Copyright 2018 by Michael W. Rickard
It’s been said getting there is half the fun, but I disagree. My trip to the United Kingdom wasn’t a horrendous ordeal to Zaire like Norman Mailer’s The Fight, but it reminded me of why I despise going through airports and that you can never be too prepared for a trip overseas.
After a surprisingly pleasant transatlantic flight, I was ready to get through Heathrow Airport and head to my Air BnB. First though, I had to go through customs. Given the airport’s immense size (five terminals) I shuddered at the thought of going through security and how long I’d have to wait. I grabbed my passport and looked at the line—not bad for about 7am. Unfortunately, the line proved deceiving and reminded me of going to Disney where just when you think you’ve reached the end of the line, you see a new line. The toughest part of the line was the wait as the customs officials were quite pleasant. I scanned my laptop, handed my passport and got through with no problem.
I picked up my luggage and turned in some U.S. dollars for British pounds. My game plan was to have a combination of cash and credit cards so I didn’t have to rely on just one. It was a strategy that proved helpful down the road thanks to the automatons working for the credit card company I dealt with.
South Kensington Station
he next step was a subway ride to Kensington Station, where I could hop a bus and head to my home for the next few days. I’ve been on London’s subway (aka the Tube) but forgot how to get a subway card. The last time I had the benefit of traveling with someone who knew the ins and outs of things, but that was 23 years earlier. Thanks to a Good Samaritan, they showed me how to obtain a ticket and I was on my way. I took the subway and arrived at Kensington Station after a long walk up a few flights of stairs, complimenting myself for only bringing one suitcase.
Couldn't get enough of the scenery!
My Air BnB host gave me excellent directions so it wasn’t hard to find the bus stop that would take me to their flat. However, how much would the bus cost? I made sure I had some coins, but had no clue about fare. I asked a young woman passing by and she kept walking. I counted myself lucky she didn’t pepper spray me. A bus arrived and I asked the driver how much the fare cost. The driver was helpful and told me I needed a bus card as they didn’t take cash. I could get one at any convenience store.
Busy Sunday afternoon
The last thing I wanted to do was drag my suitcase back to Kensington Station, but I didn’t have a choice as I refused to pay for a taxi this early in my trip. I got my bus pass and a water, hauled myself back to the bus stop and arrived. I was amazed at how good the directions were. About 15 minutes later I arrived at my stop. I asked a lady for directions and walked five minutes, arriving at my destination. As Providence would have it, my host was taking out the garbage and greeted me, welcoming me to her flat.
The lovely flat I stayed at for a few days. I had no idea it was in a posh neighborhood.
After my host showed me around, I hit the sack for a few hours sleep. Regardless of what you’re supposed to do for jet lag, I took a nap as I’d been up all night. When I woke up, I was hungry and decided to take a walk. My hostess told me she and her boyfriend were going to a seafood festival at nearby Battersea Park. I had no idea where anything was and just wandered around the park. When I couldn’t find the seafood festival, I took a walk and checked out some restaurants, finally settling on an Italian restaurant.
Battersea Park where the police were on the scene. No, I didn't rob any banks. There was a minor fender bender here.
I always found someone willing to snap a picture
Miniature golf for those inclined
A carnival was on site as well
Beautiful Battersea Park
The beauty of travelling alone is you can explore a city without worrying about anyone arguing about where to go. I looked around until I found someplace appealing and went in. It was fairly basic with some wooden tables but the menu looked great. If the waitress spoke five words of English, it was a lot. Nevertheless, she was pleasant and had no problem taking my order. I ordered a pizza and Long Island Iced Tea. I was thirsty and the Tea probably wasn’t the best thing on a hot day but I had it. Later, when my pizza arrived, I had some water (still water as they call it in the U.K.). The pizza was fantastic and I had no problem finishing it, the water, or the Long Island Iced Tea.
Fantastic pizza that hit the spot.
A bar even Dean Martin couldn't put a dent in
Later that night, I met my host and her boyfriend. She told me the restaurant I’d gone to was called Bunga Bunga and was an old haunt of Prince Harry. While the restaurant was dead in the afternoon, it was said to be a happening spot in the evening. I thought it was cool that I just happened to end up there rather than seeking out all the tourist traps. After discussing Bunga Bunga, we had some ice cream, talked politics, tipping (I’ll save that story for another time), and the World Cup before they called it a night. I was dead on my feet and couldn’t sleep so I had a brandy and watched TV. An interesting program on ancient African civilizations was on, but host Louis Gates, Jr. proved so annoying I finally changed the channel after one too many instances of him trying to sound hip while interacting with his fellow academics. I surfed the channels until I found a show on the life of Ian Fleming and stayed with it until it finished. One thing that caught my attention was the incredible number of commercials in one break, probably twice that of U.S. programming (although I was intrigued by the marketing).
At some point I made my way to bed and dozed off, eager to sleep, but also eager to try an English breakfast when I got up.