Last year our short trip was mostly confined to London and a couple of days in southeastern Wales. We decided we would go for 10 days this year, rent a car and drive around the countryside to a bunch of places we (ok, mostly I) wanted to visit. I got several travel books from the library and started putting together “the list”. The first draft was pretty long – about 50 places!! I had three that were “must go to”: Windsor Castle, Edinburgh Castle and Leeds Castle. Everything else would be chosen based on location along a rough “route up to Edinburgh and back south again" and proximity to various Hilton hotels where we would be using up all of our Hilton Honors points (free rooms!!). This is the map I created to help with the process:
By the time I was finished a couple of weeks later, I had put together an ambitious list:
Battle of Hastings re-enactment
Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s palace in Scotland)
I spent the two weeks before the trip putting together a basic plan of where we would be each day, printing out maps, directions and visitor information (all of which went into a binder) and worrying if Brittany and Tanzy would be OK at home by themselves. Finally, it was time to go!
Or maybe not. Earlier this year Chip bought a digital SLR camera (bear with me, there is a point to this story). We’ve had a small “point and shoot” type for a few years but he really wanted one that would allow him more options with lenses, settings etc. During the spring and summer, he would often go up to the mountains and spend an afternoon hiking and taking pictures. In an effort to be “prepared”, he bought a small knife to carry with him for emergencies (like if he got his foot tangled up in something and needed to cut himself free). Has anyone guessed how this is relevant yet??
The Denver airport was packed (recession? What recession?) and after about half an hour we made it to the front of the security line. I went through security first and while waiting for my stuff to come down the conveyor belt I noticed the TSA worker had stopped the belt with Chip’s bags inside. Then he motioned for a few other workers to come over and they are all standing there looking at the screen and pointing. Chip asked me if there were any liquids in the bag he was taking as a carry-on (that I had packed with clothes) and I shrugged my shoulders and said not that I could remember. So what does TSA pull out of Chip’s camera bag?? That’s right, his emergency knife.
My wonderfully planned trip to England suddenly flashed before my eyes and I realized we probably woouldn't be making our flight as we are interrogated for hours about the knife (remember – there was a travel advisory at the time for Europe). Thankfully that didn’t happen as TSA kindly offered to confiscate the knife and added that this kind of thing “happens all the time here”. Crisis averted.
Given our previous pleasant experience on British Airways, we booked a flight with them again. Did I mention the airport was busy? Unlike our trip last year, our flight this time was full – packed. So much for getting some amount of real sleep on the overnight flight. We grumbled to ourselves and tried to make the best of it.
Since we left Denver about 40 minutes late, we got to Heathrow late and had to circle around for a while. We had to wait in a line forever at customs and by the time we got the car and got on the road I knew there was no way we were going to make it to Leeds Castle that afternoon as planned. Something was already going to have to give in the itinerary, but it wouldn’t be Leeds!!
After managing to miss the turn for our hotel (wouldn’t be the first time that happened but more about that later…) we found it half an hour later. We decided to go into town for dinner and the concierge suggested some kind of “mall” that had a variety of restaurants and gave us directions. Instead of making it to the suggested place, we turned down a side road (not entirely intentionally, parked and walked a few blocks to a pub patronized by locals - The Druid Inn. We really like those kind of places rather than the ones in the “tourist” areas and after a hamburger and chips, we called it a night and hoped to get a good night's sleep.