An Overnight Layover in London!
By Jen Campbell of Escape Destinations Travel
It was the overnight layover of my dreams! I booked a super cheap round-trip flight to Italy and back, with a 19-hour layover in London at London's Heathrow Airport. The cost of my airplane ticket was around $450 and it was a Super Steal. Hey, being a travel consultant has its own personal perks at times! Was I a tad bit nervous traveling solo into a new city…Yes, but would I kick myself later if I changed my mind, ABSOLUTELY! So, I moved past the fear and proceeded with my plans!
With an hour’s plane delay from Rome to London Heathrow airport, I was now down to merely 18 hours. Let’s not forget that embarrassing scene of mine in the Rome airport. I was turning around to look at various souvenirs and contemplating something to bring back my co-workers from Italy, in the duty- free-gift shop, that my ever so slightly oversized backpack knocked over a bottle of red wine. Sweet, Italian Red Wine smashed to the floor into a million pieces, with the wine splashing all over my jacket, my pants and my sneakers. I was absolutely mortified. Not to mention I stunk like a drunk the entire rest of the way home, because this girl did NOT bring a change of clothes in her backpack!
So back to my London adventure story! I arrived well after midnight into London Heathrow airport and being the ever-cautious traveler that I am…I decided to roam the halls of the Heathrow airport for a couple hours, so that by the time I had rested up a bit, it would be daylight hours and I could then hop into the city to see the sights. No way was I going to see the city in the dark, alone. So, I searched high and low for a row of flat seats, so that I could stretch out and catch a couple hours of much needed shut-eye. I found one row of flat seats eventually…but with the nearly constant overhead speaker serenading travelers about arrivals and departures, even this seemingly dead airport (in the middle of the night) had a certain buzz about it still. I dropped onto the seats (with my purse under my body) and used my backpack as my pillow. Covered my head with my rain jacket (to shield my eyes from the piercing lights overhead) and attempted to get some sleep. I couldn’t mask the sounds all around me. I tossed and turned for hours, waking up and switching sides, trying to find an outlet to plug my drained i-phone into (without much luck) and then eventually giving up and just simply “resting.” Next trip around, I will be sure to pack a set of ear plugs and an eye-mask. Will I venture to sleep in the airport the next time around: that would be an emphatic NO WAY! I even perused the idea of a cheap airport hotel, so I could get SOME restful sleep, but the frugal side of me decided against this. I reasoned that I could always simply sleep on the plane ride home! About 5:30 a.m. it was already so loud in the terminal, so I eventually gathered all my things and headed to the coffee shop around the corner before waiting for the exchange counter to open at 6, so that I could exchange US dollars for Pounds. Quickly, I exchanged my money for UK funds (which was completely foreign to me) and then grabbed that cup of Joe. By the way, not the cheapest option (getting money exchanged inside the airport) but I had forgotten to do so prior, and had cash on hand, so I was somewhat forced to use this "service". So on to the coffee counter I went to order my cup of Joe. When they asked for the pounds for my coffee, I simply opened my hand and asked nicely, “please can you just take what you need, as I am unable to figure out this money yet?!” They had a "jolly laugh" about this (imagine that) and then I was on my way to the train station's terminal at the far end of the airport’s terminal.
I asked the kind service attendant which train would be best, He then suggested I purchase the daily pass card and take the express train into the city center of London. I knew once I arrived into the city, that I could get about with ease. I jumped on the next express train (I only had to wait about 10 minutes) and it took me directly into the city hub of London, after a quick 45 minute direct train ride. I think it was about $30 each way for the ticket fare, which in my opinion seemed to be a very good price. Of course this was after I had to figure out how to put my day pass into the gate to let me into the train station track (which was all automated) and I felt a bit lost and embarrassed to not know how to navigate this seemingly easy feat. Commuters were brushing past me quickly to be on their way…so I stepped aside and watched how they navigated before I took another chance at it. Once the train had arrived into the main, crowded train station in London (near the city center). I took a moment to look about, I eventually followed the crowds and located the nearest exit (which again took my daily pass card) in order to leave the building.
Once on the streets of London, it was a hustle and bustle of activity all about. Commuters were busy going about their business and destination, while I was leisurely meandering about. I spent about 10 minutes walking around until I spotted the nearest Hop-On-Hop-Off bus station attendant. I asked about the
general packages they offered and he explained that the “main route” would be the best option as far as seeing the main sites in one setting. I was instructed where the next bus stop pickup location would be. I was able to find this bus pick up location, and after waiting about 45 minutes for the first bus to arrive, I jumped on and got a bird’s eye view from the upper deck. I spent the next 3+ hours, amazed and in awe of London. I was enjoying the sites and sounds around me, all with a narrative, guided tour of the city. We went through the old town areas, drove past Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, Over the London Bridge, next to Parliament, numerous beautiful city parks, shopping districts, the financial districts and many other neat places (far too many to mention). The Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus tour was worth every pound spent on it (Roughly $40) and even included a two-hour cruise on the Thames River…but I was anxious to get back to the airport for my flight and didn’t want to miss it. I took so many wonderful pictures and enjoyed the tour immensely.
