September 19th (9:43 pm) Days 1 and 2

My apologies right up front.  In my zeal to erase all extraneous material from my laptop before this trip, I seem to have also erased whatever my system needs to start WORD.  That means, sorry to say, that I will be typing my adventures directly into the blog…that means, sorry to say, that I will probably be a little less careful about screening for typos.

So typos or no, let’s go back to the flight – the official start of this new adventure!

We flew on American from Chicago to London.  Believe it or not there are 3 flights to London from Chicago: 5, 6, and 7 o’clock!  I thought when the AA agent asked me what time our flight was when we were checking in that she was checking to make sure we were there far enough in advance…At that point I did not know that there were three flights to choose from.  We were on the 7:10 flight.

And, we got up-graded!  I didn’t even realize that one could get upgraded, so that came as a really pleasant surprise.  The upgrade was “paid” for with mileage from my account, which was fine with me as I have well over 200k miles to use.  So, Yes!  Business Class to Europe.  A good thing made better.

However, we have a system for flying to Europe that involves the chemical assistance to sleep on the plane, and it is designed to get us through the coach experience.  Take the pill, sleep ’til we land.  In business class there are actually diversions to prevent one from sleeping, starting with a varied course dinner service (in coach it all comes on one tray!) and entertainment via a Samsung tablet.

I didn’t have much interest in the entertainment (I never watch movies on the plane, preferring to read or nap) but feeling that a dutiful blogger of travel experiences owed it to her readers to check out the tablet’s offerings, I sacrificed myself.  (Actually, I used it to entertain myself while I waited for my five course meal to be served – so immediately afterwards I could concentrate on sleeping).

So, how was it?  It was interesting.  There are TV shows and movies on it.  There is also music – but not music DVDs, just CDs – to listen too.  Not a huge number of choices in any one category, but multiple categories, so I am sure everyone can find something. I turned mine over to Gerry for him to try when I got bored with it.

The tablets come with Bose noise-cancelling headphones, and those I used for the entire trip!  And yes, I did sleep right through to the 45 minute before landing warning, so I figure I got about 4 hours of sleep.  That said, we arrived in London at 2:00am our time!

We tool the Heathrow express from the airport of the same name to Paddington Station.  Though expensive, it was a quick trip, and very easy.  From Paddington, we walked to Regent’s Park and our hotel.  Without the little detour we made, it would probably have been just a bit over a mile, but we got a little lost, and probably added about another 1/2 mile onto the trip.

Ah, London! Those great double decker buses!

Our hotel is the Melia White House, on Albany St. just east of Regent’s Park’s south boundary.  After a short night and a long walk, we arrived at the hotel to discover a snafu!  We had an inkling that a snafu might be on our schedule because we never received an email confirmation of our reservation.  With foresight we had called to check on this particular reservation from Milwaukee before leaving and we were assured everything was in order.  So we were not surprised to arrive and find out there was no reservation under the name Parker or Cumpiano, but we were certainly dismayed.  We were “invited” to sit in the bar while they “looked” for our reservation.  (Mind you, we did have a reservation number.  Unfortunately, no one recognized where the number had come from!)

In the bar, a good cup of cappuccino later, we were relaxed enough to venture out 1) to see if we had a place to sleep for the night, and 2) to go for a walk while our room was prepared.  Halleluiah!  They found our reservation.  It was under my new last name:  De Cumpiano.  I should have guessed!  (Would you believe I also have a car registered to me in that name?) Anyway, not only had they found the reservation (and all was in order) but our room was also ready.  Nap!!  So we did.

About 4, we were up again and on our way to visit Regent’s Park.  It was beautiful and just the walk we needed to stretch our legs after the long flight and work up an appetite for dinner.  We wended our way to Goodge and Charlotte Streets, where there is a concentration of restaurants to meet everyone’s budget and taste buds, and it is less than 1/2 mile from our hotel, an easy walk.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner of Goan food (Indian from Goa) and were back at the hotel and (embarrassingly) asleep by 9:30pm (or maybe 9:00.  Even 8:30.  We were tired!)

This morning, (now it is Wednesday) we didn’t wake up until 10:00am.  We thought we had missed our included breakfast, but a quick check said we still had 15 minutes to get down to the dining room, so we hightailed down there!  Good thing too – as I am writing this I have just finished my only other meal for today!

Today, the Victoria and Albert Museum was on our itinerary.  We took the Tube.  It was easy.  It was fast.  But it was a waste of a beautiful day!  The South Kensington station is right in the midst of an interesting area full of little food shops and scores of young people. It is understandable – because there are three major museums right in a three block area.  The V&A was wonderful.  It was started, and still functions, as a design museum, even more than an art museum.  There are tons of displays of decorative arts – textiles, silver and other metals, pottery, jewelry, sculpture, painting and furniture.  It is quite interestingly arranged and the areas set up for children have a lot to teach adults too.  We really enjoyed it and I think we might have been there for over 4 hours, not including Tea, which we had a little early, and which served as our lunch.  I hope shortbread with caramel and chocolate can be considered a lunch.  I know it had more calories than most lunches I eat!

The Natural History Museum with London edited out. Looking like another Downton Abbey don’t you think?

When we finally exited the V&A, we took a walk next door to the Natural Science Museum.  We saw it just from the outside, but what a pretty building.  Majestic doesn’t come close to describing the size, but the patterning of grey and cream stone was noteworthy, too.  Taking pictures that cut out the clutter of the modern world at the base of the building, it looks like another time in history all together.

Back on the tube, we went to Westminster.  Just as we emerged, at the foot of Big Ben’s tower, the sun was sinking and the lighting was spectacular.  We walked around the Houses of Parliament taking pictures, and squeezed into Westminster Abbey just in time for the last tour.  That was expensive!  But, the expense included an audio tour, which was pretty good, and supposedly the tickets are good for unlimited entrances for the next 12 months.  A lot of good that will do us!  I liked seeing the tombs of famous people.  I thought it pretty ironic that Charles Darwin is buried in the abbey. It struck me that some of our creationist fellow Americans might find that a sacrilege.  The Poet’s Corner is a bibliophile’s dream, and the tombs of the queens and kings are a wonderful walk through history.

By the time we left the Abbey, it was getting cold, so we started walking toward the hotel.  It was about two miles from where we were, and fortunately the walk was going to take us right through the area where we ate last night.  We walked on Wardaur Street up to China Town, and then a bit around Leicester Square.  We even wandered down a dark alley (following someone who looked like they knew where they were going – only to see him turn around and head back after getting about half way down!)  At the end of the alley was a very mysterious looking Japanese restaurant, with two bouncers in black suits stationed outside.  A big bunch of oriental men were guided to the door. They went in.  I hung back.  Gerry checked it out, but walked away.  We never did discover the source of all the mystery.

Finally, we found a vegetarian restaurant, southern Indian cuisine, and sat down to a bottle of wine and a plate full of delicious things to try.  Especially good was the onion rava dosi – a flat cream of wheat pancake with sauteed onions in it.

Tomorrow, our plan is to go to Hampton Court Palace and spend the better part of the day, topping it off with a boat ride back on the Thames.  The boat ride’s timing is dependent upon the tides – so it can take anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours!  Should be good for sight-seeing and picture taking.

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