In professional wrestling, many posters that would be put up to promote upcoming shows would have in small print “Card subject to change” as a disclaimer that things may not be as planned. Often times in travel, this can also be the case, especially if your travel depends of flying standby. When Phillip first suggested this trip, he had mentioned the idea of going to a couple German theme parks to go along with Oktoberfest, and I was definitely up for it as some of their parks are quite high on my to-do list. As we changed the plan to get to Europe going through Zurich, it shifted our plans as there wouldn’t be a lot of time since we were using a day in Zurich, and then getting up to Munich with Oktoberfest. During our time in Oktoberfest, however, we talked about the possibility of going to Europa Park as it would have been new for both of us and is among the most highly rated theme parks in the world. We did some searching and found a deal to take advantage of, but would have to wait until we got to Frankfurt to arrange it.
Fast forward to our bus ride to get to Frankfurt. This would take about 7+ hours to get to the Frankfurt Airport, and during the first 30 or so minutes, Phillip looks over flight loads that he had been looking at the previous night, and came to the conclusion that he probably needed to go back sooner than originally planned as later flights did not look to have great availability. Granted, he had more options as he could use Delta, United and American Airlines. I on the other hand, was limited to just American, and while I did have more time off from work just in case I had to wait an extra day or two, the flight loads from Frankfurt for American were not looking that promising until the day before I was scheduled to go back to work, which was a little to close for comfort. So I spent what was probably about 75% of the 7+ hour bus ride to Frankfurt trying to find out how I was going to get home.
In my search, I looked into some possibilities of buying a one-way ticket back, but found that was going to cost something in the neighborhood of $1,000 or more. Seeing as I didn’t want to spend that kind of money, I started looking at alternate departure points to get back to the states. I had recalled that at one point, Phillip mentioned London as an alternative route to get over to Europe if Zurich didn’t work, and that there were a number of empty seats for that flight, so I thought I would take a gander at flights to the states from London.
As luck would have it, there was a flight that would be a day later from Heathrow to Charlotte, North Carolina that had a similar number of empty seats as our flight into Zurich. All I would have to do is to get over there. So with getting my name on the list for the flight to Charlotte from London, I then looked at options to get there, and ultimately booked a late morning flight from Frankfurt to London City Airport with British Airways. With this new plan set, Phillip and I would go our separate ways from Frankfurt as he hoped on a United flight back to the states, while I hoped across the English Channel to London.
I booked a hotel near Heathrow for the night, so when I landed in London, I made my way to Paddington station so that I could store my luggage there for my time that I would explore the London area. The idea being that I would hop on the Heathrow Express to the airport, and then get a ride to the hotel at the end of the night. It took a couple trains and the underground to get there, but once I stored my stuff, I was ready to roll out.
Since Phillip and I had originally planned to visit a few theme parks while in the area, I decided to see if there were any parks open near London. Some were only on weekend operations, however, Chessington World of Adventures was open the same day I would be in town. So I took a few trains to get over there to visit the park. Unfortunately, there were some delays in the Underground service, so by the time I arrived to the park, it was scheduled to close for the day in about an hour and a half. So there was a really good chance I would miss out on a few rides.
Of the park’s four roller coasters, I did manage to ride two of them. One being the Rattlesnake, which is their standard style wild mouse coaster, but unlike others of this variety, this one has a bit more themeing as the car drives into buildings for some of its drops.
The one coaster I was not going to miss at this park was Vampire. This coaster is an older Arrow Dynamics suspended model that is a dying breed. The past 15 or so years has seen several of this model close for good, only to be scrapped, including one of my favorites, the Big Bad Wolf at Busch Gardens in Virginia. In some ways, Vampire feels like it is in the same spirit as Big Bad Wolf, as a part of it interacts with the village area of the park, much like how BBW went through its own little village (just at a much quicker speed).
One of the big differences for Vampire is that it operates with a different style of train as Vekoma had built it specifically for this coaster, where as the other Arrow suspended coasters still in operation use the older style trains with two-row cars instead of individual rows. Vampire is certainly not the most intense ride out there, but much like its cousins, it offers a unique layout that is enhanced with the swinging motion that comes with the turns of the ride.
After the long wait for Vampire, the park was closed, so I headed back to the train station the head back to London proper. The train I boarded went to Waterloo station, which was located just a few blocks from the London Eye, which made for a perfect location to head for the evening so that I could stop by some of the major sights before heading back to Paddington to get my belongings.
From Waterloo, I wondered over toward the Southbank Centre at the edge of the Thames River. As the night sky became darker, the city’s lights were coming to life. Seeing as this was my first time in the United Kingdom, I was really surprised to find out just how close some of the most famous sights are from one another. While I did come right alongside of the Eye, it was not operating on this day, so I wouldn’t have been able to try it out if I had wanted to.
One of the views enjoyed would be a highlight and low light in one, as you could very easily see Westminster Palace, but unfortunately the Elizabeth Tower (home of the clock known as Big Ben) was currently under refurbishment, and will be until around 2021. But if nothing else, it gives me another excuse to come back in the future.
Just down the path from Westminster Palace, I found Parliament Square Garden, which featured statues of many prominent people in history, including the likes of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Millicent Fawcett, and Winston Churchill. While Fawcett and Churchill were certainly understandable as featured persons in this square, I was a bit surprised to see Mandela as I didn’t really think of a connection between him and the UK, and Gandhi was a bit more of a surprise since his protests were for the independence of India from the UK as a colony. It’s not like they had a statue of George Washington in the square as well, but perhaps the inclusion of Mandela and Gandhi has to do more with their methods and how they influenced others around the world in more recent times.
Not but a couple blocks away, I came to another historic location, in the form of Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, it was far too late to go inside as it was closed for the evening, but the brilliant lights they use the shine on it made the few moments to stop and see it worth while.
The last stop I made before going back to Paddington, and eventually to the Heathrow area to go to the hotel for the night was none other than Buckingham Palace. In my travels, I have seen palaces of royal families and emperors, along with capital buildings of regional and national governments. There was, however, something a little extra special about seeing this one, because in many ways, it seems like when people think about royalty today, it is often the British royals that come to mind. While I did not see the Queen, I did enjoy seeing her home.
And with that, a worn out traveler was feeling quite ready to get into a bed as it had been a very chaotic past couple of days, so he would head back to Paddington, get his stuff, then head to his hotel before catching a flight back to the states in the morning.
There was a point while walking through London that I couldn’t help but think of how fortunate I was to have been able to have such an experience. To be going for a walk, and having the thought of “Wow! I can’t believe that I ended up in London!” While there certainly were stressful moments during this trip with having so little arranged ahead of time and having to go standby on flights, it really was an exciting way to travel, not knowing exactly what was going to happen next and then ending up in a country you had no idea you were going to go to. I can see why there are those who work in the airline industry as flight attendants that really enjoy the lifestyle.
I’d like to thank Phillip for helping to make this trip possible. While our time together was short, and probably quite stressful at times, it really was an adventure, and it made me realize how enjoyable traveling without a set itinerary can be.
I’d also like to thank everyone for checking out the videos from this trip, as well as the written reports and I hope you’ll come back for more Coasting with Culture.
-Take Care and Safe Travels!