I was jolted awake upon touchdown. I rubbed my eyes and opened the window shade. Yep, engine was still the only thing I could see other than the runway. I attempted to stretch, but airplanes barely have enough sitting room under the luggage hold. I wonder why we couldn’t just drop our stuff in some sort of conveyor belt that takes the bags under the plane where the conveyor is then just reversed upon landing. Bags get stacked up and you pick them up on your way out.
I met Carlos on the outside and we followed the signs to the airlines terminals. We still had to book our next flight in the morning to Copenhagen. We took one look at the long lines and figured easyJet was the best bet. We waited in line and asked for first flight to Berlin. I had forgotten that airlines generally require real names. We had always called him Bay, but I was unsure how to fully spell his real name. Luckily, Carlos had written it down prior to takeoff and quickly we had three tickets.
We next located ATM and procured some £ for our 24 hour and counting down stay. We also were near the train station so we also picked up tickets into downtown London. We asked for the stop nearest our hotel and were directed accordingly. There seemed to be trains about every 10 minutes so you are always a short wait away from a train that could take to London or either direction of the country.
I stared out the window as we pulled away from the station and smiled. We had made it to London! I’d been before, but never outside the airport. I was struck by the number of gardens there were. It seemed every house didn’t have a backyard, but was instead full of tomato cages, flowers or other vegetable. Gardens look a whole lot better than grass backyards. Plus, all that work mowing could be spent growing something, anything. When will we learn in the US?
We got off at our station and walked around, looking for a coffee shop. We found a French one and shockingly, it was staffed by French ladies. Very cool and authentic spot. We got coffee, croissants and sat outside. I faced a traffic stop as it was a rather confusing crossroads. It was a couple main roads merging into one plus a couple roads in the other directions. I noticed a lot more bicycles and mopeds. Trucks were smaller, snub-nosed, too. Every pedestrian had ear buds or ear phones it seemed.
We walked all over this stop, hitting the major spots: Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the changing of the guard. It was hardly worth the wait, but we were in the first couple rows of people so we had a good view of the beefeaters. A long procession of men marching in union down the street, while a brass band played marching music and occasionally current songs. A quite literal pomp and circumstance.
We figured we could stop at Piccadilly Circus and walk around before meeting Bay at our hotel. His flight arrived several hours after ours. The Circus is really a lot of theatres, playhouses and shopping. I don’t know why this was so surprising to me, but yet I was bewildered. I guess I don’t really know what the name circus really means. This day they were setting up displays for the newest Superman movie, The Man of Steel. Large displays were constructed and it appeared there would be some sort of outside show was to be performed whilst people queued up to see the film.
After spending about an hour walking around the Circus, we headed to the hotel. We saw Bay almost immediately as we entered. He was sitting at the bar holding court with the bartendress and steward. We joined him and hear his travel woes. His flight was a bit delayed, but then overcame the delay in the air so he arrived earlier than expected. He had been to another bar and had sent us a Whatsapp message. This was to be another trip staple, trying to communicate, but weren’t able to connect to Wi-Fi in time to act on them. He had been at another bar for over an hour before hanging out in the hotel bar so he was pretty sauced by the time we arrived. Indeed he was in full Si mode. He was provocative and combative. The cute bartendress was Romanian so he called her a gypsy, which was a slight. She grew upset the more he used the term so we finished our pints and headed to the room.
We had made plans to me our friend Alex at a bar nearby in a few hours. We were all hungry and a bit drunk, jet lagged so we head out in search of food. Carlos was vegetarian so that made things a bit more challenging at for food options. We agreed on an India spot due to the many vegetarian option Indian food afforded. It was just ok food, could get better Indian fare in Dallas I felt but it satisfied this night.
A short walk and we were at the King’s Head Pub so we bought some beers. I noticed this place had real Budweiser, known here as Budvar. It turned out to be green bottle beer similar to Heineken or Beck’s. I was not a huge fan, but it was cool to finally drink with such an interesting back story. I also noticed that regular American Budweiser was heretofore named Bud all over Europe. This was due to Augustus Busch named his flagship lager after his hometown brew, Budweiser. Flash forward a century and Budweiser was a huge worldwide brand except in his home of Germany. They took turns suing and seemed to arrive at a Bud vs. Budvar naming convention. You could hardly confuse the two beers upon tasting; they are totally different styles.
Alex showed up a bit late and we were barely clinging to consciousness. We were severely jet lagged and sleep deprived. We had emailed back and forth in advance of our trip and he asked me to get him a pack of cloves cigarettes that Alex said the UK banned a few months prior. I bought two packs as I wanted to try them. They were too harsh, astringent for me so I game him both packs. We talked outside as he smoked and told us about his life in England. He was teaching and going to school. He had a long trip to Ireland soon and I was jealous. I’ve always wanted to explore the entire British Isle. One day.
After another pint of local lager we had to bid farewell. It felt super late, but wasn’t even midnight local time. We walked back to the hotel and settled into our beds. We talked a bit about the next week’s activities. There was an early flight we had to hit the train by a certain time to make it. Bay turned out to be the group alarm clock as he was the first up. We told him the time we wanted to be up and he turned the TV on about that time and Carlos and I woke up soon after.