Once again, a very early start to the day even though I had taken another pill the night before. Doesn’t seem to make much difference and my supply of just 10 pills is almost gone anyway. A quick walk with brother Dave to the paper shop then probably the last decent coffee for a while, before our tearful farewells. Tears of sadness from Sue that we were going and tears of joy from Dave that the water and electricity consumption levels will now return to normal. There was just enough time to call on the next generation(s) of Greens and one last hug from each of them before we headed south.
It is always difficult leaving family, especially a close and happy one but thanks to the computer and especially Skype, hopefully young Noah will be able to recognise us from 12,000 miles. His first ‘wave’ was therefore very well timed.
As usual, during the journey towards the Heathrow area, I couldn’t help comparing the standard of driving awareness, courtesy, lane discipline, speed, use of mirrors and signals with that of NZ. The Brits may complain about their own driving standards and accident statistics, but they have much to be proud of when compared with the other countries we are familiar with.
We made good time even with a couple of casual stops and a more than passable bite to eat, en route to our hotel for the night.
For future travellers, provided you get a good internet deal and pay in advance, both the car hire at SixT and the room rate at ”Jury’s Inn Hotel” are to be recommended – especially as both are adjacent to Hatton Cross tube station, on the airport southern perimeter road (the hotel) and the A30 at Bedfont (car hire). Our deal at the hotel was a very modest £54 and was for a quiet room, even though the aircraft scream alongside the window as they approach the runway from the south east. That quiet is due to the double-glazing that has about a 10cm gap between inner and outer panes.
As an aside, our initial room keys wouldn’t work for room 745 - a quiet room - so a staff member let us in and we took just one step in, did a 360 and walked out again and back to reception. I really don’t think that guest smokers realise their legacy for the following inhabitants, especially those who still have a working sense of smell. Reception quickly and without qualm, relocated us to a defined non-smoking room (712 – the same as our cabin...) which was just perfect. The so called wide screen TV must have been away for repair, but that was no problem and the bathroom was immaculate. Car parking at the hotel was an extra £7.
The view from our window was away from the airport overlooking a small patch of greenery. After watching most of the Hungarian GP on the standard TV set, we drove down to Fleet in Hampshire to catch up with a dear friend and her mum, for an excellent lasagne meal, with yet more new English potatoes. I am not sure what it is about those new small potatoes, (smothered in Lurpak butter of course...) but they are so delicious. Back along the M3 and M25 for a short hop then to the hotel for our last night in the UK on this trip.
Day 69 – Heathrow to Fort Lauderdale
We were both awake early and before the alarm, so we got up, showered and finalised the packing before loading the car. It was still only 7am so we opted for tea and toast in the hotel as neither of us fancied the full buffet at £9.95.
We have flown out of Heathrow many times over the years but this was the first time from the brand new Terminal 5. Rather than catch the (paid) shuttle bus from the hotel, we drove 200m to the nearest petrol station, filled the VW Polo to the brim and drove directly from the service station and in through the back gate of the car hire company! They did their usual check and confirmed that there were still 4 wheels on our wagon and within two minutes, their shuttle took us to terminal 5.
Oh boy. Is that some terminal! Exclusive to British Airways, we did the electronic check in using nothing more than our booking number and self scanned our passports and the machine spat out our boarding passes. Over then to the baggage dept where we were told we were 10 minutes too early to check in the baggage! (By then it was 7:55am – so when it tells you that you should book in at least three hours early, take it with a pinch of salt. What they should say is a maximum of three hours early.)
Our gate was B48 and we wandered around the busy building for a while, had a bite to eat but were intrigued by a notice that basically said, “if using the transit system, allow 15 minutes to get to “B” gates and 20 minutes to “C” gates. This had us totally flummoxed until we eventually went down the escalators following the signs to “B”.
Down on the next level is a rapid underground tube system that simply takes you to a totally different building. Once we re-emerged into daylight and back up another escalator, we realised that Terminal 5 is in fact three terminal buildings...
Everything is of course brand new, but as we were heading to the US, the usual silly security check, where you remove your shoes and your belt and in our case, walked totally barefoot across a tiled floor that has quite probably been the recent recipient of various veruka (sp?) and athlete’s foot organisms. Yeuk.
Seated in row 15 we were staggered at the amount of legroom. Only later did I discover that we were in fact in “Club Plus” or something, one step up from cattle class. Usual boring 9 hour daylight flight where it was impossible to sleep having only been awake for about 5 hours.
Good food and service and a prompt landing at Miami, where the 32 degree heat was like walking into a sauna after the modest temperatures of the UK. Although we all of course had electronic visas, and there had been another flight just in front of us, we took exactly an hour to get through immigration as some people took anything up to six minutes to process.
At this point, it was interesting to note that the first 13 desks of the 36 are for US Citizens, and their queue diminished rapidly, whereupon the cheery official took people from the BACK of the alien line to go over to the US desks... So, if you dawdle or arrive late, you get shoved in ahead of those who have already been standing patiently for over 45 minutes. At this point, Paula and I decided that travelling by ship was much better option for the future.
A taxi to our Fort Lauderdale hotel through brief heavy rain showers had $73.50 on the clock and I think the normal shuttle fare is about $45 each, so this proved to be a good choice, as did the Embassy suites hotel.
Our suite was two (dark!) rooms and the hotel is like a massive atrium or cell block! The lounge effectively insulates any noise to the bedroom so it works well.
A short walk in the steaming heat then back to check out the “Managers Reception”. Free drinks and nibbles and we sat outside by the attractive pool whilst a number of boisterous teenagers enjoyed the warm water.
I opted for the seafood linguine which appeared to be a bit pricey at $27, but it w s good sized portion and came with free beer!!! I only wanted the one light beer with “that” much lime juice and it can with a piece of lime “that” long...
Early enough to bed at about 10pm having put the clocks back 15 hours – and at least the American beds are huge...
Heathrow was excellent but when will the Americans sort out the frustrations of arriving there? Maybe they could install the fingerprint and eye scanners at major departure airports such as Heathrow, as we seem to hang about for two hours after checking in and at least it would enable a fast track at the arrivals end. Too much to hope for I am afraid, so no wonder people are opting to travel via Singapore and Dubai who have cottoned on to the massive numbers travelling from Asia and Australasia to Europe.
Back to “our” ship tomorrow. Can’t wait