With the President's Day holiday coming up, Jana and I decided to make a long weekend of it. And what better place than London? Since we have both been there several times before we wouldn't need to spend a lot of time orienting ourselves.
With the where and when decided, the how came in to play. Normally, I always fly British Airways to London as they are the only ones who fly direct out of Seattle. However, there was a potential for a cabin crew strike when I would be flying out and if that occurred most likely my flight would be cancelled. Not wanting to deal with the potential for a strike I explored other options and settled on American. I kept waiting, though, in hopes the strike would be called off, but I ended up booking at what I considered my last minute as the trip was getting close. Of course a day or two after I booked with American the British Airways strike was called off. With this news came the debate of do I cancel my (nonrefundable) American flight and just book the British flight or do I suck it up and take the American flight? My more economical side won out and I decided to stick with American.
Before I knew it, the trip had arrived. I was dropped off at the airport Wednesday morning for my flight to NY where I would catch another flight to London. I had a little over an hour connecting time in NY (I flew into JFK) which I thought would be plenty. Not long after take-off the pilot came on and made what I thought would be a pretty routine announcement so I tuned him out until I caught the part about weather issues but they were still allowing planes to land. Not worrying overmuch, I went back to my book. When the second announcement came on and again there was mention of weather and not allowing planes to leave, I sat up and tried to listen, realizing maybe there was more to this than I thought. Turns out there was a huge storm in New York! We had just about reached New York and the pilot came on again to let us know that we could land and they were allowing planes to take-off as well. We landed right about on time, which meant I had a little over an hour to get to my connecting gate. The plane taxied toward the gate and pulled up short and sat. Another announcement - this time to let us know there was a plane sitting at our gate and it was having issues pushing back due to the ice. So we sat, and sat, and sat some more until finally the other plane was able to push back and we could pull in to the gate. By the time I got off the plane I had less than 30 minutes to get to my next flight. At this time they were telling us that the flight was leaving as scheduled. The instructions were to follow the signs, however after the first sign, there weren't really any more, at least any more clearly marked. When we had to go out through baggage I started doubting I would make it as I realized I would have to go through security again. Waiting in line at security I made friends with a few other passengers who were trying to make it to my same flight. One of them had talked to an agent and as there were several of us, they were holding the flight for us. After I got through security, I didn't even bother to put my shoes back on. I grabbed all my stuff and ran! I arrived at the gate slightly out of breath to find out the flight was delayed for 15 minutes. I asked the agent exactly how long until boarding and he told me they were still catering the plane. Realizing I had a few more minutes I used the restroom and bought a bottle of water. I got back to the gate just as they announced pre-boarding. I waited my turn and boarded when my group was called. I settled into my seat and flipped through the magazine to plan out the movies I wanted to watch. The woman sitting next to me had flown in that morning from Argentina and had been trying to get a flight out all day. All other flights to London had been cancelled except this one. Hmm, well at least this flight was leaving, and only a little behind schedule. An hour passed and we were still sitting at the gate. The pilot finally made an announcement to let us know they were having issues with the cargo being loaded but they were still hopeful we would be able to leave. Another hour passed. After we had been waiting for over 2 hours, they turned on the inflight entertainment on the main channel so we would have something to occupy us while we waited. Another hour passed, and another annoucement. They were still having issues with the cargo but if they needed to, they would forego loading the cargo but rest assured our luggage was on board (if I had been paying attention I would have realized this was the foreshadowing part of the story). Finally after 4 long hours we pulled back from the gate only to sit on the runway waiting for the de-icing truck. It was close to an hour before the truck came and de-iced us. So when it was all said and done we were over 5 hours late in taking off. But never was I so happy to taxi down a runway!
The travel woes continued when after the first movie the entertainment system stopped. And all we got for breakfast was a crossaint - it didn't even come with jam or orange juice! Now, I know airplane food isn't great, but still, couldn't we at least get some fruit or some juice with breakfast?! We ended up circling around Heathrow for awhile (along with several other planes which we could see out the window) until we finally got the okay to land. I made it through passport control and headed to baggage. As the conveyor started slowing down and my suitcase had still not appeared a horrible feeling came over as I realized my suitcase was not there. I joined the growing line of passengers at the customer service counter. It was another hour or so before I reached the head of the line to find out my suitcase was back in NY. Now I realize these things happen, but come on! We were SITTING at the gate for over 4 hours!! How did they manage to forget to load not only my bag, but the bags of the 20 or 30 other people in line with me? At this point I was about ready to cry. I made my way to the Heathrow Express and 15 minutes later I was at Paddington Station. Not willing to deal with people on the Tube in my tired and cranky state, I got a taxi and headed for the hotel.
