London Calling – Day 1

*I apologize in advance if the paragraphs aren’t separated… apparently I’m having some formatting issues. At least I was while previewing the post. Drat* 

Friday, November 18, 2011:

The morning was spent getting ready. After lunch Adeline and Bastien dropped me off at the train station in Namur (around 1:30). I left Namur at 1:51 and arrived in Brussels at approximately 2:58. My train from Brussels (with Eurostar) wasn’t scheduled to leave for an hour, but I’m glad that I was there so early. I was able to go to the washroom and have lots of time to wait in the check-in line. This was my first experience with border control since leaving Canada/arriving in Belgium. I had to show my passport and Belgian residence permit. Then once that was done I had to stop and fill out a landing card for England. This had my name, birthday, place of birth, address of where I was staying in the UK, how long I was staying, how I was getting there. Then I had to hand that in and get my passport stamped.

The women I dealt with here was nice. She asked me how long I’d been in Belgium (almost a year). Is this your first time in the UK? Yes. What took you so long? Well, I had to wait till it worked for my friend! I laughed…well, I laughed after the fact, internally. I might have chuckled with her, I’m not sure. Then it was time to get in line and go through security. I’m so glad I was able to put everything in my backpack and purse. A suitcase would have been easier on my back, but my smallest one is too big to take for a weekend storing it on the train would have been a little harder. Not to mention stairs. When I finally got to the waiting area I looked for a place to sit down, but it was pretty crowded. I spotted an ATM where I could get some UK currency. That made it really easy. By the time I had my money I only had to wait a few minutes till we could start boarding. It was awesome because the car where I had my seat was right in front of the ‘moving carpet’ (or whatever those escalator-things that aren’t steps are called) that brought us up from the station. I had a window seat and no neighbour. I kept expecting someone to come and scan my ticket that I had printed off. No one came. Maybe I was supposed to scan it myself somewhere…

Ready for lift off! Oh wait...wrong form of transportation.

I kept a log of travel times on my iPod:

  • Departed Brussels: approx. 3:56pm. For both rides, there and back, I was facing backwards…you only noticed if you were looking out the window…which I did a lot.
  • Arrival Lille Europe: 4:30
  • Departed Lille Europe: 4:36 – still no neighbour.
  • Entered tunnel under the channel: 5:03 (4:03 UK time)
  • Exited tunnel ”                                     “: 5:26 (4:26)
  • Arrival Ebbsfleet International: 5:44 (4:44)
  • Departed Ebbsfleet International: 5:47 (4:47)
  • Arrival St. Pancras International, London: 6:00 (5:00)

My view upon arriving at St. Pancras International in London.

Of course when I got there I couldn’t see a thing because the sun sets just after 4. It took me a little while to find Martha. I just sort of followed the crowd, went down another ‘moving carpet’, went through a deserted area that had Customs signs everywhere (but no checks), and finally out into the station where I spotted Martha. Maybe I should explain who that it. Martha is a friend of mine from school. I guess you could say from childhood because we’ve shared classes and been friends since grade 1. That’s a long time. Actually, almost 19 1/2 years now. Crazy! We went to school together until the end of high school. She went on to the University of Toronto and I did a victory lap before heading off to Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. Right now she’s in London attending Law school. This is something she always wanted to do and I think it’s awesome that she’s able to, and in London! September 2010 I sang at her sister’s wedding. Well, the 2nd sister. She has 4 older siblings: brother, sister, sister, brother. The 2nd brother (Martin) is just a few years older so we did go to the same school as him occasionally. Martha’s family is German. As far as I know all of her extended family lives in Germany, it was just her parents that came to Canada. He mother is so nice. She had my Mom and I over for brunch once, I went over there for meals a few times to discuss wedding stuff…and since all the kids are fluent in German and English, it doesn’t really matter when their Mom talks using both in the same sentence. For me it was a little different, and her English is pretty accented. It was neat though because I had studied German in school and was able to pick up a bit.
Anyway, so we’ve been friends for a while. I thought – if it worked out for her – why not try to visit her since I’m over here. Thankfully it worked out! So once we connected we loaded up an Oyster card for me. That’s a card you use to take the tube or bus. On the tube you scan when you enter a station, and you scan when you exit one. The price it calculated based on how many zones you travelled through and maybe time too, I’m not sure. I sort of got the hang of the tube by the end, but I didn’t pay that much attention because I didn’t have to lead/find my own way. I just did my best not to lose her in the crowds. We had to stop off at her campus to print off our ticket for the show we were going to see. After that we stopped at a grocery store – I felt like a bull in a china shop with my bag! – stopped for coffee, and then finally went to her flat. She warned me it was ghetto, and it was, but not really any more ghetto than our hotel in Amsterdam :). Her two roommates happened to be Canadian as well. Huh.
So we were just getting ready to leave when Martha asked her one roommate if she knew what the dress code was for the place we were going. Dress codes are taken very seriously over there and a lot of places won’t let you in if you’re wearing jeans. I guess this place was one of them. So we both changed. Although, we were both wearing really dark jeans that if you didn’t look real close might not have been jeans… Finally we were on our way. We were afraid we were going to be late. Turns out we weren’t. We took the tube for a ways and ended up getting off at the station (I can’t remember the name!) right across from the Tower of London. We were there twice, but I never really saw the tower because both times were at night! >_< Then we had to walk a while. We actually almost walked past it, but I saw a sign and we stopped. Then a guy walked right into Martha and apologized profusely. As we were waiting to get our tickets checked that same guy came in and made a comment about how he swears he wasn’t following us. It was funny. Don’t worry, he wasn’t creepy or anything ;). We took a seat near the bar so we would have a good view. Plus we weren’t eating supper there (there’s the option of doing the dinner/show deal). Martha got a Manhattan, I believe, and I tried my very first Cosmo. It was actually pretty tasty. Martha’s Manhattan was a lot stronger than she was used to. The guy we had bumped into twice  came up to us to ask if one of the stools near us was being used, while apologizing again and making sure we knew he wasn’t following us. Then when Martha was up at the bar getting the drinks he offered to buy us each one. She declined. I think he was there alone. When Martha told me about it she said he was sitting by himself at the bar and me, not being sneaky at all, very obviously (but also accidentally) looked right at him. So he probably knew we were talking about him. Anyway, I just thought that whole experience was funny.
Now, time to try to describe this place. Have you ever seen that movie that just came out about a year ago with Cher and Christina Aguilera, Burlesque? If you have, then you’ll have an idea what this place looked like and the atmosphere. The waitresses were all in corsets, little shorts/skirts, some had stockings, all black. The design of the place (what I could see in the dark and dry ice floating around) looked 1920s. Like Chicago. It was a cabaret show called ‘Decades’. It started out in the 20s and with the use of costumes, music, and dancing took us through to the present. They ended the show by inviting people to come up and join the dancers – a nice segue because after the show the stage opened up as a dance floor. It was quite the show, very high energy, and very entertaining. They used a big area including the stage and the floor among the tables. When they were on the stage though it was hard to see because there was a big post in the way. We still had a great time though. I didn’t get to see a musical, but I can go see one in Toronto if I want. This is something I’ve never done before and it was a lot of fun. Plus, between acts Martha and I were able to catch up on a lot of stuff.

