When plans change

passport_leafOff to the UK on Friday night and I’m not looking forward to the flight. I do love to travel but the process of getting there is not a lot of fun. There’s small, cramped seats. I can’t afford to go business class and these days, what you get there is a little individual “pod” which doesn’t really look that comfortable, either, except it can recline and there’s nobody squashed up beside you. The width of them doesn’t look all that much wider than a standard seat. Before these came out, business class seats were like big comfy lazy-boy chairs!

And I’m getting a cold. I have the sniffly stuffed up nose stage at the moment. If the travel gods are with me, it might not get worse than that, but I doubt I’ll be that lucky. Flying with a head cold will be awful and I figure I’ll end up spreading the germs and making a number of other passengers ill too, even though I try to keep it to myself. All that recycled air, though, isn’t condusive to health.

The other reason is that my plans have changed. We have had to cancel Paris. My partner’s father is very ill and we really can’t be out of the country. We don’t know how much longer we’ll have him so every day counts. We might get to London on Easter weekend depending on how things go but as I’m due to fly back out of London, I will have to go. If he comes with me, at least he can be back in Manchester by train in a couple of hours if need be. That’s easier than trying to get home from Paris.

Again, though, that still depends on the situation. I may need to change my ticket and extend my time in Manchester. I did get cancellation and interruption on my flight to the UK so any costs incurred in changing should be covered by that, at least. I didn’t get insurance on anything else because I’ve been burned on the “pre-existing condition” clause before and even though his dad seemed to be stable when I booked the France part of the trip, he did have a “condition” and I more or less figured a doctor could cite that when filling out a form.

That’s what happened to me the last time I tried to recover the cost of a cancelled flight. The doctor said the patient (my father) was not stable at the time I booked the ticket. That was news to me! While he was recovering from major surgery, we all thought it was just a matter of time. Turns out it was, but not what we thought. Looking back, the doctor was right, and looking back, we can see it but at the time, we didn’t know any different. We thought he was just longer recovering than expected. So after that, I’ve been reluctant to trust buying the insurance. I did this time because everything seemed like things would be ok to get to the UK and back. And this time, if I have to use the insurance, it will only be about changing the return date and those costs associated.

Having said that, I did or will get 3/4 of the money back for the pre-paid hotel in Paris and that will cover the cost of the flight and Eurostar which were also prepaid. That’s a break-even there. There are a few other things that got cancelled that were non-refundable but they won’t add up to a lot. Extending the rental car in Manchester an extra week didn’t cost me double, either, which was a nice surprise, it’s only costing another 50% and that wasn’t prepaid.

This will be a vacation from work, and we’ll be spending our two weeks together which is important when you live 3000 miles apart for the moment. I hope we’ll be able to get out for a day trip or two just for a drive somewhere. We’ll need that to recharge our batteries.

It’s the way life is. We help each other, support each other, and get through it. Paris can wait.

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Travel Journey of the Week – The Louvre

The Louvre and pyramid. No tourists. It's Tuesday and the Louvre is closed

The Louvre and pyramid. No tourists. It’s Tuesday and the Louvre is closed

Liberated Travel’s weekly Travel journey is the Louvre, one of the world’s largest museums, in Paris.

I’ve been to the Louvre museum in Paris twice. The first time was during a school trip to Paris in 1977. We had a bus tour around the city and one of the stops was the Louvre. I don’t think we had a guided tour around the museum highlights but we did have our entrance paid and had an hour or so to have a quick look round it. I remember finding the Mona Lisa, She was hung at the time on a wall in a large gallery and I was so surprised to see that it was not a very big painting at all and that it was painted on wood, not canvas. The size of it is only about 11×17 or thereabouts.  Now, of course, it’s in a special viewing area of its own and is behind bulletproof glass. I don’t think it was back then but I may be wrong.

The other piece of art I always remember from that visit was the Winged Victory of Samothrace. She is a masthead from a ship, carved in stone and though head and armless, you can see that she’s facing the winds of the seven seas which  is blowing her robes backwards.

30 years later, I finally returned to Paris with my parter. We decided to go to the Louvre on the Wednesday late opening but looking back, we really should have done it first. It was at the end of a very long day, during which we’d gone up to Montmartre, visted the Basilica, took in the Dali museum, had lunch and walked many narrow streets, and had a quick look at the exterior of the Moulin Rouge before taking a bus back to the Louvre. I was exhausted with very sore feet even before we got to one of the world’s largest museums.

But we went anyway. It was late November and the queue under the pyramid entrance was not all that long at all. We got our little map and headed in to find the Mona Lisa and whatever else we could find. We did find the little maps confusing. When looking for particular galleries or the toilets, they were never where the map said they were. I was getting frustrated and tired. But we found the enigmatic Mona and got a chance to get to the front of the viewing area for a look and a photo.

