Saturday, September 16, 2006

Our Vacation: Days One-Three

We're still not home yet; we're flying back to Chicago tonight. Right now we're in New York, staying with Eugene's aunt and uncle. Since we have some free time, I figure I may as well start describing the trip. Photos will have to wait until we get home.

We left last Wednesday, on the sixth. We took a bus to O'hare. I'd checked in online the night before, so all we had to do was check in our luggage at the curb and go through security, which wasn't too bad. It helped that we'd checked on restrictions before packing. Then it was just hanging out at the gate, reading and waiting. We had a small communter plane, and the flight was routine. When we arrived at JFK, Eugene's aunt and uncle picked us up and had a nice dinner waiting for us at their house. We sat around the table afterwards, drinking wine and listening to Eugene's uncle's stories. I tried checking in online for our international flight, but I ran into a snafu and couldn't complete it for both of us.

Day Two was pretty quiet. We spent the morning with Eugene's aunt and uncle, and they treated us to a Chinese buffet for lunch. We left for the airport in the mid-afternoon. It was a little more involved checking in and passing through security this time, but we'd left plenty of time for all of it. We even obtained some pounds from a currency service. I ate a light dinner since I wasn't sure what meal we'd receive on the plane.

The plane this time was a 747. We were in economy, of course, but although there wasn't much space, it was still pretty nice. Every seat had a built-in console where you could play games or watch TV or movies. We also received complimentary travel bags with earplugs, an eye mask for sleeping, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. Dinner was pretty decent (I think it was a chicken dish, but I'm not sure), and we were given a glass of wine with our meal. Afterward, I tried to sleep, but I wasn't able to get comfortable. It's no surprise I couldn't sleep, but Eugene couldn't either, and that's saying a lot. Although it was exciting watching the sun rise over a new country, I would have preferred to sleep.

We arrived at Heathrow about 8:00 a.m. local time. There were about a thousand other international passengers who'd also come in at the same time, so we had to wait for an hour to clear customs. I was already starting to feel the fatigue, but we knew we had to stay awake as long as possible to adjust our biological clocks. It was a struggle, however. We'd prepaid for a shuttle to take us to our hotel, so once we were ready, we found the shuttle. We had to wait close to another hour before the shuttle came, but in the meantime, people from the company gave us tips about where to go (or not go) and where to eat. It took us another hour or two to reach our hotel, as we were the last to be dropped off; I was bobbing my head for most of the ride. We reached the hotel about 1:00, but it was too soon to check in. We were able to leave our bags with the hotel, though. Our hotel was in Bloomsbury; it wasn't a posh hotel, but it had the basic amenties (except washcloths, Eugene added in the background). We had our first fish-and-chips for lunch at a restaurant next door. To pass the time and get a sense of the city, we bought tickets for a hop-on, hop-off tourist bus traveling around London that stopped at the major sites, such as St. Paul's, The Tower of London, and so on. I was alert enough at first to pay attention, so I noticed things such as how clean the city appeared to be (compared to an American city), and how many of the buildings had flowerboxes at the windows. About half-way through the ride, I started to really feel the jet-lag. We returned to the hotel around 4:00. I couldn't stay awake any longer, so while Eugene showered, I just crashed in the bed. I think I woke up about 8:00 briefly, but by 11:00, both of us were fully awake. Right then, Eugene started wondering what date it was. We'd written to the Tower of London a couple of months in advance to get a pass to a special ceremony, the Ceremony of the Keys, in which the Tower is locked up at night. We'd thought our pass was for the day after our arrival, but after checking it again, we realized it was for the same day--and we'd slept through it. I felt especially bad for Eugene, as he'd read about it in a book when he was in high school and really wanted to see it. (I'd never heard of it before reading about it in the guidebook.) We figured there was nothing we could do about it, though, since it had to be set up so far ahead in advance. With a sigh for Misadventure #1, we tried to go back to sleep. That didn't work too well, so we watched the BBC for a couple of hours. Finally we fell back asleep around 3-4 in the morning and woke up around 7, finally ready to take on London.

More to come....

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