Against all my better judgment–and my credit card balance––I decided to rendezvous with my traveling daughter for a weekend jaunt to London. Yes, I knew about the exchange rate. I knew about the horrendous airport and fuel surcharges, and I had been forewarned that there was no such thing as a bargain, no matter what the sale signs said anywhere in driving distance of Buckingham Palace . But one Friday morning recently, I found myself in seat 22 B on a six-hour non-stop to Heathrow. As soon as I landed, that old British magic took over. Those gentle accents, the wild mix of people waiting in the customs line, the quaintness of the signage. At first, it sounds as if everyone is either daft or doing a bit from Monty Python.
Although I love the London cab experience, with the pound clocking at two dollars per one-pound sterling, I decided to try the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station. At fifteen minutes to the heart of London for £15.50 (approximately $30) versus forty-five minutes and close to a $150, it was an easy decision, and a good one. Usually, I worry that I will get completely scrambled on public transportation in a foreign city, but in this case, it was a cinch. I just followed the signs and the crowds. With trains coming every fifteen minutes, the ride is as clean and civilized as you’d expect from the Brits. Arriving at Paddington Station at dusk, I needed a hit of London skyline and clambered into a cab for the ten minute ride to my hotel. As we hit Piccadilly Circus, I stopped watching the taxi meter. I began to fall in love with London all over again. The lights on the impossibly ornate building facades, the neon and lights of marquis on the West End theaters ablaze with shows I want to see, the double-decker busses, and the brigades of pedestrians, waiting obediently for traffic lights to change. I don’ t care what it costs, London is a kind of instant tonic for an American raised on Masterpiece Theater and Monty Python. I probably could have turned around and headed back to Heathrow and still felt that I’d been on vacation.