Friday, February 15, 2008

Euro Day 6: Call Me A Cab!

It's July 13th - Friday, July 13th and, yes, this is just lazy foreshadowing.

At 8:30am we took our leave of Eagle House, Bathford under overcast skies with warm breezes to kiss us good-bye. Today would be D-Day - short for Disney Day - where we would be joining up with our Adventures by Disney Cities of Knights and Lights tour of London and Paris. Our first task was to drive 2 hours back to Heathrow airport so that we could return Blue Passat and meet our Disney Driver for a lift into London.

The trip was pretty uneventful, and I remarked how unfortunate it was that the whole driving thing was coming to an end just as I was learning how not to dig my fingernails into the steering wheel. One side note on this trip: we discovered the joy of gas prices in the UK by paying 31GBP for half a tank of diesel! We pulled into Avis Heathrow a little after 11am - slightly ahead of schedule. Our first taste of triskaidekaphobia kicked in when the good people at Avis discovered the damaged tyre (quite by accident, actually) and assessed a 78GBP charge. No problem. Let it go. Stay calm.

We pulled our caravan of wheeled suitcases onto the Avis shuttle and, soon enough, we were at the appointed Disney pickup spot (Terminal 3 Arrivals) with 30 minutes to spare. The plan was coming together. We'd made it from Bath on time and intact. Come Noontime, we'd be traveling in luxury into the heart of London. But no Disney Driver was to be found. I paced the Arrivals area peering at the many, many drivers holding up signs for their charges. No one was looking for me, however, and by 12:30pm, Dee elected to call the Disney 'emergency' number - long-distance to the US (why not a local number?). After a few calls back and forth, Disney acknowledged there had been a screw-up and that we should take a cab into London. Someone from Disney would be waiting for us at the hotel and would pay the fare. No problem. Let it go. Stay calm.

Tip: Make sure your cell-phone will work in England and France. Your cell-phone provider can tell you what frequencies/protocols your phone must support and what the per-minute charges will be. Carry along the ABD 'concierge' phone number as well.

The UK's heightened Counter Terrorist warning came to be a blessing where finding a taxi was concerned. As we walked to the taxi stand - looking annoyed and bewildered I'm sure - 2 uniformed officials quizzed us for a destination and immediately waved a cab to pick us up. The cab ride was unusual in the sense that the vehicle did not seem designed for the likes of us. The luggage rode shotgun with the driver and BandGeek was obliged to use a fold-down seat facing the rear of the cab. But 40 minutes and 60GBP later, we were standing in front of the amazing Chancery Court Hotel being greeted by Alexandra (Alex) - one of our guides for the next week.

Check-in was a breeze as Alex took care of everything, all the while apologizing for the Disney Driver screwup (apparently a miscommunication between Office Staff and Field Staff). We were even given an upgrade room for our troubles. The hotel - once home to The Pearl Insurance Company - was (and probably still is) as upscale as I'd ever encountered (pictures below). Alex was obviously in control of all details. All in all, fears of Friday the 13th melted from my brow.

Chancery Court

The Lobby

The ABD tour would officially kick-off at a group dinner scheduled for 5:30pm at the hotel. So after some quick freshening up and unpacking, we decided to kill the afternoon by visiting the British Museum since it's only about a 10-minute walk from Chancery Court. We had only limited time to tour the vast spaces of the Museum, so we elected to focus on seeing the Rosetta Stone and the Egyptian wing (especially the mummies). I had hoped to visit the Reading Room, but it was closed in preparation for a new exhibit that would not open for a few months. A small disappointment, but we had a great time nonetheless.

The British Museum

BandGeek ponders the Egyptians

Tip: The British Museum has free admission and is very close to the Chancery Court. As you're walking there - and if you're a Doctor Who fan - you might spot a shop that is full of figurines and models (Daleks, Tardis's, etc.). It's well worth a look.

At the appointed time, we met the rest of the tour group (aka The Gang) for the Welcome Reception. There were drinks (pop, wine, etc.) and snacks set out as we found a place at one of the tables. This was a chance to meet our fellow travelers. Alex and Andrew (our second ABD guide) handed out pieces of paper and instructed each of us to find out 10 interesting facts about other members of The Gang. I'm a fairly social guy when the need arises, but introducing myself to strangers and probing them for their secrets is a little out of my comfort zone. But this was actually a fun exercise since everyone had the same goal and motivation. Sure enough, we met a lot of people and found out some pretty neat facts. Examples: we were the only Canadians in The Gang, one mother/daughter couple were hopscotching their way from California to DisneyWorld, Ireland, ABD London/Paris, Disneyland Paris, and then ABD Italy (whew!), and one lady won the trip in a contest at her place of work - to name but a few. At 35 strong, The Gang was starting to bond.

After Alex and Andrew's overview of the week ahead, we retired to another room for dinner. The theme was basically 'all things British'. The buffet was a sampling of British fare (cue the jokes about British cuisine). The tables were decorated with British-inspired centerpieces. There was even a stand in the corner serving chips in newspaper cones. For those Gentle Readers who are thinking about taking this tour, I won't spoil any more of the surprises. Suffice to say that dinner was very enjoyable and the excitement in the room about the week ahead was palpable.

By 8pm, The Gang was drifting off to their rooms, and we followed suit. Tomorrow would be a busy day including a double-decker bus tour, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, tea at Harrod's..... And that's only part of the day's plans - which I'll talk about in the next post.

Bedtime Snack

Tip: While Disney does run the show, don't expect to be inundated with Mickey Mouse and the like. This is, indeed, a vacation tour. From the get-go it will be obvious that Disney is employing their exceptional strengths in customer service, 'themeing', and ability to 'tell stories'.