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Friday, September 09, 2005

London - Day 1

There’s many things said about Heathrow - very few of them printable. After having heard the stories I had prepared myself for the worst. What I encountered was a pleasant surprise. After another fairly long walk from the gate (why don’t I take a trolley?) rounding the final corner, immigration looms before me. What a surprise, perhaps a queue of 10 people. Could this be a sign of better things to come?

As I reach the officer he checks out my passport and then asks me if I came from Sydney. Well, no, the plane did start at Sydney but I boarded in Singapore. What I’m doing in London and I, so succinctly tell him “just the usual touristy things.” I waited for the ground to swallow me as soon as I uttered those words. What the hell was I thinking? Was I even thinking? He nods and jots something down, probably that I’m an idiot. He then asks when I would be leaving - can’t wait to get me out of the country can ya, I thought to myself. Monday, I answer. I think that satisfies him and I might just avoid the rubber glove treatment.

Passing through customs one officer is going through a guys bag as two stand chatting, they give me a cursory look before returning to more important things, the football results.

To my surprise I’m out - that’s got to be one of the quickest times for going through I’ve experienced. Now all I have to do is get my bag and get out of here.

Simple, yes.

I think I’m back in Singapore as the luggage area of Heathrow is hot and sticky - as I wait for the bag to come out, round and round the belt goes and nothing. I start to wonder if my bag made it through. Maybe it’s on another flight. Maybe it’s in Singapore.

Time ticks by and the bags keep coming....I watch the bag marked fragile appear, it’s handle belt side down. I wonder how you gently place it on the belt that way. Finally I see that yellow lock, yes, that’s mine. I struggle through the crowd that’s now formed in front of me and manage to pull the bag off without breaking an arm. No, don’t trouble yourselves and move out of the way a little bit. Just let me thread this bag through the 2-inch gap you’ve left.

Feeling hot and bothered I head off to the station and make an executive decision - I’ll catch the Heathrow express and then a taxi from waterloo. Damn the expense!

It’s a very quick trip - as we zoom past Haddon station I see the crowd I would have had to get through to catch the direct train to Knightsbridge. Yes, I think I made a very wise choice here. Especially when I read that this train stops closest to the exits. Excellent - I won’t have to fuss too much with these bags.

As we near Waterloo, I attach the bags together to make it easier to pull. As the doors open I encounter a problem - the platform is over a foot away and there’s no-way the bags and I are going over the gap together. With no staff in sight, I have to unhook the bags and take them one at a time onto the platform. As I start to reattach them, the train attendant appears at the door and smiles “Have a great trip.” I flash my best fake smile and say thanks…yeah thanks for nothing.

Casting a cursory glance down the platform, I soon realise I’m at the very end of the station - there’s in fact another train in front of it. It’s a very hot walk into the station proper as the trains are still going - it’s an intense heat billowing along the platform.

There’s a line for taxis but it’s moving quickly. When it’s my turn the taxi monitor points me to the taxi and moves off to take care of some Louis Vuitton luggage, leaving me to lug the bags inside. The taxi driver is making some hand gestures to the monitor.

A bit hot and tired I settle back, the taxi driver telling me that the monitor should have put the bags inside. It’s a case of luggage discrimination. There’s a slight confusion over my destinations name. I say has-ker but it seems the people of Knightsbridge say haaaaaasker, you know, the Brighton pronunciation for the Melbournians out there.

The driver is quite nice and points out some attractions as he makes his way to the b&b - we pass the Albert memorial, an amazingly huge gold sculpture of the old Albert. When we arrive at the b&b, he even waits until he sees I’m safely inside. If only all taxi drivers could be like that.

The b&b is in one of those typical row homes with the small front courtyards and windowed basement rooms. It’s oh so British. My room is on the 1st floor, the living areas on the ground floor and the kitchen in the basement.

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I take the opportunity to have a soak and change out these 2-day clothes - it’s renewing to change into something fresh again. I had planned to go to Harrods but the rain decides to tumble down - delaying the trip for a few hours.

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It’s after 5 before I wander down to Harrods, snapping merrily along the way. My first impression comes quickly - the cars - they are all luxury makes and models. There’s no Hyundai’s or Daihatsu’s here. I don’t think I’ve seen so many Porsche Cayenne’s in my life. Here they are as common as commodores. It’s the sound of the Ferrari f350 as it pulls up at the corner bottle-o that makes me start to notice the cars.

