American in London

by Mike Shea on 26 February 2006

I'm in London this week and I thought I'd write up my experiences.

26 February 2006, 6pm GMT, 1pm EST.

I began my trek across the Atlantic with a bit of cross-culture comaraderie with a Brit I was sitting next to in Dulles.

"Do you know if they have Wireless here?" I asked, beginning our diplomatic exchange.

"I don't believe so. We're in the capital of the United States, why would they have wireless?"

"Good point. At least they have it on LA"


Five hours later I was dozing and attempting to turn a 4' by 4' piece of scratchy cloth into a king-sized four post bed. It didn't work out. I slept for about two hours but we had two meals within four hours of eachother - a decent sized dinner and a decent sized breakfast. I had an earlier dinner in the airport after fleeing from the guy who said "cheers" to me so I sure didn't go hungry.

They didn't seem to want people to sleep on the plane for more than the two or three hours I received. When I arrived I realized the advantage of this strategy. I have to fall asleep around 10pm local time and wake up around six or seven. If I slept well, I'd be up at 2am tonight and waking up at noon.

Heathrow isn't as scary as they make it out to be. There's a lot of waiting around to get off the plane, waiting at customs and thinking up funny job descriptions to tell the customs agent, waiting around for a bag, and waiting for the Heathrow express train. We landed at 10am and I didn't get to Paddington Station until about noon. Jet lag hadn't set in but I was cold, sweaty, headachey, and back achy. It really felt like about 6am but it was already past lunch time.

I'm two hours late for tea time but I'm going to take a break from my report here to make some "Ty.phoo" brand tea (it sounds like Engrish, but it's not).

I arrived at Pattington Station, took a couple of snapshots, and then headed for the cabs. The streets of London are about 70% cabs, 15% buses, and 15% private traffic. The cabs are huge black things with tons of room and a pane of bullet proof glass between the cabbie and the passenger.

We raced around backroads. I was in a state of sweaty daze and panic every time the cabbie made a right turn into the left lane. The streets of London a pre very narrow and the cars seem huge. They have some streets with zig zaggy lines in the center and on the sides of the streets - beckoning drivers to veer over into oncoming traffic as they so desire.

We made it to the Radisson about 15 minutes later. In a panic, I miscalculated the exchange and overtipped. There are bound to be some happy cabbies at the end of this trip.

The Radisson is very nice but very small. The elevator (sorry, the "lift") is tiny and frightening. Standing there, on my way to the sixth floor with my hair brushing the glass light fixture above me and my shoulders touching each mirrored wall, I realized that between me and my bags we probably went over the allowed weight of 150kg. The herky jerky stop at the sixth floor confirmed my suspicions. I'm bound to spend at least one of my six days here stuck in that phone-booth elevator while tiny Europeans figure out how to pry my big American ass out of this circa WW2 "lift".

The hotel is also loaded with firedoors that have stoppers to keep them from being propped open. Trying to fit myself and my bags through doors with about 14" of space between them must have appeared quite comedic.

While the rest of the hotel is rather small, the room itself is very nice. The bed is a King with a nice desk and end tables. The bathrom (sorry, the "leu") is also very nice - recently modeled. There's this strange white rack on the wall where towels hang. I accidently leaned up against it whilist "thinking" and realized its about 150 degrees. Yeouch! When I did it a second time, just about an hour ago, I smartened up and moved one of the towels down so my arm wouldn't brush up against it.

The shower is sort of wacky. There is only a knob for the shower and temperature - it doesn't let you run the water first. There is also a half-door of glass that only opens inwards towards the shower nozel. So in order to not get blasted with cold water you have to reach past the glass door like you're stealing jewelry and turn on the water to about 7 (they have numbers for the temperatures) and whip your arm back before you get chilling cold water sprayed on you.

After a shower and a change of clothes it was time to get on with important London business - getting online. The hotel has free wireless but the signal strength sucks. I think it may be enough to play EQ and WoW though. I got on long enough to give Michelle a virtual smooch. Boy she plays early.

Time to get out and see the city!

I grabbed a map of the city at the reception desk and marked some important sites. I headed out and had lunch at this chain of sandwich shops in the area. They had a great club sandwich. 330 ml of Diet Coke runs 60 pents though, which seems like a lot. I have a feeling I'll be getting more sandwiches at that place.

I've seen the Tower of London before so I may skip that but I never saw the British Museum. Seeing such a great site after getting about 3 hours of sleep in the last 36 didn't seem like the best way to see it, though, so I'm saving that for tomorrow. Harrods, however, seemed like a good choice.

Harrods is a huge ancient department store of the gods. Two coworkers independently recommended it as a great pen place.

