Sunday, 1 Jul 84
Dear Mom & Dad,
I hope you all are well. We hear that the weather in Arkansas is very hot & dry. We talked with some people from Blytheville a couple days ago at Windsor.
We had a wonderful time in London! I could write a book about it. But you don't have that much time to read it & I don't have that much time to write. I doubt I will finish this tonight. It is already past 9 pm & Jeannie is watching a good movie, that I am trying to ignore.
We actually almost didn't get to London. My leave started 21 June, Thursday. We were at the military airport waiting for a "space available" MAC flight to Mildenhall. One & a half hour before it was scheduled to leave, we were told it was canceled. We weren't really prepared for that but knew that possibility existed.
Vic & Sandy Sharpe and their kids, ages 2 & 3, were also wanting to go to England. He is one of the doctors at the hospital. Sandy was going to meet her sister and family in London.
We were informed that the next flight to Mildenhall, England, was on Saturday, 2 days away. So what were we to do??
For the rest of the afternoon we discussed what we would do. We were pretty certain that the flight would have to go to England. It is supposed to go twice a week.
We went by the base and got some lire just in case we would have to take an alternate vacation. We decided that if we didn't get on the plane Saturday, we would go to Venice & northern Italy.
Thursday night, Bob & Ann Cummings came over & brought their game Trivial Pursuit. We hear that is the craze in the States now. It is terribly expensive.
Friday morning we went to Euromercato & the shoe store. I spent the afternoon changing the oil, rotating the tires, etc., on the Fiat in case we took a trip on Saturday. As much as I worked on the car, I was sure we wouldn't need to use the car.
We went to the airport Saturday morning. We were surprised that Vic & Sandy were there again. It was very helpful to travel with them. It kept all 4 kids from being bored.
The plane was a C-130, I think. Steven absolutely didn't want to get on the plane. It was a green, camouflaged one. Steven liked it even less inside.
We sat on seats that folded down from the wall along the sides. It was more like lawn chairs than anything else. They gave us ear plugs before we took off. Steven wouldn't wear his. After we were in the air, they passed out small oxygen bottles. That was quite discomforting. The plane was big enough to drive a bus into. We sat facing the cargo area. (Oh, we didn't use the oxygen; it was just to use in case of emergency.) Both kids had to go to the bathroom on the plane. It was nothing more than a pot surrounded by a shower curtain near the rear of the plane.
The plane took 4 hours to get to Frankfurt, Germany. This was too long on such an uncomfortable flight. The plane was to go on to Mildenhall the next morning (Sunday).
We spent the night, along with the Sharpes, in a nice hotel off base. We had a good German supper & breakfast. We returned to the airbase in Frankfurt by 11 AM & were told that the flight had been rerouted. We would have to wait 24 hours & take a different flight to Mildenhall and play the space available game again.
The 8 of us took 2 taxis to the commercial airport and tried to decide what we would do next. We found out that a train to London would take 17 hours, but was reasonably priced. Our wives thought that was too long for the kids on a train. We didn't really want to stay in Germany because it was Sunday and there was nothing to do.
We all ended up taking a British Airways flight that got to Heathrow in late afternoon Sunday. We took the train (Tube) to Lancaster Gate where we had reservations less than a block from the station. (The Sharpe's stayed somewhere in northern London & we haven't seen them since leaving Heathrow.)
The trip had been nothing but bad luck since my leave started. We had already wasted 4 days.
The hotel we had reservations at was on the north side of Hyde Park (about 3 or 4 blocks from where you stayed). Jeannie had called them on Thursday evening to change our reservations to Sunday. They said it was just fine. Well, when we got there, about 5 pm on Sunday, they told us they were full & our reservations had been canceled but not changed. Boy, were we disgusted. They half-way tried to find us a hotel.
The first place they sent us to was going to let us sleep in a store room. The second place actually had two rooms, neither of which would hold all four of us. So I left Jeannie & the kids in front of the last hotel and just went looking myself. I tried even the dinkiest places. I finally got a room for one night. It was clean but way too expensive for such a place. After we got checked in, we must have gone to 20 hotels looking for a room for the rest of the week, but didn't find one. We ate supper at Wimpy's near Paddington Station. We decided we wouldn't eat there again. We went to sleep that night, thinking we should have stayed in Italy.
I guess we had as much bad luck as we could have. The rest of the week was fantastic. After breakfast on Monday, Jeannie went back to the first hotel so she could talk to the same person who she had talked to on the phone both times she had called from Naples. (We had talked to enough hotels to learn that the first hotel legally had to find us a room.) One of the porters of the hotel took Jeannie to several hotels till they found a room. (It was at the hotel where they had offered us the store room.)
