Hello there Fearless Readers (or Dawn, Ray, Andrea and our parents!)
I wasn't planning on writing this blog post, but then again, I wasn't planning on doing a lot of things in the past couple of days.
The travel advisory isn't about drinking the water in some country, or not traveling to some country because of disease or war. Nope, it's about knowing that in some countries, or some restaurants in some countries you need to prepared for free food.
It's NOT FREE!!!
(Truth be told, this wasn't the blog post I was referring to when I said I wasn't planning to write it. Truth is that it's just after 8:00 AM in London, and I'm hungry and I'm thinking about food. It's something I do a lot. Think about food. I love to think about food. Meals past, meals present, fantasy meals, ideal meals, best meals.....)
Well, the "free" food I'm referring to is the food you get at the start of a meal in Spain, Portugal, Italy and also Indian/South Asian restaurants. In Spain, you might get olives and something else. Ask how much they are, as they're rarely free. In Portugal, again, it's olives, cheese and something else. Again, rarely free. In Italy it's bread. Bread at the start or bread during the meal.
Folks, READ the menu! Look for couvert/cover/service/bread/pain/pane on the menu and it will often tell you how much things are. If you're not sure, ask.\
"How much is this?"
Last night was the three lovely sauces we got upon sitting down at a GREAT Indian restaurant near Whitechapel Station on the Tube in London. Whitechapel of course makes me think of the line from the Beastie Boys "Slow and Low" and "White Castle fries only come in one size". And also "Harold & Kumar go to White Castle". But that's me. So the three sauces came and so did four popppadoms.
The poppadoms were on the bill.
No biggie. But ask so you aren't surprised when the bill comes. And the food at Tayyabs was REALLY good and REALLY reasonable. Not cheap. Reasonable.
Back to the unexpected blog post.
As you may have figured out, we're in London. It seems our bags will meet us in Tel Aviv at Anne/Arie's. Jodi's aunt/uncle and two AMAZING people. If you were at the wedding Arie is the mastermind/creator of our ketubah (wedding document or Jewish pre-nuptial agreement).
We were supposed to fly easyjet to London's Gatwick from Milano's Malpensa at 4:25 Thursday afternoon. When we checked just before leaving our hotel, our flight was set to go. Upon arriving at the airport, we found it was cancelled.
Our choices were to change our flight or cancel our flight. Both options were to be done online. No other way to do it. To say that travel has changed in the electronic age is an understatement.
So we pulled out the netbook, paid 10 euros and tried to change our flight to later in the day. No luck. Only chance to fly on easyjet from Milan to London, where we had a room booked, was to fly out Friday night. We really wanted to be in London (as we are meant to fly to Tel Aviv early Sunday morning) to meet friends, do some things in the "English" world and enjoy a city we've been in twice already on this trip. Still, no guarantee that the easyjet Friday night flight would go from Milan to Gatwick.
We searched a site that we've looked at before (edreams.com) and found a relatively cheap flight on British Airways from Milan Malpensa (Terminal 1 versus 2) and Heathrow versus Gatwick (more runways and therefore a better chance of flying, PLUS if we were cancelled with BA, we'd get put up in a hotel and fly out the next day, versus being stuck with no options.) But we didn't want to book with them, because if the flight didn't go, we weren't sure if we would have any "standing" with British Airways.
So, we cancelled our easyjet flight, but we're not 100% sure we're going to be get our refund because we first tried to change our flight and didn't just cancel it. We looked on BA's website and found the same flight that we found on edreams.com for a little less, and we booked it.
We then moved all our worldly belongings from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1, and looked for the British Airways counter. After walking all around, we finally found it. Now when I say walking around, I mean walking around. It's a fair-sized terminal, and we walked up and down it twice. With our rucksacks (mine is just over 20 kilos (45 pounds for you Imperial folks - and while I'm at it...if the Americans were so pissed off with the British that the American Revolution happened, when are you still using their units of measure?!?!?! Just asking yo! And Jodi's is a few kilos less.) and we each have a carry-on bag.
The British Airways counter was near the guys with guns. We found out later that El Al was near the BA counter, and that means there's heightened security. So there are guns. I should be more used to guns, since I've seen assault rifles of differing forms in Gatwick when flying to Amsterdam and all over Italy. Guns, guns, guns. Tonnes of guns. And let's remember that I'm heading to Israel, where I will see more....anybody? GUNS!
Back to the counter. We picked a good time to stand in the VERY short line, because ten minutes later it was a VERY long line. About 40 people long in fact. There was one guy sitting at the desk/counter. One guy and a lot of people. He got heckled a little bit, and BOY did he ever shoot back a long and deadly stare. He could have been a teacher. Or a librarian.
