Category Archives: London

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777, Airplanes, British Airways, Planes

The Journey Home

Category:London,QM2/Scotland,Travel Tags : 

The Journey Home

 

By Steven

25 August 2015

 

This day has finally come. Sadly, it’s time to head home. We’ve certainly enjoyed our travels, seeing old friends and making new, but vacation can’t go on forever.

 

As with all other travel days, of this trip, we start early with packing. This morning it should be so hard, you would think, it all needs to go home and we packed for air travel just two days before. Today it seems like there’s much more organizing to do. Eventually everything finds its place, or is left behind.

After another home breakfast at the house, we headed for the airport. We wanted to get to the airport a little early to take advantage of the lounge amenities. We’re flying British Airways First Class today! We cashed in a ton of points to book this flight, so we might as well make the most of it. Having failed to make reservations for our free massages in the BA Spa, our best bet was to get there early and see if we could get on the schedule. – Note to self: book the massage as soon as you book the flight!

 

Neil and Darren drove us to the airport which not only worked quite well, but was also very nice of them to do. I’m always amazed at getting anywhere by car in London. I don’t know how people manage. I’m usually pretty good with direction and getting around, but London always baffles me. Getting from point A to point B seems, invariably, to take you through points M, R and Z along the way! Nonetheless, we get there in good time.

 

Arrival at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is uneventful. The first time I’ve ever actually arrived here by car, having only ever passed through here in transit. We easily found the First Class check in counter – couldn’t hardly miss it actually, off to the right with a tasteful but huge sign announcing it’s splendidness. In the old Terminal 4, this was quite hidden I had noticed in years passed as I would headed to the lengthy coach class check in lines. When we walked up today, we were the only ones there. A quick drop of the bags and we were off to security. The First Class, Business Class and elite status passengers have a dedicated security line, secluded from the others. Two X-ray machines but the line wasn’t moving very fast – hardly at all. Apparently, they had just run through a test bag to check the system and the screeners. This managed to shut down that scanner and now wasn’t coming back on line any too quickly. So much for speedy at this point. We’re still hours out from our flight, so no matter.

 

 

As you come out of security, you’re right in front of a very non-descript door, except for a small Concorde Room sign and a matron guarding the way in. A quick check of our boarding passes, a review of our reservation on her terminal, and we were in. The inner sanctum, as it were. Or so we thought. Another attendant inside asked for verification of our rights to admittance. That cleared, we proceed to the luggage check to have them hold our carry-ons. This was just beyond the lounge headed toward the Business Class lounge. So, of course, we had to check in with the nice gentleman on that side on our way back. We stating that we had already check in to the lounge (twice) his only response was “I haven’t seen you before.”

Next to check to see if we can get our free massages. No better luck than when we tried to call. No spots available except maybe in the other remote concourse. Not knowing yet where our flight was to depart, we didn’t want to risk getting to the wrong part of the airport and then having to walk back. If you try to come back from the B of C concourse on the train, you’re forced out of the airport and would have to go through security again. Not a gamble worth taking. We could have perhaps snagged a private cabana. Since we didn’t need a shower but did want to eat, we give these a pass. Judging from some pictures I’ve seen online, this is just as well.

 

We head over to the restaurant section of the lounge to find all the private booths taken so we just grab a couple seats at the open tables. Same food is served, but I have to say that the people in the private booths certainly seemed to be getting better service. Waiters were constantly bustling about in there while it took a good 10 minutes for anyone to stop by our table. Once we had a waiter, we quickly had bubbly in hand. Cheers! Kevin’s pretty sure it was our waiter’s first time serving, poor thing looked flustered all the time...again with the rushing about and not much seeming to be done in the process.

 

There was a good selection of fare available. We each started with the soup. As I recall it was good, but the menu is no help in remembering what it was, as it’s just listed as soup of the day. Your guess is as good as mine. Afterwards, I had the Duo of West Country Beef, pressed beef with oxtail ravioli accompanied by Romanesco puree. Kevin had the Summer Salmon Salad. For desert, we both had the Affogato – vanilla ice cream topped with a shot of espresso and a cookie – Yum! And of course more bubbly.