After checking in, I realized just how hungry I was. I really hadn't eaten since the morning before (the croissant didn't count). By this time I had met up with Jana and so we headed out to grab some lunch. There was a cute thai food place not too far from our hotel. Unfortunately, it was probably the worst thai food I ever had.
Our hotel was just off of Kensington High Street, one of many shopping streets, which was a nice location especially since I needed to go shopping because my suitcase was in NY. We walked around and I bought only the necessities to get me through the night and the next morning as I was hopeful I would get my suitcase the next day. We were both pretty tired and so grabbed dinner and headed back to the hotel.
The next morning we went The Muffin Man, a cafe near our hotel. It was really cute and the food was really good! After we finished eating we made our way to Waterloo train station to catch a train to Hampton Court Palace. Hampton Court Palace was one of Henry VIII's residences. One of his wives is even rumoured to still haunt the palace. There were several people dressed in costumes milling about the palace. We toured the different rooms before heading towards the gardens to the maze. I couldn't remember if in a maze you are always supposed to turn right or turn left. We heard someone else in the maze talking and they said turn right so we followed that advice and made it to the center.
We got back to the hotel and there was my suitcase sitting in the room! Yay!! I wouldn't be wearing the same clothes the entire trip. For dinner we decided to we wanted pub food. We asked the hotel concierge if there was a pub to which he answered "Of course" and directed us to the Britannia, the best pub in the neighborhood. There weren't any seats up front so we ended up sitting in the more restaurant area. Because we were sitting in the restaurant area we had a different menu so didn't end up eating normal "pub" fare but the food was still very good. The lights kept dimming and then getting brighter. We wondered if there was a fight over the lights. Jana figured out the kitchen staff (we were sitting near the kitchen) would raise the lights when the food was up and the waiter would dim the lights after he picked up the food.
Breakfast the next morning was once again at the Muffin Man. The weather was really nice so we decided since neither of us had been on the London Eye it would be a good day for it. Unfortunately everyone else had the same idea and the line was extremely long so we decided against it and ended up just walking around and doing some shopping. I went to Harrods as I can't seem to go to London and not stop by Harrods.
Sushi was the choice for dinner tonight and so we asked the concierge again to recommend a sushi restaurant. He directed us to Church Street where there were two different sushi restaurants. We found the first one fairly quickly but it didn't look like what we wanted so we kept walking down the street. We walked all the way to the end of the street and never found the other sushi restaurant. However we passed by several Italian restaurants and ended up at a very inviting, homey restaurant. We made a good choice - the food was excellent! We got the tiramisu for dessert and it was the best tiramisu I have ever eaten!!
Another place neither of us had been to is Greenwich, where the prime meridian line is (the 0 longitdue line). And after we had breakfast at, yes you guessed it, the Muffin Man, we set off for Greenwich. The clock and the line were up at the observatory at the top of a short, but very steep hill. After looking around the observatory we climbed back down the hill and visited the Queen's House, now converted into a museum. Many of the paintings were of ships and after awhile we got bored and hungry and left. We ate lunch at a pub and this time had very traditional pub fare - fish & chips!
We got back into London as it was getting dark and decided to try the London Eye again. This time the line was manageable and we climbed aboard a flight pod. It was getting dark and everything was lit up. It was really neat to see the city all lit up! The view of St. Stephen's Tower (aka Big Ben) reminded me of Peter Pan.
Dinner was at the Italian restaurant we had discovered the night before. The waiters welcomed us back and sat us at our same table. We got to dessert and got terrible news - they were out of tiramisu! We tried another dish, which was good, but not as good as the tiramisu. Walking back to our hotel, we realized we hadn't gotten the waiter's name so we decided he needed a very Italian name and so he became Frederico.
The next morning it was time to say goodbye. The flight home was as uneventful as the flight over was eventful. And when I arrived in Seattle my suitcase was waiting for me!
Until next trip!!