Picking the Kid up at Heathrow - a day long marathon of endless buses

Having spent the past couple of days traipsing about London, scouring the clearance racks for 50% off Kate Middleton inspired designer frocks and indulging in one too many pints of Guinness, it was now time to put on my responsible hat, kick into “mean ol’ Auntie” gear and pick up the kid at Heathrow.  The former French revolutionary 12 year old had blossomed overnight into a “wise beyond her years” 16 year old fashionista, eager to take on the world and follow in her Auntie’s pink-sneakered footprints and discover far-away lands in even further away places.  Fortunate to have the privilege of spending two weeks soaking up Greek and Italian culture whilst on a school excursion, my niece had decided to prolong her travel adventure and accompany me on my European journey.  Hoping to re-live the “good old days” with her uber cool, if somewhat strict middle-aged Auntie, the kid envisioned a care-free holiday, her every whim catered to, wishes granted by a magical fairy dust princess, or, in my case, “money is no object” rich Auntie (who, moi??).  Residing in a “made for TV” saccharine fairy-tale version of reality, my sister’s youngest child was in for a harsh wake up call, appalled at having to traipse through Europe with her frugal and economical Auntie, who subsided on a pauper’s budget on her sojourns around the globe.

 Travelling with cheapo shopaholic me would prove to be an exercise in patience, exhaustion and frustration, as we un-graciously hauled our over-burdened luggage on buses and trains, all the while enduring the hostile glares of our fellow passengers, as we trudged and schlepped our way through Europe.  What?  No servants?  No limos?  No five star accommodation?  And, to further add insult to injury, we had to forgo cabs and either walk or take the over-crowded pedestrian bus.  Yikes!!  This is a holiday? What had the kid gotten herself into?

It all started to go downhill the morning that I left my B & B in order to make my way to the airport in anticipation of my niece’s arrival in London.  Flying solo from Athens, the kid was in her glory, pretending to be a jet-setting socialite, who was accustomed to boarding planes at a moment’s notice.  My sister had threatened to disown me as a relative if I was so much as one second late in picking up her daughter at Heathrow, hence my 6:00am wake-up call from Canada, commanding me to get up, get dressed and high-tail it to Heathrow lickety-split.  Like seriously? The kid’s flight only lands at 3:45pm, leaving me plenty of time in which to get a coffee, meander along the shops, partake of a leisurely lunch, take a nap and make it to the airport in time. You would think that a generous 9 hours would suffice.  Well, think again, as I never anticipated the issues that I would encounter along the way.

Having already navigated the hallways and corridors of Terminal 3, upon my arrival a couple of days ago, I was smug in my expertise of getting out of the airport cheaply, quickly and economically by choosing to travel on the National Express Coach bus for a very reasonable cost of £6. 

Hoping to save a bit of time and also catch up on some sightseeing, I hopped on the “Hop on Hop off” bus that was so conveniently located just down the street from my London digs.  Since I had already purchased my £30, “valid for 24 hours” voucher the previous day, I was quite familiar with the route the bus would take, having spent the day looping around London on the “Big Bus Tour.”  Smarty pants me was planning to hop off the tour bus not far from Victoria Coach Station, board the Airport Express bus to Heathrow and arrive at the airport in time for a leisurely lunch, allowing me plenty of time to read magazines while I waited for the kid.  Great plan in theory, not so much in reality, though.

Weaving its way along the ever so crowded streets, the “Big Bus Tour” crawled at a snail’s pace, barely inching along the congested traffic jammed laneways.  On the tour bus for most of the morning, stranded out by the London Eye, I was now a bazillion miles away from Victoria Coach Station, no longer a convenient short walk but a marathon inspired sprint away.  Yikes!!  It was now approaching noon and my plan to be leisurely settled in the airport Lounge, enjoying a vino with my lunch, was replaced instead with sheer panic, as I now had 3 hours in which to race to the tarmac and greet the kid.  Visions of having to endure the wrath of my sister cursing me for the remainder of my life sent shivers of fear down my spine, as I envisioned the kid wailing unceremoniously upon learning her fate of being stranded at the airport, having to sleep on cheap plastic chairs and scrounge for left-over food scraps for the duration of her first grown-up idyllic European holiday.

