First I should preface this with the comment that this trip had very very high expectations. Its a trip I had dreamed about ever since my first time watching Mary Poppins as a child. Visiting and seeing all of the sites, from all of the literary books I’d read through years of school, and on my own.
I had dramatically high expectations for this trip. I’m not certain exactly what would have made this trip amazing for me, but it was only amazing in its failure to provide what I had expected. I’ve intentionally put space between myself and this blog in the hopes of adding more clarity to the thoughts and disappointments I experienced. To allow myself to find the good of the experiences, and allow this to rise above the gut retching disappointment most of the trip was for me.
This is the sixth time I have returned to revisit and revise again attempt to finalize this blog, its one of the few times I have taken such care with one of my postings, having clarity of thought and a bit of distance has helped me be able to reflect on several aspects of this trip.
More backstory, first we arrived on the back leg of a two week trip overall, with the first portion having been spent in a life changing experience in India. Blog posts for that trip are already posted – all though needing much proofing. This was the return portion of the trip, and the highly awaited experiences.
We arrived on a Friday Evening; and although we had arrived from this international flight on First class, and were treated like kings for every point up and till disembarking, it somewhat made the long customs experience seem even longer, and there were also additional delays in the baggage. Once we exited through customs & immigration, we headed across the airport to the street side access to the curb, lugging our baggage through the airport. Exiting the airport, it was quite cold so we donned our jackets, and headed to enter the queue to hail for a taxi. We were ushered into the warmest taxi ride I’ve ever experienced, there was no air circulation at all in the back cabin, and after providing the driver with the details for our destination, and exchanging a minor bit of small talk, we sat back to try and endure what has got to have been the longest most miserable taxi ride of my life. It was almost 1.5 hours from Heathrow to our hotel in Victoria, and through some of the worst traffic I’ve experienced, the heat and choppy stop and go made the back of the vehicle quite miserable, coupled with the overall jet lag from the travel. We steamed up the windows completely in the back within the first few minutes, and it was a struggle to wrestle out of my jacket to keep from melting any further. It was just such a contrast from the cold air outside. This made for a sweaty arrival to the hotel. There was also some oddity of the payment transaction, the trip cost 99GBP (roughly $150 USD), where the driver was unclear about the tipping and ended up inadvertently shafting himself out of a tip.
The hotel lobby was busy when we arrived. We had to await a few moments for the front desk to acknowledge us, and allow us to approach for check in. The lady that checked us in, was quick, swift and abrupt, not unkind but obviously in a rush to get to the next person. She did not offer us any type of upgrade for the room, which is pretty standard with the bookings we normally encounter, and we normally opt for the upgrade. The room had been completely prepaid through a package, but the hotel clerk still required a 250GBP (Roughly 400$) deposit for the 6 nights we would be staying to cover incidentals. This was a requirement, so not something we were able to refute, unless we wanted to go somewhere else. We paid, begrudgingly, and headed up to the room.
We arrived to the room, to find the TV was on, the bed was rumpled and the bathroom had been used. I was, immediately disgusted. I went over to the nearest phone to telephone down to the front desk, and the phone was out of service. Heading over to the desk where a second phone was placed, I reached the phone only to discover it too was not functioning. At this moment, the travel sunk in, the delays, the frustrations from the airport, the car ride, and my energy level generally being at record lows. I stood looking at the rumpled bed, and looked up Phil up and down realizing he had less energy than I presently had, he was exhausted, in pain from his hip, and generally in need for a shower, I recognized his look enough to realize that if we were going to do something about this dirty room it was going to be all on me.
I politely turned to P and asked him to take his bags and wait at the elevator at the ground floor. As I spoke, my calm ire was rising, I stopped for a glance in the mirror to straighten my hair, my clothes, and generally make myself slightly more presentable. I grabbed my bag and hauled it out the door, down the long hallway took the elevator and stormed up to the front desk, now empty of guests.
When the lady that had checked us in approached, I politely asked to speak to a manager. She tried to ask if there was anything she could assist with, and I shut her down and repeated my request for a manager. Quickly she returned with a desk manager, when the woman approached, she had airs, and had already coped a little bit of an attitude. I pasted on my best tourist smile, forged from many many years of Orlando customer service, and I started my conversation with a quick apology for any future shortness in my tone in voice; by explaining to her how I had been away from home for 10 days already, had just traveled internationally from India, how I had traversed the fine city in the bowels of an over hot cab, at a high price, how I had been up for more than 18 hours on very little sleep, how I was tired, hungry, and generally physically miserable. I continued on to explain to the woman how terrible disappointed we had been at not being offered the upgrade we are usually presented at check in; how we had been required to put a deposit on an already pre-paid room, and how shocked and dissatisfaction at the state of my room; and further the inability to contact the front desk to make corrections from the room, due to the failings of the phones. Then I looked up to see the woman’s demeanor had changed; and it was time for the tirade to transition into what my expectations were for the outcome of the conversation. She offered us an upgraded room, and apologized profusely for the concerns we experienced.
