There will be a master post with all the links to make it easier to go through the whole shebang.
Our last day in London was devoted to getting our passports. You’ll remember that they expired half-way through our trip and even though nobody noticed at SFO or Newark or Edinburgh on our way in, I was not in any mood to try and fake my way out of the UK or back into the US. My Plan B was “OOPS! What do you mean they’ve expired? “ Consider this was exactly one week after they announced the killing of Osama Bin Laden, this was probably not a good idea.
We had a 9:00AM appointment at the American Consulate in Grosvenor Square, we got there about an early to line up. We didn’t actually have to wait that long before we got through the first security check-point, with the metal detectors.
After that, we walked to the front of the building, up the stairs, past some guys with REALLY BIG GUNS, into the Consulate itself. Filled out application forms, got a number and, went into the waiting room. WHERE WE WAITED AND WAITED AND WAITED. Thank god for my stack of old New Yorkers. Wait, wait, wait.
When our number finally came up, we went to the designated window and met the lovely Sharon, who immediately told us that our pictures were the wrong size. Turns out that the size used for British passports (and therefore the kind of pictures taken by machines in the British rail stations) is different than the ones used for American passports.
Apparently this isn’t the first time Sharon had wrong across this situation, since she was already with a card for a nearby drugstore where we could go to get the right sized photos. So we went down the stairs, past the guys with the BIG GUNS, down the block to the drugstore. New pictures. Back up the street and past the guys with the BIG GUNS, back on line and back to Sharon, who took our stuff and has us wait some more.
Then we had our interview with another guy, which basically consisted of me explaining that I was an idiot and that’s why we hadn’t known our passports were going to expire until we were on the descent to Edinburgh. I didn’t mention the bit about forgetting my birth-control pills although that might have been the clincher to prove that I was a moron, rather than a potential terrorist.
Side-note: There were all kinds of “watch out for bombs” signs around and it made me sad to realize that when we were in the UK 10 years earlier, you couldn’t find a garbage bin in the tube, because there was a very real fear of IRA bombs. Now it was ten years later and there was no worry (that I know of) about the IRA, but you still couldn’t find a bin in a tube station.
Guess what happened after that? MORE WAITING. And then. Finally. OUR PASSPOSRTS!!!! YAY!!!
The next mission was to ride a Boris Bike. It took forever to figure out how the system worked and get the bikes out of the rack and even more time for me to actually get somewhat comfortable on the damn thing.
We went into one of the big parks. Once again, I'm not sure if it was Regents or St. James. It turned out we couldn’t ride through, but there were lanes on the outside. That was ok, until we ended up back in a major traffic area and I started freaking out because it was too scary. So Hubby started steer a course through the side streets, always moving toward the Thames. We ended up near the Chelsea Embankment, which was pretty quiet.
I really loved riding there. The blue bike paths were well-paved and reassuring. Another wonderful part of the trip. Eventually we got back to the crowded touristy area and I couldn’t maneuver at all. I did such a bad job that I heard some old guy I nearly plowed into saying to his wife, “Boris and his bloody bikes!”
We put the bikes in a rack near Waterloo and got in a cab because we had yet another Mission. This time we wanted to return to Somerset House, which was a magical discovery for us on our first night in London on our first trip to London back in 2001. It was still great, but not as spectacular as our memories of it in on the first night. Maybe it needs to be seen in the dark. I still love the fountains, though.
There was an installation called of vert creepy looking animals in the Courtyard. It was actually Zodiac Animals by Ai Weiwei.
After that, we took another cab to Fortnum & Mason for our last afternoon tea, but it was too early, so we walked around Jermyn street and that whole “fashionable” area for a while until 4PM. Then we got seated in the downstairs restaurant, but the menu didn’t look like an afternoon tea, so we asked and were told that THAT tea was upstairs.
Whew! It would have been super-disappointing to not have a proper afternoon tea for our last day in London. This was up to snuff, although we’d have a few better on the trip.
From there we walked back to the insanity of Picadilly on a Thursday night, which is when the stores stay open late. We wandered around looking for the Doctor Who exhibit, which we’d seen posters for, but it was apparently long gone. Once we gave on that, we needed another cab to get back to the hotel.
We were both getting tired and cranky and disoriented and ended up with a driver who seemed very dodgy. I think he was supposed to be picking up someone else, but took us instead. He gave us a flat rate, instead of the meter, which was good because the traffic was really bad. He let us off at this mall near our hotel, which he said had interesting stores and restaurants, but was actually nothing but chain stores.
Back to the hotel for some preliminary packing and then out in search of our last dinner in Islington. We found a smallsushi place. No idea what it was called. I didn't eat much since I was still pretty stuffed from the tea. I was also really numb and exhausted at this point. I barely managed to stay up long enough to write a last London drabble and maybe see one last Touch of Frost.
We got out early the next morning. My heavy bag was even heavier, in spite of leaving as much as I reasonably could in the hotel room for the maids
A cab showed up to take us to Heathrow. We had a last breakfast at Garfunkel’s at the airport.
The flight to Newark was pretty drama-free. I used the complimentary movies to watch Tropic Thunder. I could have lived without the gross-out bits, but Robert Downey Jr and Tom Cruise were fucking hilarious, a sentence I never thought I’d write. Also love to Matthew McConaughey, not generally one of my favorites.
Immigration and Customs at Newark, would have been ok, except I broke a goddess nail trying to pick up my back and let out a shriek which scared Hubby and probably everyone else.
We got the luggage transferred and went upstairs to wait for the our flight to San Francisco. I gave into the longing for Dunkin’ Donuts and also ended up buying a new headset for my Ipod since I’d lost a pad somewhere over the Atlantic.
The last leg of the trip was absolute hell. Hot. Crowded. Miserable. No free TV, of course. At one point I got up to take a little walk to the back of the plane, just to stretch my legs and maybe, just maybe, get a bit of sympathy.
So I get back there and one of the flight attendants looked the slightest bit worried that I might throw up, because then they’d have to clean it up, you know actually work. One of them asked if I was ok, and I said I just wished the flight was over and then, so help me, this witch actually said, “It’s a seven hour flight and if you can’t handle it, we have connections.”
That’s pretty much my last memory of the trip and thus the end of my report, which has only taken nearly a year to get finished.
(In retrospect, this makes me quite happy that their lousy airline no longer exists. It saves me the trouble of saying I will never fly them again and urging you to do likewise.)