Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Travel & London Day One

Thursday, May 16th

We loaded up the car and an excited (unknowing) Sadie and drove from Dayton to Cleveland in the morning. After dropping things off with the in-laws and saying a sad goodbye to Sadie, we head to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Dropped off the car and got through check-in and security in no time flat. Having a little time prior to boarding, we stopped for a drink before our connecting flight to Newark.

I have never flown overnight and certainly not for the length of time it takes from Newark to Heathrow so I was unsure what to expect. I'm not a good plane sleeper as it is but it was crucial to catch at least a few zzz's because we needed to sight-see all day Friday and not sleep the day away. Well, despite the melatonin, fancy neck pillow and eye mask, I didn't sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time and not for many little spells like that either. Not fun. But hey, when we land.....we're in LONDON!

Friday, May 17th

There are several options for transportation from Heathrow Airport into the city of London. The most expensive is hailing a cab at the station. You don't have to pre-plan that but you will pay a premium for it. The cheapest is the tube. That probably only costs about $10 but you do have to lug your bags through the turnstiles, up stairs and escalators and as the train gets closer to the city, it becomes increasingly more crowded. It wouldn't be so bad with just carry-on luggage but we had some mammoth bags. You can take the Heathrow Express which ends up being 20 pounds per person. The ride into the city is just about 15-20 minutes and drops you off at Paddington station. We were going to do that until I started researching private cars since there were two of us. We booked a sedan pick up only 1 day in advance for a total of 44 pounds with Hummingbird Airport Transfers. The driver met us in Arrivals with our name on a board. We were early and so was he, which was nice. The car was comfortable and the driver was friendly. It was great to just get in the car and go instead of having to deal with a train for only a couple pounds more. Definitely more comfortable too. Cannot recommend this enough. We paid in advance through Paypal but tipped him upon arrival.

He took us to our hotel which was the Mercure London Bloomsbury. Bloomsbury is a great location and was recommended to me by an expat friend currently living in England. We were very close to the Russell Square tube station, several restaurants, cafes, pubs, and stores. We also walked to the British Museum and several other attractions. If you've never been to Europe, just know their hotel rooms are very small compared to those in the States. The room was clean though and ours was ready upon arrival at 10:00 AM even though it was several hours prior to check-in. That was great! We were able to drop off our bags, splash some water on our faces and head out to explore!

We were HUNGRY so we headed around the corner and found this cute pub, the Friend at Hand. It was not crowded and had a typical menu of pub fare.

I had a burger and John had this beauty. It's a steak pie in pastry and it was delicious.

After lunch, we figured out the London Tube, and made our way to Wellington's Arch. Here we caught up with a free walking tour. The Sandeman's Tours are highly recommended online with great reviews and this one was free! Be sure to tip your guide at the end though. They deserve it. Being out in fresh air and walking is also a good way to beat jet lag. The Sandman's tours are available all over Europe so no matter your destination, check into it. You won't be disappointed. As it happens, this tour hit all the spots we were going to visit on our own anyway so we got the history and did not have to navigate on our fried brains.

Wellington Arch

We began by viewing Green Park, learning about the dalliances of King Charles II. We then saw Buckingham Palace, making our way to see the residence of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles and Camilla. We did not see the changing of the guard but did see the guards on duty. 

Gates at Buckingham Palace

We passed through an area where they shot Skyfall, as we were near the old offices of MI6. We also saw the royal grounds where they bring out the horses, which during the London Olympics was used for beach volleyball, sand imported from Brazil. 

We then saw the back of 10 Downing St., Churchill's wartime bunker and other protected areas of government where British business was able to be maintained while London was blitzed by the Nazis. After that, we made our way to the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey and saw Big Ben. 

Westminster Abbey

Me, Big Ben, Neon Scarf

Our tour concluded, and we discovered that we shared a special bond with our tour guide as he had met his future wife, a fellow Ohioan, on one of his tours. We proceeded to head back to our hotel, where we were hoping to get a little down time. We laid down on the bed and the phone rang. Kate had arrived and the front desk wanted to know if I would like to come down and get here. Would I!?

We hung out in the room for a bit, formulating a plan, and listening to John saw logs for a few minutes. We decided we'd go grab a couple pints while waiting for her boyfriend, Tom, to finish work and meet us for dinner.

Old Pals!

We decided on an Italian place nearby. John had lasagna, I had delicious pesto pasta. It was then concluded we would call it an early night and head off to our respective respites. Off to dreamland.........

P.S. This was our actual anniversary day. :)

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