Friday, September 04, 2009

London, Day One

In the interests of reinvesting my poor, forgotten blog with a bit of life, I decided I would use it to chronicle my trip to London and Paris with Val and our friends Rob, Diane, and Mike. Unlike previous trips, in which I strongly intended to keep a journal of my experiences and promptly forgot, I managed to write down my thoughts for just about everything we visited on this trip, and these entries are the result. Just for reference, the posts are dated for when they were actually written - on each day of the trip - but they were all edited and compiled with the photos later on.

So! With that out of the way, let's get started with the first day of our trip, and the very long flight on a very short day across the Atlantic to London.

Day One: Chicago to London.

After a tumultuous day of preparation, Diane and Rob made it up to our apartment at around 10pm for our “sleepover” before our big day. We all decided to stay up pretty late, if not all night, before our 3am wakeup and 3:30 cab, giving us time to be a bit giddy with what we imagined the trip would be. Val made good use of this time, however, by baking an absolutely incredible apple tart, which she cut up into pieces and put into plastic bags to carry on the plane.

The 3am wakeup was just as agonizing as I’d thought, but we were ready, and got everyone downstairs and into the cab relatively quickly. When we arrived at the airport, we were appalled to find that O’Hare doesn’t open security until 4:30am… I mean, really, what kind of an operation is this, anyway? There aren’t flights running all night? You security people don’t sleep here? What about crazy people like us boarding 6am flights? Anyway, after grumbling in the terminal for a bit, we went straight through security and to our gate, where I had the first of many pieces of apple tart. In retrospect, I believe that deliciousness may have been what kept me going most of the day. Thanks, Val!

After a blessedly uneventful flight, we landed in Heathrow at about 9:30pm, or 3:30pm central time (I point that out only because it was highly relevant to us at the time as we staggered out of the airport). Diane pointed out that we had seen the sun rise and set within five hours, which was a striking observation that might have been more so had I not been so focused on the possibility of sleeping at some point in the near future.

All jet lag aside, the novelty of being back in England wasn’t lost on me. All of the old – yet still familiar – impressions came rushing back: “Everyone’s so helpful and polite!” “It’s so clean and organized here!” You know that these are masterfully perpetrated lies, by the way, if you have ever lived in Britain for any length of time – most Brits I’ve known are quite friendly, but rarely polite, and while London is certainly clean, it’s definitely not organized the way Americans think of the word. A drive north to Manchester or Newcastle will show you quite a contrast to the cleanliness as well.

Of course, there is also that first almost-gasp accompanying the sight of cars driving on the wrong – not just “left,” but wrong, mind you – side of the road. All of us took that in stride, knowing that we had a few days yet before we’d be out there with all of those crazy left-side drivers. We’d booked a car through Avis the night before to drive right out of central London and into the countryside, hoping that it wasn't a suicide pact.

But at the time I was thinking more about all the little idiosyncrasies that I remembered and loved: Underground billboard ads which are just a bit more outlandish or risqué than I’m used to (examples would be, ah, inappropriate in this public forum), “Way Out” signs instead of “Exit” signs, and of course that ever-present voice of the Tube reminding you to “mind the gap” as you step from the train.

One of the more ominous changes that I noticed were the omnipresent CCTV cameras, found in nearly every Underground train, station, and street corner on our way from Heathrow to London. It’s no wonder the Brits created a television show called “Big Brother.”

We took the Underground all the way from Heathrow to Trafalgar Square, where we were greeted with one of the most famous views in London: Nelson’s Column and its lions. Trafalgar is effectively the heart of the city, as several main thoroughfares (one of which leads to Buckingham Palace, another to Parliament) run directly into it. While we couldn't see Nelson very well in the dark, another fine feature of the square are the fountains, which are lit by colored lights which shift across the spectrum as you watch.

I still couldn’t believe we were staying here – I made a mental note to thank Diane again for using her hotel points on this place, as it was obviously incredible, even from the outside.

When we dragged our bags through the front door at about 11pm London time, we were surprised to find a full-fledged nightclub in what we expected to be the lobby. There was a dance floor, and there were definitely Londoners dancing (giving everyone their first rather startling exposure to London nightlife). Only when they let us in and directed us toward the corner desk did we really believe that we hadn’t crashed some private party. After that, we found that the elevators also had their own unique flavor – one was lit by bright blue neon lights, the other pink, and the hotel manager referred to them as “Harry and Sally.”

Finally in our rooms, we found not only an enormous bed and a huge bathroom (unimaginable luxury for anywhere in Europe), but a flat panel television, and a brownie and a half bottle of wine waiting for us on the table. Having taken all this in, Diane and Rob ran in so that we could toast our arrival at this marvelous place. We even took in a few minutes of bizarre British television, much of which we could barely understand, much less follow. It didn’t take long for us to say goodnight, however; it was still early (about 5pm central time), but we’d put enough miles on for the day.

Cheers, London! We were already looking forward to getting to know you, but this was an awfully nice greeting.


At 2:52 PM, Blogger * Valerie * said...

Nice first post! The first day was for sure crazy, but fun. We were so giddy (and maybe sleep-deprived)!

I've got to get more apples and make that tart again...

At 2:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


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