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Victoria to London: Rebuilding our Travel Muscles

Westminster, London

We left Tuesday morning for our first off-island travel adventure since the pandemic. We're off to the UK to see both our kids and some friends too.

It's about time. We both love traveling but I will admit that Cindy throws herself into it more than I do. I'm a sit back and take it all in type of person, whereas Cindy is more obsessed with finding the good stuff to see and do. So I get often get led around to extremely cool places where I'm able to look at and think about.

We flew direct from Vancouver to London, which meant taking the ferry to Vancouver. I love the ferry. I don't think the takes that much longer than a connecting flight from Victoria when you consider the boarding and up boarding time, and it's definitely cheaper. And the ferry is far, far more relaxing. We had a lovely picnic lunch on the sunny deck on a delightfully clear day. Mount Baker was crisp and clear in the distance and we tracked it the entire route as the ferry navigated its way through the Gulf Islands.

view from the ferry, including Mount Baker in the distance

Vancouver has to be my favorite airport. I can't seem to get enough of it. The entire terminal building looks designed, with lots of wood grain and stonework and oddly beautiful structures. Suspended platforms that remind you of floating canoes. Stunning art on display. Calm areas to sit close to but slightly removed from the main gates. And huge views of the green grass and mountains beyond the runways.

We found an atrium near our gate where we set up shop before our flight. What an amazing area. Three young cedars (or perhaps they are Douglas fir) are surrounded by glass and open to the sky above. Around the cedars are faux rocks made to look like tide pools, so kids can climb around and look for starfish. There's running water sounds and birdsong piped in. It's a very relaxing space to escape to. They even put a flexible led screen on the walkway to project wildlife overhead. All this in an airport. I could sit here for a very long time and not worry too much.

atrium at Vancouver International Airport

The flight itself was a series of first world challenges. I have embarrassingly low stamina. After we boarded, the captain came on the intercom to inform us that they had to throw all the catering out because it was the wrong temperature. Hot weather and a shortage of dry ice was the culprit. Since it was an eight hour flight, they felt compelled to get some food on board, so we sat for an hour to wait for new food to come.

When the second set of food arrived, the captain let us know that all was good except for the temperature of our breakfast yogurt, but he had made the executive decision to forge on without it. We'll done, sir.

Unfortunately, the hour sitting on the plane was enough for me to completely lose my shit with the fellow beside me. He was an aggressive armrest hog, with hot, hairy, sweaty arms. Just like me. On the other hand, he was a lout, unaware of the clear etiquette that, as the resident of the middle seat, the armrests were my domain. The thought of eight hours (now nine hours!) with our arm hairs intertwining harm me seething with inner rage.

I held my ground in aggressive silence. I flexed. I squirmed. I grunted. I calculated the likelihood of doing damage by stabbing him with the plastic butter knife in my pack. I did everything but talk to the man as he stared transfixed at the screen in front of him.

Then I swapped places with Cindy.

I'm not proud of this. I want to be a better person. But as the night progressed and we tried to sleep, I convinced myself that I was doing her a favor by saving her the discomfort of being knocked awake by Every. Single. Person. who came down the aisle.

PS - I passed on the replacement chicken for dinner and went for the pasta. I haven't heard of salmonella from pasta and they cooked it extra, extra long to be safe. And the croissant they threw at us at daybreak was OK. Thicker than average plastic wrap on it.

Our street near Victoria Station, London

London is brilliant. Huge, sprawling, ancient, historic. Stonking hot this time of year.

We took the Underground aka the Tube into the city. I love everything about the Underground. It's relatively cheap, it's fast, it's convenient and the station names are awesome. You pay for rides using your Oyster Card. What do Oysters have to do with travel? Beats me. Maybe the elite traditionally kept money in oyster shell purses during the Edwardian era? Good a reason as any to call this blue credit card an Oyster card, I guess. The stations are a mix of beautiful temples to Progress, gritty people-movers cajoling you up and out into the action, or, further from the center, basic commuter platforms. All have stories to tell.

