I’m on the British Airways flight non-stop from San Francisco to London Heathrow, 10+ hours overnight and landing in the London morning. Unfortunately, since I have trouble sleeping on planes, flights like this mean I’ll be awake for over 30 hours, but then there won’t be any jet lag (which has rarely affected me anyway). I had considered Virgin Atlantic, as I want to fly with every airline and visit as many airports as I can, and I had flown BA from Bermuda to London-Gatwick a year-and-a-half before. Of course, two one-way flights is pretty much always going to be more expensive than a round-trip flight, and European internal flights would be necessary to get to Italy and Sweden. For the six flights I wanted, BA was cheaper than Virgin by a good amount, plus I could gain AAdvantage miles as a oneworld alliance partner (I don’t care for the new American Airlines livery). The inflight entertainment system is a personal screen in the seat back with on-demand video. I watch every British film, TV show, and documentary that I know won’t be as easy to see back home.
The other two flights were part of a tour package with Discover The World for the ICEHotel, that included charter flights to and from LHR to Kiruna, Sweden, above the Arctic Circle. That tour was from 26-29 December, so I needed to be in London by Christmas Day. I know that the London Underground takes the day off on Christmas, and without wanting to stay at an airport hotel for the night, I chose to arrive on Christmas Eve (also slightly cheaper) and stay in central London so I could still do something, like find food, walk the streets, take photographs of the decorations, and maybe see some museums, if any were open.
I kept some cash from my previous trip to London, which helped because I didn’t see a Barclay’s ATM at the airport (or at Hatton Cross station, which I was led to believe), unlike that previous trip into Gatwick, which had a Barclay’s ATM in the baggage claim area. I use Bank of America in the US, which is part of the Global ATM Alliance, which allows bank members to use alliance ATMs without incurring out-of-network fees. In the interest of staying cheap, I took the free bus from LHR Terminal 5 to Hatton Cross, bought an Oyster Card, topped it up with enough to get me to central London, and rode to Earls Court, even though I was staying next to Gloucester Road, the very next stop. This way, I only traveled through 4 zones instead of 6. The time it took to walk from Earls Court to Gloucester Road probably was not worth the savings, but I’m on vacation, I have time. I wouldn’t do it again however, nor would I recommend anyone else do it.
I get a room on the top floor of the Holiday Inn London Kensington Forum, perhaps because I am a Priority Club member. This floor has free water bottles and apples in the foyer by the lifts, and my room has foreign electrical outlets, which is a nice bonus. I head back out for food, as it is past local lunchtime, and then to the same T-Mobile shop in Chelsea as last time to get a SIM card for mobile data and phone calls. It’s now an Everything Everywhere store, but they still have separate T-Mobile and Orange products. Last time, the SIM card was free and I paid £5 for 2GB of data, good for 30 days. This time, the SIM card cost £5 (I would have brought the old one, but figured it deactivated after 18 months of non-use), 500MB of data cost another £5, and I added £5 for making phone calls (I was told it was 20p per minute to the US). Then like last time, I went food shopping at the nearby Marks & Spencer. You will notice many situations on this trip where I talk about trying to save every penny, then seem to throw away money when it isn’t necessary (along with changes in tense), no need to call attention to it.
Shortly before this trip, I hear about a possible Tube strike on Boxing Day, which is when I need to get to the airport for my charter flight. I read up on some shuttle and private drivers services, but all have some stories from people who were left stranded, so I’ll figure it out later. Worse case, I’ll take a taxi and pay the over £50, as the buses won’t be running early enough for my flight. I stayed a block away from this hotel last time (Radisson Edwardian Vanderbilt), so I know that a Barclay’s ATM is within that block and what is in the area food-wise. I end up asking the hotel concierge about a reputable shuttle for Boxing Day, and he calls one for me, talking to the driver by name. Since they seem on friendly terms, that should mean he trusts them, as he would be a bad concierge if he kept recommending a bad driver service. Ends up being £19, which isn’t bad, as the strike did occur.
On Christmas Day, the museums are closed, as are most of the local restaurants, save for the one diner staffed by Middle Easterners (who, like many Asian cultures, still work during Christian holidays, and probably bring in good money). It’s also raining, so I don’t want to take my new camera out and walk around for photos. I had considered going to Regent Street for the Christmas lights, which wouldn’t look that great during the rainy, overcast daytime, or Harrods or Selfridges for window displays. I elected to just wander around more locally, and since I had been here before, I didn’t need more photos of the same places from last time.
On Boxing Day, the driver shows up on time and there are two of us going to the airport, and the driver, nor his dispatch, believe the other passenger when she gives her flight info (for correct terminal drop-off). I still remember seeing Delta flight 4 (which is admittedly an unusual flight number) to JFK on her printout. No matter, I get to T3 for Scandinavian Airlines (which also had a recent bankruptcy scare), where I have to wait, as no workers will show up for another hour. Eventually, more passengers show up with the same luggage tags, so I know I’m in the right place.
To be continued…