Thursday, November 24 (Day 85)
Incheon, South Korea – Heathrow, London – Coventry Coach Station
Chimney smoke hangs lazily in the hazy early morning air, unable, because of the sub-zero cold, to escape to higher altitudes. From the tenth-floor window of my hotel I watch jumbo jets descend as they begin their final approach to Incheon international airport from the Yellow Sea. It is crazy to think that North Korea is less than 50 kilometres from here, and not far off shore the South Korean navy are in the midst of playing war games, one year on from the sinking of one of their vessels, allegedly by their northern neighbours.
Briefly, I take a coffee and stroll outside, leaving the warm, cosy confines of the Hyatt Regency. The freezing early morning air hits me with small daggers of pin point coldness. I always think that Korea has a touch of Russia about it. If you take the distinctly East Asian character of China and Japan, and then throw in the wintry grey of European Russia, you kind of have what I mean.
The Hyatt Regency Incheon Seoul gets my vote for the title of the world’s best breakfast. Hands down, I have never been anywhere that has served up such an extensive choice of quality breakfast food anywhere on this planet. There are a dozen different types of cereal and bread, and they even have four different kinds of milk. The décor and the service are also five-star. It was a good move getting up extra early this morning. Perusing the international press, I end up spending two hours in the breakfast room, trying everything from the mango yoghurt with pineapple and cashew nuts, to freshly made chocolate waffles with maple syrup. I reckon most of the weight I lost in the Pacific has just been put back on during my South Korean breakfast calorie fest.
We are an hour late taking off from Incheon thanks to the Chinese temporarily closing their international air space to incoming traffic. One in the air, our route takes us past Beijing, the Gobi desert, Ulan Bator, Lake Baikal and eastern Siberia. Down their below us everything is covered in a thick blanket of snow and ice. Fortunately, the flight is less than half full and I am able to get an entire row to myself to bed down, watch a couple more movies (the Welsh movie Submarine is hilarious), enjoy three more meals (that’s nine on the return leg from Auckland to London) and send myself off to sleep after half a dozen glasses of whisky.
As usually happens when flying long haul into London, my flight is forced to circle high above the capital for half an hour, before landing around an hour late. Two thousand metres down below, the M25 is completely stationary as far as the eye can see, as another 5 o’clock rush hour kicks in.
It is almost three hours later that I reach Victoria coach station after passport check queues (next week this could take 12 hours during the UK public sector strike), baggage control, walking miles through the strange downtrodden labyrinth of Heathrow, and then driving through central London traffic jams. National Express wants nearly 40 quid for a one-way coach journey to Coventry. Option B is Heathrow to Victoria for a fiver, and then Victoria to Coventry on Megabus for an absolutely ridiculous four pounds! With an hour to kill at Victoria coach station, a pint of Hobgoblin across the road at the local boozer costs the same amount of money as my two-hour coach trip. I have only been back in England for a couple of hours but I can see that this country now has both deflationary and inflationary prices kicking in.
If I meet another miserable, rude Polish person today I think I will scream. I would say that half of those working at Heathrow and at the aforementioned pub fit this description. Maybe you should go home if you don't like England.
In the Victoria station convenience shop a spot a very respectable looking middle-class English bloke 'chatting' to a sandwich. I will be back in a minute to buy you. Don't go away!
With jet lag kicking in, I doze off for most of the coach journey to Coventry. I left Samoa at 1pm on Monday and I am finally home at midnight on Thursday. It will be four nights in four different countries after being in Samoa on Monday, New Zealand on Tuesday, South Korea on Wednesday and finally England tonight. I can’t wait to give my mum a hug. There’s also huge relief when I discover that all of my family are safe and well. No time now for my reflections on the trip. I need to get myself to bed.