August 21: On the way back to Dallas
I woke up early, even before the alarm, probably anxious about getting to the airport on time and not missing the flight. So I was out of bed a couple of hours earlier than normal for this trip, with plenty of time to have breakfast and get final packing done before walking and towing a sport bag with wheels along the clackety sidewalks to Paddington Station. Easy ride on the Heathrow Express to the airport and an easy checkin with British Airways and "fast track" security. This is the first business class flight of my life, so fast track checkin was one of the perks. I got directions to the lounge for business fliers and spent an hour and a half or two there, first with a croissant and a cup of green tea while finishing one crossword and starting another, then with a bit of porridge and breakfast tea while continuing the puzzle.
I wasn't aware of the babying one gets in business class, so I bought a package of shortbread cookies to snack on on the plane, and then made my way to the gate for my flight. This involved taking a tram to another part of the terminal and then finding the gate. They started boarding early, so that was underway already when I arrived. Then almost the first thing I heard when I got to the line in the jetway was a woman right behind me, with an infant in her arms and two older boys, talking about business class. And I thought, Oh no! Am I going to be next to a crying infant for ten hours? But she and her kids are a couple of rows back, and so far the baby has cried only during the noise of the engines revving and getting ready for takeoff. Phew!
Well, what are some summations from the trip?
1) If, like me, you struggle to endure fall, winter and spring in the hopes of surviving to be warm in summer, then don't go to London in August--go in May. It will likely be just as warm-ish and sunny as August, and you won't feel the temperature shift as such a shock since May in Texas (or wherever) can still have cool days. But I was going from 100 degree afternoons to 65-68 degree afternoons many days, and it was just too chilly for me. We definitely hit 79 degrees one day, and we might have one other day, but mostly it was low 70s or 60s. The temperatures were perhaps more distressing than the cloud cover, which was much less tenacious the second week. But I was in my windbreaker probably 90-95% of the time I was outside, and that was a surprise. (Even so, on several occasions I thought I would have been better off bringing my gloves than the windbreaker, because I could have worn two shirts every day, but huddling my hands in the windbreaker sleeves in the morning was no substitute for gloves.)
2) Even though this was my fifth trip to London, I still had things to do I'd never done before. I visited the Tower, outside, and the Tower Bridge, and I finally went inside St. Paul's and saw what it has to offer, as well as climbing to each of the three dome galleries for viewing from above--one inside the dome, two and three outside. I visited the Chelsea Physic Garden and the London Zoo, went to the famous Abbey Road crossing (and into the gift shop there), and even rode on of the Thames clippers for a short ride, though I didn't make it to my intended destination of Greenwich. I made it to the Dickens Museum and to Hatchard's, the oldest bookseller in London. I visited the Westminster Cathedral and went up in the tower there. And I saw the Flinders Petrie collection of mostly Egyptian artifacts at University College London. Lots of firsts, as well as many re-visits to places I enjoy--like Kew Gardens, the British Museum, and the bookstores. This was also my first time to fly directly from Dallas to London to begin a visit. On my previous occasions, I came to Europe via ship. Three of those times, when I left the ship, I flew to Malta for a visit before flying on to London later. On the fourth, I went from the ship directly to the Barcelona airport to fly to London. So no jet lag in those cases. And even this time wasn't too bad. I settled into my new sleeping hours quickly, perhaps encouraged by the amount of walking I did every day!
3) Holy cow, I bought ten books! One is actually just a pamphlet, but still-- I've already read five of them--though one of those comes with a cd of the author reading the poem, which I will listen to soon--and I've read a small part of two others, both of them books of poems. Several of the books are ones I didn't know about, so that is always cool, discovering something you had no idea existed. What's on display in a good poetry selection in several of the London stores is amazing in comparison to the USA.
4) I did a lot of digital drawing, carrying the iPad with me each day and almost always sitting and drawing at some point, often while having tea somewhere.
5) I didn't make it to Oxford. Or Greenwich.
London is an amazing place, a great place for walking if you like to walk, and there are always things to photograph or draw. Go!
Now what about flying business class? Some of you probably have done it a lot. I haven't. One of the benefits, which didn't do me much good, was a much greater selection of food. But the main appeal is of course the increased space you have--basically twice as much as in coach. The seats can recline completely and, if you lower the foot rest, you have a narrow bed to stretch out on. I didn't do that, but I did use the foot rest a good part of the time. And that extra space for your legs means that no one in front of you can lower their seat back into your lap. You can even stand up in front of your seat without blocking the aisle or having to bend around the seat in front of you. Space! The problem, to be sure, is the cost! I got a heavy discount via the travel agent, and so it was worth it, but I don't have enough expendable income to pay twice as much (or more?) for the privilege. So this first business class flight will probably be my last.
And then, the last surprise of the trip was running into one of the women in the book group I take part in. She and her husband were just returning from a river cruise in Europe and had actually flown in on the same jet I was on. We ran into each other at baggage claim. Pretty funny! And friend Debbie was right on time to pick me up--magically--because I got through customs, etc., faster than I thought I would and she arrived at the airport earlier than I had estimated I'd be ready. Ah, good friends!
Man, I am tired. Sleep will come soon.