 

We still have some time before boarding – our gate hasn’t even been announced yet - so we just found a couple spots to relax out on the “terrace,” still inside, but overlooking the main terminal. What’s up with the horse lamps – those are just odd! Eventually our gate is announced – now we only have ½ hour to get to the plane in the next concourse – time to run! While we were told that no announcements of flights would be given in the First Class Lounges, we really would have appreciated some notice that boarding had started. Live and learn.

 

When we get to the gate, it appears that almost everyone has already boarded, virtually no line. How did everyone get here so quick and already board? There is a small queue for coach boarding but we slip right by. Upon arrival at the door to the airplane, the Purser (head flight attendant) greeted us. As soon as I showed my boarding pass, the flight attendant standing nearby offered to take me to my seat. When the Purser saw Kevin’s boarding pass, he called “service”, and another flight attendant, loaded with a tray of drinks she quickly put down, and came over to escort Kevin to his seat. You certainly don’t get this when you’re turning right as you board. Once settled, more bubbly was on offer. “Of course, I would love some.” Apparently, we were the last two First passengers to arrive – again I ask: how did they get here so fast?

 

Our seats, as you can imagine, were quite spacious with lots of storage for shoes and jackets. Oddly, however, there was no place for small items like a cell phone, power cords, or sunglasses. There was a place for a laptop but it wasn’t easy to spot. There was certainly enough room to have these things out, but no good place to stow for takeoff and landing.

Airplanes, British Airways, Planes Airplanes, British Airways, DPF, Planes

As we were getting ourselves comfortable, the flight attendant came by to offer pajamas and slippers. She also brought the “For Him” amenity bags with all the goodies, one expects: tooth brush/paste, socks, lotions & balms, razor, and the best eye mask I’ve ever had. The pajamas are a nice light flannel – whether we’re supposed to not, we both kept them, along with the comfy slippers...and eye masks.

Once we got in the air, the flight attendant came around to take drink and food orders, asking us when we would like to eat. Kevin chose ASAP so he could go to sleep. Since I generally don’t sleep well on planes, I opted for a little later, which turns out to not been such a good idea. Before I had worked my way through the entire meal, our attendant went on break, his replacement didn’t seem to catch on very quickly that I was still only half way through the courses. It seemed to take forever for her to clear empty plates and bring the next. Yes, I know, another first-world problem!

 

After dinner, I found my duvet in the overhead bin and started to make up my bed. The flight attendant came by and offered to take care of it while I ran off to the restroom to get into my jammies. The rest of the flight for me while Kevin slept was a series of movies and time spent typing blog entries. One thing that’s always a highlight for me on the daytime flights between Europe and Seattle is seeing Greenland. It always fascinates. It will certainly be a sad day when it no longer has its snow pack and glaciers. For now though, it’s still beautiful. The rest of the flight was uneventful and of course more food came about an hour before we landed in Seattle.

Uummannaq Island

The little island is Uummannaq Island. You can't really make it out in this photo but there's actually a town down there. Wikipedia can tell you more about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uummannaq_Island

A quick run-down of the food (not all pictured).

 

For starters I had taken the gamble on the Sesame Seared Tuna. I was hesitant about “fresh” fish coming from an airline kitchen. Happily, it was actually quite good. Not 100% fresh tasting, but not bad.

Kevin started with the Wild Mushroom and Truffle Mousse. While, it doesn’t look much like a mousse as we would know it in America, it did have a nice, creamy mousse texture and quite flavorful.

Next up, main courses. I took another gamble in hopes of BA redeeming themselves after a previous beef experience I had on my last flight (see rant below). Pleasantly, it was served sufficiently warm but not overcooked, a nice medium rare.

