June 7th – although honestly, yesterday and today run together a bit because we were up so early and got so little sleep. It feels like I had about a 20 minute nap between the time we got off the ship and our arrival in London.
So, we arrive at the airport at pretty much the time we are supposed to arrive – about 5 AM. But guess what? The bus driver drops us off at the wrong terminal. Now normally, this would not be a big deal, but we are carrying a TON of luggage (this is a group of 50 people who have been away from home for two weeks – a ton is probably a conservative estimate of the amount of luggage we have), nearly everyone in our group is a senior citizen, and there are several people in our group with difficulty walking. To make matters worse, apparently, the Barcelona airport isn’t open this early. There is no one – not even a security guard or anything – to ask about where we find the British Airways terminal. There are no luggage carts or people to ask for the whereabouts of the luggage carts. Brighid and I are among the youngest in the group, so we decide to set out to find out where our correct terminal is. I finally see a man sitting behind the desk of another airline, and I ask him if he knows where the British Airways check in desk is. He tells me it’s straight up. I turn around and see a set of escalators, so I assume straight up means up the escalators. The problem here is that we cannot now find the elevators that will take us straight up with all of this luggage. Brighid and I set out again to see what we can find, and what we find is someone else who tells us that British Airways is Straight Up, but he actually points us in the direction of the next terminal. I guess Straight Up in Catalonian means “down that way”.
We start walking, and even for those of us without walking difficulties, this is a long darn walk!! When you factor in the 200+ pounds of luggage we are carrying, the walk is even longer. We finally get to the British Airways desk, and we get in line. The rest of the group starts drifting in behind us, and Steve asks us if we can tell the woman at the counter to get a wheelchair for Dot, who we assume is still at the other terminal. But, in just a few minutes, bless her heart, she appears, looking tired and winded – I told you it was a long walk!!! We figure we better still get a wheelchair, because we don’t know where we go from here to get to the gate, and if the walk is anywhere near what it was just now, there is no way Dot will make the plane to London.
We are finally up to the desk and the first thing I ask is how many bags we can check. I have an enormously heavy bag that I will carry on if I have to, but I would much rather check it. She tells me that I can check it – YIPPEEE!! Something goes right this morning!! Then we ask for the wheelchair. I tell her it’s for my mother, who is in the line, but at the back of the line, and has difficulty standing and walking. She tells me that they are not allowed to request wheelchairs for someone who is not checking in, but since she will eventually be checking in, she will call. Unfortunately, the office that handles the wheelchairs does not open until 6 AM, so maybe by the time Dot and Russ get up to the counter, the office will be open and we can get the chair. UGH.
Fortunately, now that everyone seems to be awake here at the airport, check in seems to go pretty quickly, and there is soon a wheelchair for Dot, and we are on our way to the gate. Thank goodness for the wheelchair – now where’s mine??? Holy cow, this is such a LONG walk!
We are finally on the plane, and we are finally one step closer to home. Are you detecting a pattern here, though? We seem to be in a comedy of errors this morning. We arrive at Heathrow, alive and well, and we gather together to head out to the buses. Make that bus. Yep – only one. They try as hard as they can to fit all of the luggage on the bus, but it’s not going to work. There is no way we can squeeze everything on. Steve brings his one bag with all of the tour information on the bus and it gets put on an empty seat in the back of the bus. A few other people have retrieved their smaller pieces and they have them back there as well, filling up the few empty seats with them, but there is still no way to get all of the luggage onto this bus. Steve talks with our bus driver and the tour guide, and the arrangement is made that another vehicle will come to pick up the luggage, Steve will hop on the Tube, and he will meet us at lunch. It seems like another crisis has been dealt with and we are soon on our tour of London.
