Isle of Wight Daycation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hope you have a cup of tea or coffee sitting in front of you, this is a long'un!

Last week the pint-sized fellow Texan/Bristol resident/saving grace Sara from Bristol in my Pocket and I treated ourselves with a mini-vacation to the Isle of Wight for the day.

We had been itching to go on a day-trip together because I haven't really seen much outside of Bristol since I've moved here other than my jaunt over to London and an easy trip down the road to Bath earlier this week (watch this space) – while Sara works most of the week and deserved some fun! She moved here over a year ago and has explored her fair share of the region, so I wanted to go somewhere that was new for both of us but not further than 2 hours away.

Enter, Isle of Wight. We knew that this was mostly a vacation/holiday destination for the locals, so people thought it was a bit strange that we were literally just going there for the day, as I've caught on that it's pretty typical to load up the car with your family and friends and spend a good few days there.

In Texas, a two-hour trip is nothing. A breeze. We both made the 7(for me)/9(for Sara) hour drive to the same undergrad university multiple times a year like it was nothing. I made that drive so many times I practically did it with my feet and my eyes closed; do not attempt at home kids.

And yes, we lived in the same city for 3/4 years, participated in the same organizations, and never met each other until we moved to the other side of the world – life is funny! She's one of those friends who I find saying "ME TOO!!" with every time we hang out. From Harry Potter to music to makeup to YouTube videos to discussing weird cultural quirks of our expat home, we can pretty much find common ground on just about anything.

The day of our adventure, while Mr. Sun was still snoozing, we hopped on a train down to jolly old Southampton, the same port the Titanic left from – so the natural thing to do was to get on a boat, right? Too soon?

The advantage of being daytrippers opposed to families with vehicles in tow is that we got to hitch a ride on the much quicker "Hi-Speed" ferry which shaves 40 minutes off the journey, giving us a 20 minute cruise to the West Cowes harbor.

We congratulated ourselves on our prompt timing with breakfast and bloody marys.

The Coast Bar in West Cowes
The downside of being mere daytrippers was the lack of transportation options when we finally got ON the Isle of Wight.

We waited around for a bus to arrive, paid the hefty day-pass fare and made our way to the center of the island – Newport, which is also the main bus hub and gives you the most options of destinations. I had done some bare minimum research before arriving just to have a basic feel of the island, and had read that Sandown had a pier and some fun things to do. The longer-than expected bus ride took us through rolling hills and picturesque villages, and we had a front row seat on the second deck!

Finally we arrived to streets of pastel-colored homes and cheery bunting. We popped into a throwback sweet shop where I stocked up on fudge and Sara nearly shed tears at the sight of Jolly Ranchers, walked through the pier arcade and along the beach. The other great thing about our friendship? I can say things like "Hmm I think I need a new profile picture" and it's met with nods of agreement rather than judgement. What are friends for!

"Hahah look at this rock on this beach it's SOOooOoOoo funny"
It was around mid-day at this point and we decided it was time to move on to the next spot. I had read that Shanklin Chine was a neat thing to see and just down the road from Sandown, so it seemed like a good progression. We walked to the appropriate bus stop after a bit of confusion and waited. And waited. I called a taxi company just to see what the wait time was and it was 45 minutes – longer than the time the next bus was expected, so we turned it down. No bus. It just simply didn't show up even though the timetable staring right in front of us said it was. It was also the last one of the day, which we noticed about a lot of IoW bus stops – they all stopped running quite early in the day. We walked from street to street searching for timetables and finally found one that suited us. The bus arrived and the driver told us he didn't go to Shanklin. I cocked my head and looked at the sign flashing on the outside that was blinking "Shanklin", had no idea how to refute the bus driver other than pointing to the clearly marked sign, and went back onto the pavement.

We had been trying to leave Sandown for about an hour (maybe more) at this point, and decided to find the train station that I had read about. Easy enough, should have gone there in the first place. The next train was due in 25 mins (slaps forehead) and we sat at the silent platform giggling at our awkward misfortune. The train – clearly made up of outdated London Underground carriages, arrived and got us to Shanklin in no time. Lesson learned of many on IoW.

Upon arriving at Shanklin, we walked up the seaside path towards Shanklin Chine and stopped to take pictures of the landscape. I looked to my left and saw the same cliffs that we had seen at Sandown, thinking "Oh we must have just crossed over from the other side".

And then I looked closer.

Nope, there's the Sandown Pier. Right there. I burst into laughter and begged Sara not to look before realizing we had spent nearly 2 hours trying to get from point A to B, right before our eyes.

Shanklin over there towards the end, as seen from Sandown *Facepalm*

Her eyes widened and we were in fits of laughter, raising eyebrows from fellow tourists and people on leisurely seaside strolls. We consoled ourselves with some Instagram-worthy posing sessions.

Never knowing what to do with my hands. 

Shanklin Chine was lovely and very green, although I'd be lying if I said I fully understood what made it a gated tourist attraction. It's a gorge right off the beach with canopies of leaves and a waterfall at the end. Really nice to walk through, still wondering why it cost 4 pounds to see it.

Arachnophobics, close your eyes and hit scroll a few times.

Oi! We even made a friend!
It's okay you can look now, nothing to see up there...

Having learned our lesson about the public transportation system, we made our way into the center of Shanklin to catch a bus back to Newport so we could connect to West Cowes with plenty of time to spare. Except the main bus stop only led us to Ryde – no big deal, we'll just get another bus there. We sat in the bus stop waiting....waiting...flicking through pictures...stomachs beginning to rumble...and in the corner of my eye I spotted a bus on the side of the shopping center with "Newport" flashing. We stared for a moment, looked at each other, and hauled ass to catch it. Near-crisis averted.

We thought with the time we had left we would see East Cowes, where the big ferry come to port. Surely there would be lots of restaurants and activities waiting for the tourists, right?!

Not so much. There was a large Waitrose and some lonely looking shops, so back to West Cowes we go. The quickest way over the watery divide that I'm STILL wondering why there is no bridge between is the chain-ferry, free for foot passengers. Sitting on a ferry that took all of 60 seconds to cross from East to West, smiling in a daze about how much work going a few meters was, we set off in search of pizza. But the italian restaurant was closed. And so was the restaurant next to it. In contrast to their opening hours signs that insisted they should be open. Continuing to laugh at the weird series of events we just couldn't stop running into, we settled on a pub where we ordered so much food, our plates were tottering on the edges of the table. Sara looked up the timetables for the train and we realized that the next one was leaving in 40 minutes, scarfed down the remainder of our food, skipped to the ferry, hopped on the bus to the Southampton train station, and both fell asleep just long enough to roll into Bristol. Although I probably would have snoozed the whole way to Cardiff if Sara hadn't been there to poke me.

Accidental matching scarves. I told you we share a brain!

It was a wonderful and exhausting adventure. I really hope to go back to the Isle of Wight, next time with a few more days to spare to really get the chance to explore more...and our own vehicle wouldn't hurt.

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