One of the problems of group tours is that you don't control the schedule. Our flight back to DC was scheduled for 11:30 am, but since we were a small group, the tour company combined us on a bus with another group with a much earlier flight, so we had to be packed and out of the hotel by 6 am. Even after check-in and VAT rebate, that gave us over two hours to kill at Heathrow.
The Queen just dedicated Terminal 5 which is supposed to be grander and posher than Terminal 3 which we were flying out of. It must be grand indeed. Just past security at Terminal 3 is an enormous duty free shop equal to an upscale mall. It also has a full food court and the last chance to buy luxury Harrods and Burberry souvenirs.
We played a game called Spend The Pence. The goal was to leave the terminal with as little British money as possible. We were down to 57 pence so I bought two tabloids, The Sun at 20p and The Daily Sun for 35p. Both of these papers are known as redtops for the color of their title banner. They also both feature topless Page 3 Girls on, duh, page 3. The Page 3 girls make it tough to read page 2 in public, but fortunately that is just the national and international headlines. The real stories are inside. Both had highly detailed and unflattering breakdowns of the Paul McCartney/Heather Mills divorce (or as they call it, Macca vs Mucca, which I think is more than a little vulgar). The people must have something good to read.
Just before take-off, the pilot pointed out a new A380, the biggest passenger jet in the world taking off. It is the standard for first class luxury, but it is bone ugly. But I guess if it means having a full private room for a flight to Singapore, a little ungainliness can be tolerated.
An apocryphal tourist story so good that we heard it three times from three different guides is that some ignorant American once asked "Why did they build Windsor Castle so close to the airport?" Sure enough, out the right window I had a fantastic final glimpse of the Queen's weekend cottage and all its grounds. While we weren't very high, I couldn't quite see into her bedroom window to see if she was waving good-bye to me.
Upon landing eight hours later at 4 pm local time, the students traveling with us burst into applause. It's fun to travel, but it's also good to be home.