Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Traveling and arriving

I really do love to travel. I love the mental shift that takes place when you leave behind your routine world. I love how, especially when you go overseas, you are plunged into a world that's strange to you, but normal to everyone else. I love the effort of adapting to the "new normal."

Although sometimes travel can be a challenge or even a real ordeal. Still, I love to give myself over to it. You never know what you're going to get when you start out.

Our Topanga life is so familiar. On Tuesday, I started the day with my routine dog-walk in my Topanga neighborhood - although it was a bit abbreviated because of rain. Then home for breakfast, shower, dress and then I took Jack to the Topanga Pet Resort, which will be his home while we're gone. It's like dropping a kid off at summer camp - they never look back!

Our bags await at the street for our pick-up
 Topanga is a rural and somewhat insular community, so there are certain home-grown businesses that succeed here because they understand its unique character. We've been using Canyon Car Service for trips to the airport since they started operating in the late '90s. They know the traffic and they know the peculiarities of Topanga - including its treacherous driveways. Jenise picked us up promptly and delivered us to the Bradley terminal at LAX with plenty of time.

[The Man I Love] had taken advantage of a last-minute upgrade offer, and I personally think for overseas flights it's always worth it. We were ushered into British Airways' LAX lounge to enjoy drinks, lunch and free WiFi before boarding.

Poached lobster on edamame and seaweed salad with Thai sweet chili glaze? On an airplane? We were in plastic pods, side by side and facing opposite, with a folding privacy screen between us - which we didn't need - and cunning little sliding tray tables and concealed drawers for belongings. We each had our own private entertainment machine - I watched "Mad Men," "How I Met Your Mother" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." I thought about watching "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer" but decided to go to sleep instead.

I was grateful for the airline-issued earplugs, since there was a small child in the cabin who squalled and screamed almost the entire night.

Some ten hours later, we arrived at Heathrow, and endured the trudge from the gate to the subway, the subway to baggage claim, and then finally the long wait in Passport Control. We were next in line after a pair of young women from Kuwait. Dressed in matched track-suit ensembles, wearing headscarves glittering with glass bead fringe, they giggled in Arabic and scrolled through their I-phones, just the same as any pair of LA teens would have.

We found the car the hotel concierge had arraigned for us, and buckled in for the long drive through the city of London.

I really should trace the route car drivers have used when taking us into London from Heathrow, since I am still confused about the geography. We passed through suburban blandness, then through a kind of corporate modern blight, then suddenly saw a row of beautiful Victorian row houses. The car moves so fast it's hard to take in the street signs from the back seat, so I only get a little glimpse - a Tube Station here, a recognizable monument there, a massive shopping center we zoom past that must be a landmark to help with orientation.

Then we passed King's Cross station, and St. Pancras's station, and then the British Library. We passed gracious curved terraces of Regency houses, construction projects, modern skyscrapers, boring slabs of council flats, and stunning late Victorian edifices dedicated to improving the human condition. We passed gilt-signed Victorian pubs, balti shops, grey stone churches, fenced compounds of shabby caravan villages, and ironmongers' shops.

Hackney Road - our neighborhood
The road rose uphill and then leveled out. As we moved through the city from west to east, the buildings grew smaller and more modern; whole complexes of council flats rose up in patterned layouts. We were in the East End by now, and the railway overpasses dominated, with small shops and garages thriving in their shadows. We turned the corner, facing a block of low apartment buildings in the characteristic yellowy-tan brick of London. On the other side, a monumental official-looking building arose.

Our hotel.

Built in 1910 as the Town Hall of Bethnal Green,  it became redundant in the 1960's when the local government structure of London was changed. The magnificent building was used as a film and music video location for many years, but was later transformed into a hotel targeting the kind of market that would be interested in the artsy up and coming culture of Bethnal Green.

The suite's living room
Our room is in the older part of the building, and was probably some high official's office or an important meeting room. The hoteliers have done some extensive work on the building. We have a very modern-looking bathroom - that still possesses the peculiarities of British bathrooms - and a kitchenette hidden behind a modern plastic laminate screen.

The bathtub is in the bedroom
The floors are the ancient wood parquet of the great town hall, and the ceilings soar to twelve feet, and there are old leaded glass windows dating from the early years. Yet the furnishings have a mid-century-modern thrift shop feel. The linens, amenities and creature comforts are high quality. It's all very ironic, shape-and-time shifting, and a very pleasant place to be spending the next ten days.


smalltownme said...

You are off to a good start. I am so envious of your first class seats.

Anonymous said...

There is a wonderful, and little known, doll and toy museum in Bethnal Green if you have time.
Have a wonderful trip! Very jealous