To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Friday, May 18, 2012

OK, so we woke up Thursday morning and had breakfast at the hotel.  They had a breakfast buffet that included grilled tomatoes (delicious at breakfast) and mushrooms cooked with butter, I think (really delicious!) as well as the usual fried and scrambled eggs, bacon (didn't look like ours but tasted like it), cereal, and so on.  No grits.  I know, you're shocked. Dressed warmly and headed out to the bus stop.  We had to be at the tour place at Victoria Station right after lunch so we had some time to find it.

Right away we got on the bus going the wrong direction.  And this is something that kept tripping me up for most of our trip:  One intellectually knows that the traffic flow is not in the direction one expects, but somehow it's hard to realize all of the ways the traffic flow helps us orient ourselves and figure out where we are and where we are going.  So we rode that bus for a while and eventually asked someone, and wound up at a train station well away from where we needed to be.  Were standing around with furrowed brow trying to match it up to our map and figure out what to do, when a friendly man came up and said "you look lost".  He took our map and showed us where we were, and what we would have to do, so we went inside to buy tickets.

I walked up to the woman at the window and said, "I have no idea what we're doing."  (This seemed to be a recurring theme.)  She thought that was funny and had a good laugh, and told us how to get where we were going.  We couldn't use our Oyster cards and so had to buy tickets, and she told us to go ahead and buy a day's worth of travel because that would be more cost-effective.

Looking at F, she said.  "How old is your daughter?"

When I responded, "Twenty-five," she jumped.

"Bless her," she murmured.  And this is also a recurring theme, through F's life so far.  Everyone thinks she's five to ten years younger than she is.  They think that of me too, inexplicably, but it's nicer when you're past fifty and people think late thirties.  At her age it's not so nice.

Anyway, we rode the train in to Victoria Station and found the tour office (eventually, after a couple of phone calls), and then had a little time to look around.  There's an Underground stop there as well as a bus stop, and the station itself is like a mall inside with places to shop and eat and so on.  But you have to pay 30 pence to go into the loo (the signs say "toilet" which strikes F and me as being a bit rude).  We did a little souvenir shopping and had lunch, and then got on the bus with our tour group for the ride to Stonehenge.

I want to take a little time to talk about that, and my cold is still bothering me and making me feel bad, so I'll stop here for now.  A bunch of people at work have had a cold lately and apparently this one doubles back on you and starts over.  I'm thrilled.  I have to fly to Atlanta on Tuesday and can't wait for my eardrums to just totally rupture.  Well, anyway.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

We flew out of Orlando and switched planes in Philadelphia.  Had to show our passports to get on that flight.

I will mention that F and I got separated at security in Orlando.  She got a bit held up in her line because she was behind a woman who threw a FIT about having to take her shoes off and empty her pockets.  Seriously, F said, a total tantrum.  The TSA people were patient with her, explaining that they were not making this stuff up, they had to follow the law, they weren't asking her to do anything anyone else didn't have to do, but she would not be placated.  I told F later that this is why, when she was a little girl, if she got mad at me and said "yes ma'am" in an ugly way I made her repeat herself until her tone was acceptable.  It wasn't that it did anything for me that she should say "yes ma'am" in a polite way, it was that she needed to be able to control herself even if she was frustrated and irritated.  People who can't do that risk getting into all kinds of trouble.

And I got held up because the people in front of me didn't know what to do - they had bins out, and were sorting their things back and forth, and meanwhile nothing was on the rollers moving to be scanned, and the TSA folks were kind of frantic because things were backing up really fast.

Anyway, eventually we got onto our transatlantic flight, which was to go overnight.  It's about seven hours in the air.  We were issued pillows and blankets, but you can't really sleep.

At first there was a lot of convo between people on my right trying to one-up each other about where they'd been - Delhi is a hellhole, but Katmandu is really awesome, and so forth - but when we took off one of them threw up.  Yes, really.  It took the attendants a while to deal with that, and they had to find other seating for at least one person, and I could have done without the people behind me discussing it, but at least the stupid conversation stopped.  F gets a certain amount of motion sickness, and she carries dramamine with her for just such occasions.

They gave us dinner and drinks and so forth, and we tried to rest mostly.  F works the night shift so she was more awake than I was.  About an hour before we landed they brought around snacks so we could get hold of ourselves.

Got to Heathrow, and had to go through immigration, which was no big deal at all.  We showed our passports.

