The day eventually came when we decided to go back to the United States. We had been planning to go to back to Greece first, Athens, or maybe Thessaloniki, this time. However, we started to feel like we were traveling just for the sake of traveling. We needed to take a break, regroup and figure out a more long term plan. Plus, paying work has been ridiculously slow. Although everything will be more expensive back home, we do have a pretty affordable living situation for the summer.
First we needed to find an affordable flight from Bucharest, Romania to Boston, USA. Qatar had a pretty good deal and we do like that airline, but it would involve another 9 hour layover in the Doha Airport which didn’t excite us. We decided to see if we could find something using airline miles. Back when we lived in San Francisco we started flying a new airline in the US, Virgin America. It quickly became our favorite airline and the only one we wanted to fly. We flew to Chicago one time then drove 6 hours in a rental car to our destination because we didn’t want to fly any other airline. We each had a Virgin credit card that would earn us extra points and miles too. In fact, we had so many points at one time, we flew from Boston, MA to Austin, TX and back for free. Virgin didn’t even fly directly between those 2 cities, so it involved 4 flights each way, including a break in the Virgin America Lounge at LAX (Los Angeles Airport).
In 2018 Alaska Airlines took over Virgin America. Our remaining Virgin points were transferred to Alaska along with some bonus points and this is what we used to fly home. Howard had enough points for his ticket, I had to buy a few more mileage points and then we both had to pay the taxes & fees. Anyways, for less than $700 we had tickets home on Alaska’s partner, British Airways.
For such a large European city, Bucharest has a pretty small and unimpressive airport. I can’t say much for the bus station we arrived at either. Maybe their train station is the major arrival and departure point?
We flew out on a Tuesday afternoon and arrived at London Heathrow at about 5:30 pm local time. We were not very impressed with British Airways. It was just like flying coach in the US. No in flight entertainment, no WiFi, no charging ports, and the drinks and snacks they served all cost extra, even water. We had a 21 hour layover in London and we were going to make the most of it. We hurried down to customs, filled out the entry form, and were stamped into the UK. Then we rushed to the hotel shuttle. We got a great deal at a Hilton near our terminal on Priceline.com. London is notorious for having expensive hotel rooms, so we were pretty happy we could get a 4 star hotel for under $100. We dropped off our laptops and carry-on in our room then headed back down stairs. Our goal was to get into London before 8:00 pm and it was getting late. Heathrow is quite a ways outside downtown London and our plan was to take the airport shuttle back to Terminal 5 then ride the Underground into the city. With the cost of the shuttle, and the underground, we decided to spend just a few dollars more and take an Uber into the city. We arrived in Piccadilly Circus just before 8:00 pm.
Why did we decide to go to Piccadilly Circus? Well, we weren’t really sure where to go and Piccadilly Circus was on a direct line from the airport on the Underground. It seemed like a good place to start, plus there were several other areas we could easily walk to. We didn’t venture too far though. It was dark, cold, and a freezing wind was whipping down the streets. After we shared a plate of fish and chips at a pub, we wandered to another pub, then grabbed a train in the Underground back to the Airport, then the hotel shuttle back to the Hilton.
The next day we went back to Heathrow for our flight to Boston. It hit us really hard then, that we were going home. Neither of us wanted to. It was fun we got to quickly see London. We didn’t expect that this trip, and in a way it was sort of easing us back home. London reminded me so much of New York City, except everything was British. People everywhere were glued to TVs showing the latest Brexit turmoil, we could understand the language, and everything was expensive. It was like we were almost home.
They finally announced our departure gate a hour before take off. We were at a bar in the terminal and had just ordered drinks. We finished them up and started to make our way to the gate. That’s when we realized we had to go down 5 escalators, take a tram under the airport, and run to the end of another part of the terminal. We thought we had plenty of time still, but we got to our gate just as they closed the doors to the airplane. We got our wish, we weren’t going home, but this wasn’t what we wanted either.
I was pretty annoyed they didn’t even wait a couple extra minutes. They knew we were checked in at the airport and now the flight was held up while they took our luggage off. (Airlines won’t fly luggage with out the passenger on board.) We asked the BA rep if she could get us on the next flight. For a person who works in customer service, she was just a delight! She said no, she would not put us on another flight, we were going to have to go upstairs and repurchase tickets and, she added in a really snotty British accent, “it’s going to cost you!” My opinion of British Airways was at an all time low.
We weren’t getting out of London that day, so we booked another room on Priceline and I called my parents to tell them not to go to the airport to pick us up. Our next mission was to figure out how to get out of the departure area. We had to wait at one of the gates in the main building for an escort out of that area. It was there that I noticed the British Airways computer screens were set 5 minutes faster than the airport information boards, and the actual time. We should have been let on our flight.
We were escorted out of the airport with 3 women who also missed their flight and another woman who decided to meet someone for dinner outside of security during her layover. As we were walking down hallway after hallway in the depths of the airport, Howard said it’s like we’re all the bad kids being taken to detention. Instead of detention however, we were taken to customs and put back on UK soil. Could be worse I suppose.
After we collected our luggage, it was back to the hotel shuttle and this time to a Sheraton near our terminal. After checking in, we found a place with WiFi and outlets by the hotel’s pool. The pool was in a covered courtyard in the middle of the hotel. It was humid, filled with fake tropical plants and multi colored lights. It was strange, but cool at the same time. We got a couple beers from the pool bar and Howard got on live chat with Alaska Airlines to see if they could get us on another flight. There was no problem and we were booked on a flight for the following evening, at no extra cost. (Alaska Air just may be my new favorite domestic airline!) The next day we took the shuttle back to Terminal 5. At 5 GBP per person each way, we spent about $65 just riding the stupid shuttle back and forth to the airport.
British Airways somewhat redeemed themselves this day. Every BA rep we spoke to was nice and helpful, we even had seats together on the flight. We were in the very back row, but that was find because where every other row had a window, middle and aisle seat, the aisle seat was missing from our row to make extra room for the galley, so we had our own little area with plenty of room. There was in flight entertainment, including free movies, charging ports, free beverages, and a free meal. Actually, there were 2 free meals, but I slept through the second one.
We arrived in Boston and headed down to customs. The agent asked how long we were away and when we said a year and a half he gave us quite the suspicious look. After we explained what we had been doing he said that was really cool and welcomed us home. It was too late to have my parents pick us up so we grabbed an Uber to a hotel about 20 miles north of Boston. Hotels in this area are even worse than London and despite another great deal from Priceline, we paid just over $100 for a 3 star hotel. It was fine for one night though and in the morning my parents picked us up there.
On the drive back to New Hampshire, we stopped at a typical New England seafood restaurant. It smelled like a New England seafood restaurant. The chatter inside was loud, the butter came in packets, and the waitress interrupted our conversation 50 times to ask us how everything was or if we needed anything. I’ve been away from that for so long it was noticeable, but I was able to acknowledged the server then continue the conversation right where I left off. Only now I realize how strange that must be to European visitors.
We arrived back at my parents condo Friday afternoon, 3 days after we left Bucharest. It’s really good to see my parents and I know they are happy we are back. We’re still living out of suitcases though and there’s not much room in their guest room for all our stuff. We’ll be back on the road very soon though. Just because we are home doesn’t mean we are done traveling. It’s still winter here and our truck and RV-home are burred in the snow. We have to wait for it to warm up to get the RV ready to live in again. So we are going to hit the road and drive to Michigan, via Canada, to visit Howard’s parents and see what else there is to discover along the way.