Florida Sailor visits the UK - what are his first impressions?
Florida Sailor's UK Trip - Part One
After almost two months planing, things were falling in line;
First I had to obtain my Passport, a brief look through my drawer of important, and useless, papers (the big one between the computer and my knees) reviled the yellowing paper with the official seal that stated I exist.
I filled out the Passport form on-line and printed it out so I could present it to the local Clerk of the Court. She studied all of my documents and shook her head - my paper said 'Certificate of Birth' rather than 'Birth Certificate'. They MIGHT accept it though, did I want to go ahead, or apply for a different certificate? I decided to forge ahead, but paid an extra $100.00 US (at this time $1.71 US = 1 GBP) for expedited delivery. I did not want to spend any money until I was sure I could actually make the trip. While I waited I started checking airfares every night, so I could book my flight at a reasonable rate.
My passport arrived on Thursday afternoon. I started looking at the airlines, but my wife decided that we should go visit the neighbours for an hour or two. When we got back I was shocked to find most of the prices had almost doubled! Don't Panic!
By the start of the week prices had fallen as expected and I even found a direct flight from Tampa to Gatwick. With the booking of three hotels the trip was underway.
It was almost time for the Adventures to begin!
Even though my flight was not scheduled to depart until 6:30PM, I had put in for the full day off from work to allow time for packing and a last trip to the local stores. An E-Mail and call from the Airline told me that my flight had been delayed by two hours, in fact it was only 1 hour and 45 minutes. I managed the re-schedule my shuttle to the airport and double checked my luggage, a large purple duffel bag to check and a smaller black case to travel aboard.
The trip to the airport and flight deserve little comment here, except to perhaps report that I exchanged enough funds to to place £350 so I would not arrive without any money that could be spent.
Arrival at Gatwick airport at about 8:30 AM, I tried very hard to ignore it was only 3:30 AM my time. First a dash through the isolation corridors of the airport to arrive at the immigration portals, divided into 'From EU' and 'Others'. I was an 'Other'
All went well until I was asked 'What is the purpose of your visit to the UK?', being basically honest I tried to explain I had decided to share a few pints in a pub with good friends - that I had not actually met before. This is apparently a bit unusual, but after explaining my story to a second agent I was allowed to proceed to the baggage claim area.
My large purple duffel was easy to spot on the belt, even though it seemed much larger than the one I remembered checking in. Then came the run through Customs. Green, Blue and the dreaded Red lanes awaited. My research paid off as I picked the Green lane, passing freely past the last of the serious border guards, I emerged into the UK as an admitted guest.
It was now time to proceed to London. A shuttle to the other terminal brought me to the railway terminal and I purchased a day pass that would cover my passage. I found myself on the platform waiting for the 10:38 train to the city. As train time grew closer others began to assemble for the ride.
When the doors opened the coach was quite crowded, but I managed to cram myself into the vestibule. There was a woman with her bicycle that prevented me from proceeding further. About 3 stations down the line she disembarked and I moved myself and bags into her space. She apparently changed her mind and re-boarded. For the next few stops I had a tyre pressed into my thigh, until she left the train for good. In good time we arrived at Victoria station. I had plans to grab the Tube and proceed to my hotel.
If I had only known, I would have done far better studying the buses than the tube (I blame the 'Mornington Crescent' Game). I am used to US subways (underground trains, but more on that later). The Victoria Station was closed for renovations, but I was sure I could find another station while exploring Westminster. I arrived at the base of Big Ben just as it was striking noon, I thought it might be fun to call my wife with the bell striking in the background, the mobile refused to connect! The joys of overseas travel
I soon found the entry to Westminster Underground station with a long flight of stairs and no lift. I decided to blow the budget and hail a Black Cab. After £20.00 or so I arrived at the Georgian town house in Bloomsbury and my tiny room in the basement. The toilet was just down the hall, past the office, I did have a shower and sink in the room. I would say you had to leave the room to change your mind, but the private foyer (shared only with the adjacent room) was almost large enough. I had decided to try small 'Bed and Breakfasts for my first few nights in the UK, both for expense and the experience.
I did have a free Internet connection, so I decided to check in with h2g2. I found my UK plug adapter, put it into the socket and hit the power button. The loud siren started wailing almost immediately. I unplugged and shut down on battery. As soon as all was secure I went to find a staff member to see what I had done wrong. As I walked into the office the clerk said 'So sorry, I should have warned you we have to test the fire alarms every week.' It was not until later I leaned that I had not even been connected to the circuit.
It was daylight so I decided to learn the neighbourhood on foot and try to find the pubs for our meets. A short walk around the block found a Samsung store so I stopped to see if I could find a solution to calling home. £30 sim card cured the problem and I was able to call my wife with far less expense than I expected. The rest of my trip resulted with the knowledge that street names are posted on building walls at the second storey level, but only on roads that have approaching traffic. and roads turn and change names seemingly at random. After walking only 20 miles or so (please excuse if I use obscure colonial numbers) I had located both pubs, the Royal Court House and St Paul's Cathedral along the way. I returned to my room for a short rest.
I managed to arrive at Pendral's Oak in plenty of time to meet up with Bald Bloke, but totally confused about which floor that I had actually found a table. After about three mobile calls we managed to meet at a table with no chairs at the basement bar. I was presented with my blue h2g2 T-shirt and a tote bag. After a single pint (or was it two?) I decided to call it a night after having only a couple hours sleep on the plane in 48 hours. A 15 minute walk back to my hotel and I ended my first day in London. Checking the display on my mobile phone I saw that one of the battery bars was gone so I decided to plug it in overnight so it would be charged for the meet.
A fitful night's sleep, I forced myself to lie in bed, even though I wavered between wakefulness and a desire to sleep. At last the window showed signs of blue. I again checked the mobile and found the same bar was still dark. It was only then that I noticed a pair of toggle switches, like the ones we use for lights, installed in the plug. Flipping the switch brought up the charging screen and I had learned another lesson about life in the UK.
Next time it's the Meet proper.