Exploring the canals of Venice - in England

Traveler visits Little Venice, a neighborhood in London

Posted: Saturday, January 31, 2009

This travel story definitely needs an introduction. In January 2008, Don began trying to buy tickets with our Alaska Airlines miles to travel to New Zealand. It was obvious that Alaska Airlines and Qantas did not want us to use our miles. Frustrated, we finally decided to travel to Great Britain.

I called Alison and she was quite pleased that we wanted to come to jolly ol' England. She had a two-week break starting on April 7. Perfect! I called Brant at ITC Travel in Anchorage and within an hour he had tickets for us. The small fee we had to pay was worth every dollar we spent. We did not need to spend hours on the computer or the phone.

Another prologue to this trip was the fact that Heathrow's new Terminal 5 was a disaster. More than 20,000 pieces of luggage has been lost. However, Terminal 5 only affected travelers from Europe. We landed at Terminal 4.

When we travel overseas, we leave Juneau in the morning. Several years ago, we left on an afternoon flight. Our plane was late leaving Juneau and by the time we arrived at Sea-Tac, we had about 15 minutes to get to our flight.

Juneau-to-Ketchikan flights are always fun. Folks always seem to know at least one person on the flights. On our flight from Juneau, several of the passengers learned that one of the passengers was taking his first flight. The other passengers near him told the flight attendants that he should be congratulated. The crew made it happen.

We spent the afternoon at Sea-Tac and then boarded around 6 p.m. British Airlines serves passengers a hot dinner and a light breakfast. I usually feel sick and sweaty during the night, but I slept more than I expected.

Our plane landed in the early afternoon British time. We quickly went through customs. Don used an ATM, and then we took the Underground to Terminal 3 and then the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station. These days, Paddington Station shops do carry Paddington teddy bears. On our first visit to Britain in 1981, the station did not have any. However, we did not stop for a bear but followed the signs to the taxis and waited in line.

Alison had given us directions from the airport to her flat (apartment) in London. Our taxi driver had never heard of Wymering Road. Don and I pronounced Wymering incorrectly, which did not help. Other cabbies and the electronic map finally got us to our destination.

Our next problem was that we did not understand how to open the door latch. Alison had to come downstairs and let us in. She then gave us a tour of the flat.

Alison, headmistress of a school that had students who spoke 78 different languages, then went back to work. She suggested that we visit Paddington Park several blocks from the flat. Paddington Park has wonderful grounds with trees, scrubs, gardens, lawns, tennis courts and several playgrounds for the children. Mothers, nannies and children enjoyed snacks and running around the park and playing on the swings, slides and jungle gyms. The park also has a café. We enjoyed our walk in the park.

We then walked up Elgin Road and easily found the Underground. Our station was Maiden Vale. We also found the neighborhood shops, and went into a dark, dusty antique shop. The neighborhood wine shop, our next stop, was good value. We were able to buy three bottles of wine for the price of two bottles.

Alison returned to the flat around 6 p.m. (18 hours in Britain). We took a walk around the area of Little Venice, that has canals like the ones in Venice. The neighborhood has rows and rows of charming brick and stone block mansions. Most of them were built in the mid-1800s for the middle class bureaucrats.

We also walked to Alison's school. As headmistress, Alison supervised the building of Westminster Academy. The school has received awards for the architecture of the school, and the curriculum is also innovative.

Needless to say, there are a number of good ethnic restaurants in the Little Venice area. However, we returned to the flat where, in the course of the evening, Alison served us a four-course gourmet dinner. Our packaged dinner was delicious and we had plenty of time to talk as the food cooked.

Don and I finally went to bed after about 40 hours.

• Alma Harris is a retired Juneau-Douglas High School English teacher who loves to travel and write.

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