A look back at Iceland, Another fun travel day, Heathrow: The airport the devil designed; Nobody expects the Spanish (British) Inquisition; Road Rage in London
Well, here we are in the Doubletree Hotel near Victoria Station in London. For map enthusiasts, this very nice and modern Hilton hotel is on John Islip Street, just off the Vauxhall Bridge Road and a stone’s throw from the Tate British Art Museum (not to be confused with the Tate Modern, which pays exorbitant sums for “art” works composed of used coffee cups and cigarette butts, arranged in random displays of modern angst that are inadvertently destroyed by the museum custodians).
We are on the tenth floor of the hotel and if we crane our necks looking out the the window, the Thames is in sight and not very far away. We upgraded to the Executive floor and are enjoying free beverages and snacks right now after napping for a couple of hours. Travel days are exhausting and we are no spring chickens!
We got up at the crack of false dawn this morning (since it was pretty light all night) and checked out of the nice, but strange and quiet Icelandair hotel in the sleepy airport town of Keflavik, a few minutes from the airport. The rental car was dropped off and we shuttled over to the airport, which was absolute chaos (most of the Icelandair flights on to Europe and the UK leave around the same time in the morning). However, we boarded and departed right on time. Our plane from Denver the other day was named after Hekla, the monstrous stratovolcano discussed in my post yesterday and one of the most active in Iceland. Today’s plane bore the name of Eldfell, a volcano in the Westmannaeryjar Islands off the southwest coast of Iceland that destroyed most of a town on the island of Heimaey in 1973. These islands also have the very new island of Surtsey, which heaved out of the ocean starting in 1963, for those in the reading audience old enough to have the National Geographic magazines with the stories about this volcanic island birth.
We really enjoyed visiting Iceland, finding it to be a wonderfully scenic and exotic destination and only 7.5 hours from Denver. Circumnavigating the island would be a lot of fun and would probably take at least a week. Hmmmm, may have to consider a land trip! Or maybe come back in the winter to see the northern lights, if we can avoid snow and ice.
Our flight was only 2.5 hours to London. We did the usual triple spiral (count ’em – three 360 degree circles) as we slowly came down from altitude near the city and landed under gloomy skies. As usual, every gate at this despised airport is about a 1-2 mile walk to get to the final exit (I am not kidding). After schlepping through ugly industrial corridors and up and down levels, we finally emerged into the cavernous passport control. The line was huge for non-UK or non-EU passengers. We filled out the immigration cards, suspiciously modeled after the ubiquitous US immigration forms (even down to the colors). Finally, we stepped in front of the brisk and unsmiling immigration official. Suddenly, we were in a time machine and emerged in a famous Monty Python skit: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!! This woman wanted to know everything about us and our cruise – where we were going, how long, and who with. She found it “interesting” that this was our seventh visit to the UK and asked more questions. She wanted to know if we knew anybody who lived here and who they were (if we did, and Steve does – a couple of co-workers – we were not going to tell her). She wanted to know why we spent two days in Iceland. After the third iteration of questions about our cruise, I asked her why it mattered, since we end our cruise on July 22 in Copenhagen and would not be returning through the UK She put her head down and started writing for a long time. I finally asked her if there was a problem. She said no and stated that this was the process they must follow. Finally, she grumpily stamped the passports, but only after paging through them for the umpteenth time. Welcome to the UK, another former Western Democracy that goes out of its way to protect and coddle the rights of those who would destroy freedom, but harasses the people like us who are law-abiding and come here to spend a few quid before a cruise. This is a huge contrast to the country we visited in the 1980’s and even last year. We probably need to stop coming here for a while – last September, we were in London on 9/11, when the Benghazi debacle occurred. Today, we are here as millions of irate Egyptians try to force a military coup in their country (the BBC channel in the executive break room is covering this incessantly, prominently displaying the anti-American signs in the huge crowd). In fact, we may look at future cruises or trips over here with a requirement for how we can studiously avoid London and LHR or FRA (Frankfurt).
We finally got our bags and emerged to find our driver. Our TA booked transfers through GTA from LHR to the hotel and from the hotel to the Tilbury Docks tomorrow. Based on our first transfer, we are not very impressed. First of all, our driver was apparently getting ready to leave when we finally emerged from the gates of hell. He also had a hastily scrawled sign with our name on it, in contrast to the other nicely printed signs held up by other driving services. He grabbed the luggage cart and went off at a brisk pace to the parking garage across the way, with me struggling to keep up. We got into his van and I discovered that my knees were bent up into my face (I was behind the driver). It was a good check of my flexion :-). Before the knee replacements I would have been in agony.
He hit the road, driving like a crazy person, and almost immediately got into a road rage incident with some guy who was driving a little erratically. Our driver zoomed up behind this other guy at high speed, nearly ramming him, and then whipped around him and pulled in front of him and slammed on his brakes. I told him to cut it out, right now. The two exchanged middle-finger salutes for a while, honking at each other, until our road rage “friend” peeled off at a major intersection. Now, my next comments may not be very politically correct, but I feel they must be stated. London is a huge melting pot, full of immigrants from many other countries. Our driver was most likely from southern India or possibly Pakistan or Bangladesh. This is all fine and dandy and we are happy he is gainfully employed. We were promised in the voucher from the company, however, to have a driver who was fluent in the local language. This was not the case and we had great difficulty communicating with this individual. We would also like to have a transfer in from LHR without feeling our lives are in danger. We finally, happily, screeched to a halt in front of the hotel, where he unceremoniously dumped the bags and took off. He also spent a lot of the trip sighing, fiddling with the radio (and playing it loudly) and slamming on the brakes and yanking the parking brake on dramatically at every traffic light. Like morons, we gave him a £10 tip. We hope tomorrow is better.
Believe it or not, we are hanging around the hotel tonight. We have been to London several times before and are conserving energy for the many ports on this cruise. We also assembled the name tags for the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet tomorrow night after we sail. We hope they are correct, but I’m sure we made some errors in the names or home locations.
Pictures soon, we promise!