So what’s a gal to do but grudgingly hop into a cab to race her to the bus depot.  Like, seriously -  I tried walking for about 10 minutes or so but gave up when I realized it would take me at least 3 hours to get to the bus station, so for a mere £20 (Yikes!!), I was deposited at Victoria Coach station within 25 minutes.  Okay. Breathe. Relax. I’m half-way to the airport already. Whoa. Hold your horses. Not so quick there. You sure about that?

Clambering off the bus 45 minutes later at Terminal 3, I now had less than 2 hours to get to Terminal 5, a mere hop, skip and jump away – or, so I thought.  Yikes!!  Little did I realize that Heathrow is a sprawling “metropolis” in itself, encompassing 5 Terminals spread out over several acres, all within easy access via the underground or Tube.  Now - normally, this would not pose any sort of problem for most people, but with severely claustrophobic me - who goes to great lengths to avoid the entrapment of elevators and subways - this is an entire other set of issues, requiring years of therapy and endless gallons of vino to be able to possibly overcome.  The Tube could efficiently scoot me to my destination within a couple of minutes and would be the wisest and most practical choice - but would effectively result in the entire city of London witnessing a middle-aged pink-sneakered woman having an undignified meltdown, un-elegantly gasping for air, screeching in the black lightless tunnels, panicking that the train is about to breakdown - resulting in her being trapped until the end of time in a dark confining tube for the remainder of her life.  Not a pretty sight, if you know what I mean.

All righty then, what next?  How to get to Terminal 5?  Dashing, sprinting and racing from hallway to corridor to information desk, I was adamant that there was no way in hell that I was going to get to Terminal 5 via the underground, determined that there was an alternate route in which to navigate from terminal to terminal. Seriously contemplating exiting the building, whether having to resort to racing along the tarmac and dodge incoming airplanes along the way, my pink sneakers were up to the task. Visions of a pink-clad delusional Canadian foreigner unintentionally making front page news headlines – unceremoniously arrested for sprinting along the runway of a major International airport – were not the memories I wished to take home from my European adventure.  Quite certain that my sister wouldn’t even post bail, still mad that the kid had been abandoned at the arrivals Lounge; I was in quite a conundrum indeed.

With less than an hour left to meet and greet my niece, desperate measures called for extreme action and thus I was left with no choice but to beg and plead with the nice folk at the National Express Bus Coach counter whether or not there was any possible way the bus would be able to give me a ride to Terminal 5.  Let me tell you, in no uncertain terms, that crying and appearing hysterical will get you the desired results nine times out of ten. Without even having to dish out any extra money for additional fare, my old bus ticket still valid, I was graciously escorted to Terminal 5, with a couple of extra minutes to spare!!  Now that’s good old-fashioned British hospitality!!

Come traipse all over London on a day-long hike involving buses, taxis and even more buses (but no underground!!) as I scramble to get to the sprawling hub of International travel in 9 hours or less – encountering traffic jams, that pesky claustrophobic Tube and genuinely swell people along the way…

Next week – Where do my pink sneakers take me?? Stay tuned!!

Musical deck chairs - observations on pigeon feeding and chaise lounging in London parks

Cavorting through the lush playgrounds of London’s Royal Parks required an abundance of energy and stamina that often wore out, after endless hours spent traipsing about the grass, frolicking with the dogs and foolhardily attempting to keep up with the joggers.  All tuckered out, in desperate need of a nap and a siesta, anxious to “put my feet up” and take a load off of my weary pink-sneakered tootsies, I happened to spy several inviting deck chairs, conveniently scattered along the perimeters of the park.  Beckoning one to “come on over”, sit down and blissfully lounge the hours away in a cocoon of luxurious contentment, the striped recliners were a welcoming oasis of tranquility for my sore and blistered feet (yup, again!!).  Hobbling over to one of the lone outdoor lawn chairs, I was immensely grateful to have stumbled across such a wondrous find.  My curiosity was further piqued upon viewing that the majority of these stupendous recliners sat forlorn and empty, devoid of human companions, with most people preferring to park themselves beside the chairs, on the not so comfortable prickly grass.  Momentarily bewildered as to why they would choose to forgo the comfi-ness of a readily available cushy seat, I gave it nary a thought and eagerly plunked myself down on said deck chair.

