Tag Archives: london

Stuck in Slough for another 24 Hours

imagesI was supposed to wake up at 4am this morning here in England to fly back to America and last night I had planned accordingly. When we got the call late last night that our flight had cancelled and our new pick up was 36 hours away, it didn’t really change things. I was still tired and ready for bed at 9pm and not having the early wake up call anymore didn’t change my desire for sleep.

So of course I go to bed early and even though I tried to sleep in, I was up at 5am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I fought it for an hour and stayed in bed with the lights and tv off, but it was no use. I eventually accepted my reality and got up. I went downstairs for the free coffee and pastries. Never pass up free food in a country where the exchange rate screws you.

images-2At 6:15am I was back in my room, completely wired. I don’t drink coffee often so it hits me harder than crack. Next thing I know I’m looking up the nearest geocaches from my Slough hotel. Turns out there’s one hidden in a playground near by, maybe a ten minute walk away. Perfect!

images-1For those who don’t know what geocaching is, it’s something mainly old people (and children) do to pass the time before they die and “get exercise.” It’s a world-wide treasure hunt for nothing. Here is a video explaining further. It’s actually pretty fun and addicting. I was going to be in search of my 76th geocache with finds in such places as Texas, Sweden, Spain, and Australia. It’s probably the nerdiest thing I do.

I thought finding the geocache sounded like a wholesome thing to do. It was between doing that or going to the gym. In over 15 years of having layovers, I’ve never set foot into any hotel gym so I kinda knew that wasn’t going to happen. Yes, finding that geocache is the most G rated thing I could be doing outside of planting posies so I go for it, though I’m not sure what my obsession is with being well-behaved today.

images-9The park was massive, but very hard to get to. I knew vaguely where it was but there was no obvious way to enter it. It was surrounded by houses and a perimeter fence. Eventually I wind my way through little neighborhood streets and footpaths and get to the gate. The park itself is probably the size of five football fields, side by side, but it’s completely gated off except for the one entrance that a Mazda Miata couldn’t fit through. Very strange park for sure. There was a big playground for little kids, a large grassy area and then a basketball goal. There was also a circular track around the play area for dirt bikes.

UnknownI thought it’d be a quick task. I read the description and it seemed like an easy thing to find. The online clue said something about the hidey spot being “BMX-related,” so when I saw a series of three little plastic bike jumps, I knew it had to be there, probably right under the ramp of the jump. Very easy indeed. In and out.

images-6I was the only the person in the park, I thought, but then I noticed a park employee on a riding lawnmower coming through the entrance. For some reason that really freaked me out. If I had been in a park you could just stroll through on your way to wherever you needed to go, that’d be one thing. But this park was self-contained and if you were inside the park, it was obvious that was your intended destination.

images-4Standing alone in the middle of the see-saw, slide, and merry-go-round just seemed so wrong and my uncomfortableness was not unnoticed by the worker. If I had any kind of accessory, things would’ve been much better: friend, dog, or child.

Instinctively I pulled out my phone and acted like I was texting or playing a game. I’m not sure if I thought that’d make me seem more or less creepy, but at least I had something to focus on while I thought about what to do next. I’m sure the kid wouldn’t have batted an eye if I started poking around the bike jumps for the little fist-sized geocache, but I didn’t want to risk an interrogation in case he had no idea what I was doing. I was still high on coffee and couldn’t maintain. I knew I wouldn’t be able to properly explain myself.

images-10He was mowing the area pretty quickly, but the park was huge so it was going to take at least 20 minutes for him to finish. I didn’t think I could wait it out. I’d go crazy. I figured I looked nervous and definitely looked suspicious. If I were him I’d be positive that I was a pedophile. Who comes to a park alone and just stands around amongst the toys for 4 year olds? New York City has signs in parks like these forbidding adults from being there without a child. It was just wrong, all wrong, but I had a decision to make.

images-8I could either walk away, blowing off the sole reason for leaving my hotel room, and admit defeat, or I could find a way to find the thing. I start slowly walking over to the jumps. My plan was to casually stroll over, sit on one of the knee-high launch ramps and very nonchalantly examine the area for the geocache. Seeing a 38-year-old man sitting on a ramp in a park seemed less creepy than one standing around by the playscape. Why on earth do they not have benches? There wasn’t one in the entire park.

