Arrival in London, England

Wednesday, July 7, 1999

I am still getting ready to go. Antonia was nice enough to let me borrow her lap-top, so we should be able to update the site with photos and writing from time to time.

Our plane leaves at 4:05 pm PST Wednesday from SFO. It is United flight 2049v to LA, then United flight 934v to London's Heathrow airport.

We took the carpool-express lane over to the Bay Bridge, with a new twist: we didn't pay the toll. It turns out that if you ignore the first three BUSES ONLY signs, that you eventually get to the CARPOOLS OK signs, and drive around the toll booths, saving $2 and 10 minutes. San Francisco airport was easy, I thought we had to arrive two hours early for international flights, it turned out that because we were only on a domestic that CONNECTED with an international flight it was a very quick process.

The 737 to LA was great, Eric spotted the Playboy in the seatback pocket first.

When we arrived in LA, our names were being announced on the intercom, telling us to report immediately to Gate 72 for the 777 waiting on us to leave for London. The plane is massive, with little monitors on the seatbacks that show movies and report airspeed, altitude and show a map with the plane's progress. I watched some of Elizabeth, and all of The Out of Towners and The Other Side of the Ocean.

All the drinks were free, so we drank our share.

We arrived safely at Heathrow, London. The last announcement was that they had mislaid a few people's bags, one of which was mine. We waltzed through customs and changed some money at the airport. It was just past noon.

We figured out the Underground system enough to get to our hotel and set about it. As is turned out, they had my bag, but Tara's had been delayed, and was to meet us at the hotel.

Once we had settled in at the hotel Apollo, we went to a Hostel to make reservations for the weekend. We went to a mall, then a little pub to get some dinner and beer. We were trying to stay awake until nightfall, so that when we woke up, our internal clocks wouldn't be all tweaked. Tara gave up on that plan and headed back to the hotel around 6:30 pm. Eric and I walked around a bit until we ran into a Londoner in her 60s, walking her dog.

We asked her about where we should go sight-see for the next two hours and she told us what bus to catch to get to Trafalger Square. She also warned us that we should avoid building more skyscrapers in the USA, or we would suffer from stronger and more frequent tornados. She was very nice.

Eric and I really saw some London then, Nelson's Column, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. It was awesome! We felt guilty leaving Tara behind, so we didn't venture too far. We got back around 9:30, came home and went to bed.

Friday, July 9, 1999

On Friday, we woke up very early and got coffee at Starbucks. We caught the Tube to the British Museum to find it closed until 10 am. We killed 3 hours by going back over Trafalgar with Tara this time, then spotting the Thames. The British Museum was pretty impressive, with a good showing from Indian, Egyptian and European History. The Rosetta Stone, however, was not on display that day.

We wandered around the streets of London until 5, when we decided to head home and take a nap.

Long Marshmallows

I called Helen when I woke up, to try to arrange details for next week in Hastings.

That night we went down to Soho to find a nightclub. We had to root around a bit to find food first, but had good luck eventually. Tara wanted Eric and I to accompany her into Candybar, but the dyke on the door wouldn't let her bring more than one man into this particular club.

The Candybar was calling to Tara, so we decided to split up, with Eric and I going to a seedy disco called Gossip, they advertised the DJ as shite, and they upheld that claim. It wasn't a bad club to hang out in though, and we met some nice locals, including Kate Jacobs, P.A. to editor of Loaded Magazine, and her boyfriend Charles. The cigarette machine was labeled "Fag-o-matic" The beer was only in bottles, and it was suspiciously un-cold for £2.80 ($4.48). We left around 2:30 am, when Tara got out of her club, and had to catch a night bus back to our hotel.

This was our second and last night in the hotel before we moved across the street to a hostel called Quest Hotel.

Saturday, July 10, 1999

We woke up in time to enjoy the surprisingly good free continental breakfast: with silverware, orange juice and table-service, then we packed up and checked out.

The hostel is darker and we are sharing rooms, Tara is separate from Eric and I, because the hostel is full, but it is half as much as the hotel.

Tara on Tube Escalator

Friday we went to Wellington Arch, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, and saw the outside of the Tower of London as the museum was closing.

We were disappointed to find that we could not tour the Palace, as the queen was in residence until August. Furthermore, the stables and garages (called the Mews) were only open on Monday through Thursday. Still, it was remarkable. Buckingham palace gardens were large, and well guarded. Barbed wire was tastefully arranged on the top of all the garden walls, about 5 feet of barbed wire angled out toward the street. In front was a spectacular marble fountain with statues on top and all around, the Queen Victoria Memorial.

We had a rough time making it to the Tower Bridge, as some Underground routes were not running, so we came out at Waterloo International Railstation and took a bus over. Waterloo is amazing. A very high, glass arched ceiling combined with older elements and war memorials thrown in too. Here we paid 20p to pee, and we were on our way.

I love riding on the top of London buses, especially at the front. It is fast and scary, like a dark ride at an amusement park. That is where I sat for the trip to Tower Bridge. It is a very large bridge that spans a relatively small river and is only 2 lanes wide. It was built in 1894, however, and it is very impressive billing itself as the best known tourist attraction in the world. Nearby is the Tower of London, our first old-style castle. There is probably a term for all the different classes of castles, but I don't know them.

We were all tired and hungry by the time we got to the front of the Tower, so when we realized it was closing in 10 minutes, it was no great disappointment.

We tubed it back to Queensway, bought some sandwich items and ice cream at a grocer, and made ourselves a nice little meal for about £9.00. The hostel has a little kitchen, so it was easy to put together also.

Some observations for the day: There seem to be no posted speed limits anywhere, there are no cats whatsoever. Also, The Sweet Factory in Waterloo station was charging 85p for 100 grams, which is 3.8£ for one lb.

