All I wanted was to drive on the left

by chexfan

This trip report will start w/ a quick introduction of Qip, another one of my roommates.

I’m not going to lie, traveling from Seattle to New Jersey nearly every week (sans Xmas and Thanksgiving) since August has gotten to me. Sure the occasional jaunt to New Orleans definitely livens things up, but the weekly transcon has gotten to me.

So two weeks ago I decided to play with my fares for work. I discovered that when buying tickets for two weeks, it was cheaper to fly to LHR than home to SEA during the middle weekend (plus it’s more miles!). My only other previous trip to England was in the summer of 1998 when my crew raced at Henley. We got to spend a whopping 14 hours in London and I have been meaning to get back ever since. This seemed like a good time!

I called Qip and wanted to see what he was doing for the weekend and if he’d be interested in heading to London for the weekend. Upset that he lost out on the opportunity to be a part of the second Trip Report, he jumped at the chance! I was able to book my ticket and secure upgrades both ways while my Mileage Plus account lost 80k miles for Qip’s ticket.

Friday 8Mar
Qip was to fly on the 8:20a flight from SEA arriving into IAD around 1600 where I would meet up with him. I was leaving the Garden State on UA7303 scheduled to leave at 1600 and arrive at 1720. Early in the morning I realised that no one at work was around. I called the 1K line and asked to get from EWR to IAD on an earlier flight. The reservation agent informed me that my layover would extend beyond 4 hours (which it alredy had been) and she would have to re-price my fair. I quickly reminded her that I was traveling on an international itin and she confirmed me on the 1500 flight to IAD.

Of course, with my luck, the 1500 flight got delayed and took off at 1555. 5 minutes before my scheduled flight, but it was on the new Fairchild-Dornier 328JET and not a J41. I arrive to IAD at the A gates and take the People Mover over to the C Terminal where I was to meet up with Qip at the C6 RCC.

As I entered I flashed my silver RCC card and walked on. Then I stopped in my tracks and back pedal to show my Int’l Biz ticket and request some drink coupons. The lady handed me one that I gladly accept, and move along to find Qip. Surprisingly, the RCC was dead quiet with only a handful of people. I had just been in there two weeks prior w/ koko, geo, punki, hunki, and baraboodish and it was hopping then. It didn’t make sense, but oh well. Anyways, after a quick scan around the RCC, I don’t spot the Qipster. So I get a Becks from the bar, pull out my London Lonely Planet and kick back waiting for Qip to arrive. At the end of the first green bottle, I realise that el Qippo still hadn’t shown up yet his flight arrived and hour + before mine. Oh well, he’s an adult so I’m sure he was somewhere in the airport, like looking at presidential sticker books or something. An Amstel Light was then acquired from my stack of RCC Drink Coupons that have fallen my way and my co-hort for the weekend trots in shortly thereafter.

We discuss his first trip in First and how much he enjoyed it. It was now around 1800 and the flight LHR was leaving @ 2045! Plenty of time to go through the drink coupons!!! Qip got had gotten two upon his entry into the RCC and we work on the next round of imported bottles.

Around 6:40p we got up and left the C6 RCC and we (or should I say, I) decide to do the RCC Shuffle. I came to the realisation that walking down to the RCC in the D Terminal was unnecceassary so we scamper off to the C23 RCC. We ask for some drink coupons, and are told of the closer RCC to our LHR gate. I explain that we were already there and the TV was bigger there. She rolled her eyes and turned over a drink coupon to each of us.

We made our way downstairs and grab two Heinekens and watch one of the Pac10 Conference basketball games. We were trying to recap our trip to SLC for the Olympics the previous month and how much the SLC Natives just simply didn’t appreciate the two of us and our humour, when a gentleman from Ottawa interrupted us. He took offence to our notion that the Olympic hockey game we saw wasn’t exciting as the Ski Jumping. Oh well, to each their own!

We passed the time in the RCC watching the basketball game and perusing the latest issues of Entertainment Weekly, Time and Ebony. Around 8p Qip asks if we should make our way towards the gate C3 where we were to take off from. I agree and we meander down the C Concourse to our gate where our Boeing 777 was waiting to take us to the United Kingdom. Earlier in the week Qip had taken the trip up to Everet to visit the Boeing factory and he was happy to proudly exclaim that if it wasn’t a Boeing he wasn’t gonna be going. I guess we were all lucky.

