UK 2017: Seats & Letters
This is the first of a series about my second visit to the UK, in July 2017.
Pre-flight drama: I got home after a long day at work, expecting to find a new Kindle Paperwhite waiting for me as Amazon/USPS claimed. It wasn’t. I checked my mailbox, and it was bent open and could not be closed. My best guess is mail theft. So I made the necessary calls and got Amazon to send me a replacement to my work address. That limited what I could do to get ready for the flight, but fortunately I was mostly packed.
British Airways: A double-decker bus of an airplane, my first ever. All the lines were quick and painless, and I even got more sleep than I did on my previous red-eye flight (about 2 hours vs 30 minutes). However, this airline is far less generous with its seats than Virgin Atlantic. I overestimated the value of Premium Economy on this airline versus Virgin and ended up with big bruises on my thighs and hips for my trouble. If you have wide hips and/or are a bigger person, do NOT fly British Airways if you can help it.
Customs: In 2015, we gathered our bags and then went to get our passports stamped. The passport lines were packed to the gills with rugby fans and dragging everything behind us was a pain in the ass that I was decidedly not looking forward to. So it was my pleasant surprise that there were just 4 people in front of us when we got to customs and only needed to get our bags afterwards. The only bad luck at the airport was a problem with getting my debit card to work even though it worked just fine in 2015 (apparently the UK has upgraded their card chip readers just as soon as USA finally got with the program).
Hilton Islington: A small room wouldn’t do. The restaurant’s dinner meals are oddly British and small, but their breakfast buffet (that is not included in the cost of the room) is quite good and filling. One thing that I still don’t get about the UK is their smaller sizes of soda bottles and attitude against ice. But the real annoyance is that the wi-fi is slow and frequently kicks you off until you sign-in again, neither of which should be necessary with modern tech.
Thursday afternoon at The Shard: Last time, we went up the London Eye to get an aerial view of the city. This time, we went up The Shard, a modern skyscraper and the UK’s tallest. With champagne and cameras in tow, we enjoyed the view, including on one floor that was open (meaning parts of it had no ceiling). We returned to the ground floor and had tea at Lang, an artisan shop at The Shard’s hotel.
Friday and social reforms: Most of our Friday was spent in the Saint Pancras neighborhood. First, we went to the Foundling Museum (memorializing the Foundling Hospital for poor, sick, and unwanted children that was founded in the 18th century). We then spent much of the afternoon at the Charles Dickens Museum, honoring the Engish author and his commitment to social reforms for underprivileged children. The Dickens townhouse has a wonderfully quiet garden in its backyard where you can have tea.
Saturday and books: We started at Hatchard’s, the oldest independent bookstore still standing in England, from the 1700s. We ended up spending way too much money on books and postage there. We went a few doors down to Waterstones, the largest bookstore in Europe, but restrained ourselves and only had tea in its cafe instead. We next ended up in Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, taking pictures.
Ann spent Friday and Saturday evenings at Letters Live, a dramatic reading of historical letters that featured a number of British celebrities. These readings were the excuse that prompted our travel plans.