"Purpose of your trip?"


"How long are you staying?"

"One week."

"Are you two together?"


Stamp, stamp, and that was it.  We were prepared to show our itineraries if need be, since the UK gov't website said we should, but it wasn't necessary.

Then to collect our bags, and since we had nothing to declare, right to the bus and to the hotel.  F went to lie down and I bought a bottle of water for her out of a vending machine so I could break a 20-pound note, and then went to the little Costa Coffee shop there in the hotel to get myself a latte.  I was so tired I couldn't really cogitate at all, so when the young man told me how much my drink was I just showed him my handful of coins and said, "I have no idea."  He laughed and counted out his money, showing me what he was doing.  And so F and I rested all afternoon, and went down for dinner (fish-and-chips for her,) and slept like logs all night.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I have got a dreadful cold.  I wanted to wait until I felt better to start writing about our trip, but that may take a while.  Just have to wear this thing out, I reckon.

F and I decided to spend about a week in London.  We picked out a time, and then I went on Expedia and bought our airline tickets, and paid for the 6 nights in a hotel.  There are a million London hotels on Expedia so I picked an inexpensive one that had good reviews on TripAdvisor.  F paid me back her share.

We already had passports but we spent some time thinking, planning, and making preparations.  Some things worked well, and as expected, some didn't, but you don't know until you go through it all.

I bought two very inexpensive adapters through Amazon because their sockets won't take our plugs.  All of the things F and I had to plug in would handle 240 volts, so we didn't have to have the more expensive voltage converters.  These worked very well.  The hotel had them in the vending machines, for quite a bit more money than we paid.

We ordered Oyster cards so that we could use the public transportation system.  They're cards that you load money onto and then use on the bus, or on the underground; they keep track of where you are and how much to take off, and you can put more money on as needed.  Yes, you can get them after you get there, but the fewer things we had to do, the quicker we could get into our experience.

We let the bank know that we would be using our debit cards in the UK; they lock them, otherwise.  We also each brought 90 pounds with us, that our bank provided before we left.  We didn't know a soul there, and if for some reason the debit cards didn't work right away, there we'd be.  But they did, and it was good to have that cash, too.  Once again, you can exchange American cash when you get there, if you think you'll want to fool with it.

Added some features for the cell phone accounts so that we wouldn't be shocked too badly when we got back.  F only opted for the international calling package, but I added texting and internet features.  I expected to upload pix from my smart phone but that did not work.  We did use the internet to check the weather and a few things of that nature, but I ended up buying more than I was able to use.

We also paid for a couple of tours, in advance.  We were to travel all night Tuesday night, and expected to get to our hotel midday Wednesday.  So the tours we bought were a Thursday afternoon excursion to Stonehenge, and then an all-day tour on Friday called "Total London Experience".  I'll talk more about those when I get to it.  We thought that that would give us a kind of overview so we'd be OK sightseeing on our own afterwards, and that's pretty much what happened.

The weather - well, we expected highs around 60 but it didn't get above about 44 degrees until our last day there.  Also some precipitation - not outright rain, but maybe a very light sprinkle a lot of the time.  We had the sense to pack warm clothes, fortunately, and coats and gloves and umbrellas.  F and I both have a tendency for our hands to get very, very cold if we get just a bit chilled - mine actually turn red or blue - so we were glad for our gloves.  I usually like to carry a fairly small purse, but I bought one big enough to accommodate my umbrella, small things we might purchase, and a folder.  I'd printed out, for each of us, our itineraries, with confirmation numbers for the airline and hotel and all; our boarding passes when I printed them the day before the flight; the e-tickets for the tours we'd bought; and maps of the Tube system and so forth, and put each set in a folder.  So I was able to wag mine around with me in my oversize purse.

You get one free checked bag in an international flight, but one doesn't want to have important things possibly lost, so a set of underwear, all of my meds, and a fresh blouse in case I needed to change when we landed went into my carry-on.  I've flown so many times I kind of know the drill:  all of the liquids go into 3-oz or less bottles, all of the bottles into a 1 qt ziplock bag; laptop has to come out of the bag and go into a bin by itself; shoes will have to come off, so you don't want anything with laces or that you have to fuss with.

So that was the preparation.  I'll go back and add anything that occurs to me later, and next will talk about getting there.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

I haven't blogged anything lately because F and I were planning an Event and I didn't want to jinx it.  We're partway into it now, so here we are.