Friday, November 12, 2010

The Trip Home

In the hotel on Friday night, we finished packing up our stuff- we had bought an extra bag the day before (at Primark LOL) and used it well.  Luckily for us, we had taken only 3 bags, so we knew that the 4th would be fine ;)
No-one went to sleep early, which was a shame.  We had to get up at 3:30am for our car which was to arrive at 4:30am.  Why so early when our plane was due at 9am?  Heaven knows!  It was a plane from Gatwick- which meant the trip was a little longer than the one from Heathrow, but at that time in the morning it still doesn't take long!
So I barely slept a wink, waking about once an hour.
Then we were up at 3:30am, which is about 10:30pm Eastern Daylight time.  The time back home.
Up, shower, dress.  Pack the PJ's, drink as much of the sodas as we had left.
Check out, wait for our driver.
He arrived on time, and we put our suitcases in the car. He did not do a very good job here at all- he could barely lift the cases, which were all below the weight limit :)
He got us to Gatwick around 5:15am. 
When taking our cases out of the car- he DROPS mine- and scuffs it all up!  It was brand new before our trip there!
We figure out where to go to get checked onto our flight.  This was not easy, since the Delta computer system was down.  Which meant *I* had a problem because my 'Permanent Resident' status always causes the computer issues!
Finally booked in, we go through security.  I set off the alarms, and am searched again.  It was my hair clip.
DS sets off the alarms and is searched.  DH and DD get through just fine!
Then we roam the airport, before buying some snacks.  We eat those and DH buys touristy stuff too.
Finally we can go to the boarding area to get ready to board the flight.
By now, the sun is rising.

Our plane was sitting in front of us, so we watched it get cleaned and catered.  And were told it would be running 20 minutes late.  I started getting antsy- what about our connecting flight?

So we wait, and wait and wait.  We boarded rather later than 20 minutes...

Luckily we had some supplies with us :) Papers and drinks...
Then we sat on the tarmac for an hour.  Well 45 minutes, but it might as well have been an hour!  Now I am really anxious about our connection.
It's OK, the pilate tells us.  We'll make it.

So he flies far slower than our first pilate.  Our 9 hour flight took- 9 hours!  Here you can see a circular rainbow on the clouds :)  In fact, we saw an actual rainbow at one point too- but my camera was away at that point.  Beautiful!
We flew over Greenland at one point.  This place is stunningly beautiful and covered in snow and mountains!

It is also HUGE.

It made me think of a map.  Such a beautiful sight, I will never forget it.

After Greenland, we flew over Canada, and then down the East coast to Atlanta.  It was cloudy most of the way, until we reached the Appalachians and West Virginia.
By this point, I realised we will miss our connecting flight.

So I enjoy the appalachians.  In Atlanta, we have a terrible time.  We have to go through customs, get our baggage, take it and re-check it.
So as we get off the plane (which we are allowed to leave quickly because of our connecting flight) DS is sick.  I mean, he throws up.  Great!
We dash to customs.  I get a place in line.  DH and DS come along after- and are sent off somewhere else.
When I get to the front of the line I am told to get a new customs card- DH had ours.  And they sent him off.  The customs agent told me off for getting separated- Hey DODO- it was YOU LOT who did it!
Back to the back I go, fill out the form and get back into the line.  At one point some rude woman asks me if I realise this is the US line.  Yes, I am a Permanent Resident I told her.
We get to the front, where I have to have all my fingerprints taken and my photo taken (I am SO getting Citizenship- honestly there is MORE fuss from the USA border than ANY other!!!), before going down to meet DH.
Our bags come around, and we sit there waiting for the rest while a cute drug dog sniffs us all.  I don't really mind that, but I do mind them coming and asking me questions.  Do I really look suspicious?
We go and rebook flights- luckily for us Delta took care of it.  Then we re-check the bags- where the men doing it, throw our bags onto the conveyor belt, before going through this stupid line before going through security again.  hello?  I haven't been outside secure areas!
So going through this wiggly line, DS is sick, again.  No help from the TSA, we have to go backwards through all that stuff- no toilets either.  So he uses a trash can.  Then back into the lines.
And we have to go through security again.  This time I managed not to get searched, but they were just not helpful- and we were redirected to the longest line!
After this, DH and I swear off of Atlanta for life.  NY is a much better place to go through!  I kind of liked JFK!
Into our area we go to await our new flight.  And we wait, and wait.  This flight too is delayed.  We finally board it around 6pm Eastern.  Everyone (except DD who had a good nap on the plane) is exhausted.
As the plane taxis off, it squeals.  Horribly.  There is a BANG! as we take off.  People begin to look uneasy.
The crew isn't even in standard uniform.  We figure they got out an old aeroplane (which had just come back from repairs the pilot tells us) and put inexperienced pilot and reserve crew into action because of the missed flight.  Maybe.  But it was odd anyway ;)
As we took off, the sun is setting.  Wow- we saw it rise and set today!

