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A Tale of Two Cities (AA New 77W J and Old J, AF J, BA Y, IB Y)

A Tale of Two Cities (AA New 77W J and Old J, AF J, BA Y, IB Y)

Old Feb 12, 14, 10:49 pm
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: BTR/MSY
Programs: AA EXP, Hyatt Globalist, Marriott LTP, Hilton Gold
Posts: 1,172
A Tale of Two Cities (AA New 77W J and Old J, AF J, BA Y, IB Y)

REPORT COMPLETE

A Tale of Two Cities



Trip Report Index

Dr. Pepper Mule: American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER Business Class DFW-LHR; American Airlines LHR Arrivals Lounge
Jolly Old England: Exploring London
Taxation Without Representation: American Airlines Flagship Lounge LHR ; BA Galleries First Lounge T3 LHR; Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge LHR; British Airways Economy Class LHR-LIS; Holiday Inn Express Lisbon Airport
Isn’t It Ironic?: Iberia Economy Class LIS-MAD; Iberia Velazquez VIP Lounge; American Airlines Business Class MAD-DFW
The Curve Balls Keep Coming: The Air France Lounge IAH; Air France Business Class IAH-CDG
Base Camp Paris: Paris Marriott Opera Ambassador
Bienvenue a Paris: Exploring Paris
Home Stretch: Air France Business Class Lounge CDG; Air France Business Class CDG-ATL

2013 was an incredibly stressful year for my family and I. My grandparents were both diagnosed with cancer early in the year, which meant frequent visits to their oncologist and various other medical professionals. To complicate matters, my sister tore her ACL for the third time which meant more trips to the doctor to get that taken care of. That also meant she couldn’t drive for an extended period of time, rendering her unable to help with my grandparents. My dad was swamped at work, and while I would like to help out more often I live in Dallas and my family lives in Houston. That left my mom as the only person who could reliably bring my grandparents on their weekly visits to the various doctors. That was no easy task. My family lives in a northern suburb of Houston, and my grandparents’ doctors are in southwest Houston. It’s a solid 40 miles each way, made far worse by Houston traffic. On top of all of that, my mom was still teaching a full load of courses at a local college. With her birthday fast approaching in the middle of the year, I figured the best present I could give my mom was a trip so she could take a break from all of the commotion, at least for a few days. One of the places she had always wanted to go to but never been to was Paris. So Paris it is!

Planning this trip was an adventure in itself. For one thing, we had limited time to go on the trip. My mom is a very dedicated educator, and is therefore reluctant to cancel classes. I was also very busy at work; therefore, I was quite reluctant to take too much time off. Additionally, I had to take into account my grandparents’ treatment schedule. After spending a few hours going back and forth between our different schedules, I finally some open dates on all three schedules in November. And best of all for my mom, she was able to schedule a test for the day of class she was missing, that way she could avoid losing out on a teaching day. I’m sure her students were very appreciative of this. And now to figure out how to get there…

Fortunately, I am a FlyerTalker, which means I’m armed with tidy piles of miles/points/instruments across all of the major airline alliances and hotel chains. I’ve spent a substantial amount of time on oneworld and Star Alliance carriers since 2012, but rarely have I set foot on a Sky Team carrier. I’ve accumulated a tidy pile of Delta SkyMilesPesos through various channels, and the present was a good as time as any to burn ‘em. A lot has been said on the interwebs about the functionality, or lack thereof, of Delta.com’s award calendar and the lack of low award space, especially in premium cabins. From past experience, I knew the former was definitely true. As to premium cabin award space, I haven’t booked an international award with SkyPesos in a couple of years, so I couldn’t speak to current trends. But I figured I could find something if I put in a little work.

And that’s exactly what I did on one stormy Friday night. To my surprise, I easily found transatlantic low Business Class space on the dates I needed on Delta, Air France, and KLM. Conversely, domestic segments with low First Class were damn near impossible to find. It took a couple of hours, but I was able to piece together an itinerary of IAH-ATL-ORD-CDG-DUS-ATL-IAH, on a combination of First and Economy on the domestic legs and Delta BusinessElite and Air France Business Class on the transatlantic legs. Now it’s time to play Pricing Roulette, courtesy of Delta.com! I input the flights I wanted on the multi city tool into delta.com, and it snorted in haughty derision and laughed. NO LOW BUSINESS CLASS AWARD FOR YOU! YOU PAY HIGH AWARD PRICE!

I tend to be quite persistent, a trait that has come in handy on a night out or two and for booking award tickets. I checked on ExpertFlyer and confirmed that low award space was definitely available. So I kept on trying. Eventually I beat Delta.com into giving me what I wanted: two tickets for 100,000 miles and $130 in taxes and fees, each. Thankfully, I booked when I did because Delta announced the award chart devaluation a few short weeks after I locked in the award.

Not too long after I had booked the Paris trip, I was chatting with a friend who recently got married and moved to London. She was really missing her American Dr. Pepper and M&Ms. I kidded around for a bit about making a special delivery for her, but before long I thought, “Well, I have two AA Systemwide Upgrades that will expire next February. ” Sounds like a perfectly reasonable excuse to head to hop across the pond again. But with my work schedule full for the remainder of 2013, I looked for open dates in early 2014. I decided on the long Martin Luther King Day weekend in mid-January, since I could minimize annual leave used and still spend a reasonable amount of time in London.

Fares to London were fairly reasonable around that time, which became even more reasonable if my return leg did not originate from English soil for reasons I will explain later. I eventually settled on an itinerary of DFW-LHR//LIS-MAD-DFW, which cost a shade over $800 AND had SWU upgrade space available on both long haul segments. Boom. To get from London to Lisbon, I bought a separate ticket on British Airways to get to Lisbon for a reasonable $80. A hotel for the quick overnight cost $100, bringing my total cost to about $980, which was still significantly cheaper than the $1200 DFW-LHR roundtrip. As an added bonus, I also earned quite a bit more miles and points with the more convoluted itinerary. Best of all, I was able to upgrade both my DFW-LHR and MAD-DFW segments immediately after booking. And my DFW-LHR was operated by American’s brand spanking new Boeing 777-300ER, which featured their excellent new Business Class product. Needless to say, I was very excited to be able to try that.

