London Town #1

We had a fun-filled and adventurous vacation last week. Since we already had tickets on the cheapest Ryanair flight to London, we thought we’d take advantage of it and go visit the Temple there. We planned to spend four nights in the Temple’s accommodations for out-of-town guests, and then fly home again. What could be simpler?

Well, there were a few crucial bits of information that we now know. Most importantly, everything that you and I have heard about Ryanair is true. #1 They do indeed have the lowest imaginable fares for air travel in Europe. #2 They travel between some of the most inconveniently located airports in the world. #3 They are a true “no frills” airline. Those budget airlines you’ve taken in the United States are peanuts compared to Ryanair. Literally. As the story unfolds, you can form your own opinion about whether you have what it takes to fly Ryanair.

We bought our tickets for one cent each (less than 70 euros for the four of us, with all taxes and fees included). We’d needed a ticket out of Schengen territory before our infamous three month tourist stay was up. So we bought a similarly priced return ticket and packed our bags. It was the afternoon of Wednesday, the day before our departure, when we realized that the Bergamo airport (Ryanair’s “Milan” destination) is actually an hour and a half outside of Milan, unfortunately on the other side from us. Since Milan itself is a four or five hour train trip from Saluzzo, it gradually dawned on us that we’d better hop on a bus and get up to Turin if we wanted to catch our 9:00 a.m. flight.

Accordingly, we took the bus and got to Turin at about 8 p.m. After dinner we went to bed in a charming little hotel a few blocks from the train station. We got up at 4:00 a.m. to catch our five-o-clock train. The station was actually a few blocks further than we thought, and there was construction all around it. We were carrying our sleeping children in the snuggle backpacks and rolling our luggage.

Fortunately, Ryanair charges extra for any checked bags, so we only took two rolling carryons and a backpack. This is approximately 1/3 our normal baggage for a trip, and 1/10 what we managed to carry over from the United States on Lufthansa (with no excess baggage charge. As I kept rolling bag after bag to the security guard loading them into the x-ray machine, he finally asked if we were moving. I just laughed). I was a little disappointed that even though we had packed so light (for us), we still resembled a traveling circus with our children on our backs.

We rushed into the station, bought our tickets from the automated ticket machine, and got on the train with ten minutes to spare. I retain only a vague memory between catnaps of the following four or five hours on the train through Milan and into Bergamo. Once at the statio in Bergamo, we descended from the train and consulted the posted bus tables to find the shuttle to the airport. After another forty minutes or so, we arrived at Orio al Serio airport, checked in for our flight, and proceeded out across the tarmac (ah, Ryanair!), up the steps to the airplane, and managed to find some seats. We’d already eaten up most of our snacks, and Ryanair, we discovered, doesn’t even serve peanuts. Instead, they pass out tattered menus for expensive and disgusting fast food.
We ate the last of our crackers and pears, and arrived in Luton airport, only to discover that it was an hour and a half away from the center of London, where we planned to catch a train to the Temple (another hour on the other side of London). We took the airport shuttle bus into Victoria Station and spent the next few hours toting our luggage around Central London and seeing the sights.

Our first order of business was fish and chips, cottage pie, and most of all, mushy peas. We even had bread and butter pudding with custard for dessert. It was all very well and good and proper and English, but we missed our fresh Italian food. Feeling more energetic, we sallied forth into the city. We escaped the rain inside lovely Westminster Cathedral, where we especially appreciated the pretty little Irish Chapel (decorated with mother-of-pearl shamrocks and intricate wooden-carved celtic knots on the pews) and the sparkly mosaic ceilings.

We saw Buckingham Palace and were suitably impressed with it, even in the rain. It was our first visit to a European country with royalty intact. I was amused to find that practically everything, from street signs to hospitals to food, was named after them.