2001 Thanksgiving Vacation: Pre-Trip Notes

The Reasons

In October, 2001, Northwest Airlines made some unbelievable offers to get people flying again. One of the offers they made was for travel to Europe in November with a 6,000 WorldPerks mile discount. This meant that an off peak round trip ticket to Europe could be had for 34,000 miles instead of the normal 40,000 miles. To give frequent fliers an added bonus, this discount was combinable with a previously existing 1,000 mile discount for booking our award travel online. In short one could fly to Europe from the US for 33,000 miles.

A friend and I decided that we wanted to visit Europe and settled on Thanksgiving week as well as London after some debate. Thanksgiving week because it meant missing the minimum amount of work possible, and London because she had already been there. I flew from Indianapolis and she flew from New Orleans. My initial out of pocket expense was US$78.91 in taxes and fees.

The happy news was that the 7,000 miles I saved (I had more than enough for a standard off peak reward trip to Europe) was readily combined with my initial miles out of 40,000 incoming (note: sign up expired 31Sept01!) from Sprint Long Distance, and a few other miles (like Dining For Miles), to already get me near the three-quarters mark for another domestic off peak reward trip. I should have more than enough by the middle of February for a domestic off-peak trip.

Preparation

Many of the links to specific tourist attractions and other useful links are included below in the travel log, but I thought I would note four books that I read before I left. The most useful book was the Mini Rough Guide to London — a mini-guide that could fit in my pocket easily and be carried everywhere we went. I also took Lonely planet’s London (condensed), and the Lonely planet British Phrasebook–although I never really took the time to read it there. I also read Culture Shock! Living in the World’s Greatest Cities: London. Neat book, but I didn’t need to carry it. Quite frankly, next time I’ll only carry the mini rough guide.

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Saturday before Thanksgiving

  • My friend and I met at the Detroit Airport. She had flown from New Orleans (NWA #1474, scheduled arrival at 7:48) and I from Indianapolis onboard Northwest Airlines flights.
  • When I originally scheduled, I was supposed to be on NWA 185 arriving DTW at 8:09, giving me 1:14 to switch planes. However with schedules being rewritten randomly, I got nervous when it was changed to NWA #360 arriving at 8:19–1:04 to switch planes at Detroit. 1:14 is tight, 1:04 is nearly impossible given Detroit’s current layout. I switched to NWA #1002, schedule to arrive at 5:49, or 3:36 to make the connection. I, for one, am looking forward to the new Midfield Terminal, scheduled to open in February 2002.
  • I actually met the flight from New Orleans, but I had to ask when and where it was arriving because NWA has taken down arrival monitors on the concourses at DTW–I guess under the assumption that since only ticketed passengers are on the concourses nobody is meeting planes.
  • From Detroit we connected to NWA Flight 32 (scheduled departure at 9:25) with service to London. Good thing that I had gotten on the earlier flight–we had to be onboard by 9:05, and that would have left me something like 46 minutes to change planes. Right–like that would ever happen.
  • The flight was fine–I sat down, we took off and I was reading David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day. Big mistake–it kept me awake and reading until the wee hours–I ate my dinner, and then finally went to sleep. I don’t remember them picking up my finished dinner, I just know that sometime after dinner I found something better than any alarm clock–that Northwest Airlines flight attendant wandering around the aisle of the plane shouting “duty free” every five seconds. It woke me up–and I was immediately reminded of a Whose Line is it Anyway (British Version on Comedy Central. Drew Carry on ABC sucks. He’s not funny, but he thinks he is.) skit where onboard duty free shopping was parodied. It took me awhile to fall back asleep.

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Sunday’s Adventures

Getting Photographed

Getting Photographed

We arrived at London’s Gatwick Airport, South Terminal. The scheduled arrival time was around 10am, and that’s pretty much when we arrived.. Upon arrival we had to do the immigration and customs dance.

From there we took a coach at 11:20 from Gatwick to Heathrow and then onward to Cheltenham Spa, where we stayed at the Travel Inn. On the website, they note that the inn is next to the T.G.I. Friday’s. Although we had dinner at ask, we went back to the hotel and had dessert at T.G.I. Friday’s. I’ve never been to an American T.G.I. Friday’s but our waitress was a parody of American friendliness, even going so far at to sit down at tables while taking orders. Fortunately she didn’t do that at our table. The United States certainly exports our the worst aspects of our “culture”.

