During the first week of September 2012, my fiancee and I decided we needed a vacation. Since we love to travel and love to see historical sites during our travels, we decided we would go somewhere neither of us had been. One of my co-workers had recently taken a trip to London, England and recommended that we check it out for ourselves. So, we booked a trip, packed our bags, and headed for the U.K. Since we returned from our trip, I have received several requests from friends, family, and other co-workers for details about our trip. Usually, I will write an article about our trips as soon as we return. However, my new job has kept me too busy to write much lately. Thanks to the Christmas break, I have a little bit of extra time to share our trip with all of you. So, sit back, relax, and prepare to see beautiful London through my eyes in the order it happened.
To begin with, we had the bright idea that we should take a night-time flight so that we could sleep on the plane and be fully rested, ready to adventure out on the first day of the trip. After already flying 100,000+ miles this year alone, I knew that I cannot sleep on a plane, but went along with that idea anyways. We flew out of Atlanta, Georgia on a non-stop flight to London. The flight getting there took around 7.5 hours. It was the longest non-stop flight either of us had ever been on. After driving almost 2 hours to get to the Atlanta airport, the flight departed around midnight. Shortly after takeoff, my fiancee passed out on a stack of neck pillows and blankets placed on top of her tray table. Even though she was able to sleep, she later learned that she didn’t rest, but that didn’t stop her from doing the same thing on the return trip. As for me, I spent the flights to and from London watching movies. In all, I probably watched about 8 or 9 movies just on the planes.
If you have ever flown before, you have surely seen the guys in suits that are standing at the exit holding a card with someone’s name on it. Every time we have flown somewhere, my fiancee has always commented about how cool it would be to deboard a plane and have someone standing at the exit holding a card with her name on it. So, as a surprise for her, I decided to reserve us limousine service for the week and asked that they pick us up from the airport so that she could experience walking out of the exit and having someone holding a card with her name on it. When we booked the trip, I went ahead and paid for shuttle service between the airport and hotel and back again. As a backup, I decided not to cancel that service just in case.
The day we were leaving for the trip, I received a call from the limousine service saying that they could not process my payment. I had booked the trip 3 weeks in advance. So, I wasn’t really sure why they were waiting until the day of to charge my card anyways. I guess it was because they were waiting to see if I would cancel before they tried charging me. Anyways, when they called, my fiancee was standing right beside me and heard them say this is “blah blah UK limousine service”. Because of that, the cat was out of the bag and I had no choice but to let her in on the surprise I had in store for her. For security purposes, I have my credit card restricted to domestic use only. Whenever I go out of the country, I have to call my bank and card issuer and have them allow my card for international use between date 1 and date 2. That way, if I have returned home from being out of the country, no one can rerun my card illegally. I thought this might have been the reason the limo service could not process my payment. I explained this to the guy on the phone and he said it was ok and that he would rerun it the next day, the day we were actually going to be in London and needed the service.
When we arrived in London, my fiancee was excited that someone would be standing at the gate, holding a gate with her name on it. Unfortunately, there was no one at the exit waiting on us. There were only 3 or 4 guys at the gate and our names were not on any of their cards. I called the limo service and asked where they were. When I made reservations, I had provided our flight information. So, they knew exactly when to be at the airport and at which gate. The guy on the phone said that his driver was standing at the exit of Gate 4. Ummm?? Nope. I told him I was standing at the exit of Gate 4 and there was no one there waiting for us. He kept insisting that his driver was there and I kept telling him that he wasn’t. The guy on the phone said for us to stand in front of the information center and he would have his driver meet us there. So, we went and stood in front of the information center. We were the only people there. The nearest person to us was more than 100 feet away and he was carrying suitcases out the door. The limo service called back and told us that his driver said he was at the information center, but didn’t see us. I told him his driver had to have been at the wrong gate then because there was no one around us, we were alone. He began yelling at me that his driver was at the correct gate and that we were not where I said we were. At this point, I began to get more pissed than I already was.
