Friday, January 29, 2010

Chapter 6: London Calling

After a long and not great flight we flew into London through the clouds and rain. We walked off the plane and made our way to the immigration desks. We lined up and gave our passports to the guy at the desk and he let us into the country, we wanted to stand there and talk to him just to be able to speak English without having to battle language barriers. He obviously didn’t have the same yearning and even though our visas had already been active for about a month we were waved into the country. We walked down into the bag collection, found our bags and made our way to the Customs area.

It was at this point that we knew we’d like the UK. We walked up to a door that led to Customs and were waylaid by airport worker. He asked us where we’d come from and we said “Bangkok”, just assuming he was curious, he then waved us towards the EU arrivals lane. We looked at the sign saying that EU arrivals and Drew turned and asked “is Thailand a part of the EU?” in a laughing voice. The guy topped Drew by blithely saying “oh yeah, we annexed them years ago”. Laughing we headed through the door and again found ourselves on the outside of the airport immigration doors walking straight out into the crowd and into London.

We walked about 15 steps before I asked Drew where he’s put the paperwork about the hostel. He looked and me and said “I thought you printed out the details about where we had to go?” Bugger, after some scrambling we located a help desk, who couldn‘t help, as they couldn‘t locate our Hostel on their system (they didn‘t even have google). So we headed toward the trains where we found an internet cafĂ© along the way. We had to wait until they were open as it wasn’t even 7am yet, but a short while later we had our Hostel’s address, a map of the tube and updated our face book status to say we’d arrived safely.

We headed down to the tube and bought both of us an oyster card. This is like Melbourne’s new ‘Myki’ except that it really works. You fill it up with pre-paid credit and scan it whenever you get on a bus or enter and exit a station, in most cases it is cheaper than buying a ticket, and much, much easier. We jumped onto the tube and headed into Gloucester Rd tube station.

We have used the word “surreal” quite a lot on our travels, mostly for lack of a better word. But at various points we reach a moment of self awareness that seems fitting to the word surreal, of course the train wasn’t made out of bacon and the scenery wasn’t upside down, but we found ourselves realising that we were in a completely different part of the world experiencing fantastic things foreign to our senses. As the train pulled out of the long tunnel of the tube and headed overground, we were presented with rows and rows of English houses, all identical to the next, but slightly varied from street to street. Vivid memories of every British television show came to us with a single thought of “Oh my god it actually does look like that?”.

We had travelled from Bangkok, 35 degree tropical heat with humidity nearing the full 100 percent. Now the landscape was buried in a thick layer of pure white snow, it covered the rooftops, the gardens, the fences and even covered the pipes running along the walls of the train line. Icicles hung menacingly from gutters and pipes and every single tree was a mere skeleton, devoid of any foliage and dusted with a layer of icing sugar like snow. We pulled in at the first topside station, with a beep the doors opened and we were smashed in the face with an arctic fist of air. It was cold outside.

We arrived at Gloucester Road and headed out of the tube into the cold morning air. We had dressed appropriately for the weather, but our tropical tanned bodies struggled to adjust and we trudged our way to the hostel muttering things about the cold while marvelling at the grand buildings surrounding us. We had arrived in London, no, we had arrived in the expensive part of London. Thankfully our hostel didn’t carry any of the air of snobbery of it neighbours, the building was as grand as any other in the street, but the atmosphere when we stepped through the door was laid back, relaxed and greeted us in an Australian accent.