Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Part 1 - There and Back Again - A Hobbit's Trip to England

THURSDAY, JANUARY 15, 2009 - I boarded a wee little sports car of a plane at Reno at 9:15, and takeoff was on time. Presumably due to the plane's small size, we flew a very low flight path over the Sierra Nevadas, maybe 18,000 feet. Lake Tahoe hung momentarily at eye-level before we ascended to level flight and turned east over the lake. Such a beautiful, clear sunny day!

The short flight finished with a leisurely sweep over the Oakland Bridge and back, to zoom in over the water to landing. I had a bewildering moment trying to make sense of the boarding gates, for my connecting flight. (As a side note to my "Supernatural" obsession, the Stanford University shop reminded me of Sam Winchester, who in the show briefly went to Stanford. Hey, I can see LOTR or SPN anywhere, LOL!)

Boarding was on time, and I found myself on the BIGGEST damn plane I've ever been on, a Boeing 777. One could stuff two of the little puddle jumpers I got here in, inside. I got settled and we took off into a brilliant, sunny day.

And it was a looooooooooong flight. 10 hours in the air, utterly uneventful and the big plane rode as steady as a rock. Turbulence in that big thing felt like nothing more than brushing the rumble-bars on the side of the highway. But I got uncomfortable sitting for so long, until my legs felt like they were *crawling* and I had to get up and walk a bit. I strolled around the cabin for maybe 20 minutes, and returned to my seat feeling better. Somewhere over the Midwest they fed us something that vaguely resembled meatloaf, corn and mashed potatoes.

My seatmate being disinclined to engage with strangers, I finally took a couple Tylenol PM to stave off the inevitable airplane headache, set my watch to London time, and managed a 5 or 6-hour nap.

~ * ~

FRIDAY, JAN 16 - The plane woke up about 5 am, London time, people stirring and starting to talk. I could just see broken clouds below in the pre-dawn darkness, possibly the Plymouth area. In between clouds, I saw veils of jeweled lights spread on the dark land below. The stewardesses (or whatever they're called nowadays) fed us a somewhat odd breakfast of cold turkey sandwiches and chips. Crisps, now that we're in the UK. The flight's landing was slightly delayed due to low clouds, and we touched down in the dark @ 7:30 a.m.

I slid through customs without a hitch, but when I went for my luggage ... it never came. I watched everyone pick up their bags and leave, and when the flight from Chicago started unloading, I realized I had a problem.

There is no lonelier feeling than standing alone in a foreign airport, knowing your CLOTHES are missing! Nor did my cell phone work here, so I couldn't call Becky to tell me I had been delayed. Tired and staving off the urge to panic, I informed the guys in baggage claim of my plight, and asked when I should start to panic. "Now would be a good time," the gentleman said, with classic droll English humor.

But they set to work and told me that my bag was shown as loaded at San Francisco - so I worried, what if someone took mine by mistake? My stomach sank at the thought of my belongings lost somewhere in England, never to be seen again ... Some twenty minutes later, they found my suitcase in a carrier for reloading to some other plane! ACK!

Thus, I made my way out in a trans-Atlantic has, and to my immense relief found Becky waiting - anxiously. A friendly, familiar face at last!

She presented me with my Oyster Card - a pass for UK busses and trains - and we caught the Tube. It took us on a rocket-speed hurtle through tunnels and back yards until we got off near her place in Acton. There she rooms in a charming, narrow brick row house, and there I dropped my gear and freshened up.

Then we hopped back on the Tube, with Becky as my intrepid guide, and we were off to London! I must here salute Becky's planning and enthusiasm, as she took me on such a marvelous whirlwind of sights and sounds. London is a city of wonderful contrsts, 700-to-900 year old buildings next to modern edifices of glass and steel. Everything else is brick and stone, more brick than I've ever seen.

Between busses (via my Oyster Card), walking, and more walking, we saw, in no particular order: Trafalgar Square, Nelson's Column, the National Art Gallery, Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Admiralty Arch, St. James' Park (and its numerous water fowl and birds), the Horse Guards, the Queen Mum's residence at Clarence House, Westminster Abby, a chunk of Roman wall, and the Burroughs Farmers Market. At the latter, I saw soooooooooo many yummy things for sale, breads and cheeses and jams and pickles and olives and fruit and even a dessert stall. Becky and I shared a simply huge brownie, and still could only eat half of our halves.

I also bought a small loaf of fresh baked bread, which was itself an interesting little experience. I gave the chap a 5-pound note, which he put in his apron with thanks ... and then he looked away. The sign right on the table priced the bead at 1 pound, and I waited a long beat, then another. Then I said, "Didn't I give you a fiver?" To which he replied nonchalantly, "Oh, yes," and gave me my proper change. Clever little git.

And on we went. Adventures even included running to jump on a moving double-decker bus - just like in the movies! Becky leapt nimbly aboard, but I found myself dashing to catch up, Becky holding out her hand to me - but I made it. We scampered up top and there took in the view of London's narrow inner city streets. The architecture, the buildings, the sheer reality that I was *here*, it was almost too much to take in. But take it in, I did, with delight. We even saw, but did not tour, the Tower of London, which I had foolishly pictured as a single structure. I did not realize it was a huge, sprawling complex with every brick and wall still intact, a monument to ages and monarchs past. I could not but help, however, pondering the sad mystery of the two little Princes in the Tower.

Last but not least, Becky, bless her dear generous heart, bought us tickets to ride the London Eye. For those not in the know, it is a ginormous great Ferris wheel with little glass observation decks for cars, fitting maybe 20 people each. The thing *moves* at a snail's pace, so it takes about half an hour to go around, and you enter and exit the cars without it ever stopping. But the views of London are simply wonderful, and we got up there just in time to watch the sun set and see London come aglow with city lights.

Our campaign of tourism thus complete, we got back on the Tube, put up our weary, throbbing feet, and headed back to Becky's. As a final treat to a glorious day, Becky took me for dinner at St. George & The Dragon, a pub who's list of landlords looks like a pedigree back to the early 1700's. The dining room in the back was entirely too bright and spacious, but seat in within the pub proper was just right: dark wood paneling, low ceilings, and a coal fire on the grate. We ate a rather spendy but no less tasty dinner, and sat a while to reflect on the day's adventures.

Becky, if I haven't said so, you made this day an experience to remember! Thank you SO much for planning such a terrific expedition. I would rather have walked than done it any other way, as I could not have otherwise felt so perfectly *there*, present in every awesome moment. :-)

~ * ~




Jo said...

>Steve drove as seems the habit of *all* British males - hurtling headlong whether the road has four lanes or one!


DAMN! You were at Uffington? That's ONLY an hour from me and one of my FAVE places! I wish I'd known *cries*, I'd have popped along to see you *cries more*

Jo (psychobunny) xx

Jo said...

Edit: that should have read not just male drivers lol ;)