Thursday, March 04, 2010

London Day 2: We Can Be Happy Underground

28 February 2010

Woke up at 7:15 after sleeping like a rock all night. Checked out from the London Marriott Hotel Kensington. I emerged in London rain, pouring rain and 4 degrees C.

We drove to Harrods Department Store, which doesn't open until 11, at least 90 minutes after we got there. You can park for free in London on the weekend, and we got a choice spot right next to Harrods on a side road. We walked around and found a patisserie called Paul for breakfast. I had the French equivalent of the Guglhupf Brezel roll with ham and cheese, an almond croissant, and a cappuccino. It was awesome and authentic. I think the people working there were French, as were most of the people eating there. That's a very good sign, and a recurring theme here.

From there we walked to the Knightsbridge train station, but it was closed, so we walked to the Hyde Park Corner station, and took the Picadilly Line train (via another 1-day unlimited zone 1-2 pass) to the Picadilly Circus, which is strikingly similar to Times Square, but on a smaller scale.

We went to a sporting goods store called Lillywhites where I bought another shirt and a big golf umbrella for a grand total of £6. Since I now had an umbrella, which I suspect may be magical, it stopped raining. Haven't opened my umbrella yet. I wonder if there's a unicorn hair in the shaft.

Took the Picadilly line to the Covent Garden station and the London Transport Museum.

There was a great old covered marketplace there as well as the museum which was a good deal at £8 (much better than the £17 I would've spent at the Tower of London).

From there we took the tube back to near Harrods,
Retail Therapy
and ate late lunch at a Lebanese place called Al Araz, on Brompton Street right across from Harrods. Once again, the same deal with the Lebanese workers and customers. Tom and I both got the mixed shawarma plate, some allegedly spicy hummus, a couple of pastries, and I got some yogurt drink with dried mint. That part was just OK, but the rest was excellent and a lot of food. Total for that meal (for me) was £12.50.

By now Harrods was open, so we went in. OMG! I've never seen a £75,000 watch before, nor a 3-foot tall, £795 chocolate Easter egg. It was overwhelming, and I couldn't imagine buying pretty much anything there. It was like Willy Wonka opened his own mall.

We took the surprisingly convoluted and nerve-wracking drive to Ware in our rental car, checked in to the Hanbury Manor (more on that tomorrow or later) and met the other four (Bill and Terry from JCI, Linda and Nellie from GSK) in the "library" which was all Harry Potter looking for some extremely overpriced drinks (£12 for a cocktail). I don't see myself eating or drinking in the hotel any more than absolutely necessary.

So that's about it. I'm working on pictures, washing a bunch of clothes in the sink, and trying to get to bed at a decent hour, but since it's now 23:30 and I have to finish washing one pair of pants and a shirt yet, that probably won't happen. I do have to work tomorrow after all, since that is the real reason I'm here, so I should go to bed.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010

London, Saturday 27 Feb 2010

Here's my day, in summary. I need to write it down in my journal, but I'm getting very sleepy. It's 11:15pm here.

The plane left on time, arrived on time, coach class pretty much sucks other than that the chick sitting next to me moved so I ended up with just OK amounts of space. I think I slept a few hours on the plane. We arrived at Heathrow on time, immigration and customs were a breeze, and the weather was cold and cloudy and rainy and sunny. It changes a lot and often.

Tom got his rental car and we got a Nüvi with it. Otherwise, I think we'd still be looking for the hotel. London is not as crazy as Paris, but everything is on the wrong side, so that is surreal.

We went to the hotel, Marriott London Kensington,
checked our luggage in, and headed out on foot.

We walked to the Gloucester station and got a one-day 1&2 zone unlimited travel pass for the tube/undergound/subway (£5.60 £1 = $1.53). We took the District line to the Tower Hill station, and then got lunch in a pub built under a bridge called The Minories. Fish and chips and cider. There's A LOT of cider here, and several different brands of pear cider. I should not have had two pints of cider with lunch.