We got our boarding pass and our luggage was tagged, but couldn't check it in because it was too early. We were then meant to fly out at 7:45. So, we sat down and had our lunch. Yep, we made a lunch. Buns we bought in Venezia, with basil olive oil we bought in Siena (?), with cheese we bought in Siena, with prosciutto we bought in Milano. I also found it necessary to buy a 500 mL bottle of peach San Benedetto iced tea, a 500 mL bottle of Chino from San Pellegrino, a 660 mL bottle of Nastro Azzuro beer, a 660 mL bottle of Moretti beer and a litre bottle of milk (lactose-free milk it turns out, since I only was able to make out "milk" and "partially skimmed" in my not-so-good Italian).
We still had our rucksacks, so I was able to use Jodi's Swiss Army knife to open the beer instead of having to use my teeth (which I wouldn't) or try to find a counter-top to do the macho/cool guy bottle opening trick that I'm not too good at, for obvious reasons. I usually break the bottle neck, and that's really wrong at the best of times, but especially when you're in an airport and there are guys with guns nearby.
Long and short of it, we ate our lunch, drank some beer, drank some chino (Keeno, for those of you following along at home!), ate some yummy cookies that Jodi wanted. Nutella filled chocolate chip nuggets of goodness, checked the web/email/British Airways and Heathrow sites, and checked in our luggage around 8:30, and FINALLY flew out at about 10:20.
We landed in London around 11:30 local time and waited a bit to be granted a stand to be let off the plane. They've been backlogged because of the awful cold, snow and ice in London/England, and it's been devilishly awful. The captain was AMAZING, as he chatted along the flight, telling us if he was going to go right or left at certain points, and informing us a lot while on the ground about the situation we were in. Truth is, we were some of the lucky ones, as we were ACTUALLY able to fly in to Heathrow/London! We were off the plane after midnight, I do believe.
We then had the pleasure of standing in the customs line at Terminal 5 for well over an hour. I don't know if you've been in this line, but about 1/4 of the way along there's a sign that reads, (something along the lines of) "You're 45 minutes away from the front of the line". We finally got through around 1:30, and headed to the baggage area.
Which is when we found out that the bags weren't coming off the plane, and had to leave the baggage area. There were cops with guns. I thought the Brits didn't have cops with guns. As with so many other times on this trip, I thought wrong.
So, there we are. Our carry-on luggage - which doesn't have our toiletries! - and the clothing we've been wearing all day. In both our cases, the clothing we were wearing wouldn't quite qualify as "spring-time" fresh, and was washed using soap. As in handsoap, not laundry detergent.
At the best of times, to get from Heathrow's Terminal 5 to Bow Road Station would be a long trek. Jodi figures about 90 minutes to 2 hours. But, the Tube (subway) stops running at 11:30 pm.
We then waited in line for a taxi. A long line. In the cold.
Around 2:00 or so.
The cost of the cab from Heathrow to our hotel near Bow Road Station?
90 pounds, or about 150 dollars CDN.
So, no bags but a bed.
Thanks to my friend from Toronto (Mariza), who lives in London (until the end of the month, when she moves to Athens, Greece with her fiancee), and Skype and the British Airways customer service woman from Ireland, and the front desk fella at the hotel.....we were able to figure out that we would/should go shopping for clothing/toiletries while in London.
UNIQLO (Japanese clothing store we love) and BOOTS (formerly in Canada, for those of you old enough to remember)!!!
So, we had super duper South Asian lunch down the street from the hotel (Bengali "fast food" heaven!!!) and super duper South Asian dinner (with Mariza and Ilias) at Tayyabs near Whitechapel Station. So we've been well fed. In fact, the leftovers from lunch are going to go well with some green onions and mushrooms for breakfast.
We went shopping and I got new socks, underwear, jeans (Jodi likes 'em!), shirts and a hoodie from UNIQLO, and new toiletries from Boots. I certainly got things I wanted/needed and in some cases, things that I needed and would have bought in London regardless.
Still need to get a few more things, like another bag to travel with, since we have lots of liquids that can't go on the plane, but we're doing well. Mind you, I wouldn't normally be walking around in a city in my hiking boots, but....can't win 'em ALL!
So, that's our story from here.
Oh ya. I've been craving GOOD beer since we were in Belgium and wanted to get a pint or two of real ale from The Little Driver, across the street from our hotel. Jodi wanted to get home, so we popped into the Co-operative (one of my FAVE stores!) and got some bits and pieces for breakfast, licorice allsorts, gum and two bottles of beer. SO GOOD!!! I can't wait for the real ale tonight, PLUS we're going to Vinopolis (Mark, we're actually going!) on Jodi's brother's suggestion, and I'm psyched for that too.
Borough Market is something that's been suggested by quite a few people, so it's on tap for today. We fly out STUPIDLY early tomorrow, so we're not going to be doing much, other than dragging our asses out of bed and getting to the airport.
THOUGH, with the snow that's expected today/tomorrow, we may not be flying out tomorrow.
It could be worse. We could be on easyjet.
"Sorry. Your flight has been cancelled. You have to rebook or get a refund. Online."
To think how f**ked we would have been without the netbook.
Thanks again Joe and Alessandra!