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Unread 14 Jan 19, 02:31 PM  
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It's The Greatest Hits Tour August 2018: Day 0 - Travel To Gatwick

Day 0 - Friday 10th August 2018 - Pre-travel Day

My alarm was set for 5.30 am as I had a lot to do today. My usual wake up time during the school term is 5.15 so 5.30 isnt really that early for me, but we were a few weeks into the summer holidays at this point so I wasnt naturally waking up at that time. Today though I woke up at 5, probably both through excitement and because of the list of stuff I needed to get done before we could leave for Gatwick. I tried to get back to sleep and fell asleep just before the alarm went off at 5.30.

Once I was up, I showered and got ready, packed my make up and straightener and the bits you cant pack until the morning you go, and made my juice. I have a green juice for breakfast most days and as this would be my last one for three weeks, I didnt want to skip it today even though it takes a while and is a bit of a faff.

Mat was up about the same time as me, and was keeping busy doing bits and bobs. The girls woke up around 8 and before I left for my beauty appointment at 8.30, I gave them instructions to finish packing their backpacks with books and the bits they wanted to bring.

I had waxing and nails booked at my old salon at 9 am and I was a bit apprehensive because I havent been there for treatments for about three years. My beauty therapist Sophie had left back then to have a baby and had then set up her own beauty business at home and shes been doing my treatments from there ever since. Unfortunately for me, her second baby was due any day so she wasnt able to do my holiday treatments. So no Disney nails for me this year .

In the event, the lady who did my waxing and gel nails did a pretty good job and she was nice and efficient so I was out of there by 10.30. On the way home I had to collect our dollars from the local Royal Mail depot as I had missed them being delivered to home the day before. It was chucking it down with rain and I had to park a couple of minutes walk away and run to the depot which was fun . Still, at least I finally had our currency.

I was home just after 11 and packed the final few bits (why do I always leave my hand luggage to the last minute?) The girls had completed their packing, and Mat had checked us in online while I was out. In fact he had sent me a text while I was at the salon to say it was done and that we were in World Traveller Plus (BAs premium) and was this an upgrade or had he just forgotten wed booked premium? Umm, its our first ever free upgrade... yay! Thats a pretty good start to the holiday, amiright?

It was actually pretty chilled out at this point as pretty much everything was done and we still had a couple of hours until the taxi was due to arrive. The cases were zipped up and we sat down to a relaxed lunch trying to finish up everything that needed finishing up (sandwiches, salad, fruit).

The taxi was booked for 2 pm and as expected it arrived about ten minutes early. We always use our local Airports Direct as theyre very reliable. We live about an hour and three quarters drive from Gatwick, and we cant get three cases in our car so booking a mini van with them is the best option. Unfortunately booking the bigger vehicle pushes the price up and the total cost for both journeys was an eye watering 252 but for the amount of luggage needed for three weeks we just had to bite the bullet.

The taxi was a nice big Mercedes and we all settled in for the journey. Mat and I sat in the middle row with the girls behind us.

They amused themselves with Top Trumps and did some writing and drawing in their notebooks. It was still raining and as soon as we reached the M1 (like five minutes drive from our house), we hit traffic. Unfortunately there was traffic all the way to Gatwick and our journey took just over three hours which was pretty tedious .

On the journey, our driver was avoiding calls from his boss - the owner of the company - and was moaning about him to us which was a bit annoying. Mat gets on well with the boss and we didnt really want to be listening to this guy ranting. He was also dodging calls from a bank about his mortgage, and getting pretty frustrated with the traffic so it was all a bit bizarre. I wrote some notes and got out the M&S Veggie Connie the Cute Caterpillar Curly Berry Gums and Veggie Colin the Caterpillar Fruit Sours (the sours in particular are sooo good). The sweets helped with the boredom and eventually, just after 5pm, we pulled up at the South Terminal Departures.

Our hotel was the Bloc hotel which is in Departures at the South Terminal. I had thought it looked pretty good in Stew and Jos trip report after going back and forth on where to stay at Gatwick for ages. We dont really like any of the hotels weve stayed at at Gatwick (Sofitel, Hampton and Hilton) and the Sofitel and Hilton are so expensive for pretty shabby rooms. Ive mentioned this before but the Sofitel at Heathrow is such a lovely hotel, miles better than the one at Gatwick and we just didnt want to pay a lot of money to stay at Gatwick and be disappointed in comparison. The Bloch had the advantage of being new and relatively inexpensive. However, they dont have rooms to accommodate four so we had to book two rooms. I think by the time I booked in June, either the Sofitel or Hilton had sold out of family rooms and the other one was quoting well over the 197 I paid for both rooms (total) for just one room.