Then we wandered a bit, saw the Venus de Milo. She had almost nobody around her. We got up close and had a good look but my partner quipped, “Well, that’s not a very good statue. It’s got no arms!” Very funny. I really wanted to find the Victory again, too, so I could get some good photos of it. We finally came upon it from one side and I was as struck by it this time as I was the first.

“This one’s even more rubbish! It’s got no head AND no arms!”

I had to laugh, only because I was so tired, I think! By this time, even though we’d barely seen anything other than those three things and one or two galleries of paintings, I had had enough. I really needed to sit down and I really needed a cold drink. We finally found a cafe near the entrance but for some reason we weren’t allowed to sit at the tables, so we bought some bottles of pop and found a bench. I was nearly in tears by this time, between the sore feet, the thirst, the frustration trying to find our way around.

But you know what? Once I had a rest and a drink, I got a little puff of a second wind. We had talked about getting an after dark boat cruise on the Seine. G. was willing to forgo it if i wanted to go back to the hotel for the night but no, I thought I would be ok, and besides, a boat cruise means you can sit down, right? Right. So we made our way across Pont Neuf and down to the quay to get tickets. The cruise was great, if a bit chilly and we walked back to the hotel under the moonlight, stopping in a Chinese restaurant on the way for a late meal. It was our last day in Paris and we made more than the most of it!

Daily Prompt – Service

Manchester's Chinatown

Manchester’s Chinatown

I’m sure i posted this but it seems to have disappeared….Trying again…

WordPress’s daily prompt to inspire bloggers to write is “service” for today’s word. Good service or bad service, you pick.

What instantly comes to mind is a group meal I attended at a Chinese restaurant in Manchester about 10 years ago or so.

We were a group of about 10 or 11 and headed into Manchester to Chinatown. I hesitate after all these years to name and shame the restaurant because it’s been a long time and they could have upped the game. Prior visits to them had always resulted in a good evening with good service. I don’t know if it was a one off but I don’t think any of us has dared try them again.

However, here’s the story:

We unsuspecting group gathered for a drink and to meet up with friends, old and new. What went wrong… the list is long! The drinks orders were very slow in coming and sometimes the wait staff forgot to ask everyone for re-orders through the meal. We were around a round table that seemed far too small for 10. They didn’t provide us with a circular movable platform for the center of the table to make passing around the dishes easier which many Chinese restaurants do provide, and when one of us finally complained loudly, we did get one. Which was broken. We had to gingerly turn the glass ourselves and hope it moved.

They brought two courses out at once instead of one at a time, further confusing and crowding the table as everyone tried to reach and pass. The one waitress kept elbowing one couple, leaning around them and at one point one of them received a beer right down his back! Another guest spilled another beer trying to move something else out of the way.

The music on the sound system was horrible, pan pipes playing every kind of music except Chinese. The piece de resistance was a lovely dish of prawns which suddenly acquired an extra bit…. a big blue bottle fly that was hovering landed in it, got stuck in the sauce and wiggled it’s little legs helplessly while the 10 of us collectively moaned loudly… ewwwwwwwww! The waitress seemed to find this amusing but took the dish back to replace it. Hopefully with something new but it took us 15 minutes of warily contemplating the fresh replacement before anyone had the nerve to try some!

To top it all off, yes it’s possible to further wreck this, they buggered up the bill! Two of the men were so incensed that they sought out the manager who had conveniently NOT managed his restaurant very well tonight, having found plenty to keep him busy behind the bar instead of being aware of the problems going on under his nose. They explained the events of the night which they *think* were confirmed by the staff but, not speaking any Chinese, they had to take that on faith. The manager offered them 30 pounds off the bar bill (which was about 50 pounds between the 10 of us). He wouldn’t extend that to the 50 so we took it and counted out the money to pay the 235 pound total bill to the penny! No tip. That’s quite a lot of money they ended up losing over all. We took the thirty pounds and, discovering that our favourite pub nearby was closed, spent it on a round or two of drinks at lovely Lass O’Gowrie pub instead.

Plans are made to be changed

Rouen Cathedral

We were going to do a driving tour around Scotland in October, you may remember. But it turns out, I’m going to have to have surgery and I really won’t be in any shape to be slogging around airports and lugging suitcases quite so soon. Scotland will have to be put on the shelf for another time. Bummer!

What’s next, then? We have made plans to go somewhere in April. We thought about a river cruise but missed the window for the 2 for 1 sale. When we went to book a few days after we decided, the sale cabins were sold out and the only ones left were twice as expensive. Never mind. We are now discussing doing some of the same things on our own.

