I just got back from London. That is a pretty cool place, if for no other reason than it’s really old and there are lots of people. This was my second trip, the other having been too long ago to comment on, having done the Westminster power touring bout of Tower, Cathedral, Parliament, British Museum. I wasn’t in London for any other reason than as a stopover on the way to Johannesburg for another meeting of HIV vaccine researchers.
The layover was segmented into an afternoon and a morning. Determined to not spend hours in a Heathrow hotel—how dumb is that—I took the Heathrow Express. It’s a ridiculously expensive 15 minute train ride but that’s what you are paying for: 15 minutes and you are in Paddington Station, as Heathrow lies 15 miles outside the city. A mile a minute. And with the current exchange rate, that’s 3 dollars a mile.
My iPhone showed me that the first stop of the Hop-on-Hop-Off bus was within a comfortable walking distance. Walking in a new place is an instant orientation to space and direction. In a place like London it’s best to memorize landmarks. Passing numerous mews— in one was a spattering of horse poop, I arrived at Hyde Park, where a talkative and friendly man of Middle Eastern heritage happily sold me a ticket to the Yellow Line.
“You want the Yellow line.”
“How did you know?”
“You look tourist.”
“I sound tourist, too.”
On the Yellow Line I wandered to the top in order to hear the garrulous and semi-humorous tour guide. Glad I had a hat (lost it later in the Uber back to Paddington) and layers and a hooded REI rain jacket. Nabbed cool photos of the London Eye, Parliament Building, Westminster. Decided to debark in Covent Garden, after mention of restaurants and bars and it was nearly 6pm anyway. Wandered past the Lion King to a pub mobbed with Friday night millennials. In London one can drink brews while standing on the side walk outside the pub—but i opted only for using the toilet and leaving.
Then, aided by Ganesh–more on this later–I found my perfect spot.
Gray and Feather’s Wine Parlor had a sweet host, patrons closer to my age, and relative quiet—the entertainment was a female vocalist quite all right, and my table had pillows with Christopher Walken and Bill Murray— both wearing vintage military regalia, epaulet and more—on the chairs.
A fine Austrian white recommended by the 12-year-old server (she looked it, anyway) met expectations. Beet hummus with vegetables and theatre patrons and traffic zooming past my window were my entertainment.
Back to Paddington via Uber (after missing my first driver because I didn’t know where the hell I was.)
Druegi, my 2nd driver, educated me on Ganesh, Shiva and Parvati, all gods who help him out quite a bit. Ganesh, elephant-headed, watched us from the dashboard. Ganesh got his head after his own was removed and an elephant happened by to offer his. Deugi was grateful to Ganesh because the god helped him, a teacher from India, move to the U.K., raise his 2 sons and 1 daughter here, see them through college degrees and more. Now he and his wife (already back in India), will relocate there to care for his aging parents. Impressed that I was working for an organization seeking a vaccine for HIV, he was happy to hear my gentle correction of his impression that it was a “gay” disease.
The next morning I had vague plans to visit Chiswick, a chic and artsy neighborhood not far from Heathrow, but travel times seemed absurdly long. The hotel screwed up my omelet by forgetting I wanted cheese and adding onions, which I dislike. In a jet-lagged fog I packed for my outing but had already lost my hat and forgotten to put on socks.
So the result was wandering around Heathrowh oping to find a store to buy a new hat and a pair of socks—I got got my steps in.
Let’s just say that fruitless wandering managed to kill several hours until my flight to Joburg.
I waited for gate information, downing a so-so Sauvignon Blanc, in a very noisy bar/restaurant in Terminal 3. It felt like the terminus of something, anyway.
Therewas nothing such as a quiet airport corner to chill until flight time. Here and for the next 14 hours I will be surrounded by people, a thing introverts like me find stressful. All I can do is listen to my mind skew what I am seeing around me. At least there might be a story idea here.