Well here’s my wrap-up entry from my Europe trip. I didn’t have Internet access from England, so I’ll write what I can remember here.
My last morning in France was very relaxed. Check out was at 11:30am, so I went out to the market and bought some fruit and some Roquefort cheese for breakfast. I finished off my mini toast crackers with the Roquefort. I checked out a bit early and hung out downstairs, talking to other travellers in the lounge. Everyone wanted advice on what to see and do in Paris. I had a hard time answering. I guess what I enjoy is not what others do. I just advised them to go out and experience the culture, get away from the touristy spots, and just get to know the real Paris as much as possible. I felt a little bit jealous that these people were going to get to stay, and it was time for me to go home. But there’s a time and a place for everything, and it was time for me to end my trip.
I gathered up my bags and rode the Metro to the Gare du Nord train station. I really recommend the Eurostar train if you’re traveling between London and Paris. It’s fast, easy, and inexpensive. Train stations are central, unlike airports, so you don’t have to deal with expensive and time-consuming airport transfers. Security is faster and less tense too. I like the fact that you bring all of your luggage on board with you, so you don’t have to worry about some baggage handler smashing or stealing your stuff. When you get to your location, you just grab your suitcase and walk out the door. I got to my seat without any incident this time, and enjoyed the fast, quiet ride back to London. If I have the choice in the future, I will always take the train instead of flying.
Susanna, Marianne and Stu met me at Waterloo station in London. We took my stuff back to Susanna’s place and then sat there for a while catching up and chatting. It was nice to speak English again! Later on in the afternoon, we met up with James, who had organized a few people from dA to come out and meet with me. We sat at a pub on the South Bank of the Thames and drank British beer. Waggledance is good stuff! After the beer, we staggered down to Wagamama’s, a contemporary Japanese restaurant, and had a delicious dinner. Everyone seemed to be drooling on their shirts over the chicken katsu curry, so I had some of that. It was fried chicken cutlets with a mild, creamy coconut curry sauce on top of rice. I also got some duck gyoza, which are deep fried duck dumplings with a sour hoisin sauce. It was great.
Susanna and Catherine and I went back to Sus’s place and stayed up talking for a couple of hours. Afterwards, Sus made up a comfortable bed for me on her couch, and I got a great night’s sleep. I woke up early and started preparing my camera bag for the trip home. The new security restrictions at the British airports meant I wasn’t going to be able to bring my camera or my laptop on the plane with me, so I did my best to protect the camera and lenses. I took the lens off the camera, and put on the body cap. I’m glad I brought that, because I almost left it at home. Then I wrapped up the camera in a shirt and put it in the very centre of the bag. I took my 70-200mm lens and stuffed it into my shoulder bag so I could bring it on the plane. I made sure the other lenses had as much padding in the camera bag as possible. I wrapped the laptop in a shirt too, and put it in its compartment with the LCD screen on the inside side of the compartment. I buckled down the straps of the backpack so they offered a bit more padding to the laptop compartment. I figured all of this would help protect the equipment from anything except a very severe fall or from theft.
Sus made us pancakes with jam and whipped cream in the morning. After breakfast, we went directly to a pub to have an English lunch before I grabbed my plane. I had Scottish scampi with chips and onion rings. Lunch being done, we headed into the Underground, and I rode one stop to London Bridge, then attempted to to buy a ticket to Gatwick on the train. It took me several attempts running between the ticket vending machine, and the old guy at the information stand before I could figure out what ticket I needed. There seemed to be about 30 different choices. Diny should be brought in to design a sign or a user interface for these machines that is actually helpful.
I was a bit late getting to the airport. I arrived about 40 minutes before the plane was supposed to leave. There was a long line up at the Zoom counter, but I had paid for the premium service, so I got to go to the front of the line. There were people staring daggers into my back as I checked in. I was pretty worried about my camera bag, but they weren’t going to let me bring it on the plane, so I had to check it. Stupid alleged terrorists!
The flight was about an hour late leaving, because the plane had been late leaving Toronto, which held up things on the Gatwick end. I don’t know what’s going on with Toronto’s airport lately, but everything seems to be a mess. When I was leaving, it seemed like they were switching gates on lots of different flights, which causes confusion and delays. When I got back, they were still switching gates around like mad.
Anyway, the flight was uneventful. I was sitting beside an old guy who kept leaning on the call button by mistake, so the flight attendants had to keep coming by to see if we wanted something. I can’t entirely blame the old guy though. The panel was really poorly designed. The buttons were on the top front of the arm rest, instead of on the side where it’s harder to push them by accident. Also, inexplicably, the headphone jack was on the top of the arm rest, so that while I had my headphones plugged in to watch the movie, the old guy kept elbowing the plug by mistake and knocking it out.
Across the aisle was an enraged two year-old child. He screamed and threw tantrums for a solid 3 hours. On takeoff, he chucked his toy ambulance on the floor and it rolled to the back of the plane. One of the passengers said, “The ambulance went that way!” which seemed pretty funny at the time. This kid spent most of the flight screaming, whining, kicking, throwing food, and generally acting like a little turkey. His mother was at a complete loss and didn’t know what to do. I don’t know if I felt more sorry for her for her embarassment, or for me for my tortured eardrums. Eventually he fall asleep, snoring loudly.
The pilot managed to make up the time we lost to our one hour delay, and we actually arrived in Toronto on time. We had to circle the airport for 15 minutes because the airport was too crowded for us to land. Eventually we got to the ground though. Customs was not a problem, although the agent couldn’t believe I didn’t bring anything back from France. Why would I? I decided to withhold any smartass comments, even after she asked for the fourth time. I just said, “No, nothing.” and eventually she let me go.
It took about an hour to get my luggage, and I was one of the lucky ones. At least half of my flight was still waiting when I left. I have no idea what’s going on at Pearson, but everything is in super slow mode. I guess they’re on the watch for terror or something. I’m not going to complain though. My camera and laptop seem to have survived, and nothing got stolen.
So now I’m home. I spent the day going through my messages playing with the photos from my trip, and enjoying the concept of cheap Internet. Real life resumes tomorrow.