Following on from my previous posts about the museums I visited and the We Will Rock You musical, I want to finish my trilogy about my recent break in Milton Keynes by giving an overview of the area I was staying in near the theatre, as I spent a bit of time having a wander around. As with my other posts, none of this is sponsored or gifted, and you can see some footage from the area as part of the vlog in my March Favourites video.
- Arrival & Accommodation
- Covid Safety
- Looking Around
Arrival & Accommodation
Travelling to Milton Keynes was easy, being just a half hour direct stop on the train from Euston, and I then got a bus from the station to the hotel. I used the buses to get to the museums during my stay as well. And I didn’t have to pay for any of them, as my Freedom Pass for London’s transport can also be used on any local bus service in England (not other parts of the UK) from 9:30am to 11pm on weekdays, and all day on weekends and Bank Holidays.
It was also quite easy to figure out which bus to get, where the stop was, and where to get off, as I tried out the Moovit app for the first time. It had been recommended to me by a friend ages ago, before the pandemic, and this was the first opportunity I’d had to make use of it (as in London I use Citymapper). It clearly showed me on the map where to pick up the bus, and displayed the route it was taking, so I could always see where I was. There were occasions when the drivers had to follow diversions due to works taking place, which Moovit didn’t know about, but I was always able to see where we were on the map, so I could see when and where we rejoined the main route. And the app starts alerting you when you get within 2 stops of your destination, so you know when to alight. So that was very useful.
I stayed in the Theatre District Premier Inn for 4 nights, which was everything you expect a Premier Inn to be really – nothing lavish or luxurious, just nice and comfortable with all the essentials I needed, and delicious cooked breakfasts. As I’ve experienced in other Premier Inns in the past, it was quick and easy to check in, and the staff were very happy to get my breakfast from the buffet for me as I’m visually impaired. So I was well fed every morning with bacon, sausages, beans, hash browns, tomatoes and mushrooms, and on a couple of days I had some buttered toast as well, plus I had a glass of apple juice to drink every day. That all kept me going well into the afternoon!
The only small issue that came up was the fire alarm going off around 6:45am after my first night there! Fortunately my nearest fire exit was straight across the corridor from my room, so I was able to nip down the stairs and out of a side door easily, and waited with the other guests in the car park. A couple of fire engines turned up and one fireman went into the hotel to check things over, but there weren’t any issues so they didn’t have to do anything. We weren’t told the cause, but as it was the start of breakfast time I’m guessing something got slightly overdone. The fire alarms in hotels like that are deliberately very sensitive, in case people are smoking, so it doesn’t take much to set them off. Thankfully it didn’t go off again during my stay!
Talking of staying safe, I was of course well aware of the risks of going on holiday in the current climate. I am rather surprised that my mother and I have still never had Covid (as far as we know), and it seems inevitable that it’ll get us eventually, much as we’d rather avoid it. But we are fully vaccinated (3 shots for me, while Mum’s just had her 4th over the Easter weekend without any side effects) and we’re careful with face coverings and hand sanitising when using public transport and indoor spaces (even though a lot of other people aren’t bothering now – it was a mixed bag everywhere I went in that respect, among staff members and the general public). Plus medical treatments have advanced during the pandemic. So whenever we do get it, our chances will be good. And so, for my mother and I, the time feels right to accept the small risk there is. But for those who are more vulnerable, it is still a lot more difficult, I appreciate that, and I know it’s not helped by having a lying, law-breaking Prime Minister who has undermined everyone’s sacrifices and losses.
Anyway, I felt very safe staying in the Premier Inn, as they have a stricter cleaning regime these days, with particular attention to all frequently-touched surfaces. Check-ins have moved to 3pm as well (an hour later than it used to be), so they can clean the rooms more thoroughly. And once you’ve checked in, no cleaners enter your room for the duration of your stay, unless you ask them to (which I didn’t), as opposed to the old days when they used to enter daily. It also helped that I went outside of holiday season, so there weren’t a lot of people about, in the hotel and elsewhere.
There were of course occasions where I spoke to people face to face, or had other people near me. And so it didn’t come as a surprise when I was ‘pinged’ by our NHS contact tracing app on the last night of my stay – the first time that’s happened to me during the whole pandemic. It simply told me that someone I was in close contact with 2 days earlier, on Tuesday, had now tested positive (‘close contact’ meaning within 2 metres for at least 15 minutes). That doesn’t necessarily mean they had it when I met them, or were infectious if they did, or that I caught it, or that I was even facing them – there are all sorts of caveats with a contact notification. It’s just a heads-up really.
So I don’t know who it was – it could be a guide I spoke to at Bletchley Park, someone browsing near me in one of the galleries, someone sat near me on the bus, someone nearby when I had dinner back in the theatre district, etc. After all, 2 metres is a fair distance really, and 15 minutes isn’t that long. But it doesn’t matter. I felt fine, and I was going home the next day anyway, so there was nothing to gain by taking a test at that point. So I just waited to see if any symptoms developed, which they didn’t, and 3 weeks later l’m still clear, so thankfully I’ve dodged it again on this occasion.
