London 2014: Day One – Getting there is half the fun

2014-08-13 21.57.59This trip actually started a few months ago when AAron and family couldn’t make it to LonCon3, the World Science Fiction convention, this year held in London. Since they couldn’t go, but had already gotten memberships, Rasa and I took them over and planned a tourist trip around the con.

Of course, this wasn’t the only way AAron was involved. See, we were flying RyanAir which is notorious for how cut-rate they are. Until very recently, they would only allow one carry on bag, no more than 10kg, and anything else would be charged an exorbitant fee. They’ve since loosened policy a bit, but not much. In any case, we still weren’t checking any bags, but we had the ability to take two onboard. We each had a backpack and a shoulder bag stuffed with clothes and various other necessities and the two largest backpacks I own, once belonged to, you guessed it, AAron. And since he’s a survival gear guy, these are good packs. One of them, the one Rasa was using, had a couple of extra pouches and in one of these pouches was a flashlight…which, of course, set off the security alarms. It wasn’t a big deal, just a slight bump, but it made us laugh as she had to try and figure out how it worked so she could show the security folk. Not that it was that complicated, but the pressure of them staring can fluster anyone.

2014-08-13 17.14.53-2Once through security and passport control (I finally got a stamp in the new pages I had put in before I went to Vegas in January, yay!!) the flight itself was okay, if a little bumpy and we landed at Gatwick on time (Ryan over-estimates their flight times so they always land “on time”). At Gatwick, again at passport control, Rasa stayed with me in the “Non-EU” line where I made her fill out a landing card which was totally unnecessary for her. Also because of another non-EU flight ahead of us, this time that line moved MUCH slower than the resident one.

We hopped on the “Express” to Victoria Station (which is huge and impressed Rasa with its immensity – little did she realize bigger stations were yet to be seen), got our oyster cards sorted (with a 7 day travel pass) and headed off to check in to our hotel. We had found a relatively inexpensive place (for London) which seemed to be close to the ExCel Center (where the con was being held) and the City Center (where the history was being held) called the CityStay Hotel. It was a decent place, about a half hour from everywhere. The only drawback was the size of the bathroom. Honestly, there was barely room to turn around in there. If you were a slightly larger person, you wouldn’t fit at all.

So we got in and got settled, unpacked everything and decided to head out. Like we did in Paris, we figured we’d hit the city our first evening and see what was what. Also, the adapter I’d brought to charge my phone (and really, any USB device) wasn’t working so we needed to get a local version of that, too. So back to Victoria station to try and catch the night tour bus to see the sights. Turns out, the bus was booked solid (but we did get an adapter for the phone) and headed across the street where Wicked was playing to see if there were still tickets available for that night’s show (since we had the time). There weren’t so instead we just decided to wander.

Our first stop, naturally, was Buckingham Palace. It was still light out so we could see everything in all its glory. It’s always2014-08-13 22.02.33 fun to see these sights with someone who has never seen them before. They really are pretty unique places, especially in terms of cultural obsequiousness. So pictures were taken, and as the sun was setting, the moisture in the air set off a rainbow or two. It was beautiful!

We walked along St. James’ Park to get to Parliament Square and the center piece of visual London – Big Ben. Like the Eiffel Tower, Rasa really wanted to see the iconic clock. It was actually pretty funny when we crested a slight curve in the road and the tower came into view – and she was talking to me. I had to stop her and point. Then her jaw dropped and her eyes went wide. Again, amazing to see these landmarks through new eyes.

2014-08-13 22.34.44From there, Westminster Abbey was a hop, skip and a jump away so we wandered by. When we had been discussing things to do and see before the trip, Westminster had been mentioned and discarded as “someplace to have a quick look at.” Neither of us are big into churches but once she saw the exterior, Rasa put the Abbey back on our list. I explained it wasn’t so much a church as a historical landmark so we made plans to come back.

By this point, it was getting dark and I wasn’t sure where to go next. I’ve been to London enough I kind of have a ghost map in my head – I know roughly where things might be but really no sense of distance or precise locations. I remember in the past, in another life, recalling the cool parts of London made for a very small area, relatively speaking, so we decided to wander in general directions and hoped to see cool things.

2014-08-13 22.56.29The first thing we came to was Trafalgar Square, which, in the evening’s twilight, was even more 2014-08-13 23.05.03beautiful than it is during the day. We talked about Nelson’s Column and the Blue Rooster now occupying the fourth plinth. After that, though, I was at a loss. It was starting to drizzle slightly and I wasn’t sure where to go next, what to see and even if I did, I wasn’t sure where it was.

So we wandered. We stumbled through the Theatre District and Soho, walked a bit down Charing Cross, saw places I’d been before (always good for stories) and so many theaters with shows I’d love to see!

We finally decided to call it a night and popped into the next Underground station we found and headed back to the hotel. 2014-08-13 22.59.22Even though the convention officially started on Thursday, we’d decided to forego the opening festivities in favor of seeing  some sights and sounds.

Thursday was looking like a long day indeed!

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