Boarding was delayed just a bit as there were some mechanics still on board correcting an issue w/ the oxygen supply. As the First and Business class cabins were invited to board, we let those in a rush get in line first ensuring them to be “Randomly Selected” for extra security screening.

We boarded and took our seats in 12E&F. It was the first time I had ever sat in the middle section but they were the only two seats that were available next to each other. We stowed our backpacks and shortly thereafter, our FA came around offering drinks. We both desired a glass of champagne and the FA placed the two plastic glasses on our shared console. Knowing that a very fun weekend was in it’s infancy, I proposed a toast. In reaching for his “flute” of sparkling white, Qip successfully managed to spill it in my lap. Ahh no problem! I get up and ask the FA for some napkins. A reply of “Already?” came from her mouth with a smile, followed up by “Well I guess I know who my trouble makers are going to be on this flight!” Troublemaker? Troublemaker? Oh well. I use the napkins to mop up the mess in the center console and sit on my blanket to make sure that my legs wouldn’t be sitting in the champagne drenched seat.

A few minutes later, a couple comes up and declare that they are in 12D&E. But how could this be one may ask when Qip was in 12E. Answer was simple. We were supposed to be in 13 E&F!!! Ooops. We pick up our stuff and move back a row. It may have been childish but it was kind of funny to see the gentleman’s face that was supposed to sit in 12F when he realised that his seat was just a bit moist. Ooops!

Shortly after we moved back to row 13, an FA came down the left aisle offering pre-departure beverages. Being in the center, Qip thought that it would be a sinch to get another drink. This, young, attractive, dark curly haired, thin 5’4” FA offered a drink to the passenger to Qip’s left, he sat there smiling looking for a 2nd beverage. This young, attractive, dark curly haired, thin 5’4” FA looks at Qip smiling and I bear witness to her completely snubbing my friend! It was quite hilarious actually.

The flight taxi’d from the gate on time and we took a flight-path noth up the Eastern Seaboard. Watching the Map, we were able to notice that we flew over Egg Harbor, NJ, Mystic Seaport (which I believed to be incorrect b/c we were too far inland) and other random cities that Airshow displays.

I go into the overhead to get some reading material for the flight, when I realized that I had left my Lonely Planet London guide back in the RCC. Sure, it had maps and phone numbers, and other important things, but we would survive w/o it… I hoped.

At the first drink service I request a nice cold Heineken to go along w/ my bowl of warm nuts. Mmmm… nothing like a cold beer and mixed nuts. I am done w/ the first Heineken before the FAs finish distributing the first round of drinks. The making of a long flight were in the works.

For Dinner, the menu read as:
Duet of duck confit and foie gras w/ pork terrine along w/ Dried apricot and cherry compote. w/ salad

Choice of
-Filet w/ tomato artichoke compote w/ Dasil mashed potatoes and spinach
-Macadamia nut breast of chicken w/ plum sauce w/ egg fried rice and bok choy

Dessert was the usual Praline Cheesecake

Being a good catholic boy on a Friday in lent, I ordered the chicken but ate everything else. Qip went with the chicken as well and enjoyed it. Dessert seemed nothing out of the ordinary that one would expect on a usual Trans-con in F.

I don’t remember all the movie choices as we both turned Kevin Spacey’s K-PAX on for our entertainment. I was thoroughly enjoying the movie as well as my bottomless glass of Heineken… too much. I popped some Tylenol PM and was asleep before I found out about Prot’s return to K-PAX.

I awoke about two hours later to see the second airing of K-Pax’s credits rolling. Everyone in the cabin was asleep, so I stowed my personal video screen and re-joined them!

The pr-arrival Continental Breakfast w/ fresh fruit was being served as I awoke. I declined it and went to the bathroom to freshen up. As I was in queue for the lav, the FA asked me if I’d like a Heineken to start the morning. Jokingly, I reply “After I brush my teeth. OK?”

Now this leads me to the toothpaste that is given out in the Business Amenity Kits… What is up with this stuff??? I mean, sure the word has “paste” in it, but c’mon. This stuff is horrible. Plain and simple.

Shortly after I returned to my seat, the FA brought a Heineken back to me. I thought I was joking, but I guess he didn’t pick up on that. Oh well… 7:45 in the a.m. isn’t that early!