The river cruise was going to start and end in Paris, stopping at Giverny, a few more places, with an overnight stop in Rouen. It included a bus trip out through Normandy to the battlefields and cemeteries. I think we could very easily do that ourselves. We could spend a couple of nights in Paris. Go to Giverny on the train for a morning out. We could then take the train to Rouen and base there for a few nights. The city itself seems to have a lot of really interesting things, including a cathedral where the heart of Richard the Lionheart is entombed! I’m sure we can find a tour company that will do a day trip out through the countryside from there. On the way home, we could take the Eurostar back to London, have a couple of nights there as well.

In addition, it will probably cost half what the river cruise would have!  Maybe we’ll take a river cruise some other time, if we can book far enough ahead to get the 2 for 1 deal. I’m really surprised that booking for April back in June found the “cheap seats” all sold. It has a vague feeling of a rip off because… April? Doesn’t seem like high season. If it was the Netherlands and tulip time, I’d say yes. Friends of ours did that a couple of years ago in April. I would assume that would be high season for the tulips but Normandy? Seems odd. Never mind.

Plans are made to be changed. You gotta be flexible and think of something else that would be just as cool, right?

The hellish side of travel

No Love for United Airways

No Love for United Airways

I don’t know whether the seventh level of hell it was to get out of Newark Liberty airport was due to a United Airways check in clerk’s screw up or the way I had booked my tickets but either way, I am extremely reluctant to fly through that airport ever again.

I had used my Aeroplan points to book two return tickets from Halifax to Newark (New  York). The airline we were given was United Airlines on the way down and for the return journey, it was United to Boston and changing to Air Canada for the hop to Halifax. The flight to Newark that we were booked on was delayed several hours but they got us on an earlier flight. Coming back it was a different matter. Was it me? Was I making bad decisions? Were the travel Gods punishing me for some unknown slight?

Talk about one bad decision and/or screw up after another, it was one thing after another until I was in tears several times. I couldn’t check in online. It just didn’t work and it hadn’t worked trying to get here earlier in the week either. I have no idea why. We couldn’t check in online before we left as a result. We grabbed a take-out from the café a few doors from the hotel and walked around to Port Authority bus terminal to try to find somewhere to sit and eat but nothing was there. Not one bench or chair to be had in the terminal where the shops were. Perhaps there were some by the bus bays but we didn’t need to go through that labyrinth as the airport bus picks up on the street. The wrong street where we went first. We went to where it dropped us off on 42nd St. though I wasn’t sure it would pick up there and when I asked someone, found out we had to go back to 41st street. We stood on the sidewalk and ate our snacks and then dragged ourselves back through the terminal to the other street and luckily the airport bus was right there and boarding.

We put our bags in the hold and got comfy. When we got to the airport we attempted to get out at the wrong terminal. Fine. Climb back on and get to the right one. Check in was another nightmare. The kiosks wouldn’t take my reference number so one of the United staff checked us in but then we still had to put the details into a keyosk right in front of her. She doesn’t actually give out the boarding passes, just the luggage sticker.

I think she did something wrong. She seemed to have checked G. through to Halifax but not me. I kept asking why. She kept saying it was a different ticket, yes… but why didn’t mine get checked through? We were booked the same way. Kept getting the same answer. When we navigated the touch screen check in, again, mine only gave me paperwork to Boston, not through to Halifax unlike G.s process. I couldn’t seem to get the woman to understand and she kept assuring me it was ok, I was checked through to Halifax but all the paperwork said otherwise. It just didn’t make sense that he would get two boarding passes and a luggage receipt to Halifax and I only got one boarding pass and a receipt for the luggage to Boston. It was futile trying to get any further explanations or answers so I walked away in tears of frustration, worried about whether I should collect my bag in Boston and how do I then get a boarding pass?

We went through a pain in the arse at security, having to actually stand by our trays until they went through the conveyor. I was scanned and then had to be body searched/patted down anyway even though I didn’t hear any beeps in the machine. I probably looked ultra-stressed and that probably ticked an alarm box or something.   G. didn’t have that indignity. We finally got through all that and got ourselves back together and sat at the first café we found. Guess what? They had lots of different kinds of tea but no normal plain orange pekoe so I suffered Earl Grey instead. It just felt like I didn’t make one decision that ended well today and it was so frustrating!! I’m in tears again and G. is saying don’t let it get to you. Well, clearly it has already.

We got to the gate and there was another assistance desk so I asked there about the confusion. The man said I was only checked in to Boston and would have to retrieve my luggage there and re-check in. We had suspected that might be the case but it’s good to know so I didn’t leave my luggage behind in Boston. If I’d trusted that witch that checked us in, that’s what I would have done.

One good thing, our seats were near the front of the plane and they had buckets of leg room, a ‘United Plus’ type of thing. One bad thing, we weren’t sitting together. The United clerk checked us in, and we were clearly traveling together,  and when we went through the keyosk check in process for my ticket, it seemed like the seat beside me was empty. We tried to change his seat to one next to mine. Guess what? They’d have charged 14 dollars. As it was they charged 25 to check the bags. Nickel and diming you to death, right? To top it all off, the person that did sit beside me changed her seat just before takeoff so he could have changed and sat with me had he known but by then I was just zoning out to try to take the stress levels down a bit so I didn’t try to get over to him to tell him and he hadn’t looked back to notice until we were almost ready to land. It was only a 30 minute flight so it wasn’t really that big a deal but why didn’t she just put us together in the first place?

