Monday, August 24, 2009

August 19

August 19, home at last.

Monday morning Dr Luvandash, the director of the EMSC and one of their friends picked us up at the hotel at 5:30 to take us to the airport for our 7:30 flight. We thanked them said goodbye and headed into the airport only to find out that the flight was several hours behind schedule. After confirming with Aeroflot that we were indeed booked on the flight we got in line and waited for check in. Once we were allowed to check in we found out that our bags were over weight by 9 kilos and we would have to pay $27.00 in excess baggage charges. When we went into the office to pay we found out it was $27.00 per kilo but when they calculated it out they charged us 4 X $27 for a total of $108 USD. We asked them to give us our bags back so we could lighten the load but they said it was too late and the bags had already been loaded so we had to pay up. About an hour later a woman from the customs office asked us to come with her and she took us downstairs to the customs area. Apparently an x-ray of our luggage had revealed something that they didn’t like. Calen had been filling up coke bottles with the soil of every country that we passed through as a souvenir to add to his collection of all of the other countries that he has visited. Unfortunately the Mongolian customs officials wouldn’t let him leave with his collection and they made him remove every bottle that they could find. Once this was finished we went back upstairs and had a bowl of noodles. As we were eating it occurred to me that our bags were now considerably lighter and we would no longer be overweight. I pointed this out to the customs lady and she got hold of the Aeroflot representative. Amazingly they agreed and refunded the $108 excess baggage charge. By noon we were in the air and headed for Moscow. When we arrived we were faced with a huge line-up at the Transit desk as they tried to fit everyone from our flight who had missed their connection due to the delay onto the next flight to London. Fortunately we were already booked on the later flight so we were issued boarding cards and proceed on to London.

We arrived in London around 10:00 pm but with the changes in time zones it was more like 4 in the morning for us. After searching for a short while around the Kings Cross area were able to locate a hotel with a vacancy, check in and hit the hay. We awoke around 5:30 Tuesday morning and wandered down Euston Street where we had an excellent English breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon and baked beans. Afterwards we jumped back on the tube and headed downtown for some sightseeing. We started at the Tower of London with really isn’t a tower at all but a walled fortress with lots of old restored buildings including the one that houses the Crown jewels. We spent a couple of hours exploring the sight which was the beginning of London about 2000 years ago. From there we crossed the Tower Bridge, the most iconic of London’s bridges over the Thames and then walked westward on the south side of the river. First we stopped at the HMS Belfast a decommissioned WWII era Warship and toured it for an hour and a half then went on past London Bridge to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre before stopping for fish and chips at a pub along side of the river. After lunch we visited the Tate Modern Gallery and took in the art exhibits before continuing on to the London Eye. Next we crossed back over the Thames to Westminster past Big Ben and the Parliament buildings to Westminster Abbey. By then the Abbey was closed for the day but we did manage to find a side door into the courtyard and were able to explore the inner courtyard and gardens which housed the crypts of many notable people going back hundreds of years. By now it was after 6:00 pm and we had been walking for 12 hours. My feet were killing me so I suggested we take a double decker bus to Buckingham Palace. Riding through the city were able to see incredible and historic buildings everywhere we looked. London is a really beautiful city with a huge variety of impressive sights. After walking around in front of Buckingham Palace with lots of other tourists we jumped on another bus past Kensington Palace, the Marble Arch in Hyde Park and Piccadilly Circus and ended up at Trafalgar Square one of the hubs of the city. By now it was after 9:00 so we had supper in a local pub and headed back to our hotel having just concluded a 15 hour walking tour of the city.

Wednesday morning after breakfast at the hotel we jumped on the tube and headed for Covent Garden where we intended to tour the market but it was too early and the vendors had yet to show up. We started walking once again and passed 10 Downing Street and Churchill’s bunker and war room before heading across Green Park and back to Buckingham Palace. It is amazing how so many historic buildings are found in such a relatively small and accessible area. Around 9:30 we went back to the hotel to check out and head to the airport in time for our flight home. We thought the tube ride from Kings Cross to Heathrow would take about half an hour but it ended up taking us about 45 minutes and it is a long walk from the station to the check in counter so we made it to check in with only 1 minute to spare. Check in closes 60 minutes before flight departure and we were checked in 61 minutes before our flight. Wouldn’t you know it, the flight was overbooked. At first we were pretty disappointed but then we found out that under European regulations Air Canada was bound to offer us compensation because we checked in before the deadline and they didn’t have a seat for us. The compensation was an Air Canada credit of $1400 and not only that but when we checked in on the next flight we were upgraded to 1st class for our flight across the Atlantic. Calen and I couldn’t believe it when we were shown to our seats. 1st class is laid out in individual pods with reclining seats that resembled a lazy boy recliner that converts into a bed when you want to sleep. The service was also 1st class with a choice of wines and appetizers and meals served on china with actual silverware. I tell you 1st class is the way to go, especially on a long flight across the ocean. The flight was routed through Ottawa where we breezed through Canadian customs, our easiest border crossing on our whole trip. When we arrived in Toronto we were greeted at the terminal by Rosie, Mike and Maureen. A couple of hours later when we arrived home we were greeted by many of our friends who had been so supportive of us over the past year. We partied on into the night recounting our adventure until we just couldn’t keep our eyes open. We had covered 12 time zones over the last few days and jet lag was taking its toll.

It is now Friday morning as I write this last entry into our blog. We will have lots of time in the future to reflect on all that we have seen and experienced. This truly was a trip of a lifetime and without the help of family and friends it would never have been possible. I would especially like to thank Rosie for the incredible amount of work that she put in over the past 12 months making sure that all of the thousands of details were attended to. Without her hard work and considerable expertise and skills this trip would never have been possible. I would also like to thank everyone who contributed time and money to help us reach our goals. The love and encouragement that everyone provided was beyond anything that I could ever have imagined so thank you to each and every one of you who helped make this incredible journey a reality.
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