We flew EasyJet from Geneva, Switzerland to Gatwick, England. I loved our time in Geneva. I mean, I love, love loved our time traveling from Geneva to Gruyere and then onto Montreux, where we hung out at the stunning Château de Chillon. After Montreux, we drove the windy, grapevine-covered roads to Chamonix, France (Mont Blanc territory), which guess what, yes, we also loved. Seriously, the second I saw the those three-hundred sheep cross the road in Chamonix, Dave and I insisted (for about the billionth time) that we find a way to bring the boys here. “They would love this! Really! No. No. I am not kidding. Look. Look at those crazy sheep! And the dog. It is going nuts. The sheep herders are so cool. This is awesome!” I giddily exclaimed. “Dave, we need to find a way.”
He agreed, and since our 2011 European adventure-business trip, we have been trying to find a way. Wait. In truth, since our 2010 Ireland Adventure-Business trip, we have wanted to take the boys to Europe. And if I was really honest, I have always dreamt of taking our boys here. We will find a way.
With my new Swatch in hand (I know, how appropriate), we left our lovely Switzerland behind. A short flight later we landed, gathered our carry-ons and headed for customs. Passports stamped and on the other side, we had to walk at least twenty-seven miles [wink wink] until we made our way to the Gatwick Airport Hilton Hotel. Step after tired step, I doubted and then asked, “Really? Really, the hotel is literally connected to the airport?” “Yes. Yes, Beth it is.” Dave answered as we walked the seemingly never-ending airport pathways. And then a happy thought occurred to me, “Europe is on to something and what they are onto is something really healthy. You really can’t go wrong walking miles of airport hallways. You are actually forced to walk a very long way even before you can find a cab, your car or even your hotel. And those delightfully cute old ladies on bicycles, well, they sure seem a better choice then the scooters you ride to get around Disneyland. Go Europe! May your life span be longer than ours, (especially the cute old ladies on bicycles).” We made it. We checked in, found our room and settled in for the night and with laptops phones and laptops charging, I snuggled in our hotel bed and uploaded hundreds of pictures.
Initially our plan was to spend the night at Gatwick, rent a car and make our way into London and then head on to Brighton. Our day started with that plan. We enjoyed our lovely hotel breakfast after showering in our super cool hotel shower. “Why mention the shower,” you ask? Well, it was really amazing and very European in a comfortably American way. Way to go Hilton! We packed up, checked our email, video chatted with my mom and the boys and we were on our way. I did lose Dave somewhere in there yet with Dave’s expert knowledge and experience of left-side-of-the-road driving we were safely on our way. We found our way to Kensington where I had noticed (because Dave had located it on the Map first) the Whole Foods. Shame on me. I was in another country and I needed a little piece of home. The Kensington, England Whole Foods, however, is the most lovely and amazing Whole Foods I have ever shopped at. We figured out that if we spend twenty-five Pounds we could get two hours of free parking. No problem. We ordered a fancy Vermicelli made-to-order Noodle Lunch and I video-chatted again with my mom and the boys. Double bonus. I shed a few glorious tears as I found several new dark chocolate candy bar varieties. I was buying and then taking the coconut dark chocolate one home. Yum! We paid for our goods, left paradise, walked the super cool and fancy London Hipster neighborhood and were happy that we had our two-free-parking-hours to explore this part of town. Directly behind Whole Foods, out of the hustle, bustles and hipster-ness, Dave and I found the most adorable neighborhood. It is something out of dreams or movies or both. We talked about how much money we would have to make to live here. “Could we do it?” I was in heaven.
Our two hours was up and we wanted to see London. We found our way to some great street parking just outside the “congestion zone” where you have to pay a fee to drive your car, and we walked to the edge of Hyde Park where we picked up our first set of Barclays rental bikes. Dave had figured out if you swap your bike at one of the many Barclays-bike-stops every forty-five minutes, your bike rental was limitless and would only cost you one Pound for the day.
We made our way through Hyde Park and biked our way from Barclays stop to Barclays stop. We biked around Buckingham Palace, where we saw a man talking to himself chastising the world about the use of flash photography and then out of nowhere he took his socks off and dipped his bare feet into the Buckingham Palace fountain. We biked through the city on to to Big Ben during Rush Hour traffic and over to Trafalgar Square. We stopped and walked. We stopped for snacks and to take lots and lots of pictures. My favorite things were the red telephone booths. How British, right?
We biked and biked and saw and saw, past the London Eye all the way to Westminster Abbey. Gleefully I took in all the things we had only seen in pictures. Everyone was biking and as the sun set we made our way back through Hyde Park and back to our car. I loved it! We loved it! What a great way to see London. We made our way back to Whole Foods. I am not kidding. Hey, you cannot go wrong with free parking and free WiFi and thankfully we did find free WiFi because after checking some emails and listening to some voicemails we learned we needed to fly home the next day. We had booked and expensive hotel for the night and our flight left early. Dave and I looked at each other and I think we both had the same idea. “Hey, let’s skip the hotel and stay up all night.” We thought it sounded crazy good. We made our way to a few stores for last minute gifts and then we decided it would be hilarious to rent those bikes again. “Wouldn’t it be cool to bike London in the middle of the night?” So we did. It was even better then our daytime ride. By now we had a handle on things. We found areas that were hard to get to during the day, places we would never know about like St. Katherine’s Dock. We biked. We laughed. We felt entirely safe. Surprisingly or not so, we ran into several other all-night tourists, even some tourists on bikes. My very favorite part was biking back and forth over the Tower Bridge. Glee! It really was pure unadulterated glee! Dave and I did not know when the last time was that we had not only been up all night, but had been out all night long too. We felt free. We felt grateful. We saw London in a way we never imagined and it was perfect.
We made our way to the rental car place where we repacked our luggage and changed our clothes. Best night ever. Who cares that we had $400.00 cash stolen from Dave’s coat, $400.00 we could have spent on a fancy London hotel, during our ten hour stop in Chicago. At least they didn’t take our passports. We were home, safe and already convincing the boys we needed to go back. “Boys, we have to bike over the Tower of London Bridge together. It will be awesome!” Now they are convinced. In truth, once they heard the word, “castle,” they were totally in.