Today it was drive time. Up with the alarm, we got dressed and headed down to the buffet breakfast that the check in team at the Future Inn pimped on us. It was OK – more of a British breakfast and not as good as the one in Norway. Our cab showed up and with some nervousness I stepped in. Thankfully, this cabbie was not very interested in talking so it was a quick ride over to the Europcar rental facility. I walked up to the counter and started doing the paperwork when the agent asked me for my passport. D’oh! I had left it in my bag back at the hotel. He could not rent the car to us, so we had to get another cab back to the hotel and then come back to the rental car place. I had to ask the new cab driver to take us to a cash machine so that we could afford the cab fares. This cabbie was actually friendly and gave us some pointers for our drive.
We made it back to the Europcar with my passport in hand and proceeded to get the car. First up, the guy was startled I did not purchase any additional coverage for the car. I decided to pony up the cash for the complete peace of mind coverage which gives me 0 liability in case of disaster with the car. I figure considering I was driving on the opposite side of the road it was a good deal. We also got upgraded for free from a Mercedes A150 to a B150. The A150 was a real small car so I was glad for the upgrade. The B150 is actually a very nice plush car with all the modern conveniences like cruise control, CD player, and Digital Radio. Sadly, I was hoping for a cassette player since that is what my iPod uses, so we have to listen to the radio for entertainment.
I made it back to the hotel and we packed and loaded up the car. I was amazed that the boot (trunk for Americans) held both of our big suitcases. Without much fanfare, we headed off on the road to Nottinghamshire and the Sherwood Forest. Originally, we were just going to go straight up to Blackpool, but Daniel wanted to see where the Merry Men used to roam so off we went. After feeling like we got lost in Cardiff, we made it on the expressway and only had to go once completely around a roundabout to get onto the right direction of the expressway. Once on the expressway it was a pretty smooth trip with no major glitches. The fun started when we exited the expressway and started to wind through the countryside.
In the British Countryside you only have once chance to see a road sign. Miss it and you are completely hosed. We followed the signs to Sherwood Forest (complete with Robin Hood’s head) and wandered through some quaint villages complete with the Friar Tuck pub and a few other restaurants named after characters. At last we made it after three and a half hours. We got out, stretched our legs, and wandered down to the famous Major Oak which is supposedly a tree that Robin Hood and the Merry Men met at before they would rob the rich to pay the poor. If you read the sign at the tree, it tells you that even though the tree is over 800 years old, it would not have been as big as it is today back then and therefore the real oak they met under was probably somewhere else. This oak however, is a rare type of oak that there are not very many of in the forest. That is why they chose this place to have the museum and gift shop and assorted nature trails and restaurant. I picked up a wood chip magnet and some post cards and before long it was back in the car to head towards Blackpool.
Even though Blackpool is closer to Sherwood Forest than Cardiff is to Sherwood, it took us longer to get to Blackpool. Since we left Sherwood at around 3pm, we encountered some construction delays and worst of all, evening rush hour around Manchester. One stretch took us over an hour and a half to go 20 miles, but it was nice of Manchester to make me feel at home. We stopped at a service stop to stretch and pee. The service stops along the A series of expressways is neat. They have a fast food joint, a shop, bathrooms, and a gas station. They very is service and cleanliness, but so far so good. We finally rolled into Blackpool just after 7 at night, but since we didn’t have good directions to the Hilton, we ended up doing some circles around town before ending up on the Promenande stuck in bumper-to-bumper cruising traffic. We managed to call the hotel and get directions and ended up just fine. I had to squeeze into a parking stall which was very nerve wracking, but in the end we were OK.
The Hilton was a bit of a letdown from the Future Inn. It is smaller and more worn. Our room and the rest of the hotel has a mild odor to it and is in desperate need for plussing up. In the end I am glad we are here for just one night. The elevators sound like they are haunted since you hear the sound of voices before the doors open (due to the voice calling out the floors). After getting settled, we headed down the promenade to take in the Illuminations. Here in Blackpool they extend the summer season by stringing up lights all over the streets in various different themes from Showgirls to Doctor Who. It has that home-town feel about it. There certainly was a cacophony of smells on the street from horse manure to urine to fish and chips to BO. Daniel and I managed to walk all the way down to the end of the Southern Promenade enjoying a hamburger and fries along the way. We neglected to get drinks and were suffering the whole way without them. The burgers were picked up at one of the numerous hole-in-the-wall food joints. The lady running the shop was surprised we came to Blackpool of all places. I told her I like to see different things and she kind of rolled her eyes and the lady next to us exclaimed that the kids like it.
Blackpool is nothing to write home about. It has a cheesy charm about it, and I am sure on a busy summer night it is a fun place to go out and have fun. There are lots of discos, bars, casinos, and game areas for all ages. At the end of the season on a Thursday, most everything was closing or closed with the exception of a few bars that had some stragglers hanging about them. Still, I am glad we swung through here. We rode back to the hotel fittingly on a tram shaped like a boat all lit up with tacky lights.
Tomorrow it is back in the car for a loooong drive up to Inverness. Hopefully, our luck with the weather holds out and we get to make a few more discoveries along the way.