Monday, November 02, 2009

On the way to Japan: First, get out of London!

AOG, Tokyo

Any journey has its ups and downs. I suppose it is better if all goes as planned, but, as they say, getting there is half the fun.

My first trip to Tokyo started in Madrid one week ago. I had a few days off from work and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in London.

I met up with my family and some friends. From Monday to Thursday I ran errands, visited shops, finished reading "Dirty Havana Trilogy" by Pedro Juan Gutierrez, watched some TV, bought the odd trinket here and there, and, finally, packed my bags and headed to the airport on thursday.

Lets do the time warp again!

In my life, I remember when I was a kid, there were occasions when time slowed down. It is hard to explain. Basically, it would happen sometimes that we would be going somewhere, like a long car journey, and time would either stretch into infinity, or almost disappear. Odd but true.

I remember many a trip when a 5 hour car journey would last 45 minutes. Similarly, a one hour journey would take forever to end. These were the hardest since you became frustrated at how long things took, and your conscience told you that, in fact, this journey is much shorter than what you are actually taking to do it.

And the funny thing is that it happened not only to me, but to my family too. We were always surprised by this time warp of ours. I hadn't happened for a long time.

Until last Thursday.

Leaving London

I woke up around 8 am and left my London flat at around 9AM. I walked up to the bus station only to see the bus drive past me as I turned the first corner and made my way to the bus stop. I waited a few minutes and then another one came.

I then took the underground to Covent Garden and went to buy a Japan visual guide at Stanfords, the best travel store I know of.

After than, I went back home (do not stop around since you are running out of time).

First though, I had to get some euros. My partner had payed for our upcoming trip to Japan and I had to reimburse him. So off I went to my local HSBC branch. I was surprised by what happened next.

1- The person in charge of foreign currency is out to lunch. (And then the thought stroke me: should bank staff take a lunch break when the rest of the city is also taking a lunch break, thus ensuring that those of us who can make it to the bank at lunch create a daily lunch rush hour for which the bank is not equipped?)

2- Could I come back later (like in 45 minutes?)? No I could not. So then the deputy branch manager tried to help me.

Tried but failed since, a) she didn't have a password for the foreign till and, b) she could have a password emailed but that would take 30 minutes.

I really didn't have the time to spare, the energy to get upset further, nor the will to upset the bank staff any further.

3- It is suggested that I go to the Post Office (it's just down the street!) and get the money there.

I go there, only to be asked for some sort of ID. I didn't have any ID with me (as you know, in the UK nobody carries ID with them), so they could not get the money out of my bank card.

4- Could I get the money in cash from the bank (it's just down the street!).

So I traipse back to the bank only to find an even longer line than before.

A while later starts the same "No ID?" ceremony which had taken place at the Post Office.

After a few security questions the bank decides to hand me over the amount of money requested (you'd think it was a gift and not your own money!), and I rush back to the Post Office.

After a few minutes I am on my way home to eat and finish packing.

As I pack I make some lunch. I eat, shower, lock my travel bag, and exit in a rush.

At that point I was running a bit late.

I walk towards the bus stop. A bus drives by just before I get there. I begin to ponder on the wisdom of taking a cab to the train station. At the stop, I wait for about 30 minutes for the next bus (in theory, one should go by every 10-15 minutes).

The funny thing about the bus stop is that it is too far from the High Street to rush to it should a bus drive by, so that if I leave it, I have to be committed to taking a cab since there is no turning back! It was a tough call and I made a mistake. I should have taken a cab.

However at this point, I did not know this. I get to the train station and take the first train to Stansted. I have waited less than 2 minutes at this point.

The train is packed. I get on board and find a seat. The trolley guy comes by and I buy a coffee. I don't know why I did this since I was already quite wired and stressed since, at that point, I was -officially- running late. Very late.

The train, as British trains often do, stops for no apparent reason in the middle of nowhere for a few minutes. I recall that this happened twice or so. I get to Stansted 4 minutes before the gate closes.

I try to rush through security, but I can't. Too many people and none of them care that I'm about to miss my flight. Well, perhaps they did care, but I'm sure that they were mostly thinking (and with good reason) that I should have gotten there earlier. And they were right.

I finally make it through and miss the first train that gets you to the next terminal. When I get to it, I rush out, fly up the escalator, and sprint to the gate, only to find a surprised easyjet woman who, as soon as she sees me, pushes a chair forward to stop me from flying down the stairs and run to the plane.

I was completely out of breath, sweating, panting, trembling and upset with myself. I had no energy to argue. It was not meant to be.

The lady says I should go back with her to the terminal to book another ticket. For tomorrow!!! This was the worst possible outcome, alas, what could I do?

I called my partner who told me there were no other flights to Barcelona that I could catch that day from that airport. From other airports maybe, but I would have to get a bank loan to pay for the ticket. Why is traveling on the day so expensive?

One more day in "Paradise"

After talking to my partner (who was very supportive throughout the whole ordeal) I am escorted back by a different member of staff who was slightly inconvenienced by my situation (why do plane staff always think we miss planes on purpose?) and the fact she had to escort me back through the terminal's secret "staff only" passageways.

After buying a ticket for the next day, I decide to cut my losses and get back to London on a bus. It is cheaper than the train, though less convenient. But since I had no one waiting for me, it seemed like the right thing to do. Wrong again!!

Along the way I call my friend Miguel and we decide to meet once more in Soho. So now I have to rush home from Liverpool Street station and rush back out to the West End.

And I am on a bus, surrounded by Spanish tourists who think everything they see is cool. London holds a special fascination amongst Europeans. The Spanish are no different.

By the time Miguel and I meet up, I am exhausted, both physically and mentally. We talked about the day's events and I explained about the time-warp day I'd had. All along, I told him, it felt like time was slowing down and speeding up at the same time. I know this makes no sense. He thought it was hilarious. I may the future!

By the time I get home, I am half dead. I have a glass of warm milk and some oatmeal biscuits and dive into bed. I have a flight to catch in the morning.

Somebody help me!!

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