The best laid plans always go awry, especially if those plans involve travel. Just a few weeks before we were supposed to head to Paris, I found out that the client I was working on was unable to reschedule a key meeting, which was to be held during the time I was in France. Ugh. Well, it was back to square one. I went to back to work on delta.com. Again, I was surprised how easily I was able to find low level Business Class award space on the dates I wanted. Armed with this information, I called up Delta’s reservations desk where I got an incredibly friendly and helpful agent. She was able to quickly confirm the flights I wanted, and sent me to the international reissue desk to get the tickets reissued. No muss, no fuss. Unfortunately, this change cost me $300 in change fees because I do not have status with Delta. But it was certainly better than buying the tickets outright. With this little schedule change, I ended up going to London before I went to Paris.

Of course, the travel gods once again decided to throw another nasty curve ball at me the night before leaving for France. But more on that later.

Previous Trip Reports
2013: It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (AA/MQ F AS Y)
2013: Geeking Out Across America (AA F/Y)
2012: Around The World and From Sea to Shining Sea (AA F/Y, CX F, SQ F, UA F, DL F, WN Y)
2011: Everybody look at me because I'm sailing on a boat (KL J and DL Y)

Last edited by dat4life; Dec 11, 14 at 10:38 pm Reason: Update Index Links
dat4life is offline  
Old Feb 12, 14, 10:50 pm
  #2  
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Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: BTR/MSY
Programs: AA EXP, Hyatt Globalist, Marriott LTP, Hilton Gold
Posts: 1,172
Dr. Pepper Mule

After a few long months, the day of departure finally arrived. It was a beautiful, sunny, and crisp winter day in North Texas, perfect for travel on the roadways and in the clear blue skies. I was working in another small town that week, which meant a bit of a drive back to the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. With perfect weather, light traffic, and great tunes pumping from my cars audio system, I chewed up those miles with ease. When I was just a few minutes from the Dallas/Fort Worth International airport, I remembered I forgot something that was kind of important: my camera charger.

Since I had planning to go straight to the airport from work, I had packed for my trip to London on Sunday night and just brought my bag with me. I remembered at some point during the week that I forgot to grab my camera charger on the way out of the house. I made a mental note to run home before I went to the airport. Of course, I forgot to do that as well. So my choices at that point were a 25 minute drive back home or head to the Best Buy down the road. I only had a little over 2 hours until my flight departed, thus I decided to head to Best Buy. The sales person, who helped me, was more than likely high on something other than life, but she managed to eventually figure out what I needed. I was officially 40 bucks (or quid since Im headed to the UK) poorer when I walked out of the store, but at least I would have a fully charged camera. I made to my usual park and fly lot, the Remote North Lot, just a couple minutes after I left Best Buy. And a few minutes after that, the shuttle bus dropped me off in front of Terminal D.



I arrived at the First/Business/Elite check in counters, just as the line dragon turned away a family who was travelling in coach. He allowed me into the line after asking if I were flying First or Business, to which I answered yes. As I entered the line, I noticed the signage for the elite lite had been updated to include US Airways elite members.



There were quite a few people in line already, though the counters were fully staffed so the line moved pretty quickly. While waiting in line, I couldnt help but notice the red Priority Access carpet just strewn about haphazardly at the beginning of the line. While American has made a genuine effort to improve its product over the past two years or so, attention to detail is still lacking, case in point the aforementioned carpet. Perception is everything in the service industry, and for airlines the perception of premium customer, at least the truly high value customers, means quite a bit. I cant imagine this image would make a very positive impression on these high value customers, nor could I ever see Cathay Pacific or Singapore airlines ever allow that to happen in their check in areas.



Not long after I got in line, I was beckoned to come forward by an agent. I handed over my passport, and she processed my check in. When I first starting traveling frequently, I always needed to check a bag for one reason or another. I graduated to carryons only, except for trips longer than 7 days. But today I needed to check the bag that was packed to the gills with Dr. Pepper and M&Ms. As I expected, the agent asked me what the heck was in my bag after she moved it from the scale to the conveyor belt. I said it was an emergency supply of Dr. Pepper for a Texan stuck in London. She laughed, and handed me my boarding pass and claim checks, and wished me a pleasant trip.

Unfortunately no Pre Check today, but at least the priority lane was rather empty. While waiting to get to the ID check, I was amused by a girl, probably in her early 20s, argue with the ID checker about whether or not she was eligible to use the priority lane. Finally, she got sent away, but then she circled back and cut everybody in the regular line, and walked right up to the same ID checker and was allowed through. Other than that, security was painless enough. Many people, myself included, have given the TSA a hard time. To their credit, Ive found the Transportation Security Officers more friendly and personable of late.

I headed straight to the D23 Admirals Club after I cleared security, where I cashed in my drink chits for a couple of cold Sierra Nevadas in a comfy chair to get my minivacation started right. It had been a long year, and even longer past few months as I had a major project due at work, which forced me to work long hours. It was the first time in quite a while I could sit back and truly relax.

Terminal D is Dallas/Fort Worth International Airports newest terminal. It is also the most attractive terminal, with its bright, airy, and modern design. In comparison, Terminal D makes the other terminals, with the exception of the renovated section of Terminal A, seem downright dowdy. Unfortunately, Terminal D still shares the same design flaw with its older brethren: the scarcity of unobstructed views of the ramp. Normally, I can get around this in Terminal D by heading up to the Admirals Club. But since the club faces west and it was around sunset, I was unable to get a good shot of my aircraft tonight because of the glare. And the view from the gate wasnt much better, as D25 only has a couple smallish windows, but itll have to do.







As I mentioned in the introduction, I was very excited about this flight as it was operated by Americans new Boeing 777-300ER. Though it is new to American, the 777-300ER is already flying in the colors of many different airlines around the world for quite some time. And Ive had the opportunity fly this fantastic aircraft on several occasions, most recently on Cathay Pacifics and Singapore Airlines. So why I am I so excited?

For quite some time, Americans hard product has been derided by many for being tatty and obsolete. And rightfully so. The hard product in all classes on all of Americans long haul aircraft havent been meaningfully updated since the early 2000s. It wasnt until the introduction of 777-300ER into service in late January 2013 that American finally has a modern and competitive hard product.

The products in all of classes of services have been improved greatly. The improvements in First Class and the Main Cabin (Extra) were more evolutionary than revolutionary; however, the same cannot be said for the Business Class cabin. The former Next Generation Business Class seats were angled lie flat seats configured in a 2-3-2 configuration on the 777-200ER. The Business Class seats on the new 777-300ER are fully flat seats in reverse herringbone configuration. It offers significantly more privacy and comfort than the old angled lie flat seats, and is arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. In fact, its very similar to the seat Cathay Pacific is using as their new Business Class product. Needless to say, I was very much looking forward to trying this new product.

Boarding started on time, beginning with pre-boarding of those passengers who needed extra time, followed by First Class and then Business Class. A flight to Cabo departing from the next began boarding a little while before my flight to London did, causing quite a bit of confusion. Group 3 for the Cabo flight was called about the same time as First Class for the London flight, causing substantial mass of humanity to head to the boarding lane. To their credit, the gate agents turned away anyone who wasnt eligible to board at that time and made several announcements for those who had not had their group called remain seated, but the damage was done. The aforementioned mass of humanity remained camped out at the entrance of the boarding area, which slowed down boarding somewhat. But soon enough my boarding pass was scanned and I was making way down the jet bridge.



American Airlines 50
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) London Heathrow (LHR)
Depart: 6:35 PM
Arrive: 9:35 AM + 1 Day
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER (N721AN)
Seat: 3J (Business Class)


My excitement crescendoed to an all-time high as I approached end of the jetbridge. Would my experience be up to par with the hype?

I was greeted by an enthusiastic FA at the door, and directed to the far aisle and turn left to my seat, 3J. Despite the explicit directions from the FA, I still turned right, out of habit I suppose. Or perhaps I was just too busy checking out my new surroundings. Boarding was conducted through door 2L, which is where the onboard bar is located. My first impression was positive. Even without the bar set up, the area was still looked sleek and modern, and the mood lights created a W Hotel-esque type feel.

The FA directing traffic on the starboard aisle laughed when I turned around, and said that happens all the time especially for those passengers who are used to the 777-200ER. I cant say Ive flown the old 777-200ER that often, but I can see how 772 regulars are easily confused. Because of its large First Class cabin (16 seats total) on the 772, First Class occupied the entire space forward of door 2L. Therefore, Business Class started just behind door 2L.

Anyways, I found my seat without any additional faux pas. My first impression was along the lines of, flipping awesome The new Business Class product was configured in a 1-2-1 layout, which rivals some First Class products, and the 8 seat mini cabin behind First Class created an additional feeling of exclusivity. Aside from going to the lavatory or the aforementioned bar, I didnt notice there was anyone seated behind the mini-cabin after I boarded. That said, it is doesnt quite compare to the overall feeling of privacy of the First Class products Ive experienced. For example, I was still aware I had people seated around me in the mini cabin, but the seat provided me enough privacy for me to not to be bothered by anything my fellow passengers did. Anyways, I quickly got to work snapping pictures of the seat.







As soon as I sat down, I could immediately tell how well padded the seat was. While soft enough for you to sink into the seat, its also firm enough to provide proper support. For my fellow window seat fanatics, though the seat is angled toward the aisles, the angle is not severe enough to make looking out the window a chore as you can tell by the number of window shots I took later in flight. I was also appreciative of all of storage compartments available, especially the large compartment next to my right leg which was more than enough to hold my 13 inch MacBook Pro, camera, amenity kit and still has plenty of room to spare. It also kept everything easy reach, except when the tray table was in use. The seat controls were intuitive and very easy to use. With the multitude of ways to adjust the seat, it was easy to find a comfortable position. Additionally, I was quite pleased to see individual air vents, which many foreign carriers seem to lack in premium cabins. They certainly make a huge difference in comfort while sleeping.







One of the cool perks of flying premium cabins is the swag that is handed out preflight. Waiting for passengers at each Business Class seat was an amenity kit, slippers, Bose noise canceling headphones, menu, directions to the Arrivals Lounge, and a bottle of water.







Soon enough, a FA came by with a tray of pre-departure beverages, which consisted of water, orange juice, and champagne. Admittedly, I dont have the most sophisticated palate when it comes to wine and champagne, but Ive found Americans champagne/sparkling wine surprisingly drinkable of late. Unfortunately, the pre-departure beverages were still served in those tacky plastic champagne glasses. Again, its the little things



Another FA immediately followed the PDB service, offering newspapers (Dallas Morning News and the Wall Street Journal) from a cart. I chose a Wall Street Journal, and passed the remainder of time on the ground sipping my champagne and reading the paper. A second round of beverages were offered, prior to the multitude of announcements. First up, was the purser welcoming us aboard, and then proceeded to echo the automated announcements on carry ons, etc. She also added that German and Korean speakers were aboard for our convenience. I suppose American needs to send their language qualified FAs elsewhere, given their limited number of flights to Germany and Korea. At any rate, Im sure that came in handy for a very small number of passengers. The pursers announcement was followed by our enthusiastic captain, who was more than happy to get his two cents in. He rattled off of just about every waypoint on our flight plan, and then finished by announcing our flight time and announcing he wouldnt be making more announcements we neared London so everyone could have a good nights sleep. An announcement about annnoucements you dont say. Nevertheless, I really appreciated and enjoyed his enthusiasm. It was just a tad bit over the top.

Our flying time was announced as a very short 7 hours and 50 minutes because of favorable tailwinds over the Atlantic. Ugh. Transatlantic redeyes are a bit of bummer, because the flight times are too short to get a decent amount of sleep after the meal service even within the scheduled block time. Throw in a good tail wind and youre looking at just 3-4 hours of sleep if youre departing from middle America, and even worse if departing from the East Coast.

Since row 3 is the very first row in the Business Class cabin, I had a clear view of what was going on in First Class which looked to be fully occupied tonight. I couldnt help but notice an older couple occupy the middle seats in second row taking pictures of themselves. Eventually, one of the FAs noticed and offered to take a picture for them, and then ended up chatting with the couple for a few minutes. The husband happily told the FA it was their first time in First Class after years of saving up miles, and it was the first trip abroad, period. Wow. Ive always considered myself incredibly lucky to have traveled as much as I have. And even more so in the past few years because I have flown in premium cabins on a fairly regular basis. Overhearing that conversation certainly made it clear just how fortunate I am, and certainly made me appreciate this little jaunt to London even more. It really made me smile to see how excited and happy this couple was, and I was very glad to see the First Class FA really making an effort to make this trip for them as memorable as possible.

