Off to the U.K. My 13-Days in England
Copyright 2018 by Michael W. Rickard II
One minute I’m reading about an academic conference in England concerning Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the next I’m on a flight to London for the time of my life; a trip that would include some wonderful discoveries, arduous journeys, record-breaking weather, and harrowing escapes. Join me now as I look at my 13-day trip to the United Kingdom.
There’s a misperception that working on your academic degree means spending most of your time studying and writing papers. While students often find themselves buried in coursework, there can also be wonderful travel opportunities to share your research with your colleagues. Such was the case when I had a chance to travel to the United Kingdom to present a paper on the Frankenstein Monster. The United Kingdom’s Bishop Grosseteste University honored the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by hosting a three-day interdisciplinary conference on Shelley’s famous work. The conference was an amazing event as were my travels there and back.
Last February I had the privilege of presenting a film at the 46th Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. Imagine my surprise when I returned home and received an email inviting me to participate in the Monster Conference in Lincoln, England. I was overwhelmed by such an honor and naturally accepted the invitation. Now I had to figure out how to get there and work out an itinerary.
I haven’t been to England since 1995 when I visited London for three days during a tour of Ireland. This time, I decided to take advantage of the travel opportunity and spend nearly two weeks in England. I booked my flight and arranged a stay at an Airbnb in London and an Airbnb in Lincoln. The Monster Conference was scheduled for Friday June 29 through Sunday July 1 so I knew when I had to be there. I also knew I had ankle surgery scheduled for July 10, so I wanted to make sure I had time to enjoy my trip and get home with plenty of time to spare.
My original plan was to do some sight-seeing in London then travel to Lincoln for the conference. I allocated extra time to travel there and back, knowing Murphy’s Law and its effect on travel plans. My plane would arrive on Sunday June 24 and I would stay in London until Thursday July 5, giving me time to relax. I’d travel to Lincoln by train on Thursday June 28 and return Tuesday July 3, giving me two days to get to fly home.
I wasn’t sure what to expect for my travel overseas since my last flight was before 9/11. One thing I did know was that I wouldn’t overpack. The last time I’d brought two suitcases and realized it was too much. This time, I’d pack one suitcase and a computer bag. While I could walk for short distances, I didn’t want to aggravate my ankle injury schlepping too much luggage. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. Unfortunately, any trip involves the unexpected and no matter how well I prepared, things sprung up that were out of my control. How I reacted would determine whether this was a vacation or an ordeal.
My flight was scheduled for 2:40pm so I arrived early. I had a two hour wait but I brought my Kindle to read. When it was time to board, I took the option of pre-boarding due to my ankle injury. I could walk for short distances but decided I wasn’t going to overdo it. The problem was the more I walked, the more my ankle hurt and then I would have to rest it. I didn’t want my vacation ruined so I took advantage of whatever came my way.
The layover in Newark was the real wait. I had over three hours before my flight to London arrived. I was getting hungry so I tried a hamburger joint in the airport. Airport food is notoriously overpriced, and it’s hit and miss. I ordered a burger and fries and while it nearly came to $20 (with a soft drink), it was good. The overnight flight was supposed to have a meal, but I trust airline food as much as a campaign promise. The last thing anyone wants to do is spend a transatlantic flight hoping they can make it to an airport lavatory in time.
The Newark Airport was huge, and the terminal began to fill up as people lined up to get on the plane. I was debating whether to take the pre-boarding option when someone passed out in line. Someone called out for a medic and seconds later, medical personnel swarmed in. I was impressed with the airport’s response and the passenger was okay. The plane arrived and I pre-boarded. I couldn’t believe how big the plane was. It seemed to go on for miles. I took my window seat and prepared for a seven-hour transatlantic flight. I was flying United and not Air Malaysia so I already felt much more confident I’d make it to the U.K. Still, there was the usual concern of getting onto a death tube/airplane (© Jim Cornette). Airline travel may be safer than car travel but not many people walk away from plane crashes.
The flight was remarkably smooth, and the plane had some pleasant amenities I hadn’t had during my last flight. The plane had a multimedia entertainment system built into the back of the seats, allow passengers to watch TV programs, play video games, watch movies, and other entertainment options. Although I brought my Kindle to read, it was good to have the added options.
I must give United credit for making the flight as comfortable as possible. The seats weren’t spacious, but there was plenty of room for a 7-hour flight so I didn’t feel like I was being squeezed into a clown car with 235 other people. There were several drink services including complimentary beer and wine (along with soft drinks, water, and coffee), a dinner, and even a small breakfast before we landed. Although I flew economy, it didn’t seem like a no-frills trip.
One of the uncertainties of flying alone is who you’ll end up getting seated next to. This time around I lucked out as I had a lady from Switzerland on her way to London to meet her husband. We had pleasant conversation but neither one of us needed to spend seven hours talking so it was a good experience. She gave me some travel tips about where to travel on the Continent.
As you can tell from reading this, the plane didn’t burst into flames upon landing and everything went smoothly. I disembarked, unaware of the challenges that awaited me at customs. Join me next time for Day 2 of my journey to the U.K.