Tuesday, June 15, 2010

UK Travelogue, Part 3: Dawn of the Dead

DAY THREE: Monday, May 31, 2010

Sleep the flight away, indeed. I didn’t come fully awake again (other than the time we flew through hail and the time my seatmate kneed me in his sleep) until less than two hours before the flight landed: and I was just in time for breakfast! Well, breakfast such as it was: a roll with a thinly-sliced section of ham and a small, dry muffin. But there was coffee, and it was hot and strong. By the time we landed, I felt more or less prepared to face my old friend the Madrid Barajas International Airport.

More specifically, I felt prepared to face AirEuropa’s contingent in Spain. The question was, were they prepared to face me? We had a little less than two hours to deplane, clear customs, pick up our baggage, find the ticketing center, work out our flight, clear customs again, and pass through various security checkpoints, and - hopefully - board the plane.

I was in no mood to mess around.

Of course we wound up standing in the wrong lines not once but THREE TIMES before we reached the appropriate window behind which we could find someone who could not only speak English, but also help us with our problem. Fortunately, the (very pretty) girl behind the AirEuropa complaints counter seemed aware of the canceled Miami flight, and she was able to assure us a spot on the next flight to Gatwick, which would be taking off at 3:00pm. I looked at my watch, which told me we had about an hour, and then at the line behind the AirEuropa check-in counter, which seemed at least several hundred people deep (I just checked with Beef, who is lying in the hostel bunk above me, and she assures me that I am not exaggerating on that point).

“Look,” I said, leaning forward on the counter toward the pretty young airline worker, “Our first flight here was canceled. AirEuropa could not check our baggage through OR assure us of a ticket out of here today, causing us extra work and travel anxiety. I really don’t want to stand in that line and risk missing the next flight out of here. If that happens, I really will get upset.”

I may or may not have given her The Look.

One phone call to her supervisor later, and we were permitted to check in through the business class line, which although considerably shorter took a bit longer then we anticipated due to several line-jumping businessmen. We eventually got the hang of things, though, and nipped our way up to the counter before anyone else could shoot in front of us.

Finally, finally, finally, we were boarding an actual flight into London. It almost felt too good to be true. To top it off, we both chatted favorably with several kind Londoners who told us we’d made an excellent choice in hostels (yay for me) and that we were bound to have a good time. So things were definitely looking up!

Gatwick airport seemed smaller than I expected, and was certainly quieter than Spain. (Not that that would be difficult to manage.) The guys behind us in line at customs were giddy to the point of complete silliness. One could only wonder how long they had been traveling at that point.

At the front of the customs line, the female officer questioned Bethany as to what sort of profession “Barn Manager” might be, and then regaled us with the most interesting job listing she had seen lately on a customs form: “All it said was Dairy Queen, and I was like what the h***? Do you wear a crown and all?”

The Gatwick Express took us to Victoria Station in no time, and from there we only had a bit of a wander around before we managed to uncross our eyes, read the signage properly, and find the entrance to the Underground. Of course we planned our arrival to coincide perfectly with rush hour, and I had chosen to wear a comfy (sort of waistband-less!) skirt and flip-flops on the flight over, which may have been a good choice for cozy overseas night flying, but for going up and down flights of steps and escalators, and hopping on and off tube trains while also dealing with luggage … it turned out to be not the best wardrobe choice that I have ever made. (And that's saying a lot.)

But at any rate, we did eventually arrive at our hostel, where the very cheery staff signed us in and had us installed in our cozy bottom-level cell in no time.

To acquaint ourselves with the area, test the scale of the map, and walk off some of our airplane kinks, we walked Southwest on Old Brompton Road until we very cleverly stumbled accidentally across the Brompton Cemetery, which now seems to function as a carelessly-maintained city park, complete with mossy, weedy plots, some of which have become completely overgrown.

Brompton Cemetery

I loved it.

Brompton Cemetery

As I love cemeteries - the older and mossier the better - I found this quite exciting. A walk down and back through the cemetery did much to restore Bethany's equilibrium as well. “I always forget that big cities sort of wig me out at first,” she told me as we work our way back to the front of the park. “I’m much more of a country girl than a big city girl.”

Big cities may wig Bethany out, but they have the complete opposite affect on me: just walking down the streets of a big city fills me with boundless energy. Not that I would want to live in one permanently, you understand, but I find visits very exciting. I like being able to walk places, take the metro, eat from sidewalk cafes and roadside vendors, look both ways a dozen times and then dash across the street at the first hint of a break in traffic.

After our tour of the cemetery, we turned around and headed north up the same road, walking as far as South Kensington before turning back Close to our hostel, we found a quaint little Italian eatery where Bethany ordered the special (steak, eggs, and chips) while I had a huge bowl of salty and delicious French onion soup. And about ten glasses of tap water. Because, you know, French onion soup!

With a good walk under our feet and a hot meal in our stomachs, we were well ready to head back to the hostel and get one full night’s rest in order to stave off jet lag.

3 comments:

  1. Oooh, yeah, love the messy cemetery/park.

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  2. Oh I love the cemetery too.
    It seems to be a traveling tradition...French Onion Soup after cemeteries.

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