In January, business trips took me around the world. Over the next week or so, I'll do a series of posts on the trips and the places I saw.
First stop, London. I'd come down with a cold over the weekend, so I dreaded having to fly under those conditions. My strategy: take decongestants, drink lots of water and hope for the best. I had an aisle seat and we flew during the day. Happily, the nasty headaches and ear pressure I've sometimes experienced under these circumstances never materialized. A van met our group at the airport, but one of our colleagues came in on a different flight to another terminal. That added an hour to our trip -- Heathrow is huge and the best way to get around between terminals is by train. We finally got into London at about 12:00 midnight and heard about the tragic Haiti earthquake just as we landed. Much of the gang went out to drink, but I repaired to my room, nursed my cold and got a few hours sleep.
I woke up the next morning and it looked like this. Snow had fallen overnight and the inclement weather limited the visibility in our location on the Thames by the Tower Bridge.
The local people told us that it had been snowing a great deal in the prior few days; we were just catching the tail end of it.
Our meetings kept us busy during the day. The first evening, our group went out to a medieval dinner experience. We checked our coats and then were given outfits to wear right out of the middle ages. In the spirit of things, I decided to try the beer, but whatever they were serving was godawful -- it tasted liked it had been sitting in barrels for ages and had gone rancid. Nonetheless, we had a fun evening. We were instructed in the proper behavior for guests in that era. Whenever the King suggested a toast, we were to yell out: Wasail! We practiced and got very good at this, though it failed to improve the taste of the beer. We all sat down at long metal tables and were served community style. When it was time for the next course of food, we made the requests by banging our fists on the tables. We also adapted to this very quickly.
In between rounds of food -- a murky soup served without benefit of spoons and hunks of chicken -- the court jesters did juggling tricks and the merry wenches danced with curtsies and displays of petticoats. Bottom line: a medieval banquet is a fair excuse to serve bland food and copious amounts of cheap alcohol, but the theatrical aspect of the evening sticks with you the longest.
London is often foggy and we never did see the sun in our time there. Here's another view looking out from the hotel across the river.
Our meeting continued the next day and I managed to get all of my presentations done despite my sore throat. In fact, I had begun to recover from the cold. That evening, we ate in at the hotel and this time the food was much better. The salads were fresh and the main dishes offered real taste. The wine also flowed in ample quantities, keeping spirits upright. Afterwards, we engaged in a Nintendo WII driving competition. I was not overly concerned when my vehicle spun out and went in the wrong direction, allowing me to head back to the room before midnight.
The next morning, we had a fine buffet breakfast -- the breakfasts were consistently good throughout our stay -- as the combination of coffee, orange juice, smoked salmon and fresh fruit prepared me for the day ahead. On this day, we had a customer meeting, but it was in walking distance, so we finally got to leave the hotel again. We were in the financial district, which is not nearly as robust as it was before the financial crash, but managed to be quite lively on this morning. After sitting in meetings for two days, the walk was refreshing.
The meeting went reasonably well, and then we retraced our steps back to the hotel. Our contingent was getting ready to leave, but we got to say our goodbyes over a light lunch. By now, the weather had improved somewhat, but clouds still dominated the sky.
Our route back entailed travel via the underground and by train. We walked past the Tower of London, which looked very different than it had during my tourist visit during the Eighties. Visitors now enter via a modern glass pavilion, analogous to the experience one has across the channel when visiting the Louvre in Paris. New buildings, construction and the much older structures of the Tower collided visually as we walked by enroute to our station.
In the station itself, we encountered the new phenomenon of the electronic ticket kiosques which fail to accept American credit cards, since most Euro cards now include a validation chip. Our US bankers, showing off their wonderful sense of customer service, don't see the problem. Right. Why am I so surprised?
Anyway, the regular ticket takers still accepted old school credit cards, so one of our group bought tickets for the underground for all of us. We headed downstairs to board the Circle Line train headed for Paddington Station. We no sooner got downstairs than an announcement from the speakers blared a message that the Circle Line train would not be running on the weekend. After several other trains came by and there was no sign of the Circle Line, we wondered if the weekend had already begun in this fair land at 2:30 on Friday afternoon. After about 25 minutes, the Circle Line train finally did arrive -- sorry folks, a few more hours before the weekend really starts -- and we boarded.
I took a seat and watched the ebb and fro as young men and women wearing various colorful styles took their seats, chatted or got buried in books or MP3 players. About thirty minutes later, we arrived at Paddington and ascended stairs and escalators into the main station.
In my view, the best way to get to the airport is via the Heathrow Express, a high speed train that runs throughout the day and takes passengers all the way out to Heathrow -- a one hour car ride -- in just fifteen minutes. We bought tickets and got onto a waiting train. The train had plenty of room, so we just put our big bags aside and then settled into comfortable leather seats. A while later, a blonde haired woman took the seat next to me and I admired the fine cut of her black dress while she talked non-stop with a somewhat older man who appeared to be her signifigant other.
The train started up and soon we were whooshing through the suburbs outside of London at speeds up to 250 kilometers per hour. The train entered a tunnel and we got off at the first airport stop. The entire journey took fifteen minutes as promised.
The rest of the trip was uneventful, merely a jet ride home to the Boston area after a week in London. Alas, I was destined to return to this same airport within a week enroute to Singapore, but that's a tale for another day.