We found the hotel easily enough and checked in. I always seem to be 100 yards behind everyone else when I'm pulling a suitcase so I was able to get a photo of the others once they arrived at the desk. Looks a bit like a nightclub cloakroom :


Seren and I had apparently been upgraded but having just looked at the confirmation and room types again I cant see that we actually were. I had booked a twin room with bunk beds for Mat and Freya, and a vista double room for Seren and I (with a window.) We were on different floors and you need a room key to go up in the lift. Mats key wouldnt allow him to go higher than the 5th floor where their room was which caused a few issues when he tried to come up to our room on the 7th floor a couple of times during the stay, but staff were able to help him out. Initially we all went to our room as we had decided to keep all the luggage together in there. We needed things from at least three of the cases during our overnight stay as I spread out the washbags across the cases, so it was easier for me to stay on top of things with it all in front of me. Luckily, our room had plenty of space for the cases whereas Mats had pretty much none. Just inside the door all along the wall opposite the bathroom was some sturdy shelving for luggage and I was able to leave a couple of the cases open on those for the whole time we were there with the other cases stored underneath the shelving. It was really helpful and I don't know why I don't have a photo, sorry. We had packed the clothes / underwear / pyjamas that Mat and Freya needed overnight into his hand luggage and I handed over their toiletries too before they went off to their room.

For anyone who doesnt know, the rooms are almost like capsule rooms. Here is ours:

So the wall you can see to the left is the bathroom and you can just see the edge of the luggage to the right. I'm standing near the door so the square between me and the bed is the open space in the room. It was obviously pretty small but it didn't feel too tight at all. We were happy with the room, it worked out well for us with the luggage space and we really liked the mood lighting and the fact that the blinds were controlled by the ipad (Seren especially.) I really didnt like the wet room bathroom once I had showered in the morning and everything was soaking, including the toilet and sink. But well get to that tomorrow. For now the bathroom was fine.

Once we had got sorted, we went down to Mats room to meet them. I was very glad I wasnt in the bunk bed room as it was very narrow and a bit tight. Mat and Freya did have an accessible bathroom however which was really big and had a window, so I did have a bit of bathroom envy.

When we went in Freya was happily sitting up on the top bunk...

.and as we needed to go out and get some dinner, we asked her to come down. Hilariously she was too scared to climb down so we all had a good laugh and then Mat helped her down. This is funny because shes so energetic, is always bouncing around and never stands still, and we always say shes all arms and legs yet this little ladder had gotten the better of her. I think by the end of the stay she had overcome her fear and was managing to get herself up and down.

At check in, we had been given a book of vouchers for discounts in the restaurants and cafes at the airport, and we had decided to have dinner at Giraffe. The deal there was a free drink with every adult main meal. We would have eaten at Giraffe anyway, but this was a nice bonus. We walked out of the hotel lift and Mat confidently turned right allegedly in the direction of the restaurants. After a minute he realised we had gone the wrong way out of the hotel so we retraced our steps, passed the hotel and found Giraffe, pretty much next door to the hotel (on the left.)

We hadnt eaten at this Giraffe since our first Florida trip as a family in 2012, but we have two branches where we live so we are familiar with the restaurant chain. I actually hadnt been to Giraffe for a long while though, probably for a couple of years. When I had checked before the trip, Giraffe didnt have any vegan options on their menu online or have a separate vegan menu. There are quite a few high street chains with excellent dedicated vegan menus (Ask Italian, Wagamama for example) so we tend to go to those, or at least go to places with vegan items marked on their menus. When I had been researching the options for dinner tonight though, I had seen that they could modify at least one of the vegetarian dishes to make it vegan so I knew we would be fine.

It was pretty busy but we were seated straight away and I really liked our waiter Dino who was very efficient almost to the point of abruptness, yet surprisingly friendly at certain points during the meal. I mentioned our discount coupon once we were sat down and he ran through the drinks that were included in the offer. I think alcohol-wise, it was just beer and house wine. I was happy to have a glass of house red, but Mat wanted a cocktail which would be an additional charge. When we ordered the drinks, Dino said that if I wanted another glass of wine later that would be free because we had only ordered one included drink. Told you I liked this guy .

