This post covers our return to Seattle, as well as some final thoughts. Also, the London photo page is up. Here is a list of all the photo pages for this trip:
- Bristol, England
- Bath, England (including Stonehenge)
- Cotswolds, England (Moreton-in-Marsh and Chipping Campden)
- Stratford-upon-Avon, England
- North Wales (Conwy and Caernarfon)
- Keswick, England
- Edinburgh, Scotland
- York and Durham, England
- London, England (including Cambridge)
Getting from the hostel to Heathrow was very smooth. We checked out and went to the underground to go to the Paddington station where we would catch a train. Since we had gotten 7-day passes, we had been using Oyster (proximity) cards which required a £3 deposit each, so we found the place where we could return them. After doing so, we walked back up to the train station only to find that the entrance to the underground (the one we had just gone through) was now closed to all commuters. Good timing on our part.
We saw that the train to Heathrow was going to leave within 10 minutes, so we hopped on. There are cheaper ways to get to airport but since we already had rail passes, we ended up paying nothing extra for the whole trip from hostel to Heathrow.
We figured it would be best to check our bags since we weren't allowed to carry everything onto the plane on the trip over, so we did that. The line through security was extremely quick, but the gate for our flight hadn't been announced yet. We hung out in the central waiting area, then when it was a bit later, grabbed lunch. We still had quite a few coins left (most of them £1 ones) so we grabbed a box of chocolate, which left us with £0.47 in change (we still had bills, but figured those would be easier to exchange somewhere). It was really nice to not have to worry about multiple currencies like last year's trip.
Our gate showed up on the board so we went that way. Normally your borading pass gets collected when you're about to go onto the plane, but this time they got collected when we entered the final boarding area. What's strange is the woman who originally checked us in (and the bags) was the one who collected our boarding passes, and ultimately the one who did the final check on the way onto the plane. She was everywhere, and we almost expected her to show up in Iceland, too!
Keflavik Airport in Reykjavik was busier than the flight over (the time of day having a lot to do with that) and it was nice to see it in daylight, not to mention when we hadn't just gotten off a red-eye flight. This time I remembered to snap a photo, showing the wood floors and nice staircases.
The flights were both uneventful, and it was interesting to see the sunset for almost all of the trip from Iceland to Seattle (we left at 4:55pm and landed at 4pm, both local times). We had checked the forecast and seen that there was a chance of snow, but we didn't expect to see so much, not to mention have it be so cold.
Regardless, we quickly went through passport control, and even though we had checked our bags they came pretty quickly and we breezed through customs. We hopped onto the light rail train and there were no problems getting to Downtown Seattle. We did, however, see that the freeway was for the most part stopped, so we tried to figure out a plan to get back home. Our first option was a commuter bus (more direct, and it was the right time of day) but after waiting a while we didn't see any go by, and it was getting pretty cold by that point.
Back to the bus tunnel where we finally ran across a different commuter bus which should have taken us within a mile of home. Not ideal but better than nothing. One of the east/west streets on the route has a steep section, and the driver didn't want to attempt to go up, so he turned left on 25th instead of 35th. Not so good for most of the people on the bus, but ideal for us, since we were able to get off only a few blocks from the house.
Reflections on the trip
We learned quite a bit from last year's foray into Eastern Europe, the first being that was a lot easier when we stayed at least two nights in a place. Last year there were some cities where we stayed only one night, and while it worked fine (notably Eger, Hungary, which was very small and only took us a few hours to see the things we wanted to) it was more enjoyable to not have to pack everything up as often.
Another thing about last year's trip is we took a few night trains where it made sense (we would have done a fourth but there wasn't one between Ljubljana, Slovenia and Budapest, Hungary), but we didn't do that this year. The longest trip we had this year was less than half a day.
This year we relied on the train for excursions to Caernarfon and Cambridge. Having a rail pass made it a painless process. The passes aren't cheap, but we got passes which we didn't start using until after 1-Nov (so they were off-season passes) and therefore only needed 22-day passes, so all of that meant they were less expensive than they could have been. It was nice to not have to worry about how much each trip cost, and we definitely would have paid more without the passes.
We had prepared for rain for most of the trip, but only had a few days with any rain of note, and at that it was on and off, not a downpour. We expected cold weather in Edinburgh but it was also cold in Keswick, York, and London. Unfortunately, while we had all the stuff to stay warm, we misread the weather early in the day a couple times and ended up getting chilly as the day wore on. Fortunately it wasn't too bad, and we were able to take breaks to warm up a bit.
Laundry seemed to go more smoothly this year than last. Having access to laundry facilities a few times really helped, and several places had a lot of heater surface area where we could dry things. Last year we had planned on laundry facilities in Ljubljana, but the washing machine was broken, so we did a lot of hand laundry we didn't expect to; luckily that didn't happen to us this time.
We found the people we had contact with to be very pleasant and capable. Of course, most of our contact was with people in the tourism or retail business, but even so they were good at their jobs.
For food we did pretty well, but we certainly spent more money on food than in Eastern Europe. We did end up getting sandwiches or microwave dinners from the grocery store every now and then, but it's not as sad as it sounds. The heated dinners were actually quite good; think Trader Joe's frozen dinners but with much larger portions.
Is there anything we didn't see? Sure. It's easy to list things in London (Tate Britain, London Eye, changing of the guard), but we missed things in other cities, too. Shakespeare play by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, or anywhere for that matter, since their season started just after we returned home. Avebury stone circle, which is much larger than Stonehenge, and you can get right up to the stones - there weren't enough people on the tour we wanted, but we did later get to Castlerigg, which is smaller, but still impressive. Scottish Parlaiment Building; we ran out of time. Stow-on-the-Wold, in the Cotswolds, since we again ran out of time, but by that point we felt that we got a good feeling of the area with Moreton-in-Marsh and Chipping Campden. Cheddar Caves (I ran out of energy to figure out the transportation from Bristol) and Hadrian's Wall (pretty difficult to fit within our travel and timeframe). However, we felt we did quite a bit anyway, and did prioritize what we wanted to see.
Favorites? I really enjoyed our Castlerigg hike in Keswick. We got to see fall colors, sheep in fields, rolling hills, a full rainbow over Castlerigg stone circle, and even jet fighters, and throughout the hike we got wind, rain, and spectacular sun. The National Railway Museum in York was a pleasant surprise, with enough to interest more than just railroad buffs. And the Victoria and Albert Museum seemed to have a great balance of interesting objects but still being manageable to navigate.