From Heathrow, you take the Picadilly Line towards Cockfosters (a real place!), and then in our case, switch to the District Line at Earls Court to Victoria Station. (That's right, we left Victoria the city to stay in Victoria the neighborhood. Small steps.)

We checked into our hotel and realized we hadn't eaten anything since the "croissant" on the plane so we headed to a Cypriot restaurant around the corner. It was 3pm - tweener time - that time of day where you realize you've missed lunch so this meal will likely be supper too. We took a table on the front sidewalk and ordered a Doner platter and a sampler of hot appetizers. Amazing. Stunning. Delicious. Far, far too much food. We're covered for tomorrow now as well.

While we waited for our food to arrive, I had a real Brush With Greatness. Walking past our table was none other than satirist, cricket obsessive, pun master and podcast host Andy Zaltzman! He was so close I could've tripped him.

Alas, I resisted the urge to speak to the great man, express my admiration, invite home to eat with us, ignite a lifelong correspondence and be invited to be a guest on The Bugle. I saw him coming from too far away and it gave me too much time to think. It's said you shouldn't meet your heroes. Even my heroes say that. But I bet we'd have hit it off.

After "Lupper", we headed off on a long walk in search of the River Thames, past blocks and blocks of white stone row houses that were a mix of posh apartments, boutique hotels and foreign embassies. The Thames is a tough river to find. It twists and turns so that it's not so easy as saying it's "south" of us or "east" of us. So we walked and walked, checking street maps as we went, until a lovely local lady turned us 90 degrees and we found it, right there.

We came to the river very close to the Houses of Parliament, where there were thousands of people milling about. Tour groups, mainly, but also TV crews and political types. Lots of armed guards too. The Conservative Party was starting the process of selecting a new leader to replace the disgraced PM Boris Johnson, so the conversation was peppered with well dressed people making references to "Liz Truss" or "Rishi", in various accents. We sat for a bit on a shaded bench, admired the architecture (especially the refurbished Big Ben) and then headed on.

Big Ben

Walking in London can be very risky for foreigners. The roads are often quite narrow so perfect for jaywalking, and most locals jaywalk liberally. Mainly at intersections, crossing against the light, often in plain site of tourists like me who think that it must be safe.

But two things conspire against the tourist walking with the freedom of a knowledgeable local. First, the cars drive on the opposite side of the road. I won't say the 'wrong' side. That's cultural bias. But I will say that they drive on the side of the road my lizard brain says is "sure as hell not the proper side". So I'm constantly looking left for traffic as a huge taxi cab whizzes past my right ear.

Secondly, the roads aren't very straight, at least in the center of London. So often cars that are stopped at red lights appear quite far away. As if they are stopped at a completely different intersection. So you don't see them, but they see you quite clearly, looking the away from them, and stepping onto the street just as they are stepping onto theIr gas pedal.

So we wait for the walk sign. Always. Even as locals by the dozen walk across the street in apparent safety. Moms with young children. The elderly pushing walkers. We wait. We don't care.

And still, I got injured.

We were crossing a rare wide street, right along the Thames, right beside Big Ben. I saw the green walk light and set off towards it. But it wasn't my light. It was the light for the second half of the street. Mine half was still red, I guess.

I stepped out. Cindy yelped. I looked left to see clear road. The right to see the cars coming toward me. I yelped, did a hop-step like the Roadrunner and leapt across the road.

But the 'hop' in the hop-step was enough to gather my left calf into a tight tennis ball of sinew. I found a step where I could stretch without getting mowed down by cars or bikes and then limped on towards a bench to sit and stretch some more.

Thank goodness for the Tube. The good ol' Tube. Limp a block to the Embankment station, District Line to Victoria station, wrong turn so we limp around the entire station, then limp to our hotel. Hot shower, cold water to drink, turn the fan on high. We make it till 9pm before letting the jet lag and adventure take over and fall into a deep, sound sleep.

Then up at 3am to write to you. Only four more hours till breakfast. I can't wait for Day 2.