Monday, July 31, 2006

At Paddington Station I Sat Down and Cried; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love EasyJet

My flight to Berlin was scheduled for 6:50 p.m. yesterday, so I had time to see a few more things before I left London. In the morning I went to Portobello Rd to the market. When I arrived I discovered that it is closed on Sundays (well planned Lemon), but even "closed" there were a fair number of stalls open.

Getting bored rather rapidly with the market, I decided to go to the British Museum. I looked around for a while, and went to see the Elgin Marbles (excuse me, Parthenon Statues), mostly just to be able to say that I have (having almost no interest in Greek history or civilization). They had free tours, so I went to see the African Exhibit (I will confess it was the only one on offer at that time).

Having done all of this, I now had a little over four hours until my flight. If everything went perfectly, I would have been at the Luton Airport 3 hours before my flight. I did not expect everything to go right, so I gave myself the extra time. Things did not go to plan. Ladies and gentlemen, I will spare you the details but basically: the underground line I needed was closed, the buses weren't where they were supposed to be, traffic was congested, the trains were in the wrong station, the train was delayed, I just missed the shuttle, my cabdriver was slow and there was a traffic jam at the airport. I arrived at Luton about 5 minutes after check-in. The girl at the counter apologised and said that there was nothing she could do, I would need to go to the other desk and arrange for another flight. Needless to say, I was very upset. The guy at the desk explained that there were no other flights out that night. A perfect end to a perfect day. He started to process something, and was explaining what to do next. Then he suddenly looked up at me and paused. He called someone on the phone and said something unintelligible and then "I'll send her over". I was to return to the check in desk immediately and then run upstairs to the gate. I didn't pause to ask questions. They took me to the front of the line, checked my bags and sent me upstairs. I got through security rather quickly and looked (as I had been told to do) for my gate number (Luton is a "silent terminal" without any announcements... or any people around to ask questions of). Beside the flight to Berlin it just said 'wait in lounge'. It seems that my flight had been delayed and that was the reason that they had been able to check me in. Within five minutes we had been assigned a gate, and all was right with the world. It seems lots of people had also been late, as there were all sorts of problems with airport transportation... the bus from London having been held up for hours due to some protest or other. EasyJet may be a discount airline, but their staff are very friendly and the plane ride itself was very smooth.

Sadly, my journey was not yet over. I didn't want anymore transportation problems, so I asked from the airport which train I should take to my hotel (it seemed obvious to me, but I didn't want to be guessing wrong). The woman showed me the way and I boarded the train. When I got out of the station, none of the street names seemed to match the one's on my map. I had the directions and a map to the hotel, but no phone number to call them. I am stood there staring at my map in a not very pleasant looking part of town at about one o'clock in the morning in a city I've never been to before. A woman (I'll say hooker with a heart of gold, but she may just have been a dancer) approached me to ask if she could help. She spoke very little English, I speak no German (danke, bitte or guten tag not really seeming appropriate for the moment), but she managed to get across that my hotel was a little ways away, hailed me a cab and told me how much it should cost. The cab driver was concerned that I was a friend of hers (I have never come closer to hitting someone in my life)... he didn't speak much English either so I was unable to communicate to him that he was an asshole... and I didn't particularly want to be kicked out of a cab in a strange city (I have since learned that I was sent to the wrong station... at least two others being much closer).

I arrived at my hotel, settled myself in, and opened the mini-bar. There in front of me was a bottle of Schweppes Bitter Lemon. I was home.

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