before-chatJust as I’m starting to walk over, a couple of middle-aged guys walk past me and go to the same area. At first I was happy because I wasn’t alone anymore. Then I noticed that they looked homeless and were carrying a case of beer. This was at like 7am and the sun was barely out. They had no problem plopping down in the middle of the little kids’ park though. Before I could adjust my plan, they were sitting right in the middle of the three jumps, facing the playground equipment like it was some sort of stage, and started drinking their beer.

images-3Great, I was worried about being mistaken for a pedo and now I’m sharing a playground with two guys who probably really are diddlers. There’s no way in hell I’m going to go near them and poke around for the geocache now, so there’s nothing left to do but get out and go back to the room. I get out fast, before they invite me to join them. Now I’m back safe and sound in my hotel room. At least the mis-adventure killed about an hour. I just have 22 more to go before I can get out of here.

images-7My crew is all meeting downstairs in the lobby at 2pm to take the shuttle over to Windsor. I’ve been there many times, but it’s honestly the only option of something to do if you’re not going to hang out in the Kiddie-Diddler park, which I am NOT going to be doing again. I don’t want to see what those guys were waiting so excitedly for. They were set up in front of that playground like Phantom was about to start. At least there are food options in Windsor, and a big castle.

Best. Airport. Bar. Ever

I actually planned a five-hour layover in London Stansted airport on my way to Austria for the sole purpose of going to the famous bar at the Radisson SAS Hotel right outside the airport. I was going to have to go through some airport in some city in some country in order to get to Graz, but when I looked at all my options, Stansted was the obvious choice.

The tiny, low-fare carrier-dominated airport which is way too north of London to realistically be called a “London” airport had one thing none of the other airports had, a thirteen-meter tall wine tower.

You expect to see stylish, gimmicky features such as that in flashy places like Vegas or New York, but not in some random regional airport that even some Londoners can’t point out on a map.

I heard about it though and I went straight over after I got off my flight from JFK. I was worried that the “airport” hotel wasn’t really that close to the airport, just maybe in the vicinity. Some JFK airport hotels are a ten minute van ride away. This wasn’t like that though. I walked outside the terminal that was about the same size as my high school gymnasium and walked maybe 40 meters. Then I was there.

The ultra modern hotel’s lobby did not disappoint and in the center of everything was the fabled wine tower with one its angels doing her thing, flipping and climbing her way to the very top of the tower. I later learned what a treat it is to see the angel fly so high, the cheapest bottles are at the bottom and the most expensive are at the very top. That is just brilliant planning on their part. I was planning on ordering a random bottle near the top, not caring if it was red or white or blue or French or Chilean or from some hick’s little slice of bayou in Louisiana. When I heard the prices I realized that my budget caused the angel to actually bend down to retrieve the bottle, while standing firmly on the ground that is. So I was thankful there were some Chinese businessmen in the house that had a corporate credit card. That saved me some precious poundage.

I had over three hours to kill and I had the best time all by myself just watching the show. Not only was the acrobatic girl fun to watch, the patrons were as well. Everyone was taking photos and videos and you really felt like that was THE place to be in England that Monday afternoon. Even the stuffy ol’ businessmen watched liked starry-eyed children at the circus.

It was so surreal. If I drove just two minutes in any direction I’d see rolling green hills with little bushy sheep but not in the oasis of the Radisson.

I just sat and watched the scene. I wrote in my journal and got more than a little bit drunk before I continued my journey to where my holiday was supposed to start. If anyone has to pass through England to get to a European destination, for God’s sake, forget the bland insanity of Heathrow and go through Stansted instead.

July 19, 2011 Madrid, Spain

Just got back from the obligatory outing for food.  I was out of my hotel room for only half an hour, then right back in and I don’t feel bad about that.  I need to rest.  I need to recover.  I’m on Day 8 of 12 in a row of flying and I was very sick on Day 1.  I blame the Charlie Sheen/Amy Winehouse weekend we had on the Guadalupe as to why I was sick to begin with.  I’m not a teenager anymore and I really need days to recover from things like that, not working a stretch of 12 days starting the very next day.  It was the absolute worst time to be sick but there was nothing to do about it.  I need money.

I could’ve taken it easy on the layovers but I had plans for three of the four and they were set in stone.  This Madrid one is the only one I had free for R and R.  I have it highlighted on my calendar with a big smiley face and exclamation marks.

The first trip was to London the same night that I left Austin. That was when I was really hurting.  I ached all over with a fever and sore throat.  But I had a date to go to Ghost the Musical in the West End with two lovely co-workers followed by an after party with the cast and crew.  That day included way too much champagne before, during, and after the performance and not enough food, but it was fun talking with the actor that played Willy Lopez, the thug-life killer.

I don’t even remember what I did when I got back to New York but the night probably started and ended with NyQuil, again with no food. I can’t remember if I’m supposed to be starving or feeding this damn thing!

Next day was Paris and I was surprised to find that I was starting to feel a little better. I really thought the London layover would take its toll and send me back to Square One. We were a bit delayed getting to the hotel because of a flight attendant and an asshole passenger getting into a fight and having the police meet us at the gate, but I still got a decent nap in before meeting my Aussie friend and her mom at their hotel just off the Champs Elysees.

I blame the stew just as much as the passenger for that whole mess. The drunk girls in the row behind the PAX didn’t help matters at all.  Everyone even the least bit involved made it so much worse. I didn’t think it was worth it to get the police involved; nothing was going to happen to the guy. Sure enough, they scared him a bit and then let him go on his way like nothing ever happened.

I got to the Hotel Powers just after 2pm and at around 8pm we finally left the room, but only to go back to the liquor store because our three bottles of wine were gone. This time we got champagne and some random drink called Desperado that infused beer and tequila and red.  I think red may have been the healthiest thing in there. It’s the sort of purchase you make only after drinking three bottles of wine without any food.  We did think about food when we were getting reinforcements but it was all for show, God knew it didn’t matter at that point if I ate or not.  By the time I left the hotel after midnight I had only eaten 7 little pickles and about 30 crackers with hummus on it.

Again, I was hoping to finally get some rest but plans get in the way.  My Swedish friend is getting kicked out of our country in two weeks so I’m making sure I hang out with her and her boyfriend as much as possible when I’m in New York.  I got in from Paris, watched the World Cup final, and then headed straight out to the Brooklyn Bridge to meet my friends.  We walked across the bridge, took some pictures, stood in line at Grimaldi’s for an hour, ate a ton of pizza, and then called it a night. I resisted the urge to stay out and watch a movie.  I knew I needed the rest. I promised we could have a big night very soon, just not that night. I was proud of making the right decisions regarding my health.

So now I’m in Madrid and the weather is beautiful out there.  People are having amazing, memorable days in Spain and I could not care less.  I don’t feel bad at all about not doing anything.  I have a stack of Netflix I’ve been carrying around for three weeks and now more than ever I need to be good about getting those things watched and back to whence they came.  I think I’m going to cancel my membership.

An hour or so ago I washed the jeans I’ve been wearing everyday for the last week in the sink with shampoo. They needed it, though I’m not sure they’ll be dry by the time I need to leave in nine hours.  I didn’t think of that.

Tomorrow night in New York there are more plans to hang out with my soon to be Departed Friends and I’m hoping we can keep it substance free.  The big night out I promised will NOT be happening tomorrow night if I can help it.

My final trip of this ungodly stretch is back to London and there are more plans with my favorite people there. Even though I intend to sleep before going out, it doesn’t really happen there for some reason, too many distractions.  Then finally, FINALLY when I get back to New York from that London trip I can head over to Blue Jet and take the last flight out of New York back to Austin.  Just thinking about being in my own bed sounds heavenly.

The pillows here in Madrid are horrible, as they were in Paris.  I don’t get why they’d make pillows like that, all long and skinny and hard. In Paris they’re just way too fluffy.  When they sit on the bed they look so big and full but when you put your head on them they deflate so that your head is practically touching the mattress, no support at all. They look like tortillas when you microwave them.

I can sleep really well in the beds in London, when I’m given the time to sleep.

When I went out for food I forgot which city I was in until I saw a juggler in the middle of the intersection, working for tips from the people stopped at the red light.  I saw some very pretty girls with horrible bangs and ugly frames around their glasses, then it was obvious that I was in Spain. I think I’m going to see if the pant presser can do anything about drying these jeans.