<rant class=”furious-disgusted”>

On our flight back from Geneva two years ago, we were in BA’s Premium Economy ("World Traveler +") which supposedly featured entrees from the Business Class ("Club World") menu. I ordered the steak rather than chicken (should have known better after the horrid pork puck I had on the outbound). This was the worst piece of beef I have ever had the displeasure of eating. It was fully cooked well-done and beyond. The sauce was even completely dried up and fused to the dish. It’s an absolute disgrace that a cow gave up its life to have become this!

</rant>

 

Kevin’s entrée choice was the North Atlantic Baked Cod. He doesn’t remember too much about it other than being thankful it wasn’t overcooked. We American’s do like our fish in a state others might call near raw, but they’d be wrong.

Kevin skipped on dessert while I enjoyed the Raspberry Délice. How could this be wrong – well, it wasn’t! It was a layered dessert with a cookie crust and a raspberry gelee top. This with a generous serving of Glenlivet 18 year-old was a perfect way to finish dinner as The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel finished playing.

 

Kevin finished his dinner with the Warm Blueberry and Nectarine Crumble.

After some time spent writing blog entries, taking pictures of Greenland and retrieving my sunglasses that had fallen into the bowels of my seat - don't ask!, it was time for a nap.

 

About an hour before landing in Seattle we were offered Afternoon Tea – very civilized! I had to pass on the sandwich selection as they all had something I don’t care for: either salmon, mayo, cucumbers, or some variation thereof. Kevin enjoyed his on the other hand. I did partake in the patisserie. This included a brownie, a key lime cake and a Battenberg cake. All served with our own personal pot of tea.

Upon arrival into Seattle, we of course were the first to immigration I think the last of passengers from another flight were just going through. We headed straight for the Global Entry kiosks with no lines, no waiting. Baggage claim went quickly as well – a near miracle at Seatac.

 

 

Our friend Maria was waiting for us when we got to the curb. A quick ride home and the journey was a fait accompli.

 

Such was our journey home. No dragon slaying or running from orcs and trolls, but there you have it. Back home to our own place and our own bed. Ah, to have clean clothes soon!

 

Just. Have. To. Stay. Awake. Until. Ten.

 


 

Epilogue

 

We hope you’ve enjoyed following us on this trip as much as we’ve enjoyed sharing it with you all. Look for more adventures in the years to come. We’ll keep posting about our trips as long as anyone cares to read about them. I know it’s taken a long time to get this written up so in some ways, I’m glad to have it done, in other ways I’ll miss spending so much time recollecting about the trip. Likewise happy to have all the experiences recorded for when things fade from memory.

 

Stay tuned for more travels.

 

Ps – There weren’t many guesses (actually none) for what these are from our QM2 post.

QM2 - Day Bow Installation 1 QM2 - Day Bow Installation 2

Perhaps you’ve guessed to yourself but didn’t share. For those still curious, these aren't just sculptures on the ship, they’re actually spare propeller blades. If you find yourself in the middle of the Atlantic with a blown propeller blade, you can’t just call the Automobile Association for help. I’m a little at a loss however as to how they would change one out while at sea.


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England, Europe, London, Mickey, UK

London – Our Last Day in the UK

Category:England,London,QM2/Scotland

24 August 2015

 

By Steven –

 

I was the last to get out of bed this morning. By the time I was downstairs, the day was well under way. I was delighted to be offered a home cooked breakfast of porridge and fresh fruit. A great way to start the day. Over breakfast we discussed the strategy for the day. Kevin and I wanted to hit at least one or two sights this morning. In the afternoon, Kevin has a talk to give at Open University on the north side of town. The day will be capped with a special dinner, our last of our trip.

 

Buck House (aka Buckingham Palace) was out – simply too complicated with the rains and not much in the way of shelter until you got in. It’s agreed that we’ll hit the Victoria and Albert Museum and, if there’s time, the Science Museum or Natural History Museum. All of these are right next to each other so should be quite do-able. Darren and Ian helped us map out our journey then dropped us off at Clampham Junction Station. We were on our way.

