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Monday, May 12, 2014

African Adventure 2014 - Transatlantic Flights

Our journey began like so many others; heading to the airport. With this being our first international flight as a couple, Ben thought it wise to get to the airport super early. Typically, for domestic flights, we arrive at most 30 minutes before boarding. Arriving early turned out to be a blessing in disguise. First, we discovered that despite booking all flights through American Airlines, our first two legs were on US Airways and the third was on British Airways. In case you are as unaware as we were, American Airlines and US Airways are in the process of merging; not sure how British Airways fits into the picture. Perhaps the oneworld program.

Once we had the which-airline-do-we-check-in-with sorted, we began the check-in process. Before we had much of a chance to do anything at the kiosk, we were asked if we were willing to switch to an earlier flight in to Philly, giving us an extra hour in Philly to eat and find our gate. We said that would be fantastic!

The flight to Philly was rather uneventful.

Upon arrival in Philly, we quickly found a pharmacy/convenience store, so Ben could pick-up some nasal decongestant. Right before we left IND, Ben started to have some rather intense allergies and/or head cold symptoms for reasons unknown. While he was able to get the allergy symptoms under control, the sinus pressure on the flight was not much fun. Desiring to remedy this before the flight to London, drugs were in order. Following successful procurement of pharmaceuticals, we struck off to find our gate and inquire more about our luggage situation in Heathrow.

What is Philly known for, in terms of food?

Is it possible to get a Philly Cheesesteak in the airport?


After we found the gate and got our questions resolved, we set off to find Chickie's & Pete's, home of one of the best Philly Cheesesteaks in the airport.


Following dinner, we sat by the gate, charging batteries in preparation for the flight to Heathrow. Unbeknownst to us, dinner was served on our flight, so Ben had second dinner before settling in to try to sleep for a few hours. Thankfully, the plane was rather empty, so we were able to spread out and lay down a bit in our quest for some sleep. Unfortunately, Ben was only able to sleep for a couple hours, as both of us struggle to sleep on planes.

Before we knew it, we were flying over the English countryside, circling for our descent into Heathrow.

In the final days leading up to the trip, we had been debating about exiting the airport to see the sights during our layover in London. Unsure if there would be enough time, we knew part of the problem resided in getting through customs and immigration. As one of the first planes to land of the day, we quickly got through the line and were able to ask our border agent some of our questions. He assured us that our plan was possible, so we set off to confirm our bags were linked to our flight to Africa and off we went on the Heathrow Express into the London City Centre.

The Heathrow Express dumped us at Paddington Central Station. Having no English currency, we exchanged some USD into Pounds to be able to not require the use of credit cards in our time in London. We also realized that we did not bring a map, so we quickly scrambled to find a somewhat decent map of the area. Frankly, the map was horrible, and we were left to make it up as we went along.

After one block upon exiting the station, we proceeded to touch each of the four corners of the intersection to try to get some sense. We eventually decided to strike in a seemingly good direction and hoped all would be well. Not more than a few blocks later, we must have looked lost, out-of-place, something, because we were overtaken by a friendly Scottish couple (Andy and Vonnie), offering to help us find our way. It turned out that they were newly engaged and spending a few days in London to celebrate. Thankfully, their hotel was in same direction that we wanted and they kindly let us tag along. Sadly, all but Kari had been to London before, but none of us remembered where we were going. Hooray for someone with the correct data plan to use Google Maps (not Ben and Kari)!

During our walk, we realized that street signs are not easy to come by, so a good portion of the walk was based on Andy's and Ben's dead-reckoning skills. We wandered through Hyde Park and past a high end shopping district until we reached the backside of Buckingham Palace.

Andy and Ben were in deep discussion about our two countries, professional lives, cars, etc, while Kari and Vonnie talked about dogs with sweaters, Vonnie's job as a burlesque dancer and fire eater, and the silly things men did. On more than one occasion, Kari learned that pedestrians do NOT have the right-of-way in London. A quick way to die in London is to step off the curb without looking first.

We paused for some photos at Buckingham Palace before heading onto Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. Not long after we left Buckingham Palace, but her Majesty's car zoomed past us, nearly running over Kari. Unfortunately, she was not in the car, but rather her driver was running some errands in it.

Before parting ways outside Westminster Abbey, we exchanged contact info with Andy and Vonnie to be able to keep in touch. We continued onto Big Ben and walked along the River Thames before jumping on the Underground back to Paddington Central Station.

At Paddington Central Station, we paid to use the toilet, which required exactly 30 pence. Ben pities the foo who does not carry 30 pence at all times! We looked around to try to buy some souvenirs before taking the Heathrow Express back to Heathrow.

Much like everyone described, we were through security rather quickly (less than 15 minutes) and left to find some food and souvenirs in the airport. We were very successful at finding souvenirs and spending the last of our pounds; however, the food was not so great. Oh well. All that was left to do was walk to our gate and wait for our flight to Cape Town.

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