London day

Mary Anne and I both arrived at Heathrow yesterday (Wednesday) morning around 7 a.m. She'd had a row to herself on a BA flight from Chicago, and had gotten some sleep; I'd had a window seat next to a fairly chatty five-person family on a United flight from SFO, and despite my best efforts (NyQuil, pillow, earplugs, headphones playing sleep-inducing music, scarf wrapped around eyes to block light) I had gotten only about two hours of sleep on the plane. But I was surprisingly un-sleepy for most of the day.

We had arranged to meet at Yotel, a tiny mini-hotel with a space-age design aesthetic at Heathrow, because Mary Anne wanted to shower after the flight (which also seemed like a good idea to me) and that was the simplest of the showering-at-Heathrow options that seemed to be available. (I looked at a bunch of websites, and there was a bunch of conflicting info, especially about whether there are free showers at Terminal 4 or not.) Our con hotel had turned out to be way over on the far side of London, and wasn't open for checkin until 2 p.m. anyway.

What with Customs, and picking up checked bags, and getting on the Heathrow Express train between terminals, and showering, and Mary Anne kindly helping a woman who had several large pieces of luggage, we didn't end up leaving Heathrow until maybe 10 a.m.? Something like that.

(Before leaving Heathrow, we stopped at a WHSmith and bought two US-to-UK power adapters, because the one I had painstakingly made sure to bring from home turned out not to be one at all—I think it was a US-to-Australian adapter. But it turned out the ones we bought at the airport were two-prong on the US side, which meant we couldn't plug in our three-prong MacBook power cords.)

We had planned to drop our luggage at Left Luggage at Waterloo station—I'd been amazed and pleased to learn that it was possible to leave your luggage at a railway station. I'd picked Waterloo because it seemed to be (a) the closest Left Luggage station to where we were planning to spend most of the day, and (b) fairly straightforward to get to on the Tube.

So we took Heathrow Express to Paddington station, where it turned out there was temporarily no service to Waterloo. Two sets of signs gave three different possible ways to get to Waterloo, but it wasn't clear how to choose among them or how to follow any of the given directions. A kind station agent gave us a fourth route; we lugged our bags up and down various stairs, and eventually got on a Circle Line train (everything became much clearer once we could look at the stations on a Tube map) via Victoria to Westminster (I was kind of tempted to start a game of Mornington Crescent but I thought the locals might not appreciate it, and the train was packed—I can only imagine what it's like at peak commute times), and then transferred to Jubilee line and thence to Waterloo. All of which took longer than expected. And then a long trudge back and forth through Waterloo until we found Left Luggage.

Time had, as is its wont, proceeded, and by this time it was 11:30 a.m. (I had opted for the train because it seemed like it was faster than a cab, but in retrospect I think a cab from Heathrow to Waterloo might've been faster and less stressful) and we were hoping to reach the Globe in time to see if they had any returns for tickets for the 2 p.m. show of Antony and Cleopatra, which were supposed to go on sale at noon. The website a couple of days earlier had said that all seats for that show were sold out, but that there might be returns; and we weren't up for standing in the groundling area for a three-hour performance, so we were hoping for returns.

We decided to walk to the Globe; we got only a little lost en route. I had jumped through all the hoops to get my phone set up to use UK phone and data services, but I mostly couldn't get any signal at all, and when I could I mostly couldn't get a data signal, and when I could I mostly couldn't load Google Maps. But we eventually found our way to the theatre. And lo! they had tickets for seats for that afternoon's performance! I don't know why the website had said they were sold out.

(Let me digress a moment to say that all of the British buy-tickets-online-for-touristy-stuff websites that I tried in the past week or two have been badly designed in a variety of ways. One of them did have a charmingly labeled field for "House number or name," though. Almost all of them required me to enter a title for myself, which made me grumpy; on one of them, I almost did my usual thing of picking the least plausible item, which in that instance was “Baroness,” only then I realized that I was going to the UK and that they might not take kindly toward impersonating a Peer. I ended up sticking with Professor.)

