Friday, June 22, 2007

To London We Will Go

June 21, 2007

Mrs Galea called me a bit before six this morning to make sure I got up on time to catch my flight to London. After fidgeting with and finalizing up my packing, and taking a quick shower, I went down for a cup of tea and a small loafette of bread which Mrs G prepared for me, even though breakfast isn't normally until 8. I left the Asti about 7 a.m. and walked to the Valletta bus terminus for the last time--this time around, at least. Waited for the bus. Took the long ride to the airport. Got there about 8, I guess. The plane left at 10. In between, I had a cup of tea, ate some cookies, did some reading.

The flight was uneventful, about three hours long, although only two hours on the clock, since Malta is one hour minus Greenwich mean time. So it was about noon when we got to London. By the time I got through customs, got my luggage and got my train ticket to Victoria Station, it was about one. Two, Malta time. Since my early, small breakfast, I had had cookies and four little crackers with butter. I was almost so hungry that I wasn't hungry anymore.

The train ride to Victoria Station took about 35 minutes. Fortunately I was able to sit and set my backpack down. It weighs about 11 kilograms, apparently--if I read the meter right at the airport. About 25 pounds maybe? It sure feels heavier on my shoulders. After disembarking at Victoria Station I had to get my first lessons on the London Underground, or "the Tube." An Underground employee was very helpful and practically led me by the hand to show me which subway line to take and how to buy a ticket. After I got to what I hoped was the right platform, I asked another bystander about what subway to catch and how to know which it was, and he told me everything I needed to know for right then. On the subway itself I had to stand for the first half of the ride, and then was able to get a seat and get the weight off my back. I was next to a young lady who also had a backpack, so I started up a conversation with her and found out that she is from Washington State and just arrived in London yesterday. She had attended the Solstice Festival at Stonehenge yesterday and loved it. (She's young, remember.) She said she has had about 6 hours of sleep since Monday. Yikes!

From Paddington Station, my stop, it was pretty easy to find the hotel. I had the map that Air Malta had given me of Central London and it was quite helpful. But it is also true that people were very helpful and ready to assist an ignorant Texan.

The Springfield is on Sussex Gardens Road, which sort of arcs off Lancaster Terrace, a tiny little connector to Bayswater Road which skirts both Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park on their north sides. So this is really a pretty cool part of town. The block the Springfield is on is pretty much nothing but hotels. They look like a solid block of buildings, much like in Malta, but once I was inside my room (up on the fourth floor above ground again!) I could see that there is empty space behind those solid facades. I look out toward another hotel block but there are lower buildings between and below us, so it's not like staring at a wall three feet away. There is open air. The hotel directly beyond the Springfield, toward the east, is called Days Hotel, and--judging by its logo--it's a version of Days Inn.

Anyway, by the time I did all my train maneuvering and walking (not that far) to the hotel, and getting checked into the hotel (a bit complicated since I will have to change rooms once, and maybe twice, because of making the late booking for these early 6 days), and getting to the room and unloading a bit, I guess it was 2:30. So I went out to see if I could find a grocery store that had enough food to help me, and maybe find a wifi spot as well. I wandered toward where I thought the deskman told me, but either I didn't wander correctly, or he didn't understand my idea of a supermarket, because I didn't find anything that looked like it would be much help. More wandering, and more asking of residents for help, got me to Marks & Spencer. Now in Malta, M&S was clothes--here it's grocery and clothes, which strikes me as an odd combination. It didn't help me as much as I had hoped--I didn't, for example, find pop-top or plastic-packet tuna, or small bottles or cans of V8--but I found deli ham, turkey and chicken (today I went with ham), "quick" oatmeal (aka "porridge"), a bagel, some potato snackish things, some apples, and some bottled water. After checking out at M&S, I headed down the street on the way back to the hotel, got a little lost, asked more directions, bought an umbrella (it's already rained lightly since I arrived, as well as been sunny and cloudy), and then went to Kensington Gardens to sit on a bench and have my very late lunch.

Yes, Nancy Bass, I had my very very late lunch (almost 5 p.m. Malta time) at Kensington Gardens. Not a terribly well-balanced lunch, mind you--deli ham, potato snackettes and bottled water. With the intention (which did not come to fruition) of later having part of one of the apples, once I could get to the hotel and get my pocket knife and peel the thing. (I can't eat peel.)

After returning to the hotel with the uneaten groceries, I went out again, this time with computer, because--in my roaming--I had learned that there are two Starbuck's along Queensway, which is where the M&S is. But first I went back into Kensington Gardens, because I had noticed on my map a notation for "the Peter Pan statue," and I thought my young nephew, great-nieces and great-nephews might like to see a photo of that. After I took one photo and was looking for the right spot for a second, a woman asked me if I would take a photo of her with the statue and then she would reciprocate. She likewise wanted the photo for nieces and nephews. Here's my initial photo, taken from the side, because the sun was behind Peter Pan. You can't see much detail, but the shadowy nature of the statue here is maybe a good representation of the shadowy nature of Peter himself:

And here is the photo of Peter and me, which the kind stranger took. I believe this is the first photo of myself which I've posted since Tarxien, the second week I was in Malta. (Not counting the ankle of course.)