I did go and get my bags which came off the plane without going missing. From there we had to figure out where we had to be, which was Terminal B.  It was quite a hike to get there, long hallways and a dash across a parking garage level for some strange reason. Maybe it’s a short cut.  But there were the Air Canada desks with a one-“stall” security check beside them. It felt like AC was hidden away in a back room secret closet!

Over to the AC desk, and I explained my problem. The desk gal checked my details and said I was indeed already checked in to the flight and we were already sitting together.  She didn’t know why I wasn’t issued a boarding pass back in Newark like G. was.  I told her I had had such a horrible day to that point but that when I saw the Air Canada desk, I knew everything was going to be OK! She laughed and agreed with me, of course! I have a boarding pass in my hot little hand and have rechecked the bag so I didn’t have to mess around with it. These planes are so small that they make you put the bag in the hold at the gate anyway. Might as well check it to start with. We went down the hallway a bit to find a restaurant and got some hot food inside us and lots of cold fluids.

Since I had been traveling with a laptop and didn’t want to check that in the baggage, I had it in a shopping bag. The bag was heavy paper and the handles were sort of a twine kind of thing. The laptop was a bit heavy for the bag and one of the handles slipped off. I had a feeling that would happen but never mind. There’s free Wi-Fi in Logan so we logged on and I made sure my nephew had the flight details for picking us up tonight with the rental car.

Feeling much better now, we headed back to security which was much less of a hassle even though we still had to take off shoes and belts etc. That’s standard stuff these days. The security area led right straight to and area with three gates. That was all, and the gates were right there, no further walking needed.  There is nothing on this side of security except a little concession stand, not even duty free shops. There was a small duty free place outside security and I noticed when we boarded that there was someone there to hand out your duty free purchases at the gate. They do that in Halifax, too, even though the duty free is already inside security at Stanfield Airport in Halifax. .

The flight is about an hour and 20 minutes so it was  fairly quick and easy. I was never so glad to get to the end of a travel day in my life. Even that long delay and subsequent rerouting through Toronto back in January wasn’t as bad as this, stress wise. I know others have had far worse experiences trying to get places but this, for me, was my worst to date.

Luggage Gods still kind, but the Travel Gods must have been off duty or else they have a grudge against United who have been notorious of late anyway so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

New York in the sunshine and New York in the rain

The arch in Washington Square, New York City

The arch in Washington Square, New York City

We’ve seen both sides of the weather this week. We arrived in NYC on Tuesday morning on an earlier flight than planned, as if 7:30 departure wasn’t bad enough! We arrived at the airport to discover that flight was delayed until noon but they got us on one leaving at 6:30 a.m. Thank you Travel Gods!

Naturally it was too early to get into the hotel room so we parked the bags and went out to find breakfast. We could have had it for free at the hotel but it was a madhouse so we skipped that and had it at a nearby pub that was open. We headed to Gray Line and hopped on the Hop On Hop Off tour bus heading downtown. The sun was beaming and our guide Dominic was ace! We got off at Chinatown and walked around there and headed downtown, thinking we would eventually get to the Staten Island Ferry. Things never go as planned. By the time we got there, after a nearly futile search in a department store for a toilet and a stop for lunch at one of the hundreds of Irish pubs in New York, we were just too sore and tired. We had been up since 4 a.m. and it was catching up with us.

We found the tour bus again and took it around the rest of the loop and then trudged our way to the hotel for a rest, nipping out later for a meal.

Yesterday the rain started. Hell. We did brave breakfast in the hotel but between the stress of the crowds and the meh-ness of the food, we decided not to do that again. By that time, the rain had stopped for awhile so we trudged over to where we had to book the Tv and Movie tour for Thursday. Finally found that and since the weather seemed to be holding off, decided to do the uptown loop of the HOHO tour and get off at the Guggenheim.

Cold. damp. windy. crap guide (well, he knew his stuff but the wind was interfering with the microphone and when people continued to complain he got cranky). Then the heavens opened and we skipped down into the inside of the bus to the exclaims of the guide “It’s only water!” Stuff that.

We were unimpressed with the Guggenheim which turned out to be far more heavily balanced in favour of modern art than is our taste. The building was cool though. Stopped for a cold drink and decided we needed to eat. Tried to get a cab down to Rockefeller Center in case we decided to do the NBC tour, but food first. We ended up in one of the restaurants around the Rock. Centre plaza where you skate in winter. If you think that was probably expensive, you’d be right. We decided it would be our splurge meal and it really was good, that’s for sure.

