I made it to London safely, but it wasn’t without a few snags. For starters, the flight was overbooked because the Sunday flight was cancelled, and they were trying to cram as many people on board as possible.
There was no way a mere $800 voucher was going to lure me away from taking my rightful crummy uncomfortable seat on the plane.
After the delay of sorting out who was going to get to board and who was not, we all got on the plane, and sat there at the gate.
And sat there.
And sat there.
We sat there for two hours because there were thunderstorms in the area, and the ground crews weren’t allowed outside to service the plane until the storms had passed for about 15 minutes.
So we sat there some more.
We finally got off the ground at about 8:15 p.m. or so– horribly late, but it couldn’t be helped.
I sat next to a nice guy from Kenya who was very big. Not fat, mind you, just a big, strong person. So we were both a little uncomfortable as we were crammed into those tiny little seats with our bulky bodies. And the guy sitting in front of me was headed to Afghanistan, so I agreed to let him recline a little. I know he’s not going to get much in the way of comfort for a while, so it was the least I could do.
Because no good deed goes unpunished, and I was sitting right in front of the bulkhead, I suffered for my kindness. I had all of 3 inches of reclining room. My knees were bruised when I got to London.
I’m never sitting in front of the bulkhead again.
Well, not in coach, anyway.
Arrival in London
We got to Heathrow at around 8:50 a.m. London time, completely blowing everyone’s schedules to bits, and causing just about everyone who had a connecting flight to miss it.
Lucky me, I didn’t have a connection to make.
Border control was uneventful. The line was long and moved slowly, but uneventful.
One thing you might want to keep in mind– they want the address of the place you’re going to be staying at in the UK for the landing card, so it would be useful to print that out, or write it on your hand, or something.
Customs was nonexistent. There was nobody there to check my bags for anything. I spent all of that effort to get all of those doctors’ notes, only to find out that nobody here cared.
Dammit, or is it yay?
Should I be upset that I wasted the effort, or I happy that I didn’t have to go through the frustration of having my bags forcefully unpacked again? Am I an idiot or what? Of course I’m happy that I didn’t have to go through the hassle of a customs inspection.
I suppose I should explain first. You see, I travel with a few medications. So in order to travel with this medicine without getting a nice pair of steel bracelets from angry border officials, I like to make sure I have all of the necessary paperwork done. The last time I went to Japan, even though I had the right paperwork, I still got hassled.
Before heading to the UK, I spent about 2 weeks trying to find out just what the hell the rules were, and got all kinds of interesting answers. I played all sorts of variations of phone tag, one version of which included a Home Office official claiming that the Home Office did not have jurisdiction over controlled substances.
This is the equivalent in the US of a DEA agent saying, “We don’t handle drug offenses.”
Eventually I found a web page on the Home Office website with some loose guidelines, and just closed my eyes and got as many notes and papers as I could.
Turns out it was all a waste of time, because apparently nobody in England cares about what’s in my bags when I get off the plane.
So while I was relieved that I didn’t have to go through a forced unpacking and lots of paper-shuffling, I was still irritated that I had wasted so much effort gathering paperwork.
One of my doctors even charged me $25 US for a travel letter, and wouldn’t even write the thing until I had sent him the money.
How Do I Get to Earls Court?
Getting to the hotel from the airport was a bit tricky, mainly because I had never done it before, so I was completely confused. I have to admit in a moment of honesty it’s kind of fun in a strange kind of way to be dropped in a strange city and have to figure out where to go next.
I found the Heathrow Express to Paddington just fine, but missed the first train. The second train pulled in, but we were told that we weren’t allowed to ride it unless we had first class tickets, which is just as well, because it turns out that it was going to stop at every station along the way. There’s no express in that.
Finally, I could get on the third train, which showed up after about 10 minutes total of waiting. Not bad.
I pulled into Paddington, and was slightly bewildered. So many places to eat. I was hungry, tired, and carrying tons of junk with me. I was glad I only had the one suitcase, but I was wishing the backpack didn’t weigh 35 pounds. It didn’t feel that heavy, just really bulky.
I finally figured out where the Tube was, and made my way there. Then I saw a sign that regretfully informed me of “Severe Delays” on the District Line, which was supposed to take me to Earls Court.
Well, that’s no good.
So I stared at the sign, in hopes that some more useful information would come forth.
It didn’t come forth.
I stared some more, because I was jet-lagged and feeling a bit dumber than usual.
It still didn’t come forth.
I saw a window with a sign that said “Tickets and Assistance.” “Well,” I thought, “I could use some assistance.” Naively, I stood in line. Then I overheard a woman complain bitterly in German that the people behind the window were very “unfreundlich.”
I lowered my expectations appropriately, and the man behind the window did not fail to disappoint. When I asked him how I should get to Earls Court, he said “Go to platform 1 and take a bus.”
And that was that.
I have no idea what lies at platform 1, or which buses I can take, so I stared stupidly at the bus map for 10-15 minutes until giving up, grabbing a Tube map, and just figuring out that if I ride enough trains, I can go around whatever is clogging up the District Line.
So I did just that. I rode the pink line, whatever it’s called, to Hammersmith, and caught the Piccadilly line there to go to Earl’s Court.
By the way, there are no lifts at Earls Court for luggage right now. Fun.
I highly recommend not traveling at all with luggage if you can possibly swing it.
I have been party to some pitiful scenes, and seen many more pitiful scenes of others like me carrying bloated, obscenely heavy suitcases through places they were not meant to be carried.
Places like Earls Court train station.
Or JR Nara.
But there are far worse places than those two.
All Your Base2Stay Are Belong to Us
Anyway, I made it to the hotel after 2 hours of fumbling around on the trains, and managed to dump my bags there and freshen up in the hotel’s WC.
Then it was off to Gourmet Burger Kitchen for lunch, which was a chicken sandwich, chips (fries–whatever), and lots of lemonade with no free refills, and then off to Marks & Spencer’s for foodstuffs.
After check-in, the nice folks at Base2Stay had kindly moved my bags into my room for me (thank you very much), so all I had to do was drop off a few things, and head to Car Phone Warehouse to pick up a Vodaphone pay-as-I-go SIM card for my phone.
That evening, I found a little Italian place that made a decent cheese pizza, because I like to eat pizza when I’m jetlagged.
The sun sets at 9:45 p.m. or so, and rises at around 3:45 a.m. Very weird. It’s making me goofy already.