Day Two: Arrival at Heathrow, Piccadilly Circus, Thames River Cruise, Westminster, Churchill War Rooms

by Jeff Kay

I suspect it was just a bit of theatrics for dumbass Americans, but the flight attendant actually said "Cheerio!" to me, as I exited the plane. I half expected her to follow it up by placing a lei of "bangers" around my neck, and handing me a complimentary sack of boiled roots.

I was in a groggy state of near-sleep, and the excitement I felt about being in London was having a hard time breaking through the layers of fatigue. It didn't help that we were walking through a network of dingy hallways, which might as well have been in Cincinnati.

We passed some bathrooms, and I needed to go inside with a fiery urgency. The so-called urinal was nothing but a stainless steel trough bolted to the wall, and would require me to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some (international) stranger, everything just laid out in the open air.

So, needless to say, that wasn't going to happening.

I went into one of the stalls, and saw a strange toilet. There was no tank, it was just a bowl sticking out of the wall, with a flush handle mounted above it. What the?! This is exotic urination… This is

Once the task was complete, we congregated on a nearby bench, and got our shit correct. I put in my contact lenses, and washed my face with napkins and bottled water. I needed to wake up; I couldn't sleep on the plane, so that, as they say, was that. I'd just have to wait until local nighttime rolled around again.

We went through all the various checkpoints with little problem, and even breezed through customs like it was 9/10. Then we were out in the open airport, with the restaurants and the coffee shops –
in freakin' England. It was starting to sink in.

We found the counter for our (not anywhere near free) hotel shuttle, and they told us it would be a fifteen or twenty minute wait. No big deal, we'd just hit the Starbucks and begin the process of reanimating our asses...

Toney and I ordered gigantic coffees that had something to do with Costa Rica (who the hell knows?), and the boys wanted iced coffee. As far as I know, neither had ever had an iced coffee in their entire lives, but what the heck? We were on vacation.

I paid with a twenty pound note (which was incredibly wide, like a handkerchief), and the guy gave me a handful of coins as change.

What the crap? I should’ve had something like twelve pounds coming back. I was about to start raising hell when I realized he'd given me all manner of one and two-pound coins. I'd received the correct change, it just happened to be metal.

This was going to take some getting used to…

We rode our shuttle with three Americans, a man and two women. Turns out they were from the suburbs of Philadelphia, right down the turnpike from us. Crazy. They'd also never been to England, and we all agreed we felt like the Beverly Hillbillies.

As we made our way through London
, everybody began nodding off. But I was amazed at every little thing I saw. Black cabs, double-decker buses, skinny people… It was all so fascinating. How could a person sleep?

We arrived at our hotel first, and I tipped the driver five pounds. I have no idea if that's too much, not enough, or just right. He seemed happy with it, so I guess that's a good sign. Or maybe he was just a skilled actor?

We went inside, and the guy behind the counter was British, but with a thick Indian accent. Or was it Filipino? In any case, it was a challenge. Sometimes the straight-up Brits are hard to understand; when you start getting into the hybrids it's another thing altogether…

Our room wasn't ready, which we'd anticipated; it was only about nine o'clock in the morning. They said they'd keep our luggage for us, in a locked room, and we could do some sightseeing and come back later.

Sightseeing? How'd they know we weren't there for a high-powered business meeting? I was mildly offended, and almost told my incomprehensible new friend about it. How was he so sure I wasn't in London
to close the Tayback deal? I mean, seriously.

So we did some sightseeing, and it was a beautiful thing....

According to Toney we had to get to Piccadilly Circus, to pick up our London Pass. This was something British Airways gave us, and would supposedly get us into various attractions around the city for free. Once we activated it, it would only be good for 48 hours and we had the first two days penciled in for London Pass Adventures.

But this would involve riding the Tube, or the underground, or whatever they call their subway. I thought we were getting a little cocky, using public transport almost literally the moment we arrived, but I kept my mouf shut. It was probably best to just jump in with both feet.

And it couldn't have been easier. We bought day passes at the Earl's Court station, located literally around the corner from our hotel, and rode that underground like seasoned champions. Sure, the oldest Secret and I chuckled every time the name “Cockfosters” was said over the loud speaker, but that was the only hitch.

We picked up our London Pass, and got immediately back on the Tube. Toney said our first stop should be a so-called river cruise down the Thames. Compliments of our friends at British Airways... This required that we ride the train to a certain station, and pick up another one to our desired stop. We were already becoming pros, making transitions and whatnot.

