The train leaves from Victoria Station. The train ticket costs more than our first-class overnight journey from Shanghai to Beijing.
We sit across from each other with a small fold-down table between us and a large, clean window to our right. Trees go by and we eat bread with cheese. Disembarking at Southhampton, we watch the other passengers board shuttle buses or climb in cars. We start to walk.
Guided by an overly optimistic hand-drawn map we walk down Western Esplanade to West Quay Road as it slopes towards the water. We still have five pounds and we are determined to spend it. In a supermarket we debate away our precious travel minutes in the beer aisle, finally buying a six pack of Wells Bombardier because the package says “£5” in white in a big red circle.
Where the public road and private dock meet there is a small security hut monitored by a man in a navy blue jacket. We arrive sweating under over-full backpacks and clutching white plastic bags of beer. We have been wearing the same clothes for so long that the dye has etched itself into our skin. The security man asks to see our tickets. We dig through our packs past worn and stinking clothes for the embossed leather -bound folders holding our tickets. We are waved on.
Twenty minutes of walking later we reach a garage filled with cars and British flags, the foyer to the soft-lit wall to wall carpeted terminal where we stand on several lines and present our papers to deferential people who give us plastic identification cards that will open the door to our room and track our spending. Then we pass through a series of tubes to a series of escalators. We are on the boat.
As the boat launches passengers stand on the deck and make the traditional champagne toast. At least according to the photographs displayed for sale along the corridor between the dining area and the main staircase. As the ship launches we are taking showers and changing our clothes for the first time in four days.
ONE WAY TICKET 50.60GBP (APPROX $101.76USD)
DEPARTS LONDON EVERY HOUR OR SO
ARRIVES SOUTHAMPTON AN HOUR AND A HALF LATER