Saturday 9Mar
Anyways, we arrive into Heathrow and use the Fast-Track invitations to go through Immigration and then Customs. It was a breeze and no hassles were given w/ my 2 day stay in the UK.

We hit an ATM and got some British Pounds and made a quick buy at a store for a London city map. Qip and I followed the signs to the Underground. As he was in the queue to purchase tickets, I noticed a very attractive Virgin Atlantic FA standing in line. I could only be so lucky if we were on the same train…

Qip got the tickets and we made our way down the escalator for the Piccadily Line Train to take us to the hotel. As we were waiting, My favorite Virgin Atlantic FA came down the escalator as we were boarding. YES! A great 45 minute train ride it would be! Being at the end of the line, we had no problems getting a seat, but the Underground’s cabin did fill up quickly. Just as the doors were closing a female, came rushing on board and took a seat next to Qip. It was none other than the young, attractive, dark curly haired, thin 5’4” FA who was on our IAD-LHR flight.

About 2 minutes into our train ride, I start chatting w/ the young, attractive, dark curly haired, thin 5’4” FA. We quickly learned that her name was Dawn and she used to be based at SFO. She was very helpful, in assisting us w/ places to go and the like for that Saturday night. Unfortunately the 45 minute trip on the Underground to Piccadilly Circus went by too fast (plus I missed my Virgin Atlantic FA get off of the train somewhere in between), and we had to separate from the young, attractive, dark curly haired, thin 5’4” FA. We bid adieu and we were off.

Getting our bearing on the map to where we were, Qip and I made our trek to Hilton’s Trafalgar Hotel.

Going Somewhere
After checkin, Qip and I had to decide what to do. We first rambled through Trafalgar Square and played w/ the pigeons there and the lions as well! We then walked down some street past some place where there were Imperial Guards. I dunno, these dudes were just standing there and everyone was taking their picture with them, so I did as well.

We continued down the street shortly before noon and spotted Big Ben, not once, but twice. From there, we walked past Parliament and Westminster Abbey. We followed the signs and made our way to Buckingham Palace where it was completely mobbed with people all lounging around this thing. At this time, we realised that hunger was starting to kick in and we began to hunt down the nearest pub that served fish and chips.

We didn’t realise how much time had passed after tasting some of the local brews and chomping on some fish and chips. The day was passing us and it was 3:30pm. We decided to head up to the National Portrait Gallery. We browsed around there and realised that we were running on empty. We got back to the hotel and made a call back to the Seattle for a phone number of a friend, Tomas, who is now studying at Oxford. We get the number, and place a call to Tom. We arrange to meet him around 8pm in the lobby of the Trafalgar. Now that our evening plans were firming up we retire for an hour or so to make sure we could make the most out of our Saturday night in London.

Saturday night, we just stayed local to the pubs around Trafalgar Square. We munched on chips and fish (again) and drank an impressive amount of beer. Now, I must say that I was not expecting this, but at 11:15 the pub made a “last call”. Umm… EXUSE ME??? It is at this point that I realise how NOT COOL that is. Anyways, we get kicked out of the bar around 11:30 and Tomas decides to take the train back to his parent’s place in East Horsely. Qip and I are on a mission to find more beer.

We make our way up to Leicester Square where it seemed a concentration of night life was going on. I give our young, attractive, dark curly haired, thin 5’4” FA a phone call and agree to meet up w/ her and her roommate at some random club. We waited in line at this club, and it seemed that it had the largest number attractive females in line. The bouncer person gave us some lip about not letting us in, but with a sweet American accent and the ability to talk about surfing, he lets us in gratis as everyone else was turning over a £6 cover charge. We found our United flight attendant and her FA flatmate, drank some more and danced it up until 2:30 or so. Leaving the techno-hip-hop dance club, the four of us made our way to a café where pizza and beer were being served. The pizza tasted horribly but it did a wonderful job in satisfying the need for food. We make our way back to the Trafalgar and retire for the night.

To be continued…

Sunday 10Mar
I guess little sleep on the Trans-Atlantic flight on Friday night, a short nap on Saturday and going to bed around 5am on Saturday night meant we needed sleep. We were still able to wake up, shower, pack and check-out before 12:30. We left our bags w/ the bellman and told him we’d be back around 4pm to pick them up.

Sunday would be our museum day. We started walking up the Strand where we heard there was a Starbucks. Qip and I each got our usual drinks from the overpriced coffee shop and we made our way to the British Museum. Our route took us through Convent Gardens and all the shops that one can find there.

