Franklin couple checks off London, Paris from their bucket list

Published 8:05 am Saturday, September 22, 2018

by Frank and Almeta Davis

After many years of travel and successfully finishing my bucket list to visit all 50 states, my wife Almeta and I began a discussion about our next travel experience. So, I pushed the idea to go to Europe, a place where I had never been before. After a little investigation, we agreed it would be London, England. The time would be in September before the weather turned cold. In using one of our travel planning agencies, they could not produce a package that was agreeable for me at the prices that I wanted to pay. Using another agency that I researched through AARP, I developed the Frank and Almeta Davis on your own trip to London. Having a desire to see other countries in Europe, I also researched traveling on the Eurostar train to Paris.

In a very short period, plans were put in place to launch this adventure from Norfolk International Airport to London. Once arriving in London, we would develop all other travel plans using the Davis method.

For our home base, I choose a Marriott Hotel that was close to Heathrow Airport. With the basic plan in place, we jetted off on an early Saturday morning arriving late on the same day in London. Upon arriving at Heathrow Airport, we checked out the deals to convert dollars into pounds. We quickly discovered that the exchange rate for dollars was much lower than the British pound so we lost money on the exchange. After a little looking we found a shuttle that got us to the hotel.

On Sunday morning with little sleep and a bit of help from hotel staff, we learned how to get from our location in Hayes to the downtown area of central London. Once there, we arranged all other plans through packages I had seen on the Internet. Using the information we obtained earlier from the hotel staff, we planned a route in which we could travel on a city bus to a station that provided transportation by way of the underground Tube system (trains.) Just as Londoners do, we purchased the Oyster Card to ride the Tube. The card made it more economical as well as convenient when paying to ride the tube. Learning to travel by train allowed us to reach our desired destinations much faster.

We found a travel agency that provided us with more than enough tour choices for both London and Paris.

Day 1 – We chose a walking tour to Buckingham Palace and sites around London and had a lunch of fish and chips at a local Pub.

Day 2 – We elected to make use of the hop-on, hop-off day bus trip around London. We were on the top level of a double-decker bus as we traveled around London, allowing us to take in historical sites like the Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben, 10 Downing Street and the Coca-Cola London Eye. Our package also included a boat ride on the River Thames.

Day 3 – We were off again early in the morning on a charted bus traveling to Windsor Castle, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II. Our first stop of the day, we were able to see St. George’s Chapel where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married, and tombs of 10 sovereigns including Henry VIII, his third wife, Jane Seymore, and Charles I. The tour also included the State Apartments, the changing of the guards and the many towers and moats surrounding the castle.

From Windsor, our next stop was to one of history’s biggest mysteries, the ancient rocks of Stonehenge. What a magnificent site.

The final stop of the day was the town of Bath, where we viewed 18th-century Georgian architecture, the Abbey and a chance to visit the ancient Roman baths. After finishing, it was a 2.5 hour trip back to London.

Day 4 was meant for Paris. While researching this trip we found one that included the Eiffel Tower and a lunch cruise on the River Seine; however, upon arriving there we were unable to plan a day trip to Paris that we both felt we would be able to get us to our point of departure in time to make our connections. This forced us to find the main station of the Eurostar train station to make our own arrangements.

Although it had not intended to be, Paris was our most adventuresome trip. We arrived early as planned to board the Eurostar train. This train is well known due to the fast traveling time and the fact that it moves under the English Channel at speeds up to 186 miles per hour. It travels the distance of 292.7 miles in a time of about 2.5 hours.

Arriving in France, we found a familiar site, a travel agency with the hop-on, hop-off bus that traveled to many of the well-known tourist sites in Paris. To purchase our ideal package, we now had to convert the lower dollars to euros.

Once again off we went on another double-decker bus that allowed us to be on top to capture images of many well-known Paris attractions such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc De Triomphe and the River Seine.

Upon reaching our last site of interest, the Eiffel Tower, we were most joyous about of number of great photos we were able to take.

Additionally, we were also happy about the fact that we would be able to follow through with our plan to celebrate our anniversary by having dinner on one of the floating restaurants on the River Seine. Unfortunately, while going down the steps at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, Almeta accidentally fell and injured her foot.

Needless to say, dinner was cancelled. With Almeta in pain and barely able to walk, we made it back to our bus stop and got on in a futile attempt to make it in time to catch our train back to London. After speaking to the bus driver, it wasn’t long before the both of us realized that time was not on our side. In order to make our connection, we would have to get off the bus and take a taxi back to the station.

By now it was becoming even more difficult for her to walk due to the pain. I ended up having to make the difficult decision to leave her standing alone in the dark on a street corner to get to the designated taxi station.

Crossing much traffic and actually cutting the line, I was able to get in a taxi. For those who know me and that English is my only language, French does not come into play in any phase or phrase.  To make matters worse, my driver didn’t speak a word of English. I tried to let the driver know that I needed him to cross the street to pick up Almeta, but he took off in the wrong direction.

Fortunately for the both of us, Almeta called and with the help of a translator app she had downloaded on her phone, we were able to communicate with the driver. We got him to be successful in getting us to the train station.

We made it by the grace of God to the Eurostar station and soon arrived back to London.

The staff at the station in London assisted us in getting a hackney (taxi) to University College Hospital.  Upon our arrival, it was very apparent that the wait was going to be long with 35 to 40 patients waiting to be seen.

After their initial assessment of her ankle we were told that there would be a six-hour wait to see a doctor. There were many things that we saw and heard during that wait that made the both of us grateful that we lived in the United States and that we had a choice in our health insurance.

As we made our way back home with Almeta experiencing limited mobility, we were amazed by how much assistance we received during every leg of the trip.

It warmed our hearts to learn that those with disabilities which limit their mobility are cared for in such a humane and respectful way.  On a whole, we had a great trip for our first time in Europe using the Davis method of travel to a foreign country.

As I sit here in Dulles International, we just found out that our flight back to Norfolk has been cancelled due to the Hurricane Florence arrival on the East Coast and the threat that it is presenting. In closing, we are both thankful to God for our safe travel back to the United States of America and the many privileges that we enjoy.