When I arrived at Toronto Pearson way ahead of our departure time to London, England – the majority of my passengers were already waiting for me – all seated in one area – so organized. I was so proud of them! Even though I arrived 5 hours prior to the flight – most of them still beat me.
Toronto Pearson is even more automated than the last time I flew out. I was able to check all my passengers in at computer terminals – a tedious process that doesn’t always work but I have enough experience to get through the steps quickly. The group check in line was long and so was the assist check in lines so computer terminal check-in was by far the quickest. Everyone appreciated that I could do it for them. Instead of everyone coming up at once I asked for 4 people at a time and as they got their documents printed they sent others to me – its worked like clockwork.
When you check in with a computer terminal you receive a boarding pass plus your luggage tag. You then proceed to the luggage check-in area (no line when we were there) and an agent scans your luggage tag. There are now new luggage machines where you need to place your luggage (wheels up) – I helped lift the luggage as no AC staff is present – the machine reads the bag tag, weighs the bag – if all is good your luggage proceeds. If something is wrong (check in too early, bag is overweight, can’t read the tag) you get an error message and your luggage does not move – good luck!
Lines to get through security were long but moved at a decent pace.
We then all relaxed in the Premium Lounge – a, “Travel With Bradley” perk. The food was really good and everyone enjoyed a few cocktails before boarding the Air Canada 777 aircraft to London Heathrow.
We were late pulling off the gate and since there was a bit of precipitation in the air the plane had to be de-iced – I was worried that our arrival in London would be late but the pilot made up time – it was a very smooth flight.
The lead flight attendant announced that Air Canada has been named Best Airline in North America but I can’t say the staffs demeanor on this flight represents that. The flight attendants were snarly – quite rude to some passengers. During flight they were obviously not too happy that there were so many special meals (I don’t think I have ever seen so many of these requests on a flight before) and they argued amongst themselves how to deliver them. When we arrived in London they were so busy talking amongst themselves and not one of them was at the door thanking us for flying with Air Canada. After enjoying delicious food in the lounge prior to flight – the meal on board the flight failed in comparison and the ice cold piece of loaf bread they passed around prior to arrival certainly was not memorable. We are lucky that Air Canada flies direct to so many World-wide destinations from Toronto but some of their staff need a customer service retraining course…..
Surprise Surprise – HEAVY SNOW was falling on our arrival. This was NOT predicted at all so it was a SURPRISE for the locals too.
There was a hefty walk from the plane to customs where the lines were also long – for a time there was only 1 border agent clearing passengers so the line crawled. We eventually lucked out when they removed my group from the line and assigned us 2 border agents who had been clearing passengers that live in the UK – another advantage of, “Travel With Bradley”. Our luggage was already off the carousel waiting for us and our local guide was all smiles when she saw us. Our coach driver was just as friendly but both of them expressed how there was much chaos because of the snow that was falling.
We were told that London very seldom gets a good snowfall until late in January so they certainly were unprepared for this surprise especially when it wasn’t called for – in turn many flights were cancelled or delayed and Birmingham airport was shut down completely. We were actually extremely lucky that had no flight issues. We heard that this snowfall was even making headline news back home in North America.
We made our way to the charming community of Windsor where we were to visit Windsor Castle. The queen was in residence – at 91 she rides horses every time she comes to this castle which is her favourite home. This was to be a special Christmas Themed Day at Windsor castle with carolers and other performers. As we made our way to the castle our guide received a text that the castle was closed due to the weather – many staff were unable to make it to work due to road conditions and it was too dangerous to walk around as none of the snow had been cleared (we didn’t see anyone with a shovel during our time in Windsor – not a common item to own here). Our guide remarked that she had never seen them ever close the castle before except for Christmas!
The excellent shops around the castle were still open so many of us picked up souvenirs and enjoyed watching the local people tramp through the snow – the children were excited – we soon spotted snowmen that they had made – it was very festive and Christmas like.
Since Windsor is a historic town the streets are narrow so a full-size coach like ours cannot get down them so we needed to walk from the castle to our Christmas luncheon – on a good weather day this would be no issue – we had to be careful today because the sidewalks were snow covered and flushy and we certainly didn’t have our Canadian snow gear with us.
The historic restaurant was charming and filled with character – many little rooms – we had our own. It was decked to the nines for Christmas – real tree in the entrance. The young staff were so friendly and very excited to have a group of Canadians in house. They kept asking me Caribbean cruises – some of them have plans to experience one of them this winter.
This was a leisurely luncheon – after a long traveling day it was nice not to be rushed. The food just kept coming – this was truly a turkey dinner feast. Everything was delicious – liked how the creamy piping hot soup was topped with honey – we all enjoyed a dish we are unfamiliar with called bread sauce (made with stale bread, milk, onions, spices, butter, cream, cloves, peppercorns and other secret ingredients), bowls arrived heaping with roasted potatoes (much more common than mashed), vegetables. The turkey was tender. Christmas pudding was the perfect finish – served with brandy sauce and ice cream – reminded me of Moms. We were served minced pie tarts as we departed. An excellent experience.
Our driver was concerned about driving conditions to Winchester. Other attractions along the way like Stonehenge were also closed due to the weather but as we traveled South the better the conditions were. Roads were just wet. Windsor is where singer, Elton John has his main residence.
Winchester is another historic place made popular due to its Cathedral and the famous song written about it. There are few hotels here – I picked the best rated one which was perfect. This small Inn is located on a quiet residential street less than a couple minute walk into the town centre. The coach driver could not get down the hotels narrow street but hotel staff was quick to get our luggage to the hotel from the closest Main Street. We saw the efficient very young manager everyone – front desk, delivering luggage, serving dinner – he does anything that needs to be done – impressive!
An we were checking in a very friendly older man stepped out of the garden lounge where he was enjoying high tea to chat with us. He was pleased to hear that we were Canadian. I think he was sad that eventually we needed to get to our rooms – he would’ve chatted with us forever.
Our large (for Europe) tasteful rooms have king size beds in them – towel warmers in the bathroom – surprisingly this historic property sits on a large plot of land and its gardens are stunning.
While most laid down for a nap I went exploring. The compact downtown core is filled with shops and decorated for the season – a massive real Christmas tree dominates the Main Street and Christmas lights are everywhere. There is a festive small market at Cathedral that was packed with locals.
As I looked out of my hotel window I admired many historic homes – reminded me of a Charles Dickens scene.
We were seated in a lovely private room off of the hotels Greenhouse Dining Room for our dinner – chicken wrapped in bacon appetizer, very tender roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and other accompaniments of course – Eton Mess for dessert (so good) – bottles of wine were passed around – service was so efficient – enjoyed by all.
I offered to take those interested in a Christmas walk after dinner – I retraced my afternoon steps so I could share with everyone the beautiful Christmas atmosphere of Winchester!
As a, “Bradley Surprise” I purchased everyone oversize tea towels that announce the engagement of Prince Harry.
We have a story to tell how we were caught up in an unexpected UK Winter storm that brought so many things and people to a haunt. At home this storm would have been considered commonplace but here it was more of a spectacle and we got involved with the excitement!