The Car, the Plane, the Mansions, the Eye, and the Lord
Because our flight from Kerry airport, about an hour and a half drive away, is at 930am, we need to leave at 6:15am at the latest. The gas tank is 3/4 full, but I figure I’ll just get gas by the airport. We’re a little late with no time to stop for coffee, and I fly over the roads, still cringing a little bit every time a huge truck comes screaming toward me on the right (because it’s so wrong!)
We pass a gas station about half way there, but I want the tank to be full, so we carry on. When we reach Kerry, however, there is one gas station in town and it doesn’t open until 9am. Gah! I return the car, gas tank still 3/4 full, scrapes on the passenger side of the tires and hubcaps and down the side of the car that I hope aren’t all from me (there were some there when I picked up the car), and minus the luggage cover, which I seemed to have left in the parking spot where I picked up the car in Dublin. But they said don’t worry and took the car back. To this day I have not received any extra billings regarding that rental. Thank you, Hertz!
At the airport, the Ryanair flight is the only thing operating at this time. Ryanair is one of the budget airlines that have sprouted all over Europe in the last 10 years or so. The fare for the one way, 2 hour flight to London is cheap, about $50, plus about $7 for the privilege of booking online (as opposed to $20 if you call). If you have just a small carry on (what US airlines call a “personal item”), don’t need assigned seats ($20), and can print your boarding passes out in advance ($30 per person to print them at check-in), you’re good to go. We choose to pay around $35 for our bags up to 20kg (cheaper for lighter bags), print the boarding passes out in advance, and forego advanced seat assignments. All told, it’s an $87 flight. The other hidden cost is the transportation into the city, as Ryanair flights generally fly into the least convenient airport possible, so we add another $22 to get into town. Still, it beats an 11 hour driving/ferry/driving excursion.
We arrive at Baker Street station and I drop the kids at a cafe while I go fetch the key to the apartment. Once I get it, I grab the kids and we go to our room at The Mansions, which, believe me, sounds fancier than it really is. I am dismayed that my Telestial SIM card (with a British number!), which worked just fine in Germany last December, is not working at all in London. I know this because I am trying to book some standing places at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and can’t get through. So, first order of business, go to Vodaphone and proper SIM cards and a phone for Anna. It’s only about $30 each and includes data for me and Morgan. When that is finished, I collect the kids from our Mansions room in the basement (one small table, a set of double bunk beds, bathroom and kitchen down the hall, but great wi-fi, $120/night – can’t beat the price!) and off we go to Abbey Road.
It takes us about 45 minutes to walk to the site of the Beatles’ recording studio and the famous crosswalk on the Abbey Road album cover. We rename ourselves Paul (Jon), John (Morgan), George (Anna), and Ringo (me), and I try to get them in order so we four can all walk across together, like on the album. They will not be photographed doing this, however, and will not take their shoes off. It’s still cool, though.
It’s Anna’s birthday and we’re riding the London Eye in celebration. We want to do it in the evening to see the lights, but it’s too early in the season for late hours. We get a great sunset, though, and try to pick out landmarks. We’re done and it’s still early, 9pm.
The Book of Rick tells us that we can visit the House of Lords or the House of Commons in the houses of Parliament and watch the goings on until 10pm, so we cross the bridge and check it out. Sure enough, we breeze right in. The House of Commons has quit for the night, but the House of Lords is going strong. We get badges at security and follow the signs through the main hall of what used to be the king’s residence and get to the House of Lords foyer. We sign a paper promising to behave and be quiet, and are escorted to the top gallery to see the proceedings.There are only about eight Lords present, debating a law regarding what to do with prisoners. It’s fascinating – there’s a butler (think Downton Abbey) in tails who brings them glasses of water and guards the doors. They finish at 10pm and file out in a line with a flourish, the guy in front leading with a huge mace. We drop back into the foyer, grab our coats and try to peek into the room at ground level. We’re caught by the head Lord, Lord Tommy McAvoy from Scotland, who asks us if we enjoyed the proceedings. Very much, we said. Well, he said, would you like to walk inside to see where the queen sits at the beginning of every Parliamentary year? YES! How about a visit to the House of Commons, the private dining room, the private terrace on the Thames and the best view of Big Ben ever? Yes, Yes, Yes! We get a private tour of Parliament by the Head Lord complete with stories and photo taking. We can’t believe our luck.
Sometimes the days that don’t start so good end up pretty fine! More London tomorrow.