As a single woman traveling alone, I like to be prepared. Do I have appropriate clothing for climate and occasion? Do I have medications and toiletries? Do I have my boarding pass? Do I know where I’m going?
I will never take that last one for granted again.
On the second day of my trip, after arriving in London, I excitedly rose early, ready to meet my friends to begin our adventure. I ate my individual cup of Cheerios, drank some proper tea, and showered. I stopped to check my WhatsApp when one of the couples in our group texted, “Green or red Ibis? Our driver wants to know.” “Red,” was the answer. “Go to the RED brick Ibis.” The Ibis hotel at 112 Bath Road was our rendezvous point.
I finished checking out and consulted the hotel’s “Navigator” (commonly known as the Doorman/woman), who told me it was too far to walk to the Ibis at 112 Bath Road, so I ordered an Über. I had 45 minutes to arrive.
Alina-Stefania, my driver was swift, heaved my bags into the trunk of her late-model Toyota, and sped off. I texted our travel group via WhatsApp that I was on my way. 40 minutes to spare. The driver and I chatted amiably about where we were from, her children and husband, the value learning foreign languages, where I was going, the trouble in Ukraine, a Nigerian man she had just dropped off at Heathrow who cried because his girlfriend broke up with him the night before—-hey! This was taking a long time.
My WhatsApp buzzed. Another couple texted our group, “We’re at 112 Bath Road. It’s not an Ibis. It’s a red brick house.”
“There are two Ibises with the same address.”
I relayed this information to my driver, who showed me her gps to verify the information. Uh-oh. Ahead, on the corner, was a white stucco hotel with a green Ibis sign, and the gps guided us to a red brick house behind the hotel, indicating 112 Bath Road.
Alina and I looked at each other.
“This cannot be it,” she said worriedly, “but my gps says so.”
“It’s supposed to be at Heathrow. Let’s go back to the one across from where you picked me up. It’s red brick.”
“You will have to order a new ride on your phone app.”
Kaching! I ordered the new ride, and we were off. When we arrived, I jumped out of the car, thanked Alina for her patience, and she sped off to pick up her next fare.
“Funny,” I thought. “I don’t see anyone I know.”
A man in a garage across from the hotel’s side street entrance asked me if I lost something.
“Yeah, about 20 people.”
He continued to polish a black Mercedes van, one of what appeared to be a fleet, as I explained my dilemma, and suggested that I have the hotel clerk call me a taxi. “I have to pick up an airport transfer, but good luck to you.” He got in the van and drove off.
I rolled my bags into the second Ibis, explained my problem, and the clerk called a taxi.
“Taxi is coming in 10 minutes. Have a coffee,” she gestured to the hotel’s free breakfast area. “Maybe you would like water?”
“No, thank you. I’ll just wait out front.“
The clerk reached behind her and slammed a bottle of cold water on the counter.
“Here, you take this with you. Maybe you change your mind.”
“Wuh-well, thank you so much for your help,” I stammered. I was afraid to refuse her order. “I’ll just be waiting outside.” I texted my group that a taxi was coming in 10 minutes.
“Have the driver take you up Bath Road until you see an Ibis hotel with a big bus out front,” our tour organizer advised.
“It’s next to a bowling alley,” someone texted.
“And a Courtyard by Marriott.” another chimed in.
Ten minutes later, a big silver Mercedes rolled up. The driver, a large man in a silvery gray suit got out.
“You are Susan?”
“Well—uh—yes.” My first name is regularly mispronounced. He showed me his cellphone with a text to pick up “Suzanne at the Ibis and take her to another Ibis.“
“This is you?”
“Yes, that appears to be me.”
“Where is it you are going?” By now, I wasn’t entirely certain. I launched into my story. He considered the address, the bowling alley, and the Courtyard by Marriott, as the black Mercedes van returned to the garage across the street.
“Hey, you ever hear of Ibis hotel by bowling alley?” Silver Mercedes called to Black Mercedes, as the driver emerged.
“No, she already tell me this,” he smiled.
“I want you to take this lady and help her find this place.”
“I’m going with him?”
“He work for me. We gonna find this Ibis.”
As they hustled me and my luggage into the van, my new driver laughed and said loudly, “He don’t want to take you, because it’s not a big enough fare.” The boss laughed and playfully shook his fist at him.
Within minutes, back on Bath Road, we spied the big yellow bus, the Ibis, and the impatient travelers. I was 20 minutes late. I climbed out of the van, waiting for the ribbing to begin.
“At last!” I was received with hugs, instead. I gave the driver my credit card and tipped him £10. He wished me a good trip and started to get back in the van.
“Could you pick up another couple who’s also lost?” Someone asked. The driver got on the trip organizer’s phone, got the address, and headed off, returning in minutes with the last missing couple. The day was saved, and it was a big fare after all.
My advice: Save time and skip the Ibis in London.
Part of this trip is about exploring the lead-up to the Allied Forces’ invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, an extraordinarily coordinated rendezvous. To that end, once we were all on the coach, we headed down to Portsmouth, from which the invasion launched, and a look at Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters for the final stages. The Supreme Allied Commander took sole responsibility for whatever was about to unfold, fully understanding the risks of uncertain weather, the lives of civilians and exhausted and undertrained troops, and political pressures to appease some of the greatest egos in history, including Roosevelt, Churchill, and DeGaulle. That must be why our parents and grandparents trusted him with the Presidency.
We visited Southwick Hall and saw the map that detailed the innumerable facets of the invasion in the room where it was planned. We followed it with lunch at Ft. Nelson, a tour of the D-Day museum with relics and mementoes of that day and an embroidered fabric record of the event, rivaling the Bayeux tapestry, which we will see next week.
Finally, before crossing the English Channel ourselves on the overnight ferry, we had the best fish and chips and mushy (fresh) peas that I’ve ever eaten. If you find yourself in Portsmouth, stop at the Beach Club Cafe.
In a world that seems more perilous than ever, it’s encouraging to be reminded that people continue to help one another; that good has and will continue to triumph over evil. Soli Deo Gloria!