Sunday, June 22, 2008

Being Quiet on a Train, and Gee, This Place Looks a Lot Like Portland.

April 22nd - Arrival In London

I love British Airways. Seriously, they take care of you very well on flights, from the well planned meals that aren't too terrible, plenty of reading materials, and great customer service. We took off, settled in, and had some great sandwiches, and within a half an hour of takeoff, we had the announcement that we had to fill out another immigration card to get into the UK. Not wanting a repeat of the last adventure with the card, I paid attention and filled it out right and without making mistakes. We also rounded up our remaining Euros for exchange once we landed.

We landed again in Terminal 5, and again had no issues with landing or immigration. We breezed along with a minimum of questions, and our bags were waiting for us once we found the claim spot. The London weather was a bit better this time, as the sun was shining but it wasn't too terribly warm. We collected our things, and soon were off to find an Underground ticket machine to buy fare to Tower Hill, this being the closest terminal to our flat. We had to take the Picadilly line into town, then switch to the District Line to get us to our stop, which should take about 45 minutes. It was early part of the afternoon, and our hope was to get to where we needed to go before the rush hour commute started.

The Underground is extremely quiet, as people sit and read or listen to music, but conversations just don't happen on it. And when they do, it's usually tourists that don't realize this standard. Girl and I found a spot with our bags, putting our backpacks on our laps, and sat quietly and relaxed cause we would be on the train for a bit. The Picadilly line is unusual in the fact that at the far west end of the line, it's actually above ground, so it reminds me of the MAX here in Portland. There's a bit more advertisements in English stations, and there's the announcements to mind the gap, but outside of that, it looks about the same. By the way, the Mind the Gap thing is an announcement reminding riders to mind the gap between the train and the platform, which can be a few inches and slightly up or down. Just want you to pay attention to what you are doing.

We decided to switch trains at Hammersmith, because it's a level crossing, and so we quickly moved from line to line in a matter of moments. Not bad timing, as a District train is right there. It's a bit crowded, but we were able to find a spot for us and luggage, so soon we were off. Not bad for 4 pounds, getting from point A to point B. We are now truly underground, as the only things you see outside the trains are train stations and tunnel walls. In many case, there are only a couple of inches between the train and the wall. I also noticed the lack of rubbish in the train stations despite no trash cans about, which was a nice touch and I was reminded of why there are no rubbish bins in the train areas. We finally arrive at Tower Hill, and soon make our way up the stairs to the station exit. The Underground requires you to scan your ticket to get into the station, but you also scan your ticket to leave. Sometimes, the ticket is kept while other times you keep it for proof of fare. In this case, we got to keep our ticket, but I had an adventure trying to get my bag through the gate.

Once we were free of the station, we were on street level and trying to find our flat. Oh, look, the Tower of London is right across the street. And there's Tower Bridge, very tall and stoic crossing the Thames. But we were on task to try and find our way to the flat. After a couple of pedestrian loops about and crossing streets, we got our bearings and headed east. I did like the touches on the crosswalks telling you which direction to look for traffic, but I didn't like one of the wheels of my luggage rubbing on the wheel well which now means I'm dragging my bag. I'm really starting to get a bit drained, but we soon find a grocery store complex and then a crosswalk which then is the street we need to find the flat. Soon enough, we wander through this residential area, over a canal, and to a small cul de sac. We finally find number 80, and our flat is now ours.

It's a nice little place near Wapping, studio size with a Murphy bed, nice size futon, cable TV, a small kitchen, bathroom, and nice closet space. Oh, and our badly needed washer. The flat has some supplies already there, as the flat has a community approach to supplies. You buy stuff and leave it there, and you can use anything that is already there in the flat, sort of a community approach, but definitely keep things there to avoid the kharma wrath. We found detergent, some coffee, and lots of other things for use. We also sat for a bit and relaxed, knowing we didn't have to be up at any given time. We read the packet of information for us to get a lay of the land, and saw that today was trash day for our flat. We decided to do a bit of wash, walk about for a bit, and grab some stuff for dinner.

