Day One: Sunday, May 24, 2009.
After we’d left the hotel and headed back to Robert’s parents’ house to get our luggage, his mom printed off our boarding passes. Much to our chagrin, we learned that we were sitting separately…on an international flight…for our honeymoon. I was not a happy girl at that moment, but we couldn’t do anything about it. The flight was full and we couldn’t change our seats. My stomach was in knots during the entire two-hour ride to the airport; all I could think about was how much I hated flying, especially over the ocean, and how I just wanted to sit next to my new husband so he could hold my hand. By the time we got to the airport, I felt sick to my stomach with worry, but I still held out hope that we could get it fixed at the gate. Standing in line for the check-in, we met a few interesting folks who told us that they’d be happy to move their seats around so we could sit together, if it came to that. I felt much more relaxed in that moment. When we got to the counter, Robert asked the man if it would be possible for us to change our seats so we would be sitting together. “We just got married yesterday,” he told him. “We’re on our honeymoon.” The man grinned and said, “Let me see what I can do!” While he clicked away on his computer, he chatted us up about our wedding and forthcoming honeymoon, and finally he said, “There. I’ve upgraded you to World Traveler Plus. Enjoy your flight!”
Brief interlude: on British Airways, there are four class distinctions:
1. World Traveler –> Economy
2. World Traveler Plus –> similar to Delta’s Business class
3. Club World (their Business class) –> similar to Delta’s First class
4. First class –> incomparable to anything Delta offers, lol
We were so stoked that we got upgraded at all, and, more importantly, that we were sitting together on the plane. My stomach relaxed immediately…and then I realized I was starving! We still had about three hours to go through security and catch our flight, but to my surprise, not many people were traveling on Memorial Day weekend. Security was a breeze, and then we had quite some time to get to our gate, do a little flight-shopping, and eat dinner. By the time we finished our lazy dinner, we got to the gate with a few minutes to spare before they started to call for boarding. Next thing we knew, we heard, “Would Mr. Robert H and Mrs. Amanda W please come to the gate?” Our hearts pounding, and clutching our newly upgraded passes (desperately hoping they wouldn’t take them away from us), we nearly ran up to the gate. Robert asked, “Is there a problem?” The woman cocked an eyebrow at him, asked for our boarding passes and passports, and said, “Oh yes, a big problem.” I wanted to vomit. She ripped up our upgraded passes and then said, “Congratulations on your honeymoon. We’re putting you in Club World.” We were upgraded AGAIN! She handed us our new passes, just as I was about to hit the floor. I couldn’t stop thanking her and grinning like a real fool.
Our jaws dropped when we boarded the plane. I felt like a child just overcome with complete giddiness! Our seats weren’t traditional seats. We were in opposite facing pods! So, we weren’t sitting shoulder to shoulder, but face to face instead. It was wonderful. I got the seat next to the window (and the one facing backwards), and Robert took the forward-facing aisle pod. Our seats reclined all the way down to create a bed, and we had a footstool to complete it. The blanket they gave us was quilted (much better than the economy ones) and the pillows were soft and comfortable. The flight was unbelievably comfortable and relaxing. Not to mention, BA offers complimentary drinks on their flights. Turns out, I’m a good flyer if I’m drunk! 😉
Day Two: Monday, May 25, 2009.
We landed on Monday morning, safe and sound. Customs was a breeze because we had nothing to claim, so we walked straight on out and into a taxi. When we checked into our hotel, we told them that we were on our honeymoon (note: play that card as much as possible!), so they changed our room location to the end of the hall. It gave us a great deal of privacy and a small view of the Thames. We were staying in the city of Westminster (our hotel was City Inn, Westminster), which is a financial/business/political district. We were only a couple of blocks away from the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge, and Westminster Abbey. This was the view after we’d rounded a couple of corners:
We absolutely loved our hotel, too! Robert had gone to London in 2003 for a study abroad trip in the summer (he was there for three months), and I had gone to London in 2004 for a summer mini-mester study abroad trip (I was there for 10 days). Robert stayed in a hostel his first time to London, and I had stayed in a small (cheap!) hotel where my roommate and I had to choreograph our movements in the bedroom because there was hardly even enough room for our beds in that teeny room. These were the mental images Robert and I had going in, but when we opened the very slim door to our hotel room…we were greeted by an American-sized hotel room and a queen-sized bed!
