London Calling: 8 Days In Farnborough [On Business]

The last time I was in London it was 2004. Security was fierce because of the attack on NYC’s Twin Towers three years earlier. I had recently completed my engineering degree and my mom decided to take us on a whirlwind bus tour of Europe. Our trip was in economy class, and we were stuck between two partitions in a three abreast economy class seat in the middle of a 767. Smartphones barely existed and there was no need to check in on Facebook, nothing to post on Yelp or Tripadvisor. Back then we were flying into the great unknown with a map, a travel book and complete trust in Cosmos, the tour bus agency.

Twelve years later, I am sitting in a Business Elite seat, pod/herringbone configuration, departing from SEA. Coincidently, my layoff anniversary is this week! Who knew life would be so different in such a short time? Wow! 🙂 I’m aboard a 757 that will take me as far as JFK before completing the journey to Heathrow. Airplanes are my life, my passion, and although this is my first business trip as an engineeeing instructor rather than a project engineer, it feels right. I get to enjoy the pleasure of new cabin configurations and excellent customer service that my aerospace company strives for in their designs. You have no idea how long I have been waiting to say I traveled in a 180° reclining seat. (Upwards of 8 years. Read Life From Business Class… for more info.)

As we go through the door checks and the turn off cell phone sign comes on, I ponder how I’m going to kill the 5 hrs on this flight. Beer and movies anyone? Sold! After we landed at JFK I ran to XpreSpa and got a stress reducing massage session before boarding the 7 hr flight to Heathrow on a Virgin Atlantic A340-600. Sadly, the lie flat seats and IFE were ancient tech and kept me wishing I had downed a melatonin tablet to shill and sleep. If it hadn’t for the amenable and attentive crew, and the delicious dinner and apperitifs, I would have had a harder time keeping still through the turbulence. To add insult to injury my 5’4″ frame didn’t fit in the pod when flat! My body is sore from dozing off in the most uncomfortable positions known to man.

Day 1:

When the flight attendant awoke me, we were two hours away from Heathrow. Upon arrival, we had to wait until they evacuated a sick passenger. The walk to passport control was long but entertaining since I could see the planes and the tower through the fog. As expected, the line through customs was hell, but with the free wi-fi I made sure to employ my time effectively. (As I type this sentence, I am getting inches closer to freedom.) It is 10:10am, landed around 9am local time and we are still queuing.

The business travel agency booked a driver, so I was swiftly escorted to a nice Mercedes C class and to my hotel. Because they drive on the “wrong” side of the road, it took me a while to get used to the streets and traffic flow. Knights traveled this way to avoid being in a position where a sword or weapon could be drawn to attack a passerby from their saddle. It is one of the last vestiges of chivalry, driving on the left side of the road. Managing not to nod off while in transit was easier than anticipated. I definitely need a bed, and a shower, not necessarily in that order.

On my way to the Village Hotel Club, my driver Les acquainted me with the most important attractions and facts about Farnborough and the Village Hotel. The new McDonald’s used to be a pub where the Beatles used to play! Cool. Now at the hotel, I realized it is 11am and that check in may be later but the concierge found me a room and I am about to fall asleep for a noon nap. Zzzzzz…

Woke up around 5pm local time, not bad for a nap! I’ll use the evening to learn more about all the British versions of American shows, to tune my ears to understanding the local pronunciation of words and hopefully experince some of the culinary culture. The first floor of the hotel has two restaurants and a bar, alongside a Starbucks. I was still a bit achy all over from the trip so I ordered room service. The mussels with fries and still water platter looked good and tasted even better! For £13.50, it was a good find. [Note to self, check the conversion rate. Aha! 1 £ = $1.42 USD.] Other than the mussels, the coolest thing I have seen so far today were the pillows in my room. They read: V.Naughty, V. Thirsty, V. Snuggly. Words to live by.

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Day 2:

My eyes finally opened around 10am. I had been binging on crime shows and women in death row specials until 3am due to the time zone adjustment. Coincidently, it is becoming a habit to watch true crime reality TV when we go on vacation. These shows always engross me. Morbid maybe but educational. There are a lot of damaged people out there in the world. Scary!

I managed to drag myself out of bed, got breakfast at the Starbucks on the main floor and headed out to my work location to test the network connection. The nice guys from the UK office -yes engineers work Sundays too here, poor guys- helped me figure out the logistics.

Fun Fact: Engineers here wear jeans and nice casual shirt, the apparent dress code of engineers in the Pacific Northwest. I guess wearing jeans to work is a thing here too! We’ll see how they dress tomorrow.

