Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Travel Reflections on England

First Impressions of London
After being unfortunately booted from business class (where I left my complimentary toiletries, ear plugs, classy socks etc) into economy, I arrived a little more rumpled but ready and excited. Heathrow is under repair and we emerged into a Hajj type gathering, 10 abreast under low temporary ceilings, drooping flouros and makeshift walls. Slightly oppressive. Forty minutes later
we had shuffled through to the luggage, which was also delayed (four large aircraft arriving simultaneously apparently – yes, this is not Libya, this is London!). After previous warnings, decided not to respond to the urgent entreaties of a taxi touter, but stood in line – confident that I’d get a fair English deal. One slight problem – I was relying on my credit card till the accommodation, as I figured airport rates would more expensive than local exchange, but the taxi informed me at the end of the ride, that he doesn’t take credit cards on Sunday. He complained at length about how many days he has to wait to get paid from the airport, and how hard it is to get his money – cash only. So another 15 pounds and four ‘not working’ cash dispensers later (they don’t take cards on Sunday either it seems) I got my cash and paid the driver.
The accommodation is student type and frugal, with a breakfast room, outdoor garden/eating area, computing room and tiny narrow corridors. With suitcases dumped in the luggage room until check in time, I managed to find a free bathroom and cleaned up. I think I counted 8 pipes above the narrow shower area – like showering under a city plumbing station! Still, it was good to be clean.
Next headed out to begin exploring. First stop, the corner shop for a paper around the corner. Next to it, a small and comfortable little street mall with cafes, cheap but nutritious pastries, cakes and a range of cheap but nutritious dinner foods – 4 pounds for dinner – and excellent coffee! Hey, I’m in the right place! Touring the streets it reminded me about how old London is, the children’s refuge with the founder’s statue outside – 1685 – 1750, still running, still caring for kids. Trees in the parks are huge, with thousands of rustling leaves as you walk underneath, and nearly every building has festoons of coloured plants dripping from planters on the street walk, and planters even on fourth storey window sills. As I focussed my camera on a huge old hotel, a passing tourist alerted me to a skinny little squirrel sitting on the ground watching me, then dashing off into the park’s bushes before I could catch his photo.
I’m now eating in Brunswick – an up-market, comfortable piazza style shopping area with a fabulous range of gourmet foods, although I’ve opted for scrambled eggs and grainy toast. The coffee around the corner is still the best so far.

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