Those who have gone to any European country (and perhaps Asian ones…I’ve never been) will be able to validate that this room is enormous by those standards. We were so comfortable here! After we took a short reprieve (including showers and naps while the other was showering), we decided we needed to get out of the room so that we didn’t fall asleep and ruin our sleep schedule for the rest of the honeymoon.
We visited Robert’s old stomping grounds near the British Museum and Harrod’s, and even went to see where his hostel was. After we’d worked up a thirst, we went to a pub that one of our mutual friends worked at during his study abroad term–Paxton’s Head. Robert’s grinning because of two reasons: 1. Paxton’s Head survived a massive closing of city pubs due to the bad economy, and 2. we had just purchased a copy of the London A-Z, which is a detailed atlas at Harrod’s.
After this day of walking around and getting a lay of the land, we started to succumb to the allure of sleep. We were proud of ourselves for making it to 8 p.m. before going to bed, even though we really wanted to crash around 11 a.m.!
Day Three: Tuesday, May 26, 2009.
Because I had only been to London the first time and for such a short amount of time, there were several tourist attractions I had missed. Robert, however, was able to take in a great deal of interesting sights during his last visit. We decided it was a great shame that I had never been to the British Museum, so that was our first stop on the agenda for our second day in London. We spent a few hours walking around and enjoying all kinds of interesting sculptures and paintings. My favorite attraction was the Sutton Hoo exhibit–I had been wanting to see the helmet ever since I started teaching Beowulf (it’s on the cover of a few editions of the text).
After the museum, we filled in another gap in my London experience. My classmates had gone on the London Eye on the last day of the trip, but I had run out of money at that point and couldn’t afford the entry fee. This trip, however, it was a priority! Walking to the London Eye is an experience in and of itself. As you approach, you become extremely aware of what a massive structure this is and what a feat of engineering it required. It wasn’t until we were right up to it that I could even tell that it was moving–it completes a rotation in about 20-25 minutes. Because I do have this fear of falling from great heights, I spent most of the time on the London Eye seated, but Robert took lots of pictures for us from interesting angles. The view of the city from the zenith is intense, too!
Day Four: Wednesday, May 27, 2009.
Our jet lag started to creep up and all we wanted to do was lay around the hotel all day. So, that’s what we did for most of the morning! We didn’t even move until sometime in the afternoon when we thought we should get food. We slowly got out of bed and went out to have lunch. Not surprisingly for English weather, it was sprinkling and cool out. Surprisingly for English weather, there was only some precipitation for about 30-45 minutes the entire day, and this was the only “bad” weather we experienced on our entire trip. After lunch, we walked down Southbank toward Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. During his last trip to London, Robert had never gone inside the Globe (but I had!); I told him he absolutely needed to see it from the inside. It’s beautiful from the outside, but the inside is the theatre itself. We took an informative and interesting tour from one of the crew members (she had even been in a couple of plays), and at the end of our tour, we bought tickets to see As You Like It on our last day. One of my favorite experiences walking up Southbank is to walk underneath the Millennium Bridge, enjoying a beautiful view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and come out the other side to see the Globe right next to me. I will never forget how to get to the Globe!
Day Five: Thursday, May 28, 2009
I have wanted to see Wicked for at least four years now. Ever since I read the novel, bought the soundtrack, and learned that it was touring near me, I have obsessed about seeing it. Unfortunately, I had never been able to snag tickets.
Robert’s wedding gift to me was to see Wicked…in London! The experience was intense and amazing! It was playing at the Apollo Victoria, which was only a few blocks away from our hotel. But because this was a special gift, Robert decided to make the entire evening a special evening. We took a taxi from the hotel to a very nice Italian restaurant, then walked down the street to the Apollo Victoria, and took a taxi after the musical back to our hotel. I felt so fancy and pampered that evening! It was the perfect night.
Day Six: Friday, May 29, 2009.
Friday was sort of “my” day. Robert had told me that he’d never made it to Windsor on his last trip, but I told him this was as great a shame as my lack of a visit to the British Museum. So, because I had been there before, I made the arrangements and the plans for the day. We went to Waterloo Station and took the train into Windsor (which, on our way there, was pretty empty and clean) and arrived around lunchtime. We walked around Eton first, and laughed at our luck: Eton College, where all the royal and aristocratic young boys go to school, was closed for a week because of an outbreak of swine flu. The “outbreak” had been a single boy who had returned from a family trip with the flu and had not yet exposed his classmates. They wanted to be safe, though, so we had to skip our little visit to the school.