We finally arrive at the British Museum and make our way when a face caught our attention. Never one to turn down an opportunity for a photo, I inspect the face a bit closer. Qip and I split up and I enjoy perusing the Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Asian, African, and North American artifacts. We meet up in the grand lobby of the museum and I pick up some souvenir rosetta stone pencil sharpeners for the roommates at home!

Seeing as it was nearly 2pm, we realised that we needed a drink. Coincedently, a wonderful drinking establishment by the name of the Museum Tavern was a mere 23 steps away. We enjoyed two beers and made our way back towards Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.

As we approached the National Gallery, we realised that time would be winding down. Anyways, we split up again, as I had very little interest in Flemish art. After our separate tours of the Gallery, I stop to pick up some London t-shirts and postcards for my niece and nephew.

From there we take the quick jaunt to The Trafalgar to pick up our luggage. We hop on the Northern Line to Waterloo station where we picked up the National Rail line heading out to East Horsley to Tom’s.

When we were picked up at the Train Station, my eyes jumped with glee at the opportunity of driving Tom’s mini-Peugeot. I asked, if I could drive home and he said sure. Oh man, was I so excited at the chance to drive on the left side of the road. Unfortunately, I suffered a HUGE letdown as the Peugot had a manual transmission, and you guessed it, I can’t drive a stick! I was sorely upset and relegated to the backseat.

Sunday evening at Tom’s was quite enjoyable as a wonderful dinner was made and wine flowed like water. Having a cricket pitch in his backyard, I asked if he could turn the flood lights on and if we could play. Tom surmised that his neigbors wouldn’t appreciate that too much and instead we just watched the South Africa- Australia test match.

Monday 11Mar
With a 9:45 departure, Tom thought leaving his country home at 7:15 would give proper time to get to Heathrow. Unfortunately, we left late, and the drive on the M25 took about 3 times longer than expected.

Qip and I were dropped off at around 8:45 and we made our way to the United Business class check-in.

Check-in was a hassle-free and the agent was able to secure 12 H&J after a while. We were invited through a special security line and were able to breeze through x-raying w/o any problems or issues. We meandered around and then finally remembered that we had promised thumbgirl that we’d pick up her a bottle of Hugo’s ‘Red’ at the Duty Free shop. The perfume, cost £24.60 and we had £25 combined. Just Perfect!

We made our way to whatever gate we were supposed to go to, passing the RCC as we saw the time was now 9:15a. At boarding an agent brought Qip and myself directly to secondary screening. These security agents were very polite and courteous, which was a very welcomed difference from the folks in the US.

We took our seats on the flight to EWR and noticed a nearly empty Business cabin. Our takeoff was delayed a bit as we were waiting for 6 passengers coming off of a BD flight. The taxi out to the runway was very impressive as we passed the BA terminal. The 74s and 77s lined up next to each other was very impressive and kind of artistic. I also saw for the first time, a BA narrow-body.

I was in the aisle seat as we were taking off and I was looking out the window. About 3 seconds after takeoff I looked and saw the very familiar light-blue B747 with the seal of the United States on it. It was nothing other than Vice President Cheney’s Air Force Two as he was in London for a short stay.

The lunch service consisted of a Crayfish and salad appetizer. Followed up w/ a choice of:
-Filet w/ mushrooms w/ au gratin potatoes and peas
-Cajun chicken w/ rizotto and onions
-fish and scallop w/ fennel

I went with the cajun chicken and Qip had the seafood. Neither of us were dissatisfied w/ our meals as our plates were nearly licked clean.

Dessert was Chocolate tort w/ raspberry sauce and a very nice refreshing treat from the usual cheesecake, that I have become accustomed to on UA.

An hour and a half outside of EWR we were offered the choice of:
-Cheese plate w/ fruit
-Smoked bacon and onion caserole in potatoes

Being the health concious person I am, I decided the cheese plate was the way to go.

Arrival into EWR was from the south as we cruised up the NJ Turnpike, and we taxi’d to our gate at the international temrinal. There was a decent line at the United States nationals line as two CO flights had just beaten us in. Processing still took under 10 minutes and Customs was a sinch.

Qip and I made our way to the AirTrain where Qip was off to DEN and SEA, and the good 'ol fan of chex was off to Hertz and a 2:30pm meeting!

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