Thursday, September 29, 2016

Day One: My Trip to London & Ireland

On September 3, 2016, my sister Lisa and I set out on a journey I had dreamed of most of my life, but never really thought would happen.

We were off on a 10-day trip to first London, then Dublin, which would be our home base for some amazing day trips into the Irish countryside.

The trip was a Christmas 2015 gift from loved ones, so we had been planning it and talking about it for months.  Finally, the day was here!

The first leg of our journey took us from Chicago's O'Hare airport to the Charlotte, North Carolina airport.  We decided to exchange some American money for some British cash.  This was really starting to feel real.  We had money with Queen Elizabeth on it!

We thought we were prepared for the overnight flight to Heathrow.  We wore our most comfortable clothes and took Xanax, which normally makes us sleepy.

Turns out, there's no real way to be comfortable for eight hours on a plane.  We estimate that we each got about 3 hours at the most.  But when we woke up, we were in England!

Off on the tube

We reclaimed our baggage (they call it baggage re-claim, not baggage claim!) and went through customs fairly easily.  Our next step: getting an Oyster Pass for transportation, and finding our way onto the right train in London's underground that would take us all the way to Picadilly Circus, where our hotel was located.

Not all of the trip is underground, and we were charmed by the British neighborhoods we zoomed past.  It was so obvious we were in a different country.

When we arrived at Picadilly, our first problem was lugging our luggage (no pun intended) up the stairs to the outside.  We were doing this rather awkwardly and with difficulty when two men came along to help us! This wasn't the first time we would be charmed by the gallantry of British men.

I'll never forget our first glimpse of London when we emerged from the tube station.

We were smack in the middle of Picadilly circus.  We were awed. Lisa says if someone had taken our picture at that moment, our mouths were probably wide open.  London looks like no other place you've ever been.  It's hard to explain. We were gobsmacked.

After one scary moment when Lisa thought she lost her luggage (it had simply rolled away from her while we were getting our bearings), we made the very short distance to our hotel, Le Meridien Picadilly.

Pretty sure this was my first London selfie.  Any Dr. Who fan will get the significance of the police call box!
Off to explore!

The hotel staff couldn't have been more gracious and welcoming.  Even though it was a good bit before check-in time, they said our room was ready for us.

Oh, the joy of a shower when you've been on a plane all night! We were refreshed, though tired, and ready to head out to the streets of London.

I hadn't really planned any sightseeing for that day, because I knew we would basically be exhausted.  However, everyone had told us NOT to go straight to bed.  They said it's best to just keep going, and then go to bed at a fairly normal time.

Trafalgar Square
Looking for the London Pass Office

Job One was to find the office home of the London Pass.  We had bought our passes before leaving the US, but you had to go to the office to get your voucher.  (This pass turned out to be one of the best decisions we made for our visit, and we highly recommend it.)

The office was supposed to be somewhere right off Trafalgar Square.  We found Trafalgar with no trouble, and were both blown away by it.  Finding the office was a bit more of a chore.

I couldn't use GPS, because I could only use the internet on my phone if I had WiFi.  Lisa was supposed to be able to use hers, but it never worked correctly throughout our entire trip.  We have no idea why.

Going around in circles looking for this office while we were jetlagged, exhausted and by now, hungry, was an exercise in frustration.  FINALLY we found it and got our vouchers.

We had no idea where to eat, and stumbled on a place called EAT that looked a little like a British version of Panera Bread.  Alas, neither of us (even though we're not really picky eaters) were pleased with what we got.  In fact, we were very disappointed and ended up eating only a few bites.

Also, I had picked up a bottle of "spring water" thinking it was just regular bottled water.  No, it was more of a seltzer, which I'm not a fan of.  Turns out if you want regular water you have to look for the ones labeled "still water."

This did not bode well for our meals in London.  But we needn't have worried.  That was pretty much the only bad eating experience we had on our trip.  We had some truly delicious meals in the days to come.

To bed!

I think we visited a few shops, including Boots, a drugstore somewhat like our Walgreen's. We got some soft drinks and snack items and headed back to our very nice and comfortable hotel room.

It was still fairly early in the evening, but I was soooo ready for bed.  We turned in early (probably the wisest thing we could do....we were so exhausted by this time), excited about what the next day would bring.

More to come!

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