spreadsheets and suitcases

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Europalooza Trip Report Part 3: in which my optimistic nature is tested in 2 different countries

on February 8, 2019

Part 2 left off with me and my family heading to Raleigh Airport (RDU) on Christmas Day to catch our nonstop flight to London on American Airlines (AA).  BTW, I updated that post.  Can’t believe I forgot to mention The Nutcracker and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences!  Go read it, I’ll wait.

Ok, now that you’re back…the European adventure was about to begin!  First, though, we had to drop off the rental car.  This is where some of my troubles began…

We had made a somewhat last-minute decision to rent the car in the first place.  Now, we were heading for the airport in said car, ready to return it to Budget and get going “across the pond!”  My sister, mother, and DD were leading the way in my sister’s car, and my father, DH, DS, and I followed behind, with me driving.  At some point, right after getting on the highway, I realized that my headlights were not on.  It was 5pm…in winter…totally dark.  We had driven away from the house, stopped for gas, and gotten on the highway without anyone noticing!  It seemed a bad idea to me to start jiggling knobs and turning levers, but I had no choice- getting pulled over was not an option.  I’m not quite sure I ever did figure it out, but before I knew it, were pulling in to the Budget Rental return area…oh, no, actually, we weren’t.  Because the gate was CLOSED, and the rental office beyond it was dark.


I was admittedly a bit frazzled due to the light thing (this was a car with keyless entry, I can be forgiven for assuming the lights automatically came on), but now I was in a heavily trafficked area of an airport, staring uncomprehendingly at a padlocked gate.  There was a loose piece of paper with something written on it attached to the gate near the metal sign proclaiming their usual opening hours.  I was unable to read it in time, because since I couldn’t keep going into the lot, I was now partially blocking the lane and a shuttle bus appeared behind me.  I had to quickly back out, and having nowhere else to go, turned my hazards on and parked in the turning lane.  My dad got out and went to read the sign.  I was more than annoyed.  My dad returned, and said, there was nothing of value on the sign.  It simply said, “return at next driveway.”  Yes, that’s it.  Dear reader, what if I told you there was more than one driveway to choose from?  And that none of them said, “Budget rental return here?”  Would you have steam coming out of your ears?  I did!


Finally, we randomly picked the Avis entrance, and my father walked a ways into the lot, and asked at the office.   He then called me and said, yes, you can return it here.  I pulled in, had DH take the bags out and meet my dad at the office, and then…more confusion.  There was a dropoff lane like normal, but NO ONE WAS THERE.  I thought someone would come and do the usual: scan the barcode, have me sign a receipt, take the keys.  So when 10 minutes passed and no one appeared, DS and I just walked away from the car and went to the office.  Dad and DH saw me coming and got ready to get on the shuttle to the Terminal, but I waved them off, since I hadn’t officially returned the car to anyone!  They hadn’t gotten in line because they assumed the return would happen in the dropoff, AS IT NORMALLY DOES.  So there was a line of people picking up cars inside the office.  I got in the line, but it was long and as soon as one agent stopped talking to a customer I loudly said, “I am returning a Budget car, who can I give these keys to?”  Luckily, one of the agents called me over, essentially letting me cut the line.  I signed, handed them over, and it was done.

I was so mad about the lack of communication by Budget, I actually couldn’t talk for a few minutes.  It was 6pm.  If the office had closed early due to an emergency, there should have been a more detailed and visible note.  If the office had had a planned closure, there should have been a more detailed and visible note on the fence AND it should have been explained at the pickup.  In conclusion, there should have been a more detailed and visible note!


I did some deep breathing while on the shuttle, because I did not want to start our trip on a sour note. Happily, the 3 men in my life that were with me were wise enough not to ask me any questions until we were at the Terminal. So I was fairly over it by the time we met up with the ladies, who had parked in the regular lot and were wondering what had taken us so long. Rather than relive it, we waved it off and started saying goodbye (to my sister), and see you very soon (to my parents)!


Yes, that is DS’s little hand waving goodbye.  Cropped him right out.  You can see the nearly empty security area, and the TSA PreCheck line had 4 people in it- the 4 of us!

We absolutely breezed through TSA precheck, and comfortably waited for our flight at the gate.  DH and DS had to have their passports rescanned before boarding for some reason but it was fast.  We boarded and took off on time.  Movies were watched, snacks and meals were eaten, the kids slept for a long while (but not me or DH), all my ire at the rental car return situation had long since melted away, and we landed at London Heathrow at almost 8a local time.

I want to mention that not only were we excited about this long-awaited trip getting going, but we had been spectacularly primed for the London segment in particular after having seen Mary Poppins Returns the day before. I LOVED it, and happily quoted from it during the trip in an awful British accent, but only when we were alone, so as not to offend, ha!mpreturns

We disembarked, stopped at the loo 🙂 and went to get in the immigration line.  Which looked like this:


I see your Obama inauguration crowds, and raise you the Passport Control crowds we experienced that day.

HOLY CRAP.  The plan had been to allow 1 hour for this process, then take the Underground (Tube) to Kings Cross station, check in to our hotel right there, then head back out without our backpacks on the Hop-On Hop-Off Tour bus to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland for (reserved, prepaid) ice skating at 12p.

Spoiler alert: we made it to the skating, but barely. And with ALL our bags.  At Heathrow,  we reluctantly got in the line, which moved at a snail’s pace from the very beginning.  I desperately searched my memory banks for the info I had read re: Fast Track entry into the UK and whether Global Entry included it (it does not).  Well, the clearance given for GE is usually enough to apply for Fast Track and get approved, but we wouldn’t have qualified anyway because we hadn’t entered the UK at least 4 times in the past 24 months and I would have had to pay $70 each for the privilege of getting denied.  So, in the line we stayed.


It was an optical illusion line, too.  It kept getting longer, because you would see 5 lanes in front of you but as you progressed through them, more became visible.  There were 5 lanes of people left for at least an hour.    Remember, neither DH or I had slept a wink.  I was extremely concerned about the timing for the skating.  It was hot in there because of all the people, and we were wearing clothes we are not used to (coats and boots).  Thanks goodness the kids are old enough to not need constant bathroom visits, bottles, etc.  I honestly only kept a relatively cool head because of the kids.  It was soul-sucking.


Finally, FINALLY, it was our turn, and we were easily through, with the agent welcoming us to the UK 🙂  It was almost 11am.  We speedwalked through the terminal and used a kiosk to buy Tube tickets directly to Hyde Park, scrapping the original plan to stop at the hotel first.  This was possible because we had NO checked luggage to worry about!  Yay, advance planning really helped on that.  We got right on the train and nervously waited as we passed stop after stop.  Having never been to Winter Wonderland, I could not assume that there was any leeway with our reserved time.  We arrived around 11:50am, and walked to the Winter Wonderland entrance.  There was a line there, too, ahhhhhhhhh.  But DH asked a guard, and he said that the line was for people who didn’t have tickets.  I whipped out our skating confirmation and we were through!

london baby

Time to start having fun!

Next up: disappointing penguins, an accidental visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Platform 9 ¾!

One response to “Europalooza Trip Report Part 3: in which my optimistic nature is tested in 2 different countries

  1. VivaLaDiva405 says:

    Ahhh I feel the anguish!!!


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