October 18, 2016
Red-Eyed and Bushy Tailed
When it comes to vacationing, preparation is never usually all that high on Tracy’s and my list of priorities. We’ve gotten to the point where Disney vacations are pretty stress-free because we know what we’re doing, and we’ve visited several domestic destinations in a “fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants” manner. But when we decided in June (on something of a whim) to make a trip to London and Paris in October, trip planning was actually something we had to think about.
A couple weeks out from our visit, I wrote my first ever “pre-trip reports”—which you can (and should) read here and here—to delve in depth into what our planning process involved. Since Tracy had never been to Europe, and since I had only been to Paris once, more than a decade ago, we had a lot to learn. We were also determined to make this trip one for the record books because we’d been dreaming about it for years. As you can see from those posts before we left, we made extremely ambitious plans. We had no idea how feasible it was going to be to hit everything on our “must-do” list—let alone anything else. But I think we also never lost sight of the fact that simply going to these cities would be incredibly exciting, regardless of what all we got to do there.
So now, jump ahead to mid-October as we got within a few days of our trip. One decision we made was that we wanted to beat jet lag as much as possible on the way out. So rather than trying to overcome the seven-hour time difference between Colorado and London all at once, we eased ourselves into it a bit. While we usually go to bed around midnight and wake up at 7am, we started to alter our sleep schedule a few days in advance. By the morning of our flight, we had adjusted to going to bed at 9pm the night before and woke up at around 4:30am. It might not have seemed like a huge deal, but I think it kept us from getting quite as tired on our first few days abroad (and made us more likely to sleep on the plane).
That day was exciting and a little torturous all at once. Our flight wasn’t until almost 8pm, so we had hours to kill before we needed to head to the airport. There was still plenty to do as we finished packing, however, and we found that the time passed relatively quickly.
In fact, before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to this mug and make our way toward the bus stop.
We moved to a new apartment (still within the Boulder area) relatively recently, and this was our first experience taking the bus to the airport from our current place. Luckily, we are ideally situated to catch that bus. Though Colorado public transportation is notorious for our park-n-rides—meaning you have to drive to the nearest bus stop—we somehow managed to get an airport bus stop within walking distance from our house.
So here’s the somewhat crazy part: for our 11-day trip to Europe, Tracy and I each only packed one piece of carry-on luggage in addition to our personal items. We tried eBags packing cubes for the first time, and they allowed us to smash a whole bunch of clothes together in tiny suitcases. We also each bought a duffel bag in advance of the trip for souvenirs and packed these (empty) in our suitcases. Did it turn out to be a good plan? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.
Anyway, with our petite rolling bags in hand, we walked the few minutes to the bus stop.
There was this device on the bus stop pole, and when I saw it, I seriously thought it was a joke. It said to quickly move this weird lever up and down when the bus was in view so that the driver would see the reflection and know to stop. Upon re-reading the sign for the umpteenth time, I realized that the instructions only applied to nighttime buses because it would be hard to see this bus stop in the dark, but that didn’t stop me from posing with the flasher nonetheless.
Our bus was late, which we were hoping wasn’t an ominous sign at the beginning of the trip. Luckily, we had given ourselves plenty of time to be delayed without it having an impact on making our flight. Even though we wondered whether there was any logic behind the advice to arrive at the airport three hours in advance of international flights, we figured we were better off safe than sorry. The bus did finally come, about 10 minutes behind schedule, and we had no problem finding a row for ourselves. It was even empty enough that we could put our backpacks on the row across from us to free up some legroom.
Another benefit of our new location was that we basically had a straight shot to the airport without any other stops. When we arrived, we headed to the check-in desk because we were unsure if we needed to show our passports there (even though we had done online check-in the night before). We were flying British Airways direct from DEN to LHR, and we had looked on SeatGuru to find out what row to get. Since there are a few rows in World Traveler (economy) with only two seats next to each other, we had gotten one of those so that we wouldn’t have to spend the night next to an unknown neighbor. When we spoke to the ticketing agent, however, she told us that the flight was nowhere near full and we would probably be better off doing a window and an aisle in a regular row—because it would be safe to assume that the middle seat wouldn’t get taken. She moved us, checked our passports (which we’re still not sure was necessary), and sent us off toward a relatively short set of security lines.
After security, we cozied up at our gate with almost two hours until our flight time. We went to get some dinner at McDonald’s and were dismayed to see that our flight had been delayed by almost an hour. Luckily, the arrival time wasn’t expected to be affected because of the time we would make up in the air. What added insult to injury, however, was that the plane arrived almost an hour before our originally scheduled departure time. We had no idea what exactly kept it from making up some time—obviously, this was a large plane to have to clean, but we also wondered if maybe refueling really takes hours when there needs to be enough fuel to cross the country and the ocean.
Anyway, here is the plane arriving when it’s still relatively light out.
And here it is again after the sun has long been down and we are still waiting to board.
Finally, they called up our flight. We had to wait for all the fancier classes to board before we could make our way down one of the two jetways (yes, this was quite the large plane).
We settled into our newly-assigned row and were pleasantly surprised to see just how empty our section of the cabin was. I also realized that this was probably the exact same plane I flew on from Denver to London (en route to Paris) in 2004. It looked like it hadn’t changed one bit, and everything about it just felt a little dated.
At first, Tracy and I prepared to share this row for the next nine hours and hoped that we could figure out how to get some sleep (this was a red-eye, after all). But after takeoff, we noticed that there were still a few completely empty center rows, and I formulated a new master plan. The second that the seatbelt sign went off, I bolted back a few rows to one of the empty sets of four seats. Spreading out across those, I was able to essentially claim a makeshift bed, while Tracy could then lie flat across the three seats in our assigned row. Suddenly, sleeping became a much more definite possibility.
I didn’t get any photos of our new setup—though I wish I had, because I’m sure it looked a little ridiculous. It was already after 8pm, and we had been up since before 5am, so we both laid down right away. I still felt a bit too much adrenaline to be able to fall asleep, but I put on a couple episodes of Friends while I tried to shut my eyes and relax. The overhead lights were still blaring (I didn’t have a sweet Haunted Mansion eye mask like Tracy), and I eventually realized it was because they were doing a 10pm dinner service. We’d eaten back at around 6pm, so I was a little peckish when the flight attendant came around. Plus, I hadn’t been able to fall asleep yet anyway. I got the pasta dish she was offering (the other option being chicken, mash, and veg—yes, British terminology had already started among this cabin crew), and it was actually really good. In spite of the old adages about airline food, even having a meal on a plane felt like a luxury in this day and age. We also were given several courses, including a salad, roll, and cheesecake dessert.
Luckily, it seemed like they were just waiting to finish dinner service before dimming the cabin lights. At around 10:30pm, the lights went out, and I was able to start drifting off to sleep. I can’t pretend it was the most restful sleep of my life (my stomach wasn’t happy I had eaten right before bed, I felt several bouts of turbulence, and the noise was certainly distracting), but it was worlds better than if we had been forced to sit up in cramped quarters, so I felt very thankful.
After dinner, I set my watch to London time, so it was probably about 6am by the time I fell asleep. We were set to land around 11am, at which point our adventure would actually begin!
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