Dover UK 2009 BellaOnline Gathering
I only got one hour of sleep before leaving the house early Monday morning for my flight. There were billions of things to do. I tried vainly to catch up on all my email messages, the backlog that had been created from my recent trip to Seattle. I had polymer clay pendants to make (rose theme!) for all the editors at the gathering. I had to pack. I almost forgot my laptop! I would have been dead without that. Finally we were off, and with only a little traffic, Bob dropped me off at Logan about 7:30am.
Monday - Landing in Heathrow
I've been spoiled with recent flights - no lines at all for the self service kiosk so I zipped right through. This time there was a HUGE line for the self service kiosks (I flew on American Airlines) plus another huge line for real human interaction ticketing. Luckily the line moved fairly quickly. Then through security which I have down pat - slip-on shoes, nice thick socks, easy access laptop to put out separately. They didn't even need to see my boarding pass as I went through the scanner. In very little time I was at the gate with an hour to spare before my 9am flight.
I called Bob to let him know I was OK, and then I called Verizon's global service. Due to the typical last-minute rush I get into I had only received my global phone Saturday and Monday at 8am was the first time I thought I could activate it. It turns out they said I could have activated it over the weekend. Oh well! The lady was VERY nice and talked me through the steps. In only a few minutes my global phone was fully functional and sending and receiving calls from my normal cell phone number. Perfecto! Now I could easily talk with editors while in Europe.
In a little while they began boarding. I had seat 11A - on the left, just before the engine. The plane was half empty so I got the row to myself. My travel bag fit beneath the seat, hurrah! As soon as they let me I had my noise cancelling headphones on (Bose, highly recommended) and my iPod "sleepy time" playlist playing on repeat. I even had a fuzzy eye cover. They gave free blankets and pillows, another plus. I got to see the coast of Maine as we flew past which was very pretty. I was soon out like a light.
I did wake up for both the breakfast (omelet) and mini-lunch (turkey sandwich) which were both good. As we approached London I took a ton of photos. There were tons of brick row houses all stuffed together one after another. There were also large mansions surrounded by parkland. Very sharp contrasts between the two. Finally we landed!
We all walked to customs which had long lines, it took about a half hour to get through that. There were four lines - one with retina scanning (Iris I think?) one for some sort of a fast pass, one for EU members and one for "others". I was in the "other" line. Interestingly very few people in this line were caucasian. Most seemed to be African with a few Indians as well. When I got up to the desk she just asked where I was going and why - then I was through. I picked up my one luggage bag, went out the "nothing to declare" line and was in the airport proper.
I stopped at the ATM to get out some British Pounds, then went over to the taxi queue (line). There were warnings on the intercom system to only use a "real" taxi in the taxi line and not a random other car, so I made sure to go where the big TAXI sign was. There were three black cars lined up. I'm not sure how to describe them. They were sort of large and round. Sort of like when you watch old movies from the 20s and 30s, how the police cars looked. Rounded sides and high. A woman was there managing them, in a uniform, so she sent me to the first taxi (nobody else was in line).
My friend Peter had reserved my hotel for me tonight, a Travelodge right at the airport. He said "I have checked with the mayors office. Suggest you go to taxi rank and get a taxi direct to your hotel. That will be easiest and quickest. Should cost around 10-15 GBP depending on traffic. Pay what is on meter, usual to round up to add a 10%ish tip." OK, easy enough. I had printed out my hotel confirmation for the Travelogue and handed it to the taxi driver. He was confused by it and brought it over to another taxi driver to look at. They decided something and he got in the car. It seemed like a VERY long drive for a location that was at the airport! I was beginning to worry that we were lost but then I saw the Travelodge building up ahead. It was far on the outskirts of the airport amidst warehouses and wrecked buildings. He dropped me off and said it would be 34 pounds. That's a little more than 10 pounds! However I am not one to argue, perhaps a failing of mine, I figured I would complain to the proper authorities when I got home. So I asked for a receipt, gave him his 34 pounds, gave him 4 pounds tip a per Peter, and headed in. (Taxi Driver 28666 - should have been ominous right there).
The Travelogue is very "basic". There was a large line but I got through it fairly quickly. They looked up my reservation, gave me a key card and a ripped little piece of paper with my room number on it. Then they announced my room number and said for me to enjoy. It's a HUGE issue in the US if they publicly state your room number, for security reasons. They never do that. Especially for a single woman traveling alone. I was surprised (by the ripped piece of paper being my 'receipt' / room info too) but took it and headed up. She didn't even point me at the elevators :) There was a bar / cafe with cafeteria style tables in that entry area.
Up to the room. This is definitely VERY basic. No telephone! Isn't that a security risk, what if someone starts banging on my door? Because they know my room number? :) No toiletries at all. The walls are mostly bare. Still it's I think 35 pounds a night (the same as my taxi ride!) which does count. So I opened up my laptop to make sure that worked. I didn't try plugging it in yet - I have plenty of battery life and wasn't quite ready to risk that yet. (alternate power type and all). I read the instructions for th wireless internet.
They wanted to charge 5 pounds an HOUR!! Good God! It's 10 pounds for a full day which is still highway robbery but of course I need it so I paid it. I tried with my credit card and they claimed the number was invalid so I used PayPal. Pretty cool that PayPal is the universal currency. That got me online and my mail flowing which is critical. If I don't check my mail daily the mail folders will fill up, max out, and start bouncing important message. So that done, I headed down for some food.
I bet you guessed it - the kitchen had closed because it was now after 10pm. No food at all. Well, peanuts. Salted. So I ordered a glass of Shiraz from their menu. They started going for something really pink. OK, not that. I asked for a Tempranillo instead and that was an actual red wine. And I got a bag of salted peanuts. Luckily I'd kept my crackers and cheese from the plane just in case. So my first "dinner" in England was two crackers with soft cheese, a bag of "nobby's nuts" (ick!!) peanuts, and my Sam's Choice trail mix I bring with me in my luggage for emergencies.
Still, I was here, I was alive, and I had a clean place to sleep. Now I had to try to actually sleep and wake up for when Peter comes to pick me up tomorrow morning at 9:45am for our trip out to Champagne! Of course I have no phone for a wake-up call and there is NO CLOCK in here either, so luckily I have my travel alarm with me!
LOL ok just discovered another problem. Even if my email is running and polling for messages they log me out after 10 minutes of no BROWSER activity. So normally I leave my laptop on all night so it gets messages for me in a steady stream. With the way this works, I'll have to download another big block of messages in the morning because it won't realize I'm still online. I wonder if I load up a site like CNN - where it auto refreshes every 5 minutes or so - if that will keep it active. Worth a try.
Here's all the photos from today, I'll try to sort them when I'm home and have time.
So - notes. I *should* be able to plug my laptop into a "converter" that turns my 3-prong into the UK square-prong shape without any other alteration, because my laptop can handle the 240 volts a UK outlet puts out. I am not risking it yet. Friends who panic about having cross-shoulder purses need not worry - nobody tried to approach me at all. Most people at the hotel seemed either American or British. It was exciting riding on the "wrong" side of the road especially around "roundabouts" (rotaries). They do have "English breakfast tea" in the room for breakfast but nothing else. My room "comes" with breakfast so we'll see how that works in the morning. I did call Bob finally once he got off the golf course so I have verified my phone works, I had to put a 011 in front of the number to get to the US. I'm not *exactly* tired but it's 11:09 UK time so I need to get to sleep and set up my travel alarm clock to wake me up. That way I can have my breakfast and be ready when Peter arrives!
Dover UK / Champagne FR Trip
Lisa's 2009 Travelogues Main Page
Lisa's Travelogues Main Page