Thursday, May 15, 2008

Adventures in Terminal 5 and Customs, and Pies in Newcastle

April 10th - London to Newcastle to Seaham

I don't recall when I was awoken from my attempted plane sleep. It could have been the blasts of cold air coming down on me from the console, it could have been the person in front of me that moved in their seat every 10 seconds, it could have been the flight attendants passing out food and pillows, or the announcement that everyone that wasn't a UK citizen needed to fill out an immigration form, but I was awake although very groggy and tired of sitting. I knew that things weren't right when in trying to complete my immigration form, I copied some of the information from girl's card. Ok, I copied almost everything, which wasn't that smart. I probably should have paid more attention to what I was doing, but after the adventure of leaving the country, I was too busy just being happy about making our flights.

I had visited the folks in Seaham before, back in 2006. The fans from Sunderland AFC came over to Portland in 2005 as part of an American tour, and they traveled about 400 or so fans. Portland was the last stop on the trip, and needless to say, we made quite an impression with them about our crazy passion, fervor for the game, and ability to drink. One of their super fans, Gary, invited us to visit on tour in 2006, and so 33 of us made the journey across the pond. For me, the trip was my first trip overseas but represented something more than that. My mom had died from cancer back in September 2005, and one thing she made me promise to do was to go on the trip because I was waffling about it. She said it would be one of those things you'll never forget, and she was right. The fans were amazing, and we had a very fun and crazy 6 day tour of Sunderland and Seaham. Our friends from Sunderland came back in 2007 to Portland, and at that point, I'd mentioned possibly coming over in 2008 as part of our honeymoon.

Many TA folks had talked about going, but after a few weeks, it turned out it was just me and girl. After trading plenty of emails and posts on our board, I had a feeling that there were many crazy plans at work, and turns out I was more right than I knew. Gary had been working on lots of events for us during our 5 days in Seaham, even arranging for us to stay in the same hotel that we stayed at in 2006 in the downtown area.

We touched down in London at about 9:30 AM local time in Terminal 3, and we headed off to immigration. Needless to say, my bad penmanship and scribbles didn't cause any issues as we informed them of our trek up north. Once we collected our bags, it was off to find some food. We found a nice eatery in the airport, and we had a tasty breakfast and strong English coffee. I may have been groggy in the AM, but after drinking this stuff, I was wired. Plus, we both ate the tomato included with the breakfast. Ok, I tried to eat it and made it through a small wedge. I negotiated a trade for mushrooms to get rid of my tomato. Our flight up north wasn't scheduled until 3:30 PM, so we had some time to sit about and wait. But knowing we had to check in for our flight 2 hours early, we didn't want to wait too long. So about noon, we wandered to catch the Underground to Terminal 5.

I'd heard stories about the Underground from girl during her stays in London, and our bathroom downstairs is done up like an Underground station, from the Tube map on the wall to the the camera in the upper left corner to a Underground station sign painted on the wall with the colors of the tube stops servicing it. We were able to travel to Terminal 5 for free, and so we headed off to catch the tube.

To say it's underground is an understatement. We took a few escalators to get to the station which was very far down in the ground and extremely quiet. You also heard a lot of announcements about minding the gap, which basically meant watch your step getting on and off the train because there is a slight gap between the train and the platform. A couple of brisk gusts of wind blew through the station, and then suddenly the train was there. Girl had said the trains were rather quiet, and it was another understatement. No conversations, no yelling, no noise, it was people sitting quietly with their luggage waiting for the station. If you take any form of public transportation in the States, it's as loud as a sporting event with random conversations, cell phone calls, and general mischief. Not here.

We pulled into our station, and took the escalators to Terminal 5. Terminal 5 is the world's largest terminal, apparently over 100 football pitches big. And yes, it's that big and somewhat barren. There's lots of space to just walk around in, although they did fill some areas with random modern art. I liked the flying books, but the orange telling me that it loved me was just plain creepy. Prior to our trip, Terminal 5 had opened the previous week to big press but lousy reviews. For the first few days, you couldn't check baggage at Terminal 5 because of technical problems, and then the following two days, luggage could be checked in but more than likely would end up somewhere than your destination city. Apparently the terminal was a complete mess for those days before we got there, but surprisingly, we saw a quiet large area with lots of people to help.