Once the tour was back to where I had begun, I hopped off the bus and then headed back to the train station to London Heathrow Airport. I took the quick train back to the airport and departed for the US about 4 hours later, on my way home. This was by far, my most enjoyable layover experience thus far. I couldn’t get enough of the beauty of the UK. The people were quite friendly, their accents are amazing, the culture is embracing, the history is incredible. A overnight layover in London was not enough time. I -Must -Go -Back!
I had such an amazing, whirlwind time on this London layover, that I plan to return with a small group, in the summer of 2021. If this small group tour sounds like fun, and you’d like to also enjoy the UK, then won’t you consider joining us?
Incredible Italy Small Group Tour!
By Jen Campbell of Escape Destinations Travel
As you soak up the Italian scenery, the always delicious cuisine, amazing wines, the rich history and priceless art, you can see why Italy is considered one of the Top Destinations in Europe!
There was zero hassle and stress of having to plan each day, as our 2 Tour Guides had it ALL laid out for us in advance. We were able to relax, unwind, have fun and enjoy our guided tour through this majestic land.
We spent 9 days there and it didn’t seem quite enough to experience all the wonders that this country has to offer. La dolce vita (the sweet life) was surely had exploring the small towns and big cities of Italy. Our tour was a focus on simply amazing cuisine, local wines and authentic cultural experiences.
We began our amazing adventure in Milan, where we spent half a day seeing this bustling mecca with its impeccable fashion and financial powerhouses all over this great city. Milan is considered by many Italians as it’s most ‘continental’ city. We were all a bit enthralled with our first taste of Italy and mesmerized with the hustle of Italian culture with it's people, scenery, scooters, bikes and cars galore.
After a bit of a rest that evening (of course we had a wine and cheese welcome reception at a local park) and a huge breakfast buffet (which we enjoyed daily) we then headed on to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Many of us decided to climb all 294 of the ancient spiraling stair case (around the leaning historic building) to the top to admire the beautiful panoramic view of the area. That lovely afternoon we took a leisurely stroll through Lucca, a typical rustic Tuscan Village, surrounded by an old, medieval looking town wall. The smells of the local food were delectable.
We took a beautiful ride through La Spezia along the way to the beautiful, coastal town of Portovenere, whereby we caught a beautiful, relaxing boat ride along the coast and a few local islands, which helped us see the colorful villages up close and personal. We went by the seas to see Cinque Terre. We drove past and stopped at villages in the Classic Italian countryside of Tuscany.
If you were to imagine a quaint Italian village, it would be another Tuscan village, sensational Siena. What a beauty this town was to stroll leisurely through the souvenir and clothing shops, drink espresso outside a lovely sidewalk café, or stop for a local glass of the local wine.
One entire day was spent exploring the town of Florence. Known as the home of the Renaissance and birthplace of our modern world today, Florence has the best Renaissance art in Europe. In a single day, you can look Michelangelo's David in the eyes, fall under the sway of Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and walk the entire amazing Uffizi Gallery.
Gubbio (in the far Northeastern Part of the Italian Providence of Perugia) was a charming little area where we were able to stop for lunch and explore the quaint little village. I think this was one of my favorite little villages. The historical center of Gubbio is a great medieval town with its dark grey stone, very narrow streets, and incredible Gothic architecture.
Assisi was yet another amazing stop on our tour through Italy. We were able to go to the large church where St. Francis of Assisi was laid to rest. There was always time for a nice class of wine and cheese plate, along one of the many quaint restaurants on the streets of Assisi.
Our final days were visited in Rome within it’s ancient town center, where we spent a relaxing yet very full day in Rome’s historic town center. A few (on our tour) had walked until they could walk no more, so they jumped on the hop-on-hop-off bus tour throughout the enchanting city of Rome, visiting all the major attractions (by a rooftop bus). A few of the lucky travelers (including myself) were able to visit the amazing Trevi Fountain and marvel at the amazing Coliseum with an intimate walking tour of the inside. And who could forget the scenery unfolding behind us, as the majestic sun was beginning to set behind the Coliseum on our last full day in this incredible country.
Experience a delightful journey off the beaten path…discover why our intimate Small Group Tours are like no other!
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