Early Saturday morning, April 13th.
After an 8-hour flight from Chicago, we were disgorged from the big United 770 onto the jetway. I was towing one small piece of wheeled luggage and had struggled into my backpack, which fortunately only weighed 6 metric tonnes (as they spell it ‘over there’). We walked up the inclined ramp and into another corridor, which seemed kinda long until we got around the next corner and saw a corridor that was so long there were mirages forming in the distance! From there we trudged on to the next corner and the next…. I don’t know how big Heathrow Airport really is, but it seemed we walked for half a mile (.85 kilometers). And, for someone in my condition (90-year old man), I think I did ok with it.
We got to the end, finally, made it through Customs, Odd Customs, Weird Customs, and Immigration, then followed the signs to find the train platform which should take us to Paddington Station, which would be our ‘jumping off point’ onto the sidewalks of London . Imagine our surprise when we found ourselves having trouble interpreting their signs (printed in ‘their English’). Yes, we got a little lost, but soon righted ourselves and made it to the Hogwarts Train. Clever Natalie had already purchased tickets online, so we jumped aboard without great difficulty. It was a little funny – there was a helpful fellow announcing train arrivals, and his assistance turned out to be ‘unvaluable’. We could not make out what he (Mr Cockney Accent) was saying, for the most part. We found the actual person (it wasn’t a disembodied voice emanating from a distant booth, thank goodness!) and queried him directly. With some hand-waving and pantomime, we got the information we needed. Whew!
The train ride to Paddington was great! It was a sunny morning, full of promise, and we were really pumped up with excitement! It was a 20-minute ride, and we got our first look at London. We were whizzing through some industrial areas, and got a look at some of the ‘probably not Hollywood’ neighborhoods. One thing that I found interesting (since I come from a technical background) was that all the cabling for the trains was pretty much out in the open, visible all along the tracks on racks that kept them in some kind of order. I’m sure it makes them much more easily accessible for maintenance and upgrades. (See visual aid).
We arrived at Paddington Station (even that simple name had magic: I’d heard it so many times over the years while watching movies set in London) and prepared to test our parachutes. Oh good, that won’t be necessary – they’re slowing to a stop! 🙂 We clambered down, “minding the gap” ( you don’t want to get stuck down in there, between the train body and the platform). Every time you get off the subway (the ‘Tube’), or any train-like conveyance, the recordings are always announcing “Mind the Gap!” So, we minded. And, as you might be able to tell from the pic, Paddington Station is PRETTY BIG! I took several photos there, as you’ll see if you wade through all my pics I uploaded to FaceBook. I’ll try to include a lot of those pictures here, also.
After we got clear of the train platform we started making our way out of the station, hoping we’d find an exit that would put us on the correct side of the huge station to commence our walk to the hotel, which should be a few short blocks away. As we came outside, Natalie fired up her iPhone mapping GPS thingy and we discovered immediately that she isn’t all that good with it 🙂 Turns out I was no expert, either. We put our heads together, then tossed a coin to see which direction to go. We had a little blue dot on the display, but it was sometimes a little confusing on which way to go. As it happened, we were exactly where we wanted to be, on the south side of the station, so we launched ourselves out into the city. (there is a possible source of confusion here, as we learned. The term ‘City’ officially only applies to the central square mile of London proper that is called by that name “The City”. It has its own government, its own police force, etc. It is the financial hub of the nation, and HUGE numbers of workers commute into it daily, but there are not that many actual residents, due to the high number of office buildings. Anyway, there ya go. But, when I say ‘City’, I’m just talking about London, k?)
After an easy stroll, we found our hotel so we could drop off our luggage, explaining we wished to check in later that day. No problem. Really, no problem 🙂 I’m going to throw some maps at you now, followed by a photograph of the front of the Quality Crown Hotel, Hyde Park. This way, you can see where Heathrow Airport is, in relation to the city (now, now, we already talked about this ‘city’ thing). Also, you can see where Paddington Station is, and where our hotel was in relation to that. Stand by, you Map People! And, for you non-Map-People, just bear with me, k? 🙂
Anyway, I’m just telling the story the way I’d like to hear it, so I hope you enjoy it. Got complaints? Dial 1-800-NotListenin.
Top map – A is the map-pin for Heathrow, west of London.
Map 2 shows our route to Paddington.
Map 3 – you can see where the Quality Crown Hyde Park is located. Coincidentally, it’s just at the north end of Hyde Park. Are these people SMART, or what?? 🙂
The photo (which I actually got by using Google Maps before we ever left the USA) shows you the front of the hotel. I thought it might be handy to have this shot in case we arrived in a driving rain and needed to know which way to dash. Worked out fine! Beautiful morning, beautiful city, great hotel!
We asked a few questions of the hotel staff, describing our intentions to find the tour bus pickup point, then we were off! Now that we had no luggage to horse around, we made really good time. No, we weren’t running, per se, just keeping up a steady pace. First things first, we found a Scottish restaurant that serves coffee, which was much welcomed! The name of the restaurant was McDonald’s – look for it if you go to England, ok? 🙂 We had to kill a little time anyway, since we were somewhat early for the buses.
We found the bus pickup point, found somebody to show our tickets to (purchased online, also). He looked at her paperwork, said, “Lady, you’ll have to got down to mumblemumblemumble to get those scanned and verified – we can’t do that here.” He then spoke a magic incantation to the driver of the bus that was sitting there, then turned to us and said, “Just jump on this bus, he’ll take you to mumblemumble, etc, to get them scanned.” Well, that almost worked – we had to make one more connection to get to the ‘scan point’, but it worked out ok. This shot shows what the tour buses look like. Can ya see Big Ben tower in the distance there? Yes, THE Big Ben tower 🙂
We rode the tour buses all around London, seeing all the wonderful examples of architecture and sculpture, then made our decision on what we could manage tour-wise, on our first day. We had arrived hours ago, still no sleep, but thought we’d make it to a couple of attractions before collapsing. As you’ll see in the photographs which follow, we made it to Westminster Abbey (easy to say the words, “Westminster Abbey”, but extremely difficult to convey the experience), and were totally amazed by the whole thing. I could go into pages and pages of description and you still wouldn’t ‘get it’. Here’s today’s NEW WORD (possibly new for you, I only recently worked it into my vocabulary)
- Too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words: “ineffable beauty”.
So, Westminster Abbey was ineffable! If you can manage it, GO! While at the Abbey we had a nice lunch, (I had a kind of soupy chicken pot pie, made on premises from ‘scratch’, Natalie had ‘chips [French fries]and tomato sauce [ketchup]’) then we made our way to the Churchill War Rooms. Here we got to tour the actual underground rooms where Churchill and his able staff ran the war effort for Great Britain. It was wonderfully done – for the most part, on the day the war ended, they closed and locked the doors and left it as it was. Obviously, since then they’ve added things to make it more ‘understandable’, but it was very interesting, very moving.
After seeing the Abbey and the War Rooms, we were whipped! We made it back to the hotel, got checked in, then visited with the medical personnel manning the hotel bar. After an application of Stella Artois, we felt much better! Off to sleep (this was around 6PM – we were BEAT). End of Day 2 🙂
So, enjoy the photographs – I won’t labor you with long descriptions of what you see, just enjoy seeing London as we saw it. We loved EVERY MINUTE of our trip, we loved everything we saw! (I’ll try to put captions on any critical photos)