Happily munching on a hot dog while absent-mindedly throwing left over scraps to the grossly over-fed squawking pigeons, I happened to notice a park employee marching directly towards me.  Berating myself for not having noticed the “do not feed the pigeons” sign, I was seriously contemplating playing the “clued-out tourist” role, ready to plead ignorance of failing to abide by London’s official park rules.  Carrying what seemed to be a mini metered oblong gadget, the park official approached me and asked whether or not I had a “ticket” in my possession.  Pardon me?  A ticket?  For what?  Feeding the pigeons?  Wow!  The Brits certainly are super strict about enforcing those pigeon feeding regulations! Yikes!!

Babbling incoherently that I had just arrived from Canada and was not yet familiar with the customs and traditions of just hanging out in the park, I frantically strove to clear the “crime scene”, mercilessly scrapping with the now belligerent pigeons for any remaining and damming crumbs of evidence.  I was therefore startled to learn that providing sustenance for the birds was not a punishable offense, but sitting on park deck chairs was subject to payment of £1.50 per hour. Like, seriously? Are you kidding me?

Relieved that I wouldn’t be hauled before the court magistrates on the charges of endangering the well-being of future generations of winged species by gorging their over-stuffed bellies on a diet of processed meat and bread, I eagerly dug out a couple of coins, thereby guaranteeing myself a worry free full hour of “reserved” seating on prime real estate park grounds.

And then it dawned on me, as if a light bulb sparked a luminescent jolt of long-forgotten wisdom, as I slowly clued into the reality that hardly anyone was willing to fork over a couple of pence for the luxury of lounging on her majesty’s royal park recliners – hence, I suspect, the reason why the fabulous lawn chairs remained largely unoccupied.

Reserved ticket in hand, secure in staking claim to an engrossing 60 minutes of people watching from my comfy deck lounger, I was thoroughly entertained as I witnessed the antics of unsuspecting park patrons scramble and skedaddle from their striped lawn chairs, upon being confronted by Mr Official Deck Chair Enforcer, as he asked them to cough up a couple of coins for the privilege of lounging on the park recliners.  Making the rounds from deck chair to deck chair, Mr Chair Enforcer was diligent in collecting all that was due to the royal park coffers, encountering a melange of reactions along the way.  From the backpacking lovey- dovey couple who were appalled at being evicted from their cuddle nest - to the undignified cursing of seemingly normal parents of two adorable toddlers who perceived themselves to be unjustly uprooted from their chaises– to sincerely apologetic joggers who happily paid the chair rental fee, grateful to put their feet up and rest for the next couple of hours – I was delightfully amused by the incredible lengths some people would stoop to in order to avoid having to pay the park’s extremely economical chaise rental fee.  Needless to say, my one hour turned into two hours, which then extended into the remainder of the afternoon, so mesmerized was I by the comical escapades of certain extremely stingy cheapskates, seeking to save a couple of pounds by high-tailing to the hills upon glimpsing sight of Mr Deck Chair Enforcer.

Come hang out in the park and lounge on your choice of denizens of striped comfy recliners as you over-feed the pigeons and laugh hysterically at the entertaining antics of the walkers, joggers and chaise loungers – just another day in the park spent communing with nature and the birds and the bees.

Next week – where do my pink-sneakered feet end up?? Stay tuned!!

