Escape From Oz, part 1: To London!

I’m sitting at the Prague airport right now, doing what all air travelers do: wait. I will be in London in about three hours (two by the clock), and when I arrive I will have no local currency. This isn’t usually a concern; cash machines are everywhere. Only it just occurred to me that since I just made the maximum daily withdrawal to pay my rent, there will be no love from those machines until tomorrow. Hm. Fortunately Great Britain is much more credit-card-friendly than the Czech Republic, so I should be all right. I’ll find out soon enough — long before I can post this.

At the far end of the waiting area is a fussy child. Anyone want to lay odds on the chances it’s in the seat next to mine?


For those of you who stopped to lay odds on the probability of my being trapped with loud children, fear not; I was several rows away from what turned out to be loud pair of siblings, and boy am I glad I wasn’t closer. At my distance they were only mildly annoying. I arrived, passed through the bureaucratic barriers with no difficulty (although the passport guy said “Czechoslovakia”, something I thought the folks protecting Britain’s borders would be up-to-date on.)

I sit now facing a lovely English breakfast. Excuse me…

Ahh, that hit the spot nicely. A little more tea, and true happiness will be mine. (Actually I just warned the waitress that I would probably be drinking “rather a lot of tea”. There are some phrases that the English do better than anyone else.)

Where was I? Right. Luton Airport, favored destination of the ultra-cheap airlines. It’s a ways outside London, but there are plenty of options available, the cheapest being an express bus. I managed to coax a small amount of the local currency out of a cash machine, then I went to the bus counter and a very helpful woman went to a great deal of trouble looking up just where my hotel was, and the best place to get off the bus. Then she ran down my options for mass transit tickets to get from there to my destination, based on what my plans were for the city for (quite literally) the rest of my life.

The bus trip went without incident (except they made me put my backpack in the luggage area for no reason that I could discern, and I worried about all the valuable things being so far out of my control for the entire trip – I watched closely at stops where people claimed their own stuff) and after a bit of wandering in the Victoria Station area I got myself to Earl’s Court Tube Station, by any indication quite close to my hotel.

I got off the tube and right there was a sign indicating the street I was looking for, with a helpful arrow and everything. This was going to be a piece of cake! The address I sought was 36 Earl’s Court Gardens. I walked up the street, then noticed that the house on my right was numbered 20, the one after that 18. I turned back and identified house number 22. There were no buildings on the other side of the street. Now, with this information one might reasonably conclude that even-numbered buildings were on one side of the street and that 36 lay in the direction I had come from. One might also be incorrect.

It took a phone call to the hotel (itself a bit confusing because my printout with their number omitted the lead zero; it was not until I saw the pay phone’s number that I thought to try that) to resolve the difficulty. The hotel was on the other side of the street, at the other end. The numbers counted (by two’s) down one side of the street then (by 1’s) up the other!

The hotel guy was very friendly, and the hotel took only cash, including a ten-pound key deposit. I didn’t have enough. No problem, however; he took all I had and said I could pay the rest tomorrow. I got settled in, slaked my powerful thirst at the sink, with cupped hands, then headed into the night with only a two-pound coin to my name. My plan was to find a credit-accepting place that was going to be open for a while, but I was tired, had a headache, and when I saw the golden arches I changed my plan. A Quarter-Pounder with Cheese was £1.99 (half the price, incidentally, of my tube ticket to go five stops). I returned to my room with a rather sorry example of the American delicacy, one penny, and still no cup.

My room is nice enough, if spartan, certainly adequate for my purposes. For those out there lulled to sleep by the sound of passing trains, it would be heaven. The underground makes a brief overground appearance right outside my window. My window does not close tightly.

As one falls asleep, there is a phase when thoughts get rather deliciously disconnected, associations get freer, and the absurd is perfectly ordinary. I spent a long time last night dipping into that realm only to be dragged back out of it by a passing train. My thoughts when in that state were consistently about the trains, but because of my repeated rise to a more conscious level, I awoke this morning with actual memories about things like the three talismans that would reduce train noise, but that I needed to make a note in my review of the hotel that the one I had wasn’t working very well. It took a while to sort out truth from fiction.

Now I sit at The Courtfield, a fairly upscale pub, quiet at this time of the morning, watching a very modern double-decker bus go by outside (“We Will We Will Rock You – the musical with Queen and Ben Elton” the banner on its side reads), while people slide mail into the big red Royal Mail box on the sidewalk. I’m on my third cup of tea and feeling quite content. My ambitions for the day are being steadily reduced; just a visit to the Czech embassy will do, right after I sample one of the traditional cask-conditioned ales on offer here.


A final addendum: After striking out completely at the embassy, I wandered the neighborhood around my hotel looking for a place with the following three criteria: 1) traditional ale 2) Wi-Fi 3) accepts credit cards.

And here I am at the Prince of Teck. Life is good.

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