During the late afternoons and evenings, when I wasn’t out at museums, I naturally spent a bit of time having a look around near the hotel. Navigation felt quite safe and easy to me, thanks to the grid road system they have in place. Pedestrians and traffic are kept pretty separate, and it seems like it’s possible to walk from one side of the town to the other without having to cross a main road. There are loads of pedestrian underpasses for a start. And even if you do have to cross roads, there are numerous crossing points, with lights at busy junctions of course.
On my return journey home I actually walked from the hotel to the train station as I had time to do so. It only took half an hour and was basically a straight line, with just a couple of slight nudges to the side because of the occasional building getting in the way. Plus earlier in the week I decided to walk back to the hotel after visiting the Milton Keynes Museum, as Google Maps correctly indicated that it would take just an hour, which was fine by me as I like a nice walk and had the time to spare. And, although the route starts outside the main town grid, near very busy roads, Google took me through a nice little park, tree-lined pathways, underpasses and quiet streets that meant I avoided any difficulties, and it was the most direct route to my destination.
Apart from the theatre, the main points of interest near my hotel were, of course, the local shops and restaurants.
The area immediately next to my hotel was called 12th street, and it has a selection of places to eat and have fun. I didn’t have time to go into any of the establishments, but among other things it includes the Midsummer Tap pub, branches of Bella Italia, Brewhouse & Kitchen, TGI Fridays, Kaspa’s Desserts & Robotazia (a restaurant run by droids that sounds like an intriguing novelty), and the gaming experiences Locked In A Room & Vertigo VR (which also sound fun). I didn’t go into the MK Gallery that’s near the theatre either, but that’s also somewhere I could visit in the future.
Instead of all that though, a fair amount of my time was spent exploring the many retailers available in Centre:MK, the 14th largest shopping centre in the UK, just across the road from 12th Street. It consists of 2 extremely long corridors, with various crossover corridors along the way, and a couple of larger open spaces for events or street markets, plus there’s some greenery dotted throughout. They do have an app, but it has very small and poorly contrasted text that doesn’t adjust to my display settings, so I didn’t use it. I was, however, able to download a PDF map from their website, that I could use on my phone by zooming in on it. The other issue I found was that, because they have huge windows to let in lots of natural light, there was a lot of glare, especially when the sun was out. So sometimes I had to wear my sunglasses instead of a mask, though with very few people around that didn’t matter. Glare wasn’t an issue in the undercover areas that had artificial lighting though.
So during my stay I popped into their branches of Marks & Spencer and Hotel Chocolat to pick up a few nibbles and treats, and I also sat down to eat in KFC and Pizza Hut. KFC was the same as usual, in terms of ordering at the checkout, then collecting when your number was called. But Pizza Hut have gone completely contactless now, meaning you just scan a QR code on your table and order through the website. I don’t know how long they’ve been doing that, but I found it really easy, and the food was delivered quickly. And the toilets in Centre:MK are really easy to find as well, with big illuminated male and female figures on the wall at the end of the corridor – I wish more places would make it as obvious as that!
Attached to Centre:MK is a relatively new extension called Midsummer Place. It’s much smaller than the main shopping centre, and not particularly exciting. But I like the way they have birdsong playing in there. And my attention was naturally drawn to the Upside Down House, which you can book to have photos taken in upside down rooms. I didn’t do it, as it’s the sort of thing that’s best to do for a laugh with friends rather than by yourself, but I imagine it results in some quite amusing pictures. I did, however, try going to the American burger joint Five Guys in Midsummer Place during the week, having never tried them before. I had a big bacon cheeseburger with tomato and grated onion, along with fries and some Dr Pepper. It probably fulfilled my recommended salt intake for a month, as there was a lot on there, but it was nice, as unhealthy things tend to be!
Meanwhile, the entrance of the Premier Inn, and the window from my bedroom, looked across a large car park towards the long Xscape building, which has a mixture of experiences, shops and food outlets. It includes Cineworld, Hollywood Bowl, iFly (indoor skydiving), Snozone (indoor skiing and snowboarding), Gravity (trampoline park), Funstation (gaming arcade), Rush VR, Escape Hunt, a large casino and various other things.
I didn’t have time to check out the activities, but I did have a meal one evening in The Moon Under Water, the Wetherspoons pub they’ve got there. Using their app I ordered their Gourmet Sirloin Steak, cooked medium-well, with chips, onion rings, tomato and peas, plus I had a bottle of Angry Orchard cider to drink, and a warm chocolate brownie with ice cream for dessert, and it was all very tasty.
There’s also a place called The Hub, with restaurants and other bits and pieces, that isn’t far away from Centre:MK, but I didn’t get a chance to look at that. Nor was there the time or the right weather conditions to take a stroll in places like Campbell Park and Ouzel Valley Park, which I’m sure are lovely when the weather’s nice. So there are still some things I can aim to see and do on any future visits.
And that’s it, finally. I really enjoyed my mini-break, it was lovely to visit somewhere new after being stuck at home for so long. And I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it all too. I already know of a few other places I might be visiting later in the year, often in relation to other shows I’ve been booking, so I look forward to sharing more travel adventures in the months ahead!
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