We pushed back smack dab on time, started up the massive engines, and began taxiing to Runway 35R. Im always amazed how quiet 777-300ERs are at start up, especially considering each of its General Electric engines produces about 115,000 pounds of thrust apiece. As soon they lined up the aircraft on the runway centerline, our pilots put the powerful engines to work, setting take-off thrust after spooling them up for a few seconds. We thundered down the runway to the distinctive raspy tenor song of the GE90-115B engines. After a 50 second takeoff roll, our beautiful 777-300ER rotated off of Runway 35R, and climbed like a homesick angel into the clear night sky. An A340, this aircraft is most certainly not. This baby has some real get up and go.

Inside the aircraft in 3J, I couldnt help but smile as G-Forces pressed me gently into my comfortable seat as we lifted off from terra firma. To quote my former supervisor, there is no problem too big for me to run from. Quite frankly, thats how I often feel when I fly, and that is also one of the many reasons I love flying so much. When I leave the ground, I get this wonderful sensation of leaving my earthbound problems behind. Of course, these very same problems are waiting for me as soon as I land, or these days as soon as I log onto inflight wifi. But I digress.

It was officially time to kick back, relax, and forget my worries for a few days. Further enhancing my mood was the beautiful view outside my window. The clear night sky with a full moon and the twinkling lights of suburbs of Lewisville and Flower Mound made for a picturesque backdrop during our climb.



Like any good member of Generation Y, the first thing I did after take-off was plug in all of my electronic doodads into the power outlets. Fortunately, American has seen it fit to equip all seats on the 777-300ER with both a USB charging port and a universal AC power outlet. With both of my key gadgets starved for juice, I utilized both charging mediums plugging in my iPhone to the USB port to charge and my laptop into the AC outlet.



Next, I began playing with the excellent new IFE system. Although IFE is active from gate to gate, Business Class passengers are at a disadvantage as their screens swivel out requiring the screens to be stowed for take-off and landing. For me, its not a big deal because Im more interested in whats going on outside during those phases of flight, but its certainly a noteworthy disadvantage for some people.

Pulling the latch located nearly directly in front of you releases the IFE screen, which then smoothly swivels toward the passenger. Unlike the curtains, American spared little expense in developing its IFE system. It has a wide selection of movies, TV shows, music and games. Movie selections ranged from new releases to classics like Its a Wonderful Life and Grease. And they even had The Outsiders loaded. The Outsiders? Am I on a plane or back in my 7th grade language arts class? TV show selections were a little more typical with shows like Anthony Bourdains No Reservations and The Big Bang Theory.

The screen itself was fairly large, about 15 inches diagonally, and of good resolution. The touchscreen worked well for the most part aside from the scroll function, which I found to be pretty clunky. Eventually, I figured out it was easier to use the IFE controller to scroll, though I stuck with the touchscreen for other functions. The Bose noise canceling headphones were certainly a nice touch, and I cant recall many other airlines offering such nice headphones in Business Class. Other than that minor quirk with the touchscreen, the IFE system is well done.





After we climbed through 10,000 feet, the flight attendants got to work. The First Class flight attendants came and drew the curtains to keep us lowly Business Class passengers from entering the sanctum in the pointy end of the plane. While most foreign carriers have thick curtains separating the classes, American went the mesh route, probably in the name of security. Though I suspect cost might have something to do with it as well.



About 30 minutes after take-off, a FA came around offering glasses of water and warm nuts, which was a bit out of the ordinary to say the least. But then she came around with refills of nuts and took drink orders not long after, so all was right with the world. Again, Im not wine expert but even I can tell Americans wine selection is mediocre at best. With that in mind, I stuck with my usual gin and tonic to accompany the delicious warm mixed nuts. I was quite happy to see a good dose of pistachios in the mix as those are usually few and far in between especially on domestic flights.



After another round of refills, the FA came around with hot towels gauze pads and once more to take dinner orders. Tonights menu read as follows:

Dinner

STARTER


Seared Asian Tuna
With daikon slaw and wasabi crme

SALAD
Seasonal greens with fresh vegetables, hearts of palm, and sweet and spicy pecans
With your choice of poppy seed dressing or premium extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Assorted gourmet breads will be served with your meal

ENTREES

Grilled Fillet of Beef
Served with Foyot sauce, roasted root vegetables and garlic sauted broccolini

Chicken Tikka Masala
Offered with lemon rice and dahi elaichi rajma (red kidney beans simmered in green cardamom yogurt)

Seared Tilapia Fillet
Accompanied by lemon herb sauce artichoke barigoule and saffron risotto

Four Cheese Ravioli
Complemented by tomato cream sauce

DINE UPON REQUEST
You may choose one of the featured entrees to be served with an appetizer and dessert, presented all at once, at any time you wish.

Dessert

Traditional Ice Cream Sundae
Vanilla ice cream with you choice of hot fudge, butterscotch or seasonal berry toppings, whipped cream and pecans

Gourmet Cheese Plate
An assortment of fine cheeses with garnishes

While the appetizer sounded appealing, the entrees not so much. Tilapia? Cmon, American. How cheap can you get? To be fair though, the entre choices on my return flight were much better. At any rate, thanks to be my FEBO friendly seat I was able to get the entre I wanted, the beef filet.

Service throughout the flight was done by hand. Not long after orders were taken, the appetizer and salad trays were delivered along with an offer for a refill. The appetizer was good. The salad was fresh and crisp, and I really enjoyed the decent helping of asparagus on the salad. I chose balsamic vinaigrette for my dressing, which wasnt the best combination with the candied walnuts on the salad. But overall the salad was quite good. The bread basket was brought out a while later with a choice of dinner rolls, pumpernickel bread, or pretzel bread. Of course I chose the always delicious pretzel bread.



Another FA came around not long after I finished and cleared my appetizer plate and salad bowl. My entre was delivered a few minutes later. While not particularly well presented, it was ok as far as airline steaks go, but overcooked for my tastes. Root vegetables turned out to be sweet potatoes, which was actually very good. The broccolini looked like it went through a lawn mower, though it tasted ok. Wine and more bread were offered. I declined the wine but got another piece of the pretzel bread.



