Thinking & Feeling

“The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.” Horace Walpole

Monday, 30 January 2006

I haven't done London

So I am in London.

I arrived at the crack of dawn - well no, way before the crack of dawn here - at 6am on Saturday morning.

The flight was nice, and I did manage to get a seat on the upper deck of the plane - albeit right at the back of the upper deck. Still it's WAY better than being in the cattle class downstairs. I used my new tactic of drinking copious amounts of Amarula, and no coffee, in an attempt to be able to sleep, but it didn't really work this time. I guess it's been a fluke before and I was so tired anyway that I couldn't have NOT slept. So despite the nicer seat I still didn't get much sleep, but could at least stretch my legs out which is much more comfy than usual. The meal sucked - KLM seems to do better catering, but their bar service is worse. It was cold and yucky chicken curry and rice - not the best choice for a flight. The breakfast at 4:30 am was equally awful - and I normally *like* aeroplane food, so it must have been bad!
We landed in London and I started feeling nervous about my excess alcohol - note to drug barons, I would SO not manage to be a drug mule - I can not lie and I act totally guilty if I am doing anything devious, no matter how mild it is. I had double the quantity of alcohol allowed and with my bag so heavy I could hardly carry it. It took AGES for our luggage to arrive at the carousel. Finally the baggage arrived, I skulked through customs, glancing furtively around and just waiting to be called back - but I wasn't. Score! (It is my job to provide Canonical staff with copious quantities of Amarula and I will not be letting them down.)

I found the tube station - closed, so got diverted to a bus, found the bus station and boarded the bus. This all took 1,5 hours from landing.
After a bus ride, 2 tube rides and a ride on the DLR I got to the hotel on Victoria Dock at 9:30 am. So much for thinking I had a 'whole' day spare in London.

I checked-in spoke to the conference co-ordinator and made sure all our bookings were in order etc. Then found my room, and lay on the bed to recover, have a cup of coffee and think. After an hour or so I ventured out to central London to take a look around.

Here are some random thoughts and observations of mine about London etc.

1. Heathrow sucks. I confirmed my disdain of Heathrow while waiting for my luggage. There really is nothing nice about that airport, it's is old, dingy and really badly styled. Has anything been upgraded there since the 70s?. Cape Town International is beautiful, slick, efficient, clean, sparkly etc. Heathrow is a pit.

2. It's COLD here. Granted not as cold as much of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere at the moment, but having come from 30 deg summer weather to 0-6 degs and wind, it's cold. It is bearable when you are warmly wrapped up, but the daily temps here equate to the coldest days of the year in Cape Town, and in SA generally the sun will shine and it can get quite warm in the day time, and the coldness is only at night. There has been no rain here yet though.

3. It's dirty. London has got to be the dirtiest and grimiest city I have visited - including Bangkok. Everything is caked with soot, and I find my nose fills with blackness when I am here. Yuk. The air is not fresh, and I see why people are seen with walking masks on their faces on the news now. South Africa has much cleaner air.

4. There are a lot of people here! Walking around on the streets and in the underground there are people all over all the time, and most of the time they will just walk straight into you. I spend all the time dodging around other people, and don't notice other people steering around me.

5. Tube stations without escalators suck. Lugging a heavy suitcase up and down the stairs at tube stations is so NOT fun. I wish they all had escalators.

6. The people here are stylish! I pretty much just dress in whatever every day. Getting dressed is not something I spend a lot of time (or effort) on. Case in point I was wondering around in a tracksuit! Nearly everyone I saw was dressed in a stylish, unique and interesting way. It was really cool to see the way people present themselves. There seems to be a big focus on fashion and shopping and keeping up with the latest trends.

7. It's expensive! I looked in a few clothing stores and even with '70% OFF' the prices are still higher than I would want to pay. With a ~ 1:11 exchange rate, shopping is not high up on my list as a South African in London.

8. Sandwiches and bread based meals are BIG in London. Everywhere you look you can buy Subs, Sandwiches, Baps, Paninis, Wraps etc. The rest of the places sell pizza slices or pies ;)

9. The British Museum really should be called 'The Places Britain Pillaged Museum' ;) seriously is there *anything* British in that museum. Having remembered visiting and finding it fascinating when I was in London with my family when I was 13 I took myself there. It is free (Yay) and well worth a look. I found the 5000 year old preserved man lying in a curled up position. I saw this last time and didn't really get it then - now I understand 5000 years! and he is in amazing condition. I was also very impressed with the roman pavement mosaic work, and the roman and Egyptian carvings. They are incredibly complex and detailed, I don't know how they managed to repeat such intricate patterns so perfectly. The Asian room was very appealing to me too. The British Museum building is very impressive too.

10. It gets dark really early in winter here. At 5pm it is dark. This is new to me. I was wondering around next thing all the lights are on and it's pitch dark and feels like 9pm in SA, yet it's 5pm. Odd.

11. The tube is cool. The public transport here is great. We need more of that. I got myself an all zones day pass, and it's great knowing that there's always a tube station 2 minutes walk away.

12. Carnaby Street is not what I remember it to be. My dad took me to Carnaby Steet and I remember being amazed and in awe. There were weird and wonderful shops, loud music, British flags, pins, stone washed jeans and PUNKS. There were strange guys and girls in outrageous clothes and with brightly coloured spiky hair. I loved it. Sadly now it is just a row of chain stores. Very disappointing. :(

13. I should have planned my day better and had a map! I could kick myself. I had a raging headache and actually felt nauseous for most of the day so was not feeling very energetic, but still by not having a plan or a map (other than the tube map) I ended up just walking around pretty aimlessly all day. I did see Soho, China Town, Regent Street, Carnaby Steet, Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Leister Square etc, but I missed so many other things I would have loved to see like Hamleys which I probably almost walked past. Camden Town, Portobello Road, and *everything else* in London. D'oh.

14. There are a lot of Theatres! I always hear of people coming to do a theatre show in London but I didn't realise how prolific it really is, or how accessible. There are dozens and dozens of theatres, many with well known Hollywood actors playing in them. It looked very exciting, and I would love to experience a show.

15. Roasted Chestnuts! I have always had a warm and cosy image in my mind of roasted chestnuts. Both from the Christmas song 'chestnuts roasting on an open fire' and from my father's stories of eating them on his annual trips to Europe. On my way back to the hotel in the dark I was stopped by a friendly man selling roasted chestnuts. He insisted I taste one when I told him I never had, saying that they taste like little jacket potatoes - and they do! He was really friendly and sweet and gave me a small bagful as he was packing up and had made too many. I can't say I love them, but I can see their appeal, and the little fires used to roast them are wonderful in the cold.

16. The hotel has an orgasmic massage chair. Ok not in THAT way, but WOW this thing is amazing. I have a tense back, every time I have had a massage the masseuse always comments on it. Well this chair has multiple settings and can actually do rolling, kneading, tapping and pointing movements and really works your whole back. It is blissful agony for me, and yes I'll admit that yesterday morning I spent an entire hour on the massage chair instead of going back out to explore London. It's that good ;)

That's it for now.

To make up for my pathetic attempt at 'doing London' on Saturday I am going to try to arrange to dash off early next Sunday to get to Camden etc - But I will have to make sure I can get back to the hotel in time to collect my bags and leave for the airport - because lugging that suitcase up and down tube stairs all day is not going to happen. I should be able to do it. I would need to get back not much after 4pm...

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