After our abbreviated tour of Eton, we had lunch at a pub (we often ate at pubs for lunch and dinner–they have surprisingly delicious food and obviously amazing beer). Once we were happily full of food and beer, we took our tour of Windsor Castle. The union jack was flying, instead of the Royal Standard, so the royal family wasn’t present, but we still enjoyed our audio tour through some of the more famous rooms.
Fun fact about Windsor Castle: the foundations are roughly 900 years old. There has pretty much been a fortified castle there since William the Conquerer (came over in 1066). And the current form of the Castle has been there since Richard II, which is the late thirteenth, early fourteenth centuries. It suffered a fire in the 80s, I think, so Queen Elizabeth II started opening up Buckingham Palace for tours and the money went directly to fund the repairs on Windsor Castle. It’s fairly remarkable, if you consider the out-of-pocket expenses required of the royal family. One of those normalizing moments, I felt. I mean, if an average family suffers a home fire, the insurance will surely cover some of the damages, but it is up to that family to raise the money to repair their home.
Day Seven: Saturday, May 30, 2009.
Every time I think of the Portobello Market, I think of the song in Bedknobs and Broomsticks“Portobello Road.” Robert and I were singing it to each other all morning as we got ready to go to the Market, which only operates on Saturdays. Granted, we didn’t know the words to the song, but we enjoyed humming it to each other when we forgot parts.
Portobello Market is an amazing experience. It opens early in the morning, and the vendors come out and set up their stalls all up and down operating streets. Yes–residents of the Portobello neighborhood drive through the immense crowds and around the stalls to run their normal errands. The crowds were astounding. Despite that Robert and I only got there fairly late in the day (we arrived around 12 or 1), people were still walking shoulder-to-shoulder through the streets. The vendors sell anything and everything–literally. We bought a couple of copies of Hogarth sketches (he was famous in the eighteenth century for sketching scenes from Shakespeare’s plays), an old (and complete) set of Milton’s poetry, and a “zip-it” purse (a purse made entirely from sewn-together zippers that you can actually unzip and rezip, just for fun).
Some of the more startling items we saw included a bunch of old door knobs and door handles, all for sale. Portobello Market is also a photographer’s playground. To such a degree that some of the vendors selling their own creations have written signs asking customers not to take pictures of their wares. One of the tables I drooled over was covered in old cameras. Unfortunately, they were way above our price limit for the day, so I decided that a picture of the cameras would be my souvenir.
Day Eight: Sunday, May 31, 2009.
In 2004, I had not made it to Stonehenge and Bath (often grouped together since they are pretty close to one another), so this was a day trip that Robert wanted to plan for us. Even before we were engaged, early into our relationship, Robert told me that he wanted to take me to Bath. He always painted vivid pictures of a beautiful, restful English countryside, and I always wanted to go with him.
We decided to join a bus tour that would pick us up close to the hotel and would take us to Stonehenge, lunch at a little pub, and Bath. The tour was a little late (and it was so hot that day), and the A/C in the bus broke down early in the trip, but looking back it was a great day, probably one of my favorites. Stonehenge was just as mysterious and strange and fascinating as everyone says it is. Because we had perfect weather, though, our pictures of Stonehenge aren’t of looming rocks against an ominous gray sky. Our pictures are of looming rocks against a beautiful bright blue sky!
After we ate at a tiny local pub (called “Stonehenge Pub”), we boarded the bus for about another hour and drove to Bath. By now the bus was stifling and everyone was complaining, but Robert and I entertained ourselves by making fans out of the little brochures we received from Stonehenge. By the time we arrived at Bath, we were able to spend almost two hours just walking around enjoying the area. I can’t explain why or how this happens, but the moment we stepped off the bus, the mood just shifted and everyone around us was calm and happy. Those Romans sure knew where to build a luxury spa retreat!
The Roman Baths are from the Roman conquest in Julius Caesar’s day. What’s astounding is that the original baths still exist and are open for public viewing. The Romans had heated floors, as well! They built these structures that held up the floors a couple of feet from the ground and pumped hot water underneath them to heat the room from the floors. This is considered a luxury today; can you even imagine what a luxury it was over two thousand years ago?
