Part One: Departure
September 11, 2011: Departure
My wife, Ginny, and I arrive at Dulles International in Washington, DC to catch a British Airways flight to London Heathrow. The airport is almost empty. It’s a Sunday evening, but it is also the tenth anniversary of 9/11. We were a bit nervous about this departure date when we received our itinerary months ago, but as we step up to the ticket counter tonight, our nervousness has been replaced by excitement.
We settle into our seats for the overnight flight, thrilled to be in the World Traveler Plus section, where we have lots of room to stretch our legs. Once we are airborne, the steward serves us free beverages, just like in the old days on US airlines. We get little bottles of Pinot Grigio, fill our glasses, and toast Masterpiece and WGBH. I am offered a British newspaper and stumble upon an article about Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Lady Grantham in Downton Abbey. I’m surprised to learn that when she’s not playing Cora in the show, she’s playing guitar with her band in London night clubs. My surprise is a tribute to her acting ability. There’s no hint of a rocker in her portrayal of Lady Grantham. The steward offers us more Pinot Grigio, which we sip as we thumb through the booklets that our VisitBritian host has mailed us on Greenway, Blenheim Palace, and Highclere Castle. After a delicious dinner, the cabin lights grow dim, and we do our best to sleep.
September 12, 2011: Arrival
When we land at Heathrow, it is Monday morning and we are about 20 minutes early. Trundling our luggage behind us, we come out of the International Arrivals door looking for a driver holding a sign with our last name. We pass of gauntlet of signs along the roped off walkway, but none with our name. Ginny stands by our bags while I do another turn through the vast, echoing terminal, scanning the signs. No luck. We find a place to sit down, and Ginny decides to do a turn through the terminal. She soon returns with Nick. He warmly greets me and apologizes for not getting to the terminal early. He takes charge of our largest bag. “This must be the lady’s,” he says perceptively. “Follow me.” He leads us to the parking garage and strides up to a handsome silver BMW.
“Very nice,” I say.
“Thank you.” He pauses and then says with an impish grin, “I sometimes have the impulse to walk up to some clunker just to see the look on my clients’ faces. But I have never quite gotten up the nerve. I mean, I don’t know you or your sense of humor.” I’m liking Nick already.
We leave the airport and head west on the M4 for a two-hour journey to Bath. Sooner than I would have expected, we are driving past rolling fields and pastures. We are initially chatty with Nick, who is entertaining and full of information, but the effects of jet lag begin to weigh on us and we are soon resting our eyes.
Coming up: A visit to Bath