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Last week, I told you about our first six wonderful nights in London in my Thursday Trip Report: London Part 1. I ended with the incredible day we spent doing the Inner Circle Access of Stonehenge including Bath and Lacock Day Tour from London through Viator. Our final full day was supposed to be a nice trip to Cardiff to see the Doctor Who Experience. Instead, it started out with a devastating realization: my passport was missing. The travel curse had stuck again and it wasn’t messing around.
You can read more about what I did next and what you should do if you lose your passport abroad here, but my first tip is DON’T PANIC. If I can keep my cool at 6 months postpartum, you can too. Panicking couldn’t bring my passport back, but it could have ruined our last day so we decided not to let it.
Day 8 – Cardiff & Doctor Who
After realizing early in the morning that my passport was missing, I immediately booked the first appointment with the US Embassy which was five days away. Instead of sitting around, we decided to go to Cardiff anyway.
I mentioned last week that I’ve always wanted to go to London at Christmastime because of the Doctor Who Christmas specials so I wasn’t going to miss the Doctor Who Experience. Plus, I needed something to keep my mind of the fact that I was not going to see Declan until the following week. We took an early morning train to Cardiff and enjoyed some more Pret-A-Manager sandwiches for breakfast.
I spent most of my time on the train making a list of every single place we’d been and then making phone calls to see if my passport had been found. But, no luck.
The Doctor Who Experience was awesome. If you love the show, it’s well worth the (long) trip. It’s so cool to see the props and costumes in person, but the best part is seeing the different sets of the TARDIS control room. If you’re planning a trip, keep an eye on the Doctor Who Experience website because they occasionally open up the live TARDIS set to the public when they’re not filming.
Afterwards, we explored downtown Cardiff where we saw the location of the invisible elevator from Torchwood and Ianto’s shrine by the water. We had lunch at Steak and Lobster followed by a few pints at a pub.
When we told the bartender we were just in town for the day from London, he said, “You Americans! You think everything is so close.” We quietly drank our beer and thought to ourselves, “Well yeah, that’s what all these trains are for.” Unfortunately, we don’t have those amazing train systems in the US.
But, honestly, I’d love to spend a few days exploring Cardiff and Wales. It was Easter weekend so the city was full of people enjoying the bank holiday and the weather was gorgeous.
Before we left for the train station, we had tea at the lovely Barker Tea House. Reese was over afternoon tea by this time plus we were both worried about the passport situation. The food and tea were delicious, but we weren’t in the mood to enjoy it.
We retuned to London and searched our room again for my passport even though the staff had searched for us while were gone. Eventually, we had to accept the fact that it was gone and settled in for a sleepless night.
Day 9 – Reese’s Travel Day
Reese’s final day in London was a very sad one for us. I was devastated to not be going home to see Declan. Reese would have gladly stayed with me, but one of us needed to get home. We went to the airport together to explain our situation to British Airways in person. I was happy to fly to San Francisco and live at the airport for a few days like Tom Hanks in Terminal, but that was not an option. Luckily, the British Airways agent at check-in was very friendly and managed to salvage my reservation so I would be able to use it later at no additional cost.
I said a tearful goodbye to Reese at security then went back into the city. I checked myself into the Great Northern Hotel to spend the next few days just waiting for my appointment at the embassy.
The Great Northern Hotel is an SPG property that I was able to book with Cash & Starpoints. It was a lovely little place overlooking King’s Cross train station. The rooms were small but chic. They had phenomenal room service as well as a pantry at the end of each hall with tea, snacks, and computers with printers. This is how my addiction to Tunnock’s tea cakes began. (Luckily, I can buy them at Cost Plus World Market.) I really loved this cute little hotel and I would definitely stay there again.
That night one of my good friends from college reached out to me via Facebook after reading the story of my lost passport. She was on vacation driving around Scotland and invited me up to meet her. Initially, I wanted to just wallow in my misery, but instead, I decided to make the best out of a bad situation and bought myself a train ticket.
Day 10 – Train to Scotland
The next morning I left most of my luggage in my room at the Great Northern Hotel and took a small bag with me on the train to Edinburgh. I paid for the room in advance and I didn’t feel like trying to talk my way out of it. Plus, I needed it again the night before my appointment at the embassy. It was probably the most expensive baggage storage facility I have ever or will ever use.
