The packing was done, except for the last minute items and the oh-I-nearly-forgots, but we had an early train so we skipped breakfast, intending to buy baguettes and coffee at the station. We were out in the street by 7:35, waiting for the 205 bus.
Our departure station was Marylebone, and our train left at 8:14. As planned, we bought our breakfast and trundled our baggage along to platform 4. This is one of the farthest platforms on that station and even though we had plenty of time, the long walk induced a certain nervousness.
It was on checking our reserved carriage that we realized we had made a mistake in buying breakfast. This because we are travelling on what has become our favourite train service, the Wrexham & Shropshire. At weekends, for a little extra, you can travel first class. While that may seem an extravagance, the added comfort is very enjoyable and makes a fine start to the holiday. The mistake, of course, was forgetting that a complimentary breakfast is provided in first class, making our baguettes and coffee superfluous.
The sky is blue but there is plenty of cloud cover, giving shifting light patterns as we speed through a countryside lit now with golden sunshine, now with cloud light.
This leg of the journey takes us to Shrewsbury, a town that we already know having previously visited it. Today it is only a staging post for here we change trains for our final destination, the ancient and picturesque city of Chester.
Chester will be the centre for our explorations. As usual, we have rail rover tickets (in this case North and Mid Wales Rovers) and expect to clock up quite a few miles during our stay.
For now, there is breakfast to look forward to in a dining room whose windows afford a continually changing panorama to interest and delight the eye.
At Shrewsbury we make the change to the Holyhead train. It is good to see Shrewsbury station again with its striking station building and the castle perched above it. We have been through here many times on previous expeditions so it is familiar to us and a reminder of happy times.
We reached Chester at 1:20 and walked down the road to the hotel which is only 5 minutes or so away. We have room 214 on the second floor. Our room is quite small but adequately appointed to the Premier Inn standard. The bedroom window, which is locked shut, looks onto a quiet backstreet. The view is not as pretty or as interesting as some we have enjoyed but we can at least see the tower of the old Steam Mill.
Having spied out the number and positions of power points (essential in the Electronic Age), we lunched on the baguettes we had bought for breakfast, adding some vegetarian sausages that we had brought with us from home.
As is usual in British hotels, there is a kettle in the room and we have brought our own tea with us. Mine is loose leaf Russian Caravan which I can brew in a mug with the aid of a nylon teapot filter. It’s the next best thing to making tea in a proper pot.
The only criticism I have of Premier Inn (which I think I will communicate to them in due course) is the squashy pillows. My head sinks into these and I feel as though I am drowning. We asked whether they had any alternative pillows but they did not.
After settling in and having a little rest (resting from doing nothing is something you can do on holiday), we went for a walk in town. The old part of town was packed with people. We soon discovered that this was because Chester was celebrating its Midsummer Watch Parade today and tomorrow.
There were many people in costumes of various sorts and of course, the Giants. All of this colourful spectacle provided plenty of material for photos but because spectators and participants were all mixed together, it was difficult to get clear shots.
After a coffee break, we continued exploring the town and then followed the canal back towards the hotel which we could easily locate by looking out for the Steam Mill tower above the other buildings.
Just opposite the hotel we found two Indian restaurants. It was too early for supper but we noted them for later.
The restaurant we chose is called the Gate of India and was quite full when we arrived. They found us a table upstairs and we ordered a vegetable thali and mattar paneer side dishes. Unfortunately, they did not serve lassi so we ordered Cobra Zero, the alcohol-free version of the popular restaurant lager. I used to drink alcohol-free beer but gave it up because of the unpleasant taste. I thought that after all this time the technology might have improved. It hasn’t: I encountered the familiar unpleasant taste and will not be trying it again.
The food was fine and the servings generous, though we suspect that Chester may suffer from the Galway Effect1 as the dishes were not at all spicy.
After our meal, we went for another walk and saw a rather imposing tower. We approached for a closer look. Notices say that this site is being redeveloped but without so much as a word to explain the nature of the tower or its history.
The sun was now going down, taking its warmth with it and there was a definite chill on the air so we headed back to the hotel where we made tea and planned our activities for the morrow.
1When we were in Ireland in 2006 (not blogged) we had a meal in an Indian restaurant in Galway. All the dishes were labelled "mild", "medium", "hot", etc. We asked the waiter which we should choose. He thought for a moment and then asked "Are you from Galway?" When we said no, he replied "Then you will need ‘hot’". The citizens of Galway apparently do not like their food too spicy! Ever since them, when we have encountered lacklustre Indian food, we have referred to it as "Galway".