The Hester Pumpernickel Guide To The Real London For Middle-Aged Persons, Or, “Expect Delays: A Collection Of Amusing And Useful Observations Of Persons, Places and Things In A Foreign Land”. Part Two: Getting Around With Class.

After being home for over a week, and missing The Whole England Experience, I chanced upon an article about London, from the New York Times, reprinted in the Toronto Star. Keen to compare my excellent voyage with that of Shivani Vora, I dove in. I jumped out. I am still laughing.

I was going to call this chapter “First Class Comfort in Third Class,” but who am I kidding? Shivani Vora could teach me a thing or two. And I could teach her. I am, no doubt, a huge disappointment to the travel and tourism industry. But, boy, did I ever have an excellent holiday, and here are some things that made it great.

Planes

Air Canada, through a subsidiary, flies a machine from small cities like mine to big airports like Toronto Pearson that Orville & Wilbur Wright would’ve drooled over, and Indiana Jones would’ve admired. I think this small plane service is great, because it takes a lot of complications out of the travel equation: one airline, one website, one place to watch your connecting flight disappear eastwards without you. Because, yes, the propellered rattling can was delayed beyond delay. I started crocheting my bedspread border. I missed my London flight.

In former days, anxiety would’ve overcome me. How I’ve ended up in a place where, “Huh!” and “Well! Now what, I wonder?!” are responses to glitches is a puzzle, an amazement, and a comfort. Sometime around midnight, in Toronto, I was handed a sheaf of stapled-together slips and sent off for a complimentary limo ride to a hotel far, far away in Brampton. I had a nice chat with my driver. I had a nice four-hour nap between one and five a.m., and took a free limo ride back to the airport, where a $10 meal voucher bought me two bottled juices and a regular coffee. No change.

I’d selected an aisle seat at the back for my late night flight, and was able to take the same for the morning departure. I prefer the window, but as I was originally going to fly all night, it didn’t matter so much if I had a view. More importantly, at 56, I need the toilet more frequently than I used to, and didn’t want to be a damned nuisance for someone else. Turns out that an aisle seat at the back is the First Class Of Third Class, especially when the seat beside you is vacant. No room in the overhead bins, but my carry-on is soft-sided, and fits neatly under the seat in front of the unoccupied chair. Please don’t tell anyone how comfortable it is back there, especially where the aisle widens so the food and beverage trolleys don’t knock your elbows.

And don’t you love how airlines make you walk through First Class, then Superior Economy, before you scuttle, sideways, to the chaos that is like Musical Chairs for the impossible pile of carry-on luggage at the back? Here’s the joy: the baby was in the expensive seats. The people up there paid up to $281 more for Comfort Economy. We hardly heard that infant at all.

Trains and Buses, Including the River

New York Times gal Shivani Vora recommends a self-directed Small Car Big City Tour Of London in a Mini Cooper, where a child-friendly Snakes & Ladders themed map will take your confined, lost, increasingly angry, and wealthy family through Kensington’s highlights, and set you back only £385.

I ordered a London Transit visitor’s “Oyster” Card for Zones 1-6 months before my trip, and put £50 on it. No tourist hop-on-hop-off for me, and no Mini Cooper tour, either. The transit system, and the internet, make getting around London, for the able-bodied, an exercise boot camp of stair appreciation and deft footwork on uneven surfaces, but it is an unbeatable way to see so much of this enormous metropolis with little expense and no fuss.

First, the Tube from Heathrow on the Piccadilly line is so easy as to be comical. Second, the Map It app and the London Transit webpage let you find a bus or train on the go, or in advance. Thirdly, you can use your Oyster card to ride the River Buses, and I highly recommend it: concession/tea stand, clean toilets, and the staff count the passengers so that EVERYONE GETS A SEAT!

The closest I got to family was sharing a laugh with a boy and his dad about two pigeons that rode the river bus from the Embankment to Westminster outside at the back with us, for free.

One afternoon, I rode the front seat upstairs on buses for four hours, seeing Notting Hill, stopping for lunch in Camden Town, finding the Monument to the Great Fire, and getting two great photos on the Waterloo Bridge in a sunshower. There’s a £9 daily cap on bus travel, no matter how many buses or where you go. I highly recommend seeing some places outside the core, where real people live.


Automobiles

Shivani’s got some other wildly expensive tour options, but the tip-top delight would seem to be the four-hour When Harry Met Meghan Royal Black Taxi Tour for those “hankering to know more about the couple”. Unlike me. You can “… see sights in London related to them, including Nottingham Cottage in Kensington Palace, where they will live, and Battersea Park, which they visited together. Stops at sites such as Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey are also included.” From $632 a person. Go, Shivani, go.