Basic, Expensive. At least in 2001.

Basic, Expensive. At least in 2001.

American Culture

American Culture

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Monday!

We met with some friends I know in Cheltenham.  I gave four of the coolest people I know Indiana University T-Shirts from Steve & Barry’s.  Naturally I wanted to spread the Hoosier Cheer!

I once tried to grow a red hot poker in my garden as a kid.  It didn't go anywhere.  Evidently it is better suited to England than to Denver.

I once tried to grow a red hot poker in my garden as a kid. It didn't go anywhere. Evidently it is better suited to England than to Denver.

Ok, it's Britain, so people drive on the left side, so we had to get used to it.  Clearly though, on Monday, I needed help like this.  It wasn't so bad by Thursday--the day before we left.

Ok, it's Britain, so people drive on the left side, so we had to get used to it. Clearly though, on Monday, I needed help like this. It wasn't so bad by Thursday--the day before we left.

We didn't try Pizza Express in Cheltenham, but it reminded me of Bloomington.

We didn't try Pizza Express in Cheltenham, but it reminded me of Bloomington.

Drinking a pint of Guinness. I think this picture turned out really well  despite the dark atmosphere of the bar.

Drinking a pint of Guinness. I think this picture turned out really well despite the dark atmosphere of the bar.

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Tuesday before Thanksgiving

  • We woke up and took the coach from Cheltenham Spa to London’s Victoria Coach Station. From there we took ourselves and our stuff to the Aarden Hotel (see hotel photos). This was the base of our visit to London for the remaining three days. The Aarden Hotel was very close to the bus station–the man at the information desk told us it was going to be a 15 minute walk. In reality, it would have been 15 minutes if a traffic accident had happened in the middle of the street between us and the hotel and we’d been forced to walk around several extra blocks to get there.

See more Cheltenham Photos

  • We took advantage of Rail Europe prices before leaving for the UK to purchase Tube Passes, a one day pass for River Thames cruises, and a Gatwick Express pass so we could get to the airport on Friday.
  • After getting to the hotel and getting ourselves situated, we headed to pick up our tube passes and then took the tube over to the London Eye. The London Eye is the world’s largest Ferris Wheel, and immediately upon seeing the Eye, I was reminded of Robert Lawson’s book The Great Wheel — a children’s book on the Newbery Honor Roll. Oddly enough, I reread the book about a month ago, so it was fresh in my head.

See London Eye Photos

  • After taking the Eye, we wandered by the Westminster Abbey, and walked right in and toured the building. It was incredible, and the presence of so much history in once place makes America seem so young.
  • Tuesday evening we went and saw “F***ing Games,” a play at The Royal Court Theatre. The play was written by Grae Cleugh and directed by Dominic Cooke.
    • The web site promoted the play as follows:
      • “It’s just not realistic to expect one person to remain faithful to another. I mean it just doesn’t work, does it?”

        Terrence and Jonah have been together for ten years. Jude is young, good-looking and always chooses his boyfriends badly. So, when he brings round his latest, Danny, the games begin.

        F***ING GAMES is Grae Cleugh’s first play.

  • To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised at the play–it told a reasonable story, and was well acted. We both got irritated with Jonah at the end, and I was also very annoyed with Terrence, although I suppose I’ve known guys like Terrance and I’ve wanted to smack them around in real life. If you should chance upon a performance, I would see it–but I wouldn’t fly transatlantic just to see the play.

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Cheltenham Photos

Before we left Cheltenham I went looking for some newspapers to read on the bus.  Along the way I spotted Starbucks--my first one in England.  London proved to have many more.

Before we left Cheltenham I went looking for some newspapers to read on the bus. Along the way I spotted Starbucks--my first one in England. London proved to have many more.

I have no idea what this art is supposed to represented (perhaps somebody will explain it to me), but I thought it was neat, so I took a picture.

I have no idea what this art is supposed to represented (perhaps somebody will explain it to me), but I thought it was neat, so I took a picture.

And with that we were done with Cheltenham. We boarded the bus to London - a three hour ride.

And with that we were done with Cheltenham. We boarded the bus to London - a three hour ride.

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London Eye Photos

This was our first view of the London Eye after we got off the tube.  It is quite impressive no matter how you see it.

