In some ways, I was very ready, but part of me wanted to stay longer. Five nights isn't a lot when you're in love with a place.
My choice in hotel and mode of travel to/from the airport proved to be smart. With my flight leaving at 4:30 in the afternoon, I could easily catch the Heathrow Express train a little after 1:00 and be to the airport with plenty of time to check in, pay for the extra checked bag, and relax for a while before being called to my gate.
That left the morning free, so I did what I do best when I'm in London...I wandered.
|England is the kind of country that politely tells you which|
way to look so that you don't get creamed by a double-decker.
I went back to Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park, this time sticking to the Kensington Gardens side. I think London was begging me to stay, giving me an absolutely stunning morning of pure sunshine. I wandered over to Kensington Palace, and paid my respects to Victoria.
|On Bayswater Road, a random building.|
|I got the sign in the picture to hide the fact that the palace was covered in|
|A close-up of the statue that is behind the gate in the picture|
|Elizabeth the Second, Regina|
|I will never tire of the pub signs.|
|Or any signs, really.|
|And the old buildings are pretty awesome, too.|
|The spire that caught my eye from Kensington Gardens.|
I tried to stay near the park, so I wouldn't get lost, and eventually headed back towards it to walk along the south edge.
|Taken in honor of my Dutch Duck Lady, Amanda.|
|Seems appropriate that I walked by Albert Hall, seeing as how I spent my first|
evening of the trip here.
|Across the street from Royal Albert Hall is the Albert|
Monument, built by a grief-stricken Queen Victoria after
|It may seem over-the-top, but I do love their story, and her|
devotion to him.
|From the park.|
|I was shocked that I could see the Eye and the Shard in one frame. This was|
taken with my zoom, but still. Just goes to show that for as big as it feels, London
is crammed into a small area.
|A selfie in the sunshine.|
|I felt like the bird was telling me to visit the Round Pond...|
|...so I did.|
|These geese were totally calm as I approached, and in fact, started walking|
towards me (probably expecting food).
|They even seemed mildly curious about Cali Swimmy, and one showed its|
approval with some wing-flapping.
I was getting hungry, and I had one very important purchase to make--a bag I could stuff some of my souvenirs in for the trip home, so I walked back to the north end of the park and out into the bustle beyond.
|The only petrol station I noticed in London.|
|I would never put American bacon on bread without adding|
at least some tomatoes, but somehow, British bacon on a bap
makes a complete sandwich.
|Home Sweet Home all week. GREAT location, comfortable,|
clean, and yes, I'd stay there again. I will stay there again.
|The square on which my hotel sits.|
|Daffodils will forever make me think of England in Spring.|
|Just a hidden little corner of London, where people go about|
their day-to-day lives.
|The Paddington area has several streets lined with old homes|
converted into hotels.
|A small grocery market.|
|Hidden on some random residential street corner--a small|
memorial to some long-forgotten figure. No doubt people pass
it every day and hardly think of it. But there it is.
|This...didn't...make me homesick.|
|England's version of Dollar Tree.|
|I went upstairs to use the loo and caught a quick snap out|
the window to the street below. I walked by that shopping
center (with the W) and Boots every day.
And...alas. It was time to return to the hotel one last time, to gather my things and call for a taxi.
|My new bag, my ginormous (and stuffed) suitcase, and my|
All morning, I went back-and-forth between the pure joy of being in beautiful London on a glorious morning, and gut-wrenching sadness that I had to leave it so soon. The whole week was a bubbling stew of emotions as I discovered that while the face of a place may change a little, in essentials, it stays just the same, and that the people you love there will be happy to see you.
I remarked on Facebook at some point in the week how lucky I am to have two homes in this world--two places where I can make a life, have people who care about me, and where I can feel I fit. So very lucky, and yet it can also tug at me a little. Every time I fly away from London, I leave a tiny piece of myself there.
On Sunday, I learned the hard way that walking a mile from Paddington to London House Hotel could very easily turn into a two-mile hike (thank you for nothing, Google Maps), and with an extra bag perched on top of my suitcase this time, I wasn't taking any chances, so I had the hotel call for a taxi. It wasn't expensive, and it was way easier than finding my way on London's bumpy sidewalks with a 50-pound suitcase, a bag, a backpack, and a purse.
Before I felt entirely ready to be, I was on the Heathrow Express, being whisked out of Central London.
Check-in was easy enough--I had actually checked in online the night before, but then realized I needed an extra bag (eleven years ago, you got two free checked bags--these days, only one), so I went to the counter to deal with that. They were very nice about it, and laughed when I said, "I went a little bit wild with the shopping this week...?"
It's always a relief to have the suitcases taken off your hands, and now I was left with just my backpack and purse.
While getting through security on the San Francisco end was a breeze, this time, it was a little tougher. Somehow in all of the flights I've made since 9/11, I've avoided the body scanner--not so this time. I stood in it with my hands up and then was pulled aside to have my shoes brushed with some sort of thing that's supposed to detect explosives.
Still, I don't complain, I just go along with it and as soon as the agent motioned for me to move on, I was off at a brisk pace to gather my things and skedaddle into the waiting area.
There were some tears, but I mostly kept them in check because it was extremely crowded. After sitting for a while, playing on my phone and organizing my carry on stuff, I couldn't stay away from the shops any longer, and headed off to WH Smith, and...oh, lovely...Cath Kidston.
|Want. All. The. Things.|
So, yeah, a little while later, I was back for the wallet. I said it in another post, and I'll say it again: this trip was always supposed to be a little over-the-top (and, for the record, I did not rack up any credit card debt that wasn't immediately paid off on my return, and I didn't dip into my savings, either--this was entirely funded by money I'd set aside in my checking account).
Before I knew it, my flight had a gate assignment, and I started the long hike (this is Heathrow, after all) to the gate for boarding.
|Another duck-on-head-in-the-plane selfie. Look|
how TIRED I looked (my eyes are the big tell).
All I could do was laugh--when I left London in August 2005, we were an hour behind schedule due to a technical glitch on the airplane, and then some possible improperly-loaded luggage.
|Waiting, waiting, waiting...|
But eventually, we had our clearance, and the plane lumbered towards the runway and started roaring to life. As it hit me--in the gut--that I was really, truly leaving England, the tears came, and this time, it was unabashed sobbing, and quiet whispering. "I won't stay away so long. Goodbye...I will see you again soon."
(I had a row to myself, for the record.)
(Though, I sobbed like that in August 2005 and I was stuck with two other people then, so who cares, right?)
The flight was long--an hour longer than going to London, because we were flying against the jet stream. It was surprisingly free of turbulence, for the most part. I watched several movies--Straight Outta Compton, Everest, and The Martian--dozing at a few key spots. Don't worry, I woke up in time to see Matt Damon reunited with his fellow astronauts.
Eleven hours is a long time to sit in a tin can--especially with an asshole in front of you who leans his seat back all the way into the flight, then glares at you every time you get up to use the lavatory and grab the top of his seat and...heave...yourself...up...as...obnoxiously...as...possible.
Dude, you deserved it. Even short girls need some leg room.
Anyway, eleven hours. Long flight. By the time we were finally descending over the Bay Area, and I caught glimpses of familiar landmarks, like the San Rafael Bridge, the Bay Bridge, and even my favorite bridge of all--the Golden Gate--I was so happy to finally be almost home that I couldn't feel sad anymore.
Yes, there's a piece of my heart in London...but California gets its share, too.