The Thames isn't too far of a walk from the flat, as we check out the waterfront and the surrounding area. We soon wander back to the grocery store, and grab some essentials for dinner and breakfast. Oh, and Quavers and alcohol. Ok, I love Quavers, and so I had to grab a few bags, while we decided on angus burgers for dinner. We also picked up some condiments, bread, tea, and newspapers, so we were all set for the night. We get back in time to do a little cooking, settle in for some telly, and put out our trash for the night. I also got to see my first episode of EastEnders, which is a staple here in the UK. Ok, it's a soap opera but the stories are fascinating and the characters are pretty normal folk. We got to bed at a reasonable hour, wanting to wander about town tomorrow.

April 23rd - The Thames River

We slept in, which was very much needed, and had a hearty breakfast of bacon sandwiches and coffee. I was just happy to be able to sleep through the night, but we had also made a friend in the process.

Our flat is next door to another flat owned by Arthur, a rather right British bloke. He smoked his pipe everywhere, and tended to his garden downstairs. We read about Arthur in our welcome pack that he didn't mind the tourists coming in, but please respect his privacy and keep your noise level down. We had done a good job with this on night one, but we also put out our trash and before our excursion, we pulled in our can plus his for storage to be nice. Girl had noticed his TV was kept up last evenings, and apparently in the blog post about the flat, the TV noise was mentioned as an issue. But I can imagine it might be due to inconsiderate neighbors, for which we didn't want to fall into.

We had started doing laundry, but by now, the clothes to wear were at a minimum, as I dressed in slacks and a collared shirt for our excursion down the Thames. We left mid afternoon, and walked from Wapping down to Westminster. The waterfront path took us under the Tower Bridge, past London Bridge, a few others, all the way to Westminster Bridge near the Eye. All the while walking along the Thames, I'm reminded of Portland with the river running near downtown and bridges everywhere. We see a few tourists about, but we don't hit the big tour groups until we get near Westminster. It's weird seeing this bridge with people on it, as the last time I'd seen it was in 28 Weeks Later completely abandoned. We wander past Big Ben, the Parliament area, up a major road and find our way to Trafalgar Square. It's actually St. George's holiday in Britain, so there's a large celebration in the square. I'm happily taking photos, and reveling in the fact that we helped celebrate major holidays in Rome and London while here.

I'm also getting a bit thirsty from the walking about, and so we wander up to Leicester Square to find some water and batteries for my camera. In my focus to find batteries, though, I wandered past a few places that sold water which girl found amusing or annoying. I lost a bit of focus, but once we had water, we found batteries and we were good to go. Leicester Square has some theatres nearby, and many UK movie premieres happen right here. We soon wandered over to Picadilly Circus to get shots with the famous billboards, and then headed back toward the Thames through St. James Park. Apparently, this is one of the smaller parks in London, but it was fairly huge and full of people and flowers. It was a gorgeous day, and people were enjoying the weather. We found our way back to Westminster and decided to take the tube back to our flat. Easy enough, we squish our way on a train, and we're back at Tower Hill in no time flat.

We stop at the market again to grab a few essentials, and as we arrive back at the flat, we meet Arthur in person. He's amazed we came so far to enjoy London, but he's a delightful person to chat with, and we made an impression by keeping quiet the preceding night, and by pulling in the rubbish bins. As we settled in for dinner and TV, we noticed Arthur's TV isn't as loud as previous nights. We watched EastEnders, drank a bit of wine and cider, ate some great food, and decided that tomorrow, we would venture to find a Tesco market. Girl loved shopping there, and apparently, there's one in Canary Wharf that's not too terribly far away per the phone book. As we settled in to bed, I never realized that one of the most important lessons in my married life was about to happen...

Next Time - A Lesson in the Rain, And Fun on the English Beach.

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