Absolutely awesome. This was by far the best trip yet. Hell this was the best weekend I have ever had full stop. The trip had a few bumps but those did not hinder my enjoyment.
I arrived at the airport in plenty of time to catch my 7:20P flight. When I was boarding I was questioned by a customs officer. The dude looked like he just took a bite of a shite sandwich when I told him I was only going for 1 day. He then asked me what I will be doing for the day so I told him I will be having a bunch of pints and catching a show, begrudgingly whilst shaking his head he let me pass.
I had a sweet seat lined up in an empty row but when I got to the row it was cordoned off and the flight attendant told me the audio did not work. I told her it would not be a problem I don't need audio (I am not going to watch the inevitability crappy movie and reruns of "Everybody Hates Chris" plus I had some episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm to catch up on) but she said one row up was open so I could pick any seat there. That was fine with me but then a father and his two kids came down the aisle and stopped at my new row. He said he just checked in and snagged this row. No problem I could just take my original seat sans audio, or so I thought. The flight attendant did not want me to sit there, "yes" I thought first class here I come, but she was able to find me an open window seat with an empty seat next to it, not quite as comfortable as a full row but good enough. She also told me drinks would be on the house for my trouble, lucky for her I was still hungover from Thursday night and super tired so I only sucked down a couple drinks before going to sleep. By the way the movie was Talladega Nights so I was dead on about the movie being crappy.
The plane touched down right on time at 7:50A GMT. It was solid because we got to exit the plane via the huge rolling steps right out to the tarmac. When I came through the door I said to one of my fellow travelers "So this is England. It doesn't look so tough" (referencing Paulie from Rocky IV), the bloke just looked at me like I was a total nutter. We had to take a shuttle from the plane to the terminal and on the way I thought "brilliant" I'll be able to hop on the Gatwick Express and be in London no later than 9A. Man alive was I wrong.
When I arrived at the terminal my journey came to a screeching halt as the queue for customs wrapped around the terminal like a giant serpent that had just swallowed my entire trip. At first I was pissed but then I figured this is just one of the pit falls of 24 hour trips and I would still have plenty of time to check stuff out. Plus I had my MP3 player loaded up with hours of the Ricky's old XFM show to pass the time (thanks Al). I was in line for about 50 minutes then it really started to move like gang busters, apparently the customs officers decided to get off their arses and opened up more booths to handle the crowd.
By the time it was my turn to gain entrance to the UK I spent a little over an hour and a half in line. When I got to the booth the officer asked me the usual questions and when he asked me if there was anything in particular I had planed for my day in the country. I told him that I was going to see Ricky's stand up act. He said "I did not think you Americans would find him funny". I was not quite sure if the guy was trying to slag me and my fellow Americans off or if he was surprised that Gervais has made it around the globe. Anyway I told him "Yeah some of us are intelligent enough to understand his humor". The officer stamped my passport and sent me on my way.
I am not sure what time it was when I finally got to Victoria Station, I don't wear a watch and I did not want to turn my phone on to check the time because I am sure I would have text messages and emails waiting and I did not want to get stuck with the data charges. Here is a little travel tip, Victoria Station has shower facilities for only 20 pence. Friday before I left I booked a hotel through Hot Wire and got a great deal but I would have been better off just making Victoria my home base.
The first thing I did was stop in the book story at the station and purchased Sniper One by SGT. Dan Mills which, by the way is the best book I have ever read. I probably should have waited until I was leaving so I would not have to lug the book around all day but since I had no idea when I might find another book store I figured I would strike while I had the opportunity.
Buckingham Palace was first up, only because the first sign I saw pointed me in that direction. I did not have a map on me, which would prove to be a disadvantage later, so I figured I would just follow the signs and crowds. On the way to the palace a truck load of soldiers went by carrying what I assume were SA80s. The palace was huge but the outside of of it is fairly plain. I am not slagging it off, I am sure it is very nice inside but the line to get in was mental so I had to press on.
I did not have a plans for my next stop. I wanted to make it over to the Imperial War Museum, I looked it up on google before I left and I had a general idea of the location but I was not sure of the exact location. I started heading down The Mall and the Horse Guards came galloping down the street so I figured I would follow them and watch the changing of the guard. It was neat but I am not a huge fan of all the pomp and circumstance, it would be better to just have a bunch of those blokes with the SA80s standing out there. Alright, I knew the museum was just across the Thames from Big Ben which is right next to Westminster Abbey. I decided to head towards Big Ben basically because I could see to I should be able to figure out how to get there.
On my way to Big Ben I passed a snack stand that happened to have fountain Coke. I stopped to buy a Coke and test out the theory that the UK has better Coke then US. I asked the lady working the counter if the Coke was in powder form and mixed with water. Unfortunately she did not know and would not let me poke around to find the source of the pop, so that mystery will have to remain unsolved for now. I have to admit the Coke did taste a lot better but I am not sure if it was because I was so thirsty or if it was some kind of placebo effect.
I made it to Big Ben right at high noon and it was super packed. I did crack myself up when I asked someone what time it was and without hesitation the lady checked her watch. I guess she figured I was blind and could not see the gigantic clock on top of the tower. I walked around for a bit snapping a bunch of pictures and enjoying the weather. It was a perfect day, 24 degrees and sunny. I started heading across the aptly named Bridge Street bridge towards the London Eye and the Imperial War Museum when I made a decision that changed the trip for the better.
To be continued......