The plane had a great tail wind as we flew across the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft stayed mostly close to land, having flown over the northeast coastal states, through Canada while passing above Nova Scotia and Labrador, skirting Greenland and Iceland, and finally cruising over towards the UK. I presumed this roundabout route was taken in case of an emergency, for which land would be close at hand. The flight took six and a half hours. After retrieving my luggage from the baggage carousel and passing through customs, I dragged everything out to the car-rental agency’s customer pick-up zone. All out of breath and profusely sweating, I realized exactly how much out of shape my body really was. The van arrived and took me to where my rental car was parked. After completing the necessary paperwork, I left Heathrow Airport.
While becoming accustomed to shifting with my left hand, sitting on the right side of the vehicle and driving on the wrong side of the road—as far as I was concerned—I swiped a few curbs along the way, frightening a group of pedestrians in front of my Kensington hotel as the car’s left front wheel hopped up onto the sidewalk ahead of the startled lot of them. One young girl screamed and an elderly man leaped over the hedgerow, a testament to the power of adrenaline. He waved his cane frantically at me from behind the bushes when I disembarked the automobile. After apologizing to everyone and helping the old timer over the foliage, I went inside to register, subsequently finding a parking spot a couple blocks away, but had to valet-park the Fiat for the remainder of my stay; parking was only allowed there on weekends.
As a general rule of thumb, the duration of suffering from jet lag was proportionate in days, to the amount of time zones crossed. With five of them between London and Philadelphia, I needed at least a couple of days to shake it. Later that afternoon, I slept for a few hours and awoke at four thirty, took a shower, and went downstairs for dinner. The restaurant had a quaint, Victorian flair; as the premises dated back to the late-nineteenth century. My meal consisted of two gin martinis, straight up with an olive; a green salad, lamb steak broiled medium rare with cooked tomatoes, little round potatoes, asparagus, mint leaves mistaken for spinach, a cappuccino with cream, and a little chocolate bar on the side. The forkful of mint, eaten in error, made my eyes flood with tears and bulge as if they were going to pop out of their sockets. I should have known better, for another golden rule wisely states: “Always sniff before eating.”
Carousing about for the next couple of days, I visited a few pubs and restaurants while sightseeing London. Monday was dedicated to the Natural History Museum. I meandered through every exhibit and took mass quantities of photographs for as long as my aching feet allowed me. Hobbling back to my room, I considered myself fortunate; for the return trip was only a mile long, complete with my stopping to grab a bite to eat. Later that evening, a neighborhood blues bar with live entertainment, featuring local musicians, fit the bill. Tuesday’s trek was even longer: four miles were covered while I hiked to Harrods of London for doing a little Christmas shopping in between admiring the sights and sounds of the city, sampling the cuisine and various ales and beverages of the area, and taking several hundred additional photos. Many of the more typical attractions, like Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Soho, St. James and Green Parks, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of Big Ben, had all been perused during my previous journey to the capital city.
After dinner on the second day, I had a few drinks in the hotel lounge before returning to my chamber and zipping everything back up in preparation for my leaving town on the following morning. Excess cash and coins in pound sterling were placed aside in a pouch within the large suitcase for my return trip to England on the seventh of November. Leftover euros from my last voyage to Europe would get me started on my way to the continent. The route was planned, which included a stopover at Dover Castle before my crossing on the ferry to Calais, France. After a good night’s sleep, a six-o’clock wake-up call, and an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast at the hotel bistro downstairs, I checked out and was on my way.
London is such a cool city. During my sojourn, I learned a few things: the people walk so blisteringly fast, and one could get mowed down on the walkways when not keeping up with the flow. Only a very minute portion of the population is obese, probably due to the individuals’ walking always exceedingly quickly. The women are particularly pretty and love to wear boots, but more importantly, the inhabitants are generally kind and mostly friendly.
Driving to Dover took longer than I had anticipated, resulting from my taking the wrong turn at South Circular Road and heading north instead of southeast. Operating a Fiat with a six-speed manual transmission that included a gear-shift setup to the left of me, following directions from Mapquat.com, an Internet-based mapping service; and while having to stay on the left side of the road, I was subjected to uncertain disaster. The car didn’t come equipped with a Global Positioning System, nor did I have a compass. The sun wasn’t any help for finding direction either, as it was mostly cloudy and raining; and the blasted rotaries were driving me crazy, but at least I was left-handed. From my experiences, it seemed like left-handed people always had the propensity for adapting to adversity.
The preceding diversion wasted a good hour and a half in morning traffic before I finally was heading in the right direction toward Dover. The rain discouraged me from taking the ride up the cliffs to the castle. During the previous time going there, when I last visited London, it was also raining and my clothes got soaked. I bought a ticket instead and boarded the ferry to Calais, thinking next time, I’ll bring an umbrella. For a souvenir, I took a few photographs of the castle and the White Cliffs of Dover from the outside deck of the ferryboat, as we left the port and started sailing over the English Channel.