Nest

I’ll wrap up by stating that I don’t travel much. I am positively ecstatic to travel, and even when I am fatigued to the point of intellectual impairment, I am happy in travelling. My Expedia.ca booking was perfect, and if you, too, prefer an apartment to a hotel, I cannot say enough about 18 Exeter Street. It is exactly like the pictures. It has a washer/dryer. It was, as promised, superb. The agency has many more properties, but I thought Aldwych near the Strand (Covent Garden Tube) was absolutely perfect.

Until next time,

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The Hester Pumpernickel Guide To The Real London For Real Middle-Aged Persons, Or, “Expect Delays: A Collection Of Amusing And Useful Observations Of Persons, Places, And Things In A Foreign Land”. Part One: Backwards

I travelled, by plane, from my small city to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. I travelled, by plane, from Toronto to London’s Heathrow Airport. One person with cross-body-strapped purse; light wool car coat and scarf; soft, medium-sized carry-on bag; and one small, wheeled suitcase in the hold as checked luggage. Practically packed and easily manageable. After a time, I reversed the journey and flew to Toronto from London. And there, dear Reader, It Was Discovered That I Was And Had Been A Dangerous Threat To The Safety And Security Of ALL Humanity!!! Yes. There is a woman on the luggage X-ray machine at Pearson International Airport who finally caught my nefarious plan to take over the world by bringing Dangerous and Forbidden Items Of Worldly Destruction onto the quirky Indiana-Jones-style propeller craft that flies anywhere except where you want to go late, delayed, later than delayed, and finally, really late, to the place I call Home.

Behold! The Lee Valley Tools ™ Credit Card Sized Multi-Tool!

To hell with Toronto! To Hell with London! Someone has to protect Sarnia from a woman who can measure, in millimeters, the tiny length of seatbelt extender she really needs*

*hmnn-dee-la-la-la-la, OKAY! CENTIMETERS!

and wished that seatbelt manufacturers would just add that on to their regular seatbelts so she doesn’t have other passengers twisting around and gawking to see Who The Fat Person Is, because you have to ask for a seatbelt extender and it is often met with a “Tsk” by flight attendants, over-worked as they are, but I don’t care in this particular instance. I am fastening myself in. I am not going to go off in all directions in the case of air turbulence. I am going to be comfortable. So I ask. I am particularly polite. I am more than particularly polite while travelling. And really friendly. I am a happy person. And here I am going somewhere, so I am really, really happy!

The attendants on the roaring putt-putt to and from Sarnia do not mind at all, by the way. The industrial nature of the great part of our economy has a lot of big, burly fellows flying in and out. They may be a little smaller in the hip than I am, but, whoo, it’s a tight fit for a big pair of shoulders and a set of matching legs. Seatbelt extenders galore. Take two?!

Anyway. The woman on the X-ray machine at Pearson shoofed all my belongings in their big trays over to another woman in blue nitrile gloves who said I could tell her where everything was but I couldn’t touch. Okay.

“Do you have a multi-tool?”

“What?”

I received this clever thing as a Christmas present a long time ago. I put it in my purse in case I ever need to MacGyver. My life being what it is, no MacGyvering. I had forgotten all about it. I knew – I know – where it is. If you are ever looking for the best purse in the world, Derek Alexander ™ makes a number of items so practical and long-wearing that I am amazed he is still in business. Pockets? Holders? Tabs? One front zippered section full of tucks and holders for car keys, phone, pen, TicTacs ™, notes, things, stuff, and sundry. One back zippered section that is my First Aid Department, and a second magnet-fastened section that is Beauty. And a deep, wide, main pocket, itself containing a zippered niche, big enough for a wallet and my iPad ™. I paid – for me – a lot of money for my first real designer purse, and remain in love with it. In love. I know what’s in there.

“Third card slot down, on your right, zippered section, front,” I said. She took the Evil Tool Of Worldly Destruction to her supervisor, whose eyes opened and rolled. Then it was time for my carry-on.

“Are you carrying scissors?”

“Toiletry bag inside the zipper-sealed plastic bag. Sewing scissors with a protective cap.”

Eyes opened. Eyes rolled.

“And you can’t take this water with you.”

“I just got it with my snack on an Air Canada flight and couldn’t drink it then.”

“You have to drink it here.”

(Remember, I am on my way to what starts out as a two-hour layover for another Air Canada flight in an airport lounge where other bottles of water are for sale.)

“You can have it!”

And that is why Humanity Lived To See Another Day!!!

Sarnia. Safest city In The World.

And that X-ray agent? Wasted. A hawk-eyed talent utterly wasted. She should be looking for scientific advances in cancer treatments in a university lab. And yet, what about the little wooden crochet hook I bought especially for travelling, worried my metal one would get me in trouble? What about my nail clippers? What about my strong, bare hands?!?!

I had a marvellous time on a marvellous trip.

Next: Part Two.