We walked around the pub area, got some pounds from the ATM, saw a commercial being filmed, and went to the London Tower / Tower Bridge area. I think I got some good photos. We found a brasserie (with a bathroom! Here's me right before finding a place with a bathroom)

called Cafe Rouge, and got some coffee. From there, back to the now crowded Underground, and off at the Victoria Station. We found a Vodafone mobile phone store in the station, and both bought a £30 phone that came with £10 airtime, plus bought an additional £20 top-up, for a total of £50. Incoming calls from everywhere are free, outgoing calls to the US are only 5p a minute (AT&T charges 12x that BOTH WAYS), and calls within the UK are 20p a minute. What a deal. After taking the tube back to the Gloucester station we found a post office and got some stamps and touristy stuff, then walked back to the hotel to properly check in. Fortunately, we took the Nüvi with us.

We went to dinner at a real Italian restaurant called (restaurant name) that was loaded with real Italians, and a couple of French people. It was just like being back in Italy. on the way home we stopped at the Sainsbury's supermarket and got some stuff like water, and weird and wonderful British candy.

I'm back in the hotel in Kensington, and need to get to bed. We'll probably go back to the London Tower tomorrow and do the tour proper, then drive up to Ware, where the rest of our group will eventually be.
Monday, March 01, 2010

Onward through the Night

Image courtesy

February 26th, 2010

I'm on an airplane! Why am I on an airplane? I'm going to England for two weeks for work. This all happened so fast that I still can't wrap my head around it. I've tried to worm my way onto many an international business trip, always to no avail, but here I am now at 40 on a trip to England for 14 days, and it wasn't even my idea.

I've only told a few people at this point, mainly because I wasn't sure this was going to actually happen until about a week or so ago, and I secretly feared the plans would change and the whole deal would be off.

There are several people going over from work; some from GSK and some from JCI, including Tom, my GSK manager (the guy that hired me 5+ years ago), and Terry, my current JCI supervisor. Tom and I are flying today (Friday night), staying in London Saturday night, and driving up to Ware, Hertfordshire Sunday where we'll be working long hours through Friday. We're trying to figure out how to get to Bruges, Belgium for the weekend next weekend, then back to Ware for the second week, and then fly home Saturday, March 13th. That's the plan at this point, anyway.

England has never been high on my list of places I wanted to visit. I'm not sure why, or what I have against England. Maybe because Jennifer is not really a fan, so the UK never came up as a family travel destination, possibly, and I didn't imagine myself planning vacations as a solo traveler, but since this is work and not vacation, it worked out. I'm here to work, officially, but I'm going to work fun into the downtime regardless, because "that's how I roll." On the plus side - I speak the language (I took English in school.) Not that not speaking the language has ever been a problem for me when traveling, and in fact, I prefer non-English speaking countries because they tend to scare American tourists off, particularly the novices. The last things I want to see on a foreign vacation are other Americans. On the downside, I'm a foodie and I'm currently under the impression (or stereotype) that British food is not wonderful. That's OK. I'm still going to try as much as I can, avoid American food entirely (if possible, it is one of the Traveling Roths Rules of Travel™ after all) and make the most of my time in the not-USA.

Now for some housekeeping. I'm flying on American Airlines Flight 147 direct between Raleigh-Durham and London Heathrow. Boarded at Gate C23 (first time in the brand new C terminal. It's nice, but where are the power outlets?) Boing 767-300ER, seat 37A. Like always, no checked baggage. My camera/laptop bag is at my feet and I have no room. There was a chick in the aisle seat next to me who asked if wanted the aisle seat in the center section a row up so here little friend could sit with her, but I declined. I book window seats for a reason. Fortunately, after takeoff she went up and took the center-center seat next to her friend, much to the chagrin of the other guy on the other aisle who had until that point had an empty seat next to him. But to my benefit, I now have space to spread out.

8:50 GMT We're in a holding pattern over London for an alleged 15 minutes. It's too cloudy to see anything. The rest of the flight was uneventful, and I did manage to sleep some. Going East is always tough, but at a time difference of only five hours, not too tough. Weather is 40s (~4C) and cloudy/rainy.
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