Apr 222011

Day 1/2 (April 20/21, 2011)

The first travel day is really two days. I never quite know if I should call the whole travel “day,” Day 1 or Day 1/2. In any case, I started a precedent several vacations back, so I’ll stick with it.

I’m typing this entry as I sit outside the hotel in London watching for Mark to arrive. Getting out of Houston on my KLM flight was easy and uneventful. (As it should be.) I remember that last time I flew with KLM, I really enjoyed the airline food and it was true again today. Dinner was fantastic and I ate it all. I was able to sleep through just about the entire flight with a full row to myself. The arm rests on the KLM seats only raise up to about a 45 degree angle, which can be annoyed, but I fit beneath so that I could lay down across the seats.

My flight transferred in Amsterdam and I scanned the landscape as we flew in hoping to catch the colorful tulip farms from the air. I did see several farms, but I think the tulips have already been cut as I also saw lots of bare and brown farms. Also, the hazy, cloudy morning sky and foggy window did not provide the ideal conditions for photos. I snapped several anyway.

We arrived about an hour early, so I had plenty of time to peruse the Schipol museum and several shops before going to my gate to get to London. I slept the entire flight to London as well, though it was only about an hour long.

You would think that with all that sleep, I would wake up in London ready for the day. However, I was still feeling jet-lagged and it was all I could do to make it to the hotel. The train from Heathrow to Victoria Station was a commuter train and took almost an hour. I exited the train station into downtown London and hordes of people soon engulfed me. It took several tries to find the street name, but soon I was on my way to the hotel.

I have several first impressions of London. Firstly, and the most odd was all the English. All the signs in the airport were in English, and English only. I am so used to traveling internationally and finding other languages, that it came as a shock to see all the English. Obviously, I am well aware that the UK speaks English, but somehow the intense presence of it made me feel as though I was in another country. The UK customs were similar to USA customs as we had to fill out a landing card on arrival to enter the country. The line for this took over 30 minutes, so by the time I passed through, my duffel bag had been circling the baggage claim for a while. My next impression was that all public transportation commuter trains are starting to look the same to me. I could have been in any country when I boarded the Picadilly Line towards downtown. The only difference here was that I could actually understand the information given over the loud speaker. My last first impression came as I exited the train station on a very crowded street and was immediately surrounded with people. London, unsurprisingly, is packed with people.

Once I was going the right direction, the hotel was easy to find and the room was even ready for me, thought I was an hour before check in time. This was all excellent news as I took a 3 hour nap upon entering my room.

It was rather disappointing to see the clock in the room was blinking and not set right because when I woke up at 4:30, I convinced myself that my watch was set wrong as well and I couldn’t decide what time was right. Mark’s flight was supposed to arrive at the airport at 5:30 and I could not figure out what time it was. Finally, I just logged into a website to find the correct time, same as my watch.

I put my new rented wide-angle lens on my camera and went out to roam. On my way to Buckingham Palace, I found lots of unique little shops. There was a tea shop called About Thyme and nearly every Indian restaurant was called either Spicy World, or Spice Time. I found a cute little park full of tulips. The view was marred by all the homless sleeping in the grass, but the tulips were huge! The gift shops around the Palace were selling Will and Kate memorabilia. Everything seems to be all about the royal wedding these days. We will not be in London on the big day, April 29th, but it’s nice to see London getting decorated for the event. Across from the Palace was a garden full of flowers with the London Eye in the background beyond. My wide-angle lens was perfect for taking photos of Buckingham Palace itself. As I walked around the fountain in the middle of the blocked off roundabout, nearly everyone stopped me to borrow my shutter finger. I get this a lot when I walk around on my own with a DSLR hanging around my neck. One of these days I should walk around with my business cards and hand a card to everyone who asks me to take their picture.

I was only out for about an hour before it was time to go back to the hotel and wait for Mark. On the way back I was able to find some Dr. Pepper for him at a market and some breakfast for the morning. The weather today is magnificent, too. The sun is out and the temps are a perfect 75. I’m not sure what everyone is talking about when they mention London is always cloudy and drizzly.

I sat outside the hotel in the beautiful weather to type and wait for Mark. Finally we were reunited. We are looking forward to spending the next 3 weeks together.

We went out to dinner at an asian restaurant with dim sum and outdoor seating. Mark enjoyed his curry and I really enjoyed my crispy shredded beef and coconut rice. Then, it was back to the hotel so that we could use the internet to make a bid for London 2012 tickets. The bidding process is complicated and closes on the 22nd, so we wanted to go ahead and get that done. Now we just have to wait a few months to see if we got any tickets.

Good end to a good day/days. Tomorrow we are off to Ireland.

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