This Will Be A First For Me

Travel is about new things. Well, it is for me at least, and I’m about to do something I rarely do coupled with something I have never done. I usually travel solo. That’s because I hate everyone….. always. No, no….that’s a joke.I usually travel alone for a bunch of reasons and I’m fine with that. There are some places where I would prefer to travel with friends, but usually I can get along OK by myself. So this trip that starts today is already an outlier for me as I will be traveling with several relatives, but the biggest challenge I will have to overcome this trip is that it is being put together by a tour company.

I’ve never had anyone set up air, hotels, tours, etc. for me. I usually do it all. I also do most of the planning when I travel with others. Mostly due to the fact that by now I have lots of experience. Letting someone else do all the planning was difficult. I have status with an airline and I take advantage of all that comes with it: extra bags, faster passport control, nice (sometimes posh) lounges. I got lucky, they booked it through my preferred airline! Since we are on the same reservation, they can get some of my perks. Maybe not the lounge access, I can only get two guests in not five, but something is better than nothing.

Now all I have to do is show up. The rest is supposed to be taken care of. My biggest concern right now is that we hit the ground running and I can’t sleep on planes. I’m going to try again this trip. My fingers are crossed. I also awoke at 3am today (8am London time) to get ready. I really need to get where I can sleep on planes. I’m getting older and my current system of staying awake 24-30 hours straight and sleeping 16+ hours the first day is getting mire difficult.

More from London soon.

24 Hours in London

For a quick 24 hours in London, there is not much to report. My main goal of going to the record fair at Old Spitalfields Market was met after a great lunch there. Lots of food stalls set up selling amazing foods from around the world. I had Turkish for the first time and it was amazing. So amazing that once I found the pizza place selling any pizza for £5, I still felt like I made the correct choice.

I picked up about twenty 45s at decent prices. Including my favorite Jam single “Going Underground” a few more Slade and Thin Lizzy singles and surprises by The Rezillos and Captain Sensible thrown in. Lots of overpriced stuff, at least in my opinion, but you can find a few bargains. I had more than one dealer remind me that the better show was the next day (sorry, I’ll be on my way to Switzerland), and the biggest show is in the Netherlands. Well, I guess I’ll have to come back then.

Upon walking back to the tube we stumbled upon a chocolate shop. Same thing happened in Paris. We all showed much restraint, but I did get a few things including a small bottle of gin infused with cocoa. I haven’t tried it yet. I’ll report back when I do.

Had a great dinner at an Indian place near the hotel and met three locals getting together for the first time since they were at university together about 30 years ago. The food and the company really stand out as a highlight on the trip and it was all unplanned. We just stumbled upon it all. I plan before each trip and try to have as much plotted out in advance as possible, but as with life itself, it is the unexpected that can be amazing and most memorable.

We turned in early to get ready for the next day which would see us travel via rail to three countries. I’m already planning for my next trip to London, whenever that may be.

Paris to London

If the Channel Tunnel does not impress you, I’m not sure we can really communicate and thus it may be hard for us to be friends. When we were putting this trip together, my two travel companions had their own idea as to what would make a great one-day side trip. One said he wanted to go to London. I told him in 24 hours you won’t get to see or do much, but he said he wanted to see it and to travel via the Chunnel. That sold me that it would be worth the expense and hassle. I’ve been to London a few times but never by train so I was in.

We got up and packed and I ordered a van to take us from our flat to the Gare du Nord (I believe this is French for “north station”, not very imaginative but apt). We had quite a bit of luggage and the walk from the Metro to the flat on the first day was a bit much so we sprung for a driver. This went better than I had planned and we got there rather quickly. I am usually against cars in cities I’ve not been to before if I can help it. I hate being stuck in traffic AND paying for it while a train is moving swiftly below me.

Since we were going from a Schengen Area country to one that was not, I knew we would have to go through customs, I was just surprised that UK customs had set up at the train station in Paris. I’m not sure why this surprised me, maybe I’m just not used to things making sense. You must forgive me; I do live in America after all. It wasn’t the first train of the day but there was a bit of a line to have our passports inspected.

I got up before one of the two customs and border agents, who was a guy my age or a bit older. He immediately asked how long I was going to stay in the UK. “A day”, I said.

Border guy: “What are your plans for that day?”

Me: “Old Spitalfields Market for a record fair, lunch and then maybe the British Museum”

Border guy: “What is your interest in old record albums?”

Me: “I’m an old guy and I like to listen to old records”

Border guy: “What kinds of records are you looking for?”

Me: “60s and 70s soul, mostly American soul. From the late 70s and early 80s UK punk and new wave.”

At this point I was getting a bit nervous, the interview was getting a bit long compared to what I’m used to. In Beijing, hardly a word (of course they had tons of info ahead of time via my visa application), in Japan they took my fingerprints but didn’t ask too much, but this was turning into a real interview and the line was still behind me.

Border guy: “What’s your favorite album?”

