QXZ's London Invasion, Part One
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I'm So Bored With The USA
I'm so worried about the baggage retrieval system they've got at Heathrow
Only at the airport would a small corn muffin and a cranberry juice cost $4.35. The joys of being a captive audience. Dining...audience. Yes. Disney and airports: they've figured it out.
Woke up at Rene's place around 5AM and was driven hesitantly to the airport. Fog and electrical problems in Rene's P.O.S. failed to prevent my arrival at the terminal.
The "corn" muffin tastes like yellow cake with maybe a dash of cornmeal in it.
Passport was checked immediately upon arrival at the airport. I was quizzed about my current residence (even though no address is printed in the passport... how would they know if I'd lied?), birth date and birth place. I passed and proceeded to check-in to check my luggage in, and check myself in. I was thoroughly checked, and very in. Bought batteries (AA)and leafed through a Stuff magazine 'cause it featured a pictorial on the woman who plays Tara on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Aren't I progressive?
It's 6:20 AM, EST.
The Port Authority has asked me to "please enjoy our Rocking Chairs (sic) while you wait for your flight", and so I am.
Getting through the x-ray machine and metal detector took quite awhile. A bevy of Virgin Atlantic flight attendants had to remove their long, red coats and send them through the machine. One woman was required to remove her shoes and send them through the scanner after setting off the metal detector.
New sight (for me) at the security checkpoint: camoflaged soldier with an M-16 slung over his shoulder watching the x-ray monitor. Two more similarly armed soldiers stationed a few feet away. I'm forced to wonder exactly what circumstances would trigger the unslinging and aiming of the weapons. A knife in your bag? Set off the metal detector a few too many times? Crack a joke about bombs? I have a feeling I'd become a pretty docile individual if held at M-16 point.
Here's hoping the blaring airport CNN won't drive me insane before boarding.
Reasons Virgin Atlantic is a good airline: the stewardesses have accents from all over the isles; every seat has a video monitor with choice of movies and/or TV and or Super NES video games (F-Zero!); movies are uncensored(!!); even coach passengers get a goodie bag; the in-flight magazine actually has interesting, well written articles on a variety of subjects; the pre-flight safety video is not only entertainingly animated, but is actually funny.
I set my watch to London time upon takeoff.
Airspeed: 551 mph, heading: 93 degrees.
Landed, essentially uneventfully. Exceptionally smooth flight, barring a few seconds of the roughest turbulence I've yet experienced. Bit of a white-knuckle moment, there. The woman next to me took that opportunity to explain to me how recent events made her feel about flying. Her views didn't calm me much.
One expensive Tube ride later, and I arrive in the Earl's Court section of London. It's about 9:30 PM, GMT. Taking a wrong turn out of the Tube station forces me into half an hour of wandering around before I finally find the Hotel Halifax at 65 Philbeach Gardens. The street, luckily, was on the map in my Lonely Planet guide, sparing me from having to kick myself for not buying a London A-Z guide at Heathrow as I'd planned.
Hotel Halifax, the hostel, is a bit grottier than I'd expected. No lockers, either, so cramming luggage under the bed is maximum security. I considered using the padlock and bicycle chain I'd brought, but didn't want to offend my new roomies. I'm in a bunk bed in a basement room, which seems to be fully occupied now that I'm here. Unexpected; I guess it's weekenders. A boombox is playing Coldplay. Curious to see how many of these folks are still here after the weekend.
A guy I thought was Canadian or American turns out to be British after all. I discovered this because he's just told me that George Harrison died today. I suppose that explains why the silent TV in here has been running Beatles footage since I walked in. Funny; he's departing just as I'm arriving. One more gone. There was a guitar on my bed when I got here, but if it was gently weeping I couldn't tell.
Wandered out to find food, and got semi-lost by turning left instead of right at the end of the road. Always turn right! By the time I found my way back to Earl's Court Rd. and got cash, most food-type places were closed. I was reduced to eating at Subway. An American Consumer in London.
Not holding out hope of getting much sleep. The one awake person in here is simultaneously listening to Lenny Kravitz on the boombox and watching TV. And, of course, the entire remainder of the crew will barge back in when the clubs close. No pillow.
Braving the sink to brush my teeth will cap off the travel day. Welcome to London.
Excerpted from QXZ's travel Diary entry of 11/30/01. QXZ endorses no one.
Forward to Part Two