Stranded in London
Updated: Nov 23, 2018
“To be, or not to be, that is the question”
- William Shakespeare
It was April 2010 when I had my first trip to London, a beautiful city and a place with a lot of history. People were nice, warm, and friendly - that's my impression. They drive on the left side, but they walk on the right side - which I found it weird and inconsistent. Red telephone boxes were definitely one of the unique things and if you think they're just nice decoration, you're wrong. Most of them (if not all) really worked! (Not like in Jakarta :-)). The only thing not so great about London was the food. I didn't find any great food in London - and there were too many Indian restaurant (every few hundred meters you'll find one!) :-p
Also my first experience (and hopefully the last time) to be stranded for a week because of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland. Oh well, on the positive side, London was definitely a better "choice" to be stranded in.
It was a business trip and as usual, I flew in a day early just to explore the city. I landed on Saturday afternoon at 15:30 and checked in at Strand Palace Hotel. The hotel was reasonably priced (I did my research before and found out that hotels in London was quite pricey!) and nicely located in the city, just a short walk (about 300 m) to Covent Garden and within walking distance to a few London Tube Stations (Covent Garden, Charing Cross, and Leicester Square). After checked-in, I took a stroll and headed to London Eye. It was quite a queue to ride it. Honestly, the view from London Eye was not that great. I took a ride of London Eye for the sake of London Eye. One of the things you do when you're in London :-)
I did not have enough time to do any planning so I decided to join the guided city tour called Historic and Modern London. I was picked up from my hotel in the morning. This tour took me to see city’s most iconic locations, such as Parliament Square, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, St James Park (a big park that connect Household Cavalry Museum and Buckingham Palace), Tower Bridge, and Tower of London. I could not remember the reason but at that time there was no changing guard at Buckingham Palace, only the one at the Horse Guards (a historic building in the City of Westminster, London, between Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade). The highlight of the day for me was the Tower of London. It was very enjoyable visiting a site full of history.
After almost a full day of city tour, I traveled for about an hour towards south west to Weybridge (Surrey) and checked-in to a hotel close to my office - Oatlands Park. It was a a nice and quiet neighbourhood. It's very serene. I took a stroll and enjoyed the afternoon walk. Back in the hotel, I looked at the menu for dinner and I had Toad in the Hole (Traditional English dish comprising Oatlands pork sausages in Yorkshire Pudding batter. Served with creamed mashed potato, Green peas, and onion gravy). I am the type of person who judge the food by its look and this time, I should say: Don't judge the food by its look...
My meeting ended on Wednesday, 14th of April and I moved back to the city, this time staying at Sheraton Park Lane Hotel in Piccadilly. There's one thing I really wanted to do while in London - watched Phantom of The Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre. I bought the ticket last minutes and managed to get one of the last few seats. An amazing performance! There were so many theatre in the city and so many great performances to enjoy. If only I had more time, I would have watched more.
I planned to spend the last day (Thursday, 15th of April) for another sightseeing at Windsor Castle (the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world) before flying back at 10 pm. Windsor Castle was really huge. I loved seeing all the different building and rooms - State Apartments, Semi-state Rooms, Grand Reception, Queen Mary's Dolls' House, Changing the Guard, and St George's Chapel. It was an amazing castle! It took me to the old days. I always have a soft spot for castle.
I just finished with Windsor Castle and was walking near the exit when I received a phone call from my travel agent telling me that my flight that night has been cancelled because there was a volcanic eruption. I was like... huh?! I told her she's wrong, I was in London, not in Indonesia. In my mind, she must have lost track where I was because I travelled a lot during that time. But she explained it again that there was a volcanic eruption in Iceland, my flight has been cancelled, I had to find a hotel, and she would do the flight re-booking for me. I managed to make a booking online and checked-in at The Royal Trafalgar at Trafalgar Square, just behind The National Portrait Gallery.
