UK rail trip – 2022
Day 1 & 2 – 3rd & 4th April, 2022
Today was going to be a very long day. It would involve flying from Sydney to Melbourne, before flying from Melbourne to London (with a 90-minute stop in Darwin). Even though this is going to cover more than 24 hours, I’m going to cover the entire period in one post to make things simple(r).
I left home, just after 07:00, and caught the train to the airport. Being a Sunday morning, things were rather quiet. Arriving at the airport, procedures were fairly straight forward. As I’d already checked in in advance, all I needed to do was to print my bag tag and drop off my suitcase. However, the check-in kiosk had trouble reading the barcode on my phone. Which meant I had to end up punching in the flight reference number manually. Ah, for the old days of checking in at a manned counter!
After a quick pass through security, I began looking for breakfast. Being a Sunday morning, there wasn’t all that much on offer that appealed to me. I’d probably get something on the plane, anyhow. I’m looking forward to today’s travels, as this would be the first time I’d get to fly on a 787 Dreamliner. I’ve been wanting to fly on one for quite some time, but just didn’t work out (including the pandemic). However, this and my next flight was going to include two of them. Can’t complain about that! My first one will be VH-ZNH (Great Barrier Reef).
The flight from Sydney to Melbourne is just over an hour, which includes a simple refreshment (at least in economy). The flight left just over ten minutes late and arrived in Melbourne nearly fifteen minutes late. But the flight itself was good. I was quite impressed by the 787, particularly the windows. No traditional shades – instead, they have a button below them which controls the tint from clear to black. The baggage, on the other hand, took ages to arrive. Some issue caused it to be delayed by about fifteen minutes.
After collecting my baggage, I made my way to the international check-in, which had already opened by then. There was a queue, but it was quite short. After fifteen minutes, I was all checked in and ready to pass through immigration. I chose not to do that yet. Instead, I made my way to the AFL Bar and grabbed a pizza and a beer. I tried to delay myself as much as possible, as I didn’t want to hang around the gates for too long.
Passing through immigration should have been a breeze, as I should have been able to use the electronic gates. But, for some reason, it didn’t work for me. Maybe I didn’t take my glasses off fast enough. The old-fashioned version is still available, which only took a few seconds. I could have spent more time in the AFL Bar, as the flight was then delayed by up to an hour. Something to do with a mechanical issue. There wasn’t much open, in the way of food outlets, airside. So, I meandered aimlessly around the departure gates.
Upon boarding, I was rather amused to find out that the aircraft was the same one I flew on down from Sydney just a few hours earlier. This part of the flight, from Melbourne to Darwin, would be in daylight. Not much to see outside the window, though. It was all cloudy all the way to Darwin. Arriving at Darwin, which was a refuelling/pick up stop, we were all required to get off the aircraft and wait at the gate. All I can say is that it was organised chaos. A small gate, but with very few (ie: one, most of the time) staff on hand. And it wasn’t just my flight. Another came in from Sydney only half an hour later. So, the gate became very crowded.
The flight segment from Darwin to London would be in darkness all the way. That’s the downside of flying away from the sun. A long, endless night. I tried out the entertainment on offer. Unfortunately, only one side of the earphones were working. In the end, I gave up and listened to my own music. A shame, as there were a few things that looked interesting to watch. Maybe on the way back. Not much to do other than to listen to music and/or sleep. The couple in the seats next to me seemed only interested in keeping to themselves.
Because of the late departure from Melbourne, it was a late arrival into London Heathrow. Again, the automatic immigration gates didn’t seem to like me. A few quick questions at the manual desk and I was admitted entry into the United Kingdom. The weather felt typically British this morning – wet and cold. Patchy rain all through the day. I bought my Oyster Card and hopped on the Underground to Central London.
It was way too early to check into the hostel, but they let me store my baggage. There’d also been an age policy change from when I booked and now – I’d become too old to stay in a dorm. However, they honoured the booking as it was made before the change. If I wished to stay at the hostel in future, I’d have to book a private room which is much pricier.
The first order of the day, now that I’d checked in, was to buy a local mobile SIM and change AUD 205 into GBP. I usually have that done at a bank, as you always get a better deal than an exchange bureau. But none of them wanted to know me as I don’t have accounts with them. One of the banks suggested the Post Office just along the street. They were able to change the money but would only accept the newest version of Australian banknotes. In the end, I bit the bullet and went to an exchange bureau. Ended up with only £95, which was a less than ideal conversion. Still, better than around £20. With that out of the way, just a matter of a local mobile SIM. I’d already decided upon Vodafone, as they seemed to have one of the better bang for buck rates and decent coverage. As I already had cash in hand, I thought I may as well use it. But no one seemed to want to accept cash in the UK these days. So, I paid with my debit card. £30 for 50GB – not a bad deal.
With my local SIM out of the way, I wandered around Central London for a bit. Once it was time to actually check-in, I returned to the hostel to complete those formalities. I then decided to wander some more. As my hostel was in Camden Town, I decided to walk down to St. Pancras and King’s Cross stations.
When I left the UK 15 years ago, there were no automatic gates to the platforms. This made it easy to just stand at the end of a platform and watch trains all day. With automatic gates, this makes it more difficult. I hadn’t activated my Britrail Pass yet, as I have regular tickets to use for the next couple of days (I was, after all, originally planning on cycling rather than travelling around by train). So, I hopped onto the London Underground and made my way to Westminster and spent a bit of time on Westminster Bridge watching river traffic go up and down the Thames.
The afternoon was getting on a bit by now. I was purposely trying to tire myself out so I could adapt to the time zone changes. I headed back to Camden Town and grabbed a pizza at one of the local pizza joints (but not before having a pint at a local pub) and then turned in for the night.
Tomorrow, it’s 8 hours by train to Inverness.