Adventures in England: Part 2
The flight touched down about twenty minutes late at Heathrow. I had had a little snack on the plane, but not much. After getting out of Customs and everything, I went and found a local ATM. I got £100 (which I wouldn't have if I'd realized I was converting backwards... That's $200 US, which is more than I'd wanted to spend!). Then I walked over to the Information counter.
I was having a lot of trouble hearing, and I was actually getting a headache from the jump into English from German, so I just asked, "I need to go to Bristol. I can take the train or bus. What should I do?" The lady floored me. She goes, "Hmmm. Well, you've just missed the 10:15 train to Reading, that's the last chance to catch the train from Reading to Bristol. Lemme see, I don't have the bus schedule so well memorized." She pulls a book over and flips through. She says, "Ah, there's a mumblemumble twenty-five bus that goes to Bristol. Take the stairs here and then go up one floor, over and then down again." She didn't really mumble, I don't think, but I wasn't hearing too good, so all I heard was the "twenty-five" part.
I said, "Oh, how do I make a long-distance phone call? Will the phones take bills, or can I get change?" She said, "They take change or cards, you can buy a card over there." I went where she pointed, and it turned out to be a money exchange booth. I asked the lady and she had to ask someone else, but they did indeed sell phone cards. Seeing as it was also a money exchange booth, I asked if I could buy it with American money. She said she'd have to change my money first, then sell me the card. So, I changed over the last of my American money, and bought a calling card.
Then I tried to use it. The first phone I tried said the card was invalid. The second phone said the number was invalid. So did the third. I tried calling without the country code (that's smart!) and it said, "Number 117 blocked from here." So I tried it without the area code, and I got a fax machine.
I went back to the same information lady, and I said, "I know this number works, I can dial it from Germany. What am I doing wrong?" She told me that I had to put a 0 in front of the area code when I dial, and took the paper I had with the number, and re-wrote the number "correctly."
But, at this point, I was a little worried about the "twenty-five" part of the bus connection. AND I wasn't sure how to get a bus ticket, so I went in search of the bus depot. I found the bus depot outside, and upstairs from the underground platform. The ticket window was closed and dark, and I couldn't find Bristol anywhere on the computer display for departures. I was a little worried about that, but I decided I'd better call Liz.
It was nice to hear a familiar voice after a day chock-full (and getting fuller) of chaos. I told her about trying to take the bus, and she told me to call when I got to the bus station, so she wouldn't be waiting all night. I hung up with her because I was starting to get really hungry. There was a little hamburger joint on the bus platform, but it didn't look very appetizing, so I went back inside the airport, following signs for a McDonald's.
Well, everything in the airport was completely shut-down. The McDonald's turned out to be on the other side of security, where you had to have a ticket to be, and the Burger King on my side was closed and rather run-down looking. So I went back out to the burger joint on the bus platform. EXCEPT, as I'd been running around, the burger joint shut-down. He took some sort of pity on me, and sold me a Coke, but used up the last of my coins (he wouldn't take bills... I always like to have oodles of extra coins for bus fare, whenever I know I'm gonna be taking the bus... I dunno why). So, then I sat down to wait.
I was waiting to see what time my bus left the depot, which of the 20+ pads it came to, and how to pay for it. I rotated through a quick cycle of:
Read Kafka book Check TV display Listen to Walkman Check TV display Drink a little Coke Check TV display Read Kafka book Check TV display ...
Eventually, I said to myself, at this rate, I might as well go see if there's any information on the pads themselves. Lo and behold, there's a TV display at the pad which gives the next bus route, and there's also a printed schedule. It took me a minute to get the idea, but I saw that (by some weird luck) the first pad I'd gone up to had a bus to Bristol coming through at 25 minutes past mid-night. That would be the "twenty-five" the lady had been talking about at the Info. Booth.
Okay, so now I had my bus. It was the number 76 to Swansea, pad number 7, getting off in Bristol. So I sat down and waited...
... about 10 minutes past mid-night a bus pulls into pad 7. The TV monitor for pad 7 says the next bus goes to Swansea, but this bus isn't from the same bus line as the one the monitor says is going to Swansea. A British lady asks me (do I look like I know anything?) if it was the bus to Swansea. I barely heard her ask the question, and said I didn't know.
She went and asked the guy working with other people's luggage. I leaned in, trying to over-hear the answer. The only word I heard was "Bristol". It sounded like a positive, though, not a negative... So I got in line. I asked the guy how much for a ticket, and he said, "We don't have a machine, get in the coach." Or, at least, that's what I heard. I still wasn't hearing any better.
So, I'm sitting on the bus, trying to figure out what's going on. The two bus driver guys keep talking like, "Well, we'll just wait till he gets here and see what he wants to do." I keep thinking, "This is just too much adventure for one day, for one person." A minute or two later, a bus from the right line, with a #76 in the window pulls up next to us, and the two bus driver guys go talk to the other bus driver guys. Then they come in the bus and point to me and somebody else and say, "You guys need to pay, right?"
