Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Day in London, An Afternoon in Barcelona

So I got my Autorizacion de Regreso just in the nick of time, because Friday morning I was up bright and early to catch a 9am flight to London. Everything was running smoothly until I realized it was 8:50 and we still hadn't boarded the plane. I was supposed to be in meetings starting around 11:30, but at least I had an extra hour just in case anything went wrong...

We finally took off nearly an hour late, but I was convinced we'd make up the time. And anyway, I was due to arrive with enough time to make it to the office. But then two hours later, when we should have been landing, the captain came over the loudspeaker to inform us that there was no space for us to land at Heathrow and we'd be circling for a while. So instead of landing at 10, we landed around 11:15.

I made a mad dash for customs, where the immigration official looked at every single page of my passport, very slowly and carefully, and then asked if I was in town for business or pleasure. I said business. He asked if I work in Spain. Yes. So, he asks, what are you planning to do when your visa expires? I said I'm a resident and pulled out my expired residency card. As he's about to open his mouth to point out that my card is expired, I whip out my Autorizacion (complete with fancy plastic laminate) and let it linger under his nose. He looks over at a supervisor, who glances at everything for one second and then lets me pass.

I make a break for the Heathrow Express, which gets me to Paddington in 15 minutes... Its warmer than I'd expected in London and I'm already sweating. Awesome. I won't be anywhere near a shower for at least eight hours. Not wanting to get more sweaty in the tube, I opt for a taxi, which takes - I swear - nearly an hour to get to my office. I arrive around 1:30... just in time for lunch.

Anyway, the meetings all went fine and dandy, though they were all pushed back by about two hours, and I learned a lot in one particular meeting about my new field of advertising in video games. All in all, a very productive day. So by eight, when I was supposed to be arriving at a birthday dinner for my friend Henrik, I was instead arriving (in the rain, of course!) at my friend Lisa's flat. Realizing we'd be at least an hour late for dinner anyway, we opted to instead relax a bit and take our time and catch up, since we hadn't seen each other in six months.

And then it was time to head to the birthday party. Where we were very well behaved. Until Marco turned up. Yes, it would be my second time in two weeks seeing Marco, and this time it wasn't in the middle of a work day for a quick lunch, so all bets were off. I'm not sure what exactly happened, but between about 10pm when we arrived and 3am when we were eating chicken shwarma in some random takeaway, the following things happened:

Okay. So it was a fun party.

The next day Lisa dropped me off at Paddington so I could take the Heathrow Express back to the airport and head back to Barcelona. I'd already bought my return ticket so I'd be ready to roll, and was quite pleased with myself when I found the train sitting there, ready to zoom off. I settled into my seat and no more than three minutes passed when an announcement came over the loudspeaker:

"Due to an incident in Southall, Heathrow Express service is temporarily suspended. We do not know how long it will take until service resumes, so if you are going to the airport we advise that you find alternate methods of transportation. We apologize for the inconvenience."

And with that, I was out of my seat and off like a shot with my bag so I could get to the front of what was about to become a very long and angry taxi queue, and hopefully ahead of what would shortly become a traffic nightmare. I jumped into a black cab and asked the guy how long it would take to get to Heathrow, bracing for the worst. My flight was at 2:30 and it was now about 12:45. He told me he thought he could make it in 35 minutes and I sat back with sigh of relief and asked him to do what it took. The news of the "incident" came on the radio shortly afterward, but no news of what exactly the incident was. Only in London can the entire city shut down thanks to a possible, maybe, suspected outside chance of the uncertainty of a terrorist attack.

I got lucky. My driver was extremely cool and extremely fast. We chatted away for the next half hour and anytime we got stuck in the slightest bit of traffic, he reassured me that it was no big deal... and he was always right. Sixty pounds sterling later (that's $120!!!!!), he dropped me off at Heathrow terminal 2, where I was to take my Iberia flight. I had about 10 minutes to spare when I sauntered up to the check-in desk and presented my passport, only to be told I had no reservation. Well, I did. But it was operated by British Airways and I couldn't check in with Iberia. And BA is Terminal 1. A 10 minute walk away.

So I ran. Fast. And made it to the first possible BA check-in area (not the correct one, mind you) where it was miraculous not busy and a kind lady took pity on me and checked me in on the spot. With two minutes till the flight closed. I even had time to buy a sandwich after security! When I told Lisa my story, she was absolutely shocked. Apparently Paddington NEVER shuts down, and the Heathrow Express had never been suspended like that. Just my luck!

My flight back to Barcelona miraculously left and arrived on time. I chalk it up to the kind old people from Ft. Lauderdale sitting next to me who plied me with questions about Barcelona for the entire flight. And by the time I got back home around 7pm, I was absolutely spent and took the rest of the night for some R&R.

And the best part of the weekend? A massive Sunday paella birthday party for Xandy and Francis on the beach. Only in Barcelona could you be eating on the beach in t-shirts on December 2, surrounded by fifty friends, eating paella and drinking cava. A perfect end to a wild weekend.

Life is hard....

Francis and Wouter


The birthday boys, Francis and Xandy

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