My tray was cleared soon after I finished, and FA came by again to offer dessert. While I absolutely love the ubiquitous ice cream sundaes on US flagged carriers, I became lactose intolerant all of the sudden, so ice cream iss a no go for me. Seriously, kids out there dont turn 25. You cant hold your liquor as well as you used to. You cant party all night and make it to work the next morning anymore. And then stuff like this Nothing good happens after 25. [/rant]

Anyways, I asked for the fruit and cheese plate without cheese. The FA happily obliged, and gave some extra fruit. I stuck with water to accompany it. After I finished, we were winging over the Empire State just south of Buffalo.





There have been a number of reports in the AA forum of being ignored in the mini cabin. I did not feel ignored at all, and service overall was pretty good during the up until this point. But I did hit slight service hiccup right after dessert as it took nearly 45 minutes after I finished for my glass and plate to be cleared. I passed time by watching the episode of No Reservations on Canada, which was a lot more interesting than I expected.

Cabin lights were dimmed midway through my TV show, and most of the passengers in the mini cabin began turning in at that point. After I finished up that episode, I headed to lavatory to prepare for the night. And wow, what a lavatory it was (now that is something you dont hear very often) especially compared to those found on Americans older long haul aircraft. It was large, well lit, and nicely appointed. While it sounds tacky, the faux wood floors and mirror accents gave the lavatory a more refined look. The real sink and motion activated faucet was also a very nice touch. Now I dont usually take lavatory pictures, but I was so impressed that I snapped a few shots with my iPhone, so please excuse the blurriness.







Next, I checked out the Business Class bar which was set up just after meal service. There were a good variety of fresh fruit, sandwiches, desserts, and other snacks along with a variety of alcoholic and soft drinks. All of the items were presented very nicely. There was only one other passenger visiting the bar when I was there. When I talked to FA a little while later, he mentioned the number of passengers taking advantage of the bar has been steadily increasing. I grabbed a fruit cup before heading back to my seat.







I enjoyed the fruit cup while watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory. After I finished that episode, we were going feet wet over the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Newfoundland. Still not tired, I couldnt resist buying a wifi pass just to check it out. The prices for the passes were fairly reasonable at $12, $17, and $19 for internet access for 4 hours, 6 hours, and the duration of the flight, respectively. I was happy with the speed of the wifi. Its certainly more than enough for email, iMessaging, and browsing the web. Naturally, the first thing I did was update my Facebook status.


With just over 4 hours to go until landing, I was finally tired so reclined my seat into the fully flat position to get some sleep. Bedding consisted of the same large pillow and quilted blanket that is offered on transcon flights. Though nothing to write home about, the bedding was pretty comfortable. The seat itself is fantastic for sleeping. Again, the padding, in my opinion is just right. Lengthwise, I did not feel restricted at all, but keep in mind Im just 59 tall. And best of all the foot well provided plenty of room, so I wasnt banging around a compartment whenever I moved. I got a few hours of solid sleep, and woke up with just over an hour before landing to faint sounds of breakfast being prepared in the galley.

Breakfast

Offered prior to arrival

Entrees

American Breakfast
Vegetable and cheese omelet enhanced by fire roasted pepper sauce, turkey sausage, and pesto potatoes

Continental Breakfast
Steel cut oatmeal with dried fruit and brown sugar

Since I was still full from dinner, I just ordered the oatmeal. The oatmeal is a huge upgrade from the old continental breakfast choice of cereal. Its simple, nearly impossible screw up, and delicious especially with the brown sugar and dried fruit. The accompanying fruit was fresh and ripe, and I was pleasantly surprised with the addition of papaya to the usual cantaloupe and honey dew. Overall, it was a very nice meal made even more enjoyable with a view of the sun rising over Ireland outside my window.





We began descending just after my tray was cleared, and the FAs came around distributing immigration cards. I remember reading past trip reports that Fast Track passes were given along with the immigration cards, but no such luck today. The Captain came on the PA shortly after to wish everyone a fantastic morning (his words not mine) to confirm that we were still on schedule for an early arrival. But a few minutes later, he announced that ATC asked to do a few laps for spacing purposes and updated our estimated arrival time. We did just that, flying a holding pattern just above the top of the high overcast. Bose headphones were collected at this time, so I killed spent the remainder of the flight browsing the internet and emailing my friend who would be meeting me at Heathrow.

After a couple of laps, the Captain exuberantly exclaimed over the PA, Well folks, THEY LIKE US! WERE GOING IN. He followed that up with this translation: ATC released us from the holding pattern, and cleared us straight in to Runway 27R. The Captain also added that those of us seated on the right side of the plane would have a nice view of London during the approach. I was pretty skeptical because my friend had mentioned it had been raining all night in an email, but I had my camera ready nevertheless. I am very glad I did because the views turned out to be excellent.







We touched down around 50 minutes before our scheduled arrival time. There was plenty of interesting traffic to be seen while taxiing to our stand, including an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-8. Im sure the good folks at Boeing would be dismayed to learn that my first thought when I saw that aircraft was the onboard fire that occurred on another Ethiopian 787 just a few months prior. With the string of recent incidents involving the Dreamliner, its hard not to have your perception change and not for the better, even for this avid Boeing fanboy.









So did my experience live up to all of the hype? Generally, yes. The flight was pleasant overall. The hard product was excellent. I thought the bar was a gimmick when I first read about it, but it really is a great and functional feature. Service was good, though not great. I could probably say the same for the food. Interestingly, my return flight back to the US was the exact inverse: great soft product, but so-so hard product.

I thanked the FAs on the way out, and it was off to the races toward immigration. Seriously, you could have a slap a runners bib on everyone and call it the Heathrow Immigration 5K. It certainly felt like a race with people jockeying for position and people desperately running to catch up from the rear. And since our aircraft was parked at what seemed to be the last gate in the terminal, it wouldnt surprise me if there actually were 5,000 meters between the gate and the immigration hall. Throw in the constant dodging of rolling bags wheeled around by their careless owners, it almost had a roller derby feel to it. Im sure ESPN would be willing to pick this event up!

