By LARRY PHILLIPS
• Leader & Times
Usually true, and for the first 5,574 miles of my trek to Olney, England, it was a superb start to a grand adventure. Then there was that last 25 miles from Euston train station in north London to Liberal’s Sister City of Olney.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I left Liberal Thursday afternoon driving to Wichita — same old concerns rolling through western Kansas on U.S. Highway 54. I located my motel for a one-night stay and took its airport shuttle mid-morning Friday to connect up with Continental’s flight to Houston, Texas.
It was a short jaunt of one hour, 44 minutes but covered 543 miles, but it was one-hour late in arriving in Wichita, thus a late departure. Nothing sinister at the airport security check-in. I didn’t even get a chance to get patted down. And I was prepared, if a lovely lady ... never mind.
This is where I was to catch my non-stop flight to London.
If anyone has ever travelled internationally very much, it’s when you get into the “International Terminal” at a large airport that’s when the fun starts.
There were men arguing in Portuguese, some women wearing strange head gear, not Arabic wraps, but very colorful, matching their striped tie-dyed tights with there plaid shirts and speaking French. Later I had the opportunity to have them sitting just a row back and across the aisle from me. I smiled when they reminded the stewardess they had ordered special meals - gluten-free.
Spanish, Old English, Chinese, something I believe was Dutch and some Slavic language was overheard in this large eclectic crowd that had amassed to head to London.
One thing, Continental’s crew had “everyone” show their passports again, regardless whether they had pre-boarding passes or not. I liked that, of course I wasn’t profiling, but.
We boarded a new Boeing aircraft (new to me anyway), the B-777. It only has two jets, but powerful they must be. And the ship was huge. It seated 50 up front (First Class and Business Class) and 200 in the back - three seats by both sides of the aircraft and three in the middle between two aisles - per row. It also utilizes a crew of 15. Quite a “cattle hauler.”
We took off on time, and the captain announced right away he expected a good tail wind, and we should arrive on time, if not a little early.
I enjoyed the way every seat has its own video screen on the back of the seat in front, and there was the “screen saver” that showed the progress of the flight, its altitude, ground speed, outside temperature, local time where it departed, time in London, miles covered and miles to arrival.
The flight took off northeast (all international flights follow the shortest distance, and circumnavigating around the equator - east-west, takes longer. One we reached cruising altitude, 35,000 feet, we had already went through northern Louisiana and headed into Arkansas. Surprisingly, the temperature outside the aircraft hit minus 58 degrees F. It would later hit minus 85 F. while flying between Greenland and Great Britain.
After we crossed the shoreline of Ireland, we did have to circle aimlessly twice, but we were on time landing at Heathrow International Airport. It was 12:38 a.m. Saturday in Liberal and 6:38 a.m. Saturday in London.
I got one hour of sleep.
As we all lined up for customs, things were moving right along. Then, four young middle Eastern men ran into some kind of problem with two of the customs officers. Those two - od five working that early - were taken out f duty working with the visitors. The line slowed considerably. It took one hour just to get through that. Should have seen it as an omen that my good luck was running low.
Finding our bags was fun - a madhouse actually - then it was trying to get to the Underground - London’s subway/train system.
I managed to find the right platform for the Heathrow Express, a subway that goes downtown non-stop to Paddington Station - a rail station similar to New York City’s Grand Central Station.
Purchased my roundtrip ticket and jumped aboard. All was still going well enough.
A rail worker on the express told me when I got off at Paddington, walk “upstairs” and go to platform 15 to catch the train to Euston Station the location to catch the above ground train to Milton Keynes, the “county Seat” so to speak, of Burkishire, where Olney is located about 12 miles northeast of Milton Keynes.
Once I had departed the express, the view was captivating - this old station is truly spectacular. I shot a few photos and looked for the “upstairs. I didn’t see any, so I followed the crowds to the end of the row-after-row of tracks. At a kiosk where it proclaimed “Information,” I asked a elderly woman where to catch the train to Euston Station? She said to go back down alongside No. 1 platform, go up the stairs,, cross all the tracks and I would see the sign.
We’re talking about going back about the length of a football filed, up two stories of stairs. That’s not too bad, but I was carrying my old aluminum Halliburton three-suiter suitcase and loaded, it weighs about 40 pounds - plus my shoulder carryon bag.
Once I got to gates for 13 and 14 platforms, the man said follow the pink and yellow lines back down the stairs and to the front again.
I made a complete corner-to-corner tour of Paddington Station, while still no closer to finding platform 15. Once down the stairs another floor below Paddington’s main floor, the rail assistant said that train wasn’t running today. He suggested I get a ticket and go use a line to Oxford Circle, get out there and catch the one to Euston Center.
Made it to Euston.
I found out I couldn’t get a round trip ticket n the machines because one system takes you to Milton Keynes and another brings you back if you want to come back to London in the early a.m. hours. Back around to the manual tickets sales counters - in a line - carrying my bags that were getting heavier by the step.
The man tells me to get to platform 5, I had three minutes, even though I was about two blocks from that platform.
Off I go at a quick trudge. (Is that an oxymoron?)
I run down the ramp, run is relative, and tell the girl checking stubs I need to get to Milton Keynes. She signs her initials on the ticket, turns down and points at the ONLY TRAIN at the platforms and said.”Hurry.”
I really did run this time, for me anyway, about 400 yards ( flipping my carry-on) and heaved myself on the train. Found a seat and panted as I checked the time on my international cell phone that T2 Wireless Verizon in Liberal loaned me for the trip.
It was 9:28 a.m. London time.
Almost two hours later, I knew something was wrong.
Yep, wrong train. I would have to get off, backtrack and try again. And, naturally, every change along the way, I was packing those bags up stairs across the breezeways to get to the other platforms.
Now the fun part: Five minutes after leaving Euston Station, I tried to call my contact in Milton Keynes, and my battery was down on my cell.
I finally made it to Milton Keynes, got change for the public phone, and got a hold of my contact. He was in another town on business, and he reminded me of the bus service right across the road out front of the train station. I found where the bus, No. 1 or 1A, ran to Olney.
Trouble was, I had waited nearly an hour-and-a-half, talked to four separate No. 1 bus drivers, and none of them were going to Olney.
As weariness set in, and a little chill from the 45-degree weather, I found a taxi driver that knew where Olney was, and we were off.
Trouble was, he didn’t know where Colchester House was - the Inn where I am staying. After finally asking someone in north Olney, we u-turned and he dropped me off about 50 yards from Colchester House, we still hadn’t seen it. I insisted I could find it.
I walked about 20 feet, and there it was.
It was such a relief to see Judith Blenkinsop open the door when I rang.
She led me through the house and into the back garden where my suite awaited.
I’m just yards from where the 62nd running of the International Pancake Day Race will start Shrove Tuesday.
Local and international coverage of Pancake Day festivities is brought to you by: