Happily for us, Andre has bought an annual travel card for his Oyster card (I also now have one), which comes with a Gold Rail Card for National Rail services, which gives you a discount on rail travel within the Gold Rail Card zone (basically south-east England). This meant our travel to and from Portsmouth only cost about £50!
The hotel I booked (the Inn Lodge) was not far from the Hilsea train station in Portsmouth – about a 15 – 20 minute walk perhaps. The room was quite large and the bathroom was clean, although the shower control was a bit weird. The room had no air-conditioning or fans though, and the windows only opened about 10cm. It was a warm afternoon, the afternoon sun was right on our room and we had just walked from the train station, so I was not very happy with the lack of climate control (although there was a heater for winter!). Fortunately there’s no such thing as hot nights in England so the room was much more comfortable in the evening when we went to bed. We had dinner in the restaurant downstairs, which was very good, although the lemon meringue pie for dessert was disappointing.
We started the next day by visiting the D-Day Museum. Entry was £6.70 for adults, and it was larger than I expected. There was a video in a little theatre to start with, and you could view the Overlord Embroidery while waiting for the video to start. Operation Overlord was the codename for D-Day, and the embroidery was commissioned by Lord Dulverton of Batsford and embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework. Each of the 34 panels is 2.4m long and 90cm deep, and it is a spectacular piece of work which took over 5 years to complete.
The museum itself is also very good. As the launching site of all the ships, Portsmouth played a significant part in the D-Day campaign. Therefore the museum is full of relics, paraphernalia and local stories about the war and D-Day. After the museum we took a walk along the foreshore, past forts built by Henry VIII, and then passed a fair, not quite on a pier, but on the foreshore all the same – very English!
We stopped for lunch there before continuing up through the town towards the historic dockyards. Dad called to say they still wouldn’t be in Portsmouth for a few hours, so we decided to go and see the HMS Victory – our biggest reason for visiting Portsmouth – without them.
The Historic Dockyards in Portsmouth are home to a range of naval attractions. You can either buy separate tickets to each attraction, or one ticket (£28) will get you into everything. The ticket is valid for a year too, so Andre and I bought the big one and will return to Portsmouth again to get our money’s worth. The HMS Victory was Lord Nelson’s flagship, and the ship he was on when he was killed. You can also visit the HMS Warrior and there is a museum dedicated to the Mary Rose, where you can see the remains of her hull which they are in the process of preserving. Andre has been keen to see the Victory – a real tall ship with 100 canons – since before we even arrived in the UK, so we spent several hours exploring it.
We spent a little bit of time visiting the Historic Naval Museum before the dockyards closed, when we headed towards Gunwharf Quays to wait in a coffee shop, which is where Mum, Dad, Michelle and Christine met us. From there we decided to get fish and chips for tea (never get fish and chips from Britannia Fish and Chips just outside the dockyards – the fish batter was super oily and ick and the chips were basically unsalted, although we did see the girl wave the salt shaker over them). Andre said his piece of fish was great, so we suspected ours had all been sitting in the bain marie and his might have been the only piece made fresh! The weather had turned against us by now (it was nice and sunny earlier in the day) so we couldn’t sit on the beach, and instead ate our fish and chips in the car by the beach.
The next day we checked out of our hotel and met the others at the dockyards. They decided it wasn’t worth paying to go into any of the ships or museums, so just wandered through the dockyards to look at the ships from the outside. Meanwhile, Andre and I had a look through the Mary Rose museum. The Mary Rose was one of Henry VIII’s ships which sank just off Portsmouth over 400 years ago. It was found in the 1970s and they salvaged the remains of her hull in the 80s. Since then, they have spent 20 years spraying it with a wax mixture so that the wood wouldn’t dry out and collapse. Last year they turned off the wax-mixture sprays and now the drying process has begun. As all the wood cells have been filled with this waxy stuff, the wax will harden and hold the wood cells together so it doesn’t disintegrate.
Soon we had to leave though, so on our way back to the train station we bought some lunch. We had to buy an extra ticket from Portsmouth train station to Hilsea (because our return tickets were only to and from Hilsea Station, which was near our hotel) but this only cost about £3. We had to be back in London in time for Andre to get ready for a World Cup Trivia Quiz he was helping our friend Guy run that evening.