Today is all about travel. We need to meet Dan and Sophie for breakfast and to hand the keys over to them so we scurry around the flat making sure the place is at least as clean as we found it — checking behind dressers and bed for items that may have wandered off. We want to make sure Dan and Sophie don’t have to do anything more before her father needs the place next. As we find wandering items we do our best to squeeze them into the bags we have. We may have more with us than when we left in the gift exchange market, but eventually we find a place for everything.
Satisfied, we leave our luggage near the front door and walk to Pimlico Fresh. We are early, and order coffees before grabbing spots on the long bench near the huge blackboard. Dan and Sophie arrive shortly thereafter. We place our breakfast orders, and return to the table. We chat about Muybridge, our visit, and their holiday travels. Once we finish our delicious breakfasts we all return to the flat, retrieve our bags and return the keys. Then we try to convey just how grateful we are to them for their hospitality to strangers.
After the goodbyes, Sophie points us to the bus stop around the corner where we catch the 436 which terminates at Paddington Station. The bus weaves its way through the heart of the city, and we attempt to soak it all in one last time. The city looks a bit stuck in the aftermath of Christmas, between the madness of the few days after the holiday and the days leading up to New Years Eve. People on the street have slowed their pace a bit, it seems. Even Paddington Station seems to be moving in slow motion when we arrive, and I start to wonder if it is my desire to stay has made the time crawl.
We take turns monitoring the luggage, grabbing coffee, and using the facilities, all the while monitoring the board for the next Heathrow Express train. Despite my apparent time control, the train is ready to board and we make our way down the platform and choose a carriage. We settle into our seats and take advantage of the last free wifi we are likely to see on this side of the pond. The conductor comes by, and soon after we are on our way.
Heathrow — as always — is buzzing with people when we arrive. It doesn’t have the crazed atmosphere we had seen on the television for the last week when so many flights were canceled. It is the busiest airport in the world, and it shows, but last week was mad. We make our way to the Virgin area, check in at the kiosk, and then wait in line to check our luggage. The staff is efficient and polite and we move on. We are so early we don’t have a gate assignment. After going through customs and having our bags scanned, we find spots just past the duty free shops and relax. Again we take turns watching bags and grabbing drinks or snacks. I use the iPhone to chat with friends on IRC and to use up as much of the pre-paid card as possible. Sarah reads Sherlock Holmes on the iPad.
We had been monitoring Rich’s tweets of their journey home the day before, and it sounded like they had a long, hard trip. The weather was still bad today, but we were hopeful. Once we were able to board, the plane’s captain came right out and said they anticipated a quick flight. We went through our usual boarding routine, meaning I immediately put earplugs in, and we nested as best we could. I was able to tell it was the exact same plane as the flight over, but at least we had better seats this time. Luckily the flight was smooth, the movie, books, and iPad entertained us, and we each were able to grab some sleep. We even landed early!
We breeze through customs, grab our bags, and find the waiting area closest to where the Dartmouth Coach stops. Unable to find an ATM, I exchange a few a quid for the local currency at a less than perfect rate, before buying a couple of muffins on which to nosh. Sarah monitored the bags and iPhone which I had plugged in to a (rare) public outlet for a much-needed charge. We are early for the bus, and spending most of the time waiting by zoning out and/or people watching.
The bus is a few minutes late, but it ends up being the “express” so we will go directly to Lebanon, cutting out one stop along the way. The dark, quiet bus is perfect and we melt into the high-backed seats as we pull out of Logan and into the Boston night. As predicted the movie is The Karate Kid (again) and we watch the muted screen to see if we can find where we left off 2 weeks ago.
The bus trip is uneventful — although we still didn’t see the end of the film. We are very happy to see Ryen’s smiling face when we arrive. We all exchange hugs and she helps us with our bags. I slide into the driver’s seat and we drive the short distance to Ryen’s grandmother’s house, where we extend our thanks and say goodbye. The car is warm, and feels good. We are both tired, and with the end of the trip in sight, we get on the highway and aim Penny toward home.
In our absence a good amount of snow has fallen, and thankfully Ryen called Matt Loftus to come over and plow. It was nice to return to a clean — very well-plowed — driveway. At the door we are greeted by excited dogs who have been startled from their naps and are bouncing for our attention. There is a stack of holiday cards that arrived while we were away. We unpack the toiletries, grab beers, turn on the tree’s lights, and go through the cards together on the floor while the dogs get as close to us as they can.
As we get ready for bed, we talk about how much we already miss our friends and wonder when our schedule will allow for our next visit. Hopefully soon.
It feels like we have been planning this trip forever, and we kind of have. We made the decision to buy the tickets in June, and we have spent the last six months planning nearly every minute of the journey. We printed blank calendars and emailed friends, negotiating for their valuable time. As the trip got closer we booked our trains, buses, planes, and hotels and considered the calendar full.
Now that we’ve landed in London, it hardly feels real.
We were mostly packed last night, and after feeding and walking the dogs for the last time for 2 weeks, we used the morning to pull the toiletries together and go over our lists. Convinced we had packed everything we would need, we drove to Ryen’s house, put Penny in her garage and took Ryen’s car to the Dartmouth Coach depot. Ryen’s a big reason why we are able to take this trip. We’re grateful she agreed to look after the menagerie while we are gone!
The bus trip from Lebanon to Logan Airport was uneventful. We took an early bus, feeling more comfortable people watching at the airport than our watches on a bus later. The movie was new remake of The Karate Kid, but half-way through the movie the DVD stuck. The driver did what he could, but even had it not stopped the trip was less than the length of the film. More than likely it will be the same film on the way back anyway.
We forget that while we will be away for the next two weeks, including Christmas, that it is too early for most holiday travel, so the airport is less busy than expected. We were both surprised that we weren’t asked to participate in the new “enhanced” body pat-down or choose the full-body scanner — and were mostly relieved. Still early, we went to an airport pub to have a beer and meal before the flight. A little after 7 p.m. we boarded and our red-eye was underway.
The flight over was not that great. A few first-time-flying infants were less than enthusiastic and expressed as much most of the way, alternating turns screaming. Our seats were directly in front of the toilets in the mid-section of the plane, which means no one kicking you in the back of the seat, but it also means less legroom and the constant sound of an airplane’s toilet flushing. With earplugs in and headphones tuned into the in-flight entertainment, the flushing sounded as if an announcement was about to come on over the intercom. We both managed to grab a little sleep, but in fits and starts and dreams involving being flushed down a large loo.
We arrived at Heathrow a little after 8 a.m., found our luggage and made our way to the Heathrow Express. The Express had wifi so we checked email and updated friends and family that we were on the ground in London.
The Heathrow Express is about a 15 minute ride, and once we got to Paddington Station, we queued at the cash machine and learned that our debit cards weren’t working. The bank had been updated over a week earlier, so this was confusing. The credit card was working and so we bought Oyster cards and made our way to the hotel in Lambeth. Outside of the Lambeth tube stop we tried another cash machine and got the same result. The hotel was in walking distance, so we decided to check in and wait until the bank was open to contact them.
We got a little turned around, but eventually found the Novotel and checked in to our room. We drew the curtains, turned off the lights and tried to nap, but we’re foiled a few minutes later by staff knocking loudly on the door. We shooed them away and went back to sleep, knowing we need more energy if we are to keep up with Nick and Jess this evening.