Our day of travel began relatively early and proved to be a marathon involving planes, trains and automobiles (and yes, that is a shout out to an awesome new travel channel, PTA, available on Roku and at many airports). We left Philadelphia and drove to New York, stopping at my parents’ house for dinner and a free ride to the airport, saving us from having to pay for airport transport or parking (thanks, Mom & Dad!). We boarded a 10 pm Emirates flight from JFK to Milan. Tip: Obviously, it is great to try to fly nonstop if finances (or great airfare deals) permit. When flying to Europe, we like to book a red-eye so we can get a little rest on the plane and land in Europe and hit the ground running…or flying in this case!
After landing in Milan (12 pm local time), we cleared immigration, picked up our bags, and checked in to our Easy Jet flight. The Milan Malpensa (literally translated means “bad thought”–odd name for an airport!) airport is divided into two terminals. We landed in Terminal 1 and followed signs to catch the free shuttle bus that took us to Terminal 2. The Easy Jet flight that we took left from Gate E, which has decidedly fewer amenities than the rest of Terminal 2–once you go through, you can’t really go back and you’re stuck with a pretty low-frills cafe and a few vending machines. I took a quick, uncomfortable nap on the hard airport bench seats during our 4-hour layover. Milan’s airport has free wi-fi, which made the time pass a little bit faster. Finally, we went through passport control (for maybe the fourth time that day) and boarded the flight to London’s Gatwick airport. The flight was pretty packed and I think I passed out for the entire duration of the less than two hour trip.
We arrived in London at Gatwick airport around 5 pm. We had booked seats on the Gatwick Express (non-stop train from Gatwick to London’s Victoria Station) in advance from home to save money (there are deals if you book online on their website) but it seemed easy to secure tickets at the airport train station. The tickets can be used within five days of the intended date for the outward ticket and within one month for the return ticket to Gatwick. Because we purchased the Gatwick Express tickets, we were eligible for the 2FOR1 entertainment deals from the Days Out Guide (these deals can also be accessed if you purchase a Travelcard). The trip to Victoria Station takes about 30 minutes and the trains come every 15 minutes and are pretty cushy, though are not inexpensive. Cost: £62 per couple (round trip using “web duo” fare online). These fares change often–at time of writing this post, the cost has gone down to £44 per couple. Tip: Prior to leaving, we obtained a chip and pin credit card to facilitate transactions in Europe. Many US cards are going this route and the banks informed us they were about to send us our chip and pin card anyway when we called to request one.
We arrived at Victoria Station just around 7 pm and walked to our hotel, which was about 15 minutes from the station. It was raining a little bit, but not so heavily that we felt the need to take any more public transportation…we were sort of tapped out on the public transport front for the day. We checked into St. Ermin’s Hotel (a Marriott property, which we had booked using Marriott rewards points alone so it was essentially free–major plus!).
This hotel has a rich history and is gorgeous, maybe made even more so to the bone-weary eyes of exhausted travelers and the fact that our stay was free! St. Ermin’s Hotel is located in Westminster, just around the corner from the St James’ Park tube station, which proved to be an extraordinarily convenient location. It was quiet and off the beaten path but so easily accessible to major sights (Westminster Abbey, Parliament, etc) and so close to the tube. We checked in to our room and quickly changed (even though we had not slept for innumerable hours) and headed out to a nearby pub called The Feathers for a pint and a warm, deep-fried meal on this cold, damp night. Because our last trip (see London 2011 posts) ended without us being able to have proper pub fare, dining (and let’s face it, drinking) at a pub was one of the driving forces behind our return voyage to London. We chose The Feathers for its proximity to the hotel and for the pretty good reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor. This being our first pub meal, we were unfamiliar with the ordering method. Rather than being seated, you order at the bar (drink and food), pay first, then find a table (sometimes you find a table first, then tell the barkeep where you are sitting). It’s really refreshing not to have to wait for someone to take your order or to have to wait for the bill! I had fish and chips and my husband had some type of meat pie and we each had a pint. Cost: £30 for two meals and two pints.
One would think we would be ready to drop, but not us; rather, we needed to eke out every last drop of our first day. We were giddy at being back in London so we decided to walk around Westminster to greet our old friends, Big Ben, Parliament, the London Eye, and Westminster Abbey. We traipsed around in the light rain for awhile and took some photos before heading back to the hotel around 11 pm to finally get some sleep.