England 2010, Day 0: Getting There (Part 1)
Friday, July 23—I have a 3:30 flight out of Cincinnati to start my almost 20 hours of travel. I spend the morning packing last minute items, washing dishes so we can come home to a mostly clean house, and making an emergency trip to Petsmart for dog food and Target for fruit and granola bars, before packing myself and the dogs into the Subaru.
I’m running late (surprise!), but still make it to check-in on time after dropping off the dogs for boarding. I opted for a series of short flights rather than a long layover so my first flight is to Charlotte (where my neighbor took my window seat and a quarter of my seat [grrr] but when asked about it I said “sure”) before flying on to Philadelphia. I got to chat online briefly with Jeff while waiting at Charlotte, making sure we were in sync on meeting up in country. I had a delightful hour-long conversation with my next seat neighbor, Steve, an independent financial planner from Youngstown, PA who specializes in working with American basketball players in Europe. We talked about traveling in Europe (he highly recommends Italy), college basketball, soccer, how to handle money, and how to make a difference through your day job. We had a surprising number of things in common, and the time flew by (sorry, couldn’t help myself).
Next up, the 7-hour trans-Atlantic flight. In the morning I will be in England! I can’t help but think about Lost as the attendants give the safety demonstration, but I’m not a nervous flyer. This time I sit next to a friendly older woman, Ruth, and her husband. They are from Key West, FL and on their way to sail around the coast of Scotland. They are avid (and I do mean avid) Harry Potter fans.
My first experience with an airline meal isn’t really that bad, plus we get breakfast (which I wasn’t expecting). Between chatting with my neighbor, reading some, watching Date Night and a random episode of Bones, and catching a couple hours of sleep, the time goes by pretty painlessly.
Saturday, July 24—I land at London Heathrow about 10am local time (it’s 5am back home) and easily make it through immigration and baggage claim. Then the real adventure begins. Heathrow is not especially confusing, but the signage is limited. I buy a slow (i.e. cheap) train ticket to Paddington Station and try to put together what I’ve read about the different rail systems with what I’m seeing. After some confusion about “which train exactly am I supposed to get on?” I figure it out and look forward to soon having Jeff with me to consult with.
I arrive at Paddington without incident (and thinking continually of Miss Marple) and again spend some time being confused about where and which ticket to buy next. By the time I get things figured out at Paddington, the rail system is starting to come into focus. It’s pretty simple really—just a new experience for me, plus I am starting to feel the effects of travel and lack of sleep. Fortunately, I have a bit of time before my train, which allows me to get cash from the ATMs (again, not as simple as it should have been) and lunch from M&S Simply Food (tuna with red pepper crunch on malt bread and berry juice).
The train to my first destination, Moreton-in-Marsh, takes just under 2 hours. I have to switch cars at Oxford because only a few cars on the train are continuing the journey. The train is quite comfortable—I rather like this mode of transportation. There is no air conditioning (not needed!), but the transom-type windows are open, letting in a lovely breeze.
Within minutes of getting off the train in Moreton-in-Marsh, I hear the familiar sound of Jeff’s voice. I turn around to see him coming toward me, luggage-in-tow, from another train car. I am wonderfully surprised to see him as I thought he’d taken the earlier train from Oxford. It turns out that the earlier train was cancelled, and we’d just spent the last 40 minutes two train cars apart.
Moreton-in-Marsh is a small town in the area of England known as the Cotswolds. The town is about 85 miles west-northwest of London, and about 30 miles northwest of Oxford. When you think of the quintessential English countryside of rolling hills dotted with sheep, stone cottages, and thatched roofs, that is the Cotswolds.
We walk about 5 minutes from the train station, rolling our suitcases behind us, to our bed and breakfast: Warwick House (pronounced war-ick).
We meet our innkeeper, Charlie, and he helps us up to our room on the second floor (called the first floor in England). I can already tell we’re going to like Charlie. He’s very friendly and laid-back, yet professional, and clearly has a great sense of humor.
To be continued…