I asked him about vegan options and he pointed out the Indo Coco Curry which was labelled as vegetarian. This was the dish I had heard could be adapted to be made vegan, simply by removing the yogurt dressing which was served on the side anyway.

Dino also talked us through a couple of other options on the menu that were vegetarian but could easily be modified for vegans. Its lovely when a server really tries to help accommodate our requirements, which we have found to be the case at least 90% of the time weve eaten in restaurants since becoming vegan. Usually when there is a problem with a server, its more a lack of understanding than not being helpful or accommodating. (More then once weve ordered a vegan dish, told the server were vegan and then been asked if we want cheese on our meal.) It was great that he was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about vegan options and this actually set the tone for the holiday as we had pretty much the same experience at most of the restaurants we ate at in Florida which far exceeded my expectations .

The wine was good and Mat had a Whiskey Cooler which he enjoyed.


Seren had a Pineapple Punch smoothie and Freya had a pineapple juice.

I ordered the Indo Coco Curry and Mat went backwards and forwards on what to have but in the end settled on an adapted version of the Spicy Rice Bowl (no egg.) We were really hungry so we ordered some olives and skin on fries to share.

Both our mains were delicious, I was really impressed with the curry. In fact, Ive been to both of our local Giraffes since then and ordered it on both occasions but unfortunately it hasnt been anywhere near as good as it was at Gatwick (both in taste and portion size.) So either the Gatwick branch is better or the high spirits I was in pre-holiday clouded my judgement. The olives were the disappointing part of the meal as we had ordered them because we were starving when we first arrived. As has happened to us a good few times in different restaurants, the staff forgot to bring them and we had to chase them up when our mains arrived. And they were pretty rubbish when they arrived; too hard and the flavour wasnt great.

Being an airport location, Giraffe at Gatwick have some all-day breakfast options which made Seren very happy as she doesnt really like any of their lunch / dinner entrees. So she chose a smoked salmon and scrambled egg bagel with a side of sweet potato fries. Freya had kids fish fingers with chips and beans and both girls were very happy with their meals.

I ordered that second glass of wine and we were all very happy and relaxed. I think that was the point where it really sank in that we were actually here starting our holiday.

Mat and I very rarely eat dessert as weve kind of lost our sweet teeth since becoming vegan, plus there are not usually vegan desserts on restaurant menus besides sorbet, but the girls didnt want to get short-changed. Unfortunately it took a while after we had finished our mains before anyone came back to see if we wanted dessert but we were still pretty relaxed as its not like we really had anywhere to be.

Both girls had their eye on the chocolate brownie that was advertised on a card on the table. Freya chose the kids warm chocolate brownie with ice-cream and Seren wanted the adult portion. She checked with Dino whether it contained nuts, he said probably and as she has an allergy to three types of nuts, that was a no-go. She then needed a bit more time to decide (and have a minor teenage strop) and finally settled on mango sorbet. Checking the receipt now, we were only charged for a kids portion of sorbet and Im pretty sure she had an adults portion so that was nice of him.

When we got the bill, only one glass of wine had been deducted so we mentioned it to Dino and he then deducted an amount which was more than the price of the second which was a bit confusing but hey, Im not complaining. Total including tip was 67.05 which we thought was pretty reasonable for four meals with some sides, three alcoholic drinks, two non-alcoholic drinks and two desserts.

Once we were all settled up we popped to one of the little travel shops to buy a TSA lock for our fourth case as we only have three locks. Usually we travel out with three cases and buy a fourth cheap case or hold-all type bag from Target but we now have a loft full of those so decided to just bring a fourth (small) case out with us.

We also stopped into Boots to buy some water and a few little bits, and I went to M&S to replenish stocks of the veggie Colin and Connie sweets which we had already made a big dent in. We then took the train across to the North Terminal as we had decided to have a drink in the Hampton by Hilton bar. We had stayed at the Hampton in 2015 and had enjoyed a quiet drink in the bar there and fancied repeating the experience. In 2015 we had pretty much been the only ones in there. Unfortunately, the bar was rammed (as was the airport generally) which was probably at least in part to do with the signs all over the airport advising that flights across Europe this evening were being affected by adverse weather (storms). Im a glass half-full person so it didnt worry me at all and I told myself it would all be fixed by the morning, and besides it was European flights, but I had to reassure the girls as it panicked them slightly that our flight might be affected.