We took our bags to the Lancaster Gate Hotel where we stayed the rest of the week. They said they had a cancellation. Jeannie stayed in the lobby with the luggage & I took the kids across the street to play in Hyde Park while they got our room cleaned. We had only minor problems once in a while the remainder of our trip.
Monday, 2 Jul 84
By 11 AM last Monday we were on a 2-hr. "Round London Sightseeing Tour." Angelique was very disappointed that we didn't get to the bus in time to sit on the top deck. It cost £5.
Everywhere we went the kids got in free. The lower age limit for paying is 5.
Before we left Heathrow, we bought 7-day "Explorer Passes" for us. We rode the train & bus as often as we wanted without having to pay anything else. We rode the trains many times every day. By the last trip back to the hotel every night, we were tired of feeling like moles so we would take a bus. Angelique just loved riding on the upper level of the double decker buses.
We were so impressed with how easy it was to get to anywhere we wanted. Things were so organized. We never got lost or got on the wrong bus or train.
Everyone we met in London was so helpful. Everyone was very friendly with the kids and they often helped us catch a child that was getting too far away or too close to the street or tracks. Nearly every time we looked at a map, someone would walk up and volunteer to help us.
And it was so wonderful to understand everything that everyone said and they always understood us. It was nice for awhile to be able to read all the signs, but after awhile it was a waste of time to read most of them. We had a TV in our room that we watched while we were getting ready every morning.
The weather was absolutely wonderful. It was around 70º the first couple of days, then in the 60º's. It only rained one day and that was only a little.
The tour around London the first day was very helpful. Angelique found several McDonald's.
We ate lunch at McDonald's after the tour. The kids loved it & really "pigged-out." We ate 4 times at McDonald's during the week. Angelique & Steven wanted to eat every meal there. Every other meal (except breakfast) was always eaten at a different restaurant, including English restaurants, taverns, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hut. It was fun.
Monday afternoon we went to the Tower of London, then across the top of the Tower Bridge.
Our hotel room was very nice, but terribly expensive. It had 2 double beds which helped with the kids. We were all up too late every night.
Angelique did well without an afternoon nap. Steven would sleep in the back pack every day. Most of the time the kids walked. Every day Angelique found coins on the ground, even in Germany.
With 2 kids potty-trained it seemed somebody was constantly saying they needed to go to the bathroom. It about drove us crazy. Before every meal we had to go in shifts to the bathrooms because we carried so much stuff around, along with bags of things we bought. At Burger King, the last night, while Angelique & Jeannie were in the bathroom, Steven couldn't wait till they got back & wet his pants. He was terribly embarrassed. He had to go to the hotel without any pants. Jeannie carried only clean underwear for him. I'm not sure what the English thought about him being so underdressed.
All week Steven talked about alligators and crocodiles hiding behind trees.
Overall, the kids were a lot of fun and had a lot of fun. Angelique wanted to go to the park all day to play on the swings. She was quite a shopper and was always quick to find something that she had to have.
Jeannie wanted to spend the whole week shopping.
On Tuesday morning we went to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard, but it was canceled. So we walked to watch the changing of the horse guard. The kids enjoyed that. Then we walked to the National Gallery. On the way, the kids stopped at Trafalgar Square & fed the pigeons for about 15 minutes. We very quickly walked through the National Gallery, then went to eat. (Oh, we walked by Westminster Cathedral the first thing that morning.)
After lunch Tuesday, we walked past Parliament. Big Ben was all covered with scaffolding. Then we went to Westminster Abbey. After walking through there, we did a brass rubbing. Actually, Jeannie did it & I chased the kids for 20 or 30 minutes. After supper & a bus ride back to Hyde Park, the kids played in one of the playgrounds.
Wednesday morning we were at the British Museum when they opened the doors. We were there about 3 hrs. Angelique accidently set off one of the alarms. That was a little exciting, but the guard acted like it was just fine. About an hour later, a "general alarm" went off while Jeannie was with the kids in the bathroom. The guards closed all the doors. I was "trapped" in the King's Library and everyone else we stuck near the entrance. It took 30 minutes before they let the doors open. I'm glad the kids weren't stuck in a room without a bathroom.
It was interesting to see the Elgin marbles when we had just seen the Parthenon in Athens 2 months before. The museum was really impressive.
Jeannie went shopping after lunch. First, we walked down Oxford Street, then Bond Street, then through Burlington Arcade. Steven slept. Angelique found a little Paddington bear. We found a beautiful box from Russia, but decided that we couldn't quite see spending over $100 for a box smaller than the music box you got in Sorrento. We had never seen anything like this and probably won't see one again.
Then we went to Harrod's Department Store and spent 2 hours there. You need a map to find your way around in there. Jeannie bought Angelique a plaid kilt and matching vest and poncho. The kids went crazy in the toy department! We bought several small toys. They didn't have Care Bears in England yet.
