Thursday, January 8, 2015

'Ello, London

November 16

I checked out of the hotel in Nice, leaving a little thank you gift for Vanya for being so helpful, and got a "transfer" taxi to the airport. It was an absolutely beautiful morning.

I didn't take the time to get any breakfast before heading to the airport, so I tried to get a snack out of a vending machine, but it ate my money, dropping me down to under 4 Euros remaining in cash. I went to a coffee shop and broke down, using a credit card to get a pain au chocolat and a Coke. The plane had a vegetarian hummus sandwich option, so at least I wasn't going to be starving by the time I got to London.

I arrived at Gatwick airport and bought a ticket on the Gatwick Express train which took me to Victoria Station in Central London. From there I had to use the underground (I guess I could have taken a taxi...) to find the stop nearest my hotel (Lancaster Gate) and then make my way on foot to my hotel. Sounds like a great plan, but I had no idea there would be so many steps in the subway stops, and I guess since it was Sunday, all of the trains I got on were extremely crowded, which with my suitcase was not the easiest.

Once I got to my stop and made it outside I had no idea where to go. There were no maps inside the station. Outside on the street there was a map, but as I would learn with all maps in London, it was terrible. There was a woman from Thailand looking the map as well and we learned we were both looking for the same street, so we decided to walk together. Well... We almost walked to Paddington station, which was not correct at all. We asked several people on the way if they knew where our street was. The first three people were Russian and had no idea. The next woman was American and had a general idea because she remembered seeing it not that long ago. She suggested we head in a certain direction and ask again. We did. Finally we met someone who gave us correct directions and asked a woman with a buggy if she knew where the numbers we needed were. She had no idea and just told us to look. Thanks, lady in London. We otherwise wouldn't have thought to look at street numbers. Not that it helped. We were at number 2 and I needed 99, which was at the end of the block. But the Thai woman needed 50, which was somehow not on that block at all.

I didn't stick with the Thai woman once I got to my hotel. Sorry, Thai woman! On a side note, she was just switching hotels for the night because she was planning a divorce from her Englishman husband who she was afraid would find her if she stayed in the same hotel for more than one night. She also booked the room through a friend. Her advice? Never get married.

I checked into the hotel and went up to my room. Which was huge! The biggest hotel room I had on my trip. A double bed and a single bed, which just became the place I put stuff. There was a very small TV and a desk, with all that you needed for a proper cup of tea, including biscuits. It was early in the day and I had nothing planned, so I decided to do some exploring. The underground ticket I bought was good all day, so I was set.

I went downstairs to the lounge (the only place with internet access in this hotel) and I wasn't able to connect because there were too many users. I sat there for about 45 minutes trying to connect, then gave up. I had to go back up to my room to drop off my iPad before doing anything else.

I asked at the front desk where I might find some famous stores I had been advised to visit - Selfridges, Harrods, Marks and Spenser, etc. The front desk people (one who was French, and one who didn't seem to know the city) snickered at me. "Are you serious?" They suggested I should go to Kensington Palace and see if I could see Kate and baby George. Um... I can think of nothing less interesting sounding to do. Reluctantly they told me which underground stop to get off of and gave me "just walk that way" kind of directions.

I got off the train at Oxford Circus, I think, and was in the heart of a huge shopping district. I found Selfridges and went in. I found Marks and Spenser and skipped it. I walked for a bit and then got back on the train and headed to the south side of the park to Harrods, near which I also found Harvey Nichols. I stopped in to Harvey Nichols and had high tea, which was adorable. I walked in and out of Harrods, not really in the mood for more shopping, and made my way back to the hotel. Dinner was in my room, eating the leftovers from my high tea - which were plentiful.

Internet in the hotel was working in the evening, so I was finally able to check in with the world before going to sleep - making sure to still be fully in my street clothes and shoes for lounge internet time.

Paddington Bear is all over the city.

A Christmas display at Harrods, I think.

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