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A reader writes … By Robert E. Trethewey

January 05, 2001

My wife and I returned from a vacation to Great Britain a few weeks ago. It was a different kind of vacation, to say the least.

We had this in the planning stage for six months. Many discussions evolved around how we would go; tour or on our own. Barbara wanted to go on a tour and I wanted to go on our own, using Hertz to help us drive on the "wrong side of the road." Barbara agreed to do a self-tour but had nagging concerns about such a venture.

In hindsight, she was right.

We booked through Delta Airlines and got a good rate on their senior plan. We used Delta to obtain an excellent rate on a Hertz rental for 14 days. Our passports were good for another two years. We planned an early October trip, as we benefited from lower rates on the airlines and hotel due to the "shoulder season."


The only missing ingredient were large suitcases. We found just what we wanted in the largest suitcases the airlines allowed. They had zippers, pockets and wheels. What more could one ask for? These monsters turned out to be our downfall, literally, as you will soon see.

The departure day arrived. We were packed to the gills. My big bag still had room in it for gifts on the return flight, but Barbara's was as filled and tight as a German shepherd waiting to deliver 12 pups.

We got to San Diego and cleared the airport personnel and eagerly awaited our first leg of the long flight. We would have to change planes in Cincinnati, but the wait between flights was just under an hour. We boarded the Cincinnati to Gatwick plane with a lot of joy and excitement.

We arrived at Gatwick the morning of Oct. 10 tired, as it is impossible to sleep on those long flights and we were worn out from some movie that no one understood. From Gatwick we took the electric train to London's Victoria Station. The early morning ride was relaxing and gave us our first taste of the English countryside.

Off the express at Victoria Station, hauling these huge suitcases that seemed as if we were trying to steer elephants, onto the escalator to get a taxi to our hotel. Big mistake No. 1. I placed my huge suitcase on the escalator in back of me, holding onto the handle in case it tipped backward. Well, that is just what happened and I was pulled down with it, turning 180 degrees as I fell. The escalator continued to go up as I continued to bounce from moving step to moving step downward. After a lot of screaming on my wife's part, station personnel stopped the moving staircase. I had injured both legs, so I was whisked to the first aid station for treatment. The fall caused injury to both shins, the left one being the worst, with damage down near the bone. I got patched up and limped to the taxi stand. It was a cold and windy morning and after 15 to 20 minutes, we were able to hail a cab and go to our hotel.

Our hotel had been selected from the Internet. The picture on the Internet screen looked nice and the rate was only $70 per night in U.S. dollars. The Internet information said it had an elevator, dining room, cocktail lounge and had been completely remodeled in 1999. Never, never book off the Internet unless it's a well-known chain hotel or you have a reference from someone who has stayed there. The remodeling in 1999 must have taken this place from a slum hotel to a dump! Our room had two summer camp-type beds. Barbara's bed was six inches from the wall, with six inches between her bed and mine and 18 inches between my bed and the wall. The closet was about 20 inches by 20 inches, not enough room to put our suitcases into.

My leg was beginning to throb more and more, but we decided to take a tour of London anyway, as we did not want the accident to spoil our trip. The tour bus on the first day had us nodding off as we were both exhausted and had lost eight hours of our day in the flight.

By the end of the second day, we could not stand the hotel any longer and we checked out one day early and headed to Hertz for our rental car. Shifting with a gimpy leg was a new experience, but somehow we made it out of London after driving over only three curbs. Barbara kept telling me I was too close to traffic on her side. I learned quickly that their lanes are much narrower than ours and we had several near hits.

On M-5 (an English version of I-10), we rolled at the speed limit of 70 as we drove between big trucks that had three tandem back wheels instead of the two we are used to. It was like driving in a canyon, with the trucks being the canyon walls. After making the adjustment to ease Barbara's concerns to avoid traffic on her side, I found I was driving within 12 inches of a head-on collision.

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