Sunday, October 15, 2006

Duped in London

It was surprisingly warm in London, 18C to 20C. Perhaps, even warmer. I’ve regretted bringing my jacket as it just added to my heavy load. When traveling for work, what’s really a hassle is the laptop; it’s heavy. At the end of the day you feel like a limping old woman with one shoulder down. If only packing laptops inside the luggage is fine...

My hotel’s boring and grubby view: the Victoria Station in Westminster.

Because of last month’s incident where security officials found an explosive material made of liquid inside the plane, the British security and immigration has since become paranoid. I am not slightly exaggerating the paranoia here and I will tell a little bit of my experience, albeit, later in my post.

And, despite the busy schedule, I was able to take a few pictures of London. I’ve been in London before but never really had the chance to take souvenir pictures (since I didn’t have the digital camera back then). I will let them pictures do the talking.
I stole a few minutes during the day to catch the breathtaking view of some of London’s hot spots:

With pride, towering over the heart of Westminster is The Big Ben and a part of the Houses of Parliament. On the left side is the biggest rotating wheel in the world, the London Eye.

A busy street with red double-decker buses passing in front of the world renowned church, Westminster Abbey, and me with the ubiquitous London black cab at my back (cropped the foto to give focus on the black cab!), after a one long tiring day.
And also later in the evening:

Lighted like a Christmas tree: Harrods, London’s famous upscale shopping store and outside Harrods, a red London cab in a hurry after picking up a passenger.

After the 3-day business trip, I took an extra day stay in London. I’d like to walk around the city relaxed and not having to rush to and fro. An extra day indeed was the best solution. Since the hotel my company booked me costs over 200 pounds a night, I moved out to a much, much cheaper hotel on my last night. You guessed it right. I am not stupid to pay that kind of money from my own pocket, not even for just one night.

This is me inside the second hotel I booked somewhere in Kensington area before going out.

Purple cab and red double-decker bus, what a great combo in the streets of London! And, the Trafalgar Square, as usual it is full of tourists doing pictorials, just like me, lol.

The famed Covent Garden Market is full of café terraces, and the so-called market, ironically, is just a small fraction of the whole Covent Garden Market.

Punch & Judy bar, its patrons sitting on top of the balcony watching amused at the theatrical street play below.
Not really holding up to its name, the Covent Garden Market is more of a place to unwind... drink, eat, enjoy the music from one of the many selections of street musicians, and watch the prolific and entertaining artists showing off their acting skills in the theatrical street plays... rather than, to shop.

I stayed half of the day here and ordered a Rose while I did nothing but people watched.

This is the busy pedestrian street going down to the Embankment (and Charring Cross) Underground Station that exits towards the River Thames. And, the Gloucester Underground Station, I think this is one of Londons prettiest stations.

And it’s time to say London goodbye...

With all my bags in my hands, I hailed a black cab to Victoria Station and boarded the Gatwick Express train that leaves every 15 minutes to Gatwick airport. The express train from Victoria to Gatwick airport took about 30 minutes travel time. What’s interesting with the British train system is you can actually purchase a ticket in the train – which would be a big no-no in the Netherlands, else, you will pay a €35 penalty + cost of the ticket (which is 10%-20% more than the normal ticket you buy from the ticket machines and counters).

Upon arrival in Gatwick, I made through the surge of crowd in the airport floor and followed the signs where I needed to go. Lo and behold, a loooooooooong queue of travelers was standing before the check-in counters, and the pace was at turtle neck-to-neck speed! A quick check on my watch: it’s an hour and a half before my flight. I stepped into the line thinking everything will, probably, go fine.

There was an announcement made --- Only ONE HAND BAGGAGE is allowed inside the aircraft. A ladies hand bag is considered ONE HAND BAGGAGE. Shit, I have two hand baggages - my hand bag and my laptop bag!

I knew about the British paranoia in the airports and made sure that I packed all liquids inside my luggage for check-in, even my beauty kit I packed inside too. Mascaras and lipsticks are prohibited inside the cabin, can you just freaking believe that?

So I slammed down my luggage on the floor, opened it, and threw in my hand bag without my wallet, mobile phone, camera and passport in it. The challenge was closing the bulging luggage. Eventually, after much thrusting and sitting on top of it, I succeeded.

Time check again on my watch: 35 minutes before my flight and I am not even halfway through the darn long queue!

And, the inevitable that I feared happened --- AMSTERDAM FLIGHT HAS CLOSED

The blinking “Amsterdam” above the check-in counter computer screen went out. As this is the last flight for the day to Amsterdam, I can’t help but feel some pangs of panic banging left and right inside my brain. Quickly, I rushed towards the counter and asked the airline worker in charge of checking in passengers about the Amsterdam flight. True enough he just closed it but with my persuasive charm, he let me into the flight. Relief swept over me, while a loooooooooong queue of disgruntled looking travelers watched. Sorry people, I didn’t mean to cut through all of you but I just can’t miss this flight!

The next hurdle was going through immigration and security. Time check: 25 minutes before my flight.

The security bottleneck before me looked like the pre-Christmas rush in Manila Domestic airport but in a long snaky line. It spells chaos. I had to use again my magical temporary charms and begged people to cut through them, explaining that my flight is already boarding and about to leave in a few minutes. Even then, it took me 15 minutes to get passed immigration and security.

The security measures were very tight, they were checking everyone’s carry-on bags, asking all individuals with thick-soled shoes be taken out and loaded into the x-ray scanners, all jackets, electronic gadgets and whatnots, laptops, are taken out separately too, and finally, they body-checked everyone after coming through the metal doors. It was bloody hell so complicated. But, at least, I got out of immigration and security helldom!

Next, I rushed to check the status of the Amsterdam flight on the computer screen --- it still showed BOARDING. Time check again: less than 10 minutes before my flight! I am in a furious state, where the hell is gate 22???!!!

I ran. I made my sprint-of-a-lifetime in the long corridors of Gatwick airport. In my high heels, tack, tack, tack, off I leapt like a mad woman while onlookers showered me with mischievous grins. Why do people do that anyway? Do they know what mercy is?

When I finally reached gate 22, I was grasping for air, my throat tightened and thickened up like someone just gripped my neck and choked me to near death, my mouth dried up and I was coughing as an asthmatic individual on attack. I arrived just a few minutes before my actual flight. BUT, WHY THE HELL IS THE GATE STILL FULL OF PEOPLE?

The flight was delayed. The boarding was delayed for 10 minutes and in addition, we had to sit for another 15 minutes inside the aircraft’s cabin waiting for some they-can’t-fly-without-it water.

Don’t you just hate it when you had to go through madness and find out later that the madness you went through was all for nothing?

I’ve never felt so duped.

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