Monday, June 15, 2009

Catching Our Breath in London

After disembarking this morning from Regatta at Dover, we caught a train to London's Victoria Station. We waited for the 10:04 a.m. train, saving seven pounds each since the lowest off-peak rate starts at 10:00 a.m. A penny saved and all that...

The train got more and more crowded as we stopped at successive stations, and there was nowhere to store even our modest rollaboards. We managed to let a couple of nice British women in across from us after a lot of squeezing (of the rollaboards that is).

We arrived at Victoria, transferred to the Circle Line that brought us to Edgware Road, the stop nearest the Metropole Hilton, a hotel where we'd found a great rate. Since it was only a little after 12:00 p.m. it was understandable the room wasn't ready - the front desk told us it would be ready by 3:00 p.m. or perhaps earlier - so we decided to leave our bags at the hotel's luggage storage room.

To do that you have to stand in line behind other tourists. You're then issued a card for each piece of luggage you have to check which you're required to fill out with your name, address, and date. You then get back in line. When you admit that you have a laptop, you have to go back to the front desk and stand in line some more, since the storage room won't knowingly store anything as valuable as a laptop. You eventually get access to a safety deposit box where you store the laptop. You then return to the luggage storage room to check the bag from which you've removed the laptop.

To pick up your bags and your computer you simply reverse the procedure, counting on 5-10 minutes for each transaction. This exemplifies why some describe "British Customer Service" as something of an oxymoron. Nonetheless, we've met nothing but friendly Britishers thus far today.

We'd bought a daypass for the tube and went over to Picadilly Circus where there's a discount ticket outlet. We bought tickets to see Wicked tonight. It's gotten great reviews and we're looking forward to our evening.

Returning to the hotel we asked about our room at the Executive Lounge but it still wasn't ready so we decided to look for a restaurant to eat a combination lunch and dinner in a pathetic attempt to cut back after two weeks of cruise cuisine. We found a Malaysian restaurant, melur, just a block away from the hotel. It's located in a basement, but it's bright and cheerful nonetheless. Best of all it's air conditioned, since oddly enough London today provided us with the warmest weather we've seen this entire trip. We enjoyed a three-course lunch feature for 7.95 pounds, a good deal in London. We're tentatively planning to return tomorrow, our final full day in London, if we happen to be in the neighborhood.

We returned to the hotel about 3:20. The room still wasn't ready because it was being "specially prepared" for us, but it would be in another "five or ten minutes. Brian asked himself cynically if this meant they were changing the sheets, and we retreated to the Lounge once more after spending that obligatory ten minutes to stand in various queues to pick up our bags and computer.

By the time we'd done all that, our room was actually ready and we reached it by 3:45. It's indeed a lovely room, and even includes a balcony looking down on the streets five floors below. We'll have to admire the balcony and the streets from inside the room though, as a sign in red letters on the window states "Restricted windows - Do not attempt to open." Thank you Nanny.

Yes, London and Britain are still unique and even eccentric. We were struck by how shabby and even dirty the train and the Tube appear on first impression, certainly compared to many other places in the world. Still, it's great to be here.

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