About that time, a guy in a suit came running in the door next to us, apologizing that he was late, and was holding a card that had my name on it. I thought this was weird because I asked that my fiancee’s name be on the card, but my name was on it instead. When the guy approached, he asked, “Are you Lucus? Lucus going to the Waldorf hotel in central London?” Yep, that was me. The guy grabbed our bags and shot out the door. He lead us into the parking garage where I expected we would walk up to the stretch Lincoln that I had reserved. Instead, the guy began throwing our bags into the trunk of a Toyota Prius. I told the guy that this was not the car I had paid for. He apologized and said that the car I had reserved was undergoing maintenance and wouldn’t be ready until the next day. Stupidly, we went ahead and got in the car.
On the drive out, I decided to call the limo service and ask for a discount since the car I had paid for was not available and we were stuck in the back of a Prius instead. The guy on the phone told me that his driver was still looking for us at the airport and that the car we were in was not from his company. When I said something to the driver, he immediately began having problems understanding English and kept driving. If this guy was trying to abduct us, I was about to smash his face through his windshield. I told him to pull the car over which he did. The guy from the limo service asked me to hand the driver my phone. I don’t know what was said between the two of them, but the driver kept saying “don’t worry. I’m taking them to the Waldorf in central London. Everything is ok.” My fiancee and I both looked at each other. This was something like you would see in the movies. The driver handed me back my phone and said “I don’t know who this guy is or where he is taking you, but you need to get out of the card immediately.” Being the redneck I am, I told him that if this driver was about to do something stupid, I would break his legs and that he needed to make sure we made it to the hotel safely and that he shouldn’t even attempt to do harm to either of us. I made sure I said it loud enough for the driver to hear me and more importantly, understand that I was serious.
Thankfully for us (and for the driver), we pulled up next to the Waldorf hotel as expected. When I asked the driver what was going on, he said that his employer was called by another company and asked to pick us up. He said that we didn’t have to pay him, that his employer would get paid from the company that I had paid. Since the guy did in fact get us to the hotel, I decided to be nice and still give him a tip. But I wasn’t going to pay him anything more. Before the driver left, I asked him for his drivers license and told him I waned to take his picture and a picture of his car including his license plate. At that moment, the driver said “have a good day, sir”, jumped in his car, and sped off. I don’t know what just happened, but I was just glad we made it to the hotel safely.
The hotel we stayed at was a Hilton property called “The Waldorf”. It was a very old hotel situated in the middle of central London and a street named “Aldwych”. It was a beautiful hotel. Since I am a diamond member with Hilton, they upgraded our room which put us on the top floor, the 8th floor. However, the elevator only went to the 7th floor. So, every time we returned to the hotel, we had to ride the tiny, cramped elevator to the 7th floor and take the stairs to the 8th. But whatever. The room we stayed in was extremely nice. But, after a long night of flying and the ordeal with the driver, we were ready for a nap and off to bed we went. When we woke, my fiancee (Rita) thought she would pretend she was a London-native and help herself to some tea.
Leaving the hotel the next day, we expected that we would have our stretch Lincoln limousine waiting for us in front of our hotel at 9:00am just like I had paid for. But, as you have probably already guessed, there was no limo. I called the limo service and the guy on the phone told me that he just got off the phone with his driver and that his driver said he was parked in front of the Waldorf hotel just as you walk out the front door. I told him, “unless there is another Waldorf hotel on Aldwych, your driver is a liar. I am standing in front of the Waldorf and there are no cars, much less a stretch Lincoln limousine parked in front of the hotel.” The guy on the phone continued telling me that his driver was there. I finally got tired of his bullshit and hung up the phone. I asked the concierge if there was another Waldorf nearby. He told me that the Waldorf we were in was the only Waldorf hotel in London. At that point I knew the limo service was full of shit.
