Monday, March 18, 2013

A Hop Across the Pond

For the past few months, Jacob and I (as well as my Mom and Dad) have been anticipating a trip (gifted to us by my parents) to Europe. Jake has never been abroad and I haven't been in 10 years, so we were excited by the opportunity. 

On the afternoon of March 8th, we made our way to Tampa International to take a flight to JFK. There had been a bad snow storm the previous day in New England, which resulted in our flight being delayed an hour into JFK. Basically, every flight in or out of JFK in the past 36 hours had been cancelled or delayed. When the delay hour was up, our flight was delayed a second time due to "a mechanical issue". It added an extra 30-45 minutes to our wait, and made us miss our connecting flight by 5 minutes. We are fairly positive we saw it pass on the tarmac while we were taxiing.

Due to the insane amount of delays and cancellations made in the past 36 hours at JFK, every flight out of JFK to any country in Europe, was completely booked for the rest of the evening. So, after an excruciating 90 minutes at the Delta Help Desk, we ended-up with a tickets on a flight the next morning, a voucher for the Queens New York Double Tree Inn, a voucher for a taxi to the Inn, and eight $6 vouchers for dinner and breakfast.

We promptly left the desk and went to baggage claim, where we were told our luggage would be sent up to us. Might I say, the most competent and efficient people we met during this entire process are the people who run the luggage in the basement labryinth of JFK. During the 5 minutes it took from us to go from the Delta Help Desk to the Delta Baggage Claim, they had already tagged and sorted our luggage for our British Airways flight the following morning. It would take 1-3 hours for it to be retrieved because it was no longer in Delta's possession. Awesome. We were tired and just wanted some food and sleep as soon as possible. All they could offer us in exchange was a free travel kit which included: a Delta Sky Team t-shirt, a toothbrush meant for a gnome with matching tube of toothpaste, a comb/plastic brush, and a travel sized Dove deodorant. (Some of us had packed a few necessities in our carry on for the overnight flight, so we didn't fare too badly.)

Just as we left the Delta Baggage Claim, we ran into Tim Gunn. I was able to get my pic with him. Yay!

After my photo opp, with a travel kit supplied by Delta in hand, we ventured to the Queens Double Tree Inn. The best description I can give you for the Queens Double Tree Inn is that of Purgatory. Seriously, I think everyone staying there were misfits who had been left behind by airlines. It made me think of that scene in 'Hercules' where Hades shows Hercules the River of Souls. That River is the Double Tree Inn in Queens, New York. I'm not exaggerating. You walk in and everyone is looking a little too, "lights on, nobody home."

 We ate dinner in the hotel restaurant. It was edible. The tip was automatically incorporated into the final bill so the service was lame. The most positive thing I can say about the Double Tree is that they have the most delicious cookies! When you check in they give you each a warm oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. It was outstanding. I was tempted to ask for a second for breakfast.

The next morning, we had to be aggressive to fit onto the free hotel shuttle to the airport. There were so many people waiting to get on that shuttle at 6am! Everyone was ready to get out of Purgatory and onto their final destination. 

We had breakfast at the JFK McDonalds and then boarded our 7 hour British Airways flight to London Heathrow Airport. All of the people we came into contact with for British Airways were above and beyond nice in comparison with Delta. 

Once we landed in London, we hopped on the tube after retrieving our luggage and made our way to Canary Wharf (the area of town we would be staying in). When we got off the tube and made our way above ground, there was barely anyone to be seen. Apparently, we were in the financial district. Over 300,000 people work in the financial district each week day, but only 5,000 live there. It was very quiet over the weekend.

Lots of sculpture in both London and Paris. This one was the first I saw when I stepped out of the Underground.
We saw rows of bikes like this all over both London and Paris. You can pay to use a bike for a short distance.
Making our way with our luggage through a nearby park.
After a 10-15 minute walk, we found our flat at Seacon Tower Apartments. We were in a two bedroom apartment on the 13th floor. The view was sensational.

That's right. This was our view of the Thames every night. Who needs The Eye when you have this?!

I forgot to get a picture of the outer door. Oh, well. When you opened the door, there was a long hallway and a very Scandinavian design to every element of the loft.

 First door off the right... restroom; no storage or cabinetry but large. 

