Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Catching Up / London / June 27 - 30 / Terror and Rain

Airplane woes

Wednesday morning I headed out to Glasgow airport. I was supposed to arrive in Heathrow at the same time that my daughter arrived on her first solo flight from Israel. I knew that something could go wrong - my plane might be delayed an hour or so - so I told her to find me right after getting her bag, or wait for me at the nearest information desk.

Go wrong is right.

First my flight was delayed because a bag was checked on, but the passenger wasn't. Then they counted the number of suitcases again and declared that they had "about the right number". This didn't satisfy the captain, who insisted that they count again. They found yet another suitcase on the plane without a passenger.

Finally they took off about 45 minutes late. All of this I expected, and had included in my timing calculations.

But when we approached Heathrow, it turns out that "both runways" were closed due to a gas leak. (Heathrow has only two runways?). We were diverted to Stanstead. Then we sat on the ground while they tried to figure out what to do with us. Eventually they decided to fly back to Heathrow after all (one runway was now open), but they first had to refuel. An hour or so on the ground, but we finally made it back to Heathrow. Got my bag.

Total time: four hours.

Meanwhile, my daughter arrived at Heathrow on time, but after getting off the plane, they decided to detain her in immigration. Because she was only 14 years old, and therefore, they would not release her without a guardian coming to pick her up. Luckily, immigration managed to get my cell phone while I was on the ground in Stanstead, and I convinced them that I was on my way, eventually.

But immigration released her when my plane landed at Heathrow - not when I made it to immigration. Tal was waiting for me when I got out with luggage with no supervision.

She wasn't hysterical, but she was pretty unhappy. Things could only get better from thereon. Right?

Hotel woes

The airplane fiasco ruined our Wed evening plans. We only managed to get to the hotel I had reserved in Golders Green by some 7:30 pm.

Only to find that they wouldn't take credit cards. I had a total of 25 Pounds on me, and no British checks. And the one thing I has left behind in Israel was my PIN number for my card, so I had no way of getting more cash. [Turns out I was wrong. Rachel went into a bank and they were able to give her cash directly off her Canadian credit card, even without a PIN number.]

And of course, it was raining.

I had very little hope of finding another place to stay in London at this late at night for any reasonable price, especially since I knew almost nothing about where to find other hotels in general.

In an amazing stroke of luck, however, right across the street was the Golders Green Hotel, which not only had space for two nights, but was the same price as the one I had booked at, took credit cards, and was kosher to boot. It was by no means a particularly nice place to stay; the rooms and bathrooms were clean, but everything was rather minimal and shabby. But I could hardly complain. And clean is better than the alternative.

We walked around Golders Green street, which, in our location, had around 10 kosher restaurants, kosher supermarkets, kosher internet places, Jewish organizations, and so on all in a few blocks. But everything was super expensive. We ended up in our only splurge by having a hamburger for around 6 to 7 Pounds each. That was the only time we ate out. A full meal for the two of us at one of the nice restaurants would have been around 1000 NIS.

Credit Card woes

Unbeknown to me, my credit card began to get refused around this time. I thought because they were raising flags about my spending so much, but, I learned after I returned to Israel, it was because I had already emptied my savings account! Ouch. I guess I ended up spending a lot more than I had expected to. I'm still going over my expenses now to see where I went wrong. A lot of it is due to the transportation.

The underground, for a single ride, was 4 Pounds for me and 2 Pounds for Tal. That doesn't sound like much, but it's 50 NIS! If I got an all day pass, it was 5.90 Pounds for me, and 1 Pound for Tal (stay with me here; yes, cheaper than a single ride if she buys here ticket together with an adult buying a full day ticket, too).

So for 5 days worth of tickets I spent 200 NIS, just on the underground. Train to and from York was 112 Pounds, or almost 1000 NIS. I expect that all of these are MUCH cheaper if you buy them online first, but I didn't know this at the time, and I had no internet access and printer with which to print the tickets, anyway.

The Good Samaritan

Thursday we did the tourist stuff around the Thames, which is basically what there is to see in London. Saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace, and it was very boring. The guards walking around like clockwork are cute for a few minutes, but that's about it. Also, we received a flier on the way protesting the use of bear skins on the guard's hats.

We walked to Trafalgar Square and went to the National Gallery (second time for me).

In the gallery we sat down next to the famous painting of the Good Samaritan and overheard the following lecture given by a teacher to his class of second or third graders (who looked at us once in a while):

"See, the Jews are people who come from Israel. If you look at this picture, you can see Jesus lying wounded on the ground. The first Jewish priest comes by and Jesus asks for help, but the Jew doesn't want to become 'impure' so he won't stop. Another Jewish priest passes by and does the same thing. You can see them here, the people in the rich clothes looking back as they walk away.

"But this man stops and helps. You can also see these two dogs licking the blood of Jesus as he lies wounded on the ground. These also represent the two Jews who wouldn't help Jesus. So this painting presents a challenge to you. Will you be like the two people [he said 'people' because I was staring at him at this point] who wouldn't stop to help or will you be like this other person who helps his fellow man?"

