London 2016: Day 1

If you know me at all, you know I am not a city person.  I hate the crowds, the noise, the fast pace… pretty much everything about a city.  So it may come as a surprise that I picked London as my vacation destination.  Especially since I was just here last year for a couple of days and spent a week here three years ago.  I know it’s a bit of a contradiction, but as much as I hate cities in general, I love London.  I think it’s the combination of history (I’m not a history person either, so another contradiction…), music, and culture that continues to draw me back.  The British scones certainly have a bit of pull as well!

St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral

I first visited London on a school tour in high school.  Of course we rushed through the tourist sites then, and I did a good bit of that when I was here three years ago.  Last year, London was a place to recover from jetlag before renting a car to explore the Cotswolds.  I had no specific plans to visit London this year, and hadn’t even considered it until I found a “cheap” flight last September.  I’m not an impulsive person by any means, but I found the flight on a Saturday and bought the ticket on Sunday.  Suddenly, London was exactly where I wanted to go.

I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to book the 10:30 PM flight out of Boston (as opposed to one of the earlier flights), but 10:30 PM turned into 12:45 AM by the time we finally left Boston.  By that time, I didn’t care that I was headed to London.  It was 4 hours past my normal bedtime, and I was exhausted.  All I wanted was sleep.  I don’t normally sleep on planes, but I managed to get about 4 hours in during the flight.  When I woke up and looked out the window over Ireland, I was reminded of how much I love to travel and explore.  The excitement returned.

One of my favorite parts of arriving at Heathrow is the large “UK Border” signs above the immigration desks.  For some reason, stepping under that sign makes it really feel like passing into another country.  After I got through the long walk from the gate and the long lines to get through immigration (they have a million desks, but for some reason they only ever have a few manned at any given time), I made my way to the Underground booth to top up my Oyster Card (London’s version of a Charlie Card) and add a 7-day travelcard so I can get around the city easily.  From Heathrow, it is about a 45 minute trip to the center of London.

John Islip Street

My hotel is about a 10 minute walk from the nearest tube station, but as I discovered staying there last year, the walk is very pleasant.  John Islip Street is primarily residential from the tube to the hotel, passing brick townhomes and the pretty Millbank Gardens on the way.  I didn’t like the first room I was given, so I was able to move to a second room with a much better view.  Once I was settled it was almost 4PM.  My intended first stop was Borough Market, so I walked the few blocks to the Westminster tube station and hopped on a train to London Bridge.  Borough Market is a cross between Quincy Market and a traditional farmer’s market.  It is located under the London Bridge, and is spread out over several blocks.  Since it was late and I was tired, I did a quick browse and then kept walking.  My plans to eat my way through the market were trumped by exhaustion.  

I walked to the Millennium Bridge on the South Bank and then crossed over the bridge and walked up to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  It had been a bit cloudy when I first arrived, but the sun was starting to peek out and made for some nice pictures of the cathedral.  From there, I walked to Postman’s Park, which is a quaint little park with a wall of plaques dedicated to those who gave their lives as a sacrifice for others.  One particularly moving plaque is dedicated to a 10 year old boy who drowned while attempting to save his brother after having just been rescued himself.  

Millbank Gardens
Millbank Gardens

By the time I left Postman’s Park, I was beyond exhausted, so I made my way to the nearest underground station and took the train back to Pimlico.  Fortunately, I booked an Executive room this week, which comes with complimentary drinks, snacks, breakfast, and evening hors d’oeuvres each night.  Those snacks and treats made for a good dinner before calling it a night.  Tomorrow is filled with a trip to the flower market and at least one walking tour.  

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Turks and Caicos 2016 – Day 1

Paradise. That’s the only word that comes to mind to describe Turks and Caicos. Warm weather, sun, and sand. Exactly what this trip is all about. This is my third visit to TCI, and a week of relaxation, sun, and reading is just what I need. I have thought about visiting other islands (Grand Cayman was a top contender for this trip), but in the end, I love Grace Bay Beach (the main “resort” beach in Providenciales) and the familiarity of visiting a place I love.

Early morning flight out of Boston
Early morning flight out of Boston

But let’s rewind about 16 hours. My day started at 3AM. Yes, you read that right. After booking my flight back in September, American Airlines (in their infinite wisdom) decided to change my flights, leaving me with just a 45 minute connection between two terminals in Philadelphia. Thankfully, when I called them last week, I was able to switch to an earlier flight out of Boston, leaving at 5:30AM. So, all is well, right? As it turns out, we taxied out to the runway, only to return to the gate 15 minutes later due to a computer glitch. Fast forward an hour, and we finally took off at 7AM. The EXACT TIME my original flight was scheduled to leave.

So, now all is well, right? Not so fast. Board the flight in Philly, taxi to the runway, and… return to the gate. Again. This time for some mechanical paperwork that wasn’t done. Fast forward another hour and 15 minutes, and I was finally on my way to Providenciales. Where I picked the slowest immigration line. I started with about 100 people in line behind me and by the time I got through there were maybe 10 people left. Off to pick up the rental car (I had a surprisingly easy time adjusting to driving on the left this time), and by 4:15 I was happily in my room at The Sands drinking rum punch and Skyping with my family in Florida.

Grace Bay Beach
Grace Bay Beach

I quickly dipped my toes in Grace Bay before heading out to the Flamingo Cafe for dinner. I was really looking forward to a frozen drink, but alas, they had very limited flavors, and I was “forced” to make do with a rum and coke to accompany my jerk chicken wrap. I hadn’t been to Flamingo Cafe on my previous trips, but I always read good things about it. The setting was perfect – right on the water with views up and down Grace Bay Beach. Were it not for a line of clouds on the horizon tonight, it would have been a perfect sunset. After dinner, I stopped at the Graceway Gourmet IGA to pick up a few snacks to have on hand in my room. Prices here are at least double what you pay at home. I plan to eat out for most meals, but I do like a few snacks on hand for the mid-day and late-night munchies!

Dinner with a view at the Flamingo Cafe
Dinner with a view at the Flamingo Cafe

I’m pretty sure I’ll be calling it a night very soon. Turks and Caicos recently decided to observe Daylight Savings Time permanently, meaning they are on Atlantic Standard Time year-round. My body only thinks it is 7PM, but after a full day of traveling, I’m ready for some much-needed sleep!