Friday, March 11, 2016

Farewell, Dear London...For Now (London 2016, Part 11)

And just like that, the week had passed, and it was time to come home.

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
A spire caught my eye, so I left the park and wandered in to the Kensington High Street area.

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
his death. 

It may seem over-the-top, but I do love their story, and her
devotion to him. 

From the park.
I cut back through the park, just meandering along and enjoying the morning.

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... 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. 
I bought a small bag at a tacky tourist shop (only twelve quid!) and went back to my hotel to pack it and check out. I was able to leave my bags with concierge and do some more wandering. Because of time, I chose to just explore the immediate area around my hotel a bit more.

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.
 Finally, hunger and the need to sit for a bit won out, and I stopped by a pub for lunch. I only ate two traditional pub meals all week, and this was the second.

Shepherd's Pie

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.
 I bought a lovely mint green polka-dot purse by Cath Kidston at Harrod's on Thursday night, which was packed away in my checked bags. I also bought a bunch of little hand lotions to give out as gifts, and decided, at the airport, to buy a few more so I'd have a few for myself. I paid for those, all while eyeing a wallet that matched my purse.

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.

We had a couple of delays--first, a sick passenger had to be removed, and all of his bags. International law states that baggage cannot fly without the person assigned to it on board. Then the flight attendant crew had to check the area around his seat to make sure nothing "untoward" (captain's words) had been left behind.

Another duck-on-head-in-the-plane selfie. Look
how TIRED I looked (my eyes are the big tell).
Finally, we were being pushed back from the terminal...and then we stopped. And waited. Finally, our captain came over the intercom again, to let us know that a door had been shut, but some indicator light for the emergency slide wasn't on, and by law, they could not leave the terminal until it had been checked and taken care of. Fortunately, it was fixed within a few minutes, but by now, we were a good forty-five minutes past our scheduled departure time. Our now-very-exasperated pilot informed us that the control tower was not letting us back up just yet, trying to fit us into the line-up of planes waiting to take off and land. Heathrow is a hectic place.

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...

Both times this has happened, it's made leaving just a little bit harder--prolonging the agony, I suppose. Now that I was on the airplane, I wanted to rip the Band-Aid off quickly, and get home. Instead, I was sitting on English soil, not quite in England in the proper sense, but not quite gone, either.

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

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.

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