Truth be told, we also have a few stories about some pretty obnoxious Jewish priests from that period. The difference is that we don't then condemn all priests, let alone all Jews, for their behavior.

A Load of Bricks

After the gallery, we crossed the Thames and reached the National Theater and the Globe, only to find that we had just missed any and all plays, and would have no opportunity to see any in London. Blah.

Tal wanted a boat ride, so we bought tickets for passage on one of the ferries.

One of the stops was at the Tate Modern. I can't pretend to be much of a modern art fan, but I still like some of it. I may think Rembrandt is better than Monet, but I still like Monet.

But real "modern art" is simply stupid. When you take a urinal and put it on its side and call it modern art, intentionally to make a point that "art is anything an artist says is art", then you've lost the point. You may have had an idea, but you haven't added any value or talent to the idea.

I care, because I care what art should be studied, what art gets funded, what art gets put into museums, what art gets copyrighted, and what art gets protected. If you are unwilling to make the distinction between art and ideas, then I will bring a hammer into the Tate Modern museum and smash your damn urinal and call that art, too. And claim persecution if you try to stop me.

One exhibit was a black square next to a blue square. The sign next to the painting said how it used the "negative space" around the painting as part of the art. So does a Rembrandt, but that also took talent to create.

Another was simply a row of bricks on the floor. Yet others were videos of people falling down and then getting up again. Another was allegedly the artist's excrement in a can.

Neither Tal nor I were converted.

After this, we sailed under London bridge, got off at Westminster, and eventually got home.

Update: Oops. Forgot the best part of our trip: STOMP. Buy tickets online for half price. They also have a great DVD.

Terror woes

Of course, the real reason one takes a vacation from Israel is to escape the constant news about terror alerts. So it should come as no surprise that that was the news for the rest of our trip in England.

Well, that and the flooding around the country, Princess Di's concert, Wimbledon, and Alan Johnston (on the last day).

Friday morning we had to move to another place in Golders Green that had space for Friday and Sat night. Self-catering, so cheaper. It was also nicer.

For shabbat I was invited to eat all meals with someone I had met in the airport the previous week, and he said to drop by to go to shul at 7:15 pm.

We went to Portobello Market (second time for me) in the morning and Tal loved it. We tried to get to Hyde Park, but the traffic was ridiculous because of the previous night's terror attack, so we got off and rested in Kensington Park. It was actually nice and sunny for some time.

At 4:30 pm we decided to go back to Golders Green. First we saw the pond in the Park, and then the flowers outside Kensington Palace left for Diana's 46th birthday.

When we tried to get to the right subway, we saw a Gap store. Tal had to go in, but they were snooty to me and wouldn't let me sit anywhere except the changing room in the back. After a half hour of being pushed around by the salespeople, we left.

We got out at around 5:15. The timing of this is important. If we had skipped the store, we might actually have missed the next problem. Which is why they always say in England: "Mind the Gap". Tal didn't, and look what happened.

We got to King's Cross, and all the subways were diverted onto different tracks. We kept having to follow instructions to get to the train we needed, and that involved continuously descending deeper into the station.

Finally, four long flights down, and only a few flights above Paris Hilton's sense of dignity, we reached the right platform just as the train we needed was pulling away. A few seconds later, the emergency lights began flashing and everyone was told to evacuate the station due to an emergency. Suspicious object or something.

We got back up and exited, and it took us a while to find the street again. When we found the street, we had to go from bus stop to bus stop to find a bus that went to Golders Green, or at least one that intersected with one that went to Golders Green.

We finally found one, and just the two bus rides took almost two hours. We arrived back at where we were staying at 8:15. Made it to our host's house at 8:30.


Our hosts were very nice to us, and gave us great food. The kids played with Tal during shabbat. I fear that I kept putting my foot in my mouth, however.

For example, at one point I joked that at least if we had seen a real explosion our ordeal on the transportation would have been more interesting. This is Israeli black humor. Unfortunately, our hosts were rather shocked and upset by this comment. I fear that most of shabbat went like this.

It rained all shabbat. Shul was nice, but even though the davening was quiet by their usual standards, it was still noisy by mine, and most of the talkers were sitting right next to me. I offended another person by telling him that I didn't want to hold a conversation right during the middle of the torah reading.

After shabbat I tried to connect to the Internet from my host's computer, but I didn't succeed and it was already late and he had to go to bed, so he - politely - kicked me out.

And that was that.

Despite the adversities, it was still going uphill from Wednesday. All day Thursday and Friday morning were nice. Saturday was dull.

Pictures to follow.



Anonymous said...

the Golders Green Hotel is NOT kosher. they had their license withdrawn a few years ago! but there are many kosher restaurants in Golders Green

Yehuda Berlinger said...

GG: Oh my. They said that they were.

All we ate was hard boiled eggs, salad, cereal, and tea, anyway.