The plane turns away from the setting sun, casting an orange glow everywhere.

I loved how it made the parts of the plane look as though they were glowing :)

And back over the appalachians we go again.

Misty blue hills...

And cities and towns nestled into them...

Soon the sun is set, and it is night.  We doze a little, before the plane comes into Richmond.
The airport is deserted, it is 8pm, and everything is closed.  We wait for baggage at the carousel, before catching a shuttle to our car park.   Our bags are terribly battered.  Both mine and DH's have lost their labels (thanks to the cab driver and the airport staff).  Strangely enough, these are the two most expensive suitcases.  Wonder if that has anything to do with it.
The shuttle driver is friendly, and offers to stop by each persons car :)  She is also very strong- and has no problems lifting our bags (unlike the cabbie).  We find our car, load it up, pay the extortionate parking fee (no weekly rates here) and drive home. We pick up a drive through meal at Chick-Fil-A to eat.
In the house, we grab the bags, and take them in and eat our Chick-Fil-A.  We get the kids washed and ready for bed...

But at least one doesn't quite make it TO bed :)  He was counting his English money and fell asleep.  Kids into bed, asleep and we go get in bed too.  After I post on Facebook to let family know we arrived.  But the internet is not working- *sigh*.
24 hours after I got up, I managed to get to bed.  DH ran a little later.  Thank goodness the following day was Sunday.  Hallowe'en.

It is a quiet day at the house.  I wake up early- I am still half on London time at this point.
I do loads of laundry, and unpack bags.  I wear my mourning for England clothes :)

A memory from Greenwich :)  My garden is lovely, the house and neighbourhood are so quiet and we miss the hustle and bustle of London.
In fact, we still miss it :)  And the fact family was close.
It was a lovely vacation- I hope you enjoyed my pictures and narrations!

London Part VIII: The River Thames

On our final day in London, we chose a riverboat ride.  I have fond memories of taking a trip down the Thames with my Grandparents- my only disappointment was that tower bridge did not raise for us ;)  As an adult, I could reason that it wouldn't, so it was much less of a disappointment ;)
We decided to take the whole cruise, a wonderful trip down river from Westminster to Greenwich.  At Greenwich, I planned to let the kids stand with one foot in the East and one in the West- on the Prime Meridian :)
We had planned to meet up with my Mum and Dad- who brought baby sister, and later we met up with my oldest sister and her boyfriend.  Yes she is still younger than me, but she is the oldest of my sisters LOL

We decided to meet at noon, which allowed my parents time to get into the city, and then take the boat.  That meant our morning was free, so I took the kids to Regent Street to visit the toy shop there- Hamley's.  It's huge, by the way.  6 floors tall, tons of toys and LOADS of people- it was half term week :)

Regent Street and Oxford Street are the 'designer streets' of London.  Filled with designer shops and such.

And also with people and buses.  Not many cars, but LOADS of buses!  Speaking of buses- the kids DID get to ride a double decker one night, when our tube stopped short of our station by one stop.  We eventually found the bus stop (by following another traveller LOL) and took the bus from there.  Luckily for us, the hotel was convenient to the bus station too.  Actually the bus and tubes shared a station!  But I digress.
We left Regent Street to hustle it to Westminster.  There we waited for Mum and Dad- who luckily brought scarves and hats for us all.  Even luckier, our boat was covered ;)

While we waited, I took photos.  This is the Aquarium in London.  It used to be city hall or something.  The London eye is next to it...

They have one of those telescopes you pay for there, so we put in the 20p for DD to look :)

See, I told you the London Eye was there.  It's on my list for next time too.

While waiting, we heard Big Ben chiming 12 in St. Stephen's clock tower :)  And I have proof.  The kids loved that!

Finally we got on our riverboat.  It had a glass canopy, so we saw a lot.  And most of my river photos are through the glass LOL  And I photographed things I have no idea of the significance of, but the tour operator was telling us about them.  Dad said he wanted to do the boat ride to see a few of his student hangouts he usually missed.  He saw them this time, but I didn't photograph them for some reason!

We crossed the river to pick up people at the London Eye.