I spent the next few days doing the same things every day - checked the news (to find out when Heathrow Airport re-opened), called Singapore Airlines office, was put on-hold for at average one hour for each call and re-booked the flight for the next day (website/on-line re-booking didn't work because of high traffic at that time as many people were stranded). There was not certainty when I could finally fly back home. Many friends told me it's a more of a blessing than a bad luck to be stranded in London. Well, I agreed but I am the type who likes certainty and not knowing how long more I was going to be there stressed me out a bit - not to mention my office work I needed to complete.
Anyway... I tried to ease my mind by enjoying London more and did more sightseeing. I spent some time at Madame Tussauds and The Natural History Museum. There was a really long queue to enter The Natural History Museum but it's really worth the wait. It's free of charge and it's an amazing museum. I definitely have to take my boy there when I visit London again. I also went to visit The Roman Catholic Cathedral, Westminster. Covent Garden and Harrods were the two places I went to a few times during my stay there. I watched another performance in the theatre, Mamma Mia! at Prince of Wales Theatre, just 250 m away from the hotel I stayed in. Mamma Mia! has always been one of my favourites and it was a great experience to watch it in London.
There was this lovely weekend market, Portobello Market at Notting Hill. I enjoyed walking around there... there were many shops selling interesting things. There's one clothing shop with unique decoration, displaying old sewing machines from Singer. Weekend market is always a place I visit wherever I go. I just love looking around different and often unique things they sell in the weekend market.
There's no certainty yet on when the airportwas going to re-open so I thought why not explore outside London and I picked Warwick Castle (about 160 km north-west of London), Stratford-upon-Avon (the birthplace of Shakespeare), and Oxford. No regret on my choices as all three places were really gorgeous! I had a really lovely day.
There were many things to see in Warwick Castle - Great Hall, State Dining Room, Red Drawing Room, Cedar Drawing Room, Green Drawing Room, Queen Anne Room, Blue Boudoir. I also climbed the 530 (very narrow, steep, and one way) steps to reach the top of the tower and enjoyed the breathtaking view from the top. It was so beautiful!
Next place after Warwick Castle was Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare. It's a small lovely town. I had my lunch in a nice Traditional English Eatery called Mistress Quickly. I chose meat pie with steam vegetable.
After lunch, the trip continued to Oxford, a city in the South East region of England. The city is known as the home of the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world. The Christ Church (one of the colleges of Oxford University) wowed me. I was standing in The Great Quadrangle or Tom Quad and imagined how it felt to study there. I walked pass The Hall of Christ Church, the dining where Harry Potter movie got the inspiration from. Magnificent! While I was in the Christ Church Cathedral, there was a choir practicing - their voice were so clear and beautiful!
I observed many bicycles in Oxford. I was told that students were not allowed - and not possible to have cars. There were absolutely no parking space available. While here, I tried one of my favorites, British Scone. It was really delicious - what a relaxing afternoon and an amazing day trip.
Now back to London - and back to reality that I was stuck! :-) I tried to do as much work as possible from my hotel in London and tried to think alternative to get out of London. Unfortunately because of my passport limitation, I could not take a train to Paris or Amsterdam or Brussels followed by a plane. So everyday I just had to do the same - checked the news and re-booked my flight for the following day. I noticed long queue in travel agents and everywhere people dragging their luggage. It was very busy everywhere!
After almost a week the airport was closed, it re-opened. I re-booked my flight, got a seat, and had Thai food at a very nicely decorated restaurant Thai Square at Trafalgar Square to "celebrate" it. Delicious!
Finally on Thursday, 22nd of April, I flew out of London back home after a week stranded. What a great place to be stranded in! :-) I will forever remember this unexpectedly pleasant experience. A few months after, I got reimbursement from Singapore Airlines for my spending (hotel and daily allowance). Great news - my trip was covered! :-)
As I just finished writing down my London experience, I realized that I covered quite a lot. London certainly is a lovely city I would want to visit again and explore even more - this time with my husband and son.