My credentials for entry didn’t work so I’m glad someone was there to let me in. Aftet the £15 taxi ride, it would have been a waste if it didn’t work out. I called for pick up, arrived at the hotel by noon and had a nice Chai Tea Latte at the Starbucks. This brings the grand total of visits to the Seattle stablishment to 2, which is 2 more times than I have gone back home. This hotel is very crafty…

FYI: Every time I pay with a credit card it asks for a PIN. Make sure you remember yours if you ever go to Europe. (Some places ran the chip without a PIN for my benefit.) In the USA, the chip and PIN phenomenon is slowly catching on. The UK is the number one country in the world in online sales and commerce. This is why they needed stricter anti-fraud measures.

To make the most of the rest of my Sunday, I had purchased a pre-paid Fast Track ticket online for the London Eye. The center of the city is an hour away via train from Farnborough Main to London Waterloo station. I walked up to the ticket machine, selected the type of trip I needed (one way just in case I got stuck over there and had to taxi back) and crossed to Platform 1. After 20 minutes a train pulled up a few minutes ahead of the departure time and I could tell most people on the platform where confused. Was this the train? Yup! I scrambled on board before the door closed and assumed I sat in the correct seating area; the first class door was right in front of me. Tempting as it was I didn’t check if an upgrade was worth it. Before I remembered to ask, the conductor during the return trip volunteered that the £5 to £10 difference in price guarantees you a seat, an advantage over coach where you could end up standing the entire trip. Good to know for future reference!

The change of scenery and pace were welcomed since jacketless little old me is not prepared to brace the winter breeze. Did I forget to mention I left my Land’s End coat back home? GRRR. Here’s to hoping I find an H&M or House of Fraser nearby Waterloo station or before I freeze to death! (More on that later.) The temperature here is 41° and sunny but it feels like 60°, except when the wind blows. According to the AccuWeather app the cold front should hold until Friday, keeping us well in the low 50s°. I need that coat fast!

By the way, the time difference is now 7 hrs thanks to daylight savings time in the mainland USA. The reason I noticed the change was because my fitbit charge HR didn’t sink the time properly so I have been doing math to compensate. (Looks up from screen and sees horses wearing winter coats as the train passes by the town of Virginia Water. Reminds herself to take picture next time she sees them.) The train has wi-fi so it might be a good time to sink the time again. (Worked like a charm.) Oh look a baby deer!

1.5 hrs and 8 stops later…

Waterloo Station is huge!  Not huge like Yokohama where there can be a million people all at once but bigger than the stations we have back home. It felt like an airport terminal, with all the shops and places to eat. M&S had a few a winter coats or jackets on sale for £55+! It was too rich for my blood so I decided to check elsewhere. Before continuing on my quest for the coat, I walked from the station, to the Coca-Cola London Eye to cash my voucher and get a time to queue. Although it was 3pm or 15:00 hrs, I knew the chances of getting in at that time were very slim, even with a prepaid ticket. I was correct.

Tip: Get your tickets online because they sell out fast an the queue is at least an hour long!

Turns out the next available ride was at 5pm or 17:00 hrs which gave me 1.5 hrs to explore my surroundings. I followed the crowd up the Jubilee Bridge and across to Trafalgar Square. To my surprise, they had just finished the St Patrick’s Day Parade and people were dressed in green donning Guiness hats with March 17th engraved on them. I guess they erred on the side of caution and stared early this year. Because the crowd had thinned I was able to swing by Next and grab a coat from storage. With winter around the corner, most stores shelved their heavy cold gear. It was on sale but not much cheaper than M&S. Where is H&M when you need it? (And where is the free Wi-Fi?)

The walk back to the Eye was full of performers and patrons of the Sunday artists. Magicians, bubbles, clows and musicians lined up the Jubilee Walk, especially around the Merry-go-round. The children played and the adults critiqued the song choices. From a distance you could hear Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On prompting us to sign along and mimic Jack and Rose. The crowd becomes one even when they don’t want to. It’s hard to pass up an opportunity to be silly in a sea of strangers. A little girl limboed with the Rastafarians playing calypso for the masses. People of all colors, races and creeds cheered her on even when she panicked and tried to run. The lead singer grabbed her arm to pull her back and no one said a peep. I’m so used at the “Americans” overreacting over everything I almost expected the police to show up over such contact. The girl smiled, her parents did too and everyone carried on. She limboed, end of story. Very refreshing to be among happy and carefree people.