By the time we were done, we thought it was a bit late for the tour but browsed in the NBC shop for a bit and then went in to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a look. Most of it us under scaffolding unfortunately but the back part around the altar and some side chapels and behind the altar was viewable as was a few of the windows. Very nice!

Sore and tired and sweaty by now and we really were done in. We got a cab back to the hotel, picked up some sandwiches for later and chilled the rest of the evening.

Today the rain continued and we got quite wet even though we tried to share the umbrella. Thought getting a quick breakfast at a nearby takeout cafe would do. I enjoyed it but Graham didn’t much. Another cab, this time over to Times Square where we are going to meet the bus for the On Location tour later. Turns out the cafe where we were meeting the bus would have been perfect for breakfast if a bit over the top. It’s a singing restaurant with all the wait staff taking turns singing various songs. Only on Times Square!!! We did have a hot drink and a bagel while we waited.

The tour was good though it was difficult to take pics out the rainy windows. They show clips of various movies and tv shows as you go by many of the locations and buildings. It’s quite good. The guide we had, Deo, is an actor and comedian and kept us entertained as well. We stopped in Soho for a half hour to stretch our legs. The rains seems to have stopped. Will it last? Well, yes it did for the most part. The sun even came out for the rest of the tour.

We ended the tour near a pub used as inspiration for a sitcom, How I Met Your Mother and we ate lunch in there as we got a 15% discount with the tour ticket. We walked back, picking up a few souvenirs and some sandwiches for later after the theatre.

I guess that’s enough for now. Our adventures will continue! I’ll do more of a “what we thought of New York” after i finish all the travelogue bits!

The first time I saw London

stpaulsoutsideReading the first part of The Habitual Runaway’s visit to London has inspired me to write about the first time I went there. Like her, I have since visited many times but that first one, for me, was most definitely memorable. I have always been interested in British history and culture and always knew that the first time I could afford to take a proper trip, it would be to London and the U.K. In 1993, I was ready.

I planned a trip with a woman I was friendly with at work. She’d been there once or twice and she’d traveled a bit so at least one of us would know where to go and what to do and how to navigate Heathrow Airport! We decided to take a bus tour around England, Wales and Scotland with a couple of days in London at the beginning and at the end. I had not undertaken a big trip like this since high school when I went on the French department trip to Rome and Paris. This was big. This was an adult dream come true. We planned, and decided on a tour and booked it. We were going near the end of August and we were both quite excited. Maybe a little too excited? Add on to that, some work stress in the weeks leading up to it and we were more than ready to get away.

The overnight flight felt very long and there was a child near where we were sitting who wouldn’t settle down, poor kid so we didn’t get any sleep at all. On top of the excitement and recent job stress, can we add sheer exhaustion to the mix? Right. We met with the tour director and with many others on the tour, were bussed to the hotel. We had vouchers for the theatre which had to be exchanged for tickets so we decided to go to Covent Garden to the agent office and do that. My friend was anxious about getting that sorted out.

After that was done, we stopped for lunch but she wasn’t very hungry. She was quiet, but I put that down to being tired. I was excited and buzzed and past tired by this point. She wanted to go back to the hotel for a nap so we did but she was restless and finally sat up and announced she was homesick.

Homesick????

Yes, she said she was homesick and wanted to go home. She explained that she’d had that sort of feeling in the past while traveling but it hadn’t happened until later in a trip and if she sat in the bar with her book and a beer for a couple of hours, she’d soon be ok. (Why can’t you do that now? was my first thought). She had never had this feeling on arrival and was worried. What if the feeling didn’t go away and we were out in the middle of the country on the bus tour? What would she do? And what will she do if she can’t get home tomorrow? But she also worried because she didn’t want to ruin my trip. The more she talked, the more I realized it wasn’t “homesick”, but she was probably having “nerves” or something out of her control because it didn’t really sound rational.

trafalgarlions

I told her that if she stayed and couldn’t shake whatever this was, it *would* ruin my trip more than if she left. I was in an English-speaking country, I’d be on a bus tour with others, I’d be fine. I suggested that even if she couldn’t fly back to our city, she could probably get a flight to Toronto or Montreal and she thought that would be ok, she could get home from there. She’d not thought of that, which convinced me even more that there was something not right. You don’t spend that kind of money on a holiday to dump it 24 hours after you get there. Travel insurance isn’t going to cover you for this kind of interruption. She called Air Canada and got a flight for the next day without a problem (which costs her even more!) and she actually started to settle a bit but she was still intent on leaving.