Then started the cruise downstream.  For some reason I never remember that downstream is to the left- probably because I forget which side the Houses of Parliament are :)

Here is a replica of Sit Francis Drake's ship, the Golden Hind.

And here is the Shard again, from the river this time LOL

We go under London Bridge, much to the excitment of the kids.  On the upstream side the pillars are decorated with inland water birds and on the downstream side they are sea birds.  I didn't manage to get a photo of them :/

Here is the Traitor's Gate from the river.

And the HMS Belfast, newly cleaned, which sits opposite the tower and is open to visitors.

There are a lot of interesting things on the Thames.  Like this Mississippi Steamboat :)
We went down the river quite a long way, before finally reaching Greenwich.  There we alighted, and made our first stop (the toilets) in the museum.

I convinced DS to try on this helm :)

And DD of course had to do so too!

After the museum, we headed for the Observatory.  Making a stop at Sir Walter Raleigh...  where someone had to pose.

There is a large palace at Greenwich, they had been filming Pirates of the Caribbean 4 there just a few days before. Of course, we know where they were after that ;)  This fountain was there- and I rather liked it!

Then on to the Maritime Museum.  We met up with my oldest sister and her boyfriend there, whilest looking around.

My baby sister and daughter had to climb on the anchor.

Greenwich Park is on the other side of the Maritime Museum, and we went there because the Observatory is in the middle of it ;)

The autumn foliage there was beautiful.  Ours is still turning, and the vivid colours we usually have is now muted because of our hot and dry summer.  Not a problem there though :)

Just beautiful!

The views as we climbed the hill to the observatory were spectacular.

More colour!

We could see out over London- the Millenium Dome is on the right.

At the Observatory, we had a very confusing path to get in... this lovely setting also gave lovely views...

Once through, we accidentally pushed in line to get photos on the Prime Meridian.

Sorry everyone... I wasn't thinking!

More beautiful views of Greenwich palace :)  I love how it frames the river.

You can see it is one that is very balanced.  It was turned into a Naval College years ago, and is now part of the campus of Greenwich University.

After those, we went into the observatory proper.  Inside it was decorated in best 17th Century style (much to DH's delight) to reflect the fact it was once the abode of the Astronomer Royal.  It also has the clocks made by John Harrison.  So who was John Harrison?  He was the man who made the clocks that determined the LONGITUDES of the world.  The boats set out from Greenwich- hence the reason it is the location for the Prime Meridian.  His clocks became smaller and smaller, and he attracted great reknown for his clock inventions- which were very reliable clocks :)  DS was especially excited to hear his clocks were there- because he had read about him and thought he was very interesting.  And he especially loved the clocks LOL.  So THAT was one of his highlights!

Here they all are after going through the obervatory.  This time I remembered to get the line in :)  My kids and baby sister on the Prime Meridian- one foot in the East and one in the West :)  Point 0 degrees Longitude.  We have commerative hats (DS and DH) and t-shirt (me) and a prism (DD) ;)

And here are the British standards.  There is a red ball on the Observatory that is raised and lowered every day at noon GMT.  It is an old tradition that the boats on the river used to use it to set their clocks.

after that, it was back down the hill.  Actually we got out just as they closed... so I took more photos of the view...

I really liked this one :)
Then we headed back to the riverboat, getting my sister and her boyfriend a ticket to come back with us.  Same boat as before, but they stopped at the Tower!!  The crew had to clock out.  I was rather put out because it was almost the last boat.  Not to worry, we decided to eat instead.
Mum remembered a restaurant that my brother had mentioned, and we walked through the city to go there.  Being Friday night, it was filled with drunk City of London (that means bankers) workers... so we found a 'Gourmet Burger' place that was actually delicious (great burgers too) and not full, and we ate there.  We were treated this time, by my sister and her boyfriend :) 

Tower Bridge at night, from the boat.

And from the river bank.  They light up all the bridges now- they look beautiful!

London Bridge was red.  I don't know why LOL  The kids were in alt at getting to cross it, and sang "London Bridge is Falling Down" all the way across.
Then we went down by the Golden Hind, past Southwark Cathedral to get to our restaurant.  After our lovely meal, we parted way with Mum, Dad and Baby Sister, who were not getting on the tube.  At the tube we parted way with my Sister and her Boyfriend, who were taking a different tube train.
And that was the last of seeing my family in England :(
The kids were excited about the tube though, as we were taking the Jubilee line, which was one we had yet to take.
It was considerably more modern, with screens to prevent people from going under the train.  DS, our tube enthusiast, loved it.
Back to the hotel we went, with the intent to go to bed and sleep early, for the morning would be a VERY early rise.