Next Draft revision: 09-Feb-2016 –> yeah it took this long for me to put this into perspective enough to write this more.
Topics to cover in detail:
Sainsbury – Water shopping / Disappointment of Starbucks poofing
It was the next day, after some sleep a craptastic breakfast and generally feeling jet lagged – that I truly realized I was sick. Would spend the rest of the week mostly cooped up in the hotel room, but this first day, we decided to venture out in an attempt to locate “good” coffee, since the coffee & tea from the hotel had tasted both like swill on the buffet.
We headed down the road to where the Starbucks had been on Phil’s trip the previous year. Apparently it had not lasted the year, although it was a new location at that time, it was apparently too expensive to live in this area. Closed, and gone no trace remaining. The Sainsbury was close however, so we headed there to pick up some bottled water, and lunch snacks for the day. Figuring we would camp in the room for the rest of the afternoon, as it was horrible rainy and cold and I was running a fever.
We picked up some vitamin water, some bottled water, and trekked back the few blocks to the hotel. Arriving back in the room, the housekeeper was in the room, which would have been fine, but our arrival apparently was distracting enough for them that they quickly wrapped up and headed out. Leaving our door open? For the next two hours? Until I finally closed it so I could change and lay down to sleep/rest.
We did make plans for the rest of the week, to ensure that while I was only somewhat sick, I could get things planned and set up. We would take a city tour the next day, and then on Tuesday we would have the Stonehedge tour, which we went ahead and booked this day.
London City Tour on the Top of the bus
As we had a limited amount of time to visit in London, so even though I woke up feeling like I’d been run over by a ton of bricks, and it being even colder and more wet then the previous day, we headed out after breakfast to pick up a city tour.
it was a rather miserable experience, riding on the top of an open air bus, trying to enjoy the sites, while the tour guide rambled on about this and that the same thing and commentary over and over again. I was too sick to feel adventurous to go explore, we enjoyed the sites. It was cold, and even bundled up, the rain started coming down, and basically soaked me to the bone. It was not really the smartest thing to have done, being exposed to the elements, but it was a trip I’d looked forward to for my entire life.
We went around all of London, taking the extended tour, and swapping to a second bus to extend around through the parks to see the rest of the sights, before returning to the original route, repeating part of the route, and heading back to the Mall stop where we had picked up the bus.
Having had such a horrible experience with cabs, we went ahead and walked the little over a mile back to the hotel. The sights were pretty, but they were the same ones I’ve seen pictures and heard about Phil’s tour from the previous year. The tourguide was a bit pretentious and did not really make the experience memorable.
Booking the tour
I mentioned that we had booked the tour that first night, but I didn’t mention how agonizing this ordeal was, I had asked in the lobby and been given literally a stack of pamplets with options. Too many options. I had looked at some of the tours, and finally settled on one that was a 1 day tour and covered Baths, Stonehedge, the town where Harry Potter was filmed and a small lunch in a pub. It looked good, the price was reasonable, and pick up was close to the hotel. The reviews were also pretty favorable, so I sort of rolled the dice and hoped.
Hotel Room Service / Buffet breakfast at the hotel – & lack of proper tea & coffee
Due to being ill, we ended up spending quite a bit of time in the hotel room. The roomservice was probably some of the most expensive I’ve ever had in my life, for a hamburger and “chips” (see Fries) being nearly 50 EUR delivered to the room. Don’t get me wrong, when you are hungry, and the burger is a slice of American cuisine, it wasn’t overly bad, just very very overpriced.
The hotel was not much better. The only thing I can say that the buffet had going for it was that it was included in the price of the room. It was neither particularly fresh, particularly notable, or particularly great in any sense of the word.
We did have one shining beacon of light, the servers at the buffet were kind. Although they were obviously overworked, and under compensated, which made me feel quite sad. The tea, which I’d grown up expecting to be the finest in the world, tasted like dishwater, and the coffee was even worse. I ordered a latte, having seen their machine, and hoping that this at least would be palette able; it was not, I got some horrible combination of an americano with milk, and marked foam with the shots poured through the top. P actually sent it back, as it was 5 EUR and I refused to drink it.