With an unexpected train change enroute, we made it to the V&A just fine. It hadn’t really started raining full-force yet, but it wouldn’t have mattered any way. The Tube stop is right at the museum with no need to go above ground to get from the train to the lower entrance. This will come in quite handy later. Entrance to the museum is free, with the exception of some special exhibits. Other than a quick bag check, there was no line to get in.

 

We made our way through a few sections before deciding it was feeding time again. So we headed for the lunch room that Darren had recommended toward the back of the complex. We weren’t sure what we were looking for. We had the impression that there would be a quiet sit-down lunch room which we couldn’t find. After a quick call to Darren, we found that we were exactly where we should be. This was an area that has several cafeteria-style sections: hot foods, sandwiches and salads, cakes and desserts, and, of course, tea. We each went our separate ways on finding food and managed to converge at the same time to try finding a table. It was high on lunch time so finding a place to sit took some doing. We managed to snag a table in one of the very ornate rooms off to the side. The setting was lovely, just a bit crowded and noisy for our liking. The food was good and hit the spot as we marveled at the wood and plaster work high on the walls and ceiling.

 

After lunch, we hit most of the rest of the museum. My back was tired, it had become stiflingly hot (I was trying to find any pocket of air conditioning breeze I could) and Kevin’s hip began to hurt. I know that all sounds awful, and we’re not as old as all that but it is a big museum – and we’ve been at this touristy stuff for several weeks now, so give us a break. While Kevin settled back in to the cafeteria for a tea, seated next to a group of nuns for safekeeping, I headed off across the courtyard, now that it wasn’t pouring rain, to get a gelato.

 

After a bit of a rest we tried to head for the Natural History Museum just further up the Tube tunnel from the V&A. As we walked along we saw more and more people flooding into the tunnel. Flooding being the operative word here. They were drenched! To get to the Natural History Museum, we'd eventually have to go outside which would have made Kevin look like a drowned rat headed to his talk later. So back to the V&A, surely there's something we haven't seen yet. After a spin through the gift shop and poking our heads back into some adjacent rooms we’d already been through, we came across some remains of the family treasure. My mother is from the Woolsey family making us cousins to the famous Cardinal Wolsey, you know, the one that wasn’t able to obtain a divorce for Henry VIII causing the England’s break from the Catholic Church, that one. A couple sculptures that he had commissioned were recently rediscovered and now on display here at the V&A as the Wolsey Angels. That was fun to see.

Now it was time to head out and meet Darren at the same tube stop at which we’d arrived earlier. We found him waiting at the exit from the museum to guide us to our next stop Open University where Kevin was scheduled to give a talk about his new book, Psychotherapy for the Other. Find it on Amazon. Just a couple of changes on the Tube and we were across town before we knew it. When we got to our destination, we parted ways. Kevin and Darren to his talk and me to explore the area for a couple hours on my own.

 

Darren did a great job of organizing (or is that organising?) and promoting the talk. Apparently it was quite the success. Kevin even ran into one of his former grad students in the audience – a very pleasant surprise for him!

 

While Kevin was on his book tour talk, I headed up to the famous Camden Locks area just a few blocks away. This area is known for its nightlife and arts. Darren tried to head me in the direction of Amy Winehouse’s favorite spot. I never could find it, but did come across herself, her memorial statue anyway. I don’t really know much about her other than what I’ve seen/heard on The Graham Norton Show. It’s clear that she had/has quite the following as evidenced by the number of people who stopped by to take photos with her or leave small offerings of homage.

 

Otherwise, it was interesting to wonder about the shops and stalls in the area. One could easily get lost in this part of a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. And a bar, complete with a hot tub, towels available. I'll pass!

