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London, day one

With this post I’ll begin a series of day-by-day recollections of our trip to London. I’ve posted an album (actually, almost 20) at Yahoo and friends and family are invited to view the relevant pictures as I write. 🙂

We arrived at Heathrow at 8am on Monday morning. Flying United’s ‘economy access’ meant that we had extra space for our knees, and the seats seemed to be wider than usual as well. We really expected to sleep, but just didn’t manage it (even J. who can usually slepp anytime, anywhere), which was really tough. made worse, I expect, by the fact that everyone all around us DID sleep. Grrr.

Going through customs was no big deal, and our bags were waiting for us on the other side. (As an aside, I’d purchased new luggage for us — 30″ duffle bags with handles and wheels. They were FANTASTIC for manuevering on the streets. We never even had to unzip the built-in backpack straps.) We immediately made our way to the Underground Assistance center and bought 7-day Oyster Cards. These passes granted us unlimited access to the Underground, buses, and other forms of transport (for a discount) within the two main zones in London. They were not all that expensive (about 50 pounds — $103 — total, including a surcharge for travel from Heathrow itself) and we absolutely got our money’s worth. Plus it meant that we didn’t have to hassle about getting tickets all week. Correctly identifying our best route (the Piccadily line) we headed into town. It took about an hour, and then we were at our destination, Kings Cross/St. Pancras station.

Emerging onto the street we were assaulted by the noise and the stink of petrol. I am using that word literally, it staggered me. I’ll admit, in retrospect, that my total lack of sleep (it’d been about 19 hours by then) probably made it worse. But I’m not sure I ever got used to the noise of London — which is saying a lot for this city-raised girl.

Our hotel, however, was a mere 3/4 of a block from one of the entrances (not, unfortunately the one we chose). This was a bit of an adventure because we’d neglected to print a map of the location and no one we asked seemed to know where Crestfield Street was. We, luckily, found a policeman who pointed across the street and there it was.

Crossing the street is an adventure. Of course we intellectually knew that vehicles are on the opposite side, but during the whole trip we were like children at every crossing, muttering “look right” before stepping out, and then “look left” to finish. We never got used to it. It’s made worse by the absolute lack of fear on the part of the locals — clearly, jaywalking is not an offense in London.

The Crestfield Hotel is quite nice (you can see my review on TripAdvisor) and we’d stay there again if we went back. We were there about 10:30, and check in wasn’t until at least 2pm. So we dumped our bags and headed out to start seeing the sights.

J. was a very smart man, and he found a  free concert at St. Martin in the Fields — classical guitar selections from a locally famous young man, Ahmed Dickinson Cardenas. Although it was actually being held in St Mary Le Bow because St Martins was under renovation, the church provided a useful starting point for us. Unfortuantely, by that time I was hungry, sleepy, out-of-sorts (no coffee yet!) and chilly. The wait for the concert (at 1pm) was not so pleasant. Eventually we found a Pret-A-Manger (sort of an upscale Subway, but better) and got some sandwiches and coffee and made our way back to the church to eat.  I figured the coffee would keep me awake even if the sandwich made me sleepy. Sadly, this was not the case. Apparently food = safe to sleep or something and J and I both foudn ourselves barely able to keep awake. Which was a shame, because the young man’s guitar work was very good. He began with a Bach Prelude and Fugue, then moved through several modern pieces (Ponce’s Theme Viaret et Finale, Rodgrigo’s Invocation and Dance, etc.) and ended with a piece from his native Cuba (Pujol’s Guajira).  We barely managed to time our nodding heads to the beat.

By then it was after 2, so we headed back to check in. Our room was #7, just down a short flight of stairs and complete with a bath and shower (aka ‘ensuite’). We dumped our bags, hung up the things that needed hanging, and washed the grime of travel off our bodies. By then, of course, we were a bit wired, and hungry. There was an Indian place around the corner, and J. went out to get a couple of chicken biryani’s — the only thing on the menu without little chili peppers next to it. (We wanted food, not a struggle to eat overly-spicy food.) Sadly, it was nearly too spicy to eat — whether because that was how they make it, or some misunderstanding we were sure, but we were bummed. (And didn’t eat any more Indian the whole time we were there. Food was so expensive that ordering food we wouldn’t — couldn’t — enjoy would have been a double waste.)

We fell into bed around 8pm, barely holding on to consciousness in that last hour in an attempt to make the transition easier.

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