Hotel House Keeping
Its worth mentioning, that we had more and more interactions with housekeeping then we would have – had I not felt miserable, and had P also not felt miserable. They were just plain rude, and inconsiderate. We had put a do not disturb sign outside the door from that first day after we had interrupted their “adventures?” in our room, having wanted to just sleep in the times when we were in the room. From about 8am in the morning until about 4pm on the 3 days we ended up sick in the hotel room – the housekeeping kept me from resting. Between banging on every surface known to man in all the surrounding rooms, knocking on the door to interrupt at least 3 times each day, and running the vacuum cleaner up and down the hall an extremely excessive amount of time, to blaring the TV in the surrounding rooms as they banged against the walls, talked loudly and generally were a bunch of annoying twats.
Repeated calls to the front desk, to the housekeeping line and generally poking heads in the hall to ask them to quiet it down some had no impact, and the noise and interruptions continued.
It was by far, the least restful experience I have ever in my 40+ years of life had at any hotel in the world.
Sufficed to say, I will never stay at this hotel again, and I will avoid the chain and any of the other brands this company owns.
Outside of City tour – Pick up
The tour we booked finally arrived, and it was a little further of a walk to the depot then originally anticipated, but not quite a mile. We had ordered pick up at the hotel, which I thought meant that the bus would pick us up for the tour directly, but this was not the case, it picked us up and dumped us at a bus depot, where we had to wait in yet the first of many “lines” to get checked in for the tour. This experience was much like riding a cross country bus line, and felt very odd for a tour bus line. It was not horrible, but it was far from pleasant, however this was the only negative thing I’d say about this tour as a whole.
Windsor – Eat cafe &; train stop
First I’d like to express my gratitude to both the driver, the tour guide, and the rest of the passengers on this tour. It was a wonderful experience from beginning of stepping into the bus. The tourguide made a point to engage with each and every guest, and spent extra time with us to ensure we were doing okay when it was clearly evident that I was still recovering from some type of horrible likely contagious headcold/flu bug.
The driver was also friendly and courteous, and made a point to adjust the temperature and sounds multiple times whenever the whim struck.
The other passengers were kind in pointing out sites along the way and engaging in pleasant conversation.
Overall the countryside was beautiful, and the pictures just don’t do it justice. The trip to Windsor was not overly fast, but it wasn’t overly long either, and with the tourguide giving fun insights along the way it passed pretty uneventful. We arrived in Windsor – which I have to say is a place I would very much enjoy spending more of a trip or a different trip exploring.
It was a smallerish type town, very pedestrian friendly with a giant castle at the pinnacle. There is also a train that runs from Windsor to London for commuters. This the Queen’s residence, we had as a part of this tour, a tour of the castle. Being as how we were both pretty ill, and there was already a tremendous amount of walking, and the Stonehenge would not be until later, we opted to do a quick version of the tour, and mostly enjoy the gardens and the grounds. We also greatly enjoyed the village and the train depot. This is where I had my only cup of decent coffee in the entirety of the country. A nice little shop called Eat Cafe, which is apparently a chain. They had excellent snacks & tasty treats; I was able to get a hot cup of soup and a delicious latte.
Its amazing to me how much better a cup of coffee can make me feel. I recall exactly the feeling of dismal-wanting to die-feeling-like-walking-death I felt, before I sipped that first cup of coffee. That first sip, and my whole body responded and suddenly everything got a little brighter, a little happier and a little more enjoyable.
We headed back to the bus, to just warm up and relax and be able to take the trek back at a much more leisurely pace then the frantic rush down to get to the tour.
The driver had the bus all nice and warm, and it was a welcome sight.
Stonehenge – Rain / Tourists / Sites
We cruised through some small little villages, with the distinctive thatch roof house, that England is noted for in so many gable style pictures. Yes, they do still exist, yes they are still around and very visible, all over the landscape.
It started to rain quite heavily as we neared Stonehenge, this actually sparked a small smile for me, remembering so many times when I had hoped for rain for visits to Disney and other tourist locations, knowing that the rain would scare away the crowds – its amazing how many people are afraid to melt in the rain.
I love the rain, always have – so for me this was a spell casting sign that I was in the right place, at the right time. The tour guide was very kind and offered to give me his umbrella, I declined and the chap nearly forced the thing upon me – until I pointed out the more elderly couple further on the bus that would be inclined to make more use of it. I wrapped my head with my scarf, the lovely one from Germany that had been underutilized in our not particularly cold Austin weather, and we braved the walk up to the shuttle? Yes they apparently have added a “tourist” center to Stonehenge, that is about 5 miles from the actual site. So one must “shop” and ride one of the allocated “tour” bus’s up to the site.
