Days 5-6 Of Stephen’s 40k: Walking, Sightseeing, Walking, Family, Walking & Sleeping

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My recap of days 1-4 of 40k To Far Away finished in Brussels, Belgium after a day of troll hunting in Boom. That wasn’t quite the end of day 4 though, as that evening I caught an overnight bus to Paris. Here’s what I got up to over the following couple of days.

Day 5

Well, I say I caught an overnight bus, but it was more like a partialnight bus as I got into Paris at 2:30am. After so much walking in Belgium that day, I was able to sleep for several hours on the ~5 hour bus journey.

I’d booked my ride with Flixbus as they had a fare that only cost £7.99 (~$10.15 at the time). That’s an absolute steal considering you’d normally pay more than that to get from Brussels to the airport and then from one of Paris’ airports to the city, and that’s even before taking into account airfare between the two cities.

An added bonus was that Flixbus accepts payment by PayPal, so I paid with my Discover card as PayPal was one of the 5% categories at the time, getting me $0.51 added back into my budget.

Flixbus at Brussels Nord station

When planning out what I’d be doing during day 5, I knew I wouldn’t be spending much time in Paris but wanted to see as much as I could even though it would be nighttime. Flixbus has several drop-off/pickup locations around Paris, so I chose Paris Pont de Levallois on the northwest side of the city as the bus I’d booked after that was from Bercy-Seine on the southeast side. That meant I could walk from one side of Paris to the other and catch as many sites as possible seeing as I’d have ~6 hours before my next bus.

I was a little curious about what kind of neighborhood I’d gotten dropped off in when I saw a public condom machine, but comments on Facebook suggested this is fairly common in continental Europe.

Anyway, you know how I’d planned a walking tour in Madrid and only paid attention to the time needed rather than the distance? It turns out I did the same thing in Paris. I had a six hour window to get from one bus stop to the other and created a walking route on Google Maps (here it is if you’re interested) that lasted about 3.5 hours.

I figured that’d give me plenty of time in case I wanted to stop anywhere along the way. What I hadn’t paid attention to was the fact that it was another 10 mile route. At least when I was walking around Madrid I didn’t have my large backpack as I’d paid for storage at the airport. That wasn’t an option this time, so I was lugging around 25 lbs.

Still, I got to see most of the main sites in Paris along the way, although Notre Dame was mostly blocked off due to the fire.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris
Arc de Triomphe, Paris

I was also a little disappointed that the Eiffel Tower wasn’t lit up. I’d thought it was lit up every night and it turns out it is, but only until 1am or 2am depending on the time of year. I arrived there at about 3am, so it wasn’t quite as impressive looking at that time of night. Google Pixel 3 Night Sight mode FTW though.

In my post about days 1-4, I mentioned that I wanted to try a quintessential dish from every country I visited. I had a Tim Horton’s donut during my Canadian layover, ate empanadas in Madrid and had fries in Belgium.

Well, ever since I’d booked my trip to Paris I’d had a craving for a ham baguette. I don’t tend to eat that much bread but I’ll always make an exception for baguettes, especially one bought while actually in France.

I had a problem though. I was visiting Paris from 2am to 8am on a Sunday morning, so everything was closed other than a few bars. All of the boulangeries I walked by didn’t open until 10am or 11am, so I started resigning myself to missing out.

I needn’t have feared though as my route took me past Paris Gare de Lyon. Seeing as that’s such a busy area for tourists, there are lots of cafes opposite the train station that open much earlier than 10am on a Sunday. After walking 10 miles, I was getting really tired and hungry by that point, so the ham baguette probably tasted even better than it actually was. Even though the two might not normally go together, I washed it down with a chocolat chaud. This was definitely worth the €9.30 (~$10.21) taken from my budget.

Ham baguette & hot chocolate in Paris
Ham baguette & hot chocolate in Paris

After finishing my very early breakfast (it was 7am and I’m not normally up until 9am), I walked the rest of the way to the bus stop. From there I caught another Flixbus to London. This bus was a tiny bit more expensive than my bus from Brussels to Paris, but at only £11.99 (~$15.23) it was still much cheaper than any other option.

