This was to be a quick trip.
I hadn’t originally planned to be in London during the Royal Wedding, despite wanting to more than anything. The problem was that 8 weeks before the Royal Wedding, our first baby was due to be born. It just wouldn’t be a good idea to go — something both Jackie and I agreed on.
Then the BBC called. And called again and again. Followed by several other media outlets.
It quickly became very clear that as experts on Britishness and the Royal Family, one of us was going to need to be there to cover the biggest British event of this generation and appear on the telly.
Jackie won’t believe me when she reads this, but I booked the single ticket with a heavy heart.
This would be the first time I’d been to London by myself, and the first time I’d be going without my wife in 7 years. London was our place — a place we enjoyed together.
I had to book a ticket right away as British Airways had a great sale that I needed to take advantage of in order to go. Thanks to the success of Anglotopia, we were finally at a point where the site could pay my way, which has been our goal all along. I decided on a quick trip. I would leave on the Tuesday before the wedding and come home Sunday after the wedding. Just 5 days. I’d done London in 5 days before, and this was mostly business-based, so it should have been long enough. Of course, I wanted it to be longer. Unfortunately, I had to accommodate the vacation schedule at my day job. I had precious few vacation days for the year, so I had to use them wisely.
The trip was booked at the end of March. After the ticket was booked, I set about arranging everything I would need for the trip. I also planned business meetings to make the most of the cost of the trip. It was an exciting time, and I LOVED the planning. I was getting my dream. I was going to London for business to cover the biggest British event of the decade.
And then just days after booking, disaster.
The job I had accommodated in the trip booking decided that it no longer required my services. As the British would say, I was made redundant.
It was a huge blow to us, especially since it happened just weeks after our baby was born. Due to the success of Anglotopia, our goal for the year had been to turn it into my full-time job. We were planning for this to happen this fall, when I’d quit my job and work on the site full time. By then everything we had planned would have been in place. Now, we had to move everything up to NOW, and with a little event called the Royal Wedding and an expensive trip already booked, April was going to be a stressful month!
Thankfully, April flew by with my excitement building. I managed to book a nice hotel using Londontown.com — The Cavendish London Hotel — which was literally a 5-minute walk from everything awesome in London and the Mall, where the nexus of the Royal Wedding was. I’ll review the hotel in more detail in a future post.
I had booked by ticket with British Airways out of Chicago on the sleeper flight, leaving at 8 pm. When I checked in the night before, I was offered a $130 upgrade from economy to World Traveller Plus. I took it. Well worth the money. I’ll write more about World Traveller Plus in a future post as well.
When the big day came, I had an interview with the BBC via Skype planned. This was a fun experience, and I was interviewed from my office by Tim Willcox, who was live in London right in front of Westminster Abbey. I talked about the Royal Wedding, coming over, and my thoughts on the big day. It was quick and fun and over before I knew it. Sadly, I had no way of recording the interview, but my wife watched it on TV and said I did wonderfully. I believe her! It was a nice preparation for the live interview I was scheduled for in London on Thursday the day before the Royal Wedding.
After the Skype interview, my wife was kind enough to take me to the airport. I arrived about 3 hours before the flight. I ate a hearty meal and went through security alone after kissing my wife goodbye.
Despite my best efforts and contacting every connection I had, I couldn’t get access to the British Airways Lounge at O’Hare. Which was fine. I opted to sit outside it and steal their wifi instead. (The password is London — cracked it on the first try!) I killed time working on Anglotopia and monitoring everything as we were in the middle of a traffic deluge.
Our contest for a free trip to London was featured in the Visit Britain newsletter that day, and it was hammering our site — their email list has 300,000 people. It brought our server down twice. So, I had to watch things as closely as possible until I boarded the plane.
We had been preparing for weeks for the traffic deluge the Royal Wedding would bring. We were already bringing in record traffic, and you could tell — the site was getting sluggish at times. So we upgraded the server to handle more traffic and also added a CDN (content delivery network) to speed things up globally. I’m happy to report that we only had server crashes that Tuesday. Our preparations paid off on the day of the Royal Wedding when we got record traffic — 26,000 people in ONE day.
Anyway, back to the trip. I boarded the plane, and it took off on time. I’ll write in detail about the flight when I review it, but it was a great flight. It was a brand new airplane — Boeing 777 — with all new interiors and seats. I managed to get a little bit of sleep, which was good helping with jet lag the next day.
I arrived in London at about 10 am. It was a beautiful day. London rolled out the red carpet (literally, there was a red carpet at the terminal exit). I was home. I was in Londontown. After clearing customs and retrieving my bags, I was ready to take on the day. This was my 8th trip to Britain, I knew what I was doing, and I knew exactly where I was going. I headed for the Heathrow Express, which is what I usually take to get into central London from the airport. It’s quick — takes 15 minutes and deposits you at Paddington Station right smack in the middle of London.
When I arrived in Paddington, I grabbed a Black Cab to take me the rest of the way to my hotel. The weather was magnificent. Their were Union Flags everywhere. London had put out it’s finest for the big occasion. The atmosphere was electric.
And the traffic was horrible.
It took way longer (and cost more money) to get the hotel than I’d planned. I was a little nervous about arriving to so early — it was almost noon — because normally you can’t check into a hotel so early. Thankfully, when this haggard American arrived at the front desk, they were able to move things around so I could check in early.
The only problem was that none of my credit cards worked!
Let me say: I’ve traveled to London 8 times now. I know how to deal with my banks when traveling abroad. I’d called them all in advance to let them know I was traveling to London. Sadly, of all the best laid plans …
All my banks were closed as it was still early morning back home. Thankfully, they let me check in and get settled until I could get everything sorted out when the banks opened. Which they were once I’d told them that yes, it was really me in London making a large hotel purchase.
Once everything was sorted, I was REALLY hungry. I’d not had a decent breakfast yet, and by then it was lunch. I found a nice pub right across the street from the hotel and had a burger. The food was so good, I pretty much ate there every day for one meal or another. After getting a full belly, I walked around the neighborhood and explored a patch of London I’d never stayed in before. It was very nice. Very posh area — lots of tailors and fine merchants. Fortnum & Mason department store was right across from the hotel.
My next stop was the local Tesco, where I picked up provisions for the week. I often buy snacks and stuff to eat — mostly for breakfast so I can get a quick start. I also grabbed the daily newspapers. Fully stocked, I went back to the room and crashed for a nap.
I only allow a two-hour nap when battling jet lag. I woke up refreshed in the late afternoon and got ready for the rest of the day. I caught up Anglotopia business and all the feeds we monitor, and I got ready to go out to dinner.
I was excited. I was meeting Talking Telly Columnist Dana, who was also in London to help us cover the Royal Wedding. I’d met her before at Dragon*Con several years ago and was looking forward to seeing her again. It was her first trip to London, and we’d played a big part in helping make it happen for her. So, I was eager to see what she thought of London. Most first timers don’t like it much!
Dana met me at the hotel, and we took a cab over to Leicester Square to find a Garfunkel’s for dinner. I normally eat there the first night I’m in London. The food is normal touristy American fare, which is good for a stomach in shock from traveling the previous 24 hours. Dinner was a delight; the food was just okay. The company was delightful, and I’m happy to report that Dana was loving London. The food wasn’t as good as it used to be, and I think I may stop going there on future trips. I found a better steak place a few days later.
After dinner, I headed back to the hotel (via Cab – I took a lot of cabs on this trip… just made life easier). Worked on Anglotopia, video Skyped with the wife back home, and laid down for my first full night’s sleep in 36 hours. Day 1 in London was a success. It was a dream.
And the trip was just getting started.