Thursday, May 03, 2007

Arriving in London

Here's an except from my journal from 1 May 2007, describing my travel to London:

Right now it’s 1:58 a.m. Utah time, which is 8:58 a.m. London time. I got up at 4:55 a.m. yesterday morning in Orem, and now I’m riding on the Gatwick Express train from the London Gatwick Airport to London Victoria Station. From there I will take the Tube to the BYU London Centre. I’m beginning a six-week study abroad program at the BYU London Centre, which is a building of living quarters and classrooms located at 27 Palace Court, London, very near Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

Traveling here has been a pretty smooth experience. Most of our group traveled together. We took Delta flight 3 from SLC yesterday morning at 8:30 a.m. and traveled to JFK airport in NYC, arriving at a little after 3 p.m. We had a layover of about three hours there and then took off for London at around 7 p.m., arriving at about 8 a.m. I’ve been up for about 20 hours, with a few brief naps sprinkled throughout the time.

That’s not to say that the travel was without incident. We had to make two passes when landing at JFK because the plane in front of us had not cleared the runway. That was a quite a ride since there was quite a bit of turbulence over the ocean as we approached. Then, when we took off from JFK somehow we had a passport on the plane without the corresponding person, so we had to wait a few minutes so that we could leave the passport with the ground crew in New York.

Another thing that made our flight from New York to London interesting was that there was a large group—perhaps 25—of Orthodox Jewish men from Brooklyn on the plane. They were all dressed the same, with white shirts and ties, dark slacks, and long suit coats. They all had long, untrimmed beards, Jewish head covers (yamikas?), and dark-color top hats. They all spoke English, and many—if not all—of them also spoke Yiddish. They talked and moved around the plane during the whole flight, which made it a little hard to sleep.

When we arrived at the airport we walked down a long terminal and then went through passport control. A somewhat austere English man grilled me pretty well on what I was doing, how long I was staying, what my return flight accommodations were, who I was staying with, what I was studying, what university I was with, if I had ever been to the UK before, etc. It took about five minutes of questioning before it seemed that I had satisfied him. I was very glad that BYU had given me a letter that explained my status. That seemed to ease things quite a bit.

One of the girls in our group is from England (about seven hours north of London), and her parents met us at the airport. It was nice to see a friendly face of someone who seemed to know was going on, since this was a pretty new experience for most of us. Most of the group had purchased a taxi ride together at a reduced rate to get from Gatwick to the London Centre. A few others of use weren’t in on that deal, so we are all taking public transit to the London Centre. We’re taking the Gatwick Express from the airport into London, and then we’ll take the Tube to near the London Centre.

* * *

We made it. I traveled from the airport with three others. One of the guys in our group asked people all along the way where were supposed to go, and we eventually got the right tickets and made it to the right places.

I have felt a little like I have been in a movie from the time that we approached the runway until I got to the London Centre. As we flew in, the fields below us were so green, with occasional roads crossing every which way—just as I had pictured England would look from the air. There were towns of dense brown housing sprinkled throughout the green velvet countryside. Gatwick airport is a 30-minute train ride outside of the city; it looked like we were going to land in a green field until the runway appeared about 300 meters before we touched down.

Luggage—which is aptly named—complicated our travel by rail from the airport to our centre. We had to lug our stuff up and down several flights of stairs and up and down several curbs. There wasn’t a lot of space for it on the Underground, so I had to stand by mine and shift from one side of the car to the other depending on which side the platform was on at each stop.

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