Back to Britain, Part 1
London Revisited After 17-Year Absence
June 10-25, 2003 (Updated Dec. 2, 2003)
By Lewis Nolan
There has been a huge falloff in overseas
travel by Americans this year, mainly due to the fallout from the murders of
Lewis and Betty by London's Tower Bridge
Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
An important contributor to our decision to revisit England this summer for the first time in 17 years was our renewed, good feelings about our staunchest ally and our admiration for their brilliant Prime Minister, Tony Blair. I think Blair is the most commanding figure on the world political stage so far in the 21st Century. His eloquent support for the United States in its campaign to combat international terrorism was backed up by his unwavering commitments – despite much political opposition and grandstanding at home - to provide British troops to support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last March. U.S. forces supplied 90 percent of the 150,000-plus troops that toppled the madman Saddam Hussein’s government at the point of tank canon. Nonetheless, Britain’s standup support and strong voice in the wishy-washy international community was invaluable to the American initiative.
With tourism down, prices were good and crowds were thinner than normal, all but eliminating wait times at popular attractions.
We spent our first seven nights in London, staying at the Dolphin Square apartment hotel near the Thames, in the Pimlico section of Westminster. We then rented a car and drove across much of southern England to the ancient town of Bath, where we spent a night at the Hilton and visited the ruins of the Roman baths and a splendid, medieval abbey that is still in operation as an Anglican Church. Then we drove southward into Cornwall, where we stayed in the Trewinnard Hotel for five nights, overlooking the beautiful harbor and town of St. Ives. Finally, we drove back to London and spent our last night at a chain hotel at Gatwick Airport before flying back to Memphis.
|Betty overlooks St. Ives harbor at low tide|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
During our two weeks in England, the news was largely dominated by three continuing stories. Number One was Blair and the conduct of the war-regime change in Iraq. Number Two was the impending move by British footballer David Beckham from Manchester United’s soccer team to Real Madrid. And Number Three was the ever-present, full court press by the press on the Royal Family.
June 20, 2003, Tuesday – Memphis to London via Atlanta
Our friend and provider of airport shuttle service for many years, Betty Hoffman, picked us up shortly before 4 p.m. on a warm afternoon. There was not a hint of bad weather in Memphis or in Atlanta, easing our anxiety about a tight connection for the overnight flight to London. When the reservations were made nearly a year ago, the connection was reasonable. But after Delta parked many planes in order to increase its load yield, we had only 62 minutes to navigate Atlanta’s underground tram system and make it to the international terminal to change planes. Worse, a switch to a smaller airplane meant we lost our roomier, exit row seats. Going through Atlanta makes for a very long trip to London (nine hours versus the five or six hours it takes to fly from Boston to Ireland’s Shannon), but at least the price is right. We are traveling on Frequent Flier miles.
Our scheduled departure from Memphis was 6:25 p.m., giving us two hours to go through the extra check-in procedures required by security for international flights. We checked four bags. I’m not taking golf clubs on this trip. I had thought that it would be more trouble than it was worth to get from our hotel in central London to a course open to non-member play. Betty and I both wore jeans and blue blazers, which seem to wrinkle less in overhead storage compartments than in suitcases. Our carefully packed bags included mostly casual clothes, guidebooks and GoreTex rain slickers. My reading book was “The Open” by golf writer John Feinstone.
We are looking forward to being back in London after an absence of 17 years (1986, when Casey was 10). But we know the trip “across the pond” is going to be tiring. If we miss the connection in Atlanta, we’ll have to spend the night there since ours is the last flight out tonight. I had planned it that way, remembering the early morning arrival flight to London of long ago and the hours we had to wait to check in to our hotel room. We’ve found we do best with overnight flights when we can nap for two or three hours upon arrival. Forget about the advice to stay up by taking guided tours and the like; it’s no fun stumbling around museums like sleep-starved zombies who can’t remember anything anyway.
With the preparation lessons learned over many years of travel, Betty and I have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that everything that should and could be done at home had been done. Heavenly Pools will service and clean the pool twice during our absence. Arthur Marion, our church’s custodian, will cut the grass and water the plants. We’ve given keys to the gate to Kate Garretson, our new neighbor, and to Tim Parks, an old friend, and encouraged them to use the pool to help make the place look occupied. Newspapers and mail delivery have been suspended. Appropriate bills have been paid in advance. The front and back yards look great, with the grass freshly cut and groomed. Close friends and family have emergency contact numbers.
We have several hundred dollars worth of British Pounds, American Express Travelers checks and office locations where we’ll be, valid passports and drivers licenses, credit cards (alerted to “out of normal pattern” travel), a small sack of medications, spare glasses, copies of documents stashed away and also hidden on an Internet site. We have tended to the myriad of details so well that it is all but certain that we will soon discover something really important has been overlooked.
We’re ready to go.
The Delta check-in at Memphis International Airport went smoothly, as well it should with so much advance time. For the first time, we noticed our bags were “sampled” by a wand-like gadget that senses traces of chemicals used in explosives. Evidently certain glycerine compounds used in cosmetics can set off false positives. That happened with one of Betty’s bags.
|Betty at Land's End on Cornish coast|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
Once at the gate, we once again encountered another small world encounter. Who appeared but Kate, our neighbor. She was on her way to Baltimore for one of her frequent business trips. It was fun having some time to visit with the hard-working, young executive who is nearly always on the run.
Our plane to Atlanta was 30 minutes late taking off, adding some unwelcome stress because of the tight connection with the Delta flight to London’s Gatwick Airport. But, all’s well that ends well. Evidently our flight was one of many feeders running late. By stepping it out on the airport’s moving sidewalks and subway system, we made it from Terminal A’s Gate 33 to about the most distance point, Terminal E’s Gate 9, just as boarding commenced. I was glad I had dropped more than 50 pounds over the last 9 months on the Atkins lo-carb diet. The weight loss plus my walking at least 10 miles a week made our rapid movement through the airport a lot easier.
At last, we settled into our aisle and window seats on row 36 near rear of the Airbus. The flight took 7 ½ hours. It was no better or worse than other long flights to Europe we’ve experienced. The crew was efficient and friendly and the food was surprisingly tasty – chicken for Betty and sirloin steak for me. Sleep was fretful at best in the tight seats. We had to pay for alcohol for the first time on an international flight - $4 a pop for beer, gin or wine.
We arrived at Gatwick shortly before 11 a.m. on Wednesday. We breezed through Passport Control and Customs without being searched or questioned. Maybe my gray hair makes me look trustworthy, or at least unthreatening. The Gatwick Express rail service to Victoria Station in Central London cost £11 each (or $18.70 at the current exchange rate of $1.70 per pound) and was well worth it. A taxi for the long ride supposedly charges nearly $100 for the trip through heavy traffic. The train was modern, comfortable and took only 40 minutes.
We happened to sit near a former British policeman who now has a security management job with BTA, a company that runs Gatwick and other airports in the UK and U.S. He was quite easy to talk to and gave us some good tips on places to visit, chiefly the London Eye with its spectacular views of the central city. From Victoria Station, we caught a traditional, black taxicab for a short ride to our hotel. The fare was only £5 including tip. The honest and polite cabbie could have easily charged me more since I gave him a £10 note and asked if that was enough. Welcome to England.