I’ve had a lifetime to think about this but hadn’t really been able to come up with an answer. I have a couple thousand in my collection, and I’m not sure I could really name a favorite. I’m not sure why, but to me it seemed like an odd question to ask someone at the border. Sure, if I’d said something like Up by Right Said Fred, that is probably a well known terrorist favorite that will get you an “enhanced” screening, but you never know if however you answer a question at the border will seem legitimate. I thought of an album that if I had only it on a deserted island, I could listen to it longer than any other before I threw my stereo in the ocean (or tried to make a boat out of it)

Me: “That’s a tough question, but I’ll answer London Calling by the Clash”

Border guy: “Well done…the Clash are my favorite too.”

Then as he stamped my passport he looked over at his partner and said one of the coolest things someone has ever said about me: “This guy’s got a lot of stamps”. My first passport had exactly one stamp during its ten years. I’ve tried to make up for that injustice with my current one. Looks like I’m doing an OK job with it.

Nothing to worry about, I wasn’t about to be denied entry, I was just picked for an enhanced interview by a fellow music fan who just happened to be stationed at the border crossing that I was at that day. It was kind of a highlight of the trip.

We went through security (it was nearly airport level) and boarded our train for the quick trip to London. The train, as with all trains I’ve been on outside of the US, left on time and we were on our way to London.

Getting Ready For Paris+

I am heading out next week to Paris and London and Geneva. This trip is an outlier for me as I will be traveling with a couple who are very dear to me, whereas I’m usually traveling alone. Here’s the outline for this trip:

  • Atlanta, GA  (ATL) to Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) on Air France
  • Flight Time: 8h 15min
  • Days in Paris: 3-4 if you add them all up
  • Days in London: 1
  • Days in Geneva: 1
  • Book for Flights: (Good question. It should be a book on French. I haven’t taken it since high school and was terrible at it then).
  • Music for Flights:  Lots of Ann Peebles and Al Green
  • My Mother’s Biggest Fear: I’ll get caught up in a terrorist attack
  • My Biggest Fear: Not eating enough cheese
  • Plans for Paris: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Notre Dame, Catacombs, eating my first macaroon, Xmas shopping, enjoying Beaujolais Nouveau Day 2017 and NOT being hungover for the train ride to London the day after.
  • Plans for London: Old Spitalfields Market Record Fair, then whatever my travel companions want to do. Full English breakfast before a long day of return travel.
  • Plans for Geneva: Figure out how to get to Tolochenaz so one of my travel companions can see Audrey Hepburn’s grave. Finding a discount cuckoo clock?
  • Plans for whole trip: Figure out how to make sure my friends are still talking to me by the end of the trip and want to travel more with me.

London Day 4

Day 4 in London was set aside for the British Museum. I had been once before but it was late in the day on my arrival and I had only spent about 2 hours there. This time i figured I’d block the day off and see more of it.

A quick ride on the tube and a walk through a small park led me to the main entrance. The park had some flowers I’d not seen before. That really doesn’t mean much, because I don’t have a large sample to choose from, but I was impressed.

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I was also impressed by the building across the street that housed the Starbucks. The pharaoh below the center window is really cool. That’s one of my favorite things about London or any other city that was built during the pre-automobile age, buildings are built with many details that can only be seen on foot. Speeding by at 45mph you can’t see such details.

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The line (a queue in Britain, yeah I talk British, impressed?) was long but moved fast through security.  Once inside I remembered how big it was and immediately knew I would have tom come back again a few more times to see all the rooms.

Since I just returned from my first trip to Japan I made a beeline for the Japan exhibit and spent some time there. Ivory is bad (except for the animals who need it), but old carvings in ivory are beautiful.

Ivory CarvingIMG_7760

I also love Japanese wood block prints, and was able to see a few there. They have an exhibit on Hokusai this summer. I doubt I’ll be able to get back for that which makes me sad. I saw many families turning this particular Sunday. I can’t imagine having access to such things as a child. I can barely imagine having access to this museum as a middle-aged man!

Japan Wood Block PrintIMG_7762

One room I spent some extra time in was on Roman Britain. It fascinates me that farmers can plow through a field and artifacts can turn up from almost 2,000 years ago. Many of the objets were also found in the Thames River, which boggles my mind.

The Roman glasswork was something I was surprised by. My knowledge of Romans is pretty slim, I really should have taken Latin in school, and I had no idea they made glass. The exhibits explained why such little Roman glass exists. Broken items would be melted and recycled, so any items found were lost or buried intentionally as with these funeral urns containing cremains.

Roman Urns and ShoesIMG_7770Roman Shoes

I spent about 5 hours this day at the British Museum and still felt like I didn’t see anything. You can spend an hour in the gift shop alone. My advice if you want to visit is to get a guide map ahead of time and plot out what you have to see so you can be sure to hit those items first. The museum also stays open later on Fridays. No matter how much time you spend there, you are going to leave with the urge to return and try to see even more next time.