Wednesday, August 23, 2006

London again

London again. I arrived with ease. No problems on the flight. I just had five different people with their hands in my bags before I boarded the plane. This is the price we must pay to feel secure. Hmmm. Why am I not reassured?

Breezed into London on the Heathrow Express train. I love this ride. Fifteen minutes from Heathrow to London Paddington Station. Perfect. I know it's cheaper to take the Tube, but this way I get a seat and there's plenty of room for my luggage. Popped out of Paddington Station and joined the taxi queue. As plenty of authors have noted, the English excel at keeping orderly queues. It's almost a matter of national pride. If someone tries to rush to the head of the line, either everyone will say something, or they will be torn in two by politely saying nothing but giving the offending party very stern looks. So I waited happily for a black cab, and got one surprising fast, considering how many people were waiting ahead of me when I joined the queue.

The taxi drive whisked me away from Paddington station and off to the front door of the Jurys Kensington Hotel on Queens Gate near Old Brompton Road, SW7. We passed through Hyde Park and I watched tourists fumbling with maps, trying to figure out where they were going. Everything is very clean and well maintained, but it looks like it is the end of summer, the grass, flowers and trees all look a bit faded. London as well as many parts of Great Britain have implemented water saving measures, such as a ban on the use of hose pipes for watering lawns and gardens. This seems to be evident in Hyde Park as well. But no shortage of rain lately. It's been raining on and off today. Lots of grey clouds are obscuring the sun and it's muggy and warm. After we popped out of the park, the cab hurried down Exhibition Road, passing by the monumental red brick fa├žade of Royal Albert Hall. A quick left turn brought us onto Queens Gate and we were at the Jurys Kensington Hotel in another minute.

I chose this place to start my journey because it is in a neighborhood that I knew quite well. SW7 is South Kensington. It is home to lots of consulates, hotels, Imperial College, students, as well a flat off of Old Brompton road that my mother rented for a summer when I was a junior in high school. My mother Adrianne, and her husband Ian rented a flat from an Indian cookbook author. It was above a corner store and across the street from a pub. I delighted in the fact that you entered it from a mews. A mews is similar to an alley, a civilized form of urban infill. I am pretty sure this is where the stables were in years past. The summer I spent at this flat was my first introduction to the UK. We traveled with family friends and together we explored Corwall, Devon, Dorset, Oxford, the Pennines, the Lake District and Scotland. Whew! I was hooked after that.

Three years later I returned to South Kensington. It is also the neighborhood that housed the former Missouri London Program. I spent a semester here when I was a junior at the University of Missouri, Columbia. From late August to December 1988, I resided at 32 Harrington Gardens. I can't say that I did well academically that semester, but I did come away with a better understanding of how to barter at street markets, how to make the most out of a student railcard, how to cram as many concerts, museums, plays, and nightlife into a limited amount of time. I loved living here. London is a thriving city, and when you're twenty you can really capitalize on it. Who needs to sleep? There are cafes to explore and clubs to discover! I managed to see a lot of the countryside, both on organized outings as well as on my own.

The rest of the afternoon was spent unpacking in room 217, then taking care of the basics: cell phone and Tube pass. I had my phone "unlocked" before I left the states so I could use it with other carriers. This worked well on our last trip. We used Jim's cell phone and bought a pay-as-you-go plan and sim card through Orange. Worked beautifully. So I used the same sim card in my phone, topped it off at the local Tesco's grocery store and it worked! Yay. Then I got a Tube pass so I could get around easily.
With my recharged phone, I called home and told Jim that everything was fine. Wandered back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

Dinner tonight: NANDO'S! A great, cheap meal. Grilled Portuguese style chicken. It’s always packed and always tasty. Their lemon tarts are heavenly. Asleep by 11:00. My first day is over.

1 comment:

Mom said...

great blogs/ feel as if we are there with you!! Love, Mom