Once again, I found myself drawn to the U.K. Maybe it was the terrific trip I had there six years ago, or maybe it was the fact that my travel buddy had never been abroad before, and an English-speaking country was a good initiation trip. Before you begin reading, let me apologize for the delay in posting my travel musings two months after the trip’s completion. I will say that the delay allowed me to write, edit, and rewrite these entries, and I’ll argue they are all the better for it. So as not to do an information dump, I’ll post these weekly. Enjoy!
Our first day was beyond difficult. We both worked full days on Thursday, December 21 before dropping Teddy at the dog sitter’s, and heading to Dulles for our 9 pm flight to Heathrow. We were seated in the middle two seats of the four seats in the middle of the plane– we were in the sucker seats. I had previously ridden in the very tiny Lufthansa seats so I was used to the grueling challenge of endurance. But Kenny was not. Being the height of the beanstalk talked about in the children’s tale Jack and the Giant Beanstalk, Kenny didn’t get to sleep for any of the journey, and his knees were flattened by the time we landed seven hours later.
Exhausted but excited, we went to immigration at 9 am where we split up for our interviews. (We didn’t know that because we were traveling together, we should have gone for the same interview, thinking only that because we weren’t married, we should have separate interviews.) After a slap on the wrist and a roll of the eyes from a very irritated immigration officer, we got our bags and a taxi to our hotel.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had a more frazzled tourist moment than when our taxi driver asked “Where to?” in his thick Cockney accent. I could feel this Leave Voter staring at me as I searched in my phone for the hotel address. I was unfamiliar with the city’s quadrants when the driver asked me if the hotel was in “Southwest Victoria One.” Perhaps that’s why we ended up paying 70 pounds for that first cab ride– because I was too exhausted to pay attention to the route, and too scared at the 50 pound milestone to say something to the driver. It was highway robbery, or M4 robbery if you like, but I was just focused on getting to the hotel at that point.
We had been up for 24 hours by the time we reached The Windermere, and it was not welcome news to learn we would have to wait a few hours for the room to be ready. We dropped our bags with the front desk and wandered around the Pimlico neighborhood looking for breakfast. We collapsed in Le Pain Quotidien because it was familiar, and rested for a while. It came as a delight over brunch to discover that my work phone had cell service, so we could make emergency calls and navigate the city with Apple Maps and CityMapper. CityMapper told us that if we were insistent on taking a stand against cabs in London, we’d have to use the London Underground to make the 30 minute trek to Wembley Stadium for the Andre Rieu concert that evening. So we walked to Victoria Station to get Oyster cards.
When it was finally time to check in to the hotel at 1 pm, we crawled back to the hotel, and collapsed in our king bed for three hours. It would be the only three hours of sleep we would have in a day that lasted 36 hours.
At 4 pm, we woke up to get dressed and eat dinner in the hotel restaurant before attending a performance of Andre Rieu’s Johann Strauss Orchestra. This concert was the purpose for our whole trip. I’ve followed the Orchestra since I started playing their arrangement of The Emperor’s Waltz in my college orchestra. It was helpful timing that the Orchestra was playing in London at a time that Kenny and I could take off work.
The performance was terrific and we definitely enjoyed it. But nature dictated that we had to sleep. So we used the Underground to navigate back to Victoria station, then to the Windermere for some much-deserved sleep. All-in-all, a less-than-enthusiastic first day in London, but our exhaustion was tempered by our excitement of being in a foreign country.