Surviving Heathrow, wandering Edinburgh, and happy reunions


I woke up at my normal hour of 5:30 a.m. (Central) on Thursday. It’s now 4:00 p.m. Friday (Central) and I haven’t slept yet—but I’m getting ready to. Because it’s nearly 10:00 p.m. on this side of the pond, and I don’t think I can keep my eyes open one more moment. I probably won’t get this posted until tomorrow (Saturday), but I wanted to get everything down before I forgot it.

For having as rushed a connection schedule as we did, the day was a complete success with very few problems. I will say, though, that Heathrow is a nightmare. People warned me about it, and I thought I had prepared myself. But, wow, that place is nuts! They ferried all the passengers off our 747 with shuttle buses, which took about six trips. And from there we had to go through the long, arduous passport checks, security checks, and baggage checks. And then we had to find our gate. And then we had to get to the gate. And we had to do all of this in one hour. Originally, it was supposed to be an hour and 45 minutes, but after 30 minutes of waiting for a shuttle bus to come get us off the plane and the holdups in between, we didn’t even make it into the passport check line until we had an hour left.

Talk about exhausting.

But we made it through passports with no problem, and we eventually got through security (though we experienced another hold up with airport personnel trying to give everyone plastic bags for their liquids/gels). We made it to the departures/arrivals screens just as our flight was scheduled to begin boarding—but the screens hadn’t updated to show us where our gate was! Fortunately, Terminal 5 seems to have all departing gates on one floor. So we just went down there and prayed that we’d find what we were looking for.

We did. So we ran and ducked and dodged through the crowds to get to a gate at the farthest end of the terminal. There had been very little air flow in the building, and the flight from Dallas to Edinburgh had been sweltering too. So I looked ridiculous, I’m sure. I know I was red in the face because I was so hot. I probably scared the poor desk clerk to death.

Fortunately for us, the flight hadn’t started boarding yet. We made it in plenty of time, and we landed in Edinburgh around 1:00 p.m. We even managed to get all our luggage, which was a miracle from what I understand.

Our original goal had been to figure out the bus details as soon as we were on the ground, but I think we may have underestimated how only getting two hours of sleep would affect us. And we also began to realize that we hadn’t planned for the Edinburgh leg of the trip very well.

We managed to figure out how to get a taxi to our hotel and got checked in. The next step? Meet my best friend at the Edinburgh Park train station at 4:30, when her train from Carlisle arrived. It was perfect. We had plenty of time.

I asked at the desk about getting to Edinburgh Park station, and she directed me to the main Edinburgh train station—also called Waverly. We got tickets to go to the Waverly Station, and we ended up riding on the second level of the double-decker bus. It was fantastic!

I don’t even think I can begin to describe what this city is like right now. I will try again tomorrow after I’ve slept some, but everything is made from ancient stone. The narrow roads are lined with towering apartments cut from aged rock with assorted shops, tea rooms, and Indian take-away restaurants on their first levels. I couldn’t believe how the buses navigated such narrow streets!

Andy and I reached Waverly Station and we spent some time at the Sir Walter Scott Monument. Talk about massive. This thing is huge. I also got a shot of Edinburgh Castle itself through the bus window, but that’s for tomorrow.

We got to Edinburgh Station. My friend had told us to meet her at the “Way Out” area. Well, once we reached Edinburgh Station, we realized that there were three “Way Out” areas. And we had no idea which one she would be at. So we wandered around Edinburgh Station for about half an hour. We even stopped and asked the train information guy, and he told us that a train from Carlisle had just come in on Platform 13. So we looked. We couldn’t get there.

By this time, we were exhausted and worn out and frustrated. Remember, we’d only had two hours of sleep, and we really hadn’t eaten either. But we couldn’t find my buddy! I was beginning to despair. And then it got worse. Because I found a random wireless network and googled Edinburgh Park Station…and guess what? Yup. It’s a completely different station.

We had gone to the wrong station.

Oh, I was so mad. We waited for a little bit and tried to decide what we were going to do. And eventually we came to the conclusion that we should just go back to the hotel and trust that she would know to go there. After all, this friend knows her way around the world of international travel, and we’re technically on her turf in the United Kingdom. But that didn’t stop me from feeling like a total failure (and fortunately Andy pointed out that I needed to eat).

So we got on another bus and found a table seat on the second level (and spent most of the ride cringing in awkwardness from the lovey-dovey couple that decided to sit next to us). We got back to the hotel and sat in the lobby for a little bit, trying to decide what we were going to do. She wasn’t there. Andy offered to go to the Edinburgh Park station to see if she was still there, and I was going to stay at the hotel because I was about to pass out from exhaustion. But before he left, I thought that maybe we should check with the front desk.

Good thing we did. Because she had already come to the hotel and gone up to our room! She was upstairs waiting for us!

So we had a joyous reunion and spent some time chatting and catching up. And then we hiked down to a grocery store and bought stuff for sandwiches, which we ate on the floor of the hotel room. Yes, we’re staying in a Marriott, and we bought groceries. We couldn’t find mayo either, so we got a jar of salad dressing instead (American House Dressing is what it was called). The sandwiches were actually pretty spectacular.

We’ve been hanging out since then. It’s so good to see her. I’ve missed the other half of my brain intensely.

But that’s been our first day so far. Tomorrow we’re going to Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, and whatever else might pop up that sounds intriguing. Then, we take the train down to Carlisle afterward!

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