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Still a bit lagged today. Got up around noonish and laid around for a bit in order to muster up some energy. Showered and took the local #423 bus to the Heathrow Terminal Underground station. It had been raining buckets all day so any sightseeing enthusiasm was dampened (no pun intended) so I basically set up shop in a Starbucks off Piccadilly West to use the Internet and people-watch for a couple of hours. It was interesting to sit in an establishment in an English-speaking country and not hear a word of English being spoken. Piccadilly and Leicester Squares are veritable melting pots of cultures, skin colors and cuisines.

After the rain had dialed back a bit, I wandered further down Piccadilly to marvel at all of the upscale shops and restaurants. Somewhere between nearly being run over by a taxi and the fast-moving pedestrian traffic, I glanced across the street and noticed the very ornate, brightly lit storefront of Fortnum and Mason, one of the few Palace-approved merchants found in the Piccadilly/Bond Street area. Needless to say, I could not resist any shopping possibility that presented itself.

Once inside, I felt like I had stepped into a Harry Potter-esque set. There were all types of candies, chocolates, teas, fine coffees, Christmas ornaments/decorations (Mr. Cordingley, one of Fortnum & Mason’s services advisors, explained that their Christmas display had been up since AUGUST!!). It was heavenly and the staff were very friendly and helpful. I left about $300+ poorer but it was worth it.
🙂

By the time I left the store, it was quite dark. I headed back to the hotel, fully intent on doing a bit more shopping during the daylight hours. Still need to try a Morroccan restaurant.

Ok so I think I have overdone it just a tad today. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? First off, I want to thank Diana for looking out for me and for all of her helpful advice. I don’t know what I would do without her.

I flew out of Philadelphia International yesterday (24 Oct). After doing the OJ sprint (and still wound up having to check-in once I got there. USAirways, serious lapse of communication there, yes?), I and many other passengers were pretty much ready to be at Heathrow already.  That feeling was compounded by dismay when we stepped aboard a distressingly tiny and slim USAirways jet that was to be our temporary home overnight (thankfully, the captain did his level best to get us to London in 6 hours instead of the original estimate of 8).  

We all managed to squeeze, tuck and otherwise shoehorn ourselves into the plane and were soon on our way.  My seatmate was a delightful British expatriate who is now living in Philadelphia with her husband and children (I’m sorry that I never got your name! 😦  ) who made it more fun to pass the time on the plane. Unfortunately, I never managed to catch a bit of sleep on the flight this time (was feeling a bit emotional but I guess that was to be expected) so when we landed around 9:30am, I felt pretty ragged (pictures will be up soon…technology malfunctions and what not).

Thankfully, the ever-cheerful seat mate managed to navigate me through the byzantine-like Heathrow airport (note to other travelers: lots of signs about the prohibition of cell phone, cell phone camera and other photography use near certain areas so be mindful. Security at Heathrow is rather tight and a serious deal. Even bicycles/scooters have special areas that are offset from the main terminals for security reasons). Going through immigration was smooth and business-like so I wasn’t prepared for the additional hike to the buses/tub station.  I think I was sweating bullets by the time I reached the taxi area.  It’s been a LONG time since I’d been to London so I felt a little out of my depth. Learned a valuable lesson, though: Taxis are expensive but very regulated.  They’re not allowed to seek out their own fares at the airport and there are at least four airport personnel monitoring the taxi queues. I wound up taking a taxi but found out later that the local bus runs right in front of my hotel and I could’ve have gotten back to the airport to go to the tube station for free.  If you use the hotels transport buses to get to your airport, they cost 4 British pounds (around $7.00US).

I also found that it’s best to use the tube (subway) to get around Central London and to purchase an Oyster Card which is sort of an all-purpose underground rail pass. You purchase it initially for 3 British pounds (around $5.28) and then “charge” with any amount you wish.  Once you’re finished with the card, you bring it back to any manned tube station kiosk and they will refund you the initial 3 GBP plus any money you had left on the card.  Considering how many stops there are just on the Piccadilly Line alone (which is what I used because it’s where some of the major sites like Buckingham Palace, the London Coliseum and Trafalgar Square lie), it’s quite a deal.  I took the local train to Leicester Square to find food in Chinatown.  Apparently, a fair was going on in the square at the time, so it was alive with tourists and locals alike, a veritable melting pot of cultures, languages and skin colors melded with the bright lights and loud noises of carnival rides, booths and food kiosks.  The Leicester Square/Piccadilly Square area is home to a number of theaters and entertainment venues as well as a dizzying number of restaurants and pubs.  It was VERY difficult to select a restaurant for lunch; I wound up settling for a nice, out of the way Chinese restaurant that had tasty Chinese dishes (pictures for this too :D)

After lunch, I decided to walk a bit of it off but I never figured that I would have literally walked from Charing Cross Road to Knightsbridge, wandering through St. James Park, Green Park, past the London Coliseum, St. James Palace, Lancaster House, Spencer House, Trafalgar Square (I’m going back there tomorrow to take better pictures), the National Gallery and brushed past Buckingham Palace.  I’ll say right now that the traffic in London is pretty mad. You have less to fear from the cabs, buses and energy-efficient cars than from the crazy bicyclists, scooter drivers and motorcyclists.  And the road is filled with them!  I was highly amused by the impromptu race between a dirt bike and a scooter.  Neither of them had a chance to it was funny to see them puttering down the road, black smoke billowing out their tail ends, acting for all the world like they were Grand Prix racers.

