Below is the last journal entry recording the events of the trip Carolyn and I took to England and France in July of 2006. It was written on the transatlantic flight coming home, and covers some final thoughts about the journey:

Friday, July 28, 2006 airborne over England on British Airways

An interesting morning. Our alarm didn’t go off at 7:00 (there was no clock, but the TV had an alarm), but Carolyn woke up at 7:05 (we had lined up a wakeup call at 7:30 just in case). We got ready, grabbed our luggage, and headed downstairs to the restaurant in Kensington Close for breakfast.

We had a nice English buffet breakfast. (The pilot just announced that we’re now over Wales. That took no time at all!) We had hash browns, eggs, I had a vegetarian sausage, fruit, coffee, tea, juice, and stuff like that. It was pretty good.

We ate quickly, pressed for time, and walked a few blocks up the sidewalk to the High Street Kensington Tube station. We took it to Earl’s Court, then got on the Piccadilly line, which took us to where we caught the shuttle bus for Terminal 4 at Heathrow Airport.

When we got there, we had to wait in a long, very slow-moving line for over an hour. We were getting concerned about making our flight, since we didn’t get our boarding passes and our luggage checked in until 10:15–and our flight’s departure time was 10:55! They rushed everyone on Flight 0217 to Dulles to get checked in, and we made it to Gate 3 about two minutes before they started boarding. I had just enough time to stop at a little store near the terminal to get drinks, a snack, and a couple small gifts for people.

We waited for the boarding line to go down before joining it, as we were exhausted from hauling our luggage. When we finally got up to board, they upgraded us to 18E & 18F. We didn’t know just what this meant, but when we boarded, we discovered (a pleasant surprise) that we had been moved to first class! Neither of us had ever flown first class before–British Airways calls it “Club World.” All the stress of cutting it so close had some hidden benefits!

So we’re sitting in what Carolyn calls “dentist chairs.” They’re these big automatic recliner-type seats that are in the center of the plane, at the front. It’s definitely a whole lot different from coach! There is plenty of elbow room and plenty of space to stretch my legs; in fact, we’ve got foot rests! Our seats are right next to each other, and we have privacy dividers on either side of us. It’s almost like it’s just the two of us in our own little section. Nice. Instead of giving us cellophane bags with a night mask and a toothbrush, they gave us a travel kit with all kinds of stuff. And rather than giving us a prepackaged box of food, they gave us a menu with an assortment of various fancy foods. A flight attendant just came up to me and addressed me as “Mr. Hyde,” then took my order. I’m getting some salmon dish as an appetizer (“starter”) and some kind of king prawn (like shrimp) dish with Indian spices as a main dish. Carolyn ordered an artichoke salad for an appetizer and a chicken salad for the main course. They’re moving a bar-on-wheels up the aisles. A fancy “larder”–snacks–with food and drinks is open throughout the flight.

Carolyn is playing with all the gadget stuff around her. I just looked over and she was playing a video game on her TV. She was playing with all the buttons on her remote control and one of them flashed a spotlight on her from above, making her jump. It was pretty funny.

There are a number of things we observed in England & France that I didn’t write in here with the daily entries:

  • In England, it’s hard to find anything cold during the summer. Air conditioning is rare, and some places that do have it barely turn it on, so you sweat a lot anyway. The drinks are always warm–even the ones that they pull out of a fridge. The only way to get a cold drink, it seems, is to ask for ice. Ice cream is the only thing we encountered that was consistently cold.
  • Restaurants close early in London. If you don’t eat by 5:00 p.m., you might not eat at all. This seems pretty peculiar in such a huge international city. To eat later, we had to go to the Theatre District–where the restaurants stay open later to accommodate the theatre crowd–or go to Simply Food at the Waterloo station and get pre-made food to go, or “take away.”
  • The toilets are weird. You have to flush many of them at least twice in order to actually flush. The toilet in our room we had to pump several times to get it to flush. By the way, apparently in English-speaking Europe, the word “toilet” refers not to the toilet, but to the whole bathroom.
  • It was weird hearing the British news cover American events from a British slant. They are very condescending toward the American government; of course, American officials contributed to this by saying and doing dumb things. For instance, a British reporter asked an American official how the U.S. can say it wants a ceasefire in Lebanon and Israel, but meanwhile be shipping weapons to Israel for the war. The man had a dumb look for a minute, then said, “All I have to say is that we want a ceasefire.” They also regularly bust on President Bush and Condoleeza Rice.
  • In the U.S. a lot of people wear jerseys from football, baseball, basketball, or hockey; in Europe, they wear jerseys from their favorite soccer (“football”) teams.
  • The woman at the bed & breakfast where we stayed, Monica, must be a C-type personality. When she cleaned our room each day, she neatly folded and stacked our stuff. One day I found my tube of toothpaste in a mug in the shower. She folded whatever clothes were out; it was really funny–after our first day there, that night Carolyn couldn’t find her sleep clothes. She finally gave up and decided to just go to bed. Lo and behold, when she stuck her hand under her pillow, there were her sleep clothes, neatly folded up! Each day they were folded and “hidden” somewhere different, until finally Carolyn started keeping them inside her suitcase so she wouldn’t have to search for them each night. The woman also neatly stacked whatever papers and books were lying around, and she arranged into orderly piles things like change, receipts, etc. It was pretty funny!
  • People smoke everywhere. Every pack of cigarettes is sold with a label warning that smoking kills you, yet tons of people smoke, even in the train stations. It seems like the Tube and other trains were the only places where people weren’t smoking.
  • England has flowers everywhere. No matter where you go, there are beautiful flowers. City or country, mansion estate or high rise apartment, there are bright, colorful flowers. They seem to be indefinitely in bloom. Maybe this is why my allergies flared up for a few days (something that has never happened before in July), but it sure does make it a beautiful and scenic country. The people there are really into flowers and gardens! Carolyn took lots of pictures of them.
  • This time of year, it’s not dark very long at all in London. I wonder if this is because they’re further north than we are. The sun didn’t seem to go down until about 10:00 p.m., and it returned with a vengeance six hours later. One day, Carolyn saw on the news weather report that the sun came up at 4:15 a.m. I wonder if this means that their days are really short in the winter.
  • We never missed having a car. Public transportation and a pair of shoes will get you anywhere. We did a whole lot more walking than most people probably do there. We walked so much partly because we used public transportation, partly because a lot of times we didn’t know where we were going and had to walk around to figure it out, and mostly because we greatly enjoyed exploring by foot. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to discover that we walked between 30-40 miles during our 10-day trip.
  • Europeans are not fat like Americans. We almost never saw any overweight people–when we did, they usually turned out to be Americans. There weren’t many skinny people, either; the vast majority seemed to be a normal, healthy size.
  • The drivers in London are crazy. They’ll gladly run over any pedestrians whenever given the opportunity. The worst ones are the guys in suits riding motorcycles and mopeds. They try to get you–I think they’re disappointed when they miss. All the drivers go fast through the city, never even slowing down to go around corners. We got to experience this firsthand when we took a taxi from the bed & breakfast to Waterloo. It was quite a ride!
  • Europe uses Celsius measures for temperature rather than Fahrenheit. So when we were in London and Paris the past two nights, we had no idea what temperature to set the AC to. But we didn’t care–we were just glad to have AC! So we set it near the lowest temperature we could, which seemed to work pretty well.
  • Yesterday on our way up the Eiffel Tower, Carolyn made a new little baby friend. I heard her saying in her playing-with-babies voice, “I got you! I got you!” I turned to look, and she and this little baby were playing with each other. It was really cute.

This is cool–they just brought us dessert. I had a tiram-something, with a box of chocolates and some coffee.

  • Apparently the concept of eating crushed red pepper on pizza is an American thing. Last night at Ristorante Tina, I asked our waitress about it and got a puzzled expression in response. Instead, she brought me a bottle of oil with red peppers in it. It was pretty good and did spice up the pizza a little bit.
  • Gas bills just shot up here, too. It’s in all the headlines. Rates are rising 50%. Gas prices for cars were much, much, much higher than in the U.S., but they have a great public transportation system, and they also have Smart Cars, these teeny tiny things that are smart when it comes to gas mileage but not so smart if they got into an accident.

  • God answered many, many, many prayers on this trip. I prayed constantly that we would make all our connections–by car, bus, boat, plane, and train–and even with all our traveling, we never missed a single one!!! And this Club World business really tops it off! We also never lost anything (until yesterday’s umbrella) and didn’t have anything stolen. I prayed a lot about things like places accepting credit cards, not getting sick, making it to places (like Carolyn’s tea at Harrod’s) on time, staying safe, getting up on time without alarm clocks, etc. God has answered 100%! We even spent much less than I thought we would, by at least a thousand bucks. God is so good. He helped Carolyn and I to get along great through the whole trip. And we did every single thing we had planned–and then some! This vacation was such a gift from the Lord, easily the best vacation I’ve ever had. I can’t believe how much we saw and did. Thank You, Lord Jesus!

And there’s our trip. A few tidbits I thought I should add:

  • About two weeks after we flew out of Heathrow Airport in London to return home, law enforcement officials intercepted an attempted terrorist attack on U.S.-bound flights out of Heathrow. It was kind of creepy, having just been there. It also made me feel very grateful for the people who serve so diligently in that office.
  • After we looked through all our pictures, we learned a lesson about taking pictures on trips like this. We got photos of all the touristy things, but we missed the more personal touches. Next time we do something like this, we want to be sure to get pictures of things like the places we stayed, the restaurants where we ate, the train stations we frequented, the people, etc.
  • Carolyn took a couple hundred pictures of flowers, at her mom’s request. I’ve not linked to most of them simply because there are so many of them, plus I don’t remember where most of them are. But they are some of the most impressive pictures she took.

London at night, taken on a walking bridge over the River Thames.  Standing there when this picture was taken was one of those moments when it hit me just how cool this whole experience was, and I was in awe, thinking, “I can’t believe I’m actually getting to do all this….”

Published in: on July 3, 2007 at 8:55 am  Leave a Comment  

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