Hotel Olympia, Kensington
Dawn came abnormally early, as the lines of longitude were foreshortened both by latitude and speeding eastward. I got maybe 40 minutes of sleep, and even that was by sheer force of will. I just don’t sleep on planes.
Soon, our in-flight monitors placed us near Ireland, and we could make out coastal details as our plane descended into Heathrow. We got an excellent view of Windsor Castle, but I wasn’t quick enough on the draw with my camera.
Heathrow struck me as dingier than I had imagined. I guess I was expecting gleaming runways, towers, and terminals. The general impression was one of a tangled hodgepodge mess. There was quite a bit of construction, so maybe the gleam will arrive when it’s done. Or, more likely, there will be a thin veneer of gleam on a tangled hodgepodge mess.
To quote Arthur Dent from the Hitchhikers Guide movie, "If there’s one then we British know how to do, it’s stand in a queue." And, apparently, force foreigners to do the same as we snaked our way toward passport control. As we wound this way and that we would hear bits of conversation, then pick back up when the same folks came around in the line.
Finally through the line and with baggaged reclaimed (there is no "Baggage Claim", it’s "Baggage Reclaim"), we were met by our tour representative. There was a slight delay as we waited for our hotel transport, but soon enough we were leaving Heathrow on the wrong side of the road. Our fellow travellers tried to impress each other with their knowledge of London from previous trips. I decided not to participate, since my last trip was nearly twenty years ago.
Exhausted due to lack of sleep, we weren’t in the mood for surprises. We certainly weren’t ready for the clerk trainee to say he had no record of our hotel reservations. We got it sorted out, and headed for the elevators.
These lifts were straight out of Sirius Cybernetics. Instead of delivering us to our floor with an air of smug satisfaction, it promptly bypassed floor five and went straight to eight. A passenger got on, and we pressed five again. Once again, it passed our floor, this time stopping at three, then proceeding to one. This time we pressed four, five, and six, with no luck. We weren’t even going to get CLOSE to our floor. We headed back to the lobby (which the lift apparently knew how to do) and pressed the button for another lift. Since the one we had just departed was right there, its door stubbornly opened again. I think I now know the source of most British humor.
Our room was hot, and was an adventure both in plumbing and electricity. We freshened up and headed out for lunch.
At first, it looked like the only food in the area was Middle Eastern. Somewhere along Kensington High Street we found a small place that seemed to cater to locals. Laura ordered tortellini and I ordered salmon. Both were edible, but rather bland. The "ice" water we ordered was tepid, at best. I guess we’ve had our first sample of British cuisine.
It was still hot, but we decided to explore. Our walk took us through the crowds along Kensington High, down to Kensington Palace and Hyde Park. By that time, we were dead tired, so we headed back to the hotel to collapse for the afternoon.