Because I’m Over the Atlantic, Baby (London Day 1)

“One journey for you but it’s worth it” — “Magic,” Ladyhawke

We left at 5:55 p.m. CST on Friday, February 27th, on NW flight 104. Thus began the most excellent adventure of Kristin and Michele. (So if I use “we” a lot, that would explain it.)

The day before, it snowed hellaciously. We had almost booked a Thursday-to-Thursday itinerary, and I can’t say how many times I was thankful that we chose to leave on Friday instead. By then, the snow had been cleared from the runways, and we were able to get to the airport without hassle. Flights had still been leaving on time, but considering that I had a meltdown or five while packing, I didn’t need the additional stress.

We had a conference call 24 hours before departure to reserve seats. The flight wasn’t completely full, so we strategically placed ourselves on each end of a four-seat block, hoping that nobody would grab the two seats in the middle. Our gamble paid off, and we each had two seats to ourselves. However, this did not prevent people with a chatty toddler from sitting two rows behind us. I consoled myself with the facts that the child was gurgling happily, not screaming, and that the parents would have a fun time when the kid threw a sleep-deprived hissyfit later that day.

It had been a long time since I’d traveled abroad, and technology has improved drastically. They have an entire audio/visual studio at your disposal where you can program your own music playlists or watch movies on demand. You can also track the course of the flight or play games. After pressing all the shiny buttons on the new toy, I turned to my trusty iPod with a specially designed sleep playlist to help me snooze for a couple hours. My slumber was interrupted when I rolled over and my butt hit the remote, turning on the small screen in front of me and blinding me briefly. It shut off after a long three minutes.

The flight seemed to go by quickly overall. We arrived at Heathrow Terminal 4 and waited for about five minutes to go through customs. After we handed over our passports for inspection along with a visitor card (which contained our hotel information and purpose for the trip), we were greeted by a wall of alcohol in the duty-free room before exiting into the main terminal. Incidentally, the greeting area at Terminal 4 looks nothing like the scene in Love, Actually. It’s rather gray and bland, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm. We stopped at the ATM to get some cash, then we squeezed our luggage through several turnstiles only to discover we should have taken the lift to the Underground level. (By the way, I’m going to be using some British terminology, but don’t think I’m turning into Madonna or anything.)

We bought single tickets to Hammersmith for 3.20 and boarded the Piccadilly line with service to Cockfosters. (Hee!) They announced the destination at each stop, and it took me until Acton Town to stop giggling. The ride took about 40 minutes to the Hammersmith station.

Cockfosters

We found the lift to the street level and crammed ourselves and our bags inside. When we emerged from the station, I was struck by the buildings and the street signs and the general aura of the place, and it hit me that we were finally here.

Hammersmith

The hotel was about four blocks away, but the first journey took a while with luggage and us being unfamiliar with our surroundings and all. Our rooms weren’t ready yet and we were several hours early for check-in, so we left our bags (me with some trepidation, but it turned out to be unnecessary) and began to explore the city.

We walked up to Shepherd’s Bush Green, found a coffee shop, and grabbed a light snack. Energized for the next few hours at least, we walked over to the Shepherd’s Bush tube station (on the Central line) to purchase our Travelcards. The ticket agent was extremely helpful and friendly, and verified that we were making the right purchase for our stay.

There are several options:

  • You can pay for each trip (which is neither convenient nor economical). A single (one-way) trip can cost 4 pounds.
  • You can get a pay-as-you-go Oyster card and fill it up and reload it as needed, but it deducts an amount for each trip.
  • You can get a paper Travelcard, which allows you to get 2-for-1 discounts on some attractions, but the rules seemed to be a little restrictive (having to pick the day you want to visit the attraction and printing coupons and such), plus you had to purchase them at an overground rail station, and we were still quite disoriented.
  • Or, you could get a Travelcard for a specific number of days (in our case, seven) and have unlimited rides in the zones you specify (we chose zones 1 and 2). We chose this option, and we used the heck out of our cards. Even though they are Travelcards, they’re issued on Oyster cards. Our seven-day card for zones 1 and 2 was 25.80.

We touched our Oyster cards on the reader (not a euphemism) to open the gates leading to the station. There was a woman nearby who was manually opening gates for disabled passengers and people with luggage, and she was quite friendly as well, offering assistance to anyone who needed it.

We took the tube to the Notting Hill Gate station for Portobello Market. The market was crowded, but not uncomfortably so, except for the constant stopping and going and stopping again.

The market had a lot of silver items, antiques, costume jewelry, and scarves. Lots and lots of scarves. Tim would have been very sad.

On a side street, we found The Travel Bookshop from the movie Notting Hill.

The Travel Bookshop

We stopped into a Lush store. The employees were really helpful and happy to answer any questions about the products. They performed some demonstrations of the bath bombs, the bubble baths, and the shower creams.

We found a tube station at Ladbroke Grove and got on the Hammersmith and City line back to our hotel. On the way, we passed the glory of the Westfield Mall, and planned a return visit.

After we got off at the Goldhawk Road station, we briefly followed a woman in a mesmerizing ensemble. She was wearing red patent leather boots, and a matching red patent leather knee-length jacket with leopard-print piping and a picture of a giant cougar’s head on the back. Wow.

We stopped back to the hotel to check into our room, but discovered that it wasn’t quite ready yet. They were doing some work on the flooring, so they put us in two single rooms for the night. The single rooms were nice, and had updated bathrooms.

Golden Strand Hotel Room 14

Bathroom, Golden Strand Hotel Room 14

I started to write in my journal and realized that I was hallucinating, so I napped for about 30 minutes, then took a quick shower, and I was ready to head back out.

I noticed that my laptop cord had three prongs, while the charger we’d brought had only two, so I would need to look for an adapter.

We reconvened at about 3:00 local time and wandered back up Shepherd’s Bush Road, towards the Goldhawk Road station. We stopped in a pub called The Richmond. We ordered a pizza, and it was excellent, with sauce in the crust. I had a Strongbow cider and Kristen had a Guinness. Both beverages were cool and refreshing and tasty.

There was a rugby match on TV (Scotland vs. Italy) and it was definitely a lad’s bar, although we didn’t feel unwelcome. The servers were very friendly. One of the customers at the bar was especially friendly to Kristen. We weren’t sure whether to tip, so we left a pound and some pence on the table.

We took the Hammersmith and City Line to Wood Lane and followed the signs to Westfield Mall.

Westfield Mall

The first store we visited was Next, which is the love child of Ikea and H&M, at least in the home furnishings department. Reasonably priced and really adorable stuff. We fawned over several bed coverings, picture frames, and decorations but left emptyhanded.

Westfield Mall H&M

We were disappointed in H&M’s selection, although we were impressed with its size. There were too many ’80s fashion trends, and we had both already lived through that once.

Trends we’d spotted so far:

  • Riding boots, with low heels and buckles at the top
  • Jeans tucked into boots
  • Boots worn with leggings or tights
  • Denim cutoffs or shorts (hot pants) barely covering what desperately needed to be covered
  • Scarves everywhere

Note that most of the trends require the complete absence of buttocks and thighs (or very small ones at least), which meant we were not on board.

I stopped into the Apple store to ask about a converter for a three-pronged cord. I had an extremely helpful guy look for a converter in the store, and when he couldn’t find one, he pointed me to another store called Micro Anvika, where I found what I was looking for. I ended up buying a full charger with a UK plug for 50 pounds, but I thought it would be worth it to have the internet at my disposal.

We looked in Marks & Spencer for a while, and out of all the stores we’d been in, we liked their clothes the most. Neither of us felt like trying anything on, so we headed back to the hotel.

We took the Hammersmith & City Line all the way back to the Hammersmith station, thinking that it would put us closer to the hotel, but it was just across the street from the District and Piccadilly Line stations. We decided to break up the journey to our hotel with a pint at the Laurie Arms.

Laurie Arms Pub

It was my turn to get hit on at the bar. Apparently, there’s an old guy in every Hammersmith pub who hangs out at the bar and flirts with women. I couldn’t understand a word he said, and I was pretty tired, so I just smiled and nodded and said “cheers” before heading back to our table with our drinks.

We watched the end of the England/Ireland rugby match. England made a go of it during the last few minutes and almost pulled out the win, but Ireland prevailed. The crowd was much younger than The Richmond, and the bar cleared out after the game was over. Having finished our Guinness, we walked the rest of the way to the hotel and called it a night.

I fired up the laptop and tested the charger, and it worked fabulously. I skimmed a few web pages and sent a couple e-mails before taking some melatonin and sleeping soundly for many hours.

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5 Responses to “Because I’m Over the Atlantic, Baby (London Day 1)”

  1. dslifton Says:

    OK, between the references to Acton and Shepherd’s Bush, I am jonesing for The Who right now.

  2. Hunter Says:

    This is really making me miss the UK.

    We’re supposed to go back this year to scatter some of my Dad’s ashes (he was a devoted anglophile and wouldn’t have it any other way). I hope we do indeed make it back there this year.

  3. Michele Says:

    Hunter, I hope you make it back this year too. I thought about you and Megan a lot while I was there.

  4. joesloe Says:

    It is interesting that you were concerned about leaving your luggage at the hotel and that you keep noticing how friendly people were. I sometimes hear English people say that they are rude to other and that people are more friendly in America. It sounds like you met alot of cool people as well. Did you think they would be weird towards you ? I have not been to Europe since the 1986 so I wonder about all that myself.

  5. Michele Says:

    I wasn’t sure how secure the room was (where they kept the luggage), and I had my laptop and my iPod in my luggage. Plus, the lack of sleep was starting to catch up to me, so I might have had some insomnia-induced paranoia. But everything was fine and I had no need to worry.

    People didn’t go out of their way to talk to us, but they were definitely polite when we did interact. Part of it might have been that we were talking to a lot of people in service industries (bars, restaurants), but people seemed genuine.

    I didn’t think people would be rude or weird towards us, but I was concerned that I would come off as rude myself or that I would stand out in any way, so I tried to blend in as much as possible.

    They say we have “Minnesota Nice” here because people appear friendly, but under the surface we can be pretty passive-aggressive!

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