There are so many things to share. So many things to talk about, so many pictures to show.
But we're just going to jump right back into this, how does that sound?
It's the 22nd of December, Christmas is in just three days. Snow is gently falling from the Oklahoma sky (a Christmas miracle) and we are completely in the spirit of the season. And a big part of that? Well, that would be our Christmas present.
You see, Jon and I don't buy each other Christmas presents, aside from the odd stocking stuffer, and a pair of pajamas for Christmas Eve. Instead, we like to buy one big thing (usually to pimp out the house - yes I did just say "pimp out"), together. The first year of our marriage we bought a memory foam queen mattress (heaven). Last year we got ourselves a fantastic Nikon D3100 (love it). This year, we are getting ready to move - so we couldn't think of anything we wanted to buy, seeing as though we have no idea what our house will be like when we get there.
So instead, we snuck away. On a trip. A much needed vacation (we haven't been on one since our honeymoon, two and a half years ago). A year of pilot training had worn us both thin and we needed to get away. Relax. Unplug.
Therefore, while telling as few people as possible, we snuck to The United Kingdom. We flew Space Available (another topic for another day, but basically - FREE flight) to Mildenhall RAF in Mildenhall, England. And it was amazing.
We did not know if there would be a flight for us until the morning of our departure. I guess you get what you pay for there. We had packed our bags the night before, making sure to pack up the right stuff for England OR Colorado (our backup plan). We went to bed, with visions of KC-135's dancing in our head, and woke up at 6am to call McConnell AFB with bated breath.
They had a flight. We had 6 hours. We had to get there, to get our name on the list, so we would get priority. And we did it.
(Note: Space Available and our journey to/fro England is a much longer tale, which I will divulge at a later time. Need to save room for all the pictures of the queen in this post.)
We arrived at a picturesque Air Force Base, Mildenhall, at 8am, waited for customs to clear, sans passport (J, seriously. No passport. I grabbed his passport on the way out of the door in Oklahoma, and realized it was expired. Luckily, active duty military members enjoy certain perks. Like getting into the UK without a passport).
We walked around base with our packs on (very european traveler) and rolling along our dockers suitcase (very American tourist). After a quick jolt of coffee, some free internet (used to book a hotel in London), and some travel advice from a Mildenhall worker, we took an expensive cab into Mildenhall Village to the bus station.
The bus wasn't due for another 25 minutes, so we popped into the grocery store across the street to find some food. Didn't find any, but I found my dream slippers. I have, no joke, been looking for a pair of slippers just like these ALL fall/winter in America with no luck. The first store I walked into in England, a grocery store, had them. It's a sign! We didn't find any food.
We hopped on a bus to some airport, where we caught another bus to Victoria station in London. I attempted to navigate us around the streets on foot - which lasted 2 minutes. Hailed a cab who taught us tipping customs, insisted we must visit San Francisco and insisted not to visit LA, and drove us around in a few circles to get the fee round £10.
We checked into our tiny - but nice - European hotel room, showered, dressed, and went out in search of food (not before asking for shampoo and soap - which was in the shower - and the free wifi password - "I'm sorry sir, we don't have free wifi").
We found a right cozy pub to grab a pint (J) and a hard cider (me) and a bit to eat (sausage platter and hummus). It was amazing. Whoever said the British food was rubbish was wrong. Let me tell you. Although, take that with a grain of salt, because the person telling you this is a fan of any restaurant with a cheeseburger on the menu.
After sustenance, we went for a walk to Hyde Park to take in the Winter Carnival, which both smelled better and housed more well kept people than American fairs. We were ridiculously proud of our lack of jetlag as we made it back to the hotel by 10 for bed.
Woke up at 11, hello jetlag. We shot out of bed and into clothes since this was our one full day in London and we had a lot to do. Grabbed breakfast at a small cafe around the corner (J had beans and steak and kidney pie, I had a tomato, mozzarella, and basil sandwich, and J's fries) and hit the double decker bus tour 'round Tourist London.
We got off almost immediately at Piccadilly circus, where did a little souvineer shopping, but didn't buy anything just then, because we thought there must be something better. Hopped on another double decker tour bus to ride for a short while, got off 4 stops later at Buckingham Palace. (!!!!! This is where the excitement REALLY started to hit me.)