This was our first view of the London Eye after we got off the tube. It is quite impressive no matter how you see it.

I took this picture on Thursday from the River Thames--the opposite side from the first picture.

I took this picture on Thursday from the River Thames--the opposite side from the first picture.

Looking down on the next car being loaded as we started our 35 minute "flight."  The Eye is sponsored by British Airways and they don't let you forget it.

Looking down on the next car being loaded as we started our 35 minute "flight." The Eye is sponsored by British Airways and they don't let you forget it.

With the next car and Big Ben in sight, the London Eye was a really cool way to start our days in London.

With the next car and Big Ben in sight, the London Eye was a really cool way to start our days in London.

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Aarden Hotel (November 2001)

This is the Aarden Hotel.

This is the Aarden Hotel.

Out the window, we had a mini-balcony with a great view of, well... not much.

Out the window, we had a mini-balcony with a great view of, well... not much.

There was the doctor's parking space on the street next to us.

There was the doctor's parking space on the street next to us.

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Wednesday

So I'm in a phone booth.   Call me a tourist.  Shame on me.

So I'm in a phone booth. Call me a tourist. Shame on me.

On this day we started out in Soho, having coffee at a chain coffee shop named Cafe Nero. We had to hang out there because the Silver Moon Women’s Bookshop had closed its store front three days before we visited the store. A disappointment, but it was on Charing Cross Road, the setting for one of my favorite books, 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. We walked by the spot where it appeared to me 84 Charing Cross Road would belong, but it was now a Pizza Hut. A vast unimprovement. We also stopped by Vintage Magazine where I picked up a couple gifts, and also by Prowler, to name a few stops. We had lunch at Livebait.

In the evening I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum (which I viewed with both my eyes). I particularly enjoyed the Radical Fashion exhibit, which showed clothing I have never seen anybody wear, nor can I imagine anybody wearing.

I also managed to buy some more books (I bought two in Cheltenham) — this time (finally) falling victim to Harry Potter, although since I was in England, I found Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone–not the American Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (Check out the £499.99 offer!) I purchased all four in paperback and started reading the first one Wednesday night.

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Thanksgiving Day

The "Full English Monty" breakfast looks like this-- Not quite the Full Monty I was expecting.  We did see a version of Ben & Jerry's ice cream for sale called "The Full VerMonty."  I will have to look for it here in the states.

The "Full English Monty" breakfast looks like this-- Not quite the Full Monty I was expecting. We did see a version of Ben & Jerry's ice cream for sale called "The Full VerMonty." I will have to look for it here in the states.

Thursday started with a tube ride to King’s Crossing Station, where we visited Platform 9 3/4. I even took some pictures, so take a look!

This entrance to the Cabinet War Rooms did not exist during World War II.

This entrance to the Cabinet War Rooms did not exist during World War II.

After Harry Potter, we wandered to look at #10 Downing Street, but couldn’t get very close to the house due to security. The Prime Minister’s house was very close to our next destination, the Cabinet War Rooms, where Churchill hung out during World War II. The Cabinet War Rooms were well worth the trip–highly recommended.

We managed to finish our tour, leaving us 40 minutes to kill before the ferry would take us to Greenwich, so we wandered around, and found a bookstore where MT bought some books–I managed to restrain myself, but barely. After that we traded in our passes and got our “River Red Rover” for all day river travel on City Cruises. An hour after boarding the boat we arrived in Greenwich.

Interestingly, along the way we had a mini-tour from the crew, and we went past the Mayflower Pub–which had Timbers from the original Mayflower in its construction. It didn’t occur to us until later, but this was actually highly appropriate for Thanksgiving Day.

Once in Greenwich, we went to the Royal Observatory — Where time began, and I made a point of being both east and west at once. The museum was really good and really interesting–it was well worth the trip–even if I didn’t get to stand on the prime meridian and be in two hemispheres at once.

We then had dinner (for some dumb reason like–“why not?”) at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Greenwich. It was a big mistake.

Here it is: the Gloucester.

Here it is: the Gloucester.

That was followed by a beer at the Gloucester Bar in Greenwich. This was the gay bar featured in the movie “Beautiful Thing” < related sites: sony classics | imbd | popcorn q | official site | beautiful-thing.com | NYC Production >, and was directly across from the Observatory Grounds. We had to leave early because we had evening plans, so unfortunately we didn’t hit the pub during prime time.

