Thursday, July 14, 2011

Coming Home

Reality hit hard in the morning! Up at 4:15am, we got dressed and finished putting the last few things in our suitcases. Made it downstairs in time to say goodbye to the Opalinskis and the Fannins who would both be extending their time in England. The rest of us were on the van and on the road by 4:45am.

We arrived at Gatwick airport at 5:45am and began the checkin process with Delta. Things were headed smoothly until we went through security. Debbie had packed all the souvenirs and gifts in her carryon - including hand cream for her mom. It was too big to meet the requirements. The security lady gave of the option to check one of our backpacks with the cream, so we quickly pulled everything together and Debbie headed back with her to the Delta counter. Unfortunately, they wanted to charge us $80 because it was a second bag. So that was a no go. On the way back in to the security area, Debbie walked through the metal detector with her phone in her pocket so she was pulled aside for a full pat-down. By this point the security lady felt awful - she went to speak with a manager and was given permission to test a small sample of the hand cream. When it passed inspection, we were allowed to take it and head on to the terminal. We caught up with the rest of our group members and headed to get some breakfast. We found a little cafe called Armadillo's and crowded into a big round booth. But we were all so exhausted by this time that we just kind of went through the motions of eating.

Finally, we boarded our flight which left at 9am UK time (4am US time). We were both zonked for most of the flight, sleeping through the main meal and waking up in time for the snack later of pizza and gelatto. Arrived back in Atlanta at 1pm, went through border patrol screening, picked up our luggage (dumped the handcream in a suitcase!), rechecked our bags and went through customs with our declaration forms, which was a breeze. When we got to our correct terminal, we grabbed good ol' Chik-Fil-A for lunch and hung out with our friends for one last time before boarding our flight home. Of course this leg was late - our 4:30 flight didn't leave until 5:30pm - but Debbie's mom was still waiting for us when we arrived home back in Tampa.

We headed back to Seffner, anxious to see the boys. So glad to finally wrap our arms around them - we had only gotten to Skype with them one time while we were gone! Debbie's mom had picked up an ice cream cake to celebrate her birthday and Daryl's mom had also made a chocolate cake to celebrate Daniels' 1 year anniversary of his ServPro franchise. So we had Daniel's crew up to the house and pigged out on cake.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day Eight - The London Blitz Part Two

After Westminster, we headed across the street to the Central Methodist Building which serves as the headquarters for British Methodism. There's a great cafe in their basement where we had lunch before receiving a tour of the building. At the end of the tour, they let us out onto the little balcony which overlooks the Abbey's square. They rented this space to the BBC for their coverage of the latest royal wedding.

Next stop was Buckingham Palace. And on our walk there we passed the beautiful gardens of St. James' Park. When we arrived outside the palace, we realized something was going on - there were thousands of people dressed up in their finery all around and lining up outside the palace. Turns out it was the first of the Queen's summer garden parties! While the Palace was closed, our pass allowed us to get into the Royal Mews (stables) and so we walked past all of the people in line and were able to check out all of the great outfits and hats.

Turns out that the Mews holds more than just horses. It's also where all of the carriages and coaches are kept as well as the Queen's cars. We saw the bridal coach that took Kate Middleton to the royal wedding, the coach that William and Kate left the wedding in, as well as the gold coronation coach.

We walked back to the Westminster area and got our tickets for the London Eye. This was the one attraction for the day not covered by our pass and it cost 18 pounds per person. There are 32 glass gondolas that hold about 20-25 people each. The ride is one revolution on the wheel, but because the wheel moves so slowly, the ride takes about 30 minutes. Brett confessed on the ride he had been skeptical of the price for a ferris wheel but was so glad we had done it because it was a great experience with fabulous views. So glad we did this one - everyone loved it!

After disembarking from the Eye, we lined up to take a cruise down the Thames. We arrived at the dock at 6:00pm - 45 minutes ahead of schedule for the day and so we caught and earlier boat back to the Tower Hill area. Our guide was a young man who was absolutely hilarious to listen to and it was so relaxing to ride on the boat and take in the views around us on the Thames.

When we got out at Tower Hill, we took the tube back to the St. Paul's area and found Gourmet Burger Kitchen for dinner. Great food! Daryl had the bacon cheesburger and Debbie had a chorizo (spicy sausage and sweet potato).

We had our final wrapup meeting with the Fannins on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral and then headed out to find a pub. We wanted to try the IceBar, so we took the tube to Picadilly Circus and started walking there. Unfortunately, they were booked up for the next couple of hours so we walked up to Trafalgar Square (with its lions, fountain, Olympic countdown clock) and found a place there. It was way more upscale, a bar really, but it worked in a pinch. The group toasted Debbie and Brett for a job well done on our London Blitz! We were all exhausted and got some bad directions from a server as we headed for the tube. By the time we rode the tube and switched to the train, we got back to the hotel at 11:45pm - 15 minutes before our subway cards expired and 16 hours and 15 minutes after we had left that morning!

It took us a while to pack and get showers. We ended up in bed at 1:45 and caught a short nap before our wake up call of 4:15am for our ride back to the airport.