Thursday, December 3, 2015

I See London, I See ... (Pt 1)

This blog post is a continuation of my London trip recap, which started last week. See all the posts here:

Surprise!! Euro Trip #2
I See London, I See (Pt 1)
I See London, I See (Pt 2)
I See London, I See (Pt 3)


As I mentioned on Tuesday's post, I just got back from London last week.

The entire thing was basically a whirlwind surprise that started about three weeks prior, when my husband alerted me on a Friday afternoon that he was leaving for an emergency business trip to London that Sunday night.



After helping him pack for what was supposed to be 5 business days in the office and then coming home, we were both woefully surprised to find out he was extended.  Indefinitely.  Which made for a fun couple of weeks of laundry for him.  Thankfully he packed two full suits and found a local cleaner that did laundry services as well as dry cleaning, so he only had to break down and buy two additional dress shirts. 

So, he didn't smell.  At least that I noticed when I got there.  Heh.

Anyway, sometime after he got his extension notice, I got the question.  "So, you gonna come out and visit me?  You won't have to pay for your ticket."

A free trip to London?  Uh ... well ... OF COURSE!!


About a week prior to my departure, I found myself booking a ticket via Delta, and that Friday after work I jetted over to the MSP main terminal to catch a 7pm direct flight from Minneapolis to London.

Overall the flight was fine, and at about 8 hours, it was totally manageable.  After having done business in China for years, I was well accustomed to 14+ hours followed by another connection and a good 4+ hours before touching down to my final destination.  So, a direct 8 hour flight felt like cake.  The only real challenge was that being pregnant, I had to constantly use the restroom (thank goodness I got an isle seat last second).  That, and my doctor recommended I wear compression socks during travel.

Yeah, a word on compression socks.  Put them on BEFORE you get to the airport.  I almost forgot I had them, and remembered just as they were calling for premium boarding.  Nothing is more embarrassing that having a bunch of Business Class flyers give you the side eye as you struggle to rush a pair of compression socks onto your bare feet at an airport gate.


The flight to London was entirely uneventful, and the transition into the city was equally as smooth thanks to the Heathrow Express. 

For those of you unfamiliar, there are two trains that leave Heathrow airport on regular intervals that take you right into central London / Paddington Station.  Those options are:

     The Heathrow Express (premium service, 15-20 minutes to London Paddington)
     The Heathrow Connect (reduced cost service, 30-40 minutes to London Paddington)

Both trains are easily accessible from all terminals in Heathrow, either via direct service at your terminal or via a terminal transfer train (transfers available free of charge).  Since I landed in terminal 4, I had to board a terminal transfer train.  That meant after I exited customs, I headed left towards the signs noting Heathrow Express service, purchased my ticket, and then boarded a transfer train to get to the Heathrow Express pickup point.

Before I get too far: my original goal was to go the Heathrow Connect train, as it's about half the cost of the Heathrow Express - £10/$15 one way versus the Express's round trip £35/$53 fee - and only takes about 15 minutes longer.  But, when I found the automated ticket dispenser at the airport, the staff manning the area had gone out for lunch.  D'oh!  In a desperate rush to just get on any train and get to my hotel, I decided to bag it and pay the more premium cost to ride the Heathrow Express - it was more obvious how to purchase that ticket.  (I needed staff because I couldn't find my stop on the Heathrow Connect ticket purchasing menu.  Later I deduced that Paddington Station must actually called "London Paddington Station" - I used the kiosk to look up stops that started with a P, so I couldn't find Paddington listed.)   

Oh well. 

Despite the premium surcharge to ride the faster train, it all worked out... for the most part.  Of course, it never fails that where I go there are some pushy "ugly American" tourists rearing their heads, so as a jet lagged pregnant woman I found myself pining for a seat while the doofus next to me blocked multiple chairs with their luggage.  *sigh*  At least the train was nice and arrived fairly quickly to my terminus.

**On a side note - save yourself some money and book your Heathrow Express ticket online in advance.  There are graduated discounts based on how early you book your ticket, with the best discounts being something like up to 90 days in advance.  But even 7+ days in advance, you can still secure a pretty decent discount.  Given my last second planning, I was unable to utilize these discounts.  Bummer.**


Once the Heathrow Express arrived to Paddington Station - yes, the same station known for Paddington the Bear (a shop is even at the station where you can buy Paddington toys and books) - I was pretty much at my hotel.  A short walk to the end of the train tracks, followed by a cut through the food court area at the station and an escalator ride up, brought me directly to the Hilton on site. 

As you can imagine, being at a hotel that was centrally located to both the airport express and the daily tube (subway) service was fantastic.  Though at this point in my journey, I had yet to really appreciate that amenity.  Mostly I was just focused on finding my room, taking a hot shower, and having a nap in a real bed.

Which is pretty much just what this pregnant, jet lagged lady did.

And that pretty much wrapped up my first day in London.  Once I came to from my nap and my feet swelling subsided some (yes, the socks worked, but still my feet blew up a bit), I basically had dinner with my husband and called it a night.

Don't worry, the next day yielded plenty of adventure.  Stay tuned!

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