Saturday, June 18, 2011

Europe: Day One/Two--the 34.5 hour day

I'd say my trip to Europe began with the Thursday, 4:30am shuttle bus pick up from our Best Western in Milbrae, CA. It ends with our hotel check-in for the night Friday, 11:00PM in London, England.

Admittedly, there's really not a lot to remark on with that first several hours though. My parents and I flew to Charlotte, NC. Met up with my coworker, Stefanie Masten, and her mother, Teresa. And then hopped on another plane to head out to Europe--first stop, London.

It was a 7.5 hour flight and I *knew* we would have to get some solid sleep in. Unfortunately, the smaller than AK Air seats, the anticipation of London, and the availability of eh-quality movies left me sleep deprived when we landed at 7:30AM (local time) ready to start a full day of touristy-joy. As it was, Stefanie, who was a bit under the weather, was the only one to really get any substantial sleep.

Upon receiving praise for her good choice, she admitted this particular position didn't really allow for any sort of neck movement in the following hours.

Customs in London, while previously a generally pleasant experience was hampered by an Immigration Desk Clerk who questioned my Kuskokwim River-loved passport.

After being told that falsified passports look exactly like mine, he asked to see another form of identification. I pulled out my AK driver's license. He told me he would accept my passage this one time only if I promised to replace my passport once I returned to the States. I pointed out my passport expires in 2013 and I didn't have problems before now (having checked with several agencies in the US before traveling) but this information only seemed to further to perturb the agent. He then asked a series of questions that I couldn't answer (I see you are leaving to Brussels tomorrow, what time are you traveling? How are you traveling? How long will you be there in Belgium? What hotel are you staying in while in London? What is the postal code for that hotel? What is the name of the Immigration officer in CA that said you could travel with this passport?) and some questions I could answer (Are you traveling alone? How long have you worked in schools? What is the name of the school where you are a vice principal? Where is it located? What are the ages of the students you have at your school?).

I appreciate the need for security... but dude... I am visiting your country for the third time. I'm gonna pay exuberant prices to take in a musical and check out the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the sort. I'm not going to sell others into the slave industry. I promise.

As it was, I didn't have to make such a promise to the clerk out loud, he eventually allowed me to enter the UK. I made my way quickly to baggage claim and retrieved my bag along with my parents' luggage. My sister, Denise, and her eldest daughter, Kiana, had arrived a good 30 minutes before us, and I was eager to meet up with them.

Unfortunately, as soon as our tour group had gathered with all bags, someone discovered that they had left his/her money on the plane. The plane on the other size of Customs. I'll let you, blog-reader, connect the dots on how we ended up not meeting up with Denise and Kiana until a good 2.5 hours after we landed.

An uneventful bus ride later, and we arrived at the Tower of London. My first stop was the loo. I took a picture of the wall above my toilet.

I was strangely fascinated with the idea of a raven standing perched above me... behind me... while I did my business. Ravens are kept clipped and caged at the Tower of London because rumor has it when the ravens leave the king will fall. My experience with raven-lore is quite different with them being the Creator and all, but whateves.

Rain began falling while we were touring the Tower of London, so we didn't spend too much time meandering but, rather, headed fairly quickly to the Jewel House. I did snap two pictures of a remaining stockade and a memorial for the ten (then seen as traitors) executed persons within the Tower. Including , of course, famously Anne Boleyn and her sister-in-law Jane (who played both sides of the fence when it came to squealing to the king about infidelities).
We left the Jewel House (no pictures were allowed) a while later as the rain was just beginning to lighten. It should be noted that it was a good seven hours since a danish was served on the plane and about thirteen hours (not a fan of just a sugary treat in the morning) since I had eaten the pasta-dinner that was offered on the plane. In other words, I was not the only one in our tour group who found themselves resembling the Royal Beasts of the Tower.

We had, at that point, failed to exchange dollars for pounds and were thus taunted by the snack and gift shops we passed until my dad was able to swap out a little dough with our tour guide allowing for medicine (in the form of caramel fudge) to fix his low-blood-sugar-induced headache to subside.

And off we went...

