Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The great joy of flying into London City - and the even greater joy of Hay-on-Wye

W e've just returned from a glorious week in the UK. If only we could have stayed longer! By the end we were feeling more like ourselves than we have in months. I'm pretty sure that if I had to limit all my future travels to one general destination, I would be happy making that destination the British Isles. Unfortunately we have a lot going on over here so a week was all we could manage.

London City Airport

We flew out of Frankfurt in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, and it was the most empty and pleasant I've ever seen it. When we went through security there were no lines and about five times as many staff as passengers coming through. Also, the second security check that we had to endure for previous flights to the UK and US has been removed! Hallelujah!

My cheapskate-y ways resulted in an itinerary where we flew into London City airport and out of Heathrow. I wouldn't do this again, but I'm glad I did it once. I didn't know anything about London City before, except that I saw on Google Maps that it was really in the city.

Our plane had a 2-2 seating arrangement but was still not all that small. It turned out to be probably the biggest plane London City can handle. The plane landed and the pilot immediately slammed on the brakes. Yeah, you always get a little bit of slammy on the brakes when you land, but not like this; it was drastic. We stopped in a very short distance, and when we came to a stop we found out why. The plane made a complete u-turn and we could see that not only were we already at the very end of the runway, the other end was extremely close, and there are no taxiways - the plane has to taxi on the runway! It's tiny! When we got to the terminal we could see out the windows that the airport is embedded directly in a little neighborhood of townhouses - they're just right across the street from the terminal. I think they built the airport in the smallest possible space in which you could fit one.

We went through passport control with some creepy-voiced guy who sounded like a serial killer in a movie and wanted to know way too much information about our trip, picked up our checked bag, put money on our Oyster cards, and headed for public transit.

Getting from London City to Heathrow

We were renting a car for the trip but didn't want to drive in the city, so we arranged to rent a car at Heathrow. This means a loooong trip between the two airports. An online trip planner recommended that we take light rail/the Tube to Paddington and take the Heathrow Express from there. However, a friend living in London advised us that it wouldn't really save much time to do that and it would be easier and cheaper to just take the light rail/Tube the whole way, so we did that. There is a Docklands Light Rail stop right in the airport and it takes you on an interesting ride through the Docklands, then hooks right up with the Tube. It was a long, long trip to Heathrow. We landed at 4:30 or so but it was dark by the time we picked up our car at Heathrow.

Here are my friend's instructions for the trip from London City to Heathrow:
Sadly, getting from London City to Heathrow is no treat. What I would do: take the DLR to Canning Street, then get on the Jubilee and take that to Green Park. There, catch the Piccadilly line and take it all the way to Heathrow airport. That would at least remove a couple of steps from your process and you would avoid the added expense of the Heathrow Express, which is not all that fast, frankly.
Box Hedge Farm B&B

Knowing that it would be relatively late when we picked up the car, we didn't bother planning to try to get all the way to our first destination that night. I whipped out a map and looked for a place on the way to Wales that was 1.5-2 hours outside of London and near the motorway. That puts you near Bristol, where I saw something on the map adorably named Chipping Sodbury and started searching there. I ended up booking with Box Hedge Farm B&B, which actually has the slightly less cute address of Coalpit Heath, but which looked nice for a decent price. We got lost trying to find the place in the dark, but managed to find it without having to call in for help. Our room was very cute (bed was a little hard, but some people are into that) and our breakfast was huge, served in a little cubby next to a huge set of windows. We asked for help choosing a route to our destination. When the proprietor essentially just told us to use our map and follow the signs, I thought that was friendly enough, but it actually turned out to be about the least helpful person we ever asked for directions. It seemed every person we met was more helpful than the last. It was amazing.

Anyway, the next morning we headed out and chose poorly with regards to which junction to get back on the M4. We ended up lost in the Bristol morning commute. However, it didn't last too long because there was a 2+ lane with nobody in it. Cars with just one occupant were backed up for miles and we passed all of them handily, with no other car even visible before us in that lane. I guess carpooling hasn't really caught on in Bristol. By the way I saw a sign for a town called Pucklechurch. Man, I wish we had time to go there. I think I could read the index of a British atlas all day.


We escaped Bristol's gravitational field, crossed the Severn on an enormous bridge, crossed into Wales, and made our way up past Brecon Beacons toward Hay-on-Wye. The scenery was just incredible. The sun was shining, but there was a mist clinging to everything that never burned off. The fields were unbelievably green, and on the hills the green faded into yellow and red. Every once in a while we passed through a little town with lots of gray buildings, a square-steepled church, and a bright red mailbox. And once that town was named Three Cocks, which is funny when you have a totally juvenile sense of humor.

Hay-on-Wye (etc.) Okt 10

Finally we reached our destination: Hay-on-Wye. I don't know where I first read about this town, but it made the must-visit list right away. It sits on the border between England and Wales and somehow ended up being home to 25-30 used bookstores. Our usual access to cheap English-language books being what it is, it was like walking into paradise. We looked at books until we couldn't stand it anymore. Then we had a quick lunch (meh) and looked at even more books. Miraculously, we managed to come away with only 14 books. I was particularly looking for books for my name book collection, and had the best luck in this endeavor at the Hay Cinema Bookshop (scarily mazelike...I was afraid I'd never find my way out) and Hay-on-Wye Booksellers. Thus these two were my personal favorites. I also loved Addyman Books for its awesome shelving built from pieces from an old church. Really, every bookstore we visited was worthwhile and the 14 we got came from at least seven different places. I would love to go back!

Song O' The Post!
I was going to link to a relevant song on YouTube for each post of the trip but can't find this song there. Try it here - click the play icon next to the song "Lliwiau Llachar"! We listened to it many times in the car - it's by the Welsh band Super Furry Animals and is in Welsh, so you can get a taste of how it sounds.

Coming soon: We try not to get shot in Brecon Beacons!



    also, i cant listen to the song because i am international!

    ALSO! yes, let us look at names of towns all day <3

  2. Sounds like heaven! I love the UK! We're hoping to live there one day. I love the names of the towns!

  3. MIHH: I so fantasize about living in the UK one day. Alas, the chances for us are really slim.

  4. I want to live in the UK someday, too. Or anywhere with a lot of English bookstores, really.


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