The day has finally arrived! After 17 hours of travel, we arrived at Heathrow Airport just before 11:00 a.m. We flew Delta on a 767-400ER. This plane was not quite as nice as the one we had last time we traveled to Europe. The seats had less leg room, and there were no USB plugs in the seats for charging. It was comfortable enough, and the flight attendants were very helpful. We were given a blanket, pillow, dinner, a bottled water and a breakfast snack for our 7 hour and 45-minute flight.
Off the plane, we headed for customs. The UK has a program called Registered Traveller that allows one to fast track the lines. At £70 for one year, it is pretty steep unless you plan on multiple trips throughout the year. They do not accept Global Entry. The line through the Fast Track path was almost non-existent while the line for the “other passports” was at 45 minutes when we got into the line, and even longer soon after that.
Once we cleared customs, we were able to pick up our waiting bags (I guess that is a bonus of waiting through a 45-minute line). We exited through the no declarations line and were greeted by our driver from Yellow Moon Tours, Jeff. He quickly helped with our luggage and guided us to the waiting Mercedes van. Once loaded, we were off to Central London. Jeff was very informative on the way asking about our interests and our lives in the US. Our trip to Central London would be approximately one hour, but it took almost two hours to reach the Tower Bridge where we were meeting our guide, Glenn. Traffic in London was awful all day. They also have a lot of bicyclists/motorcycle drivers who swerve in and out of/between traffic. I was certainly glad I was not driving.
Glenn thought it would be good to get out and get some fresh air after so much time inside transportation, and we readily agreed! The time change was beginning to set in a little too. We walked around Tower Bridge and the Tower of London with Glenn sharing the history and interesting stories of both. They were setting up what appeared to be a jousting match at the Tower. Then we walked to London Bridge, which is a more traditional bridge. The original had problems and was sold to a gentleman in Arizona, where it was rebuilt and now stands today.
After that, we saw the monument to the Great Fire of 1666. Today was a major soccer match that was a topic of light rivalry between Glenn (from London) and Jeff (from Wales). The pubs were full of men in suits cheering/jeering the match.
After leaving this area, we moved to St. Paul Cathedral. We went to a local rooftop to get a better view of the cathedral and also the city. Glenn pointed out several buildings and the names Londoners call them, such as The Shard, The Cheese Grater, The Razor, etc. Londoners are cheeky and have a fun sense of humor.
Next, we went to see Westminster Abbey, where mass was about to start. I wish we had time to go in, but we did not. We saw Big Ben, Parliament and took a picture of Josh with the Winston Churchill statue; one is his favorite historical figures.
From there went to Trafalgar Square where they were setting up for a West End Live event this weekend. We did take a few pictures, but most of the square was obstructed due to the setup.
Lastly, we visited Buckingham Palace and walked by the home of Prince Charles. Charles was in residence, but the Queen was not home today. We did witness a taxi arrive with a gentleman in the back, but they denied his entry. Due to more recent terror attacks, the Queen’s Guard no longer stand outside the gates, but you can see them next to the Palace. In addition to the Queen’s Guard, there were also armed police at the gate.
Our whirlwind tour came to an end at our hotel, Sofitel St. James. It is a lovely French hotel with excellent service. The rooms were larger than I expected and very comfortable. Jeff, our driver, referred to it as very posh – and I agree. I chose it as part of a bundle with Expedia and our flights. It was a very nice choice.
Again, lack of sleep was beginning to affect all of us. Josh, who’s dad is an executive chef, had done some research and picked out a restaurant nearby that had some traditional fare. We walked about 10 minutes through Piccadilly Circus to Polpo. The place was abuzz with about a 30-minute wait. We were exhausted, so this was a test of our will at this point. The restaurant’s menu is mostly tapas dishes. Josh decided to go out of his comfort zone and try pickled baby octopus. He said it mostly tasted like vinegar. None of the rest of us were brave enough to try it. We did have plenty of food to choose from and enjoyed our meal.
After dinner, we went back to the hotel and crashed. Tomorrow we are off to Dover!