1st July, 2016
After a pretty long nap on the airplane, I woke up hoping to see a sunrise over the Atlantic before we touched down, but all I got was some cloud cover. I never really saw the water.
When we landed at London Gatwick Airport the next morning, we were greeted with what we’d expected from London–rainy skies.
Once inside Gatwick, I was delighted to find a very 1970s décor. I also discovered when I ducked into the Ladies’ that I’d find a lot of different ways to flush the toilet while in England–this one looked like a button, but was a sensor that you waved your hand in front of.
When we went to the queue for international check-ins (they don’t call it “customs”), we could see it would be a long wait. There were a lot of folks on our flight, but a few other large flights had come in at the same time. It took a while to get to the front and there was no air conditioning to be had in the queue.
Lucky for us, we are easily entertained. There was an airport employee standing at the back of the queue whose sole job it seemed was to check landing cards (aka our declaration statements). He seemed straight out of a Monty Python skit, with an olive green suit to match the décor and a continually repeated phrase: “Helllloooo! Do you have a landing card?” Think of John Cleese’s character greeting guests in Fawlty Towers. We giggled every time he said it, and it kept us from getting too annoyed by the heat and 12-inch shuffle we made every couple of minutes.
Once we made it through the check-in (very painless, I might add), we made a beeline for the train into the city. It’s about a 30-minute ride into Blackfriars–which, it turned out, wasn’t the best choice for stopping based on where we were staying in the city and what was going on with repairs and routine maintenance on the tube.
There should have been a straight shot from this station to Liverpool Street on the Circle Line, but it was broken down. We waited a while, and a tube worker told us it would be at least half an hour, maybe more, so he directed us to take a District train to Monument and then hike over to Bank and catch the Central line to Liverpool.
It might not sound like it, but it was straightforward enough. The London Underground is laid out well and easy to learn.
What we weren’t anticipating was what that hike from Monument to Bank would be like. The kind fellow said, “It’s quite a long walk,” but he didn’t mention the stairs. Oh, the stairs. Some steep flights, some broken up into smaller sets, some up, some down, some moving, some not.
We were carrying luggage. A lot of luggage. Rolling bags and stairs/escalators aren’t friends, especially when you’re trying to carry a backpack and balancing other stuff on top. In Nathan’s case, he was carrying a suitcase and a box, both loaded with stuff for his old roommate, who now lives in Godmanchester. It was over 75 pounds worth, plus his backpack with all his gear for the trip. Not fun. I had less to carry, but I was already tired of hauling it around by that point.
By the time we were doing this, it was around noon, and really, really busy in the tube. That meant it was hot and muggy down there, too.
(In the tube worker’s defense, when we walked it without luggage–more than once in our time there, since there was routine maintenance going on for several lines–it really was just a long walk. Not the grueling ordeal that we’d experienced on the first day, despite all the stairs.)
We emerged into the busy streets of London to a heavy drizzle and trudged the four blocks (plus another two or so of way-finding) to where we were staying, The Tune Hotel. Thankfully, they allow early check-in for £15, because it was only 13.00 and check-in wasn’t until 15.00. The room was tiny, but clean enough, and it had this neat little control panel that activated everything in the room, including the lights.
After over 30 hours of travel, there’s nothing quite like a hot shower to brighten your mood. Refreshed and hungry, but too tired to venture out into the streets just yet, we headed to the pub next door: The Water Poet.
We had a few pints of excellent local beer and shared a big platter of fish ‘n chips with minty mushy peas. I wish I’d taken a picture of it because it was the best we had during our first week in the UK. Even better, the barroom we chose to sit in played David Bowie the whole time.
After we felt slightly buzzed, we walked to a nearby shop to check out the British snack options, then headed back to the hotel. (I’ll write more about snacks later. They deserve their own post.)
We unceremoniously passed out before 21.00. I woke up face down in the newspaper with the light on at some point in the night, so clearly I didn’t realize how tired I was! London would have to wait until the next day for us to go exploring.