After taking the Peter Pan photos I wandered on farther south (despite my hankering for Starbuck's) because I had noted a pointer sign reading "Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain", and I knew I should get a picture of that for my friend Nancy Bass. Now Nancy has been to England many times, but I don't believe she has been since this fountain will have been created. I had to walk and walk quite a way before I finally reached it. It's not actually a fountain, in any ordinary sense. Rather it's a sort of lopsided oval, on a slightly sloping field, where the water flows around and around, to all appearances going uphill at one point! This photo shows the spot where the "bed", if you will, is broken up to make a kind of small rapids.

And this one shows the fountain arcing on around from "below" (should I say downstream?) the rapids.

At one point, probably a little farther upstream than this photo, there is an inscription on the inside (water) edge of the outer wall nothing the fountain's dedication (is that what you would call it?) by the Queen in (I think) 2004. I tried to take a photo of that, but my camera told me (again) "Battery depleted!" (It often gives me that message many times before the batteries actually cease to work, if I tweak a little bit.) Anyway, I didn't get that photo. But as I walked back "up" the park, toward Bayswater Road (and, eventually, Starbuck's), I noticed something I hadn't as I was coming down:

And yes, those are the tips of my Big Boy shoes at the bottom of the photo. After taking this photo, I headed out on my search for tea and wifi.

Finding a location, I ordered tea and a shortbread cookie, and sat down to wifi. I bought a one-month unlimited usage plan (unlimited usage, that is, in the UK--it will do me no good on the bus tour in Ireland) from T-Mobile for 40 pounds--$80. About what I paid in Malta, and about twice what one would paid for a similar plan (that is, not attached to a mobile phone account) in the US. Likewise the tea "posting" on the menu board says the same thing for a venti (large) tea as in the US, that is, 1.75, but in the US, that's $1.75, but in the UK it's 1.75 pounds, which is twice as much. The UK is expensive, not just for tourists. I spent an hour and a half, or two hours, catching up on email, posting the last full day Malta travel log entry, and checking what my next credit card payment will be. Oddly, though this payment isn't due until mid-July, it covers charges that go all the way back to my onboard charges on the cruise ship!

I didn't tell you about the room, did I? It's small. The Springfield has 18 rooms (at least the highest number I've seen is 18), and there are smaller and larger rooms. I am in a smaller room, a room for one. It has a twin bed, a chair, a tiny bedside table, a little shelf for the tea fixings, a very small closet, and a bathroom--all of which is squeezed into maybe 80 square feet. It really is probably roughly the same size as my little Casita travel trailer--it may even be a bit smaller. But it has an actual shower stall, not simply a lower place in the floor; it has a television with programming in English (whether it's interesting or not, I can at least understand what's being said); and it has tea fixings. You will laugh to know that I used those fixings--the water pot, the cup, the spoon, the sugar--along with the oats I bought at M&S to make myself a cup of oatmeal for supper. I didn't have any this morning (because I used my last packet yesterday), and I didn't have the energy to get out for supper, so I had oatmeal in. Ah, the life of the idle. And after I finished the oatmeal, I rinsed out the cup so I could have an evening cup of tea.

It is 10:23, and the sky is not yet completely dark. The northern summer days last a long time. It's cool to be in London. I haven't seen anything terribly exciting yet--except Kensington Gardens--but it feels cool to be here. It really does.


DrTee said...

Ah, you're breaking my heart, Renner. I love London. I wish you get eat the fabbo sandwiches you can get at Marks and Sparks--cheese and chutney, chicken vindaloo.

The larger M&S have actual grocery stores in them in London, but they all have a food section, and you'll see around train stations and some other high traffic areas M&S "Simply Food." They sell only M&S brands, so you can't get a real Coke there, for example.
For a real grocery store look for Sainbury's (upscale) or Tesco's.
When your buddy gets there, be sure to go to Harrods, just to take a look. You can make snide comments and take pictures (the only place you're allowed to take pictures in Harrods) at the Diana/Dodi shrine. But mostly when you're at the shrine look around you at the Egyptian stuff. You MUST see the food hall, though. Look at the cakes! To me it's as important an exhibit as the Elgin marbles.
Tell me your hotel has a lift and you don't have to climb five flights of stairs.

carla said...

You have to go to the Tower of London at night and watch for ghosts. How fun!

Michael Grant Smith said...

I'm glad your Big Boy shoes are in the shot of Diana's memorial path marker. They provide scale! When I first glanced at the image, I assumed the badge was about three or four inches in diameter.

I can't wait to hear more about the UK. It's good to hear your ankle is getting better.