When we emerged from the Tube station, we saw the Tower of London
and a wave of “HOLY SHIT!” washed over me. We were actually in England; we’d made it, after plotting and planning and dreaming, for (in my case) thirty years or more. If I’d been Nostrils, I would’ve wept.

The river cruise was interesting, but not exactly luxurious. We were seated on some kind of behemoth tourist barge, fully enclosed with streaked windows, and not really conducive to picture-snapping. It wasn’t what I’d imagined, when the word “cruise” was used.

But the guide was funny, and that always helps. He started out by informing us he would be doing the tour in several languages: English, Irish, Scottish, Australian, and American.

Then he launched into a hilarious rant about the Tate Modern art museum. He said he went there once and saw a burned-out car. “It was rubbish, complete rubbish!” He told us there’s no admission charge at the museum, and “once you get inside, you’ll understand why.” 

Here are a few pictures I took while aboard the tourist barge.

We exited at Westminster
, and walked around that area. We saw Big Ben and Houses of Parliament, and all that jazz. Very cool. I kept referring to Big Ben as Gentle Ben, just to irritate the Secrets, and Toney eventually told me to shut up.

We were trying to find the Churchill War Rooms, another London Pass freebie, and something I was looking forward to.

During World War II, when London was being bombed, Churchill and his cabinet managed the war from underground bunkers, which are still standing and largely untouched. Supposedly they just bricked up the entrance to the place, once the war ended, and everything remains exactly as it was.

Too cool!

We had some trouble finding it, but finally got there. And it was as good as I’d hoped. Big maps are still on the walls, with pins stuck in them. Cigarettes are in the ashtrays, and the tables contain pencils and scratch pads used during meetings more than sixty years ago. The whole thing was fascinating, and one of the true highlights of our trip. 

Unfortunately, these are the only picture that turned out.

We rode the subway back to Earl's Court, and finally saw our hotel room. I had a nagging concern we’d get there, and they wouldn’t have any idea who we were. I could hear the guy in my head: “Luggage? We don’t keep luggage for guests, sir. And you say you have a reservation? Are you sure you’re at the right hotel…?”

But there were no problems, and we were given a key to a room on the third floor. “Go down this hallway, and use the lift,” the man suggested. And we were off, trying to act cool even though he’d just used the word “lift.” Every little thing was cool…

Our room was nice and clean, but extremely small. Not a problem, since we didn’t plan on spending much non-sleeping time there. But a few times it felt like we were back in our pop-up camper, it really did.

We all free-fell onto beds, and somebody turned on the TV. One of the boys scrolled through the channels, and they all seemed to be associated with the BBC in some way. No Nickelodeon, or any of their other faves…

Next thing I know, we’re all asleep and clear-cutting timber. I think we were konked-out for upwards of two hours. I woke up first, and
Friends was on the TV. Rachel was likening childbirth to “pushing a St. Bernard out of your ass.”  

What the shit??
Where the hell am I? What’s my name??

Toney woke up when I started moving around, and I told her I was going to find a store, and buy some beer. It had been a long day, or two days, or whatever the hell it was. And I was wanting some beverages.

She told me to be careful, and I took off. It was starting to get dark, and I walked in the direction of the Tube station, the only direction I knew. I wandered down the street, past a couple of pubs I’d want to visit later, and eventually saw a smallish grocery store, on the other side of the street.

I noticed many people were crossing in the middle of the block, and decided to do the same. And as soon as I stepped off the curb a motorcycle came screaming out of nowhere, and very nearly hit me. I mean, the dude was
moving. And it scared the crap out of me.

After that I used the crosswalks like a nerd, and it still felt like an adventure every time. It seems like cars (and motorcycles) in London
only have two settings: off and wide-open. After that near-miss, I was never completely at ease crossing a street there.

I bought a four-pack of Bass Ale, and went back to the hotel. We had dinner in the restaurant downstairs, all four of us like zombies (in my case a Boddington’s-swilling zombie), and then we slept for twelve hours. Oh boy, did we sleep.

I only woke up once, at 4 AM
, and heard people singing and hollering in the streets. Huh, the pubs must’ve just closed, I thought, and immediately drifted off again.

And next time I’ll tell you about Day Three, our visit to Tower
of London, and our Big Japanese Dinner.

See ya then.

Read about Day Three




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