I tried all week to find the book about Star Trek III, but couldn't. It isn't in England yet, they told us. Would you send us a copy?
The kids were very talkative to everyone. They thought it was wonderful that they could communicate with everyone.
The city was crawling with Americans everywhere we went. But the vast majority of people on the trains & buses were British. I'm not sure how the Americans got around. - Some expensive way, I guess.
Thursday morning we went to the London Zoo. We bought Steven a rubber alligator that is about a foot long. He even sleeps with it. The zoo was very nice & the kids enjoyed it a lot. This was the day that it rained. It was the day we were outside the most.
We went to the Toy & Model Museum. The kids really liked that. They had a train & a hand-cranked merry-go-round that the kids could ride. After that we walked past Kensington Palace where we think Prince Charles & his family lives. Steven fell & skinned his forehead practically in their backyard. We then went to a big play ground for awhile. Angelique hurt herself & cried for well over an hour, mostly from being so tired. We planned the whole day for the kids to enjoy. We mostly rode double-decker buses that day to get around.
The kids got so dirty in London. The dirt was so black, greasy, or sooty. Angelique had one new pair of yellow pants that Jeannie has been working on getting clean for 2 days.
We all got very tired & very sore muscles. But we sure had fun.
Friday morning, we first went to the travel agency to get a Saturday flight back to Naples.
Then we caught a train from Paddington station to Windsor. The tickets were "cheap-day return" & very inexpensive. The train ride was very relaxing & we all 4 enjoyed traveling above ground.
Windsor castle is very pretty. We didn't get to see much inside. This is where the queen's family lives. We went inside the Queen Mary's Dolls' House, which is like a doll museum, and into St. George's Chapel. There is a gift shop inside this church where Steven pushed one of the doors closed & it automatically locked. He was about to close the other door out of the shop when I caught him & realized what he was doing. It took them several minutes to find the key to unlock the door. It was almost as exciting as Angelique looking into the electronic eye & setting off the alarm at the British Museum.
The kids liked the guards at the castle & had to have their pictures taken standing next to one.
Jeannie found several nice shops where we spent lots of money. She bought a wool suit with a kilt. It was there that I realized that everywhere we went, everyone knew our kids by name. I said, "Where's Steven?" & someone said he's over there. We found a music box that looks like a Shakespearean house. We bought lots of Christmas presents.
We got back to London about 6 pm.
I brought back lots of books from everywhere.
Saturday morning we caught the train from Victoria station to Gatwick. We ate lunch at the airport, then hurriedly bought 2 T-shirts to spend our remaining British pounds.
We left London about 2 pm on a Boeing 737. We flew on a charter flight with Britannia, a division of British Caldonian. It only took 2 1/4 hrs. to get to Naples. The kids slept most of the way. It cost about $385. Steven didn't have to buy a ticket. We only paid for 3 seats, but ended up with 6, because the plane wasn't full.
We decided to come back early because: (1) we were tired, (2) we had seen most everything we wanted to, and (3) we didn't want to gamble on the Space A flight on Monday (today). If we had stayed 2 more days, we would have spent the equivalent of the airline fare. And if we hadn't been able to fly on the MAC flight, for whatever reason, we probably would have spent another $1000 to get home.
We hated to leave civilization behind in England, but it was nice to come home, too. We were home by 7:00 Saturday night & got a good night's sleep.
After church Sunday we went to Festa Americana at Carney Park. It's like a fair for the 4th of July. The kids had lots of fun. Yesterday afternoon, Jeannie & Steven slept 3 hours. Angelique & I only slept about 2 hrs.
My schedule sure was nice without any patients on it today. (I wasn't very busy.) I wasn't supposed to be back at work till tomorrow. They were sure thrilled to see me back. I should go away more often. It made everyone at the clinic appreciate me more.
About 1:15 this afternoon a 9-year-old Italian boy was brought into the clinic. He drowned & was obviously dead when he got to us. We did CPR till an Italian ambulance got there. They don't do CPR; they merely transport. The whole incident is kind of pathetic. It is hard to accept death of children.
Oh, there is a charter flight every Saturday from London to Naples. It is less than $150 one way. When you come next year, keep it in mind.
What did you see in London beside the British Museum & the National Gallery? We walked by your hotel on the way to the toy museum.
Angelique said she would like to live in London. Jeannie & I agree that it would be better than here. We will have pleasant memories of it for a long time.
I am enclosing a half-penny. They are no longer minting these in England. There are few left in circulation. (I bought a 14th century coin from Venice.)
We love you lots,
P.S. This did get a bit long, didn't it?
table of contents | previous letter | next letter