It was a good three or four miles from me so I thought it might be a good chance to try out the London Underground (Sorry, the "Tube"). Well, after trying and failing miserably to not look like a tourist, I managed to get on the right line and head towards Knightsbridge. Well, lady luck wasn't with me. Some Washington D.C.-like service was going on and I had to get off about a mile or so from Harrods. So I hiked it to Harrods and discovered just how big this place is. It's a full city block with seven levels inside. It's part Ikea, part FAO Schwartz,part Sony Metron and Virgin Atlantic. It's huge and I think I walked every level of it.

Everyone in Harrods dresses to the nines. It's all suits and ties and the best manners I've seen in a department store. A guy in a $400UK suit sold me a $5UK US to UK power adaptor for my laptop.

The walk started catching up to me and my feet ached so I had an early dinner at the Harrods Cafe. It occurred to me at the cafe and with my interactions buying the adaptor that there are these slight and subtle differences between the way US and UK people conduct business. Neither of us would be able to put our fingers on what, but the transactions are all weird.

My coworkers were right about the fountain pens. They have everything in that place including a couple of $10,000UK fountain pens like the Visconti Four Seasons and a Namiki Maki-E hand made by some samurai-like japanese guy who makes pens no one will use. I broke down and bought a Pelikan 200 series pen for a mere $40UK. It's one I have been looking at for some time as a budget fountain pen and this seemed like a good time to buy one. It's no Mont Blanc but it's very nice.

I was pretty wiped out by this point even though it wasn't 5pm yet so I took a cab back to the hotel, overtipped, and got lost between the cab and my hotel which couldn't have been half a block away. I made it, though, and got my laptop all plugged in and ready to go. It's about 7pm now and I have three hours to go before I will let myself fall asleep. I'll probably try some EQ if this stupid wireless connection works.

Day 2: 27 February 2006 9am GMT, 4am EST.

woke up about 7:30am GMT (2:30am EST) and snoozed until 8am. I slept for about ten hours and woke up without much of a problem.

I chatted with some EQ guys last night - it was midnight Saturday night for those guys in San Diego.

I plan to head down and get some breakfast at the hotel but they say its usually packed so I might run down to that crazy sandwich shop. They seem to have everything and the food is good. It's calld Prag or Prat or something, strange name, but great food.

This morning I am going to walk down to the place I'm supposed to be at tomorrow for work. It's only a couple of blocks away. If the weather is nice, I might hang out at Trafalgor Square. It's less than a block away and very nice. I forgot to mention that I can see Big Ben and Parlament from my window if one is to hang their head out my window and look right. There's also a huge ferris wheel that my overpaid cabbie said was worth the ten pounds to ride up in on a nice day. It's higher than most everything else in the city. We'll see.

I'll have pictures up today, hopefully. I don't have an adaptor but I think I can buy one and if I have to take a bus back down to Harrods, ah well.

About 11am I hope to head to the British Museum and spend a few hours there. It's probably more than I can handle in one trip.

Tonght I plan to have dinner in Chinatown with some friends.

27 February 2006, 4pm GMT, 11am EST

This morning I went over and had breakfast at Prat. I'm pretty sure it's the London equivalent of Wendy's but the food is great. I had a tomato and cheese flaky bakey thing that tasted wonderful along with a latte and a yogurt. The bells of the St Martin in the Fields cathedral went on all morning. The Prat where I had breakfast is right next door.

I walked down Whitehall and saw 10 Downing street and the Horse gates. Everyone loves to get their picture taken with the soldiers on horses. The guys at 10 Downing street, with their fingers on the MP5s didn't appear as friendly.

I walked back North and decided that the British Museum was within walking distance, about a mile or two to the north. After a few panicked lunges for my map, I made it without any problems.

The museum is free to the public. I originally thought it cost a bit which kept me from going the last two times I was here.

The biggest draw of the exhibits is the pilfered Egyptian treasure. The Rosetta stone is right up front and everyone has to try to take their own dark picture. People were piled around it every time I looked and when you think about it, it isn't all that interesting. Going deeper into the Egyptian exhibit and you start to see some amazing stuff. There's nothing quite like running your fingers over the inscription carved by another pair of human hands nearly 4000 years ago.

The museum also has quite a collection of mummies including that of Cleopatra. Amazing stuff.

After a couple of hours there, I headed back. I found a little computer shop that had a SD to USB converter so I could get my pictures posted. The pics are now posted to my new London Trip Flickr Set:

Then back to Prat for a sandwich and a break in my room before heading to the National Gallery and maybe out to dinner with Greyfeather and friends in Chinatown.