The last time the bus was in the shop for a significant period, the timing actually worked out pretty well since we had a previously arranged trip to Hawaii already bough and paid for, so we were able to spend part of that time without a home in paradise. I’m not gonna say we are spoiled, but our latest bus nightmare also coincided with a planned vacation, this time to London. As mentioned in the last post, when we broke down leaving the vicinity of Rocky Mountain National Park, we were headed towards Chicago, planning to take a week or so to get there by way of the Dakota badlands.
Once in Chicago we intended to put The Big Kahuna in storage for two weeks while we flew to England on our American Airline tickets purchase using our big stash of loyalty points. The transmission failure decimated that plan, so once we got the bus situated at the mechanic in Greeley, CO, we drove down to Denver with our tow truck driver, Jeremy, and flew on discounted one way tickets to Chicago the day before our London flight. Once again I went through all of the hotel chains for which we have a usable amount of points, and this time selected a Country Inn and Suites, part of the Club Carlson brand. Though there were a few cheaper options, this hotel offered an airport courtesy shuttle, and at 15,000 Carlson Points, which I value at about $60, this was a great deal for a Chicago suite.
We had a bit of luck with our American Airlines direct flight, in that it was only about 25% full, so Rosemarie and I each had our own row of seats, allowing for a much more comfortable transatlantic voyage. We have had to adjust to flying coach ever since we retired since I no longer have the frequent international business travel which allowed us to gain elite status and thus frequent upgrades on American Airlines and their associated One World Alliance. I know, weep for us.
In addition to flying on points, the other thing that kept this London vacation affordable was the free housing. Rosemarie’s Primo Tio Jayson managed to get stationed in London for the summer on the government’s dime, and he and Linda had a two bedroom flat there. We stayed with them for nearly two weeks, and took advantage of the city’s outstanding and easily navigated public transportation system to explore.
The weather was largely cooperative, with half our days there beautiful, a few with merely periodic drizzle, and only a couple with significant rain. Since we were doing this vacation on the cheap we mostly avoided touristy things with an entry fee. Fortunately much of London is accessible and open for nothing more than the cost of an Oyster Card, the London tube and bus pass. We narrowed down our preferred places from one of Rick Steve’s e-books, and managed to see a dozen or so awesome spots.
Aside from the history, the modern achitecture is striking, and the food was fantastic. I know that’s not one of the things that comes to mind when you think of England, but London is such an international city with so many ethnicities, that pretty much anything you could want you can find. Now I love me some food trucks, and London delivered with no less than three major spots in different parts of the city filled with food stalls and trucks. So many amazing and affordable choices! We had Jamaican curry goat patties, a tongue sandwich, beef pot pies, Korean wraps, and too many other things to remember. And of course, we hit plenty of local pubs, most with an outstanding assortment of craft brews and ciders. Rosemarie was surprised to find she enjoyed several of the latter.
I had been to London once before many years back, but only for a day trip when one of my ships pulled in to one of the port cities. The thing that struck me this time was how accessible the city is for Americans. Obviously the language is a big part of that, but culturally things seem so similar, unlike many of the other European places I have been. While there are certainly difference, waking down a street in London feels like just a slightly askew version of walking down a street in the U.S. It is a wonderful place to visit regardless, but if you know someone that wants to travel internationally but is perhaps slightly uncomfortable with the potential “alien-ness” of other countries, recommend that they get their feet wet with a trip to London, and expand out from there.
*Cheeky Nando with the lads, or just Cheeky Nandos, is apparently English slang for eating at a chicken restaurant chain called Nandos, with the implication that it is something you do, in particular, “with the boys,” possibly as part of a night of carousing. The phrase achieved modest twitter and internet fame, largely because of the apparent pleasure the English took in explaining it to Yanks using a maximum amount of additional slang so as to render the meaning of the original phrase even less understandable.