It’s a funny thing about time zone changes. You can think you’re totally fine… and then all of a sudden you’re not. I think that’s what happened to me on Monday and on Tuesday of this week after getting back from England and Ireland. Both days I woke up at 5am and felt great. I went for a run, got ready for work, worked productively all day, and felt great… and then all of a sudden at 4pm I crashed. I guess that’s what happens when you go on a 9 day vacation eight time zones away, are on the go the entire time you’re there, and then go back to work the day after you return! However, it was a wonderful trip, so I don’t mind a little jetlag for a few days. :)
Mike and I left for London Heathrow on Thursday evening at 6pm. Both of us were too busy at work to do much preparation for leaving which basically meant that the night before we left we didn’t have anything done… including reserving a hotel room for at least the first night, planning out any of our activities, or even packing. The one thing that I was extremely well-organized regarding was Piper. I made sure that her cat sitter was lined up well in advance, I got the key to the cat sitter early along with a long list of instructions for caring for Piper (probably long enough that the cat sitter rolled her eyes when she read it), got Piper’s food all set out on the counter along with paper plates, plastic bags, all her toys, and anything else I could think of that her cat sitter might need. Wednesday was technically our last day at work, so Wednesday night after work I sat down to plan. After two hours of pricing hotels, I realized that any hotel in London is just expensive just because it’s in London. Once I accepted that, I was much better prepared to find an appropriate hotel. Basically I wanted one that was reasonably inexpensive, had bookings available for at least the first several days of our trip, had pretty good reviews (after all, we didn’t want to come back with bed bugs), and was within walking distance of the downtown area. I eventually settled on the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Westminster. (In case you’re wondering where Mike was during the hotel selection, we each have our responsibilities where our travels are concerned. Mine include doing planning, organization, logistics, and navigation. Mike’s include driving manual in a right-hand drive car on the left-hand side of the road. More on that later!) Our flight out of Seattle was at 6:30pm on Thursday evening, so both of us took Thursday off to give ourselves time to pack. We ended up pretty much counting out socks and underwear and other clothing for the number of days we’d be gone and throwing them in our rolling suitcases. We deliberately left out a lot of toiletries because they’d just slow us down going through security and customs and we figured we could buy anything we needed in London. We finally got out the door around 4pm and there was a lot of traffic getting to the airport so by the time we actually reached SeaTac it was almost 4:30pm. I was in high-intensity mode and was in a hurry to get through security to make sure we didn’t miss our flight, but we got through security in 15 minutes and then had to wait for an hour and forty-five minutes for the plane to start boarding. We left Seattle a little late, but since we were flying directly to Heathrow without any connecting flights, we weren’t concerned about that.
Long flights are hard for me. I’m the type of person who has difficulty sitting through a two-hour movie without a break, so nine hours of basically being chained to a small, cramped chair isn’t really my thing. Mike has a hard time sleeping on planes, so he doesn’t like long, red-eye flights either. We watched an episode of Game of Thrones that I had downloaded on my Kindle Fire and we watched American Hustle which was one of the free movies offered on the plane… but that still only took up about three hours. I watched most of the movie Frozen, but towards the end the sound started cutting out on the plane which hampers my enjoyment of a musical. :) After four and a half hours Mike and I tried to sleep but we weren’t very tired (likely because we both drank coffee at the airport with dinner right before leaving Seattle).
It’s always a strange feeling flying east because we’re flying away from the sun and keep crossing time zones and getting further and further ahead of Seattle time. By the time we reached London we’d gone so far forward it was Friday at noon. We were both really tired and in danger of crashing, but it helped a lot that the London weather was bright and sunny. Plus we still had to figure out how to get from Heathrow to downtown London. (No, we didn’t get that figured out before we left… we somehow just figure things out as we go and so far it’s been fine. One of these trips it may come back to bite us, but this wasn’t that trip.)
We found a ticket counter for bus tickets at the airport and asked the man there how to get to Westminster. He told us we could just take the Underground. That sounds slightly ominous or secretive or something, but basically it’s just London’s huge, extensive subway system. We discovered that whereas Seattle has Orca cards for use on public transportation, London has Oyster cards. Pretty similar! We each bought an Oyster card at the airport after changing some dollars for British pounds. We followed the signs for the Underground and got on the Piccadilly line headed west and transferred at a station called Hammersmith. When we got off the train at Hammersmith, which happened to be an above-ground station, we were shocked by how wonderful the weather was. I actually took off my coat just because it was so warm which is pretty unusual for me. We waited patiently, eyes squinting in the sun, until the District line came along to take us to Westminster. While waiting, we saw a teenage boy help an old woman with her suitcase as she got off the train. Helpfulness, common courtesy, and a strong sense of the good of the community rather than solely the individual were common themes throughout our trip, both in England and in Ireland!