 Second door off the right, water heater and the combination washer/dryer.

The third door reveals my and Jake's room, the master suite essentially. (All of these photos were taken a couple days after our arrival. So that is why things are disheveled.)

Next door is the hall closet being used for toiletry storage.

Next came Mom and Dad's room. I believe this is supposed to be a "multi purpose" room. However, the owner of our apartment wants to be able to rent it as a 2 bedroom, so it is a 2nd bedroom. It was pretty squished, but had a nice view. And if you were peckish late at night, the kitchen wasn't far whatsoever... just past the foot of the bed.

Then came our highly Scandinavian galley kitchen.

Last but not least, the living room with the awesome view.

It looks cooler with the lights off.

After a night of rest, we jumped on the Tube and headed for Piccadilly Circus!

 Lots of people around even though it wasn't the season! Not to mention, we were prepared for the cold, but not for the knives of ice that were coming at us through 20mph winds. Europe is having its second most unseasonably cold March ever. On the bright side, we were never sweaty and the Tube was never stinky.

Street performers are always fun. Freddy didn't want me taking his picture because I hadn't tossed him any cash. We passed them while on our way to The Original Bus Tour, which was very well done.

Lots of advertisements for this gem all over London.

Walking toward our double-decker bus tour.


Our chariot awaits!

We stepped into M&M World while waiting for the tour to start. Four giant floors of everything M&M. There was actually less candy than you would think, and every possible form of M&M merchandise possible. I used my willpower and stepped out with nothing. Not even one M&M. Ha!

 We took the front room on the top deck. It provided us cover from the cold and a great view that was mostly unobstructed. Our tour guides voice was fabulous. I could have listened to her all day. Mom said she needed subtitles.

This image is odd. Let me explain what you are seeing. The blue is the dash in front of me with the upper windshield. (Recognize the black window trim?) The red is the outside corner of the bus in front of us. Bus drivers are crazy in London. There was maybe an inch, if I'm being generous, between our bus and the next. They are so aggressive! Traffic as a whole is ridiculous in Europe and as long as I am in a big city with a transit system, driving is unnecessary.

Off we go!

The National Gallery.
Can you see The Eye?
Trafalgar Square. London loves war monuments...
and Lions.

The Ritz in London. There is a 6 week waiting list for tea.
Green Park (Across from Buckingham Palace.)

So many beautiful gates in Europe. This one was a little irreverent, but whimsical.
The Original Hard Rock Cafe.
Instead of random rug sellers on street corners, they have people hocking reproductions of pretty paintings.

Big Ben

West Minster Abbey

The Eye on the Thames.
View from the other side of the bridge.

Coming back across a different bridge.
A theater district.

One of the oldest buildings in the area flanked by newer construction. It's so narrow!

London Bridge!

After the tour, we went for an awesome dinner at Prix Fixe, 39 Dean Street, London. There was a price fixed menu, or you could order a la carte.

I forgot to take pictures of our meals. We were hungry. Don't worry, I won't forget again. However, Jake and Dad order a kind of Lamb stew, Mom had duck confit, and I had steak and fries. It was all delicious.

Jake quickly exited this booth because it smelled like someone peed in it. 

Back toward Piccadilly Circus.

After dinner, we spotted this tourist trap of a pastry shop and had dessert.

Jake had a scone with clotted cream and jam. It was basically a dinner biscuit with butter. We couldn't decide if it was authentic or meant for the tourists. 

Dad had an eclair. He ate it before I could photograph it. He looks sympathetic to my plight.

Mom had a pear pastry and it was the most delicious of all!

I had an eclair as well. It was okay. I didn't get another eclair they entire trip. They were tiny and expensive, and not my favorite.

We also ordered hot chocolate, which was much needed for everyone. 

After our sweet tooth's were satiated, we hit Cool Britannia to pick up cheesy British trinkets, and then took the Underground home. We were ready to be out of the wind. 

St. James Tavern


MA said...

Looks fantastic! Glad you had a great trip!

Sally-Ann said...

So glad that you are sharing your trip. We loved our trip to England and want to go back soooo badly. In Australia, a scone served with clotted cream and jam is served at the tea houses as a "Devonshire Tea." Look forward to reading more!!

Linda said...

Oh,this is fun to read, Rach, like a novel with installments. Keep going.