Day 2 London and Italy: London, Beer, and Curry

Click here if you missed the Day 1 post.

It’s 2:30am London time and I’m now wide awake in my hotel room. I’ve been up for about 30 minutes and have just given up on trying to get back to sleep. I have some actual work to do which I did not get done before I left, plus I wanted to get this blog entry out of the way so I might as well be productive – making sure of course to procrastinate just a little more by writing up a draft of this post.

Earlier today we landed hard at Heathrow airport at just past 1:30pm local time. It was one of those landings that you could see coming because the ground was approaching much faster than normal. When we hit the tarmac one of the flight attendants in the back actually let out a yelp before wondering out loud who was driving the plane! This was the same lady who had earlier stated that she brought her own food on board. We suspect she is either someone from management working the flight during the labor dispute, or that her attitude is some form of passive resistance from the union.

 Things didn’t get any smoother when the plane came to a sudden halt about 10 feet short of our parking spot at the terminal. The pilot announced on the PA that the electronic parking system was not recognizing the aircraft type and that we had to wait for that to be corrected before he could turn off the seatbelt sign. About 5 minutes later the engines roared, we moved the final 10 feet, and were finally free. The 9 hour flight seemed even longer because I only managed to sleep for about 2 hours.

British Airways 747-400 at Heathrow Terminal 5

 We didn’t actually get a gate at Terminal 5, but rather walked off the plane and boarded busses to the terminal. While this meant that it took a further 15 minutes for those of us at the back of the plane to get off, the benefit was that the bus dropped us off just outside of customs so we saved a bit of a walk. Coming around the corner to customs we were relieved that there were only about 30 people ahead of us in line. We’d heard horror stories about customs lineups at Heathrow (including one about a person actually dying in a multi-hour queue), so the 5 minute wait was pretty good. I also saw the crew coming off my plane. I did a very rough count and saw about 15 people including the flight deck crew. That seems pretty tiny for a fully loaded 747-400, but maybe there were others hiding somewhere?

 The customs officer was very friendly and we were quickly on our way to baggage claim where our bags promptly arrived within minutes of us getting to the carousel. The last time we arrived in London we were exhausted and so we took a fairly pricey cab into town. At the time it seemed worth it just for the ride in one of those black London cabs. This time we went cheap and took the Tube – mostly because our hotel was right on the Piccadilly line so we didn’t even have to change trains. The ride from Terminal 5 to Hyde Park Corner took about an hour, was hot, and crowded. There were something like 16 stops. Next time we’ll take the express.

Elevators to the Tube from Heathrow Terminal 5

 When we finally emerged from the Tube station, we managed to take the longest possible route to our hotel, dragging our luggage behind us in near 30 degree weather. We were hot, sticky, tried, and a little grumpy. When we finally checked in freshened up we called some friends who we planned to meet up with. We agreed to meet near Oxford street and they were kind enough to give us directions to the nearest Carphone Warehouse where I could pick up a SIM card for London. The plan was that I would txt them once I got my SIM and we would find an exact meeting place.

 The Carphone Warehouse was great. I hadn’t done as much pre-planning for the London SIM card because I figured that I could just ask them about what the best deal is. I’m not sure that would work out quite as well in Italy where there is no guarantee that the person will speak English. Being able to talk to people who know a thing or two about SIM cards is why I went to Carephone Warehouse rather than stopping in a corner store for a SIM.

 I told them that I was in town for a few days and wanted a cheap SIM that I could add a data plan to. Even better if I was allowed to tether with it. They told me that none of the plans would let you tether on a pay-as-you-go plan. They said that all the providers are more or less the same and suggested Orange. I’d used Orange in the past and agreed. What I forgot to do is ask about which provider had the fastest Internet. That was a mistake. The Internet connection I got with Orange was pretty slow. Usable, but not as fast as I’d like. The guy behind the desk hooked me up with a 10 pound card and called Orange to set up my data plan. They told me that I would get 250mb of data, which seemed fine if I wasn’t going to tether. They handed me the card, asked me to wait 10-15 minutes for it to activate and off we went to shop for while we waited. We had to stop to pick up new toothpaste anyways.

 After 15 minutes I popped in the SIM card and no service. We finished getting toothpaste and walked along Oxford Street waiting for a signal so we could txt our friends. Oxford Street was a total zoo. It was busier than Times Square in the summer and almost as busy as the lobby of Sogo in Hong Kong. After dancing through the crowd we ducked into Mothercare to escape the crowds and the heat. Luckily my phone started working shortly after, saving us from buying stuff that we’d have the lug all across Italy and back home for my sister. Maybe we’ll pick something up there on the way home. Or maybe not. Anyways, we txt our friends and do that most British of things – meet at a pub for drinks.

 We meet our friends near Bond station, say our hellos and duck down a tiny alley to find a very cool bunch of little pubs and food spots. The last time I was in London we met up with different friends who took us to a younger spot that was far too loud for conversation. To be fair, we were younger then. This time we popped into a fairly modern but traditional tiny place with a crowd gathered out front drinking and chatting. This is something of a luxury for someone from Vancouver where you could get beat up by the cops for drinking in public. 

 Our friends bought the first round and I actually decided to go light since I hadn’t really slept in two days. I felt better about my half-pint of beer when I saw a number of other guys with them. Hopefully they were drinking them and not just holding them for their girlfriends!

Regent's Park Map London

 After drinks our friends took us for a drive around London including Regent’s park where we got some fresh air and a great view of the city. We then headed out to a great little neighborhood curry joint nearby and I checked another item off my bucket list by having the official food of Londoners whilst actually in London. Plans for coffee and dessert afterwards, unfortunately, had to be cut short as my total lack of sleep caught up with the giant bottle of Indian beer I had with my curry.

 Our friends were also very kind to drive us home, even though we probably could have Tubed it or cabbed it fairly easily. The extra benefit of catching a lift back was that we got to drive by Abbey Road. Two things of my list in one evening! We did, however, find out that our friends are not big fans of Abbey Road, not because they dislike the Beatles, but rather because tourists like to disrupt traffic by taking pictures in the crosswalk. Even worse, some tourists don’t want to have cars in their photo so when drivers come to a stop they then wave the cars on, which would also drive me crazy. True to their prediction, as we drove by there was a group of camera happy tourists standing near but not quite at the crosswalk. We didn’t stop.

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