Despite my midnight fears of the previous evening, my solo drive from Javea to Alicante airport on the 21st of December 2017 turned out to be a smooth run. To my relief, I drove the car remarkably well considering it had been three decades since driving a manual gearbox, and I’d never driven on the other side of the road than what I was used to in Australia. The road signage seemed aimed at English holiday makers and was easy to follow, and the little mud map that Baz had downloaded from the Centauro car hire website provided clear directions on returning the vehicle to their Alicante office.
I dropped off the car, receiving a refund for unused fuel, breezed into Alicante airport and checked my baggage at the friendly Jet2 check-in desk. I must say I was impressed with Alicante airport; it is bright, clean, modern with high glass windows, and was a very pleasant place to while away the four hours I had before my plane to Manchester boarded. Four hours? Well, to alleviate some of my anxiety, I had left exceedingly early in case I got lost, had a mechanical breakdown or managed some other misfortune on the way to Alicante airport. The smooth drive and quick handover of the vehicle meant I had heaps of time to spare.
So what do you do in a Spanish airport with nearly half a day before you?
I sampled a coffee in a coffee shop, a beer in an English style pub and followed up with a full English breakfast (may as well get in the mood!) served by a friendly local who did his best to teach me some Spanish!
I was pleased I had an engaging book to read from the long haul flight from Australia: “The Four Legendary Kingdoms” by Matthew Reilly. This was an action packed adventure where the protagonist – Jack West - had to overcome a series of life threatening tests in an ancient ritual. It was simply written with an intriguing plot, which kept me entertained and wondering how Jack was going to survive to the last page. It reminded me of a light blend of Indiana Jones meets The Da Vinci Code – riveting and exciting without having to invest too much analytical thought. I enjoyed it enough to look for the first book in the series: “Seven Ancient Wonders”.
Sitting in the airport, looking up from my book every now and then, I thought of people I wanted to see while in the UK and wondered how I would manage it all. Knowing that Javea is a stone’s throw from the UK compared to Australia, I’d decided to make the most of my free time before Baz and I began our sailing course in February. Before leaving Brisbane, I booked a flight to Manchester so I could celebrate Christmas and New Year with my older sister Judi. I also had plans on visiting my Scottish relatives, and my good friends from high school Monique – as well as Liz, who was kindly letting me stay with her for a few days. During the trip I also hoped to catch up with some other school friends who I hadn’t seen for forty years!
But first things first. Step one was to get from Spain to England, make my way from Manchester airport to Port Sunlight on the Wirral, and enjoy my time with my sister Judi over Christmas. I knew everything else would fall into place.
My flight was eventually called and I boarded the 737-800 and found my aisle seat. The Jet2 staff were polite and helpful, and every now and then there was an upbeat Jet2 message over the intercom system reminding us "how friendly we could be" as we flew with Jet2! It was a short 2 hours 55 minutes flight to Manchester and, shortly after landing and exiting the plane, I was happy to find my case making its way around the carousel. Now ready to find the ticket dispenser that would print my pre-booked train ticket to Port Sunlight, I made the short distance to the train station at Manchester airport and didn’t have to queue too long before I had my ticket in hand.
After a 20 minute wait, where it soon became obvious that the weather was somewhat cooler than Javea and definitely colder than Australia, the train to Liverpool Lime Street arrived and my case and I were soon chugging comfortably across the English countryside. Looking out at the darkness, even though it was still relatively early afternoon, I smiled remembering how short the winter days are this far north. Upon arrival at the main train platform at Lime Street station, Liverpool, a kind station worker carried my suitcase down three steep flights of escalators to where I could catch a local train on the underground Wirral Line. The underground tube has been tunnelled deep under the River Mersey to carry passengers to and from Liverpool and the Wirral peninsula.
Trains run regularly on the underground and I had a choice of Chester or Ellesmere Port trains to catch and about 15 minutes later I was walking up Ellen Lane under the railway bridge from Port Sunlight to my sister’s flat in Spital Road, Bebington.
It was wonderful to see her and after a little adjustment, where we both had to stop kindly bossing the other around, we had a very enjoyable five days together. We explored Port Sunlight where I'd spent my first 3 years as a child. We went Christmas shopping in Birkenhead at the Pyramids shopping centre, which is a little more tired than it was on my previous visit four and a half years earlier. I noticed a few closed shops there and also in the historic Birkenhead Markets which many people were blaming on Brexit. Some things never change though, and our cup of coffee at Beatties department store didn’t disappoint.
Christmas came and went and we both enjoyed a relaxed few days, eating (not too much), drinking (just a little) and walking (rather a lot)! The days were mainly dry and sunny, though breezy and a cool 2-4 degrees Celsius.
Immediately after Christmas, I was invited to stay in Dundee, Scotland with nephews and nieces who are all around my age, thanks to my dad marrying twice and my mother being only slightly older than their father (my half-brother). I tell you, I used to cringe at school when I was asked if I had any brothers or sisters. It was never a short or simple answer! As luck had it, the majority of the ‘Scottish branch’ of the family were all celebrating a family Christmas lunch the day after I arrived, and it was wonderful catching up with old relatives such as nephew Frank, and new faces of spouses (Anne, Susie, Heide), as well as the youngest members of the family. Niece Louise cooked up a storm and the Christmas lunch was both tasty and filling.
