Airlines are not at their best when coordinating schedules. We left our house at 9am on Saturday to go to Dallas. Our American Airlines flight from Dallas arrived in London Gatwick at Sun 6 am local time and we needed about an hour to clear customs and immigration. Naturally the flight to Malta left at 7 am and the next was at 4:30 in the afternoon.
Turning the lemon into lemonade was quite pleasant however; we decided to rent a car and drive around the countryside.
After waiting 45 minutes for the car rental counter to open (!) we set off, carefully remembering to drive on the right side of the road - the other right.
Gatwick is only 25 miles from the south coast so we headed that way to Brighton. Brighton is the quintessential seaside town that is inundated by thousands of Londoners in summer. We arrived at 8am on a Sunday in September so it was almost totally deserted. The pier is one of the best attractions but it wasn't open at that hour so we wandered into town to find some breakfast. After an OK cup of coffee we went back to the beach. The pier was still not open so we voted to drive on.
As we drove eastward along the coast we found a "Boot Sale" in a grassy field on the cliff-top. No, they weren't selling footwear, a boot in England is the trunk of a car and a boot sale is shorthand for a flea market where people sell junk out of the boot. It was interesting to wander around and discover that English junk was just about the same as American junk. We didn't buy anything.
Next was the first real destination - Beachy Head.
This part of the coast is where the "Downs" meet the sea. The "downs" are really "ups" - chalk hills up to 1000 feet high, covered with beautifully green grass and sheep. The sea eats away at the hills and creates cliffs up to four hundred feet high. This stretch has seven hills with valleys between them so there are seven high cliffs called the seven sisters. Beachy Head is one of the seven.
The Beachy Head Lighthouse is a major landmark and we spent a pleasant hour wandering along the cliffs looking down at the lighthouse and the gulls or living "on the edge".
Just along the cliff top was the old lighthouse which is now a private residence. It's called Belle Toute, or as the English say it - Bell Toot.
Next was a minor shopping expedition trying to find some Tylenol. British shop-keepers don't believe that there is a day called Sunday so we were out of luck. But the country side was delightful.
Just north of the coast is a little village called Wilmington at the base of one of the chalk hills and there is a prehistoric male figure "The Long Man" on the side of the hill, created by stripping the grass off the chalk. Fascinating.
Finally, lunch time. A little internet research had turned up an old coaching inn that had great pub lunches. It opened at noon and we got there at 12.01 for a "pint of best bitter" and a fabulous lunch. We learned that the position of the Inn, at the bottom of the chalk hills that blocked the way to London gave them a great commercial venture - keeping horses that could be hitched to heavy wagons to give them a boost over the hill - the origin of "double-heading" that is practised today by Union Pacific over the Rockies.
Back to the airport... The plane leaves at 4:30 so we have to be there at 2:30 to go through security. It was a real shame we had to cut our side trip so short - if only the plane would have been scheduled to leave at midnight we could have gone to a play in London.
As we got to the departure lounge we discovered that the plane was delayed two hours. Then another half hour. We finally boarded and waited two more hours because of a mysterious technical problem. They finally told us that the plane had been rear-ended by a truck and they were checking with the engineers to see if it was airworthy. Then they decided that we should really be in the terminal. Then they couldn't find the engineers. Then they found another plane but our crew couldn't fly it because they had been at work for eight hours already. Then they decided that was OK. Soooo, we finally left a half hour after midnight secure in the knowledge that there were exactly 17,385 tiles on the ceiling of the departure lounge - we counted them all in lieu of sheep as we were trying to go to sleep.
But then there was a delightful bonus. Shortly after we left London we noticed a huge City off the starboard bow. There, just to the south of the river that snaked through the town was a very distinct pointy pimple that was brilliantly lit up. The Eiffel Tower.
On to Malta
Beachy Head..... Wilmington Long Man.....