Thankfully, we arrived a few minutes before an Air Canada flight, which was parked a lot closer to immigration than we were. The passengers from that flight just started spilling out from their jet bridge just as I passed them. I was able to overtake most of them. The hike to immigration took about 15 minutes. As I mentioned earlier, no fast track passes were given. But it really wasnt a big deal because the line was relatively short and moved quickly when I arrived. However, the line did build up substantially behind me.

I was directed to an available immigration officer after a short wait. The immigration officer strongly resembled the character Timmy from the sitcom Rules of Engagement, and actually had a similar personality. While he was very polite and professional, this was probably the most in depth and personal line of questioning Ive ever gotten when entering any country. Our conversation went like this:

IO: Good morning, sir. What is the purpose of your visit?
Me: To visit a friend.
IO: I see. How do you know this friend?
Me: We used to work together a few years ago.
IO: Is your friend an American?
Me: Yes. Shes a PR of the UK now, as she married a Brit.
IO: Do you still work for the same company you worked together with your friend?
Me: Yes.
IO: What company?
Me: Tells him.
IO: Do you have proof of employment?

Really? Proof of employment? Ive never been asked that even when I was entering China or Canada, who in my opinion has the worse immigration officers. As I mentioned earlier, I headed to the airport straight from work. Fortunately, I still had my badge with me. So I showed it to him and he stamped my passport and sent me on my merry way. Im not sure I want to know how the line of questioning would have gone had I not shown my work badge.

After I cleared immigration, I text my friend to let her know I had arrived. She was still making her way to Heathrow on the Underground, so I headed to Americans Arrivals Lounge which is located on the upper level just to the right of the customs hall. It is well signed and easy to find. Access is provided for First and Business Class customers as well as Executive Platinums traveling in the Main Cabin. I do believe you have to arrive on American metal to have access.

I was welcomed into the lounge by a very friendly attendant, whom immediately offered me a shower room. That was much appreciated, especially after spending some time in the hot and sticky immigration hall. The shower room was spacious and nicely equipped. And with a total of 29 shower rooms, I doubt there would be much of a wait for a shower the majority of the time. A garment pressing service is also offered, which I took advantage of. I just hung my shirt on the provided hanger, and placed it in the designated slot in the door. And voila! My shirt came back perfectly pressed after I finished a refreshing shower.



Afterwards, I had a spot of breakfast. Offerings were nice with scrambled eggs, sausage, and hash browns along with some more continental options. The lounge itself is on the large side with a good sized dining area and a number of comfortable chairs. A nice selection of reading materials was also available.







After I grabbing some juice and a croissant, I headed down to the Underground station to meet my friend.

Last edited by dat4life; Jul 16, 14 at 11:01 am
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Old Feb 13, 14, 6:24 pm
  #3  
 
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Great TR so far! Very strange being asked for proof of employment in the UK! I have never even been asked for that in the Middle East.
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Old Feb 13, 14, 9:05 pm
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I enjoyed that very much. Looking forward to my own United J trip from Houston to LHR this summer.
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Old Feb 13, 14, 10:38 pm
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Great Start dat4life, kinda cool to see I'm not the only that stocks up on Dr. Pepper among other things every time I'm back in Canada/US lol
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Old Feb 14, 14, 1:39 pm
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Quite enjoyed this report. Thanks for sharing. I thought that AA gave PJ's in J class. Am I wrong in thinking this ? I will be flying LHR-MIA and I'm just curious...
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Old Feb 14, 14, 2:17 pm
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Good stuff, I'm a big fan of the AA 773.

As an aside, your friend should really be made aware of the fact that we have dr pepper and M&Ms this side of the Atlantic as well!
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Old Feb 14, 14, 2:30 pm
  #8  
 
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Excellent report!
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Old Feb 14, 14, 3:01 pm
  #9  
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Originally Posted by fly4work View Post
Great TR so far! Very strange being asked for proof of employment in the UK! I have never even been asked for that in the Middle East.
Thanks, fly4work. I thought so as well. When I told my friend about this, she said it was to keep out those who were looking for work in the UK. She was grilled extensively each time she crossed to pond to vist her now husband.

Originally Posted by HawaiiFlyerDC8 View Post
I enjoyed that very much. Looking forward to my own United J trip from Houston to LHR this summer.
Thanks, HawaiiFlyerDC8. I think you'll find London a lot more pleasant in the summer. I'll have my exploring London segment up pretty soon! Enjoy your trip!

Originally Posted by Short hair Francis View Post
Great Start dat4life, kinda cool to see I'm not the only that stocks up on Dr. Pepper among other things every time I'm back in Canada/US lol
Thanks, ShF. Haha, I'll admit I did the same thing coming back from France a few weeks after this London trip. I have quite the thing for European Fanta.

Originally Posted by Flyiboy View Post
Quite enjoyed this report. Thanks for sharing. I thought that AA gave PJ's in J class. Am I wrong in thinking this ? I will be flying LHR-MIA and I'm just curious...
Thanks, Flyiboy. Unfortunately, PJs are only in F. Enjoy your trip!

Originally Posted by Joely View Post
Good stuff, I'm a big fan of the AA 773.

As an aside, your friend should really be made aware of the fact that we have dr pepper and M&Ms this side of the Atlantic as well!
Thanks, Joely. This is true, but 'muricans tend to put three times the sugar in everything. I tried the Dr. Pepper in Europe, and it just wasn't as sweet which I like, but my friend not so much.

Originally Posted by hamburglar View Post
Excellent report!
Thanks, hamburglar!


I should have my next section up before the end of the weekend!
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Old Feb 14, 14, 3:07 pm
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Originally Posted by dat4life View Post
Thanks, Joely. This is true, but 'muricans tend to put three times the sugar in everything. I tried the Dr. Pepper in Europe, and it just wasn't as sweet which I like, but my friend not so much.
That's ok, providing you don't try and claim that Herchey's rubbish you call chocolate is better than the stuff we get over here, I'll let it slide
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Old Feb 19, 14, 4:45 pm
  #11  
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Originally Posted by Joely View Post
That's ok, providing you don't try and claim that Herchey's rubbish you call chocolate is better than the stuff we get over here, I'll let it slide
Ha. I agree with that, though there are some times when that high fructose corn syrup goodness is oh so good.

