UK/Scotland Trip of 2002 - Page 7
Got up before my alarm this morning and was packed early. I went to the corner grocery store and got a huge apple turnover. I ate the turnover and discovered I still had time. I went on downstairs with my gear and checked out. (This is virtually the last time I'll have to lug Monster anywhere. I'm thrilled.) Then I sat and waited.
Once the others were ready, we trudged on down to the train station. There were masses of people waiting for our train. Kevin was speaking for all of us when he said he was glad we had seat reservations.
"The fellow that told Jo we didn't need them was wrong. I'm going to tell Jo when we get back."
Our remaining worry was whether there would be enough space for our luggage on the train. We were guessing as to where our carriage would be. There were no markings. It stopped dead in front of us and we were among the first on, so there was plenty of room for our stuff.
The ride was uneventful, the mist giving way to sunshine gradually as the day wore on. We made up a few more songs to go on Kevin's fantasy video "Who's on Firth?". 'Stay to the Left' (tune of 'Staying Alive'), the Beach Boys 'I Get Around', and 'Tubular Bells' (theme for the underground) joined Kevin's remake of 'American Woman' into 'American Driver' ("American driver, stay away from me American driver, better let me be ")
We arrived at Kings Cross Railway Station a little late and had to split into two taxis to get us all to the Strand Palace Hotel. Kevin and I left first, but LeAnne and Cindy arrived long before we did, even though they hadn't loaded until after we left. It appeared to both Kevin and I that we were being driven a very circular route and we had to pay £2 more than they. Although the driver loaded both our suitcases, he didn't unload them. For that matter, he didn't even open the door for us. I gave him a pound tip for handling Monster the first time, but figured he had as much from me as he was going to get. Kevin said that if he'd seen Cindy and LeAnne waiting for us inside he wouldn't have given the driver any gratuity.
Cindy and Kevin verified that someone was picking us up and we stood out on the side steps waiting for our van. We were expecting a van because Kevin told them that we were four people with a lot of baggage. Instead, one small car showed up. There was no hope of getting all our stuff in that car, let alone us. The hotel staff was indignant with them. A lurking taxi driver told us he could take us all. We negotiated a deal of paying £15 cancellation fee to the driver that showed up, then watched as the taxi driver proceeded to stick Monster and the second biggest bag out the top of the boot, stack three more suitcases in the front seat and tuck the others around, over and under us in the back seat. He did it for a flat £45 fee. Other taxi drivers loved it, tooting horns at him and saluting. We gave him a huge tip once we reached Heathrow.
By the way, if the taxi driver that cheated us out of £2 and then only got a £2 tip is reading, I want you to know this - we gave this driver twice the agreed amount, half of it being his tip. You got £4, he got £45. Too bad you were so greedy, huh?
The city of Westminster showed signs of the solemn ceremonial tomorrow when they move the body of the Queen Mother so she may lie in state. Traffic cones were going up and security appeared a notch tighter. I hate to miss this state occasion, but I'm also ready to relax at home!
Our hotel, the Renaissance, is the most American-like of all our hotels (for example, the hair dryer is in the bathroom, not hot-wired inside a desk drawer). It is a nice place, and much to our surprise, we don't hear any planes from Heathrow, even though it is on the northern perimeter of Heathrow International. For the first time on the whole trip we are all on the same floor, although I think we're still about a quarter of a mile away!
We ate a tasty buffet dinner in the dining room, then checked out the gift shops. I bought a small little suitcase. It only cost £14, but it will lighten Monster's load. I'll check them all through, however.
We met in the expansive lobby of the Renaissance Hotel, my consoling thought that this was the last hotel that would see me lugging luggage. My back and ribs hurt just rolling Monster and his friends down a couple halls and into a lift, er, elevator.
We were quietly waiting for the airport shuttle when it dawned on me that I was hearing the beeping of an alarm clock. It turned out to be Kevin's. He opened up his bag and reached for it.
"Wouldn't that have driven them crazy in Security?" he asked with a grin as he turned it off.
One of the doormen got my luggage to the shuttle bus. On the other end, we made a beeline for the luggage trolleys. Naturally, our check-in desk was at the other end of the building, so we were very grateful for the trolleys by the time we coasted up to the desk. And we indeed walked right up to the desk, much to the astonishment of Cindy and myself. Because of our two-hour wait last time, we had insisted on getting to Heathrow at or before 8:00 a.m. in order to check-in. We didn't dream we'd be able to just walk up and hand them our baggage. By the time we left, however, a line was beginning to form. I was delighted to be able to move unencumbered by any luggage at last. We zipped up to Security and passed through, Cindy tripping an alarm this time. They patted her down and cleared her. We found a place to sit down, then waited for our gate to be displayed. Within a very short time, the place was jam-packed with people. We were enormously glad we'd gotten an early start. They finally posted our gate, so we hiked out to find the plane. We quickly boarded it.
We were sitting on the right side of the aircraft. The monitors didn't work at first, so they had to have the stewards/stewardesses go through the safety drill. Shortly after we became airborne they handed us our customs forms to fill out. I was prepared with an itemized list of my purchases and it felt great.
Our route was higher (39,000 feet) and more northerly than our inbound flight. We flew over Glasgow and soon I found myself looking at the mountains of Scotland again. We passed over the Firth of Lorn leading up to the Great Glen. Could it be that we were there only two days ago? To my delight, we also crossed over the island of Skye, which made me think of my niece's boyfriend of the same name. Little did I dream that they had gotten engaged while I was gone.
It seemed to take forever to fly past Iceland and by the time we got to the tip of Greenland, the skies had clouded over and we couldn't see anything.
For lunch we had a choice of salmon (Again! Seems like it was offered everywhere) or turkey, a soufflé, mixed vegetables, salad, crackers with cheddar cheese and a cheesecake.
There were a lot of unhappy toddlers along this time. I was glad I brought my earplugs. Kevin, sitting next to me, wasn't so lucky and got a monstrous headache. In order to keep the light from bothering him I lowered the window shade as low as I could without triggering a claustrophobic anxiety attack. I didn't have any new earplugs and didn't know what else to do for him. Kevin took some ibuprofen and slowly felt a bit better.
The clouds parted. We flew over an ice field before reaching the coast of Canada just south of Ungawa Bay. By the time we got to Sault Ste. Marie we could see very well. The spectacular suspension bridge at Mackinac showed up like a slender bracelet on the wrist of the Great Lakes.
Our supper was a pan style pizza. Actually, it tasted pretty good!
We got into Chicago early. First we cleared immigration, then claimed our baggage. Afterwards, we went through customs. They pulled Cindy aside to check her luggage. We still got through rather rapidly, checked our luggage again and went to find our gate. We had to pass through another Security checkpoint and Kevin set the alarms off again. They went over him thoroughly, the rivets on his jeans making the detectors beep, as well as his shoes, his hat, and his belt buckle. They patted him down thoroughly, all with a very serious face. Eventually, they let him go.
After the big planes, the little commuter plane home seemed terribly cramped. It had been snowing lightly as we took off in Chicago, but it was partly sunny when we landed.
Mom and Dad, LeAnne's mother and aunt, George, Tim, and the Flannerys met us. After hugs all around, we happy but exhausted travelers went our separate ways.
It was great to go to the UK, but felt good to be home again. Thanks for going with us!
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