Well. USAirways didnt really tell anyone (no duh given the scrambling dear JetBlue had been suffering with with their snow/scheduling fiasco)--but they were rolling a brand spanking new computer system in place this week with many many mishaps. And they are so damned humorless and self important in all of this it is painful. To start at the beginning....I got into Philadelphia with good time though the flying cigar was packed to the gills and somehow I got stuck with a lunking Ithaca College student who had an enormous electonic thing that he kicked and shoved under the seat...So there was no room to budge. The good part was it was short. The stinky part was that we landed at the East Jesus gates (F and the furthest out) so I had to walk the length of the pavillion and take the suffering BUS to the international terminal (London flight not listed on their boards and it took forever to find a face that might know how to get the information). More mean spiritedness from the staff. Seems the customers are a gigantic pain in the butt.
We loaded for London on time after the hustle to get there (they were calling the flight as I got to the gate). I traded in frequent flier points and rode First Class. Def worth it. Adjustable seats with footrests. TVs built into the seat rests. Nice food (I had an elegant salad with cheese and grapes as I wanted to try for sleep versus the wine and roses, or as Rob called it--the dancing girls etc.)--comfy seats. Most of my fellow spoiled passengers were related to Tony Soprano or were somehow involved in professional sports. And their dollies were...memorable. Lotsa hair. Lotsa extentions. Lace shirts, skin tight pants. Lots of fussiness and fussing. One of the thugs made a big show of taking his wife's zippered high heeled boots off...a la the wedding reception ridiculousness of the garter thing. He and his buddy had lots of yucks over that. They drank a lot.
We left an hour late (credited to the computer issues) but arrived on time due to the amazing winds we had. I took an ambien, thanks to my traveling brother--and really did sleep. It was wonderful. I felt as good as someone does with four hours of sleep...but significantly better than not. So much so--I was able to handle everything else from then on with humor and more happiness. Gatwick is small and nice. The wait for customs was well over an hour in a snaky line rivalling Disneyland (without the distractions Disney provides)but once I got there-- no problem. But no real lighting--greenish and still. Creepy. Waited in line and bought tickets for the Gatwick Express (train to Victoria Station). Note: you can buy the tickets on the train without a penalty.
Figured out the luggage thing and unfortunately, my bags were left in Philly (there were quite a few of us)--so I got the paperwork done with a very accomodating person. Found a banking machine. Got a brewed coffee from Starbucks and got on the train. Nice train. There was a little snack cart a la Harry Potter which the home team would have loved, down to the central casting of the proprietor except it was packaged goods, tea, coffee and plenty of alcoholic drinks. No chocolate frogs.
The countryside was beautiful...with all sorts of horses at the city limits with coats on. People were in these large communal gardens--doing spring stuff. Little patches chock a block--nested above apartment buildings. Very green and at the same time, very brown. Funny, but seeing all the brick and many, simple, nondiscript houses reminded me of Pittsburgh of all things. Everything is very clean, polite and ordinary. I was also shocked at the clear class structure from trains and planes to stores and behaviors.It all trends towards the middle...with no real low (as one sees in NYC, LA) and not a lot of swanky folks either.
Half an hour later, we were in Victoria Station. It was easy to get a cab--and he drove me to our hotel, 10 Manchester Street, which he praised me for such a find. Daffodils galore in the parks. And the clouds cleared. Is there a message here? Will I get my luggage? Checked in and they gave me the room early. Was waiting for my friend, but I think her 9:30 Saturday probably means p.m.... Hotel is nice, small and modest. Bathrooms are nice. Windows open.Very functional, but not unpleasant...and the proximity to everything is great. Quiet side street.
So, I figured I would walk around the neighborhood. Easy. Nice neighborhood. Lots of little restaurants, lots of studenty stuff. There is an accupuncture studio. The Wallace Collection is a block away as is the Courtauld. The Bond Street Station is a hop and a skip. I walked a large part of Oxford Street taking in some sites, getting some underwear and a paperback and getting my bearings. I got a big dose of air and havent yet eaten anything...though this is coming. I saw this internet cafe and bought some time to put this blog entry up to let you know I am still here...This cafe thing is very interesting. Its in the basement of a popular pizza by the slice counter. One buys time (read gittone) and go to the basement with orange signs filled with admonitions about "Watch out for Pickpockets" and "We can't help you". Orange and white signs? Is this Home Depot? Same flavor. Different place. So, you end up in the basement with long rows of computers mounted to a vertical surface and keyboards directly below. There are lots of people here placing phonecalls via Skype so it is the tower of babel with all the languages. There is a couple directly behind me accessing hotwire to find a room. Pretty functional place. Just talk and the clatter of keyboards.
Lots of hotpink and orange. Pashminas on the street are two for 5 pounds. They will put a damned Union Jack on anything and try to sell it...Bras, underwear, wallets, shirts etc. The bras were the best. The scene at H &M was nuts. That is the store where England shops. Tons of thuggy boyfriends standing by the wall chatting into cellphones as they watched their girlfriends pose and pivot in front of all the mirrors in the place. H&M is a pretty good deal too. The money thing is frightful. If I do the math and double it everytime, I won't eat or do anything. So, I am taking it as it comes--being modest but with the dollar's weakness, even a dumb sandwich is about $15/ Only thing that is right is the Starbucks...but hey....they don't count.Thank goodness the art galleries are free.
I am going to log off. Its looking at six and I need to eat. I may try to stay up until around 8 and then have a snooze cruise. Tomorrow I hope to do more walking...maybe up to the park...or even down to Russell Square (where the SU program is) to get the lay of the land. Galleries are open from 10 until around 5--so I will see something. It's just a question of what?!
Will try and give you a holler tomorrow.