Since we picked a good location for our hotel, basically everything we wanted to do was within walking distance anyways. So, we took to the streets and ventured out. Some of the sites along our walk included the British Museum, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Cleopatra’s Needle (aka the Eye of London), and everything in between. Rita was really disappointed that the London Bridge was nothing more than just an ordinary bridge like the ones we had back home. She thought that the Tower Bridge was actually the London Bridge. After I explained the two to her, she said that the old children’s song “London Bridge is falling down” just didn’t mean much to her anymore. Plus, she decided that she would still pretend that the Tower Bridge was the London Bridge. Here are a few pictures of the sites we visited that day.
We spent the first few days walking around central London. We walked to China Town and to the “Square”. I’ve never done so much walking in my life! We visited museums, libraries, stores, hidden restaurants, secret alleys, and more. Every direction we turned we got to see something interesting. I got kind of camera happy and took way more pictures than any normal human being should. I couldn’t help myself. I was having too much of a good time and my fiancee made it even better. We got to see all kinds of cool stuff. So, I’m glad the limo service didn’t work out. If it had, we probably wouldn’t have gotten to see even a tenth of the things we got to.
One night we decided to go watch a musical. Neither of us had any idea that London was so big into musicals. Every corner of central London had 3 things: Pretamanger, Starbucks, and a theater. Out our hotel room window, we could see that Shrek the musical was performing in the building directly behind our hotel. We really wanted to see the musical “Wicked”, but Shrek was closer. I know Shrek is more of a kid’s thing, but I promise you that the musical is for adults as well. We had a great time watching it.
Half way through our vacation, we had booked a trip to see some stuff that wasn’t within walking distance. For that, we joined a tour group that was picked up on a brand new coach. The tour guide made in crystal clear that what we were riding on was not a “bus”, it was a “coach”. He said the way you could tell was by looking at our driver. He said that “bus drivers” drive “buses” and “gentlemen” drive “coaches”. We were being driven by a “gentleman”, therefore we were riding on a “coach”. The “coach” could hold around 50 people. But, lucky for us, there were only about 10 people on the tour. So, Rita and I had the entire back of the coach to ourselves. Don’t worry. Nothing happened. 🙂 The tour guide explained to us that London had been slammed with storms over the previous 2 weeks. The day we went on our tour, the weather was absolutely perfect! In fact, the entire vacation had perfect weather. We didn’t see a single cloud the entire time we were there. I couldn’t have asked for better weather. That made our trip even better!
The first stop on our country-side tour was Windsor Castle. This place was enormous! If you’ve never been to Windsor Castle, you need to go some time. Windsor is not just a castle, it is an entire city within a city. Make sure you peek around every corner. You never know what you will see. For example, as soon as you enter the front gate and turn left down the winding walls, you will see a beautiful garden hidden away behind a wall on your right. We walked through every piece of it we could. We visited everything from the doll-room to the old church. We got to see suits-of-armor, swords, jewelry, antique furniture, and everything else you would imagine would be in a castle. Just before leaving Windsor Castle, we got to watch the changing of the guard. So, that was very cool to observe.
The next stop on our country-side tour was the main reason I wanted to visit London, Stonehenge! Ever since I first saw Stonehenge on TV, I always wanted to see it in person. I was like a little kid on the ride out. As we approached the Stonehenge grounds, the tour guide began playing the theme song from 2001 – A Space Odyssey. I thought it was fitting as all you see are hills and then finally, Stonehenge comes out from hiding, standing in a completely flat field of its own. I had my camera recording video as we rounded the final hill where Stonehenge presented itself. As we walked around Stonehenge, I took hundreds of photos as I was amazed at just how big these stones really were. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to move those stones and place them in the arrangement they were in. Not to mention, the stones had to be transported miles and miles and miles even to get to the location they’re at today. That alone had to be difficult. One of the coolest things about Stonehenge is that even to do this we do not know who built it, how they built it, or for what reason it was built. There are all kinds of speculations out there for answers to these questions, but none can be proven and that continues the mystery of such an amazing structure.
