In early December our friend from Blacksburg, Nicole, came to stay with us for a few days. She was in London for a conference for work and convinced her boss to let her stay a few extra days to visit with us. We had not seen her since we left Blacksburg, and we caught right up and fell into the old way of things immediately. We really enjoyed showing her around London (her first visit), especially all the special Christmassy things like the lights on Oxford Street and the ice skating rink at the Natural History Museum. We didn’t do too much walking because it was absolutely freezing, but that’s what museums are for, after all. Our big splurge for her visit was lunch at Fifteen, which was exciting for us three Jamie Oliver fans. I can’t remember all the details, but I know there was a luscious mozzarella salad for a starter and some roast pork with greens and lentils as a main. What I mainly remember is the joy of sharing a delicious meal with a beloved friend after a long absence.
It was another busy Christmas season for us on both sides of the Atlantic, what with a Christmas carol service with Will and Michelle, Christmas parties with our office mates (I convinced Nigel to take us to the French steak place, which was so much fun!), and a very special party with Amy and Don at their place in West Hampstead. Amy made a knockout Christmas meal with salmon blinis and homemade venison pies. She even made Christmas crackers for us with personalized gifts and games inside. And Don served some of the champagne he had been stockpiling for months. It was the nicest little party I’ve ever been to, and even though I kept slipping and sliding on the ice outside, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt warmer than I did that night.
But the next morning we were up bright and early for our flight home. Little did we know our trip home would end up taking 36 hours. We got to the airport and checked in without a hitch, but when we got on the plane we found that there were people in our seats with tickets identical to ours. We found a flight attendant, who found someone else, who pulled us off the plan and explained that, due to a glitch in the system, our itinerary had been canceled. There was snow in Atlanta, so our flight from NYC to ATL had been canceled, which meant our flight to NYC had also been canceled, but this had all happened after we checked in, so we had no way of knowing. This was upsetting, shall we say, but the very nice man who was helping us suggested that the weather was so bad in NYC that it was good we were not on that flight anyways. He took our information and showed us to the first-class lounge, where we were to await further instructions.
Let me tell you something. If you ever get bumped off a flight in a major airport, see if you can finagle your way into the first-class lounge. It was even better than I could have imagined. There were free snacks – and by snacks I mean plates of lovely cheese, beautiful little salads, freshly made omelets and sandwiches – and drinks – and by drinks I mean an open bar with unlimited wine, beer, and spirits. We were in the lounge for several hours, and I went through a lot of free champagne. Eventually they put us on a flight to Minneapolis, with another flight to Memphis, then one to TLH the next morning. We were upset, but there was no way around it. I did try to make some extra demands, for first-class seating or something, but they told us there was nothing more they could do. But, when it came time for us to board, a miracle occurred and they found room for us in the first-class cabin, after all. It was even better than the first-class lounge, and I went through several more glasses of champagne during the flight (all very genteelly and discreetly, of course!) while enjoying delicious food and several very good movies from the comfort of my fully reclining seat with a big blanket and a real pillow. So much pampering!
Of course, all the pampering in the world could not make the flights move more quickly, and we only got as far as Memphis that night, where we had very mediocre sandwiches for dinner in the mediocre hotel we were provided by the airline. So it wasn’t first class all the way. But we finally got home the next morning, met Linna and Walter, and went to wait for our luggage. We hadn’t had our luggage in Memphis, but we were assured it would catch up with us in Tallahassee. It did, but not for four long days, during which time we wore borrowed clothes and mourned our lost clothes, jewelry, and Christmas presents.
I won’t lie; the travel delays and lost luggage put a serious damper on the trip, but we still had a lovely Christmas with our families and friends. It was especially poignant, as well, because we knew it was our last trip home before we moved back to the US. Our flights back to London were much smoother, and then we knew we had only a few more months of our European adventure.
When we got back to London, Andrew and I hosted a very exclusive New Year’s Eve party for us and the Kiwis, and according to the photographic evidence we had a rip-roaring time. I can’t say I remember much. The food turned out well, though: we had carrots and spinach-yogurt dip, endive with homemade blue-cheese and bacon dressing, ham on cheddar biscuits, mini chocolate sundaes, bourbon sidecars, and lots and lots of champagne. Add in confetti and a late-night visit from some celebratory Gator Club friends after their river cruise, and you’ve got one hell of a New Year’s party that we recovered from very slowly over the next couple of days. Success!
One of my Christmas gifts to Andrew was a membership to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and we started going there as often as we could in the new year. We particularly loved the new Medieval and Renaissance wing, the plaster cast courts, and the special exhibits, including quilts, Grace Kelly clothes, digital art, and small-scale architecture.
Photos of Christmas with the Kiwis, New Year’s Eve, Hyde Park snow, and Valentine’s Day festivities are here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=167334&id=509253462&l=f52755e5b1. Andrew’s photos from autumn and winter 2009-10 are here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2477668&id=6231137&l=9bdb3cdb61