The hostel is very nice, it seems to be safe, and everyone is quite friendly.

On Saturday Night we decided it would be more economically feasable to buy and mix alcohol outside the club and drink before we went in, like we did in high-school. We bought Vodka, and mixed it with OJ and Lilt, a pineapple/orange soda. We had asked around a bit and learned about a once-a-month club that happens at the Camden Palace, an auditorium in Camden Town.

We were shocked at the price when we got there, £17 ($28), but we were beginning to realize that this was going to be worth it. It was amazing. The best way to describe it would be to say it was like the rave scene at the beginning of the movie "Blade", but without the blood. Everyone in the building was having a good time, with very little attitude. The air was hot and damp, and it just added to the atmosphere. There were many different levels in the club, a main floor and a large stage, with 15 or 20 overhanging balconies with reveling dancers. There was a complex set of stairs and passageways to get to the different areas of the club. I spent most of the time on the main floor, because despite the crush of people, it was the coolest spot in the club. Bottles of water were £2.50 ($4.00), and bunk E was £10. We finally left at 4:00, while it was still going strong. Amazingly people were still PAYING to come inside at 4. We avoided the supine minicab drivers and caught a night bus back to the hostel.

Sunday, July 11, 1999

After about 3 hours sleep, I called Helen, and arranged to meet her at Clapham Junction at 4pm, we checked out of the hotel and began our first "tote around the backpack all day" day. We aimed to find a train-station locker to leave them in while we were sightseeing, but we never found any. This made us very sad. We ate Thai food at Wok Wok. Good Thai food. Tara picked the red onions out of hers. My Coke had ice, and so did Tara's water! A funny thing about being in a foreign country; you never know if the particular restaurant or shop you are in is a one-off or a chain restaurant.

Helen met us at Clapham station and we went over to meet Emma and her kids at the park.

Then we caught a train to Victoria Station, took a touring bus to Hastings, Got into Helen's mom's car, and rolled up on The Shamis Home around 9:30pm.

We ate a great home-cooked meal, courtesy of Helen's mom, and Tara set a great tone for our stay by picking up the plates at the end of dinner and washing them. Exhausted, we fell asleep before midnight.

Monday, July 12, 1999

We didn't wake up until about 1:30 Monday afternoon, and we were glad as hell to be in a comfortable house in Hastings. We dressed in the last of our clean clothes and made it out of the house around 3. Helen dropped us off in the downtown and went to visit her goddaughter Annabelle. We explored the Town Square and asked about Internet access at the visitorís center. The indoor mall downtown had a neat electric visitor hit-counter that we had to overrun with hits. We climbed up the ramp to Hastings Castle, where we saw our first cat. The castle gates had just closed, so we walked up to the cliffs overlooking old-town.

We called Helen and rendezvoused at Safeway. My first course of action was to sign up for a UK Safeway card. FREE SOUVENIR #1: SAFEWAY CARD. I cannot wait to hand the checker this thing when I back to the States! It says Safeway ABC on the front, and has an embossed number and HASTINGS on the front. Bonus.

Safeway had little hand scanners available to carry around in the cart to calculate a running total while you shop, and in the produce isle they had printouts on their scales. After putting my tomatoes on the scale, I pressed the button for tomatoes, and it printed out a little sticker for my bag with weight and price on it. Cool. Every product in the store was exciting for me. Even products I had seen in the US were packaged differently. I got a picture of some Eat Me dates for my Naughty Food Items page. The store had more cookies and candies than any store I had ever seen, at least 3 aisles worth. We bought sandwich fixins again here, and some potatoes for dinner. I also bought a liter of Whole Orange Drink, which I can only describe as Concentrated Sugarless Sunny Delight. It was only 32 cents, so I bought it to try. I also spotted tiny Coca-Cola cans about the size of film canasters (150cl). We had too many items for the "one basket or less" lane. The checker sat down at the register and rung us up.

The Orange Drink was horrible.

We came home to a beautiful sunset, and helped take the first loads of laundry in from the line. We ate tortellini for dinner. We stayed up late talking with Helen and went to bed.

Tuesday, July 13, 1999

We woke up late again and had breakfast at the house. I was down to my last shirt and had to borrow socks from Eric to get dressed, but we were going to finish up the laundry today anyway. We were happy to be saving money here at the Shamis house, and we were resting up nicely. We were having a great time. Helen's mom and Claudia went to town to get their nails done in the morning with the car. We did laundry. We packed a picnic lunch and headed out around 1.

We parked in a pay-lot downtown and got coffee and a doughnut on the mall. We found the public library were the internet access was available for only £1.50 an hour, but we left when we found that they were booked up solid for the next 4 days. We headed to the beach for a picnic.

Our sandwiches were great. The beach at Hastings was mostly rocks, about the size of flat golf-balls. Then we climbed back up to the castle and had the two-Pound tour with historical Battle of Hastings (1066) movie included. Helen dropped us off in old town, where the miniature golf course and trampolines were. There were 3 types of shops on the beach road: Candy shops, video arcades and fish fast food shops. The shops were closing down as we approached, taking on the look of the K Street mall in Sacramento. It was grimy and filled with stragglers and dirty locals. This was about the first part of our trip that couldn't be described at "neat". It started to sprinkle a little bit, so we made our way back to a little pub near where Helen was going to meet up with us and had a pint of Cider (£2). The "Lord Nelson" had about 12 adults, 3 kids and 4 dogs inside. Helen was right on time, and she drove us back to the house for boiled bacon and homemade macaroni and cheese.

The next week is July 14-20: London | Index of Weeks | Other Photos Eric Tara Last updated March 9, 2000.

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