We got off the subway at Westminster feeling pretty exhausted and really ready to find our hotel and crash. As we walked up the stairs from the subway we walked right into view of a giant gothic cathedral-looking building.
We felt like we’d stepped out of the subway into another world! Without knowing much about British landmarks or buildings, we guessed that it was Westminster Abbey (we were in the Westminster district after all, right?). As it turned out, what we were actually looking at was the Parliamentary buildings and Westminster Abbey was around the corner.
Both the parliamentary buildings and Big Ben looked gorgeous and helped us to get a second wind of energy. Which was a good thing because the wide sidewalks were PACKED with people and navigating through them was exhausting! The Thames wound around the Parliamentary buildings just to our left, but the bridge crossing the Thames was literally so thronged with people that I doubted our ability to get our suitcases through the crowd. I wondered if there was something special going on, but as it turned out that’s just always the way that Westminster is. People EVERYWHERE! If it’s not tourists, it’s parliamentary members, members of the press, people working in the district, etc. I only had a fuzzy idea where our hotel was in relation to the subway station, and both of us had cellular data turned off on our cell phones to avoid roaming charges, so after a few moments of looking at street signs we decided it was time to just find a cab! We saw a bunch of cabs, but none of them seemed to be stopping, and they were of course all on the opposite side of the road. Eventually we found a spot on the sidewalk that was a little out-of-the-way and we were able to flag down a cab from there. The cab driver was very friendly and knew right where our hotel was. He expertly wove through the crazy traffic at breakneck speed, often drifting across the boundary line of the oncoming traffic when pedestrians crossed right in front of him (which they seemed to do with alarming frequency) and often veering off onto strange side roads that didn’t seem to have names and also seemed to be one-way somehow. He also easily maneuvered a roundabout that seemed to have six exits on it. Seriously CRAZY stuff!
When he dropped us off at the front door of our hotel, Mike turned to me. “I don’t want to drive in London.”
I nodded. “Me either.” And just like that, it was decided… NO driving for either of us in London! This is one of the great things about planning our trip as we go… if we’d already rented a car we probably would have been stuck with it. As it was, after our tiny ten-minute taste of insane London traffic we were ready to write off cars for good. We were both ready to walk everywhere rather than try to navigate that. (For London anyway. Ireland is a different story. More on that later.)
The man who checked us in at the front desk of the hotel gave us two warm chocolate chip cookies (!) and told us how to find our room. Five minutes later we were standing in our hotel room on the 11th floor holding two camera bags, one purse, one catch-all bag, two rolling suitcases, and two chocolate chip cookies. We had quite a view from our room!
And a view of modern London, complete with construction crane, in the other direction!
Mike, hungry after all the travel, made short work of one of the cookies while I munched an energy bar and then we belatedly decided to have a real actual meal at the restaurant in the hotel.
Our waiter was very helpful and friendly and made small talk about the London marathon happening that weekend. What!? I didn’t know the London marathon was happening the weekend we were there! Mike shook his head as I instantly tried to scheme up some way that I could run it, but I am really not in shape to be doing 26.2 miles right now so I abandoned the idea around the time we got our after-dinner coffee. I did feel twinges of jealousy every time I saw someone checking into the hotel with a London marathon checkin bag though!
We were still minus some toiletries and we had very little idea about what we actually wanted to see in London, so we decided Mike would run to a drugstore that the hotel staff told us was a couple blocks up while I did some London investigation on my Fire. Mike came back an hour later with three separate bags and a very interesting story about how the first drugstore didn’t have what we needed so he had found a cab driver who drove him all around the area looking at various drugstores. Mike loved the experience, and by the time he got back I had a much better idea of what there was to see in London, as well as a good sense of how the neighborhoods were laid out. We were ready to explore! Except that by this point it was getting late. We did the math and realized that we’d been up for almost 24 hours. No wonder we felt pretty tired! We decided a good night’s sleep was in order and that we’d start our exploring early the next morning.
One interesting thing of note: London felt very safe. There were CCTV cameras everywhere, and there didn’t seem to be any drugged out people wandering the streets or anything like that. So we would have felt safe wandering around London if we hadn’t been so tired.
I was planning on detailing our first full day in this post as well, but I’ve been wordy and this post is already long, so I’ll save that for the next post. Definitely more pictures to come as well as well as more trip info… I have hardly even gotten into any of our actual trip yet! :)