Optimistically Cautious

Friday, June 29, 2007

Europe Day 1: London

In retrospect, I'm very glad I decided to take the day off from work. I wasn't terribly rushed, but having the option of taking my time to pack last-minute things (including a styrofoam cooler of food intended for my UK cousins, courtesy of my Mum), and in general relax before driving to the airport was a good way to start my three-plus week vacation.

My whole family was there to see me off, and before I knew it, I was on the plane. It was an older model (especially when compared to the jet Annie, Janice, and May took the next day), and thus I didn't have the luxury of a television screen to myself. I was, however, lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me, fantastic for an eight hour flight. Though we reached London Heathrow on time, the airport apparently didn't have a clear runway for us to land on, and we were forced to circle above for an hour.

I was told I may be met at the airport by family of mine currently residing in London, and sure enough, my cousins Dick and May, her son Justin, and my Aunt pulled me aside, and the whirlwind rush that I would come to associate with them began. I felt bad, having made them wait an extra hour, but I can tell you that we certainly made up for lost time. We seemingly sprinted for the Underground connection, and Travelcard in hand, we took the Piccadilly line straight to Park Royal, listed on my hotel website as a nearby station. As my cousins were not familiar with this part of non-central London, it took us nearly an hour to find our way to the Ramada Encore West.

It was a sparkling new hotel, but all of the reasons why I booked with Encore West in the first place (safety, affordability) seemed not to matter in the face of its inaccessibility. Still, I must say, it was a really nice room, probably even better than the four-star hotel in Amsterdam we stayed in at the end of our Contiki tour.

My first night's accommodation - swanky, eh?

After dropping off my luggage, my relatives took me for a late dim sum in Chinatown. Unlike the pushcart norm in Edmonton, all of the dishes at the restaurant were made to order. For that reason, the food tasted better than the fare I was used to.

After lunch, we walked to the nearby Trafalgar Square where, lo and behold, Canadian tourism officials had set up a "Canada Day in London" celebration, complete with flags, beer, bison burgers, and entertainment.

Canada Day in Trafalgar Square

My cousin May poses by the Edmonton hockey exhibit

"Hey, it's that girl" (Tanya Kim) from CTV

It started to drizzle a bit, so we waited out the rain at a Starbucks in Leicester Square. Starbucks is expensive in London (around £1.70, depending on the location), and they charge around 30p more for food meant to be eaten in the shop itself. Of course, for a little bit of home (I admit to feeling a bit of a Hallelujah! moment when I saw the familiar green and white logo), money isn't really an obstacle. Leicester Square is also a great place for people watching - so many of the after-work crowd were chatting away on their cell phones.

They then led me to Piccadilly Circus so I could explore on a surface level some of the shopping London has to offer. Topshop was the biggest draw for me, after lusting after their seemingly affordable merchandise for years in magazines. On my first visit, it didn't really blow me away. With the pound conversion, most of their things were pricier than I expected, and much too trendy for my wardrobe - something I would continue to discover with most of Europe's fashions.

I Tubed back on my own, via a Central Line station much closer than Park Royal (thank goodness), and wound down early in an attempt to get myself on London time. That night, it felt as if I had been up for two straight days, and somewhere during that time I had been transported to an alternate universe where it didn't quite look like North America, but for some reason everyone spoke English (at this point as well, I should mention that the novelty of British accents was starting to wear off).

My friends were to join me the next day, so there was much to look forward to.

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