 

One thing I found that would be worth going back for was the “food court.” This was an area with several dozen food stalls. You could find cuisine from all other the world. Even though many of the stalls were closing up for the day, the mix of aromas was like a Siren’s song. I tried to resist, as I knew a big dinner was coming, but the polish sausage was too hard to say “no” to.

Before long I headed back to meet Kevin and Darren who were still excited about the success of Kevin’s talk. They asked about what I had been up to. I had to confess to the sausage to their disdain – but they just don’t understand – they weren’t there!

The Shard

Next stop dinner. Back to the Tube we go. Soon we were back to central London at the base of The Shard Tower. Last time I was in London, this didn’t exist so it was interesting to see it up close and personal. But no time to linger, we still had a bit of a walk to go to get to the restaurant and it was getting close to reservation time. When we arrived at Pizarro, Ian and Neil were already there, drinks in hand.

 

This was an amazing dinner! Unfortunately, they were out of one of the star items on the menu, which several of us were eyeing. This seemed odd in that we were there fairly early into this evening’s dinnertime. There we plenty of other things to try. I think between the five of us, we pretty much ran the whole menu. Everything was really good! At some point in the evening, the owner/chef, Jose Pizarro, himself, came in for dinner. We weren’t able to get a picture of or with him without causing a seen. Kevin and I weren’t really familiar with him, but according to Darren, he’s one on London’s foremost up-and-coming restaurateurs.

Pizarro Menu

After dinner Kevin and I insisted on getting a cab back home, much to Darren’s protestations. We were tired and weren’t up for the walk back to the Tube nor the walk from the Tube to their house. Despite, the number of black cabs running around the city, it’s apparently an extravagance to actually use them when the Tube can get you there. But after that dinner, a little extra extravagance seemed a trifle. After all, this was the last night of our trip.


  • 0
Airplanes, Airports, British Airways, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Airport, Europe, Planes, Scotland, UK

Edinburgh to London – Travel Day

Category:England,London,QM2/Scotland,Scotland

23 August 2015

by Kevin

We’re nearing the end of our vacation and are a little exhausted, a little ready for the next and last leg, a little fearing getting all our bags down the steep hotel stairs and onto a tram for the airport. Last minute packing always brings its stresses. Though we’ve traveled enough together to know each other’s packing rhythms and eccentricities, on big travel days it always seems like we’ve never packed before. There are the showering and grooming rituals followed by dealing with an incoherent melee of dirty close, some wet from the drenching received last night, and don't forget the Scotch whiskys small and large, and assorted gifts needing to be crammed back into our luggage. I might be exaggerating just a little, but you get the picture. Controlled chaos? Barely.

Breakfast was the same; rushed servers, slightly irked patrons in the sunlit front room. All in all, this now seems comforting and I think I’ll miss this lovely, Scottish-infused confusion. Back at the room, my back is feeling better so I’m managing to wrangle some of our now grossly plumb bags out the room and downstairs. It took us a few trips, but we finally got ourselves sorted and out the door after I checked us out…an easy process. Thank you hotel staff for making our stay enjoyable and blog-worthy.

We walked out the door to see the exact tram we needed for our trip to the airport. We were advised that Sunday travel was light, so no need to call a cab. The tram gets you closer to the terminal anyway, while cabs or other hired cars have to stop a distance further from the entrance. Our ride was nice, even pleasant. The tram was clean, certainly not crowded, allowing us to have all the space we needed with our bags.

Getting from the tram to the airport turned out to be quite quick, giving us plenty of time before the flight. A light lunch near the gate was in order.

 

 

As we get ready to board, Steven reminds me of this sign we saw in Scotland on our trip to Oban. Indeed, we hope to come back again soon, we had a great time here.

 

Our flight was with British Airways to London City Airport. We were surprised to find the airplane seating configured as it was. This was an Embraer 190, for you airplane aficionados. It had coach seating throughout but with seemingly more leg room (though Seatguru.com doesn’t say so) and 2x2 seating, a bit wider than most coach seats as well. We thought it was going to be one of those little pea-shooter jets but this was more 737-sized. And, get this, free beer, wine, and cocktails! This is how economy class should be – at a minimum.