We checked into our Newcastle flight 2 1/2 hours early, but apparently you couldn't check bags until 2 hours ahead, so our wait was extended. Once our bags were able to join us, we ventured through Security. And I must say the Brits do security very well. We checked into a desk that took a photo of us, then we went through traditional security with x-rays. I spoke with a security officer who saw my Portland Timbers shirt and asked if it was a football team. When I said yes, he exclaimed he'd played in Rochester way back. When I said the Rhinos, he said, no the Lancers. Yes, NASL days. He remembered the Timbers from that time frame, and so we chatted for a few while girl was checking in.

Once we got through security, we headed to a large seating area and waited. Flights aren't assigned gates until about an hour before their departure, so everyone waits in a large area with lots of chairs and looks at various large TV screens. As gates are assigned, people get up and head to their gates, so you see folks constantly standing up. It's fun for people watching, but I admit it was distracting to sit and wait and stare at some big TV screen. And ok, I hadn't showered since Tuesday so I wasn't feeling all that fresh. We grabbed some sandwiches, sat around for what seemed like hours and hours, and then saw our gate assigned so we could move to another waiting area.

British Airways fed us again on the trip up North, which I think was my fourth or fifth meal, but considering I didn't know what time zone I was in, being hungry overruled the time of the day. We were supposed to meet Gary at our gate and then wait for his friend Oddie from Norway who was coming in to the same airport right after us. As we touched down, I felt a sense of relief that I didn't have to be in a plane for a few days. Gary met us, wearing his TA scarf, and told us we were heading directly to Seaham because Oddie's flight was delayed. In his car, he had two meat pies waiting for us. Being members of Row N in the TA, we hate clowns and love pies, so seeing pie waiting for us was very special. I ate mine rather quickly as apparently the sandwich didn't fill me up. The traffic wasn't too bad, and soon enough we were in Seaham at the Harbour View hotel.

We had stayed there in 2006, and nothing had really changed since the last time I was there. A pub and restaurant on the first floor, then stairs to the rooms above in the most narrow staircase I'd seen, the Harbour View is just very quaint and comfortable. We were put in room 7 overlooking the North Sea and the Seaham Cross, and when we walked upstairs, our door was decorated with pictures from our wedding. And of course, English beer in the room. Gary had some surgery a few days prior to our visit, and I could tell he was feeling it a bit, but being the gracious host, he let us get settled and showered and we wandered downstairs for a few pints. Well that was the plan, but there was some change in plan a bit.

For those of you that have never experienced power showers, they are quite common in England for areas where the water pressure isn't very good. The first time I'd seen them, it was weird taking a shower that made so much noise but they worked fairly well. I had a bit of difficulty remembering how they worked, but got it to work finally and I was cleaned up. Girl was going to shower after me and meet us downstairs, but the shower was having some issues as we couldn't get it to work. I went downstairs to get some help, and soon enough Iain was at our door.

Iain is the Harbour View owner, a right good Scot and a great guy who was one of our hosts back in 2006. He was happy to see me, and I explained the power shower issue, and he went right to work. After some tests and things, it was determined the shower might need to be replaced, so girl shuffled to another room to shower and then meet up with us. I don't know if I broke the fuse or just overloaded the circuits, but I felt bad at delaying her. She joined us a bit later, and we sat down to have a few pints with Gary and Paul. Paul lives in Seaham, and was part of both trips across the pond. He's an amazing guy as well, and one of the best drinkers I've ever met. Gary left us for a bit as Oddie's plane had arrived and he took the train from the airport to Seaham. Finally about 10 pm, we had all of our travelers, and Iain had joined our table wearing a special Portland Timbers kit we had signed for him for a few drinks. Gary told us a few times that we wouldn't forget the next few days. I had a feeling he was probably right, but for now, I was just happy to be there with my wife. We settled in about 12 AM and were going to head to Durham the next day for sight seeing until that evening, when our special surprise party was happening. As I faded off to sleep, I was just relieved to be there and tried to prepare myself for the next few days' adventures.

Next Time - Castles, Plopper, Crazy Busses, Reception...Oh My!!!

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