Well…we made it.
An amazingly smooth, albeit miserable trip.
How does that work, anyway?
Everything goes well, there is not a single glitch, it is an amazing thing to cross the Atlantic in seven hours at any point in life, but especially when you are reading a book about the travels of a woman who took six weeks to do the crossing, and so you are very grateful and in awe of it all, but still…
…it’s miserable, in its way.
The smooth parts?
We flew out of Atlanta (why? Cheap fare – $400/apiece – plus, the last time, we flew international in and out of Birmingham, we almost missed the Atlanta-Birmingham flight at the end because of customs delays, and it’s pretty agonizing to be delayed in that way when you’re just a two hour drive away from home….) and had TSA PreCheck, and slid through security like butter. There was no one in line. Walked right up, tossed the bags on the belt, no shoes to be removed, no laptops to be taken out, and boom, we were through.
All flights were on time. No inexplicable prison sentences on the tarmac. Very good.
The transatlantic flight began in Philadelphia, which I had dreaded because Philly, unique among major airports, I think, has no rapid transit between terminals, and my main memory of flying international out of Philly involved waiting for buses. Usually rain was part of the picture, too. But not this time! Well, the rain was, but no bus. Just some walking between two connected terminals, which was fantastic.
The British Airways flight was not quite as posh as previous experiences. There’s a bit of cost-cutting there, it seems to me. The plane was older, the seatback entertainment system took a long time to start working and they didn’t offer as many little knick-knacks as we’d had on previous flights – toothbrush, cunning little tube of toothpaste, etc. Not that I cared, since the wine was still free, but it did seem to be a more US-type of flying experience than European this time.
The flight wasn’t full up, but it wasn’t empty either. Lots of children, all well-behaved, including one family with five kids…all boys but for the one little girl. #ShePersisted.
I don’t think I slept. I started to watch a little bit of Jackie, then found myself both wondering why it had been made and thinking that if I kept watching it, I had no chance of sleep at all. Which I didn’t anyway, as it turns out. The boys did, a bit, but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t. It was one of those experiences in which when the flight takes off I’m thinking well, this is more comfortable than I thought. I’m pretty tired right now. I think I’ll easily be able to go to sleep! And then four hours later, it’s …I’M GOING TO DIE IF I CAN’T STRETCH OUT…I AM NEVER TRAVELING MORE THAN TWO TIME ZONES AWAY AGAIN. I AM NOW BEING PUNISHED FOR BEING AN PRIVILEGED FAUX CHRISTIAN AND I DESERVE IT.
So, the zombies arrived at Heathrow around 7 AM. Immigration took about fifteen minutes to go through. There was an interesting side area – not completely cut-off, but clearly marked off by line-marking ropes and attended by a security employee, in which were guided several definitely Middle-Eastern looking folks, including one entire family.
We took the Heathrow Express into town – if we were a party of three adults, getting a car might make some economic sense, but given it was a Sunday morning (therefore off-peak) and I was the only one who had to pay, it cost 15 pounds to get into the city in fifteen minutes…
The train took us to Paddington, from which point we took a cab to our apartment, which is in Fitzrovia. The driver definitely took a bit of a scenic route…that’s the advantage of having a maps app on which you are following along as you ride in the back seat. I didn’t argue with him, though…but I think there is no doubt he added about five minutes to the route.
Traveling to Europe from the US, the big worry is always the First Day. Flights arrive in the morning, you’ve probably not slept, but if you’re not going to be totally messed up, you have to stay up, forge through and reset your body clock. Stay! Awake
We were very lucky this time, in that our apartment owner was very, very generous, and let us check in at 9am – and yes, that’s how long it took us to get from Heathrow into town. We landed a little bit after 7, and were there waiting at the apartment by 8:45. Not much time at all. I don’t know what we would have done if we couldn’t have done this, for we were all exhausted. I had thought about going to Mass in the morning, but just looking at the boys after the owner had oriented us, I thought…it’s 9am. This is stupid. There will be Sunday evening Masses. Let’s go to sleep. In beds. For I knew that even with a 3 to 4 hour naps, everyone would still be tired at the normal bedtime, and it would be fine.
