Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hello, Old Friend (London 2016, Part 2)

Obviously, a plane landing in London doesn't meant that it's instant fun time. There's getting off the plane (takes forever), and then...there's Heathrow.

I'm just going to say it. Heathrow is awful. I suppose it could be worse, but it just really isn't my favorite place to arrive, even if it does mean I'm finally back in London after eleven years gone. Why?

Because there is nothing easy about Heathrow. 

For starters, you wait forever to get off the plane (which happens on any plane, at any airport, to be fair), but then, once you are finally free of your tin can home of the last several hours, you have to hike--and I mean hike--to Border Control. You walk, you turn, you walk some more. Several clueless souls stop in the middle of the walkway. You trip on their rolling carry-on bag. You roll your eyes at them...and then you walk more.

Finally, you reach Border control. You notice that the line for the UK passport holders and EU passport holders is moving along at a fast clip, while your line, the one for everyone who is not part of the European Union, is long, and there are only three agents serving it. Each one looks like someone just peed on their shoes.

So you wait. You have had no sleep, your stomach is growling, and you haven't seen a loo for a while, but you wait, holding your passport and immigration form and hoping this doesn't take too long.

On Sunday, I noticed a particular trend. Of the three agents checking passports, one in particular seemed especially humorless. And about two-thirds of the lucky sods who approached her desk seemed to get led off to a strange holding area after several minutes of talking to her. I started to get very worried that I'd be forced to deal with her, and then denied entry to the UK for having bad breath or some such weird reason. I started recounting every time I went out drinking with the girls when I lived in Burnham--had I done anything that would show up when they scanned my passport? (In a word: No.)

Still, I was tired, I was hungry, and my bladder was full. My mind was on overdrive with Anxious Traveler thoughts. 

Finally, I reached the front of the line, and thankfully, I got another agent. She was similarly humorless and positively grilled me ("Where are you staying?" "How long are you here for?" "Have you visited the UK before?"). I answered to her satisfaction and after a couple minutes, she stamped my passport and motioned me through. I almost ran, but figured that might arouse suspicion, and kept it to a sedate-but-brisk walk instead.

So hooray! I was successfully allowed into the country. Now, to find...gah, a toilet. Fortunately, there was one in the baggage hall, and as I darted toward it, I saw my suitcase on the ground next to a baggage carousel. It had taken so long to get through Border Control, that all of my plane's bags had been removed and the carousel turned off. I did my thing, grabbed my suitcase, and...



Another hike--I'm not kidding, getting from Point A to Point B at any time in Heathrow is exhausting, and remember, I run half marathons for funsies. Add forty pounds of suitcase, and it's quite a haul. But finally I emerged into the arrivals meeting hall, saw a sign for Heathrow Express, and followed it...another hike, but a little shorter. Finally I was on a train, and fifteen minutes later, we were pulling into Paddington Rail Station.

I chose my hotel, the London House Hotel, because of it's proximity to Paddington and Heathrow Express. The area is a good one, very convenient to the rest of the city, and very walkable.

In London, you pay for location, not for room size. I knew this going in, and expected my single room to be tiny. I was not disappointed. It was itty-bitty to the extreme! The whole bathroom was about three feet wide. But it was also clean, comfortable, and it had an electric kettle and the makings for a cup of tea. The bathroom floor was heated (though the single-pane window proved very drafty at night. #oldbuildingproblems). 

Though I was exhausted and seriously in need of a shower, I was also nearly delirious from hunger, so I walked about a quarter of a mile to the nearby shopping center, where a Marks & Spencer food hall awaited me.

Oh, English tabloids. 

At first I thought they'd gone and named a potato salad after
the new princess, but then I was informed a few days later that
Baby Charlotte may be a potato variety.

Happiness is a cuppa in your hotel room. And a shower. And a
Sufficiently armed with dinner and breakfast for the next day, and a small container of milk for a week's worth of tea in my hotel room, I returned to my hotel and promptly brewed a cup of tea before jumping in the shower.

After a snack and a cuppa, I settled in to nap for three hours. I only ended up sleeping an hour, but it was sufficient to help me make it through the rest of the afternoon and evening. I had grand plans, you see.

Right after I booked my trip, I started looking for options for seeing a show. London theater is some of the best in the world. I ended up not seeing a theater show, but instead, Cirque du Soleil, which was presenting Amaluna at Royal Albert Hall. I had never seen Cirque live, and I'd never been inside Royal Albert Hall, so I decided I simply must go.

However, closing night for Amaluna was my first night in town, meaning I'd be there with a serious case of jet lag.

It all worked out. I decided well ahead of time that walking the mile-and-a-half to the hall on my first day would be silly, especially as I planned to dress up for the show. I had concierge call for a cab, and I found a cab for the ride home later.

The hall is beautiful.

Jet lagged but happy!
The show? The show was amazing. The athletic and dancing capabilities these performers have is jaw-dropping, and I spent the whole evening leaned forward in my seat with my mouth hanging open and the occasional surprised, "Oh!!" bursting forth. I wasn't the only one behaving this way.

Amaluna is a re-imagining of Shakespeare's "The Tempest," but mostly, it was a chance for Cirque artists to awe and astound us all. Remembering all the details now is difficult--it's been a week and I might as well have been drunk because I'd had one whole hour of sleep in about twenty-four hours. 

I do know I enjoyed it. 

After the show, it was back to the hotel and straight to bed. Monday was my first chance to revisit some long-time London favorites, and I wanted all of the energy I could muster.

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