Our guide got us all onto a bus straight away, after the quick walk in the pour rain. As we neared to the site, the rain cleared, and the sun peeked out from the clouds just as we stepped off the bus and neared the site.
This site was not a disappointment. I’m not precisely certain what I expected or intended to see here. I just know it had called to my heart, soul and spirit for years, and I needed to visit. It was exactly what I expected to see. There was a calm, humble peace to the place – even amidst all the loud tourists snapping this picture or that. The air felt crisper from the fresh rainfall, but the heavy green mossy lushness was also not lost, it reminded me of the movies for the shire, green mossy glades all around the site. There was a pervasive air of authority, and a reverence for this sight, not unsimilar to the temples in India. We did not stay for long, as it was not necessary. I prayed, I observed, I watched, I listened, I connected, and then we headed back to the bus, to catch the shuttle up to our tour bus.
Pub – and Aussie Guy
The next stop on the tour, was the small village where Harry Potter had been filmed – the mead location, and the Pub where we would very much enjoy a traditional lunch and beer. We were joined at our table, by a kind fellow that was in town for the Soccer world cub supporting his home country of Australia. Its sort of funny to me how no matter where I am in the world, the universe is perpetually putting me on the path for exactly where it wants me to be next. The man was an older gentleman, with a mischievous smile, and I greatly enjoyed flirting with him blatantly. He told me about his trip, and all the sights he had seen, and even shared the videos he had taken on his iPad with me. They were amazing. His eyes were piercing blue, and he was graying and still quite spry. It was a delightful meal, the company was warm and quite hospitable, the beer was delicious and all in all the Pub was grand.
Baths – Pub &; tour of cathedral
The final stop on this tour was to Baths, which we rushed to arrive at just before sunset to allow time to take the tour of Baths. P & I were wiped out from illness recovery; he being too tired to even make it down to the cathedral. I would every much enjoy coming back to Baths and spending a good bit of time exploring the many wonderful sights. This place reminded me of the Celtic version of the villages we had purchased my clock at in Germany. It had a feeling of warmth and hearth pervading throughout the air and atmosphere. While I didn’t take the tour of the actual Baths, I did manage to tour the Cathedral, and what an amazing place this was indeed. The feeling inside old churches in Europe is so exquisite. Its very hard to put it into words, its not the reverence of the temples in India. Its more a feeling of traipsing through vampire habitat, coupled with the somber reference of so so so many different souls shedding their burdens and sinking into the pews, exalting, rejoicing and worshiping. It has the cosmic feeling of heaviness, of burdens laden down into the wood, and the etchings, the walls pick up that traces of the energy remnants. Where as the temples in India were clean, light, and purified, having an ancient stone reference, the wood and the carvings inside European cathedrals has a heaviness, a deep depth of intrigue and darkness to it.
We headed to the Pub recommended by the tour guide, and were not disappointed by the beers they had on draft – some of Fuller brewer finest – we also enjoyed some authentic bread pudding, and relaxed in the atmosphere of the pub, realizing it was some 200 years old, and had weathered many many travelers in that time.
Baths has healing qualities to it, they were something hard to miss in the air, and the water in the short time we were there. It was during these final moments of this fabulous day, that we both started to feel significantly better. This is definitely some where I would recommend anyone visiting to England add to the “must see” list, its a little known treasure that shouldn’t be missed.
Shuttle back to airport — Airport delays
P had brilliantly booked us a shuttle back to the airport, which made the trip in literally a quarter of the time that the cab had taken, in rush hour morning traffic. Coupled with the fact that it was also a third the price, and was a private luxury sedan, we greatly enjoyed this treat, and would take advantage of this for any future trips. There were multiple delays in London, as we actually arrived almost 3 hours prior to the fight departure, there were also delays in getting checked in, checking the bags, and getting on board the plane for the trip home. The flight home, was kind of a disappointment compared to the other 3 flights we had enjoyed. It was however a great pleasure to arrive back in Austin.
The stars at night are big and bright – deep int he heart of Texas. And honestly, after this trip, it was good to be home.
Apologies for readers that have been waiting for the months to experience this trip. I do not enjoy blogging negative things, as it seems to upset the balance for me, and it took a little time for my mind to finish processing through this trip enough to share the wonderful and let it overshadow the miserable.