My friend, Marianne, picked me up at the Edinburgh train station and we drove through the highlands to Fort Williams. The scenery was breathtaking and helped take my mind off of my passport problem.
Day 11 – Balmoral and Sterling
In the morning, we set out from Fort Williams heading towards Sterling. On the way, we stopped at Balmoral. Marianne tried to visit Balmoral just a few days earlier, but it wasn’t open to the public. This time we got lucky and it was open! The estate was so beautiful and peaceful. I never would have seen it without the passport debacle or without Marianne convincing me to make the trip to Scotland. I missed my son, but this was a wonderful experience.
After exploring Balmoral, we drove to Sterling to see Sterling Castle. The castle was cool, but, much like Edinburgh castle, I didn’t like the story tale way the history was told. It seemed more suited to Disneyland than such a historical site.
Day 12 – Train to London
On our last day in Scotland, we drove from Sterling to Edinburgh and took the train back to London. I said goodbye to Marianne at King’s Cross and returned to my hotel room. Luckily, my belongings were still there plus a little box of chocolates from housekeeping for the Easter holiday. Like I said, I loved this hotel. I spent the evening printing documents and taking new passport photos for my appointment with the embassy.
Day 13 – US Embassy and Travel Day
My appointment with the embassy was at 8am. I showed up at 7:30am and got in the short line that had already formed. I have never been so happy to see an American building in my entire life.
Before I knew it, I was in and out with my emergency passport in hand. The whole process took maybe an hour and a half. A woman printed my emergency passport at her desk while I waited. I thought I’d have to wait several more days so I was ecstatic. I nearly ran back to the Great Northern Hotel, gathered my belongings, and headed to Heathrow.
Here is where my love/hate relationship with British Airways began. On my way to the airport, I called the British Airways Executive Club to rebook my flight. The Executive Club agent told me they could not rebook my business class seat until two days from now. Instead, they offered to book me in an economy seat that day without refunding the difference in Avios or fees. I was not about to spend another day away from my son so I angrily agreed.
When I got to the airport, I explained my situation to the British Airways agent at check-in. She informed me that there were 42 empty business class seats on that afternoon’s flight to San Francisco. FORTY. TWO. EMPTY. BUSINESS. CLASS. SEATS. Luckily, after an hour of working on my reservation, she was able to get me back into business class. This was despite the fact that the Executive Club agent I spoke to earlier practically sabotaged the fees on my booking. Here’s a look at both empty seats next to me on the plane:
Finally Back Home
Without further delay, I made it back to the US four days later than anticipated. The Border Patrol agent in San Francisco eyed my passport with great suspicion but eventually let me though with a disapproving, “This passport is VERY temporary”. Seriously, it looked super fake.
I was glad to see him, but I’m not sure Declan even cared that I was gone. He was only six months old after all. I was so happy to see him that I vowed to never vacation without him ever again.
Hah. What a joke. I’ll take him most of the time, but not ALL the time. (We did take him to Maui.)
Points and Miles Round-Up
We booked 2 round trip business class tickets from San Francisco to London on British Airways using 100,000 Avios and a Travel Together Ticket from the British Airways Visa card. Here’s the downside: British Airways charges outrageous fees even for rewards bookings. This flight cost about $2,400 in taxes and fees alone. But spending those 10 hour flights in lay flat business class seats was phenomenal. For more information on British Airways Avios, read Redeeming British Airways Avios and Evaluating Value: British Airways Visa Signature Card.
We booked 7 nights at the Hilton London Hyde Park for about $300 per night since we sprung for a larger room with a view overlooking the park. We paid cash for the room using my Citi Hilton Honors Reserve credit card and earned 5x the Hilton Honors points on the entire stay. That has been replaced by the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express. In hindsight, I probably would have booked a cheaper room somewhere else because we were never there. The total for our stay was about $2,100 plus tax.
I booked 4 nights at the Great Northern Hotel for 10,000 Starpoints and $110 per night. I actually only slept there twice because I spent two nights in Scotland staying at B&B’s. The total for my stay was $440 plus tax. For more information about SPG and Starpoints, read Redeeming Starpoints and Evaluating Value: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card.
The grand total for all 11 nights: 100,000 British Airways Avios, British Airways Travel Together Ticket, 40,000 Starpoints and about $4,940 cash. Obviously, not my best work, but this was my very first points and miles trip.
Next time, I’ll try to find a way to circumvent those outrageous taxes and fees. And there will definitely be a next time. At Christmas.