Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Leg the Second and Hello London!

Okay, where was I? Oh yes, Dubai airport. Righto, let's continue the journey.

As mentioned last time, the flight from Dubai to London was on an A380, an absolute monster of a plane. This time I'd picked a window seat, which was very deliberate; I wanted to see as much of what we were passing over as possible.

This turned out to be a good choice, since it meant I could see the impressive Dubai skyline I saw nothing off when we landed - including the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. I don't think I was prepared for just how tall it actually was - as we ascended I noticed it was pretty cloudy around the city, but as we got higher I could see the top of the layer of cloud and there was at least 10% of the skyscraper sticking out above it.

It was cloud-free at the beginning, which meant I could look down and see a lot of the country along the Persian Gulf, including what I'm pretty sure was Kuwait City.

Along the way I took advantage of the even larger range of music than the previous flight had – I was most impressed to find they had the soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davis, which I'd have bought already except none of the Australian retailers have bothered to get hold of it. I intend to get the cd of it while I'm here.

I also listened to Massive Attack's Blue Lines while flying over Kuwait, and I remember that during the first Gulf War – which took place in Kuwait – the band had to rename themselves (to just 'Massive') because of the violent significance of their full name.

Further along I got to see the Romanian countryside before the clouds set in and I decided I'd watch Frozen. This was perhaps a poor choice, since I've still got Let it Go playing in my head a full day and a half later.

Eventually - it's a seven and a half hour flight – we started the descent into London. After the usual sodding about as we waiting to disembark (I don't know why the heck they don't have some kind of system for getting people out in an efficient manner) we went through customs, which was the part I was nervous about; the UK government website is profoundly vague about what you need to get let in, and beaureacratic vagueness has always been a problem for me1. I had a whole bunch of stuff with me to prove I wasn't trying to enter the country to get a job - or whatever else it is they're afraid you'll do while you're here - but all I was asked was to describe my trip. So, I rambled on about loving theatre and described my itinerary.

That seemed to work. In fact, I think I got through quicker than anyone else I saw in the line ahead of me.

So, the next step was getting from the airport to my hotel in the city - Covent Garden, to be precise. I'd had a look at online options and decided that the quickest was probably best, mostly so I could have a shower and a bit of a lie down before going to have a look around.

The internet told me the fastest way would be to catch the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station, and then a bus to near my hotel. The first part went okay, but the second...not so much. I hadn't written down exact instructions (i.e. bus number and stop location) and was in far too a sleep-deprived/brain-addled state to think too much about how to work out where to go. So, I got into a famous London black cab.

This would normally have been a fairly practical means of getting to the west end, but I'd chosen to arrive on a day when London was having some kind of weird fun run2, meaning many of the streets I needed to go down were blocked off. What I also learned at the time was that black cabs don't, for the most part, take payment via cards. I only had 20 pounds on me, so I asked the drive to let me out when we got to that much - and to point me in the right direction.

I'll probably never know whether he did that particularly well or not - part of me thinks he was driving me around in circles; if he did I probably wouldn't have been able to tell - because I ended up wandering around for while before noticing there were some handy map things stuck up around the place, from which I managed to work out where I was (the 'you are here' dot probably helped) and where I needed to go.

After checking in to my hotel - The Strand Palace on, you guessed it, the Strand; when I booked it I thought to myself, "Hotel on the Strand? What, am I going on holiday or playing Monopoly?" - I decided I needed to get outside and have a look around. I'd also bought a ticket for the London Eye before I left, and it was a specific day ticket and had to be used that day.

So, I wandered my way to where the Eye is - not all that far from my hotel, but it did involve my first crossing of the Thames via what I think is the Hungerford Bridge. Lined up for a bit, but not long 'cause I'd bought a fast-track ticket, which saved me a fair bit of time as it was quite busy. And then I was on what I suppose technically counts as one of the world's biggest Ferris Wheels, and getting an amazing look at London.

Here are some photos. Apologies for the quality (or lack thereof):

I was surprised to see Battersea Power Station there - famous for being on the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals album - since I had no idea it was in central London. The rest I was just impressed by. After that I went back to the hotel; my plan was to watch the world cup final and go to sleep - but that didn't happen quite as I planned it, since I fell asleep before the damn thing even started...

1I blame both Douglas Adams and Franz Kafka for this.
2One of the most oxymoronic concepts in existence as far as I'm concerned.

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