In the 10 years that we've been together, if there's one thing that MJ and I have mastered it's the art of the deal when it comes to traveling without one another. She plans a girls cruise, I go to Streamsong for a weekend of golf. I pay a visit to The King at Bay Hill, she goes to Jekyll Island for a 5k supporting her beloved sea turtles. This yin and yang has served us well, so when she pitched me the idea of going to Cambridge (England, not the wannabe in Massachusetts) for a month, I saw a prime opportunity to cash-in.
The terms of this deal were rather simple.. We would travel across the pond together and once there she'd jump on a bus to Cambridge, while I'd catch a flight to The Home of Golf. Everybody wins, with a small bonus tossed in as well: we'd have most of an afternoon to explore London together.
The long-awaited journey began in Orlando, where we took the relatively new non-stop to London Gatwick offered by Norwegian Air. Overall, the flight was a mixed bag.. We saved a boatload over the non-stops on Virgin and British Airways, the 787-Dreamliner was outstanding, as was the service throughout. On the other hand, the flight was nearly 3-hours late and MJ's entertainment console didn't work. That said, we'd certainly fly Norwegian again, but anyone considering the flight should bear in mind that an on-time departure is dependent on the same occurring on the inbound from Gatwick.. A long-shot, at best.
After breezing through customs, we hopped on the Gatwick Express train to Victoria station. Since MJ's bus would depart from Victoria the next morning, and I'd need a lift back to Gatwick, this was an uber-convenient way to get to the city. Sure, it's more expensive than the other train options to town, but worth every penny. Just be sure if you've booked a round-trip to not use the return ticket for your inbound leg, otherwise you'll be stuck at the kiosk scanning away like a moron. Not that I would know from experience or anything.
We checked-in to our room at the Z-Hotel, which proved to be the smallest I've ever experienced, even in Europe. Given the short stay, the location was far more important than spacious accommodations, and the Z-Hotel being across the street from Victoria Station delivered in spades. Plus it allowed us to brush up on our hopscotch skills getting from the door to the bed.
Since it was going on 3pm, and I was bordering on turning into Joe Pesci from the Snicker's commercial, we set off for our first destination which also held the promise of food. Naturally, a few blocks from the hotel we received the most appropriate welcome to London possible.. A downpour. Thankfully one of those cool black cabs spotted us cowering under an overhang and stopped to give us a lift.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that knows me that our first stop in London was the original Hard Rock Cafe. It was here that it all started in 1971, and I had a feeling that our server - who exceeded the average employee age by a few decades - may have been part of the opening team. But it was her response to my ordering the-entree-formerly-known-as The Pig Sandwich that sealed her place in my heart forever...
"Oh I'm so delighted to hear you call it by its proper name."
By the time the check came, the rain had stopped and we began our whirlwind tour of the city. Where else would we start but with a visit to Her Majesty?...
Then it was onward to another landmark which, due to its appearance in Peter Pan, has quickly become a favorite of our nephew, Old Sport. Thanks to my main man Steve Jobs, we were able to blow his mind in real time, even if it did require taking selfie video on a ridiculously crowded street.
Unfortunately we missed getting to pop inside Westminster Abbey by a matter of minutes, but the view outside provided enough inspiration to hold me over for a while.
As the sun was beginning to fade, along with our energy level from the long day of travel, we made our way back to the hotel via a stroll through St. James Park. This took us by Horse Guards Parade, where beach volleyball was played in the 2012 Olympics, and MJ got her first sighting of some of The Queen's Guard.
St. James is the very definition of an urban oasis. It was bursting with color and it seemed every bird in the city called the park home. As did some of the largest swans I've ever seen.
To have been in the UK for about five hours without having fish & chips seemed like a bit of a travesty, so our final stop for the night sought to rectify that. We found it at The Shakespeare, just across from Victoria Station. A tourist spot for sure, but it served its purpose well.
After a restful night at the Z-hotel - which included some quality time at their complimentary wine & cheese reception - I awoke with the same feeling toward London that I carried away from my last overnight visit some 10 years ago. This is one of the world's great cities with history at every turn, however I'm not sure I'd go out of my way for a multi-day trip here. Perhaps if we had time to wander off the beaten path, I'd have come away feeling differently, yet my impression of London is it's a nice place to stop off on your way to somewhere else.
And as it turned out, we both had somewhere else to be...
Enjoy Your Stay