Just hanging out with the dogs and the ducks in Hyde Park

With more than 8 Royal Parks to cavort, play and stroll through, Londoners do not realize just how fortunate they are, able to “get away” from big city life and retreat to the “countryside”, at virtually a moment’s notice.  Traipsing through the lush greenery of the more than 360 acres that encompass Hyde Park, my pink-sneakered feet had ample opportunity to walk, jog and run in this tranquil oasis, commune with nature and “put their feet up” in the multitude of caf├ęs and bistros that are scattered about the picturesque grounds.

Blessed with uncharacteristically superb weather for the first two weeks of July, the British capital was awash with sunburned Brits and foreigners, frantically mad-dashing to drugstores to purchase “sold-out” sunscreen, a once plentiful item that had over-night become a rare and precious commodity.  Outfitted with fashionable rain weather gear, puddle-jumping rain boots, and cocooned by a chic golf-size umbrella, I was equipped to handle torrential rains and monsoons, yet unprepared for sun soaked beach California type weather. After all, I was in London, where grey skies and brollies go hand in hand and are an integral part of daily life on the continent.

So, what’s a gal to do, but retreat to the air-conditioned shops and be waited upon hand and foot by eager sales associates anxious to sell you that 50% off  “steal of a deal Ted Baker leather jacket (yup, mine!), which seemed quite impractical in the 30+ degree extreme heat, but a sensible purchase for the upcoming seasonal changes. But, there’s only so much material acquisition that one can drool over, and pocketbook drained of British pounds, Euros and Canadian dollars, I was forced to spend the remainder of my time pursuing activities of a non monetary nature and hang out in Hyde Park.

With my fabulous B & B located just across the street on the north side of the park, I didn’t have far to venture, as I was mere minutes away from my London digs, if I happened to tire of meandering alongside the tree lined pathways. So, it puzzles me as to why each time I stepped foot onto the immense grounds, I inadvertently stumbled off the beaten path, losing my sense of direction and looping around in endless circles, absolutely convinced that the approaching pathway would be the one that led to the direction of home. No matter how often I consulted the map and took note of helpful landmarks, I ended up going in the complete opposite direction than I had originally intended. Now, this random “change of plans” was an acceptable diversion at the start of my day, when I was fresh and eager to embark upon endless hours of walking, but a royal pain in the you know what (actually, bandaged and blistered tootsies, to be perfectly clear) at the end of the day, when all that I dreamt of is putting my feet up and pouring myself a well-deserved glass (heck, just give me the entire tetra pack, if you please) of vino tinto.

Had I not strayed from the well laid out pathways, I would consequently not have been privy to the adorable sight of the row of geese confidently waddling along the pavement en route to yet undiscovered territories, belly-laughed till I was blue in the face watching the adorable antics of the scruffiest dog on the planet cavort in the cooling waters of Serpentine Lake and lounge in my new favourite outdoor restaurant “The Serpentine”, set along the edge of the rippling water.

There is something to be said about just going with the flow, letting the wind guide you, allowing yourself to just chill and permit yourself to get lost (literally!!), delightfully discovering random moments of memories along the way.

Come stroll through Hyde Park with me, meander off the beaten path and embrace the wonders of nature, as you strive to stay out of the shops and not squander every last penny and farthing.

Next week – What next??  Where oh where in London do my pink-sneakered feet end up??  Stay tuned!!

Introducing Miss Pink Sneakers and her impromtu dragon-boating adventure in Chicago

Like, seriously, devoting an entire blog post to a pink-sneaker caricature of you in the form of a well-travelled rag doll? Have you completely lost your marbles? Do you seriously think anyone cares to read about a pink-sneakered hand-sewn pillow case representation of your likeness? 