See more Greenwich Photos

For our last evening in England we went to see “The Royal Family” featuring Judi Dench at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. . The play was enjoyable — we were in the second balcony, so we were way up there, although there were worse seats in the house.

Afterwards we ate a late dinner, and then returned to the hotel, where I achieved my goal of finishing the first Harry Potter book, and then went to sleep. MT also finished the book she was working on.

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Harry Potter Photos

We arrived at the proper part of King's Cross.

We arrived at the proper part of King's Cross.

With the muggles out of the way we could see the signs pointing us to the platform.

With the muggles out of the way we could see the signs pointing us to the platform.

We had a nice reminder of proper behavior, so although I wanted to fly and practice for Quidditch, I didn't.

We had a nice reminder of proper behavior, so although I wanted to fly and practice for Quidditch, I didn't.

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Greenwich Photos

After getting off the boat, the first store we saw was this shop... located just seconds west of the prime meridian.

After getting off the boat, the first store we saw was this shop... located just seconds west of the prime meridian.

The observatory is really impressive--especially since we climbed up a long hill to get to the top.

The observatory is really impressive--especially since we climbed up a long hill to get to the top.

Here I am, split down the middle between the east and the west.  It was an odd feeling.

Here I am, split down the middle between the east and the west. It was an odd feeling.

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Heading Home

We took the Gatwick Express from Victoria Station.

We left London Gatwick, onboard Northwest Airlines Flight 31 to Detroit, scheduled at 1:40pm but more like 1:30. Upon arrival in Detroit about half an hour early at 4:50, we went through immigration, customs, and the often overlooked APHIS. We then connected homeward. I took NWA #1869 leaving at 7:05 to Indianapolis and She was onboard NWA #1475 to New Orleans. My flight was scheduled to arrive at 8:13, but managed an early arrival at 8:00.

I managed to work my way through the second and third Harry Potter novels while winging my way home, as well as finish grading memos written by my students, so I felt like it was a good flight home.

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London RENT photos

The big sign for RENT... I kept in small, so that....

The big sign for RENT... I kept in small, so that....

so that Adam Rickett could be large.   Need I say more?  It opened December 4th (2001) in London.

so that Adam Rickett could be large. Need I say more? It opened December 4th (2001) in London.

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Random British Photos

A warning for burglars.

A warning for burglars.

Something for my statistics students.

Something for my statistics students.

no comment.

no comment.

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Closing Thoughts, Things I learned

Things I Learned

If you want to type the “£” symbol on the US/Windows keyboard, you need to dig out the old ASCII codes… £ is ALT-0163 for those of you who are curious. (Use the key pad numbers, not the numbers above the regular keys.) For those that do not understand this suggestion, try using the character map–in Windows normally Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Character Map; also accessible internally from most word processors.

I use Yahoo! to convert money, like US$ to GB£.

FlyerTalk.Com continues to amaze me. I’m amazed that these people let me read their comments, let alone occasionally post questions and comments of my own. Interesting London Threads I read while preparing included “London During The Week From H#$*,” a charming post by MEX1K.

Theatre Thoughts

After doing some searching on the London Theatre Guide, MT and I settled on two different plays: Fucking Games and The Royal Family. You can guess who picked which one.

There were 58 plays on the stage during the three days we were in London–a wide range of choices, including the Vagina Monologues (a play that has caused a stir in Bloomington with the billboards that promoted the play’s November 2001 performance), and The Complete History of the US (abridged).

Booking tickets for Fucking Games was very straight forward and easy to understand. The London Theatre Guide pushed me onto the Royal Court Theatre’s web site and from there it was easy.

Tickets for The Royal Family was significantly more difficult. At first I started by using the London Theatre Guide’s ticket purchasing mechanism–that mechanism limited me to £37.50 tickets. I tried another search engine, which also limited me to £37.50 tickets, along with an expensive per ticket surcharge of something like £6 or £9. I forget what site that was, I didn’t go back or bookmark it. At the last second I searched Google for “Theatre Royal Haymarket” and then I went directly to the theatre’s web site, which then directed me to Ticketmaster/UK. That particular ticket search actually allowed me to search for the lower priced tickets, and we opted for the £25/ticket seats (Section Upper, Row E, Seats 9 to 8 — to be exact), with a £4 service fee for the order, not per ticket.

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