It is something of a relief to be back in a country where English is the predominant language. My new command of Italian and also my French (which came back to me better than anticipated and is still, I think, such a beautiful language) served me well "on the Continent" but the mother tongue is so much more relaxing. Of course, it’s something of a treat to bathe in all the accents here in the U.K.
Taking the RER train to Charles Degaulle Airport, flying BMI to Heathrow, taking the Heathrow Express to the Paddington Hilton, these are all known and familiar experiences, too. Still, for a 43-minute flight, there was a 5.5 hour door-to-door exercise.
The Bayswater area around Paddington Station is nice but, like everything, has changed a bit. The Archery Tavern, operated continuously since 1840 and the neighborhood pub where I planned to have a pint and dinner, closed last January! What a shame, the end of a long history and no "Tanglefoot Ale" for me. I managed to find the Dickens Tavern instead and sampled small doses of ales named "Pride of London", "John Smith’s Extra Smooth" and, my favorite, "Courage".
I meant to mention something about the handling of credit cards at European restaurants. A great effort is made to keep your credit card in your sight at all times. It goes like this: a wireless, hand-held credit card authorization station is brought to your table, your card is swiped once and immediately returned to you, you get to watch the screen to see the results of the authorization. The device then prints the paper receipt for you to sign. So you are absolutely sure that the card is only used once for your bill and never leaves your sight. This may be security overkill but certainly is nifty.
A young German couple had a fight of some kind on the Heathrow Express and the young girl had a tear-filled melt down right in front of me this afternoon. All I could do was offer her some tissues I had in my bag and a sympathetic nod. I know from personal experience that traveling can be hard on relationships – I remember a girlfriend from long ago (known to my friends as "Wonder Woman") screaming at me as we walked down a street in Athens while I tried to look like I didn’t know the crazy woman. Traveling alone has its shortcomings, too, though. At every hotel this trip, the desk clerk has looked incredulous when confirming that my room reservation is not for two people.
Tomorrow: first, a special stop in London and then off to Greenwich to visit the Prime Meridian.