The blond girl in the back was the host/singer. She was fabulous! As you can see from the feathered women right in front of me, even some of the patrons got into the spirit of the place.

 By the time we left it was after 11. We got there around 7:45 I think. When we arrived at the tube station we saw a sign for a Jack the Ripper walking tour. We decided we wanted to do that, it was something Martha hadn’t done yet that she was interested in. I though it would be a good idea. More about that in the post on Day 2.
I was pretty tired when we arrived at her flat. I think it’s about a 10-15 min. walk from the closest tube station to her flat. And I walk a lot slower than she does. Before going to sleep I took some time to look through the booklet I picked up at the station in Brussels. When I finally went to bed it was 1am – a.k.a. 2 am – and I was beat.
And so ends the tale of my first foray into the city of London. I didn’t see much because it was dark, but I still had a fun time. I wonder how long I’m going to say ‘pardon’ instead of sorry when I bump into someone? Or how long I’m going to say ‘merci’ instead of thank you? I was doing that so much, it’s ingrained in me now, it’s just my reaction. Even in an English-speaking country I still reacted with French! Not much, but it was still my first reaction.

For the rest of this tiny album click here.

                                                                                                                    

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4 Comments

  1. I’m amazed that different countries are so close and accessible in Europe. Over here, you have to travel for days to get from here to there and still be in the same country!

    Sounds like quite the adventure in the UK!

    Reply
    • It’s crazy! And the best part is, that unless you go to the UK, you have no border checks. At least non requiring passports. Going from Belgium to Luxembourg, Germany, France, Netherlands; those you miss the border half the time. I know going from France to Switzerland you have to stop, but that’s only to pay for a sticker to travel (in France you pay tolls, there it’s one sticker and it’s good for a year). From Switzerland to Austria there’s a noticeable border with people stationed, but we didn’t have to stop. I’m pretty sure from Austria to Germany there wasn’t much… Switzerland still uses the Swiss Franc, so maybe that’s part of the reason why it’s different. Going to Italy might be different too, and some of the other places, but for central Europe it’s pretty easy and half the time you miss the border, especially if you’re not watching for it.

      If I would have taken a train to France and then crossed on boat it would have taken a lot longer. Eurostar is one of those fast trains (like TGV and Thalys). That’s how we got from Brussels to Paris in 1h15m, instead of the 4 or so hours to drive. Imagine how easy cross-USA or cross-Canada travel would be with those trains! They would only stop at major cities and they go faster than your regular trains. I know to get from Ontario to BC with the train is takes 3 days. Mind you, the view is absolutely breathtaking (or so I’ve been told). I think it’s something our countries should look in to.

      Yes, it was an adventure… And the tale is only getting started!

      Reply
      • I agree with Lorna … you’ve had quite the adventure. I love your last thoughts about the language reactions. It does become ingrained …

        Reply
        • I wonder if I’m going to crave ‘adventure’ now…we’ll see once I’m back home and not doing anything. Somehow I don’t think it’s going to be a problem, but I won’t ignore the chance to see more places (if funds are available, lol).

          Reply

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