(And they went to sleep around 11 tonight…so I think it worked)
We awoke around 1, shook the sleep off, cleaned ourselves off, and set out for a little bit of an orientation. I didn’t have a plan, except I’d seen Mass was at 5:30 at the Cathedral, so I thought we would shoot for that. We just wanted to get out, walk around, and meet London. So we did! I’ll list the route in bullet points…
- First, stroll over to British Museum. I thought we might pop in for a moment, but the line for security was pretty long. We have all week, and are planning to go a couple of times…no hurry.
- Not far from the museum, we noticed street cleaners hard at work, and thought it very odd for a Sunday. They were cleaning lots of grass and such from the streets. What was this? We walked a half a block and saw – dozens of folks in Edwardian dress, waiting to board buses – obviously movie or television scenes had been filmed. For some reason, my camera was weird at that moment, and all my shots were very blurry, but you can get a sense here. I did a little research, and I’m guessing what it might have been at work was a new television version of Howard’s End.
- By then, everyone was hungry, so we just grabbed a couple of paninis here. It was basically the first place we saw that wasn’t a McDonald’s, Starbucks or pub. It was okay. It was food.
- Then to Covent Garden, which sent me into boring discourses about My Fair Lady. We watched a street performer.
- Saw a very long line for an ice cream place. When I returned back to the apartment, I saw that the gimmick was soft-serve ice cream presented on cotton candy clouds. I told the boys and their response: Gross.
- Wandered to Trafalgar Square, watched some street performers, saw chalk art, peaked in St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
- Then down Whitehall, saw the back of Parliament, took a look
at the Thames. By then it was 4:30, so I thought we should start over to the Cathedral.
- Arrived at the Cathedral about 5, took a look around at all the side chapels while an organ recital was wrapping up. One gets a very good, clear sense of what it means to
be an English Catholic from the design and décor of the Cathedral – the side chapels are all dedicated to saints important to the spread of the Faith in the British Isles, as well as the English Martyrs.
- The church was almost full for Mass, and the usual very Catholic crew. Lots of Asians, older and younger people, children. The music was mostly chant, with a couple of hymns, all led by a cantor and organ. The priest chanted much of his part. The only jarring musical element was the ridiculously loud organ accompaniment to the peoples’ chant responses. The priest didn’t have to be accompanied, so the effect was::
Priest: (melodic, but not very strong chant and unaccompanied) The Lord be with you
People: And….(nothing more heard as it is all sucked into the Organ Vortex)
I am not a fan of organ accompanying chant except in the most subtle way, and this was just crazy and quite jarring…and would not lead anyone to think of chant as prayer, as it jolted and banged about the Cathedral.
- Caught the Tube at Victoria back home. I should have purchased an Oyster Card this morning, but I didn’t, thinking I surely could this evening…and if it were just me, I could have, but having two children/youths complicates things and necessitates assistance, which was not available at 7pm on a Sunday evening. So we just paid full-fare, but it was a quick trip back and worth it.
- Quick grocery stop for second Kinder Egg purchase of the day (for those unfamiliar with the Kinder Egg saga, this is a candy which is illegal ….illegal in the United States, and even considered contraband. If you get caught bringing it in, it will be confiscated. Because it has a toy in it. It’s not as if the toy is actually embedded in the chocolate. There’s a chocolate shell, then a kind of hard to open plastic egg which holds the toy. Anyone who chokes on it…would probably have choked on other things first before they ever met a Kinder Egg. Anyway, for some people, getting Kinder Eggs is a highlight of travel outside the US…for some people…)…and some other supplies.
- Back to the apartment. Various attempts were made to watch the Gators online, all unsuccessful, so that challenge was abandoned (as it turns out….all for the best) and we went out to find food. We settled on a popular chicken chain – Nando’s – at it was very good. Excellent wings!
- On the way back, I was stopped by a Chinese couple looking for their hotel. They had a printout from Booking.com, but couldn’t locate the place, even though they were on the right street. I showed them my phone and asked if they had a maps app, and I admit I was surprised that they didn’t. So I got it up on mine, and it turns out they were only a couple of blocks away, so we accompanied them (maybe not a faux Christian after all! Redemption?) to the hotel and everyone wished each other a happy stay in London.
Tomorrow…the plan is the Tower, but we’ll see!
More photos on Instagram…and don’t forget to look at Instagram Stories for some different photos and short videos.