Back at the base of the oversized Ferris Wheel, once the biggest and tallest in the world, I climbed up the ramp of the Fast Track line and boarded the capsule. It takes 30 mins to do a revolution and the pill shaped receptacle tilts on its base to match the rotation. The girls next to me, USA folk as well, complained that it gave them a sense of uneasiness or motion sickness. The engineer in me enjoyed looking at the wheels and mechanism turning and actuating but ai did feel the uneasiness too. Engineering marvel indeed. Here are some pictures from the cinematically doomed attraction which always manages to collapse when London is under attack.

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On my way back to Farnborough, the train route was cancelled due to mechanical problems so we had to board another train and switch at Woking. During the first part of the trip,a group of flight attendants chattered away and once they got off, a  group of Black teenage girls gossiped took their place the rest of the way. Their conversation sounded very USA; pregnant friends and boys trying to make music to become famous. They even joked about how their lives sometimes felt like movie subjects. Maybe some stereotypes about culture and class transcend our own society and are more of a universal issue. Do slaves ever truly become emancipated from the culture that oppressed them? Do they have PC ways here of referring to people from other cultures? I digress.

It took me a while to find my way through the Woking exchange but that didn’t deter me from arriving safely at my final destination. Another taxi ride took me back to the hotel and I went straight to The Public House for dinner where I ordered a House burger with a Ringwood Best Bitter Beer. The burger was fantastic and the salad substitute for the fries went well with the tangy and spicy tomato sauce side serving. It is hard to miss home when the world has adopted hamburgers as gourmet fare. Dessert was served in a tin cup and was a half cold/half warm creme brule. I didn’t mind the temperature difference, for all I know it is trending here. 😛 Up the stairs and into my room, I started to prepare my morning routine. It may only by 8pm but the excitement of the day has me feeling exhausted! (Found more crime shows to fall asleep to…) Zzzzzz.

Side note: I miss sleeping with Zach. My husband assures me he is fine though and has been sleeping on my/his side of the bed, keeping my big guy company. Awwww.

Day 3:

Murphy’s law. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong, and I was prepared enough to work with what we had. My class has already passed their first test and can request access to the system. Woohoo! Tomorrow if all goes well, we should start the last two classes. Victory!

Four more days until the end of the week! Here’s to hoping the days don’t go by too fast. Also, I must ask for dinner recommendations; the hotel menu is good but not that good and the cafeteria at the business location is dismal. 😉 I’ll chill in my room tonight and go to sleep early. Proof, The Science of Booze will keep me company until then.

Day 4:

Murphy’s Law struck again and made sure we spent an hour figuring out how to get the computers online. After that the class went well except for the one chap who had to run to the hospital to make sure his mum would make it through the night. I’ve never had to overcome so much adversity. To be 100% honest, I am glad they sent only me.

Back at the hotel I ordered the Chicken with thyme and cheese. So yummy. Paired it with a rosé. More reading and zzzz.

Day 5:

Murphy’s law and I became good friends. The class went well except for the 3 minutes we had to wait for the fire alarm test to end. That was loud enough to give a giant a headache. By the end of the day these folks felt like family. My hearing is definitely getting better and I can make out most British words even when mumbled.

Dinner at the hotel was a 300g steak. Note to self, that is a lot of meat! Breakfast had been fun, especially since I had to improvise serving plates because the china wasn’t available when I went down to the buffet. Never a dull moment at the Village Hotel. Crime shows, then off to bed. Rinse, repeat.

Day 6:

Taught the last class and helped the guys set up for the work at hand. For lunch, they took me to TK Maxx to shop (yes TK not TJ) and we ended up having lunch at McDonald’s. The walk to the mall was a nice break, and I got to see the nearby river, train tracks and expressway. If only my company was a throw away from a shopping mall!

Because of the time difference I had to work until late at night to get that done. Had a burger for lunch and headed straight to bed. Zzzzz.

Day 7:

I lucked out due to the 37 hr work week and plans of this subsidiary to send people away on travel so I landed an extra day of leisure. Woohooo! London here I come!

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Day  8:

Plane ride back home. As I complete the routine of having breakfast at the hotel, my driver approaches to take me to Heathrow. I check out and say goodbye to me new friends, the people that had made me feel like I was one of them during my stay in Farnborough.

The traffic flows and I am at Terminal 4 in under 20 minutes. I decided to surrender my carry on, which is full of souvenirs and extras I picked up during my journey. The Skyteam lounge has very nice food and a decent Wi-Fi connection so I take a moment to write down the last leg of my travels.

Thank you all for sharing with me the most exciting and wonderful 8 days in London via Farnborough.

Enjoy!

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