Tuesday, April 05, 2011

London Trip--Everything But the Troxy

Here is my “everything but the Troxy” post on my recent trip to London. It should be subtitled "The joys of traveling during Mercury Retrograde". Some of you may scoff at astrology, but I live in fear of Mercury Retrograde. And it began promptly on the day I left for London.

I have to say this adventure did not start well. I arrived at the airport and checked in, no problem. Discovered I still had Elite status, even though my recent update didn’t mention it. However, it didn’t matter—I went upstairs to find only 1 security checkpoint open in all of Terminal C at Newark, with one line extending for what seemed like miles. No special Elite lines. And in front of me on line were approximately 8 million Hasidic Jewish boys. When I saw how much stuff and how many accessories they had (hats, belts, coats, etc.), I imagined that I could be there for awhile. Fortunately, things moved much more quickly than expected. Not that it mattered—I got to the gate in time to sit around for several hours. I got to spend at least one of those hours listening to a 3-year-old scream at the top of his lungs. The flight ended up being about 2 ½ hours late, and there was a Nor’easter going on outside.

There is always music playing when you get on the plane and take your seat. The new fad in this equivalent of “hold” music is 70s and 80s songs that were pretty decent being re-done by auto-tuned female vocalists, and thus becoming horrible. I never thought I would miss Muzak—at least no one sings on that.

In spite of the shaky start, I wasn’t too late getting to London. The walk to Passport Control from the gate at Heathrow was longer than my actual time with the immigration officer. He asked why I was there, I told him it was for a concert. He asked what it was. I said, “It’s called Back to the Phuture, but I’m really going to see John Foxx.” He gave me two thumbs up, handed me back my passport, and said, “Enjoy”. I’m guessing he’s a Foxx fan.

So, here I am in London, and now I have the hurdle of making my way over to the East End. I know this will take me almost another hour, longer if I take the Picadilly line from Heathrow. So, grumbling, I take the more expensive Heathrow Express to Paddington, and make my way over to Bank via the Central line.

The Bank tube station was designed by sadists. Yes, I know about all the “major escalator work”, but you can tell this station is horrible even with escalators. It’s just an endless maze of stairs, and by the time I got to the Docklands Light Rail, I was certain that I was going to run into the Minotaur. The trip to Limehouse was mercifully short from there, and I didn’t have too much trouble finding the hotel. By now, it was about 3:15 in the afternoon, and I was meeting my friend Gem for drinks and dinner around 4. We met near Euston and ended up in Bloomsbury. I didn’t end up staying out too long—I had that vague sick feeling that occurs just before I’m about to get a massive headache, so I thought it prudent to go to my room and go to sleep.

I was supposed to meet my friend Paul the next morning, but a quick call the day before pushed plans back to the afternoon, so I decided to visit the Tower of London. Heck, it was only 2 light rail stops away, and I’d never been there. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that. But most of my time in England has not been spent at tourist attractions. When I was in school back in the 90s, I spent most of my time visiting out-of-the-way stone circles and other weird places. I didn’t hang out in London much except to do shopping, and I think a friend and I caught a show once at the Old Vic. Now I spend most of my vacation time there book shopping. So—I can tell you where to find books in London, but I’m not an expert on tourist attractions.

Right. So—it was a beautiful day, probably close to 70 degrees, and everything in bloom. Spring has definitely arrived in London. It occurred to me that when I left New Jersey, we were expecting more snow (which didn’t materialize in a big way, apparently). Seems to me that the U.S. has some catching up to do on the weather front. Ahem.

Obviously I did not get to do the most thorough tour of the Tower, as you could probably spend all day, if not days, there. I didn’t go on a formal tour—I preferred to explore the buildings on my own. I like places like this, charged with tragedy—you can feel as you walk past the stone walls. Stones are like sponges, and they seem to soak up the energy of emotion and trauma. This was certainly true here—the Bloody Tower, the Wakefield Tower, parts of the White Tower—I actually found myself wanting to get out after awhile. It’s hard to describe that kind of magnetic overload—I imagine that it’s like sticking your finger in an electrical outlet, or perhaps what severe radiation exposure would feel like.

I stopped at a pub nearby for lunch, and then headed back to Limehouse. You know the story from there, and if you don’t—read yesterday’s blog posting.

The day after the Troxy, I had to get up ridiculously early, and I was feeling decidedly unwell. I had to leave before the hotel breakfast started, so it was an unnerving ride from Limehouse to Bank to King’s Cross, to the Picadilly Line. The swaying motion of the train did not do wonders for my headache or nausea.

Fortunately, I started to feel better by the time I got to Heathrow, and I was starving by the time I sat down to breakfast after going through security. The plane was on time—we boarded early, in fact—and not that full. There was an empty seat between the myself and the woman I was sharing the row with, much to the delight of both of us.

This is probably a good time to mention one of my long time observations in the “Murphy’s Law of Travel” category. Turbulence can occur any time on flights, but it only tends to occur at one of the two following times:

-During the beverage service
-When there is a queue for the lavatories

I can add a third one to this after Sunday’s flight—when you’re circling the airport waiting to land. This is a deadly, cruel Mercury Retrograde joke played after you’ve had a reasonably relaxing flight, and are just starting to feel normal. I should note that the woman next to me was 4 months pregnant. So, here we are circling the Catskills (Hi, Bruce) and then Sussex County, New Jersey. I have had inner ear problems since I hit my thirties, and I don’t take going in dizzying circles very well. Add turbulence to the mix, and you’re liable to turn different shades of green. And I realized that if I was nauseous, the pregnant woman next to me must have been hellishly worse. And she was. Fortunately neither of us got sick, but it was close. By the time we landed, I was dazed and unwell again. God forbid you get off a plane feeling normal—it would violate some cosmic law, I think.

Anyway, that’s my trip—short, sweet, and exhausting. I imagine I’ll feel normal again just in time for my surgery on the 18th.

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