Me? I’m freaking out a bit. Yes, I knew I would be ok, but it’s still a bit overwhelming and the exhaustion and jet lag are kicking in hard. We tried to have a meal in the hotel restaurant but it was my turn to have no appetite. She was fine, I was feeling very off.  I think I was also dehydrated because this half-ill feeling hung on for a couple of days past getting a few nights’ sleep. Later in the evening, she did go to the bar with her book and I tried to sleep. I tossed and turned, I found it too warm, then cold, and my skin felt like it was crawling. I think that was probably wayyyy over-tired on top of the anxiety.

Then, around 11 or 12 o’clock, I heard a deep resonant sound, the sound of a bell sounding the hour. A kind of thrill went through me. Big Ben!!!! I’m in LONDON! Oh. My. God. My dream come true! That realization calmed me down a bit. I got excited again but eventually I was able to fall asleep.

I realized much later, it couldn’t possibly have been Big Ben that I heard because we were far west of Westminster near Islington and the Angel tube stop. It might, however, have been St. Paul’s which wasn’t all that far from there. It was a bloody big bell, that’s all I know.

She left the next day after breakfast. I walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral that morning for a look round and took a taxi back to the hotel, had a quick lunch and joined the bus tour I’d signed up for that drove around the City and herded us through the Tower of London.

The day after that, I met up with the tour group and told them my friend had a family emergency and had to go home. I really enjoyed the tour and hung out with a number of other singles and a few couples. Lovely people and the tour was amazing! I saw so much that I’d always read about and I knew I’d find a way to return.

bromptonroadAfter the tour, I had another couple of days in London. I changed hotels and there was a bit of trouble because my friend had left with the voucher but it was sorted out. I met up with one couple from the tour and we walked around and down to Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. I had given my friend’s theatre ticket to another lady from the tour who was traveling on her own. I didn’t pay for it, why would I sell it to her? We saw Miss Saigon at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.

The other day that I had on my own found me back down by Westminster Abbey for another look. Later, I wandered through the National Gallery, gazing at famous paintings and saw some really wonderful Turners and Constables. I even took the tube over to Harrods to see the fantastic food halls and buy some teabags so that I could say I purchased something there!

My first visit to London started off with a big hiccup but, to use today’s vernacular, I wore my big girl panties and just got on with it.  My friend felt very bad for leaving but she did what she had to do and I never held it against her. She later discovered that what she had was an anxiety attack and learned that it would have settled itself down had she stayed. Live and learn.

I’ve been back to London a lot since then, both alone and with a traveling partner and have had adventures, and enjoyed so much of the city. I’ve made friends who live there and try to touch base with them when we stay over. My partner and I have been revisiting some of London’s sights, things he’s never seen and most of which I haven’t for quite awhile so it’s nice to see them again with a fresh perspective and get updated photos. We may try to get to London again this fall.

The photos here are scans of the ones I took on that first visit so they aren’t as good as more recent photos.  To read more about that trip and the tour, go here.

towerwhite

The White Tower, Tower of London

towerscaffold

Self explanatory. Inside the Tower of London compound

towertraitor

Traitor’s Gate, Tower of London, they would bring the prisoners in through here from river boats

Weather Gods – Bad; Travel Gods – acceptable; Luggage Gods – Rock my world!

Waiting patiently to travel

Waiting patiently to travel

Here I sit in the Toronto airport. I’m not supposed to be here. I should be home snuggling up in my bed, or at least relaxing in front of my PC instead of typing this on my laptop. Thank you Travel Gods for free WiFi at the Toronto Airport.

I’m not religious but I do have a few superstitions when it comes to travel. And anyway, griping about the Luggage Gods is better than whining and it makes people smile when you’re waiting for your bag to come sailing around the conveyor belt. They understand. And up to now, a quick prayer to the Luggage Gods en route and again while waiting for the luggage has always done me in good stead.

Let me back track a bit to this morning. We had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to get to Manchester airport for a 7:20 British Airways flight to Heathrow where I would then catch my Air Canada connection to Halifax. The weather in the UK over the past week has been a bit precarious with snow clogging up a few of the airports and causing havoc at Heathrow and Gatwick over the weekend before I left. Manchester had barely a few flakes. We were worried all week while I was here because the forecast kept changing and Friday was the Corrie event, which I’ve blogged about previously here. The weather gods were complacent and everyone got to the city for it, a good time was had by all.

Would the law of averages hold or sink? Well, you wouldn’t think it from looking at the rather limp wristed snow that was falling in Manchester this morning,  limp wristed by Canadian standards anyway. No, it shouldn’t be a problem. Except it was.

We boarded before 7 and already there were delays because we were in a queue to be de-iced. That sounds reasonable no matter what. It’s winter and it’s cold and frosty. An hour later we were headed to the runway. We’re leaving, Oh, Yes, We Are! The Weather Gods kicked us all in the collective nuts and cackled “Oh, No, You’re Not!”

