Once upon a time I won a trip to London…Day 5. Coming home

The last diary entry of the 2010 trip to London I went on.

London, Day 5

Dear Diary,

Today I fly back home. It’s been an interesting few days here. I was saying to my friend yesterday that London needs an entire month to truly be seen properly. Similar to Johannesburg there is just way too much to see and do and 5 days here hasn’t truly done it’s wonder any justice.

I’m feeling even worse than yesterday and as I had to check out of the hotel this morning I unfortunately couldn’t go work the lunch shift at Corrigans however the chefs had invited me back to take photo’s and see the lunchtime setup. With my uniform still dirty from last night I wasn’t allowed to do any work and sat back and observed again.

I then did a last tour around London on foot and via the busses just to say a last hurrah before leaving. I went to Trafalgar Square again and this time did the tourist thing and sat on the vast steps of the National Gallery staring at the weird and wonderful faces passing by…and then two street musicians setup shop right in front of me and started belting out Beatles songs. Seemed pretty appropriate considering the scene and location. Although I rather enjoyed the little concert it seems the rest of the crowd didn’t and the duo moved on to another location whilst I made my way into the Gallery to see what the fuss was all about.

Although full of people the gallery was so large one could spend hours standing in one spot and not get bumped. I walked through sections holding Rembrandts and other famous artist’s paintings. Some life-size representations of the people depicted, I had to step back to see the whole painting on more than one occasion. I couldn’t help but think back to the Da Vinci Code and wonder if I’d manage to walk out the gallery with a painting…hmmm. On second thoughts the idea of being arrested in London and spending time ‘at her Majesty’s leisure’ didn’t seem as glamorous as finding the holy grail.

I spent a good 3 hours inbetween the walls of the gallery and it’s hundreds of centuries-old paintings. How something painted almost 400 years ago can still look so fresh I can’t imagine. I then proceeded to Piccadilly to that huge British souvenir store I’d seen on Day 1 to do some shopping for friends and family back home. I was still amazed at just how big the store was and to only be selling souvenirs and memorabilia of London and Britain in one of London’s most famous locations still boggled my mind. We don’t have anything even remotely similar back home, not even at the Kruger Park or Cape Town. (Note to self: send SA Tourism a long snooty email about jacking up their operations). After filling my bags with everything small enough to squeeze into my suffering suitcase and laptop bag I headed back to the Underground.

Having already checked out of the hotel at 9am I made my way back to Paddington from London central for the last time. Unlike when I had first arrived I now felt like a local taking the tube back home. In 5 days I had come to appreciate the convenience and anonymity that is London’s public transport system, anything and everything is a bus, train or taxi away.

At the hotel I picked up my luggage and dragged my significantly larger suitcase with me towards Paddington station. I soon found my way to the Heathrow Express, double checking I had my ticket in my pocket, getting stranded with no more English pounds and no ticket inbetween Heathrow and London was not part of my plans.

15 minutes later I arrived at Heathrow. I made my way to the relevant terminal and stood in a queue like every good South African has been brought up to do…once again, similar to my experience at M&S, I was told everything was electronic and that I must check myself in and get my ticket printed myself. After another look of amazement I dutifully weight my own luggage and scanned my passport and printed my ticket. I stopped short of asking the airline attendant if I was to carry my luggage into the planes luggage hold myself too! Cheekiness aside I handed in my luggage and made my way up the escalators to where it seems half the world had congregated.

Now I’d heard all about the security measure in London and American airports after 9/11, little did i know just how hectic they truly are. After standing for about 20 minutes in the queue I noticed people taking belts and shoes off, I noticed people basically undressing and then walking through a detector. My cynical mind started questioning the need for a metal detector if you’ve already asked people to get half naked…and then it was my turn. “sir, belt off”. Ok, belt off, my jeans may fall off but for you Healthrow, anything. “umm, sir, your boots as well”. Are you serious? Boots are rubber and leather last I checked. “all keys, metal and anything else that’s heavy sir”. After many a sigh I walked through the ‘detector’ half the man I was before I got to the security desk. During the shenanigans of passing through security I remembered someone telling me that the detectors at Heathrow are the new X-ray ones that undressed you when you walked though. Ah yes, welcome to Big Brother territory.

Thinking I’d passed the finish line I looked up and lo and behold, Customs. More queues and beyond them a big mall. Even in such a tense environment consumerism will always be there to end the day. The lady in front of me was given the evil eye and quizzed about her passport and something or other missing from it. Ironically when compared to my experience back in Johannesburg, I was let through with a smile.

Ok, now 2 hours to kill whilst waiting to be told what time my lovely flight on Virgin Atlantic back to Johannesburg would take off. Unlike back home the boarding gate for flights at Heathrow aren’t announced until the last 10 minutes. This leads to the throng of people sitting around in the mall/ waiting area staring at the electronic monitors like sheep waiting for the farmer with their morning feed. I decided to catch up on much needed sleep…and with my medication I felt drowsy.

An hour and a bit later I woke up to see the same scene, crowds of people milling around staring at boards. I looked up at the board as well and saw my plane had been assigned a boarding gate. Awesome. Not. The boarding gate was miles away and I hated every step of it, wanting to just get on the plane I wasn’t expecting to be met by yet another waiting area, this time only for Virgin Atlantic passengers. Seems like everything about international travel involves hurrying up and waiting.

I watched the news and found out the Tories and Lib Dems had made a deal and read a magazine before finally being called up, “Economy Class passengars may now begin boarding”. Johannesburg, here I come.

I got a much nicer seat this time, thanks to Anthony hustling our seat numbers whilst in Johannesburg before we left. I settled down for the 11 hour flight back home. I tried to watch a movie but failed at my attempt. Dinner, well, was dinner. The less said about airplane food the better. After the usual restlessness after take-off I settled down for the night. The next thing I remember was our plane touching down in Johannesburg at O.R. Tambo International Airport. Apparently I coughed and sneezed throughout the entire flight though, I somehow didn’t recall much of the flight back home because of the medication I was on. At OR Tambo I was quickly ushered into a quarantine area to double check if I may be carrying any seriously contagious diseases or viruses I could spread. Ahh yes, home sweet home.

I would definitely be considering another visit to London soon, I’ve already been promised a lovely couch at my friend’s house, no need for hotels that won’t let me eat a full English breakfast! My Visa is only valid for 6 months though but if I can somehow squeeze in a week or two break I’ll be on the first flight back to see it properly and this time with a friend or loved one.

How Gary Benham and the people at visitbritain managed to pull so many strings for me to experience London and Britain in such short a time I don’t know. I did ask Gary the other day if he’d let me kiss him…and whether he likes it or not I’m afraid a pecker is coming his way!


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