journal for 2002-10-19

wow! london!

Well, I feel bad saying that I most enjoyed the day I spent alone, especially when only about three hours of it was really enjoyable. Still…

This morning, I finished the last of my breakfast cereal. I left the last of the bacon, bourbon, and banana yogurt smoothie for Matt. Godfrey picked me up around 0930 and we headed to the office for a few hours of Battlecry. We had some good battles and then went downtown to meet Matt for lunch at La Fosse, the same place Godfrey and I went with Trevor on his last day in Cardiff. It was good, and I was boring and had the same (good) thing. The pudding was different, though, and it didn’t sit very well with me. Come 2245, I still haven’t felt like eating much else.

We did a little walking around and shopping in Cardiff. I got my watch band fixed, finally, and Matt picked up a print for his kitchen wall.

I’d looked for hotels online earlier in my trip, and I was thinking about the Sherlock Holmes hotel. It’s on Baker Street, and it looked pretty nice. It was something like £125 a night, though, so I figured I’d find something more frugal. Unfortunately, I put off looking until this morning, so there wasn’t much open. I decided to go for the gusto and book a room in the London Paddington Hilton. It’s only about £130, and the location can’t be beat: it’s directly next door to Paddington station, at which I arrived and from which I’ll depart for Heathrow.

The train ride from Cardiff to Paddington was pretty boring. I read a little in a book my father lent me, but I didn’t feel much like reading, so I listened to the conversations around me. I liked hearing the different dialects and accents, and some of the topics of conversation were interesting, too. Mostly, I heard the guy in front of me talking with the little girl with whom he was travelling. I got the impression that he was taking her from her mother in Cardiff to somewhere else, possibly London or Paris. I don’t think he liked her mother, but I don’t think he was the father/ex-husband. It was interesting to listen to because of this strange equilibrium between his (apparent) desire to tell her impressive things about himself (he once sang in front of ten thousand people, he and a friend played a hobo’s guitar for him to help the unmusical hobo make more money) and plain old conversation. He carried on a long (three hours, or so) conversation with a ten year old girl with very little difficulty, talking about everything from her singing, to curry, to the rules her mother enforces. The girl kept singing that pop song with the chorus about “why’d you have to go and make things so complicated.” She wasn’t a bad singer, but she could’ve chosen better material.

At Reading, the second to last stop, a cop came aboard. He was wearing the traditional Silly Brittish Police Hat, as have all the cops I’ve seen. Also like all the cops I’ve seen here, he was wearing a highly reflective chartruse vest. The cop had a brief argument with the passengers behind me, who had apparently had an argument with the steward. They didn’t want to pay full fare, so they were escorted off.

I arrived at the hotel and checked in around 1930. I called Gloria with my neat-o Neighborhood calling card and we talked for a little while. I wasn’t at all tired, so I thought I’d try to have a little walk around town. I started out by just having a little look around the neighborhood, and I saw the place where Trevor and I had dinner the last time we were here. I thought about getting a sandwich, but I just wasn’t hungry enough. After about a half hour or so of wandering, I had a little walk in Hyde Park. The park wasn’t well lit, and I had no idea how safe it is, so I didn’t go in too far. Had it been lighter, I might’ve walked across to see Albert Hall. I might do that tomorrow.

Instead, I found a map and located Baker Street. I knew there was nothing really to see at 221B, but I was determined to see it. On the way, I stopped in a kwikimart and tried a lemon Tango. It was good! I also stopped at that big marble arch. It’s that really big arch, made of marble. When I see it in pictures, I can never remember if it’s in Paris or London or what, but now I should be able to remember. I wondered if there’s a problem with people defacing the arch with grafiti (which would suck!) but I didn’t see any signs of it. On a nearby power box, there was a sticker with George W’s face and the caption, “BUSH IS ANOTHER WORD FOR CUNT.” While I take issue with their definitions, it was amusing. I also saw lots of ads for Marxist and Socialst groups and publications all around London.

It turned out that 221B Baker Street was something like two miles from the hotel, but it was a really nice, brisk night for a walk. The building there was … Abbey National, I think. I think that’s an insurance company. There was a little plaque on the building with a one-line quote from A Study in Scarlet, and that was it. A few shops around the area had Sherlock tie-ins. (“Sherlock Holmes’ Own Sandwitch Shop,” read the sign in the window of one deli.) There was a Sherlock Holmes memorabilia store, but it was closed and I wasn’t that interested. I did, though, get to see the hotel. It looked really really nice and very modern, but I’m glad I didn’t stay there. It was too far to walk from the station, and I don’t care too much for taking a cab when I have baggage. Also, I arrived in shorts and a t-shirt, which would’ve been underdressed for that place. I guess it was underdressed for the Hilton, but I felt like, “If I’m paying you $200 for a bed, you can suffer through my attire.”

After seeing 221B, I decided to brave the Underground. I’m not sure if I’ve ridden it before. I thought I had, but the experience seemed pretty foreign. I had to buy a ticket, and the ticket was for a specific zone. This reminded me of the commuter rail in Boston, but I think the zones were much smaller. I got the impression that using the tube to get around could get very expensive very quickly, although I don’t know what kind of monthly rates you can get.

At the turnstyle, I had to put the ticket into one slot and pull it out of another. I thought it was just going to eat my ticket, so I walked (gently) into an unmoving turnstyle. The guard looked very blase, as if he saw that happen about a million times a day. I needed to give my ticket to a turnstyle again to exit, and that time I didn’t get it back. The trip from Baker Street to Paddington, which I’d walked in under an hour, was £1.60.

When I got back to the hotel, I picked out a breakfast menu and then decided I’d just go out for breakfast. Checkout is at 1200, which gives me lots of time to walk around and find a nice little place. Unfortunately, it’s not late enough to prevent my very early arrival at Heathrow. I’ll probably have to get there about four hours early, and my laptop battery will not last, especially if I want to conserve any power for the flight. I’ll have to work on my books. (I picked up a project management “teach yourself” at Paddington. It looks businessy, but useful.)

Still not tired, I decided to have… a bath! I haven’t had a bath in a while, and it was nice and relaxing. The tub design was a little annoying, though. Firstly, the controls were about a foot above the spigot, meaning that I couldn’t reach them if I sat with my back against the far wall—and I wasn’t about to sit with my back jammed against the spigot. Also, the drain control knob was positioned such that it had a full-frame distorted reflection of my nudidity, which is just about the last thing I want to see when I’m trying to relax. I’ve seen bathtubs where the controls are on a tilted side panel that looks very easy to access when in the tub. That must be OK. Anyway, all this talk about taking baths is making me feel a little fruity, so I’ll move on.

Often, when I’m abroad or out of town, I have this idea that I’m likely to run into someone I know. I might be in Atlanta, and I’ll keep wondering when I’ll see James from my high school class stopped at a gas station or something. So far this has never happened, and tonight was not any different. Someday, maybe I will run into my ex-brother-in-law in Newark or my third grade teacher in Cardiff, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m just anticipating.

I had to give the camera back to Godfrey this afternoon, which stinks. Or, really, it stinks that I don’t have another way to get lots of good digital shots of my hotel room and the stuff I saw around town. I thought about taking 35mm pictures, but my camera is buried in my luggage, and I’m not anxious to unpack it. All that’s left out of the case is my clothing for the trip back. I will again be travelling in shorts and a t-shirt, because I’m pretty sure the airplane will be sweltering, as usual. It would be great, though, if the plane is mostly empty and cool. I would love to have a little room to spread out and relax, even if only six more inches. Next time, I fly business class on the way home!

Written on October 19, 2002