But I don’t take a picture of it - there’s something much more interesting

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The road is studded with terrace housing; there’s some major work being done on one block. But I’m not here for the architectural detail, I’m here to see Harrods.

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Walking through Chadstone Shopping Centre is good practice for facing Harrods. But even then, it’s still overwhelming large. You know you’re in a difference place when you stroll through the saddle department. Let’s see what’s on my shopping list, milk, butter, bread, saddles. That’s just so normal. It’s actually a little surreal. Some parts are downright pathetic - the queue to sign the Dodi and Diana condolence book is one such part. There are people even taking pictures of themselves with the condolence books. Earth to mothership, time to take your people home.

The food is the great drawcard for me. You read about it, you see some pictures but once again, being there is totally different. There are signs saying no photos allowed so being the sign obeying person that I am, I comply. Yeah, I’m just a suck, I know. Not all people are as sucky as me - one couple is taking a picture next to a giant pig made of marshmallows. Yeah, okay. One woman shoves a camera at me, wanting me to take her picture as she stands next to a giant cheese. I shake my head and explain there no photos thing. I’m not sure if she understands me but I’m not going to get kicked out of Harrods over some giant cheese. I continue walking, leaving the woman looking perplexed. I’m sure she’ll get a picture of that cheese in the end.

The food hall isn’t really a hall, it’s a series of opulent halls. Do you look at the food or the building? There’s a hall devoted to confection - it’s noticeably cooler than its offshoots. Switzerland’s yearly production is probably on show at the moment. I manage to leave without making a single purchase.

I lovingly gaze at the plethora of cheeses, sign over the prosciuttos - not just one, try a dozen different types. And who knew there were so many types of jamon. You name it, it’s there. Even Crispy Creme Donuts. It’s there and so is the ridiculous queue. People triumphantly emerging with their boxes of 10 donuts.

I don’t know what this does to the standing of EAAALO but I fail to try a donut.

I do however make some purchases of the savoury kind.

At one of the fish counters I spy some treats I’d like to taste. One is a northern grilled sardine (at 80pence it’s a steal), the other wild Scottish salmon. As my number is called, a smiling attendant approaches and asks what I would like. One sardine, I reply. He’s good humour fails as he replies, "One sardine? "Perhaps he thinks he’s misheard and I meant 1 kilo. “One sardine” I smile back. The look of disgust on his face can’t be hidden as he mumbles to himself, one sardine. It’s placed in a special sealed plastic container. He returns and asks sarcastically “Is there anything else?” “Oh yes” I cheerily reply “50 grams of smoked, wild salmon.” The white of his eyes now resemble cricket balls and is that vein in his forehead throbbing? He mumbles to his underling and she ends up filling my order. The total coming to a massive ₤2.84. Entertainment wise, worth every pence.

DSC_0952.JPG the infamous sardine

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Along the way I also purchase a small baguette and a bottle of Royal Ginger Ale. Yes it’s an odd mix, but I’m feeling a bit odd after the 36-hour trip.

When I leave Harrods I notice all the traffic around the store - but it’s not normal traffic. The cars are all limos and they are waiting. Waiting for women with various degrees of face on display to dash out. It’s probably the last minute rush for a few spuds to go with dinner.

With the slick streets the traffic is moving slowly - all the sides streets are bumper to bumper. A short stroll later I’m back at home base and ready to sample my goodies.

Northern Grilled Sardine - this was a surprise - incredibly delicious. The grilling had removed any of that harsh flavour that sardines sometimes have, what remained was a whitish flesh and the smokiness off the grill. The taste was almost creamy.

Lightly smoked Wild Scottish Salmon
the light smoking worked in harmony with the sweet flesh of the fish, it still had the obvious salmon taste, more akin to sashimi than atypical smoked salmon.

Royal Ginger Ale
very subtle ginger flavour with a light fizz, very refreshing with a good tang

This is Winston, who spent the night curled up at the foot of my bed. Isn’t he a cutey?

And this is Clementine, who didn’t spend the night curled up at the foot of m y bed - but she’s still a cutey.


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