Before visiting Harry and Her Majesty the Queen, we stopped just around the corner in the Queen's Gallery Shop for a souvineer or two, and bought some this time, because they were much better. A Christmas ornament, English tea, and two fantastic postcards (oil painting replicas of men on horses. My favorite, seriously).
Next it was on to Buckingham Palace, took a million pictures, smiled like only a Prince Harry and British Monarchy loving American can. Unfortunately the queen wasn't in just yet. She must not have gotten the message we'd be popping by for tea.
Next up on our busy day in London, we walked ourselves through St. James park because we could see The Eye - and we had tickets. It took a bit to get there, but that was alright because we got to see Big Ben up close and personal, Westminster Abbey (yes I pictured exactly where Kate got out and waved) and the houses of Parliament on the way.
We jumped on The London Eye just in time to see the city all light up. It was a gorgeous 28 minutes, absolutely stunning. Tried to find a public restroom (didn't happen - we had heard that, but who knew it was SO true!), headed to Westminster Abbey just in time for evening prayer.
That was neat. It was definitely very traditional, but SO cool to be there, where so many kings and queens have been before. We only saw a tiny portion on the church (probably only as far as David beckham and Posh Spice saw at the Royal Wedding) and got scolded for taking a photo on or way out. Whoops!
We decided to walk down the mall to pay visit to the queen again before we caught our bus back. That is when we realized the busses stopped at 5pm. Our bus would drop us only at Trafalgar Square. Not Hyde park, which was much closer to the hotel. So we were forced off by the River Thames to find out own way home.
Back down the mall towards the palace, hello your highness. This was the time to test our sense of direction on the winding streets of London. The walk took about three times as long as it should have before I realized the maps at the bus stops don't point north.
So after walking in dizzing circles, we found Zara, or as I like to call it, the most magical place south of Hogwarts. They shut off the music shortly after we walked in, which meant "Get the ruddy hell out, it's the end of the day." So we left without buying anything (which was only okay because there is a Zara in Edinburgh).
On the way back to the hotel (again) we found a pub for our rumbling stomachs and dry throats (fried pickles to start, a burger for J and fish & chips for me, and toffee pudding for dessert. And not to mention my new favorite drink - a ginger fizz). Made it back to the hotel with no help from the bus tour map, and passed out from utter exhaustion.
The next morning we woke up at 6:45, as there was no way jetlag was claiming two mornings. Breakfast was at a French cafe, Paul (side note, I have never had more mozzarella and tomato sandwiches in my life, but am addicted now - I've had 3 since I've been home), and tried fruitlessly to access on the Internet. We were changing cities that night, after all. Since that didn't happen, we were forced to grab a coffee at Cafe Nero so we could use their wifi to book a hotel in Scotland and check times for a train.
Headed out for the bus tour, determined to get our moneys worth after the appalling effort we did yesterday (what can we say, we're much better walkers than riders). Again, we rode to Piccadilly, grabbed the souvineers that weren't good enough yesterday, and hopped on the big tour. Rode it for 2 hours and ran to the next stop when they decided to take a break while switching drivers. The next bus still wasn't there so we ran a little further before hopping in a cab (check out was noon, at this point it was about 11:52 and we were still miles from the hotel). We, thankfully, walked into our hotel with 2 seconds to spare before checkout, and thanked our lucky stars that we packed the previous night.
After checking out and grabbing a photo, we hoofed it to the tour bus with to large backpacks and a rolling suitcase. Got to the stop we thought we could change lines, and turned out the line that ran to Kings Cross wasnt running. Sweet. We hopped on a different line, got off to a short walk to Kings Cross. Short wasn't as short as we'd hoped with pinched toes (me), but we made it.
We went to buy tickets and found out we'd pulled a major muggle move by assuming Kings Cross would be the best way to Scotland. It wasn't. We had to walk about halfway back the way we'd just come to Euston Station and ran to the train (not without stopping for a Brie, tomato, and basil baguette first). The train was exactly what I expected, but smaller than I had hoped. And of course, it didn't help that we didn't realize there was a BIG luggage rack at the front of the car. We sat in our tiny seats with our huge backpacks for half the trip to Scotland.
And that was England. Next up, Scotland!