Old Blighty

Trip Start Sep 30, 2006
Trip End Jan 16, 2010

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Friday, May 25, 2007

After 12 plus hours from Bangkok to London, on an amazingly uncrowded journey from Bangkok, I lucked out and had 3 seats to myself, so I was actually able to get some shuteye. I love Thai Airways. I loved Thailand too, but that's a different subject! Of all my flights, Thai and Qatar Airways had the very best service, food and new airplanes. China Air was also a suprise, on shiny new airplanes and sparkling, floors you can eat off of, new airports. Thai stewardesses dress up as if for a night out to the opera, in long gorgeous silk skirts with tailored suit jackets in complementary colors. The plane is bright with pink, orange and majenta seating, and beautiful artwork is everywhere, including the menus for our food. Since I got the veggie meal I got my food served first, a big plus, but a little skimpier than other food items on the menu. However considering airline food these days, the free meal was welcomed!!  Arriving in England for the first time in 20 years I am amazed at how it's grown. It is also much more expensive. Since my London pals are still living in Sydney, and it costs $120 to get downtown from Heathrow, I decide that sleep trumps sightseeing. I use my Marriott points again to stay at the nearest hotel. While I slept a bit on the plane, between the long flight and going back in time, my immediate needs were a good bed and a hot shower. I always wondered, "who stays at those airport hotels??" Frequent and long-haul travelers, that's who!! I decide I love mixing occasional stays at four star hotels (very occasional) with my regular diet of youth hostels. The hotels afford me much needed privacy and a little bit of luxury when I need a little boost. The youth hostels and guest houses are my preferred accommodations, as I meet fellow travelers and can usually count on getting good cheap meals and info about budget tours or activities. I find that hotels nickel and dime people to death with fees for phones, snacks, computer usage, and even water, and charge exorbinantly for meals. Not to mention they are very lonely. Exept when an overzealous security guard gets on my case for leaving my pack at the seat while I'm up at the counter, paying my bill. Where else am I supposed to put it?? So good for a night's rest after long haul flights, but otherwise not the most welcoming places to stay. It's almost as if the hotel workers don't trust backpackers. We could be terrorists, after all why would we walk around with packs on our backs? Must be something dangerous in there......After a sound night's slumber outside of London's Heathrow, I ponder my next moves. I hadn't planned on spending time in the UK, except to visit my cousin living in the northwest, but I always fantasized about walking the "Coast to Coast" walk. Seeing how the weather is  - cold and rainy with absolutely zero visibility, I'm thinking that might not be the best idea. I still must have been suffering from jet lag as I bravely (or rather, insanely) decide to rent a car. I've grown weary of public transport and don't want to rely on schedules at the moment. The only problem is, having made this momentous decision, when I pull out my license, I see that I've been traveling so long that my driver's license is expired! I didn't realize this minor detail until the rental car guy show's up with the car - here in London, they delivered the car to me, how civilized! Instant moral dilemma, do I tell him?? I decided to do one of my dances with the universe. If he notices and tells me I can't rent the car, I'll go with that. But if he doesn't notice, and processes all the paperwork, I'll go with that too!! A few anxious minutes of signature signing, credit card swiping and me putting on my best poker face go by. Then bingo, he drives away and I've got wheels!!! I feel very confident, like the universe is conspiring with me, as I didn't need proof at the hotel for my special rate either. I feel on top of the world!!  An expensive, but decidedly correct choice for the moment, this small victory over "the system" gives me the temporary and altogether pseudo confidence that I'm back in control of my life. Travel, after all, is all about letting go....... I feel free with the thought of getting out into the lovely English countryside, visions of green fields, hills and dales in my romantic head. Yet ha ha! Easier said than done!! Once in the car, I realize what a fool I was to think this would be a safe haven!! London drivers, who know their way around the maze of the airport with 99 million roundabouts are absolutely crazed, not to mention driving on the left side. But that's okay I'm used to it now, meaning I have to be as totally crazed - hey at least I use my directional!! Look just writing about driving in London traffic makes me stressed. It takes me a bit of doing (like an hour) to get out of Heathrow with all the crazy roundabouts, but finally I'm motorway bound and headed to the countryside. I make some other mistakes along the way, but for my first time driving in England, not half bad. The roads are much more developed than 20 years ago (what did I expect?), much more like US traffic. To boot, it is a bank holiday weekend, and school holidays all next week so there's loads of people on the roads. Hopefully, I'm able to reach cousin Michelle's house in one piece. To be continued... 
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