Nothing too much to report about the flight except that we took off in a window of clear skies and relatively calm winds…not at all the weather we’d experienced yesterday. The flight was quick, just over an hour and we landed without a problem at London City airport. Coming into the final approach we had wonderful views of London city and most of its iconic landmarks.

 

Meeting us at the airport were friends Darren and Ian after our bags were the last two to show up. Just a short walk from the airport to the car and we were on our way, gingerly making our way to their home in Clapham. I could feel the sense of our trip coming to close. Maybe it was being driven around and watching the city go by, or heading to the home of friends, or just having time to slow down and review the entire time away from our home – I don’t really know, but I was in a nostalgic mood by time we arrived.

Darren, Ian, and Neil’s home is a pre-war (WWII) Victorian that they have been remodeling steadily for a few years. The Clapham area has one of the largest parks in London, Clapham Commons, where dogs and humans ran freely about, all 220 acres of it!  More of that in a minute. After we met the dog and kitty, and settled in to our room, we ventured back downstairs to enjoy some adult refreshments: some wonderful Champagne Darren had selected, Neil offered up a perfect Bloody Mary. It was so good to not be moving any more, though I swear I could still feel the motion of the airplane. Sitting in their modern kitchen, surrounded by good company is never a bad way to wind down a trip and a day of travel.

After a suitable number of cocktails – just enough to vanish that weird sense of being in motion - it was time to gather up our lagging bodies and head to dinner. Since it was a Sunday, Darren had picked one of their favorite places that served a traditional English Sunday roast. I have to say, just writing about it, makes me wish for that roast again. The boys took us around the neighborhood, seeing occasional pockets of 1950-60’s housing, so different from the Victorian surrounding them. The blitz on London left parts of neighborhoods bombed out and housing needed to be put up quickly to accommodate the dislocated.  Hence, a very noticeable trait of the city are these pockets of rather plain housing amidst the curving lanes filled with Victorians.

Crossing back to the park, we angled toward our destination cutting across very large greens bisected by paved and gravel pathways. Still in Clapham Common, we arrived at The Rookery ready to eat. The Rookery. It's fashionable in America to call this type of establishment a gastro pub, but this one had none of those cloying attempts at creating an attitude with food. This was a neighborhood place first and foremost, which served hearty English fare turned up a notch.

We were sat at a round table near the kitchen and out of the main bar/seating area, allowing us to hear each other better. We had several rounds of small plates of deliciousness; a generous charcuterie of meats and other savory, salty, sweet treats…and of course wine. Lots of wine. Sunday Roast’s and pork were ordered, but we were told that the kitchen had run out of Yorkshire puddings. Darren thought that was simply not a thing that should be missing from our meal…plus we both knew that making the pudding isn't all that troubling and since we had no time rush, was completely possible. Darren ended up, politely, suggesting the kitchen could make it for us. To their credit (and Darren’s), the chef saw no problem, and we were all delighted to get our puddings as expected. It pays too, to have regulars with us who knew what was what and who was who. Thanks Darren!

 

Fully sated and a little tipsy, we made it back through the common in what seemed record time. Why is it that return journeys always seem faster? Something to do with the elasticity of time I suppose. Back home, Steven and I tucked into bed and were fast asleep.

The next morning saw a pretty mixed bag of weather. We talked about strategies for the day given that it would occasionally pour down buckets of rain with strong winds, then dissolve into sun breaks. Darren and Ian did a lot to help us figure out what was open on a Monday and what wasn’t. Buckingham Palace, “Buck House,” was out, so we settled on taking in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Mickey didn't want to be in any pictures this day - he was just a frightful mess after being up so late the night before. It think he caught a cold in the rain, poor fella. Have you ever heard a mouse sneeze and blow it's nose? I would be funny if it weren't so sad.


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