To any and all people traveling to the UK, I would strongly recommend taking in a day trip to Bath. If we could have missed our bus and never returned to the States, we would have lived in Bath. (Never mind that it’s one of the most expensive real estate locations in England…heh.)
Day Nine: Monday, June 1, 2009.
Neither Robert nor I were able to make it to Westminster Abbey the last times we were in London; for both of us the reason was often the ridiculously long lines. Apparently, however, going on a Monday afternoon (when school was back in session) was the perfect plan because we practically walked right in. I’m often amused (and a little frustrated) by the rules in historical locations versus museums. You are free to take as many pictures as desired in most museums. Go into Westminster Abbey, and you better put that camera away. To describe the interior of this Abbey would require a vocabulary that humans have not yet invented. The closest I can come is to say that it is the most awe-inspiring, stunning, and emotionally poignant experience I have had. Robert and I spent several long minutes in the Elizabeth I tomb, and both of us were teary-eyed when we walked away. (Humorous note, though: Elizabeth and Mary are buried in the same location at Westminster. Elizabeth’s sarcophagus, however, is above Mary’s because she wanted to make a point that she was able to best her crazy Catholic half-sister. It was pretty hilarious.) We visited Poet’s Corner and were overwhelmed by the vast genius that surrounded us. We couldn’t take pictures inside Poet’s Corner either, which disappointed me, but I tried to remember everyone whose burial places I saw.
Day Ten: Tuesday, June 2, 2009.
Our last day in London was relaxing and slow, but it was also the day that we were going to go see As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe. We decided to walk through Westminster and up into Southbank. On the map, it looked a lot closer than it actually was, and this was another sunny, hot day. We took a break halfway through our walk for some lunch at a little cafe, but we couldn’t stay too long because the performance started at 2 p.m. We booked it to the theatre with five minutes to spare and were able to get to our seats easily before the performance began.
Those who know me know that I am studying Shakespeare for my PhD. So, I can truly spend another ten pages on this experience alone, but I’ll spare my readers anything really educational and focus more on the experience of the performance itself. Robert had never seen a play at the Globe either (I had seen Much Ado About Nothing–my favorite play–the last time I was in London), so this was quite an exciting experience for him. I loved watching him watch the play. He was impressed by the elaborate costumes, the reliance on history for a realistic performance, not to mention the acting itself.
The people standing in the picture are groundlings–their tickets to see the show are the cheapest, and they have no seats and must stand for an entire 3-hour performance. Just like in Shakespeare’s day. Robert and I were in the “expensive” seats and were able to sit nice and high, as well as in the shade. Halfway through Act Two, a female groundling hit the floor from the heat. She was escorted out by the Globe staff as well as her husband. By the end of Act Four, another, a little older, female groundling started to waver. Her husband flagged down one of the staff members and they were able to seat both of them in some empty benches near the stage. Before the show started, I pointed to the groundlings in general and said to Robert, “Look at them all. Smiling now. Just wait until interval.” And sure enough, by interval, the groundlings were melting. Although I would sort of enjoy having a real Shakespearean playgoing experience based on what my class would likely have been in the seventeenth century…I honestly have no interest in standing for three hours in the sun to watch a play. I’m happier sitting in the shade!
Day Eleven: Wednesday, June 3, 2009.
I took no pictures on our last day either. Mostly because we had to quickly pack and do a run-through of the hotel room to make sure we’d not left anything behind. We caught a shuttle to the airport and made it three hours before the flight, plenty of time to go through security. Once again, security was a breeze, but this time nobody cared that we were at the end of our honeymoon. We added our name to the upgrade list, but because the economy seats were not all filled, they couldn’t bump us up, even though we were more than willing to pay the fee. Fortunately, at least, we were sitting together. Of course, on British Airlines, the economy seats are much more comfortable than on Delta, so it wasn’t all bad.
Once we landed, we drove to my parents’ home (rather than the two hour drive back to our home) and did our best to catch up on our sleep. I was miserable, though, because I absolutely couldn’t seem to fall asleep until around 4 a.m., and then I slept until 7:30 when I popped awake like it was noon (because it sort of was noon in England). It probably took us a total of around five or six days until we finally felt back to normal.
We had such an amazing time on our honeymoon, and I am so thrilled that Robert was able to keep the promise he made to me the first time we really hung out. When we talked about our trips to London that day, before we even started dating, Robert said, “I’d love to take you to London.”
And he did. 🙂