So we bought tickets, and then we went on the Official Tour, which was really more of a semi-comic lecture in three locations. Our tour guide (unlike another one I overheard) was very intent on Being Funny and on framing everything as questions to us, and on pointing out differences between rich people and poor people in Shakespeare's time. I imagine some of it was due to the difficulties of giving a tour when you can expect that much of your audience isn't fluent in English. She really pounded home the point that poor people at the time smelled very bad—she made it quite clear in the Globe itself, and then gave a lengthier and more detailed recounting of the reasons when we were back outside of the theatre.

So I wouldn't recommend the tour, except for one thing: it gave us about five minutes of wandering around in the Globe (which was super-cool even though it's a reconstruction of the original) and of being allowed to take photos (which isn't allowed during performances). So that was very nice.

We had lunch at the Globe's little restauranty place, and then it was time for the show.

Will try and write up more thoughts about the show at some future time; for now, suffice to say that although there were aspects I couldn't follow (I really ought to know better than to go into a Shakespeare play without knowing the basics of the story, especially three days after the last time I did that), overall it was quite well done. Eve Best was particularly good in an Emma Thompson-like performance of Cleopatra, especially when she occasionally ad-libbed nonverbal interactions with the audience and environment.

I have more thoughts about live theatre, but I'll save that for another post. After the show, we ambled along the river (by way of the Festival of Love); we had originally intended to do other touristy things for a couple of hours and then go up in the London Eye at sunset, but we were both tired, and so we went to the Eye earlier than planned. After a couple of relatively short queues, we traded in our paper vouchers for fast-track tickets (queues and voucher-for-ticket exchanges were themes of the day) and went up in the air.

I thought it was kind of nice, the sort of thing that's worth doing once. I wouldn't have wanted to stand in the non-fast-track queue for it. It was a leisurely half hour, and there wasn't as much to see as I had hoped/expected, but there were nice views of Big Ben and the Parliament building, and slightly less-nice views of the rest of central London, and although the sun was neither ideally placed nor actually setting, and although it's not something I would do again, I thought it was a nice slow-paced thing to do. Mary Anne, alas, did not enjoy it; she would've liked it much more if it had gone about five times as fast.

By the time we got off, it was clearly time to end the day's tourist activities. We walked back to Waterloo, got our bags, then came back to the Eye, bought three-prong power adapters from a street vendor, and got onto a Thames Clipper riverboat.

We both liked that part of the day. A first leisurely and then rapid trip along the river, with lots of interesting buildings and the sun setting behind the Tower Bridge. Pictures may follow soon.

Got off at North Greenwich Pier, and walked (further than we would've liked at the end of a long day) to Emirates Air Lines, which is an aerial cable car/gondola lift over the river. They had few enough customers that they gave us a car to ourselves, which was nice despite the presence of the informative but distracting history video that played during the entire ten-minute trip.

And then a few more minutes' walk brought us to our hotel and the end of the day. Well, there was also dinner across the street, and various hotel mix-ups, but that was the end of the tourist part of the day, so that's where I'll stop this entry.

And now, having had some nice downtime in my room writing this up, I'm gonna go have some late lunch and then see what's going on at the con.

4 Responses to “London day”

  1. jere7my

    I recommend the official Tube Map app, if you haven’t downloaded it already. Not only can you consult the map offline, but it will also calculate routes between stations. I’m not sure it handles diversions, but it makes it easy to route around them.

    • Jed

      jere7my: Cool—thanks! Somehow it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be a Tube Map app. I’ll go download it! That would’ve been super-handy the other day. Maybe next time I visit an unfamiliar city I’ll think to look for that kind of thing.

  2. daveeden1

    Great recap of your first day in London. Is this your first visit? I’m looking forward to more of your stories as the wife and I will be heading to London in about a month.


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