Our tour guide Liz is so funny – she has a dry, sarcastic sense of humor that I can really appreciate. Dave, our bus driver, also gets in on the act once in a while, and they really are entertaining and informative. We see some of the highlights of London, including Harrods, the London Eye, the Tower Bridge, Prince Albert Hall, the Prince Albert Memorial, the Tower of London, and a few other things. Then we head to the Prince of Wales Pub for lunch. Oh no. Guess what? There are 20 steps to get up to the room where we are supposed to have lunch, so as we go into the restaurant, Dot and Russ tell us goodbye, as there is no way Dot can climb all those steps 🙁 Lunch turns out to be more of a tea – tea sandwiches, chips and some small pastries – and that’s really disappointing when we see the group coming in behind us getting a full roast beef lunch. I eat a couple of small slices of ham off of the tea sandwiches, Brighid has the tray pass her by a couple of times without getting anything, so we leave the restaurant nearly as hungry as when we arrived. Steve has decided not to meet us for lunch afterall, and he has gone on to the hotel, presumably to guard our luggage with his life.
After lunch at the pub, we drive past St. James Place and Kensington Gardens, then we go past the horse guards, #10 Downing Street, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. We stop near Westminster Abbey and have nearly 2 hours of free time. Dot decides to stay on the bus – and this is one of the few occasions where someone doesn’t give her a hard time about that. Russell at first decides to stay on the bus, but then decides to join Brighid and I. He wants to go see the horse guards and get his picture taken with them, so we find out exactly how to get back that way, and we decide to stop in the Westminster Abbey gift shop to get postcards and then head towards the horse guards. Okay, remember this being the day when nothing goes right? Yeah. Well, we get all the way to where the horse guards are supposed to be and they are gone 🙁 They have closed up early today because they are expecting a visit from Princess Anne later in the evening in preparation for the Queen’s birthday celebration this coming weekend. I know Russell is disappointed, and it doesn’t seem like we can catch a break today.
We walk back towards Westminster and I take a couple of pictures of Brighid and Russell in front of Big Ben and a few of Westminster. We head back to the bus, and I ask where there is a Starbucks, since I know they have them here. We find out from Liz that they do not have sugar free syrup here. UGH. I make a crack about how there must not be any fat people in all of Europe, and turn to see our 300+ pound bus driver. Ooops.
Dave takes us out past Buckingham Palace – twice -and we see Trafalgar Square before we head out to Sussex, where our hotel is. It’s a long drive out there – about 2 hours – and Liz is going to stay here in London, so we drop her off and we’re on our way.
Our hotel is The Copthorne Hotel near Gatwick airport, where we will be departing from in the morning. The exterior of the hotel puts you in the mindset of an old English country house, and it pretty much lives up to that. The rooms are not lavishly appointed, but they are comfortable – and honestly, we are all so tired, they could have given us a cot in the parking lot and we would have been happy. When we arrive, Steve is no where to be found, but a guy from the front desk comes out and starts giving us keys and room assignments. Our luggage is in the lobby when we arrive, so we head in to find our room and put our bags away. We are starving, so we head out to find out what there is to eat. They have a pub, which opened at 4, but serves pub grub – burgers and the like. There are two other restaurants – one a more formal restaurant, which does not open until 7, and another, more casual, which opens at 6. Just outside of that restaurant there is a small courtyard with lavish landscaping and a small pond. The restaurant manager gets us a couple of pots of tea, and we sit out here and enjoy the first peace and quiet of the day before we head in to dinner.
Now, at this point, it is all I can do to keep from getting hysterical with laughter. We have come thousands of miles, we have been to 7 different countries, and we arrive here, surrounded by the quaint English countryside, where the restaurant is having – wait for it – AMERICA NIGHT!!! We are sitting in this lovely English Garden, watching as an Asian man hangs American flags and Uncle Sam cut outs around the restaurant – this is funny, people!
America night features an American style buffet – corn on the cob, spare ribs, chicken, and all the fixins. I can’t really eat my money’s worth at a buffet, so it’s not a good idea for me to get it, and Brighid was hankering for some pub grub, so she doesn’t want to settle for a traditional American meal. Brighid ends up ordering a Caesar salad and I order the chicken curry. Dot and Russ are going to brave the buffet. Brighid’s salad looks really good, and has nice chunks of bacon in it, so she’s very happy, and I am really surprised at how really good the chicken curry is. I was a little afraid to order it, but it’s quite good and was the perfect choice for me. Dot and Russ sample some of the buffet offerings with mixed results. Some of it is too spicey (they went for a Southwestern flavor, but leaned too heavily on the spices) and the ribs are a bit tough. There is gammon on the carving station, but initially, we don’t know what gammon is. Turns out, it’s pretty much the same as ham. They have a nice selection of salads and desserts, and we all leave pretty full. I am grateful to get back to the room and get ready for bed, and even more grateful that there is a language I understand on TV!! It doesn’t matter much, though, because I am asleep before I ever make it through one show.
