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Saturday, September 1, 2007

Day One

(The canal right by my hotel.)

(This is Browns, where I had tea.)

(This is the view from my hotel window.)

Today I arrived in London and got to explore the area where I will be working and living for the next six weeks. Unfortunately, I was exhausted! I feel like I spent the day waiting until it was time to go to bed…which I think will be happening right at 9 p.m. (Trying to reset my clock.) Until then, I am back at the hotel watching what appear to be the German and Spanish versions of Dancing With the Stars.

I was worried that I wouldn’t get on my flight to London, as I was one of the last people to get a seat assignment (despite the fact that I checked in over 2 hours in advance). I was planning in my head how I would work it all out logistically if I got bumped…but my lucky streak seems to continue, as I got bumped up to FIRST CLASS! (I swear, if I am complaining 5 years from now about how nothing good or interesting ever happens to me, please remind me of this year!)

The funny part about the upgrade, though, is that I didn’t take my sleeping pill because I wanted to check out the first class cuisine (and, of course, free alcohol). The food was pretty respectable: portabella mushroom salad with sun-dried red and yellow tomatoes; fish with herb butter and veggies; pecan pie with assorted cheeses. (I think I may serve the last one at home sometime…blue cheese and pecan pie are actually really tasty together!) Anyway, by the time I ate, I figured it was too late to take an Ambien, so I just reclined in my big fat chair and slept as much as I could for 3-4 hours. Breakfast was yogurt, granola, fresh berries and a croissant.

After I stood in line at least an hour at Immigration, my driver was waiting for me with a sign, and he loaded my enormous bags into the Mercedes (one had to go in the back seat…oops), then drove me to the hotel, which took about 90 minutes. Gatwick is WAY out there, and I am on the opposite side of the city.

Canary Wharf is really interesting, and I like the area around the hotel a lot. It’s a very pedestrian-friendly area right on a little canal (all of this used to be the city docks until the 70s, and it was redeveloped as office space, etc., in the late 80s). Everything is very new and modern, with lots of glass and shiny chrome. Next to the hotel, there is a converted warehouse with a museum and at least 5 or 6 restaurants, all of which have abundant outdoor seating for sunny days like today. I had taken a nap upon arrival, so when I finally got outside, it was about 3 p.m. Just in time for afternoon tea! I had a pot of Earl Grey and some cucumber and salmon sandwiches, a scone with clotted cream, and fruit cake. It was £6, which was quite a deal comparatively…I decided before I came just to get over the prices and not whine about it, but basically, everything in pounds is similar to what you’d pay in dollars (e.g., most of the entrees at this very average cafĂ© were in the £9-11 range, with nicer stuff £17), but of course it’s twice that in dollars. Schneikes.

After that, I found the bank's building, which is really close. This is like a second financial district (the other is called "the City of London") -- HSBC, Credit Suisse, Citibank, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, etc, are all close to each other. Then, I walked around the underground shopping areas. It was funny because it felt fairly quiet outside…not deserted, but not really packed with people either. Apparently, they were all underground in the mall! It’s like a whole little world under there, and I was able to scope out my new grocery store. The prices there were actually not too bad.

I was determined to find my apartment building (I move there on Tuesday), so I got the concierge to help me with the map. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the bank building, but there is a lot of construction going on, and you walk along wider roads, so it’s not quite as nice of a stroll…it’s also in more of an, er, “up and coming” section of blocks. Not exactly shady, just clearly in the middle of major upgrades and gentrification. The building is pretty large and really nice…I just walked around the outside and saw a really cool indoor pool, exterior waterfalls in the courtyard, etc. It has a great view of the river, so my fingers are crossed I will have some sort of view! Oh, and outside there was a Lotus, a Hummer, a Porsche, and two Mercedes, so here’s hoping for some cute neighbors. ;-)

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