Travel day 8 started with at 4:30am wakeup call from home followed almost immediately by a hotel wakeup call and the alarm on my cell phone. I showered and suited up for visits with important customers in London. Only problem was, I was in Ireland.
I was in the lobby and checked out by 5:30am. Although the kitchen wasn’t open, the lobby staff at The Old Ground Hotel opened the dining room for us. It was already set up for breakfast with cereals and fruit. The gentleman at the front desk served us all coffee and tea.
I was relieved when the hired bus arrived a few minutes before 6 to take us to the airport. One person in my party BBM’ed me that she was taking a later bus as she was flying back to the States. As we were pulling out of the Old Ground I realized that I had, inadvertently cancelled her pickup the day before and had been planning for her to travel with us. I guess I should have told her. The driver agreed to circle back for her after he dropped us off.
During dinner the previous evening, I mentioned that there were three things I always try to avoid when travelling to Europe. Most Important was Aer Lingus. Next was flying through Heathrow Airport and the third was the plague. Today I would be travelling to Heathrow on Aer Lingus.
The flight to London was unremarkable. I was a bit nervous about going through custom on business rather than pleasure. Normally, when I stop in London, it’s to see my family there and it’s usually just for a day or two. As such, there are MANY Heathrow stamps on my passport. I was worried that if I declared I was there on business, my previous entries would be questioned. Luckily, entering through Ireland, we did not have to clear customs. I should have remembered that.
Five of us met up with the Northern European marketing manager and jumped the Paddington Express into London. After a very civilized train ride and we arrived in Paddington Station about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. My party identified a Starbucks on the second level and a coffee stop was made.
From there we hopped in two sets of cabs to the customer account. The local marketing manager realized at the last-minute that she didn’t have cash, so I sent with them 20 Great British Pounds that I picked up in Newark. The two Americans in the cab kept saying, “They take credit cards”, not wanting to argue, I said with as little patronization as I could muster, “just in case”. When we arrived at the customer site, they gave me my change and my receipt.
Our cab ride was a tourist’s wet dream. We travelled from Paddington Station past Hyde Park, made a left at Buckingham Palace and passed a parade of mounted guards. All in a days work. I remembered that there was a half marathon through the parks that I wanted to run earlier in the year. If only this trip had happened a few weeks earlier.
We met with the first customer for about 90 minutes. Our meeting room had a view of London’s Eye and Big Ben. I excused myself for taking a tourist moment.
After the first meeting we cabbed our way back to Paddington and then expressed ourselves back to Terminal 1 (second visit of the day). The local marketing manager has been storing our bags in the boot of her car. She had room for one of us in her car and the rest of us followed her in a cab to our Holiday Inn on the M4 motorway. After checking to hotel #3 of this journey, we piled into the car for our second customer visit of the day.
For this trip, I was planning on staying at a Marriott near our second customer visit near Kensington Palace. From there I was planning on a nice relaxing breakfast at the Orangerie. Unfortunately, our second appointment cancelled in the last days and was replaced by another account near the airport. This necessitates changing to a Holiday Inn near the airport. When I was a child, my Aunt Ena used to live around the Heathrow airport. I remember seeing the hotels right next to the motorway and I thought that those hotels would to be horrible to stay in with all the air and motor traffic coming and going. It was, to say the least, inconvenient.
As we walked into the hospital the rain started to pour. There was a man with one leg in the courtyard smoking weed. The smell was unmistakable. I of course, thought he was a cancer patient.
Maybe this goes back to my teen-age years but there is something sad about seeing patients in a hospital on a Friday afternoon. It means that in all likelihood, they are staying the weekend. Weekends suck in a hospital as I recall.
After our visit to the second customer we went back to Heathrow Terminal 1 (third visit of the day) to drop my boss off so he could catch the Express back into London. Three of us were then dropped back at the hotel and the marketing manager started her three-hour drive home in the rain on a Friday afternoon. The work week was officially over.
The three of us who were left met at 5pm and hopped a bus to Terminal 1 (fourth visit of the day) in order to take the tube into Leicester Square. It was a long train ride to say the least. We hadn’t eaten much all day and that made the train ride seem so very much longer.
As we exited the tube, the rain started falling. My colleagues dashed into a souvenir store and I stood outisde trying to reach home. The energy of the square was amazing. I was most surprised by how young everyone looked. As the rain got heavier, huge drops landed on my umbrella and the words of an old Simon and Garfunkel’s Kathy’s Song came into my head:
I hear the drizzle of the rain
like a memory it falls.
Soft and warm, continuing.
Tapping on my roof and walls.
From the shelter of my mind
through the window of my eyes
I gazed beyond the rain drenched streets to England where my heart lies.
This song, these words take me back to 1982 and my 1965 mustang parked in front of my high school. My cell phone rang and brought me back to the present as the guitar solo continued to play in my mind.
My colleague exited the shops with very cheap umbrellas just in time for the rain to stop. I walked behind them talking to California while simultaneous trying to engage in a conversation in London about what to have for dinner. Eventually, Laura was charged with finding us a place to eat for dinner. She scored us a great Italian place.
After dinner we walked to Trafalgar, through Soho and then caught a train to Marble Arch with the intention of walking to Buckingham Palace. About 11:30, we abandoned the late-night walk when we came across a tube station that would take us back to Terminal 1 without changing trains. This worked for us so we took it. We arrived back in Terminal 1 (fifth time) after midnight. The place was pretty much deserted. A quick cab ride back to the hotel and the three of us parted ways for the day.
I went back to my room and repacked my bag for my 3pm flight. By the time I turned the lights out, it was about 2am. I put in a wake up call at the front desk and set my alarm. Next thing I knew it was 10am. But that’s a story for another day.