We are up at 5 AM, and we are the first to arrive at the restaurant for the full English breakfast. It is very traditional breakfast, with fried tomatoes, mushrooms, bangers, potatoes, eggs, bacon, etc. They also have all types of cereals, tons of fresh fruit, yogurts, deli meats and cheeses, and all kinds of fresh baked breads. They really provided a nice breakfast.
I don’t know why we are up so early, because we arrive at Gatwick and check in with still 2 hours to wait until our flight takes off. There are a bunch of shops in the waiting area of Gatwick, so we pick up a few Harrod’s souvenirs, and we check out a few other shops. There is a Starbucks here – and YES, they have sugar free syrup! Not only that, but the barista is about the cutest guy we’ve seen the whole trip. He is tall, has beautiful blue eyes, gorgeous hair, and I start thinking that this is Brighid’s type! She barely acknowledges him. There goes not only my chance for tall, beautiful grandchildren with normal sized noses, but also my annual holidays to the UK to visit them 🙁
So now, with my venti, nonfat, 7 pump, sugar free vanilla latte in hand, we went back and sat down where Dot and Russ were waiting until it was time for her wheelchair escort to the gate. We chatted a little with their friends Ken and Eileen, and then we decided to head to the gate ourselves, not knowing if we would be allowed to go the same way Dot and Russ were going. We still had about an hour to wait, and when we got over to the gate, we found out that you are not allowed to wait at the gate until 30 minutes before take off. Brighid and I head to the bathroom, and I buy another souvenir – yep, in the bathroom! They have chewable toothbrushes! Loved them.
We walked back out and got in line to wait for the gate to open up. When they do, we take a seat right next to the door so we can hop right up when it’s our turn. A British Airways employee comes over and asks if she can do a survey with us about the day and the experience so far, so we do. Before long, we are sitting on the plane.
We keep watching for Dot and Russ, and we don’t see them anywhere. The plane is getting more and more full, and it’s very close to time to take off, and they are still not here. I’m starting to get worried, and then I see Eileen and Ken coming. I figure Dot and Russ must be right behind them, because Eileen also had to wait for a wheelchair escort, but then Eileen comes back to where Brighid and I are and says that there’s a problem, and they won’t let Dot and Russ get on the plane. I immediately go into panic mode, but I’m not sure what to do. If I get off the plane, all of my luggage is on here, and what will happen to us? Will they let us off the plane? Just as I made my mind up to get up and go up front and see what we should do, I see them getting to their seats. Whatever the crisis is (we find out later that they have lost Russell’s boarding pass), it has been dealt with and appears to be resolved. WHEW. I love them, but I am so ready to go home, and was not looking forward to another night in Europe!!
This is going to be a long flight – more than 8 hours, but when we arrive in Orlando, it will only be 3 in the afternoon, so this is going to be a marathon day. I watched a couple of movies – Ghost Rider with Nicholas Cage; The Last Time with Michael Keaton and Brendan Fraser; and The Number 23 with Jim Carrey. I also manage to catch a few sitcoms in the bargain. They kept us well fed and well beveraged on British Airways – I absolutely have no complaints about how they treat you on this airline.
Back in Orlando, we board a bus heading back to Solavita, and the last of the things that went wrong has gone wrong – there has been a leak in the bathroom and there is some major clean up to be done and a plumber to be called.
We are fortunate enough to be here for an evening shuttle launch, and it’s just beautiful, and Dot and I head out to pick up a few things at the supermarket. We intend to pick up a pizza on the way home, but the pizza parlor is closed. I don’t mind because I am so tired!
We head to bed by 10 o’clock, and I am up at 4, Brighid at 6 – still on European time. We leave for the airport at 10:30 for the last flight of the vacation – the one going home!