Folks, sorry for the delay. Apparenty there was this occasion last Friday my presence was required for some unknown reason, and work kind of got in the way.
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Old Feb 19, 14, 4:46 pm
  #12  
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Jolly Old England

Geez. The firm that designed Terminal 3 sure like to make sure people walk. I already mentioned the long hike from the gate to immigration. Well, the walk to the Underground station was far worse. I followed the signs in the terminal, and took the escalator down to what I thought was the station. It was actually a tunnel which leads to the Underground station…5 miles later. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was certainly a pain in the rear especially lugging around a bag full of cans of Dr. Pepper. When I finally reached the Underground station, I was approached by a couple of Japanese girls who asked if I could take a picture of them with the Underground sign. I obliged, and then thought what the hell and took a picture myself.



My friend arrived not long after. I felt bad the she schlepped all the way down to Heathrow to meet me, but it was certainly nice to see a familiar face at the airport and I really appreciated it. We headed toward one of the ticket kiosks so I could buy an Octopus card, and then we off on a train. Overall, I was very impressed with the London public transportation system. It was clean, even on some of the older trains, and very efficient.

One unusual thing I noticed while taking public transit in London is that most people don’t really talk on trains and busses. Unfortunately for the Londoners who shared the trains and busses with us, my friend and I hadn’t seen each other in a while as we missed each other when she came back to Texas for Christmas. So we spent most of our journey back to London catching up. We definitely tried to keep the volume down, but I’m sure there was more than one person who was mentally cussing those bloody loudmouthed ‘muricans. We were heading toward Greenwich, where my friend and her husband lived, which required a change of trains at the London Bridge station.





After arriving at Greenwich, we had to schlepp another half mile up a fairly steep hill to get to my friend’s flat. While the walk was grueling, again due to the bag of soda, it was quite nice. The weather nice and cool, though a bit overcast and damp. And I really enjoyed seeing the architecture of the residences, which is quite different than what you would find in suburban America. These houses really have character. The lack of ambient noise was a bit unusual, but very enjoyable.



After unloading the goods and resting up a bit, we headed out so I could check out the area. We ended up at an area just across the Thames River from Canary Wharf.



By that time it was well past noon, so we headed to the nearby Frankie’s and Bennies for a late lunch. Since I was in England, I figured an order of fish and chips was in order. Now, my friend readily admitted this wasn’t the most “local place” around, but it was perfectly tasty for my Americanized taste buds and really hit the spot.



After an enjoyable lunch, we hit up the Royal Navy College. As some of you might have noticed, I’m a big history/aviation/military buff. I found it sort of ironic that I visited the Royal Navy College before visiting the US Naval Academy.



We walk around aimlessly for a bit, and soon found ourselves walking through the lush green rolling hills of Greenwich Park. I was quite impressed with just about every patch of grass, large or small, I saw in London. Everything was beautifully green and weed free. Now if I only I can get a quarter of that result with my lawn.



I’m not going to lie… While the name sounded familiar, I had to Google to see who John Rolfe was. Anyhow, the statue was apparently a gift from the Canadians to honor General John Rolfe, the conqueror of Quebec.



I remember from geography class way back in elementary school (or primary school for the international folks) that the Prime Meridian runs through Greenwich, England which is outside of London. Hence, GMT+1, etc. I had assumed “outside of London” meant 50-60ish miles away. Actually in Texas, you would probably be in the city after driving 60 miles, but that is neither here or there. Anyhow, I knew my friend lived near Greenwich, but I never put two and two together. The observatory was closing up by the time we got there, but either way it was pretty cool to see. And now I can say that I’ve been to exactly 0 degrees of longitude.


Greenwich Observatory


Prime Meridian

By this point, I was beyond beat. So we headed back to my friend’s flat. After chatting for a bit more, my pre-arranged black cab arrived to whisk me through London traffic to my hotel.

My friend’s husband had recommended me to take a black cab, because rates were fixed unlike the iconic London cabs. From Greenwich to my Hotel near Regents Park, it cost a flat 30 pounds which was well worth it. You see, my driver was from Afghanistan, but he had family in Orange County, California. Having worked there for awhile a couple of years ago, my cabbie and I had a lot to chat about. After learning this was my first visit to London, he offered to show me some of the sights on the way as it was far prettier at night and assured my ride would be 30 pounds no matter what. And man was he right, I really enjoyed my preview of London, which included a glimpse of Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, and Oxford Street. My cabbie also provided a pretty nice narration as we drove through the sights. When we arrived at my hotel, I dropped an extra 5 pounds for his efforts.



I had originally intended to stay with my friend. But since they have kids, and knowing how plans can change in a millisecond with kids, I booked a hotel room as a back-up. Being the moron that I am, I booked a non-refundable rate accidentally. So I was kind of stuck with it. To make matters worse, I booked at the Holiday Inn Regents Park which had so-so Trip Advisor reviews. I nearly kicked myself when I saw the non-refundable rate at the Andaz dropped to just 110 pounds per night, just 10 pounds more than what I was paying at the Holiday Inn. That would have given me a chance to try out my new Hyatt Diamond status.

When my cab pulled up to the hotel, I was not impressed at all by the exterior. In fact, it looked downright dinky. But I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the lobby which was fresh and very modern. A friendly clerk quickly checked me in and “upgraded” me to a room on the executive floor. I was also offered me a Platinum welcome gift of a free drink or 500 points. Not feeling particularly randy that evening, I picked the points. I was also pleasantly surprised with my room. While it was nothing fancy, my room was clean and pretty comfortable, unlike what was reported on Trip Advisor.


Holiday Inn Exterior (taken the next morning)







I dropped asleep almost immediately after a good hot shower, and woke up refreshed the next morning. Breakfast consisted of a run to a nearby Starbucks. As I mentioned in previous TRs, I used to work for Starbucks while I was in college. So I always very interested to see how overseas stores compare to U.S. stores, especially when it comes to the pastry case. A tasty cinnamon roll and a tall Americano would do until lunch.





I munched on my tasty treat on the way to the Great Portland Street station, where I caught a Jubilee Line train to Baker Street, and then transferred to a Waterloo Line (I think…) train which took me to Westminster station.