Driving off we had the London Eye pointed out to us several times. I have previously been on the London Eye and... look... it's a nice view... but wow are the British proud of this merry-go-round of theirs.
Don't they know that their phone booths are just as cool to the average American tourist? As a side note when Stefanie and I took turns snapping photos inside the time and space traveling portals made famous by Dr. Who and Harry Potter, we caught a conversation between two others from our tour group:

Young Man #1: (looking at us) It's almost cliche, huh?
Young Man #2: Yeah, I mean who doesn't get their picture taken in the booths?
Young Man #1: So... want to go next?
Young Man #2: Yeah.

Following the theme of expected shots... here's the obligatory family photo in front of Buckingham Palace for those of you want to see that sort of thing. It is set beside a dragon marking one of the entrances of Chinatown (where we had a late lunch/early dinner/only meal of the day).

After eating, we were given thirty minutes of freetime wherein our group madly dashed to purchase tickets for that evening's showing of Wicked. At the start of the meal only Stefanie and I were confirmed to attend the show. But due to the persuasive nature of my mom (shoutout to all those who have traveled with my mom and can attest to this) we ended up getting five tickets.

Buying tickets to a London musical three hours before a Friday night, nearly sold out showing, didn't really score us any great deals. But it's London! And it's Wicked! So all we felt pretty comfortable splurging even though it was just "day one".

Unfortunately getting our money exchanged and getting the actual tickets in our hands took more than 30 minutes so Stefanie and I had the tour go ahead without us. Our next stop was to check into our hotel for a free evening... so we volunteered to just take The Tube and meet up with them shortly.
An understandably cautious Teresa and Stefanie questioned my ability to find the hotel (near the Tower of London) as well as the theater for that matter, but I assured them that navigating oneself in London is a breeze. Everyone speaks English after all.

This assurance I gave proved to be true. Although, I probably shouldn't have been so convincing as we didn't actually, at that point, know where the closest Underground Station was... nor did we know the actual name of our hotel. We knew it started with a "G". That's enough, right?

As it turns out, finding the Piccadilly Circus station, purchasing tickets with an agent, navigating the two needed lines, and locating the first "G" hotel we could see from the Tower of London station got Stefanie and I meeting up with our group before hotel room keys were shelled out.

A quick shower for all five of the attendees and we were off to the theater.

Those who either were privy to my notes from London six years ago, or who frequent my Facebook page, know of my affinity for men in suits *swoon*. And just in case there was any doubt at all, London, Friday night, on The Tube, does not disappoint.

At one point a dapper looking stylish bloke addressed my sister with, "'scuse me gorgeous" before reaching behind her head to place a newspaper behind her on the window sill (for travelers in the future who might be interested in a free read). I did my best to conceal my consideration of getting off at the Temple Station (as he and his four male friends did) and continue on to the Victoria Station.

We did, though have pretty great plans for the evening.

Wicked was... amazing. As I expected it to be. The show really is just that well crafted. And yes, credit is due to the actual actors on stage. The talent was that more impressive to me after purchasing a program and learning both of the leads as well as Madame Morrible were all played by understudies that evening.

When purchasing my coffee before the start of the show, the attendant asked if I had seen the show before, and I confirmed that I had. He then asked, "American?" And I nodded. He sort of shrugged defeated and said, "I do hope you like the show, I heard the production in Broadway is tops." I smiled and told him, that I saw the show in San Fransisco, so I am sure I will love it, here.

I wasn't wrong.

We arrived back at the hotel around 11:00PM... and confirmed the 5:30AM wake up call.

I assure you posts in the future will NOT be as long as this one. Surely, we can't have many more 34.5 hour days, right?


Delia said...

sounds like a fabulous first day. I cannot wait to read more and see more pictures. I love them all so far!! Please keep the blogging up! Miss you in CA!

Auntie Kiki said...

Where is the "love" button? Sounds like quiet a whirlwind thus far but soooo fun! I absolutely love London!! Is there a trip itinerary online somewhere? I'd love tofollow where you're going!

Carey said...

I'm glad you're writing on your blog again! (I have been lately too.) It's nice to know there are people out there who are as verbose as I am. You tell a great story & I love all the appropriately times photos & hyperlinks. Of course, this reminds me of my 4 days in London in 2004. Keep writing! (& make me wish that I went on this trip.)

Carey said...

P.S. I enjoyed this story while eating the lovely carrot cake from Middle Way Cafe & sipping hot tea.

Now I write, for ASWC...