June 29th saw us leaving the house at 9 am and arriving at the Air and Space Museum by 12:30, despite DC’s miserable traffic. And a stop in Fredericksburg’s Target. Ron forgot his belt and watch [!!] which for him is simply unbelievable. Since we were there, I found a rubber watch for $7, as I planned to leave my iphone in the car.
We had lunch at the Air and Space McDonald’s with a few hundred of our best friends and their children. We went over to the Space space to view Discovery, and were a bit sad that Enterprise is gone. My brother’s wife was on the team that designed the tiles for the bottom of the shuttles; we were intrigued to see how very thin they are. We viewed many airplanes of all nations, vintages and designs. Over a latte, Ron said he felt the tension drain away by the minute. I was numb, which is better than being sad.
We left the car in long term parking and over to the airport, where eventually, we boarded a British Air Airbus. This airline is top notch. Even in coach, we had individual screens and free booze. The seats are roomy and have nifty fold-out headrests that cup your ears; blanket, pillow, toothbrush and headset were provided in every seat. They fed us dinner and breakfast and in every way had their act together.
We had cokes with various booze flavors and we finally were able to sleep.
June 30th. We awoke to broad daylight over Ireland. We did a bit of circling London, which is vastly entertaining [no sarcasm]. Landed, we zipped through customs and bought tix to Heathrow Express; we’re guessing 80 mph for most of the trip to Paddington. A delight compared to the 2 hour slog, variously by taxi, bus or underground, in the old days. We left our luggage in Left Luggage, very convenient and secure and got our Oyster Cards for the Underground. These are a magnetic card in a flip case [hence, oyster] which you touch to a screen to get in and out of the tube stations. We put ₤25 on each; the entries and exits show you what was deducted and how much you have left.
We tubed to Westminster, where we had a short walk to the Thames River Boats, which Ron had chosen online. Early for the sailing, we bought tix, then sat on the pier talking to folks and watching the river traffic. I noted one boatman wearing a crucifix—and no shirt—and reflected on how times have changed from the days he would have been put to death for nothing more than that [the crucifix, not the bare torso.] Once on board and settled on the open top deck, we thrilled to hear Big Ben bong noon.
We cruised upriver for 3 ½ hours, going from the City to ‘embanked’ river [sometimes cobbles, sometimes cut stones], through 2 locks, and finally to wild river well before Hampton Court. At this point Thames is a smallish river, with a fairly rapid current and many islands, called aits locally. The sun was bright and hot and Carol put on a jacket as well as hat for protection. We watched Brits, always hungry for sunshine, burn visibly over the hours.
Hampton Court has been a royal palace since Henry VIII’s day and has been added to for those 500 years. It started as a country palace, with dazzlingly varied chimney stacks which screamed [in their day] “I’m so rich I have many fireplaces!!”
In the Georgian era, an enormous Versailles style block was added, with garishly gilded gates along the river.
We got off the boat and went straight onto the returning boat. We had planned to take the train back, but the ticket seller told us the return boat trip was only 2 hours, and we believed him. It was 3 ½ hours in the sun, fighting the incoming tide [and fatigue] all the way to town. But the Thames is legendary and I’m glad we did the trip.
Back in town at 7:30, we reversed our journey, picked up the luggage and walked from the station [picking up some supper groceries] to Mandalay Picton house, a tiny hotel in a row of such. These upscale row houses were built in the Georgian era for rich folks to rent or own when they stayed in town for the season. Ref. Jane Austen. Now they are hotels, with lowered ceilings and en suite showers / toilets. Our charming Burmese hosts, Dwight and Gary and their womenfolk, took good care of us. We ate a bit of bread and cheese and slept for 12 hours straight.