After the sky started growing dark, I decided to head back to my hotel, unaware that I was traveling during rush hour.  The trains were literally packed to the rafters, with everyone squeezed in as tightly as they could manage. The trip to Central London from Heathrow is a bit more than an hour if you decide not to pay the extra money to get on the Heathrow Express, which is a fast train to the city center.  I honestly don’t know what the advantages are so I’ll have to investigate that a bit further.  The absolute funniest moment is the automated voice constantly chiming at each stop going east on the Piccadilly Line, “This is “blank stop” on the Piccadilly Line. Final destination is Cockfosters.”

I may have to work on some way to get the photos from my iPod touch uploaded so that they can be attached to posts. I’ll have to describe my painful hotel room tomorrow. It deserves a post all of its own (says this as a jet screams overhead shaking the whole bloody place).

I’m of the opinion that pre-requisites for international travel must include wild, crazy train rides to your departure point, equally wild drives through the streets of major cities to get to said destination point and the true OJ Simpson dash through the airport security checkpoint in order to blaze from gate A10 to A23 before my flight boards. Don’t think I’ve sweat this much in a long while.

Today is the day I fly away. Diana has been amazingly helpful, supportive, loving…the whole nine yards. I’ve been trying not to be overly emotional about all of this but can’t say that I’ve been that successful so far. Train to Philly first and then the red-eye to Heathrow. I hope like hell that
A) I don’t have to pull an OJ to get to my gate (thank you, US Airways for online check-in!
B) I don’t have talkative seat mate who will constantly ask me why my eyes are so red (the unwanted attentions of the in-flight US Marshal does not sound appealing)
C) Mary the monthly holds off on her visitor just one more day

I’m nervous, scared and will miss certain people more than I can imagine. This is a step onto that oh so thin ledge. Just hoping that I manage to stay on my feet, taken the ledge and head toward the mountain. Falling off is not an option.

See you guys in London!!

A few months ago, I would have never thought that my world could be turned upside down and inside out within a relatively short period of time. I blissfully (and naively) thought that love could cure anything and everything and that there truly was such a thing as “unconditional love” in that, no matter how bad the things one had done, that love would erase those mistakes and the consequences would be minimal. After all, that’s what they show in the movies, right? Oh how wrong I was and would find that out in ways so painful, I thought I’d never survive the experiences. At the moment, I’m trying very hard to undo the damage that my actions had wreaked on the person I love the most, learn how to forgive myself for those actions (that’s going to take a LOT of therapy) and to become a better person.

Now I know this sounds so very “Eat Pray Love” but really it’s more like Freak Fly Spend.

Freak – “Why was I so STUPID?!”

Fly – That part is coming up, so bear with me.

Spend – Well, who doesn’t go on a mad shopping spree when they’re upset? *looks around* Oh wait, is that just me?

 

And lo! One day, whilst sitting at my desk, staring out my sun-dappled window, miserable as all hell, the Lord spake thusly:

“Toniiii…”
“Yes, Lord?”
“Don’t give me that ‘Yes, Lord’ bit as if you were actually going to listen to what I have to say.”
“Ok ok, I get it. I’ve not been very good about that but since you’re in my head right this second, you have my undivided attention.”
“That’s good because you’re going on a journey.”
I barked out a dubious chuckle. “I am?”
“You are.”
“To where?”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
“Is there a reason for this journey?”
“Isn’t there always?”
I sighed and banged my head on my desk. “There’s a lesson in here somewhere.”
“Isn’t there always?” I could feel His grin from on high. “You need to clear your head. Besides, you really need to stop ripping the heads off Barbie dolls.”
I nearly jumped out of my seat. “You know about that?!”
“Seriously? Toni, I am your Father. Nuff said, so get moving. You have a lot of work to do.”
“Will it help me get my life back?”
Dead silence.
“I see. No answers to that, eh” I sighed deeply and started typing out my leave request.
A holy chuckle echoed within the hollows of my skull (holy hand grenade anyone?!) “Let’s just say that you’re a work in progress.”

So here I am, typing this out on my iPad after much wailing, gnashing of teeth, shaking of fists, stoning of old women (and dealing with stoned women…don’t ask. Let’s just say there was a 7-Eleven, some lottery tickets and a pickup truck involved), while the e-tickets print out in the next room.

Wish me luck! Methinks I’m going to need it.