I’d expected the bus to take the Channel Tunnel which I was excited about as I’d never been through the Chunnel despite growing up in the UK. I was therefore a teenie bit disappointed when we rocked up at Calais to take a ferry to Dover. Still, Greg and Nick seemed to be impressed that my trip included a bus on a ferry, especially seeing as Nick’s bike-on-a-ferry adventure didn’t work out. I’d also been hoping to have a ferry be my final method of transportation, although it kind of still will be as it’ll be a different type of ferry to a car ferry.

In addition to my disappointment, I was also a little apprehensive. I remember taking the ferry back from France to the UK as a kid and being very ill during most of the journey on rough seas. I can’t remember where we caught that ferry from (I think I was something like 10 years old), but I don’t think it was Calais as I remember the journey taking several hours. Or maybe it just felt that way seeing as I spent most of that journey worshiping the porcelain god. My stomach was perfectly fine during this journey though, probably aided by the relatively calm English Channel.

Fun (I guess?!) fact: that ferry trip when I was violently ill began my love affair with ham baguettes. After my stomach had settled, my mum got me a ham baguette as I was so hungry and it tasted simply amazing.

Anyway, this ferry trip didn’t take too long and the White Cliffs of Dover were soon in sight.

White Cliffs of Dover
White Cliffs of Dover

After docking in Dover, our bus continued to London Victoria coach station (these types of buses are known as coaches in the UK). My original plan had been to walk around and see the sights of London on the way to my hostel for the night. Despite being half asleep, my brain realized that wouldn’t be my smartest move seeing as the route would’ve added another 10 miles on to the 10 miles I’d already walked around Paris, again with 25 lbs on my back. Instead, I walked the 30 minutes straight to my hostel to check in and dump my bags.

With that weight quite literally off my back, I decided to head out to walk around London. My original plan was to only do about 5-6 miles of my original route, picking up the rest of the sights in the morning. While walking around though, I decided to go pretty much the whole hog seeing as the next day I’d have my backpack on again.

If you’ve never been to London, it’s a great place to walk around by day or by night. Paris is known as the City of Lights, but I’d say that London’s attractions are lit up much more attractively at night. And even though London isn’t the cheapest of cities when it comes to paying to enter attractions, you could easily spend a day or two just wandering the city and seeing everything from the outside for free.

St Paul's Cathedral, London
St Paul’s Cathedral, London
Tower of London
Tower of London
The Shard, London
The Shard, London
London Eye
London Eye

Whenever I head back to the UK, I always make sure that I get a doner kebab. Think a gyro but greasier and more unhealthy, but so much better-tasting! It’s your traditional late-night food after a few beers at the pub, so I’d planned on getting one.

Unfortunately there was no kebab place on the way back to my hostel after exploring the city. I’d passed one earlier that evening, but it was about 1/2 mile from the hostel. My feet were toast by that point and I couldn’t walk a further step, so I stopped in at a Sainsbury’s grocery store to pick up some other snacks that I always get when I head home to the UK. That meant my dinner that night was a random mix of a Scotch egg, a pork pie, roast beef Monster Munch (they sadly didn’t have Flamin’ Hot flavor) and a Frijj chocolate milkshake. Plus some fruit seeing as I figured I should have something with some kind of nutritional value. Hardly gourmet cuisine, but it tasted better than a Michelin-starred meal.

Some of the best British food 5 can buy
Some of the best British food £5 can buy

After gobbling down that food, I headed back to the hostel – PubLove @ The Steam Engine – which had something like 10 dorms above a pub. It was surprisingly nice and even though my room had 12 bunk beds in it, only about 4-5 beds were occupied. All the other guests were really quiet, so I had the best night’s sleep. This was night 5 of 40k To Far Away and was the first time I’d slept in a bed during the trip seeing as the previous nights were spent at airports or on overnight planes or buses.

