Arriving in London: Cheers!

Today I flew from Italy to Munich and then Munich to London. I flew Lufthansa on both flights, and both flights were very good. We were served small sandwiches and Twix bars, as well as beverages, even beer and wine at no cost, which is better than what most American airlines do. I had to pass through passport control coming through Munich, as well as through London. Why is it that most of the passport control people seem very mean and cold? It is the repetition of the job? Well, in London anyway, the woman at passport control was very pleasant and was very glad to hear I was spending the rest of my “holiday” in London.

The weather in London was perfect when I arrived. I guess it had been raining earlier, and it was very windy. In fact, the approach to Heathrow was a white-knuckle approach, even for a seasoned flyer and pilot like myself. We were in an Airbus A319 which is a fairly stable airplane (the winglets help with that). We had a very strong crosswind on approach, so much so that you could feel the yaw of the plane. Also windshear. At least twice I felt the plane drop suddenly. By the time we cross the threshold of the runway I was thinking: go around, go around. We kept drifting to the left side of the runway, perhaps foreshadowing the way people drive here. At about 50 feet we got some stability but that was only due to ground effect and once we sank below that the left wing dipped rapidly and no matter what the pilot could do, we landed on the left main gear and slammed to the runway. I think he110_sunshine would have fainted dead away had she been on the plane.

The driver met me outside customs and I had my first opportunity to sit in a lovely brand new Mercedes Something-Or-Other and watch the drive sit on the right side of the car, while drive on the left side of the road*. He gave me a nice tour coming into central London. It took some getting use to being on the “wrong” side of the road.

I’m staying at the Sheraton Park Lane on Piccadilly right across from The Green Park, near Buckingham Palace and all sorts of other things. When I checked in, I was given a room with a Park view on the 6th floor, but when I went to the room, it was already occupied. So then I was given a room on the 6th floor facing the back alley. Ah, well. I mentioned this to Norm, of vickyandnorm only because I thought it amusing that they originally gave me a room that was already occupied.

I checked email and then the power in my room went out. Okay, this may have been my fault. I had to borrow an adapter for the plugs here in London and as an experiment, I plugged my power strip into it and at about the same time, the power in the room went out. Oh well, I let the front desk know and then I went to get some dinner.

I wandered about the local area and finally settled on the Hard Rock Cafe. What? I can hear you saying. Well, after 2 weeks of eating all kinds of exotic stuff, I was craving a hamburger and I didn’t want to go to McDonald’s. So I went to the Hard Rock Cafe, had a burger, fries, a Margarita and a Sprite. While there, my phone rang and I got a voicemail message so I was a little nervous. I finished eating and came back to the hotel.

The message was from the desk manager of the hotel. He apologized for the confusion with my room earlier and told me he had a park-facing room on the 6th floor, and offered it to me. I took it, of course, thanking him profusely and he repeatedly apologized. I got his name so that I could report the excellent service on his part to Norm. I changed rooms and the new room was a huge improvement. It faces the park and when I opened the window, it got such an amazingly fresh breeze. And then there is the beautiful sound of the traffic on the street below. In fact, this area looks very much like Fifth Avenue in New York, right along the Park.

I should say that the great service that I got had nothing to do with the fact that I am, as Vicky puts it, a world-famous writer. It had to do, once again, with Norm’s intervention. Imagine the power this guy wields! His arms reach across the Pond and poof, I have a better room. In fact, while I was chatting with Norm, there was a knock at the door and a nice assortment of snacks, tea, and bottled still water was delivered, courtesy of the house. Wow!

So what did I do this evening? Well, I wanted to take the evening off, basically, get a chance to rest up a bit, sleep in late tomorrow and then get started with my sight-seeing. I decided to go see the new Harry Potter movie and what better place to see it than in London! I walked up to the Green Park tube station, purchased a week-long Oyster Card, and then took the Piccadilly line two stops to Leicester Square, where I was told there were plenty of movie theaters. It was my first time on the tube and I was impressed with the efficiency of it. It is a monstrously complex line, by the look of the map, but it was really quite simple to use. When I got to Leicester Square, I found the massive Odeon theater where the movie was playing. I don’t know if it is like this at all movie houses in London, but at this theater, you are given assigned seats. I took seats in the balcony because I was told those were the better seats. They were quite good and quite expensive. 17.50 pounds, which is something over $35.

Of all the places I’ve been London is by far the most expensive. I normally don’t worry too much about my expenses when I travel but the prices here are astronomical. The cheapest thing I’ve had is a Sprite from McDonald’s (I was thirsty while I wandered around before the movie) and that was a mere 0.99 pounds, or just over $2. It was 23 pounds for my week-long Tube pass, which doesn’t sound like much except for that it is nearly $50.

Incidentally, some interesting things about the theater. On the sign for the movie, they list the time the doors open for that showing (8:20 PM); what time the advertisements start (8:40 PM) and what time the film starts (9:00 PM). I thought that was convenient, even though I did sit through the 20 minutes of advertisements. It was fun to watch them because they seemed very retro, very 70s, although with all the special effects of a modern blockbuster. They also sell alcohol at the concession stands, although you can’t take it into the theater itself. When you enter the theater, someone shows you to your seat. I enjoyed the movie, by the way, and when it was over and I stood up to walk out, I thought to myself, Wow, I just watched Harry Potter in London. I’m in London, I’m really here. This is just too cool!

I caught the Tube back to Green Park and then walked back to the hotel, where I am now. Tomorrow, I have to find a place that sells that plug adapters because the ones the hotel has work for my laptop but not my cellphone or camera (because the plug is depressed and there is not enough space to fit the side-facing plugs in. I need a flat one. Then, I plan on getting some sightseeing done. Currently, I’m thinking of seeing Westminster Abbey and then working my way along the Thames toward the Tower of London.

I’m still trying to figure out precisely what “Cheers!” means when people say it. It seems almost like a cross between “Howyadoing” and “Thank you”. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

More pictures soon.

*Do you know why the English drive on the left side of the road? Apparently, back in the day, when the King left the palace, it was easier for a right-handed man to defend the King if they were on his right side. So a law was passed that stated that whenever the King’s carriage left the palace, it would travel on the left side of the road so that the King could be defended on the right. What’s more, the French, always out to antagonize the British, decided to make their roads the opposite and that is what we in the U.S. inherited.