After spending three weeks putting all of our things into storage and packing about 22 pounds of belongings for each of us to take to Europe, we were ready to make our first trip traveling abroad together.
Our plan was to fly out of Denver, arrive in London eight and a half hours later, experience London for eleven hours, fly to our hotel in Zürich where we would spend four nights, and then take a train to Vienna, our final destination. I suppose after traveling around the U.S. for nearly two years, we should know that things usually don’t go according to plan. Nonetheless, we were giddy and full of blissful expectation as we woke up early Thursday morning to catch our 2:30pm flight out of Denver. Of course, we were aware that the day would be long – after spending several hours in the airport, then our long flight to London, our layover, and our final flight to Zürich – but we assumed that we would sleep on the plane. *Deep sigh.* We had no idea that this day would be the longest of our lives (so far).
Well our big travel day arrived, and we couldn’t have been more excited. Our flight to London was a great flight! It did leave later than scheduled though, which meant we arrived a little later in London, but we had such a long layover that it wasn’t a problem. We tried to sleep on the plane for around 4 hours, but we couldn’t. Our bodies felt like it was just the afternoon or early evening and we weren’t tired.
When we arrived in London, it was late at night back home in the states and early morning in the U.K. The fact that it was daytime made it a little easier to stay awake, however, as we rode the thirty minute train from the airport to London, we were both beginning to feel pretty tired. This feeling left as soon as we entered London.
The city is very, very busy with crowds of people everywhere, literally. The public transportation is very popular and, thanks to a wonderful friend (@gracemkruse), we already knew which ticket to buy that would give us transportation throughout the city for the whole day. Also thanks to Grace, and Hunter’s knack for planning ahead, we had researched what we wanted to do and see during our layover and so we went straight to Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey is an incredibly historical place, as well as one of the U.K.’s most notable religious buildings and has been used for coronations and burials throughout the years. It is formally known as the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster and was named this because of a young man who apparently had a vision of St. Peter near the site of the church.
According to history, the abbey dates as far back as the 960’s or 970’s. However, the construction of the church that is currently in London began in 1245 by King Henry III. In 1539, Henry VIII gave the church the status of a cathedral. In 1560, Elizabeth I re-established the church as the Church of England and made it directly responsible to the Sovereign.
Other interesting facts: there were 6 companies of churchmen who translated the Bible into English and created the King James Bible at the Abbey in the beginning of the 1600’s. Also, in the 19th century, there was some restructuring done to the church to help preserve it. The church obviously survived WWII, with very little damage. You can read more about the history of Westminster Abbey here.
Also, while we were at the abbey we decided to have lunch, although our bodies felt like it was around five in the morning, since we had been awake for about 22 hours at this point, we were hungry. This was truly one of the best parts of the day because we got coffee and the cafe was so adorable.
After our much needed energy booster at the cafe, we toured a little more of the Abbey and walked around the city. We saw the London Eye (a very big Ferris wheel), St. Margaret’s Church (next to Westminster Abbey), and the Parliament Building, which is better known as the Palace of Westminster.
Now it was time to make our way through the busy transportation system again and get back to the airport. We knew we were a little early for our flight, but we were beginning to get so tired that it was nice to sit and not walk around carrying our backpacks that seemed to be getting heavier and heavier. After going through security for the second time that day, we were ready to board and were sitting at our gate. It was past take off time and we had still not boarded, but we were not concerned because this also happened in Denver. Suddenly over the speakers came something like “We’re sorry, but the flight to Zürich has been cancelled..we apologize for the inconvenience.” Everyone began talking at once at this point and I looked up to see a girl a few feet from me begin to cry openly. I felt like joining in. Then, again, the now annoying voice came over the speaker, “There has been a misunderstanding, the flight will take off in a few minutes…” We felt very relieved and settled back in our seats. However, this feeling soon left as the voice came back over the speaker and confirmed that our flight had indeed been cancelled. Apparently there was some sort of strike going on with the airline, but we didn’t know that at the time. They only told us that they were understaffed.
At this point, it was about 7pm in London, and remember, we had been awake since 7am in the U.S. the day before. For the next 7 and a half hours, we tried to find a flight that was going out of the U.K. before Monday. To make a long story short (that is already getting long), we soon realized that 15 other flights had been canceled through the same airline, and we were forced to wait in a customer service line for an hour and half with several hundred other people. Hunter left me in line while he went to every single hotel that was connected to the airport, but they were all full. During this time, I was able to have a few laughs with one Brazilian, a girl from Scotland who had the coolest accent, and a girl who spoke English and another language that I didn’t recognize. We eventually realized that waiting in line was useless and decided to pay for our own accommodations, with the hope that the airlines would refund us later.
Unfortunately, there seemed to be literally no other flights leaving the U.K. to other parts of Europe for the next 4 days. We had planned on staying in Zürich for several nights because, 1) we thought it would be a neat place to visit, but also because 2) we thought it would be wise if we had a back up place to stay in case something on our way to Vienna didn’t work out, as would seem to be the fate that befell us.
Since all the hotels in London were completely full, we began looking at Airbnb’s instead, and around 11:30pm, we found one. The next step was to take a taxi to our Airbnb, so we waited in line for an hour for a taxi to become available. Throughout this entire time, Hunter was constantly checking flights and trains in an effort to find something that could take us out of London because our passports were only stamped for 48 hours in the U.K.
Our taxi finally arrived and took us to our Airbnb that was close-by. Unfortunately, the key that we were supposed to use to unlock the door wouldn’t work. Thankfully, another tenant heard us and opened the door. Our Airbnb turned out to be very European and quaint and we enjoyed our one night stay in London. After settling in to our room, we spent 2 more hours trying to find transportation outside of the U.K., but there seemed to be nothing. We were unable to come up with a plan for the next day and so, around 2am (42 hours since we’d last slept), we went to bed.
The next morning, Hunter was able to get us tickets on the Eurostar, which would leave London at 12:30pm that day and take us to Paris, France. They warned us that they, too, were on strike and our train could be delayed or canceled as a result. However, we were full of hope as we entered the international train station and boarded our train. It set off right on time.
We realize that it wasn’t London’s fault that we had a bad experience there and we did meet a lot of kind people during our hours spent in the airport the day before. It also appeared as if we were going to see France – something we had not been expecting. Things were beginning to look up.