Saturday 10 August 2019

Beggars can choose - up to a point

There's always a downside, eh? You might think, regular 😁 reader, that being given free travel is pretty cool - and so it is, I agree. But it does have its disadvantages, the main one being that it's hard to plan this sort of thing very far ahead. And on Wednesday night, I got my best/worst experience of this: an invitation to take up a cancelled vacancy on Silver Wind, sailing from Tower Bridge, London, on a 13-day cruise along the Channel and circling Ireland, and finally returning to Tower Bridge again. Sounds great, huh? But the departure date? SUNDAY!

So it was action stations, getting flights, accommodation, house/cat-sitter organised, and ourselves to the airport on Friday for the 27-hour journey. As well as getting some current work out of the way, leaving the house tidy, that sort of thing. This was a route that one of us was particularly keen on (and I was pretty eager too) - not many ships are small enough to sail that far up the Thames and under Tower Bridge - so there was no turning it down, of course.

So, here we are, settled into The Tower hotel on Saturday afternoon, in a room that's located at the end of miles of confusing corridors, but with a splendid view of the Bridge, right there, just outside the window. I went out to explore it, joining a long but fast queue to go up to the walkways above the bascules and admire the views, read all about the construction (only in 1894, 10 men died, it took 4 years), take my turn on the glass panels looking down at the roadway 40m below, and then trail down to the engine room. Of course it's all electric now, operated by a tiny joystick, but the original coal and steam-driven machinery is there, and marvellously huge and neat and well-oiled. There were people everywhere, enjoying themselves, especially at a food-truck South American event at the other end of the bridge. 

Our (pretty expensive) room came with bar and canapé privileges, which turned out to be not very exciting, but there was a lovely view from there, on the other side of the hotel, over St Katharine's Dock, which I'd never heard of, and looked gorgeous. So we went for a stroll and, in the wonderful way of this great city, casually came across the Gloriana, the Queen's Barge from the Jubilee, moored just there - plus lots of boats, apartments, restaurants and cafés, and a pub of  course, the Dickens Inn, looking splendid all festooned with colourful hanging baskets.

We ate early, watching a stream of guests to an Indian wedding arrive at the hotel (the fabulously ornately-dressed bride and groom had their photos taken in the lift lobby on our floor, which was odd, but fortunate for gawpers like me). And then we went to bed, setting the alarm for 11pm to watch the Silver Wind arrive at the bridge, to pass through and moor alongside the Belfast just the other side.

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