The wings had to be inspected before takeoff and the snow was still caking them a bit which was unacceptable so we had to go back to the terminal and to the back of the de-icing queue. It took a while to get a spot at the terminal but when we got there, about 10 minutes later, the bad news was broadcast. The airport was being shut down for 90 minutes!!! Looking out the window and seeing what little snow was coming down would ordinarily make me scoff but here, they don’t have the equipment or personell to deal with it like we do in Canada. It’s a safe bet I won’t make my connection now.

During the course of the next hour, they got permission for anyone that wanted to, to be able to leave the plane. This mostly covered people that were heading to London for the day for work or meetings but a few others took the opportunity as well. That caused a further delay. By this time, the snow had stopped and the temperature had gone up a little. It took care of the snow melting off the plane but now we had to wait for the luggage to be rooted out of the holds to accompany their owners. By the time the plane finally got off the ground, we’d been sitting in it for 5 hours!

Here’s where the Travel Gods smoothed things over a bit. It was a relatively easy transfer to Terminal 3 once in London Heathrow and the Air Canada ticket staff got me rebooked on a flight to Toronto at 3:00. The time just then was a little past 1:30. They already had a gate assigned and there really wasn’t time to peruse the duty free shops so it saved me money at least. I walked to the gate and even got my seat changed to one with an empty beside me.

The flight to Toronto was comfortable enough. I may have dozed off a little after watching an old classic movie. (One had nothing to do with the other)  We landed in Toronto about 5:30 local time, that’s about 10:30 p.m. my body clock time. Yeesh! Now comes the part that always stresses me. Well, not a huge stress but you know what kind of a pain in the ass it is when your luggage doesn’t arrive with you? Actually, I don’t. So far, the luggage gods have been on my side. Will they continue with their stellar reputation where my bags are concnerned? I didn’t even need to check my bag as it is a rolling carry on but I thought it would be more aggravation dragging it around. I only had the tote bag I had the laptop in plus my handbag (purse) while the carry on case was checked.

The immigration queue went quickly and off I trotted to the baggage carrousels. I waited. And waited. It’s amazing how many bags go round and round with nobody claiming them yet there are always some people still waiting and some bags never show up. I was becoming convinced mine had not made the flight when there it was! Hoo Yuss! Thank you Luggage Gods!

Even though my bags were supposed to be checked through to Halifax, I still have to take them off the flight to go through customs in case they want to inspect them and you’re supposed to then put them back on a ramp to be re-checked into the baggage holds. I decided to ask to see if I had to re-check them because it would take less time if I arrived in Halifax and had it all with me. The man, he say YES so I just had to go to the connections staff so they could change the system. They would have been expecting a checked bag and security would probably have a hissy fit if it wasn’t where it was supposed to be.

Through security and down to the gate which was already on the board. A decaf latte and free wifi. The onward flight to Halifax is at 9 o’clock, boarding at 8:20. By the time I get home it will be past midnight local time with my body hitting the 24 hours awake mark. I don’t expect to get home until after 1 and I’m not messing around, I’m taking a taxi.

I wonder if the trip cancellation and interruption insurance I bought will cover it?

Down with York, Up with Rievaulx

Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire

The beautiful and historic city of York is one of our favourites so we thought we might enjoy a day trip. We headed out from Salford under iffy skies, it could clear up, it could rain. But that’s typical of  Greater Manchester weather. We often liken it to Mordor, the grim and depressing location from Lord of the Rings. Weather-wise it’s not often really nice when I’m here but otherwise, the comparison isn’t really fair. Manchester is a nice place. Really! (The cities of Salford and Manchester are right next to each other, only separated at the city centre by a narrow strip of the River Irwell.)

It’s a little over an hour across to York. We parked in a Park and Ride lot and took the bus into the city center stop closest to the mighty York Minster. That is one awesome cathedral in the literal sense of the word. It is the seat of the Archbishop of York who is the most important church leader next to the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The Minster is very large and very old with beautiful stained glass windows, soaring high and dramtacially into the vaulted ceilings.

Sadly, the Minster was closed to the public today because it was being used for university graduation. Bummer! We had a look in St. Michael le Belfry, the parish church next to the Minster. It was charming, with some interesting points. It was also the church where Guy Fawkes was christened. He’s the guy that was the scapegoat of the Gunpowder Plot and his death and the triumph over the anarchists is celebrated with fireworks and bonfires every year in Britain on November 5.

We walked through the narrow streets and found a nice pub for lunch. That’s a great thing about York, there are lots of historic old pubs and all of the ones I’ve been in are atmospheric and all have served very good food and ales and beers. This one was called the Golden Lion.

