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Saturday, December 13, 2008

London R&R

Last week I took a trip to London for a few days to meet up with an ex-coworker ("The Senator") from my last company. I figured that I deserved a change of scenery and looked forward to seeing a familiar face and spending some time in a country with English as the native language and good beer flows like soda-pop.

I had been to London on several occasions before but this was many years ago during my Naval Reserve days where we would spend 2-3 weeks at a time on active duty there once or twice a year and I really enjoyed it. I always felt comfortable in London and I was curious if it had changed in the intervening years. 

After a couple of weeks of planning, it was a go. In fact, it was remarkable that the arrival and departure times at LHR of our respective flights were within two hours of each other despite me coming from Abu Dhabi and the Senator coming from Los Angeles. 

I secured a Business Class seat out of Abu Dhabi and enjoyed a lay-flat seat, gourmet meals and got to see the new Batman movie---two thumbs up! The approach path into Heathrow provided a great view of the Thames River, the Tower Bridge, and the London Eye Ferris Wheel.

Touchdown, arrival at Terminal 3, and a looooong walk to Immigrations. Luckily I had a Fast Track pass thru Immigrations due to being a Business Class passenger and in no time the Senator and I were having a couple of cold frosties in a Terminal 3 bar.  

We took the new Heathrow Express train into Paddington Station. Fast and inexpensive, it is the way to go. Fifteen minutes total time. Curiously, there was a First Class section on the train and I could not see the attraction of that for a 15 minute ride. The Senator is a junkie for upgraded transport and I am surprised he did not insist on this option!

The hotel was a short walk and soon I was unpacking in what could be described as the smallest hotel room I have ever stayed in (see photo). There was literally 2 feet of free space between the edges of the bed and the walls or other obsructions in all directions. That is why the luggage is on the bed in the photos as floor space was so precious it was required for my feet in moving around. I slept with my suitcase on the bed.  It was clean and comfortable though and the large flatscreen TV was good. 

First order of business for the night was to procure some cold weather wear for yours truly. It was 40 F in London and I had nothing warm to wear as finding cold weather gear in Abu Dhabi is like shopping for bikinis in Iceland. Tubed our way to Oxford Street and took care of that with a newly acquired leather jacket and gloves.

Second goal was a steak dinner at the Hard Rock. The one in London is the original. It is truly a museum of the 60's and 70's iconic band items. This was the first steak dinner I have had since I left the U.S. and it hit the spot.  We had a few pints and were there after the big crowds left and got a table visit from the manager. She was very cute and friendly, but she did not buy my claim to be an oil tycoon and declined my invitation to accompany me back to Abu Dhabi on my "private jet". I guess she had heard it all before, bummer. I just have to get more creative!

Warm now and stomachs full, we turned our attention to finding some possible female companionship and the helpful bouncers at the Hard Rock suggested that Leicester Square would fit the bill, so off we went. Leicester Square was a bit of a disappointment as is was getting late, starting to drizzle and it seemed to be kind of a touristy area like Bourbon Street with touts bugging you to come inside their establishments. Back to the hotel to call it a night. 

Next day it was tubing it to Harrod's, the famous London department store. This place is fantastic! Everything one could want in the way of quality goods can be found in this multilevel palace of consumerism. The Senator bought an item to take home and the unexpectedly cheerful and helpful attitude of the cashier took me aback. How refreshing, she seemed to be enjoying her job! Likewise with the guy manning the cigar department. He was knowledgable and I ended up buying more Cohiba Cuban cigars than I had planned. If there ever is a nuclear holocaust, I want to hole up in Harrods, it's got everything you need!

That night, back to Leicester Square for some authentic fish and chips at Mermaid's which was recommended by other coworkers. The mushy peas cannot be missed! Then back to the hotel to chat-up the new love-of-my-life, Lena. Lena is the attendent at the small bar in the hotel we were staying at. She is from Lithuania and has that rare combination of blonde hair, ice-blue eyes and eastern European accent that turns my knees to jelly. I had talked to her the night before and she seemed to be receptive to my jokes and attention, but when I asked her to go out for a few pints after her shift, she politely refused. Swing and a miss! I think she was just shy, yeah that must be it!

Next day, off to the airport. The Senator's flight left 2 hours before mine so we parted ways at the Heathrow Express terminal and I made my way to Terminal 3. I had a pint of vodka in my carry-on so I bought a large coffee and "enhanced" it with the booze while waiting outside. I checked in and got Biz Class again so feeling good about that I went to a sushi bar and got some shrimp and fish from a cute French waitress. She seemed amused by my high school French. Was she laughing at me or with me? I really don't care. I had fun.

As I was going to my gate, security gave me the third degree. Seems I had forgotten about the now mostly depleted vodka bottle. They took everything out of my luggage and seemed pissed-off that I slightly complicated their day. I travel alot and it was a stupid mistake on my part, but they overreacted in my opinion.

The flight home was uneventful. I slept most of the way and woke up about an hour before arrival in Abu Dhabi. The flight attendant wagged her finger at me and reminded me I slept through the meal service. Yeah, yeah, whatever.

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