We go over to the other gus, and they calculate up the price to go to Bristol. Things are looking good. I pay for my ticket, and get back on the other bus. A few minutes later, both buses are loaded up, and we're driving away.
Aparently, I got on the right bus. This weird, un-numbered bus went straight to Bristol, with no stops in between. It was strange. I got about an hours sleep on the bus, and finished my Coke, and a little more of my chocolate bar from Munich airport. We pulled into the Bristol bus station around 3am. I called Liz and then got a cab. The cab driver was impressed that I spoke German, and tried a little of his out on me (he wasn't too bad).
I got to Liz's dorm complex around 3:20am. The cab was about £5, which I was happy to pay (at *least* I wasn't sleeping in a train station). Liz came out and walked me back to her dorm. I'd missed check-in at the Youth Hostel, so I just slept on the floor of her room for the night.
The next day, I slept WAY past breakfast. Liz still had some registration things to do, so I went with her. Registration at Bristol just sucks. First, the dorms are like 4 miles from the class buildings. Second, there's no real centralized registration system, you have to register individually with each department. Third, the booklet they publish with class times and other vital information is more wrong than right, so you have to make a seperate trip to the department office to get the right information. Fourth, every department has its own little house, and they are all scattered across the city.
I went with her to the Student Union, where we got a Pepsi and she tried to check out the Societies. They're Clubs. The whole Union was SO packed with people, though, we left after a few minutes. We walked back to her room, and talked with some of her friends from the dorm.
Liz wanted to take me out to this neat tavern she and her family had been to before, so we took a bus into the city, and then walked around trying to find the place. We only got lost twice, I think. Once we found it, though, it was pretty cool. There were guys dressed up in "period" costumes outside doing a dance with bells and sticks and stuff, and they looked like they were really into it. The tavern was especially cool, because the upper floors were the restaurant, and the ground floor was the pub... That way, we had a nicer restaurant atmosphere upstairs, and they still had the pub. I had "fish & chips". It was good, although I never can tell if fish is supposed to have bones or not. I like it better without.
We weren't sure if the buses were still running, so we tried to get a cab back to the university area. We had trouble finding one, though. A lot of them whizzed by us, and we kept walking trying to find the bus stop we'd gotten off at. We weren't having ANY luck at all, so we tried to help Liz get her bearings by walking over to the hotel where she and her family had stayed. On the way walking toward it, we got a cab.
Next day, I slept past breakfast again, but Liz didn't have any more registration stuff to do, so we headed back to the city on the bus. This time, we paid better attention to where we'd gotten off. We walked around a little bit, and decided to eat lunch at this neat tea shop called "Carwardine's." It was really good. The tea was excellent, and the food wasn't bad either.
From there, we walked around a little, and wandered into the "Galleries"... like a big mall. I bought a couple of English books for pleasure reading (and for the trip back) and I bought Liz a book, too. We got some Coke from a cooke store, and were just hanging out. It was neat. We were having trouble deciding what to do for dinner, so we decided to get pizza. We found a Pizza Hut, and we figured that was good enough for us. Liz wasn't very hungry, though, as it turned out, so we got a "take-away box" and took it back to the room. (we didn't keep it there long, though, the whole room started to stink of pizza, and Liz doesn't have a fridge...)
Saturday, I had breakfast with Liz in the dorm cafeteria. It was weird, a lot different from cafeterias we have back at CWRU. She gave me a tour of the facilities (they have a bar, a dance floor, a common room, a library with *really* old books...) and then we went to go meet up with her parents. Her parents were sort of tooling around Europe... They'd been to Paris, and they were coming back through London for a few days before heading home, and they asked us to meet them in London.
We took a train to London that was pretty neat. Liz had figured out that the advantage of riding in First Class was that not too many other people did, so our compartment was virtually deserted, and there weren't any crying infants or any of the usual annoyances... it was nice.
Anywho, we rode into London and took a cab to the hotel Liz's parents were staying in. We met them in the lobby and got checked in. The plan was that I'd stay in a room with Mr. Hedrick, and Liz would stay with her mom. Problem was, the hotel had screwed up, and had given us two rooms each with one double bed. Not an ideal arrangement, you understand. So, Mr. Hedrick did some quiet wrestling, and they gave us three rooms for the price of two. Mr. and Mrs. Hedrick stayed in one with a double bed, Liz in one with a single bed, and me in one with a single. It was nice. Big room, nice bed, and it had a bathroom. Always a plus.
So, we headed back out and found a nice italian restaurant for lunch. Liz brought her folks up-to-date on her classes, and I joked around about my experiences in Germany. After lunch, we walked around the city some. We saw Westminster, Big Ben, the National Art Gallery... then took a cab back to the hotel.