Friday, Leaving London, Gatwick Express, Gatwick Airport, Back in Atlanta

Filed under: London Trip Diary    


Previous Day: Thursday, London Tour Bus, Kensington Palace, Harrod’s, Preparing to Leave

At 6:30 a.m. the alarm on the television went off, and we both got up. About 10 minutes later we received our wake up phone call.

We showered and went down to breakfast just after 7 a.m. which is when the restaurant opens. We ate and quickly returned to the room. We finished packing and came down to the lobby at 7:50 a.m., where I checked out of the hotel.

We set down in the lobby, then Susan decided to go to the bathroom. Of course, as soon as she stepped away, the Hotelink driver walked in. He was right on time. The driver loaded our bags and Susan came out and we both got in the van. This driver was much friendlier than the driver we had the day we arrived, and we joked about cars and other differences between our two countries.

We drove to one other hotel and picked up another couple. They were an American couple heading back to Florida via Atlanta (but not on our airline). They had spent the last three weeks in the UK, touring through Scotland, Ireland and London.

The driver dropped us off, escorted us to the train, loaded our bags and we took off on the Gatwick Express. Much of the train ride we talked with the other couple about their trip and ours. It was raining most of the time they were in Scotland and Ireland, so we felt very thankful that we experienced such beautiful weather.

When the train reached the airport, there was no one to greet us. I guess they assume getting into the airport is much simpler than finding your way through an unfamiliar airport and out to the train, like when we arrived. In fact, this was true as the signage makes it very easy to find the correct terminal and check-in area. We had to ride the tram from the south terminal where the Gatwick Express arrives to the north terminal where British Airways has its gates.

The ticket counter and security screening is up an escalator once you get into the north terminal. British Airways had different check-in zones, depending on your destination. Flights going to the US were in zone D. They also have self check-in with some electronic kiosks, but we did not seem to have the magnetic strip on the tickets, which I think was required to use the kiosk. Perhaps there was some other way to use them, but we could not figure it out. So we simply got in the line and waited about 10 minutes to get our tickets. Fortunately for us, the flight was not full and the ticket person assigned three seats to us, so we could stretch out.

For some reason, they were not able to take our baggage behind the same counter where they were issuing the tickets. Once we received our tickets, we had to take our baggage to some British Airways workers standing off to the side. They then took our bags to some other location and that’s the last we saw of our bags until we reached Atlanta. I suppose this had something to do with the increased security.

The security screening was close by and only about five people were in front of us. They did a pat down search of me and Susan, and I’m assuming everybody else. They also did a separate inspection of my camera bag and Susan’s purse.

We walked into the terminal, which had nice shopping options and restaurants. Susan bought some chocolate at the Harrod’s store, which had a selection of items from the main store in London. We also went into the Boots drugstore, and bought two Diet Cokes for £1.60, plus some chicken flavored (yes, chicken flavored) potato chips for 35 pence. Next we went into the WH Smith bookstore, where we both bought magazines.

We walked out to our gate but it was not open yet. Each gate has its own security, and no one is allowed in unless you have a ticket for that particular flight. Also, each gate has a specific opening time. So, we walked back and found some seats where we ate our chicken flavored potato chips and drank our Diet Coke flavored Diet Coke.

With more time to kill, we both walked back out and shopped a while longer. Finally, time was running out, and we both located bathrooms for our last visit to a “loo.”

At about 11:40 a.m. we went back to the gate, where we went through another security search. We both had pat downs and bag searches, which made me feel very comfortable that our flight was safe. We only waited for about five minutes, then our row was called and we walked down the ramp to the airplane.

I saw a man wearing a Georgia Bulldogs T-shirt and asked if he knew the score of the first Bulldogs game of the season. Georgia won!

We went on the plane to row 32, where we had three seats to ourselves.

The Boeing 777 pushed back from the gate right on time (12:20 p.m.) but then we had to wait on the taxiway for “security release”, due to the heightened security for flights to the US. After about 10 minutes our flight was released and we took off.

Very soon after takeoff, the flight attendants brought drinks and pretzels to us. Then around 1:50 p.m. we got lunch, which was chicken with potatoes, green beans and carrots, salad, water, roll, coffee or tea, Banoffee pie, Twix biscuit finger and a Diet Coke. At 4 p.m. they brought additional beverages around and I chose an orange juice. Again at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. they brought drinks and I got water both times. They certainly kept us hydrated and the bathrooms busy.

I spent much of the flight watching movies, including X-Men 3: The Last Stand and The Da Vinci Code. They cut the video system off right before the end of The Da Vinci Code, so I still don’t know how it ends! It was time to land.

We reached Atlanta at 4:35 p.m. The weather was good and it was nice to be home. I couldn’t help but notice several British couples around us who were coming to Atlanta. I wondered where they were going, what they were planning to do, and how they were feeling about visiting Atlanta. The shoe was on the other foot now. I hoped that they would feel as welcome here as we had felt in London. I guess that many of them were probably changing planes and going somewhere else, since so many flights stop over in Atlanta before continuing to their final destination.

The procedure for going through customs when you get to Atlanta is very odd. You actually have to claim your baggage twice. The first time, we got our bags in an area that is only for international flights. We then had to take our bags to some people standing at an unmarked door who took our bags to some unknown location. We then had to go through a metal detector and security screening, before we went through the customs area. We waited in line just a few minutes, then were welcomed back to the States by the customs agent. Once through customs, you must then get on the tram which will take you to baggage claim, or any other concourse for another departing flight. We rode the tram to baggage claim, and waited just a minute or two to get our luggage.

After claiming our luggage, we walked over to the entrance to Marta, Atlanta’s rapid transit train. We got on the train and I called my mother to let her know we would be at the train station near her home in about 30 minutes. We had arranged with her to pick us up prior to our leaving. Our car was at her house, and we would drive ourselves home from there (on the “right” side of the road).

Our trip was over, but I was discovering some things about the way my mind works. Over the next several days, I had fond thoughts of our trip, and realized that, for me at least, the memory of the trip was just as good as or better than the actual trip. Sometimes the actual trip can be stressful while you’re doing it, whereas the memory of it has none of the stress.

Looking back I realize just how beautiful and historic London is. The energy of that city is palpable, and I now understand why Susan’s coworkers recommended it so highly. We did so many things in such a short time, yet there was so much more to do. I can honestly say that I would love to go back to visit London again one day.

Since returning to the US just a couple of weeks ago, I have seen at least three different movies and TV shows with scenes in London that were filmed in areas that we had visited. The Da Vinci Code, for example, concludes in London (at least I think it does–I need to see it all the way to the end to be sure!)

Suddenly the world has gotten smaller for me, while simultaneously getting larger. Most of my time is spent working in my own basement in front of a computer. Every now and then you have to come up and visit the real world, and I thank Susan for “pushing me out of the nest.” I enjoyed visiting someplace other than our perennial favorite, Sanibel Island, Florida, and looked forward to visiting London again.

If you think you have any interest at all in visiting London, I suggest you act upon that. I know you’ll have a jolly good time.


 
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