Well, this was it. The day we leave. No castles, churches, WWI or WWII sites. No driving. No planning. Not much of anything really. The goal was simple. Get up. Go to airport. Fly.
We woke up at a leisurely 0830 and got out of our room at 1000. I went over to the reception desk to check out and was told I owed them money.
"No, I’m pretty sure I prepaid through the booking agent"
"Sorry sir, it shows no payment on your account"
"That’ll be 44.19 please."
"Ok – I’ll need a receipt because as of now I’ll have paid just short of 100 pounds for my room."
"I understand. Thank you. Would you like us to get a taxi for you?"
"I was thinking of taking the little Hoppa Bus."
"The taxi will be the same price – 8 pounds."
"Excellent – I’ll take the cab."
With that,the valet bundled wheeled my luggage over to the door and popped it in some van with no Taxi designation that _I_ could see. Someone’s got a little side business going ;) We hopped in and wound our way over to the airport. The drop off point isn’t exactly door-to-door service so no tip for him. Heck, the entire 8 pounds probably went into his pocket (minus gas money).
The airport was busy. Monday morning, and people were heading around the world. Heathrow is quite the busy European gateway. We proceeded to check in. I’m not sure how our luggage didn’t get flagged as heavy – scale must have been broken. I swear we managed to collect an entire tree in paper products that we picked up along the way. After saying goodbye to our bags and hoping I’d see my bottle of Oban scotch again we were off to security. Security screening was like a giant machine processing human units to transform them into airplane travellers. First you get "greeted" by someone to make sure you have no liquids. Check. Next you get funnelled into a screening distribution line where they spit you out into various screening stations. The usual. Everything out of pockets, but laptop doesn’t have to come out of the case. Always different. I strode confidently through the little metal detector. "Beep!" What? I haven’t triggered one since Guangzhou where I swear to God they just had it beep for everyone walking through! Anyway some guy gets frisky with me and checks my wallet. Next he has me undo my belt… Thankfully no more than that :) All good, I gather up the goods and meet Mrs D who is now also clear of that stage. We continue on. Now it’s the "Shoe station" Damned Richard Reid. Unlike apparently 90% of the travelling public I actually have to untie my shoes to take them off. After passing them through the machine I then have to put them on and retie while everyone else just slips their shoes on without any need to untie/tie their shoes. I have a suspicion that many people have shoes that are actually too large for their feet. As I’m tying my shoes, I wonder if anyone has done a study on this. If not… is there money to be made?
I remembered Eddie’s words of advise – right after you exit the shoe screening is the Customs VAT reclamation. Sure enough, it was over to the left. After getting my stamp on my LV purchase he told me I could just head over to the currency exchange for a refund. Sweet. I headed over there. "Sorry sir – you asked for a refund on your CC…" They were, however, able to give me a UK postage paid envelope to drop in the big red mailbox. Better than nothing, I suppose.
Post-security in Vancouver gets you a few Duty Free shops and a couple of restaurants. In Heathrow, post-security is a whole little city! You had a choice of probably 10+ BIG duty free stores, over 15 restaurants and maybe a dozen newsstands to boot. There were so many people milling about that you really didn’t feel like you were in a secure zone. We wandered and considered buying some items, but nothing really struck us as a "must have" and after seeing some of the prices on the shortbread as MORE expensive in duty free than outside with duty imposed, I had to wonder how many other prices were just shams as well. Nice. Real nice.
We were early for our gate – they didn’t even tell you which gate to go to before 1210, so I suggested we have our last meal at a pub, albeit an airport pub. There was an Irish pub and the prices weren’t half bad. Mrs D had (of course) the fish and chips and I had an Irish stew with soda bread. A McCaffrey’s topped it off beautifully. We got rid of almost all our UK coins, filled our bellies and killed some time. Perfect.
1210 we headed down to our gate. The gate room was a little holding cell where you can’t pee, there was barely seating for half the people and circulation wasn’t that great either. I could see why they didn’t want you down at the gate any sooner than needed. We boarded the plane quite quickly and noticed that it was very modern. The First class section had fully reclining seats in the little "cocoon-like" format and back in cattle-car each seat had its own touch screen TV with a 3 prong North American power outlet and a USB power outlet. Great. I’d be able to get a bit more blogging done between movies an naps.
We were supposed to head off at 1315 but someone forgot to tell US president Bush that we had a flight scheduled, so he just booked his flight time with Air Force 1 at about the same time. Net result: we lose. We sat on the ground for an extra 30 minutes while his bushiness took off and cleared Heathrow airspace. Way to make friends.
The flight was about 10 hours long and about as exciting as 10 flights ever get. We touched down at good old YVR in 21C sunny weather. It was good to be home. The last few times I have flown internationally I have hit customs lines that were 15-20 minutes long so I was surprised when we simply stepped right up and through customs today. Wow!
I called Eddie. He would come around to get us as soon as we got our bags. 10 minutes later we were on the phone with him again asking him to come and get us! Fast. Unfortunately it was now 1600 and rush hour was starting up in good old Vancouver. Eddie took us home and we showed him what we picked up over there. Since I was reluctant to crack the REALLY good scotch yet we cracked the bottle of normal 14 yr old Oban. Silky smooth… I think I can see myself becoming a scotch drinker – expensive habit though. :) Dinner was at Mui Garden. Mrs D was pretty happy to have Chinese food again.
We were dead tired, but I stayed up. We went to bed at normal Vancouver time but I still managed to wake up at 0300. Damned jet lag.
Well, that’s it for the trip! Thanks for following along – I know it’s been a long ride :) I’ll summarize in a post a little later. Right now, it’s time for my fingers to take a rest.