The bar itself was about six people deep and we almost gave it up as a bad job but there were lots of free tables right at the far end of the bar, pretty much where the breakfast is served if you know the hotel. The girls grabbed a table while I popped to the toilet and Mat hovered in the bunfight to get the drinks. It actually only took a couple of minutes for him to get served, as I got a text while in the bathroom advising that they didnt have Bacardi and would Havana Club be ok? The text was followed up by one of the girls requesting an answer in person. Honestly, I cant even pee in peace, and yes of course Havana Club is fine...its rum isnt it? (And an upgrade in comparison to my old favourite, Bacardi, being a premium spirit.)

So Mat had a double Absolut and tonic and I had my dark Havana Club and Coke (also double, total for both drinks was 20), plus he got us all a tap water which were amusingly a pint each, served in pint glasses. I made everyone drink all of their water. The girls played Disney Top Trumps and then Freya played getting us each to pick a card and then guessing which one we had chosen which she was surprisingly accurate at.

We also played Heads Up and all had a good laugh.

We left the bar around 9.30, took the train back across to the South Terminal and split up to go to our rooms. Seren and I got ready for bed, chilled and chatted until about 10.45. Seren's new nightdress for Universal:

Look at the pretty lighting around the window:

The lighting and blind controls on the iPad:

Meanwhile in the other room:

Seren and both fell straight to sleep but I woke at 2 with a nasty headache. I couldnt get back to sleep so I drank a whole bottle of water and decided having three drinks was a mistake. Having three drinks on a Friday or Saturday night is not that much of an unusual occurrence for me though, and Id also drank quite a lot of water including the full pint at the bar so I wasnt sure why I had the headache. Sometimes drinking alcohol keeps me awake and I knew that wasnt going to be the best start to travel day, hence my regret at the three drinks. I lay awake for about two hours listening to Seren banging her teeth together in her sleep and the noisy plumbing system that kept waking me up again every time I dozed off. Honestly I dont think I have ever had a good nights sleep at an airport hotel the night before a flight. It was about 4 am when I properly fell asleep again, an hour before my alarm went off .
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Unread 14 Jan 19, 09:24 PM  
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Hi Michelle
Sounds like mostly a great day, the rooms look really funky!
Sounds like a great meal too.
Looking forward to reading along
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Time to start planning
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Unread 14 Jan 19, 10:49 PM  
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Ooh, yay! Looking forward to a new trip report. I cant believe how grown up Seren and Freya look!
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Unread 14 Jan 19, 11:42 PM  
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Sounds, headache aside, like a lively start to your holiday. Looking forward to reading more of your report.
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Unread 14 Jan 19, 11:59 PM  
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Unread 15 Jan 19, 12:26 AM  
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A great start!

Your taxi journey sounded like one we had in Canada. First of all he was late, so late that if our flight had not been delayed, we would have arrived after check in closed. We knew this from an app, but we didn't tell the driver as he would have gone even slower. The vehicle had seen better days and stank. He didn't know how to fit the baby seat and had to call back to his office to get his wife to fit it. He then spent the first half of the journey on a dating app - (yes, whilst driving AND being already married). Then he spent the second half of the journey mentioning that he would need our tip when he got to Vancouver, firstly to buy his date more than a starbucks, and also to pay for his fuel back to Whistler. He didn't get a tip. DH was then randomly swabbed at security, and we were terrified he had picked up "some residue" while in the taxi, but fortunately all clear.

We just had a 2 night stay in the Bloc last weekend which we liked, especially as we could have an extra half hour in bed as so close to security. I don't think we paid for a window room, but we got one which was good. We read reviews so took a squeegee for the bathroom floor. We liked that the bed seemed about 7 feet long and decided that this was to allow the person on the inside to get out the bed without squashing the legs of the outside person! I'd definitely stay there again.
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Unread 15 Jan 19, 08:00 AM  
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I'm looking forward to reading about what vegan delights you have on your holiday. I went to a Giraffe in October and they had a few vegan items on the menu so it seems they've updated it recently. I had a noodle soup when we went which was delicious ☺
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Unread 15 Jan 19, 09:08 AM  
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Loved reading this! The rooms at the Bloc look nice - the nightclub cloakroom comment made me laugh - but so compact. Not somewhere for someone who needs space, Im guessing!

A right result on the flight upgrade - and they treated you well at Giraffe too. All very good. Also, that glass of red looks gigantic - think Id have been wide awake after two of those too!
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