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!!

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