This was the trip which almost didn’t happen.
We booked it a few weeks back, thinking it would be a nice getaway before Monki and I had our birthdays. The financial logic here was that before her second birthday, Monki flies for the infant rate of very little, as opposed to after her second birthday, in which case her fare rises dramatically. And that happens if her birthday falls within the travel period, so our hands were a bit tied as to timing. Then the question was what to do? She likes animals and the Kaunas zoo is not all that, so we thought a trip to London to visit zoos would be appropriate. With all good intentions we booked our flights and then tried to find a cheap hotel. We found one, in Ilford, but then when we were looking at our possible destinations, we also decided to rent a car so we weren’t tied to a public transport schedule. The only thing we didn’t do was prebook park tickets. A pretty good thing, considering.
See, about two or three weeks before our departure, Rasa started feeling ill. Her joints started aching and she was tired all the time. More so than usual. She went to the doctor, who sent her to other doctors who didn’t know what was wrong with her. The possibilities were everything from Mononucleosis to Leukemia and a host of things in between. None of which seemed like a walk in the park. So as we went through the various rounds of testing, we kept debating as to whether we should go on the trip at all. Some days it was a yes, others a no. Since the flight and hotel were non-refundable they didn’t matter and the car we could cancel with 24 hr notice, so we really were playing it by ear. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, after the diagnosis of Leukemia came back negative, we decided to go. There would still be tests and diagnosis upon our return, but as for now, there was nothing to be done and staying home wouldn’t make those nothings happen any faster.
So Wednesday morning we were off and running. We’d packed and gotten plane snacks and figured out how to carry the potty with us (yup, still working on Monki’s potty-training, but the big toilets scare her, so bringing her potty was essential). We had her car seat and stroller and even managed to remember a bag for our clothes.
The flight to London was fine, no hiccups along the way. Not a huge fan of Wizzair, but you do what you must. Landing at Luton, however, was a different story. Not being EU citizens (Monki was flying on her American passport) we had to wait in the long ass line which terminated in one counter. Of the 10 or so counters which were staffed, only one was taking non-EU folks. The others would take the non-EU when their line was diminished, but in the end, it took us an hour to get through the line. Coming upon the immigration official (who was a nice guy), he looked through my passport and asked if I’d ever been to London before. I assured him I had, and he smiled and waved us through. Of course, by that point, everyone else from our flight had been gone so our luggage, including car seat and stroller, were standing, unattended, by the side of a luggage carousel.
We retrieved it all and made our way outside, past construction which has been going on for years (it was there when I flew into Luton two and a half years ago) and to the bus to take us to the car rental place. Everything was good, got the car no problem, but then the reality of what I was about to do hit home. Now, I’ve been driving for 35 years. In that time, I’ve driven most every type of transmission you can drive without needing a CDL (automatic, 3, 4, 5, 6 speeds, split shift 10, three on the tree, automatic clutch, etc). What I’ve never done is driven a right-hand drive. I took a minute to get myself situated and remember I was going to need to change gears with my left hand. Ikra (sp?), our sales agent, asked me if everything was in the same place for left hand drives. Did you use the same feet for the clutch and brake, and how weird it must be and maybe I should have ordered an automatic instead. I shrugged and said something to the effect of “what’s done is done,” then she left and we drove out of the parking lot.
In 35 years of having my license, I don’t think I’ve ever been that uncomfortable behind
the wheel. I carefully made my way, using GPS, to the motorway. In all that time, I felt like being in the Star Trek Mirror Universe. I was very much aware of the exterior of the car ‘s boundaries, specifically on the right hand side. So much so that I ran over the curb on the left a few times. But eventually we were on our way to Ilford, about 45 miles away. With traffic, the ride would take about 90 minutes. No big deal.
Until Monki got sick.
This was full on vomiting, not the spit up of being a baby. And it freaked her right out. She was scared not only because of what happened, but also because she had made a mess. With Rasa sitting beside her and me driving, hands in a veritable rictus in the 10 and 2 position (except for shifting), both trying to comfort her and let her know it was okay, all while trying not to notice the smell ourselves within the air-conditioned car because, naturally, we were there on the hottest day or the year and driving with the windows open was too hot.
We finally made it to the hotel only to be told that they didn’t have a room for us, and were going to put us into a sister property, which would be fine except there was no parking there. And we had a sick child and just wanted to get to our room, wherever it was going to be. Eventually, they found a room for us, and parking (which the next day, when we returned from a long day out, they explained was on a first come, first serve basis, completely discounting the fact that one of the only reasons we booked there was because they promised parking). We got to our room, then tried to find a laundry to clean the clothes which had received the brunt of the little girl’s sick and, with her resting in the stroller, hit up the high street to find someplace for dinner and to reassess our plan.
The place we found to eat was a little diner called Titanic. It was a friendly place, made even more so by the addition of “Dan the Man.” Dan was a heavily tattooed, multi colored Mohawk sporting guy who, by his own acclimation, knew everyone in the place. The reason for this was he talked to everyone. Including us.
“I know everyone in here,” he said to me.
“I’m Jaq,” I said.
“Now I know you.”
Great fun and decent food. Monki seemed to be feeling better and she ate a bit. With this in mind, Rasa and I decided to do Legoland the following day (which was also a bit financially motivated since the prices went up on the weekend and we could book in advance online to save even more). A little more walking around the high street and then it was back to the hotel. Our first day counts as a qualified success.