble taken in coming to see them in these difficult days.

As soon as we were finished at the castle we made our way back to Riverside station to begin the journey back to London. All went well this time, the Overground having resumed normal service with our connection at Clapham Junction for Shepherds Bush working as it should have done. Back to the house, then to pick up our luggage and see about getting home to Lincolnshire! The intention had been to overlap with our son and his family as they returned from Greece, but we dared not wait around in case of difficulty, and in any case their flight was delayed so they were unlikely to be home before our train back. With the Underground not operating because of the strike, we took the Overground from Shepherds Bush again, this time heading north and via the former North London Line to Camden Road station from where we were easily able to walk in good time to Kings Cross for our train to Peterborough: indeed we had enough time to go via Mornington Crescent to enjoy the splendid art deco former Carreras factory and still visit Fortnum and Mason at St Pancras to stock up on their St Pancras Blend tea which we love but can only buy there.

The LNER rain to Peterborough ran on time and with the usual standard of catering, but our journey home crashed to a halt at Peterborough when trains to Stamford just seemed to have disappeared. They were not listed as cancelled like the morning Overground services had been; they just were not listed at all, on the live train times app or on the station departure lists. Staff at Peterborough station were totally unhelpful saying that Cross Country had only un about three or four trains all day and had not made any arrangements for intending passengers. While we expect some disruption the morning after a strike (as with the Overground), this was mid-evening and it should have been fairly normal by now. Annoyingly, if we had taken a LNER train just half an hour earlier (and we did have time!)  we could have caught the once-a-day East Midland Railway train for Nottingham that goes via Stamford ... but we didn't and were stranded, so we took a taxi at our own expense and I have since written to Cross Country to ask for the fare: we shall see how successful that is! At the least I expect the rail fare refunded as they simply did not provide any train at all even though they sold me a ticket dated for that date and time. I am becoming less and less impressed with Cross Country as the days go by; they began so well with our local service, making it far more reliable than it had been and building up usage, but it has been absolutely awful since the pandemic and very difficult to use. For Stamford that is unfortunate as we have no choice, and it is clear they have major problems because customer service is overwhelmed and I do not know whether I shall ever get a response to my demand for compensation. I shall keep up the pressure, though, and whatever happens we did everything we wanted to do and we did get home (no later than if we had waited for the train!) having had something of an adventure, picking our way among the disputes between companies and staff running our transport networks and a government that seems not to care.