All good things must come to an end, and not being independently wealthy we had to return to income generation. On the morning of the 29th we ate a leisurely breakfast then strolled through the shopping districts of Mestre so Sarah could obtain gifts for friends. Murano glass is Murano glass is Murano glass. Oh well. After completion of the task at hand we returned to the Hotel Bologna for a brief rest, then checkout time. A quick shuffle (all you can manage with 20 kg of bicycle on your back) across the street to the train station and then up a ways to the stop for the bus to the airport.
Venice Marco Polo airport has one of the most unusual setups for check-in I have encountered. Check-in counters are assigned to flights in, what appears to be, random order. So check-in for two different British Airways flights might be happening simultaneously at opposite ends of the airport! And counter assignments happen about 2 hours before scheduled take-off. In rushing to beat check-out time at the Hotel, and getting a bus right away, we were quite a bit more than two hours early for the flight, And the counter assignment did not happen until about 90 minutes before departure, so we had a nice long time to read in the airport lounge. Once a counter was assigned we joined the long queue and waited. At the counter we found that our bags, again, were 'oversized' and had to be dropped off at airport security. Sigh! Oh well, we were soon on the 737 winging northward towards then across Switzerland and on to England.
In Gatwick we had a long grind through immigration, then on to pick up our baggage. Security folks seem really suspicious of large bags these days! With bags in hand we stopped to purchase tickets on the Gatwick Express, the fast train into central London from the airport, then wound our way to the train platform. The trip into London, Victoria Station to be precise, was rather quick and pleasant. Disconcerting news on the way in, though: a tube strike is starting this evening. At Victoria we get assistance with tickets and information to use the tube to get to Paddington. At Paddington we get more strange looks at the size of our bags as we have to exit through the handicapped turnstiles since the bags will not fit through the standard ones. Our hotel for the night is across the street from the station and we are soon checked in and trying to figure out how to get everything to the third floor using the phone booth sized lift (elevator). We manage, get settled, and prepare for dinner in London.
Our desires to have just enough local currency (£) to get the train to the airport, and not accumulate more foreign currencies, led us to search for a local restaurant that accepted plastic. We asked the (Russian) desk clerk for recommendations, and he pointed out a couple of (ironically) Italian restaurants. We walked around the area checking out the choices and settled for one of the restaurants the desk clerk had recommended. The food was good, but the place was packed until late.
The hotel had no air-conditioning, and the weather was warm and muggy, so the window stayed open. There was significant street activity until about 2 AM. Definitely more night life than around home!
We had an 'English breakfast' (heavy on the pork fat and beans) at the hotel then set out to tour a bit of London. We made out way to Hyde Park and crossed over to St. James Park. The tube strike was on and Londoners were using foot and cycle to get to work. Funny to see many folks, commuting to work, using maps to navigate. Guess that they know the way from home to tube station and from tube station to work but are a bit uncertain of how to get from tube station to tube station except by the train itself. There were mini-pelotons, dominated by Bromptons, gathering at each signal light. We made a brief stop at Buckingham, but failed to get an invite to tea so we headed to Westminster Abbey for a look. Heavily armed security was present everywhere. At Buckingham Palace a man walking towards the gate to ask directions from a police officer caused an officer further away to bring his M16 to the ready.
After our brief foray into the wilds of central London it was time to grab the bags and make our way to Heathrow. Took the Heathrow Express from Paddington, where workers were busy trying to help commuters stranded by the tube strike, to Heathrow. Nice and fast service, though a bit pricey ... as was most everything in London. Check-in at United was not as dramatic this time; we got seat assignments right away, but no gate. With plenty of time to spare, and our hands free, we grabbed a Starbucks with our last couple of pounds then endured the long lines through security. We parked ourselves in the lounge waiting for a gate, and waiting, and waiting. Sarah was getting hungry so we decided to wait in one of the restaurants. No sooner had we ordered than a gate assignment flashed up on the screen, then just a couple of minutes later flashed up that it was a last call. There were still 40 minutes until they had told us we would board, so in a state of confusion we ate quickly, paid, then made our way to the assigned gate. There the attendant explained the 'last call'; for security reasons they will not load on the baggage until they have all passengers checked in and locked into the gate area. We were called down early so they could load our bags onto the plane!
The flight back was full, but a bit more relaxed than on the way over. We had actual dark, so got some sleep after watching one of the movies ('Master and Commander') in the non-stop movie marathon. We landed in SF on-time, and made our way through immigration and onto baggage claim. With our voluminous load we got questioned again by security as we proceeded towards customs: how long were we out of the country and why did we need that much luggage for such a short trip. Once we mentioned that the two BIG bags were bicycles they smiled and waved us on. Everything from that point was a blur as we breezed through customs, onto BART, caught CalTrain, and exited back at my place.
Recovery was long. We had to work the next day, and I took my time unpacking and assembling the bikes, doing some touch-up paint and some adjustments in the process. Darn, wished I could go back and see more of the Dolomites!