After drooling over the enormity of Stonehenge, we got back on the coach and were off to our next stop of the tour, lunch. For lunch, we were taken to a little place called “Lacock”. Apparently, Lacock was used for filming parts of the Harry Potter movies. Lacock is a tiny little village in Wilshire, England and was established in the early 1200’s. Aside from Harry Potter, Lacock was also used for filming other movies such as “Pride and Prejudice” and “Mundi and the Midas Box” which is scheduled for release next year. We got to eat lunch at a place called “The George Inn”. It’s a tiny little place that just so happens to be the village’s only pub. After eating lunch, we had a little bit of time to walk around the village seeing all that it had to offer. One of the coolest things we got to see was an extremely old church that sits near the back of the village and includes an extremely old cemetery that looks like it came out of a movie.
After lunch, we loaded back onto the coach and headed for the final stop of our tour, the city of Bath. Former home to celebrities such as Johnny Depp and Nicholas Cage, Bath is a city in the county of Somerset in South West England, about 97 miles west of London and 13 miles south-east of Bristol. I would have to say that Bath is the most beautiful city on the planet. It has everything from Post-Roman and Medieval to Iron Age and Roman. Yep, hidden beneath the city of Bath is another city that the Romans built. If you ever visit the city of Bath, make sure you checkout the Roman Bath. It costs a little bit of money, but is well worth visiting. The second half of our day was spent in Bath and I could have spent days there because it was such a nice place. Plus, Bath is believe to have been the site of the Battle of Mons Badonicus (500 AD), where King Arthur is said to have defeated the Anglo-Saxons. So, that makes this place even cooler. 🙂
Now that I’ve talked about all of the good stuff about London, I feel it’s only fair that I mention a couple of things I didn’t like. The first thing that I didn’t like about London was that we chose to visit London the week after the Olympics were held there. So, there were several areas that we couldn’t visit because they were still under going cleanup or were still blocked off to help control traffic during the Olympics. It seemed like every corner of central London was under going some sort of construction. Another thing I didn’t like about London was apparently no one there believes in air-condition. Here in the US, if we live in an area that can get hot, we can simply turn on our AC and cool back down to reasonable temperatures. Maybe it was only hot for us because it was at the end of summer and possibly isn’t like it was any other time of the year. Outside the weather felt great, but some of the buildings and restaurants we went into were miserable because of the heat. The last thing I didn’t like about London also goes along with the heat, no one there believes in ice-cubes either. Rita and I both prefer drinking water over anything else. Occasionally, we would grab a soda. No matter what we drank, it was always room temperature and some times hotter. Only a few of the places we went to provided us with ice, but that was only after we asked for it and even then we only received 2 ice-cubes each. Because the restaurants didn’t have any kind of air-conditioning, the ice was usually melted before it made it into our glasses anyways.
Anyways, all-in-all we had a great time in London. Even though we had a scare in the beginning, the trip turned out to be amazing. As I’ve already mentioned, the weather there was perfect. If it wasn’t for that, I’m sure we wouldn’t have had as good of a time as we did. We ate at some great restaurants, stayed in a great, hotel, visited some amazing places, and I will do it all again if I ever get the chance. If you ever get the chance, I would highly recommend that you go there and experience all that London has to offer for yourself. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!
P.S. The night before the last day of our trip, I got a call from the limousine company. Even though I had already called them back and cancelled the service, they still insisted that I had to pay the full amount. They continued to swear that the driver was at the airport when we landed and was in front of my hotel every day waiting to drive us to where ever we wanted to go. I told them that I was not going to pay them anything as their driver was a liar and did not provide the service we requested. They said that they would send someone to my hotel to collect the money I owed them. I told them that if they send someone to my hotel, they better bring an ambulance because I was not going to pay them and that I would hurt the guy if he touched me like the caller said he would do if I refused to pay. For all I know the guy on the phone was working with the guy that actually picked us up and the whole thing was nothing more than a scam.
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