It took just 20 minutes for me to reach Westminster. There, I headed out to the street level where I where I greeted by the sight one of London’s famous cabs, which featured an Atlanta twist, and a sight I certainly don’t see every day.





For a better view of London’s most recognizable sight, I crossed the Thames and took a stroll to the west before reversing course and heading toward the London Eye. While the weather wasn’t pleasant as the day before, the lack of precipitation was conducive for sightseeing. I’m sure the group of kayakers on Thames would agree. Too bad I didn’t have more time in London, as kayaking on Thames sounds pretty damn cool.













Ferris wheels are a fixture at state fairs across the U.S.; however, none of those Ferris wheels can hold a candle to the London Eye, which is one of the largest in the world. What an impressive sight it was. While I wouldn’t have minded taking a ride for the views, the prospect of waiting in the massive line wasn’t very appealing.



After passing the London Eye, I found myself in the Jubilee Gardens, where I found an entertaining bunch of characters. First up was a gentleman blasting a weird mash up of Eye of the Tiger and Eminem’s The Real Slim Shady from a single crappy speaker. He would start it from the top just after the introduction into the song again and again, but only after he screamed something that sounded like, “Shoot her”. Okay…



Next up was a lady asking me to take a flower, and then asked for money for the “children”. She was persistent so I tossed a couple of pounds her way and walked away. I thought I was home free until this little old lady grabbed my hand and put a clear ball in it. Not wanting to be impolite, I decided to humor her. She gave a spiel on the powers of her invaluable magic crystal, which had been in her family for generations and had the ability to see the future. In reality, it was probably something she picked up at the souvenir cart 100 yards away for a few pence. Anyways, I apparently will be a very successful and wealthy man, have four children, and die at a very old age. Also, May 24th will apparently be a big day for me. All of this was mine for the taking if I produce at least several large paper bills… GBP preferably, of course. Annoyed, I threw a couple pounds at her. She responded that it was valuable crystal, and needed large bills to make it all come true. Well lady, if you could really see the future you could tell that I didn’t have any large bills on me. Wanting nothing to do with the peddlers on this side of the river, I crossed the Millennium Bridge and found myself in beautiful Whitehall Gardens.



I then headed back toward Westminster Abbey. It is certainly the most impressive and beautiful churches I have ever seen. In fact, I’d probably put it above the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, though I think my opinion of Vatican City might be a bit skewed as I visited during the extremely crowded summer months. While most of people think of Westminster Abbey as the place the Royals get married, I was more interested in seeing the tombs of Sir Issac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Queen Elizabeth I. For the most part, all of the tombs were interesting physically, but more so it was humbling to be in the presence of so many important historical figures.

Unfortunately, photography isn’t allowed inside, but the exterior of the Abbey is very photogenic in its own right.















The area around the Westminster Abbey is quite nice as well. Parliament Square, which was across the street, is also worth seeing with statues of many important figures, including Nelson Mandela and of course Winston Churchill.







Other than New York City and London, I can’t recall any other city in the world where people actually want to take pictures. But damn, those hats are freaking nifty.





Feeling quite hungry at that point, I headed to a nearby “Great British Pub” for a steak and ale pie and pint of cider. There was a group of American students in line front of me, some of whom I chatted with for a bit. When I reached the barkeep to order food, she joked she was now fluent in American.



After lunch, I headed over to Trafalgar Square and visited the National Portrait Gallery which was interesting.













I then back down Parliament Street for a quick visit to the Horse Guard Parade grounds, before checking out the World War I memorial at the entrance of St. James Park.







Feeling beat, I went back to the hotel for a nap before coming back out to meet my friend for some sightseeing at night. While I saw essentially the same things as I did during the day, the landmarks were far more stunning at night.









I’m not sure I’d like to visit MI5 HQ involuntarily.



Apparently the peddlers I encountered don’t like working late, as we passed the Millennium Bridge unmolested. I told my friend about what happened earlier in the day, and she laughed. Apparently, the peddlers were have been a problem for quite a while.



A little while later, we came upon a vantage point with a nice view of Central London.



Having read my share of Shakespeare’s work in high school English classes, it was pretty cool to be able to see the modern rendition of the Globe Theatre.



The Towers of London looked much better at night, than in the day.



And ditto for the Tower Bridge, which made for a very picturesque back drop.



But the aptly named Glass Shard looks great during the day and at night.



But the HMS Belfast…not so much. I wish I had planned out my trip a little better and visited the ship.



After that, we turned around and caught a train to Leicester Square and then walked to over to Piccadilly Circus, is a lot like Times Square… Just far more civilized. Dinner was at an excellent sushi restaurant on a side street, name Kuru Kuru (I think…).













For dessert, we stopped at a nearby Starbucks for hot chocolate and pastries. As with SOP, the barista working the cash register asked for our names to keep the drinks in order. While the barista got my name right, she took some creative liberties with my friend’s name. Her name is fairly popular in the U.S., but not so much elsewhere. Oh those Americans, and their crazy arse names…



I was fairly surprised to see these behemoths, which are fairly common place in the U.S., roam the streets of London.





We closed out the night with a few pints at an awesome pub, Hall & Woodhouse. I absolute loved the classic polished wood dcor, and they even had old fashioned manual drafts to boot. It was a perfect way to cap off a great weekend.



I absolutely loved London. The city is beautiful and clean, and the people are exceedingly polite but on the reserved side. And the fact that I have friends there makes it all the more appealing. Though I don’t regret my decision to try to avoid APD, I do wish I stayed longer.

Last edited by dat4life; May 29, 14 at 6:42 am Reason: Correct factual error as per CMK10 Post#31
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Old Feb 19, 14, 7:04 pm
  #13  
 
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Loved your photos of London. Can't wait to visit this coming November.
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Old Feb 23, 14, 4:25 pm
  #14  
 
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If you're in London and want to go a very British pub - you should head over to the Bank of England pub on Fleet Street near Royal Courts of Justice and my old alma mater the London School of Economics~!
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Old Feb 23, 14, 6:00 pm
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Originally Posted by LDNConsultant View Post
If you're in London and want to go a very British pub - you should head over to the Bank of England pub on Fleet Street near Royal Courts of Justice and my old alma mater the London School of Economics~!
Definitely... Now all I need is a hotel room.
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