The large, cosy, sturdily built family home kept us warm despite temperatures dropping to just below zero degrees Celsius most nights. I enjoyed walks up the local Dundee Law (law=hill) as nephew Rob showed me the lay of the land from that vantage point. Situated on the River Tay, Dundee is also very close to the sea, and nephew Richard and his beautiful family live closer to the mouth of the river near a village called Monifieth. Louise and I visited them by bus one day and had a lovely time. Richard took me for a walk along the river path with his daughter in her pram, and we all had dinner when his wife Susie came home from work.
While I was in Scotland, my old school friend Monique visited me from Aberdeen and we had the most amazing chat over a 3-hour lunch! I don’t think any stone from the past was left unturned during that conversation! It was wonderful catching up with Monique – who had been my best friend during high school... 40 yeas ago!
Returning from Scotland to the Wirral, I spent New Year’s Eve with my sister Judi before staying a few days with my old school friend Liz and her husband Mark at their family home in Liverpool. It is always a joy meeting up with them, with conversations seeming to pick up right where we left them. Some of their grown up children stayed while I was there, which was great, because I hadn’t seen them since they were young. During my time with Liz, some of my old school friends who I’d caught up with recently on Facebook, invited me for dinner at the Green Lodge in Hoylake, on the Wirral. We talked so much as we ate tasty and filling pub meals, that all of us forgot to take photos! However, we were all amazed that we recognized each other, despite it being forty years since we last met!
Staying with Liz and Mark and visiting Judi most days meant I had the opportunity to see some of Liverpool as I commuted via bus and tube. The #75 bus near Liz’s house dropped me at Liverpool One, which is a purpose built shopping centre opposite the revamped Liverpool Docklands. The whole area is filled with places of historical and cultural interest, including the Maritime Museum, Tate Gallery, and also the iconic Beatles Walk. It is well worth visiting.
I also discovered a quaint coffee house called Rococo, which allowed me to 'people watch' from its first floor windows while drinking decent coffee before heading off to James Street Station. James Street Station, I discovered, is one of the two oldest ‘deep level’ underground stations in the world (the other being Hamilton Square Station on the Wirral side). Just think, I had to re-visit the place I was born to discover this fact! Have you made any local discoveries like that?
One evening in my room at Liz’s house, shortly after visiting my sister Judi, it occurred to me that I missed Baz. While I’d allowed myself another two weeks in the UK, the weather wasn’t really nice enough to hire a car and do any sightseeing. There was too much snow forecast, and travelling by train was hindered by ongoing strikes countrywide as rail workers protested against losing their conductors. There were still some relatives I’d like to see, but in the face of everything and my growing wish to see Baz again, I decided that it was time to book a return flight to Spain. Now I was 'technically' in Europe, it would be much easier to come back to the UK should I need too – or have friends and relative visit once we owned our boat.
Decision made, ticket booked, a few days later, I said my final goodbyes for this trip to Judi and Liz's husband Mark drove me to Liverpool airport to catch an early 7am flight to Alicante. I had pre-booked bus tickets from Alicante airport to Javea, and all I had to do was find the bus station once I arrived in Spain.
Synchronicity is a wonderful thing: I was looking at the ALSA bus ticket on the plane when the lady next to me asked, “Are you catching a bus?”It turned out she had directions to the bus terminal and had to buy a ticket, whereas I had a ticket, but needed directions to the bus terminal!
There was a bit of time between arriving at the airport and catching the bus so we swapped stories over a coffee. We both boarded the bus and after a shortish journey we parted at Benidorm, where she alighted and I transferred (after an hour wait) to the bus bound for Javea. The journey was interesting as I got to see more of the countryside on this journey than I had when driving. There is a strange juxtaposition between Benidorm’s metropolis of stark high rise apartments set against the backdrop of high sweeping mountains dating back to the Cretaceous era. Following the coast, the bus wended its way through small villages and eventually made its way into the older mountains dating to the Jurassic age as it neared Javea, where vineyards gave way to Valencia orange trees.
“Javea!” the bus driver called. He helped me find my suitcase in the hold under the bus, while Baz, walked towards me and stuck a rolling camera and dead cat coated microphone under my nose. The driver said something in Spanish to the effect of “Why the camera, are you a film star?” to which I replied. “No se!” (I don’t know). I was totally unprepared! Next time, I’ll answer, “Mi marido es un YouTuber!” (My husband is a YouTuber), and I’ll smile graciously into the camera!
Talking of filming, after a lengthy but enjoyable stroll with Baz carrying my case, and me holding a now switched off camera, we arrived home. The following day after a long walk in the sunshine and relative winter warmth of Javea’s 12 degrees Celsius, we got back to work: writing blogs and editing videos. Baz seems to me to be a bit of a film maker whiz, and I’m looking forward to watching his next edited video: “Living the dream begins with hard work! - Sailing A B Sea (Ep.001)”.
If you’re curious, check out Sailing A B Sea YouTube channel. We’ve got lots of videos in the pipeline, so make sure to Subscribe for updates.
Link to Aannsha's next blog