Well, in my own defense, I must say that it’s primarily all about my travel adventures around the globe and the hilarious and entertaining situations that I often find myself in.  My objective is simple and that is to share a bit of advice and helpful tidbits of information with other worldwide wanderers who perhaps also might find themselves in similar situations. And, for the times that I’m unable to get away due to prior commitments, well, that is where Miss Pink Sneakers comes into play. She gets to accompany friends on their adventures, and experience the exhilaration of sky-diving from planes, dragon-boat racing in Chicago and climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower, thoroughly enjoying life (that is, as much as a rag doll is able to) and discovering the world from an entirely different perspective. Then, when my pink-sneakered side-kick returns home safe and sound, her travel escapades digitally documented by my shutter-bug obsessed friends, it falls to me to paint a vivid picture of her journey, bringing it to life with nouns, verbs and adverbs, liberally interspersed with a hefty dose of my beloved adjectives.

Merely two weeks after returning from her first ever globe-trotting adventure in Europe, Miss Pink Sneakers had the opportunity to partake in a dragon boat race which was scheduled to take place in the windy city.  I reluctantly permitted my co-worker, KT, to take The Girl to Chicago, all the while fearing that my rag doll would end up getting lost, or would tumble out of my friend’s luggage, forlornly abandoned somewhere on the plane, or worse, accidentally fall overboard and drown. Yikes!!  After all, Miss Pink Sneakers, being a stuffed pillowcase mini version of me, can’t swim!! My only remaining hope would be that she would end up floating along the river to safety, plucked from the turbulent waves by a curious onlooker or a gleeful child, grateful to have rescued a drowning doll.

Yes, call me odd, crazy, loony, out to lunch, daft and/or eccentric, there are far more pressing issues to be concerned with than a middle-aged woman hanging out with a fun-loving cheerful rag doll replication of her likeness.   I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve been approached by inquisitive onlookers, delighted to make the acquaintance of the pink-sneakered gal, all the while commenting on the uncanny resemblance between her and I, oftentimes unable to tell the difference between which one was the real deal. Ok – I’m somewhat kidding and exaggerating, but you get the drift.

So, stay tuned for the fabulous adventures of Miss Pink Sneakers as she explores places far and near, standing in for me when I’m unable to get away and jump on a plane at a moment’s notice – after all, someone has to stay at home and be the responsible one and pay all of the bills!!

The Gal accompanied me on my adventures throughout Europe for the latter part of June and July, an almost three week fun-filled and often-times hectic sojourn through London, Calais, Bruges and Paris – a wealth of travel tales and escapades, oftentimes hilarious, exhilarating and exasperating, a candid memoir of traipsing across the globe with a curious rag doll and a “know it all” fashionista 16 year old. Yikes!! What have I gotten myself into??

You must be curious as to why I chose to interrupt the story line and not scribble about my London adventures in this week’s blog post. There is still so much to write about London and I’ll post a lot more info about my British escapades in future blogs, but I had to appease the clamouring of my work colleague and her dragon boating buddies and share a bit of the pink-sneakered Gal’s sightseeing adventures in Chicago sooner than later – after all, they threatened to hold The Girl hostage and wouldn’t release her back to me unless I wrote a piece documenting her travels in the windy city – so, I had no choice but to cave in and share a bit of her sojourn with you.  Hey – wouldn’t you have done the same??

With Miss Pink Sneakers home safe and sound, lounging on the sofa, mesmerized by her picturesque travel books and watching reality television, I can once again concentrate on the task of writing and reminiscing about the places I’ve actually set foot upon. After all, being jealous of a rag doll’s adventures away from home is just plain wrong!!

Stay tuned for snippets of dragon boat racing in Illinois, architectural tours of the windy city, and just chilling at the Navy Pier, as the Girl’s travel adventures are recounted bit by bit in sporadic and random occasional blog posts, interspersed alongside my own real travel adventures.  After all, being a rag doll, she can’t write and it’s up to me to bring her escapades to life and share pictures and memories of her mini pink-sneakered globe-trotting footprints.

Come hang out with curious and adventure seeking rag dolls and traipse all over the globe, gleefully leaving pink-sneakered footprints along the way…come travel with us…

Next week – back to London – somewhere in Hyde Park perhaps?  Stay tuned!!