The room only cost $22.57 which was an absolute bargain. Even better, it could be booked through Hotels.com, so I was able to pay with a gift card discounted by 30% from the Newegg Amex Offer, plus I’ll get 10% back in Welcome Rewards.

I’m normally up until 2 or 3am each night, but I was so toast that I crashed out at 9:30pm.

Bunk beds at PubLove @ The Steam Engine in London
Bunk beds at PubLove @ The Steam Engine in London

Day 6

After falling asleep so early the previous night, I awoke before my alarm went off the next morning – something that’s virtually unheard of.

I’d booked another bus/coach for 10:30am which also departed from Victoria coach station, so I got myself ready and headed out. I’d left off a few sights on my walking tour the previous day as I knew I’d be passing somewhat close to them on my way back the following morning, so I stopped by the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St James’s Park and Buckingham Palace along the way. The Houses of Parliament were covered in scaffolding from the direction I approached though, so there wasn’t much of a photo opp.

Buckingham Palace, London
Buckingham Palace, London
Westminster Abbey, London
Westminster Abbey, London

If you’re visiting London for more than a few days, I’d highly recommend taking a day trip out to another town or city to see a little more of the country. Having lived there for a couple of years, Brighton is great. Bath and Stratford-Upon-Avon are also lovely places to visit and pretty easy to get to from London.

Those are all places you might’ve heard of, whereas I was off to a town that you’re even less likely to have heard of than Nick’s final destination of Niue – Guildford.

I grew up in a village near Guildford and it’s a quaint town with lots of history seeing as it’s more than 1,000 years old. There’s a cathedral you can visit, although it’s fairly new seeing as construction wasn’t completed until 1961. Growing up in the UK, it’s easy to take history for granted, so I have a new appreciation for it now that I live in the US. For example, the cathedral had a treasury exhibit which included silver communion chalices from the 1500s that were used in the local area.

Guildford Cathedral
Guildford Cathedral

Guildford is a very hilly area, with the cathedral at the top of Stag Hill. I headed down the hill to explore the town more, including a couple of statues from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass as Lewis Carroll, the writer of those stories, owned a home in Guildford and passed away there.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland statue in Guildford, Surrey
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland statue in Guildford, Surrey

From there I headed back uphill to one of Guildford’s hidden treasures – its castle. Despite it being at the top of a hill, you can’t see it from most places in Guildford. In fact, despite living in the area for 35+ years, my mum said she’d never seen it.

Quick tip – Guildford Castle is best visited in the spring or summer when its gardens are in full bloom. It’s incredibly colorful and is a great place to have a lunchtime picnic. Visiting in October meant it wasn’t quite so picturesque, but it’s hardly an ugly view.

Guildford Castle
Guildford Castle.

The castle is thought to date back to pre-1100, with some of the castle walls still standing dating back to the 1200s-1300s. Here’s a quick video I took sharing a little more.

From the castle, I headed to the High Street which is probably one of the cutest high streets you’ll see in the UK. It has cobblestones and gives beautiful views of the surrounding hills. The only downside is that walking up the High Street is a beast as it’s fairly steep.

Guildford High Street
Guildford High Street

Continuing the theme of quintessential food from each country, I went for tea with scones and clotted cream in the tearoom at the top of the House of Fraser department store. My wife had tipped me off about it as she used to like going there with a friend as it gives beautiful views of Guildford and the surrounding countryside. That was nice, but I was focusing more on the clotted cream.

After walking about four miles around Guildford, I got picked up by my parents – I couldn’t go all this way to southeast England and not see them!

My sister didn't want her photo taken
My sister didn’t want her photo taken

An added bonus is that I not only got a free home-cooked meal…

Cottage pie
Cottage pie
Apple crumble & custard
Apple crumble & custard

…but also a comfortable bed to sleep in overnight.

Bed for the night
Bed for the night

I didn’t end up sleeping in the bed for as long as I’d originally expected though as I closed my eyes that evening while sitting on their couch and woke up several hours later.

It was only a fleeting visit as the next morning my parents dropped me off at London Gatwick airport for the next leg of my journey – stay tuned for more on what I got up to next.

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