I wanted to go to the Yorvik Viking Centre as i’d never been there and had heard good things about it in the past. They have a lot of exhibits, some gruesome and some rather smelly (depicting the actual smells of a medieval Viking village). The north and northeast were prime targets for raiding Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries and lots of the names in this area have Viking origins. Anyway, we paid nearly 10 pounds each as an entry fee. There’s a bit of an exhibit and a glass floor over a model of the area of York where a lot of Viking artifacts and remnants of a village were discovered. The museum is near that site now. There’s a little cart that you sit in and ride around a recreated village with an audio track describing what everyday life was like in the villages. No gruesome. No smells. But with animatronic figures that speak in ancient languages while the audio track translates. It’s all a bit simple and sanitized and “Disneyfied” and we weren’t very impressed. There’s also a few rooms of exhibits of artifacts found and that’s it. Overpriced and underimpressive.

We walked around a bit more but decided we’d had enough disappointment for one day. Oh yes, and my camera, only a few months old, packed it in! Not happy over that either.

East transept of Rievaulx Abbey

Our overnight trip to Sunderland in the northeast was far more successful. We drove up and across the Yorkshire Dales National Park through some lovely scenic areas. High hills and bare bleak moors dotted with farms and lots of sheep. We stopped in a market town called Hawes for lunch. We didn’t have the time to properly explore the town because we still had a ways to go but it would definitely be worth visiting again. It’s in the heart of the area that produces Wensleydale cheese and they have a creamery where you can watch them make the cheese. There is also a ropeworks and a country museum and the town has a lot of nice little shops and a few very nice pubs.

We stayed with friends in Sunderland which is on the coast just south of Newcastle. We dined out and spent an enjoyable evening with them. The next day we decided to visit the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey in the North York Moors National Park. It was really good! In addition, the sun was shining! We used a provided audio guide and wandered around the grounds. Rievaulx is a Cistercian Abbey and was founded in 1138 and was an important Abbey in the north until the Dissolution of the Monasteries closed it down in 1538. The audio guide was very interesting and they also had a little exhibit on the life styles of the monks and how the abbey was run. We tramped around there for well over an hour listening to the information and taking photos. We also had lunch in the cafe and that was excellent as well.

All in all a very good road trip! Much more enjoyable than our visit to York yesterday. York will still be there, though and we’ll go back again.

We arrived back home just as it got dark, about 5:30. Tomorrow’s my last day here! It always comes too soon!

Good things, Bad things. UK/Italy Day 2

Waiting patiently to travel

This is turning into a Good Thing/Bad Thing theme. Wonder if I can keep it up?

Good thing #5: We got to Heathrow early.

Bad thing #2: We circled in the air for about 20 minutes but that’s pretty standard stuff for here. But you know, we got off the plane at about 10 a.m. local time and I’ve finally got to the departure lounge and it’s 11:30. It took about 10 minutes on the shuttle bus between terminals. All the rest of the time was standing in lines (queues, I guess I should say now that I’m here). And I thought Terminal 3 was busy? Terminal 5, the all-British Airways terminal is even worse! I thought Terminal 3 passport control was a cattle call. Well, i didn’t have to go through that in T5 but everywhere i turned there was a long queue!

There was a long queue for the shuttle bus, I had to wait for the second one though after the first finally came, the second was only about 5 minutes behind it. Good thing #6: Got a seat !  Ten minutes later we’re at T5. It’s a little confusing but lots of people there to ask. I am then faced with a very long queue to get a boarding pass.

Good thing #7: Someone came along and said if you were only waiting for a boarding pass, to follow him around a corner where two more desks opened up. Less than ten people in front of me now. There’s no queue for passport control but you go through three different stations. One looks at your passport and boarding pass, the second actually stamps it and asks you questions. The third take a photo of your eyes, that retina scan I guess. I think this was the quickest I’ve got through passport, only 2 or 3 questions but the security scan queue area was huge! I saw a line that wasn’t too long and joined that one. There’s a couple dozen station.

Good thing #8: Finally through all that and can sit down with a cuppa after a toilet stop and that was the best cup of tea I’ve had in weeks! Yay!

Bad thing #3: The connecting flight was full and by the time I’d realized my assigned seat was in the middle of three, it couldn’t be changed.

Good thing #9: The man on the aisle seat was kind enough to switch with me.

Bad thing #4: The plane was delayed and then delayed more because it had to sit in line on the runway for another departure slot. In the end it landed an hour late!

Cue lots of pleas to the Luggage and Travel Gods but For a frightening moment I thought the worst had happened. I heard my last name called out with a few others at the baggage reclaim. My reaction was “it had to happen sometime!” But, GOOD THING #10: it wasn’t me even though the passenger also had the same first initial! Whew! My luggage arrived ok. Yay!

I messed around enough just trying to get it all into a bathroom stall and out again and I decided to take a taxi into the city instead of the train and a taxi from the train station.  I chatted to Graham’s dad for a bit and now I’m at the flat. Graham’s working until 6:30 and the first order of business for me is a sandwich and nap!

Totals: Good things 10, Bad things 4. So far so good.

(p.s. I’ll add a photo to it later when I’ve taken the camera out of the suitcase. )