Thursday, April 30, 2009

April 29-30: Taking Off and Landing, Starting and Then Stopping

Our flight departed Des Moines at 1:33 PM with a connection in Detroit.  Following this, we boarded a larger plane to London.  Fortunately, the back of the seats seemed to be padded with only 3 layers of Kleenex, which would've been no problem at all if there wasn't a small child in the seat behind me who evidently thought I had a keen interest in feeling his small, individual toes pressing with varying force against my lower back; he was sadly mistaken.  In a vain effort, "dad" made at least 6 remarks in attempt to stop the feet, but at an age when one's attention span is roughly that of a flea, the child had no other choice but to continue.  To distract from this, a full meal was served at no additional cost (Flight Attendant: "Chicken or Pasta?"  Nearly Every Passenger: "Chicken." Flight Attendant (after having served most): "Here's your pasta."), including a  breakfast-like offering made up of a less-appetizing, rather doughy egg-and-biscuit, combined (interestingly) with a cup of exotic fruit.  

We deplaned 6 hours and 46 minutes later on the accord of our pilot, though I would've been just fine with a London arrival in, say, an hour or two.  My tire of flight was diminished considerably when we boarded the dot2dot (paid transport for 4-6 people from the airport to the hotel) and met an Australian couple who had just been flying for over 24 hours yet seemed they had just finished spending the day at the beach.  I've never met an Australian who wasn't generally cheery - perhaps there was a beach on the plane.  

The dot2dot ride into the reality/surreality of London was something different altogether.  I was suddenly awakened when faced with the prospects of throngs weaving bikers, motorcyclists, cars, and double-decker buses all roving over lanes barely large enough to contain them, and, for added effect, at great speed - as our driver navigated us to the hotel.  In addition, I was surprised to see distances listed in miles - it is a very interesting group of people who refer to distances traveled by car in miles but the speed at which they travel those distances in kilometers per hour.  Amazingly, we arrived intact and unscathed and were even able to get our room at 10 AM.  This was followed by a well-deserved 2 hour nap.  

After waking, still very tired, we headed towards the British Library to view the Sir John Ritblat Gallery which houses the Library's premier works; amongst the collection: the Magna Carta, pages from DaVinci's notebook, a Shakespeare First Folio, and the original, handwritten lyrics to a number of Beatles songs including Yesterday and Hard Day's Night.  A full listing of the contents of the gallery can be found here: 


Next, we walked in the general direction of the Royal Courts of Justice (home to the Court of Appeal and High Court of Justice of England and Wales) and the Inns of Court (home to 4 professional associations, at least 1 of which every barrister in England and Wales must belong).  Certain structures within the Inns date from the late 13th and early 14th century and were a splendor to view, even from the facade as seen from Fleet Street.  Very near this area is Temple Church, consecrated February 10, 1185 as the Knights Templar's English headquarters, which we attempted to find and succeeded with 10 minutes left before closing time (I didn't even know it'd be open).  We entered and were allowed to take pictures and video and generally had a great 10 minutes (we will be returning here later).  

After this, we walked back towards the hotel, rested for a bit and then headed across the street to the Brunswick, an open air shopping arcade with restaurants interspersed (http://www.brunswick.co.uk/).  Following dinner, we returned to the hotel and promptly crashed at around 7:30 PM.  Dan was out at 8, I lingered on until around 10:30-11 reading and watching BBC News, for some reason unwilling to give in to my body's tiredness.    

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oh! Britannia: Preparations from March 28 - April 28

Q: If one wishes, how fast can one conjure together a passport and full travel plans to an international destination?

A: 14 days at absolute minimum (barring the outlay of exorbitant amounts of funding to a 3rd-party expediter - at least $200 in addition to the expedited passport fee - who can provide such documents in 24-48 hours); 25 in my case.

Rather than spending months glancing over various sources of information, deciding on a destination, and then carefully planning the pursuit, I decided to act with some promptness when I learned that international travel (and national air travel, for that matter) was suddenly very, very cheap.  Not so sudden, I suppose.  Perhaps, as is likely and is the theory to which I subscribe, the cost of travel has declined in a manner similar to the world markets.  

Frankly, it was unhealthy for me to learn of this.  My formerly vacant calendar now seemed to desire company; an entry etched in the future, to which we could both count down.  Former monetary plans now seem irrelevant as I believe the prices will not remain at these levels.  And so, as March was coming to a close, my recently traveled mind (Arizona-California-Utah, as devotees will recall) desired to be more recently traveled.  

What are some of these prices, you ask?

Here are a few samples of air (from Des Moines, IA) and hotel packages (9 nights stay), priced per-person assuming a 2 people splitting the hotel, viewed over the last month (note that all were for an end-of-April to beginning-of-May timeframe):

London: $900
Paris:     $1100
Athens:  $1200
Rome:    $1100
Sydney: $1200

I even tried some fares for later in the year (the end of August) and found these to be nearly the same price.  I reasoned, "If world economy continues to falter, or at least hastens recovery, these prices will remain cheap."  Many sources are pointing to 1st Quarter 2010 as a probable and noticeable recovery timeframe.  So, travel should be this year, I thought.  In addition, I had to take into account my Master's program at ISU (began January 2009 - ends roughly Spring 2012), which was conveniently on break from the middle of April through the middle of May.

And so it is time to go...again.  But this will be very different from any prior travel; this time, an ocean will be crossed, an island nation on a different continent will be visited; a years-long dream will be realized.  And not just any island nation; rather a journey to the land of my forebears, from both sides of the family - a United Kingdom whose history is rich, varied, and directly connected to the series of events which allowed me to exist on this world today.  

With such lofty ornamentation, how could this voyage be anything less than exhilarating?

So, within a week of returning from California, I suggested to Dan Dudley (who clinched the other lead part for the previous trip, and whom I was still, after 10 days of car travel, able to stand) the prospects of travel to London, by way of quoting the rock-bottom package prices returned for nearly every online query.  Through the combined, tactical persuasion of low prices and my rushed, excited "impending possibilities of travel" tone, Dan was evidently convinced enough to come along once again.  

Suffice it to say that a whirlwind of action allowed all preparations to be in order leading into the week of April 19th; Dan had already received his passport, I would receive mine on the 23rd.  Also on the 23rd, a hotel and flight package was booked for 9 nights in a 4-star hotel within a 5 minute walk of the British Museum (and about a 5-45 minute walk to nearly anything else one would like to see in London) and 2 minute walk of Russell Square Underground station.  The final price, which included roundtrip flight (from Des Moines!) and hotel, was $1016 per person.  If you aren't ready to go yourself after reading this price, you should be.  Typically, this would be at least 2-3 times costlier.  

We take off tomorrow, April 29th, for London.