London Trip – Day 1 – Heathrow Express to Paddington – Welcome to London!

I bought the Heathrow express 14 days earlier for a special. Tickets were stored on my iPhone wallet. I checked in the flight electronically and boarding pass was on my wallet. I have never travelled lighter!  Technology is allowing us to enjoy our life skipping the nuances of the technicalities of the structured civil society.
I think I over prepared for the flight. I had two magazines, a book, iPad with keyboard, my phone, headsets, popcorn, protein bars, and I didn’t touch any of those. The service was superb with two meals, and a selection of movies. I watched Captain Fantastic, and slept. They provided a pillow, a blanket, a blind, and ear plugs. It was a wonderful sleep.

At arrival, the first thing I noticed was that the bathrooms at Heathrow were minimalist modern design and very green (environmentally conscious).

The second thing was that all of the immigration officers looked ethnic (non-white or whatever the politically correct term is) and 2 out of the 8 immigration officers were wearing traditional Islamic scarves (Hijabies in case the word is not offensive to you).  A nice multicultural welcome. Standing behind me were four Iraqi gentlemen with Iraqi passports discussing how the hospitals in Samara and Beirut are better than the ones in Germany and London. They also complained about the length of the line. I felt a sense of Arabic prestige and entitlement I have seen for a while.

The entry was smooth, although the line was long, and I was asked two questions and I was on my way to go. Customs had two lines, one for declaring stuff and one for no declaration. I went into the declaration one because I got some dates and herbs for my friend Walid. I had to call for a custom agent to get their attention! Being used to American customs, they were so easy. She asked me if I had meat or diary products, and when I said no, she said you can go.
I had no concern drinking water in London. Seriously, the drinking water in London was voted 3rd best in the world behind somewhere in New Zealand and Switzerland I think.

The news came up in the Heathrow Express train, and the first was about a flood in Columbia and the second news was about protests in Venezuela. International news! Something you don’t see in the US unless you are hallucinating while watching TV.

As I walked into London Paddington area, I was struck with the beauty of architecture right a way.  The place at the same time is not short of ethnic shops, cafes, and restaurants.  It was a 10 minutes walk to the hotel, where I checked in with a passport!  Yes, you needed a passport or your immigration papers to check in!  The room was small, as if it was made for two dwarves.  I barely fitted through the hall ways to find it.  I opened the window the breath in the rare London sun that is evaporating the white of the architecture into the breeze. I put some London music, according to Spotify, and took a shower.

My friend Walid, who I haven’t seen since 2010 was at Victoria Station and in his way to me.  I couldn’t wait, so I decided to walk to Hyde park which is few minutes away and to wait for him there. London’s beautiful Central Park, with fountains, history, lots of trees and open fields, and I found my place under a tree and starting reading the book gifted to me by my dear friend Yousif ALqamoussi, The Road to Little Driblling by Bill Bryson, who is an American (now British) affectionate traveler to Britain.

Bill Bryson drew the longest straight line in Britain from south to North and decided to travel it, narrating humorously and quite wittingly, what he encounters in his journey.  I tried to speed read into the London part, but Walid showed up before that. I was surrounded by tourists and visitors, and I guess londoners from all nationalities and backgrounds.  As an Arab, I notice ther Arabs, and there were lots of Arabs and Muslims walking in the park, in scarves, in Burqas, in traditional Islamic garments for both men and women, and lots of Arabs specifically from the Gulf countries. I wondered what attracts them to London?!  I mean it is a beautiful city, but what exactly bring them here, in a busy city, mostly cloudy, and full of history and cultural activities that they may not relate to in their culture and religion.  I am yet to find that answer.

Walid has been a very close friend since 1996.  I met him in the Piano room at Henry Ford college.  To see a bald man, with long black beard, and mascaraed eyelashes, playing piano beautifully was a peculiar scene for me, so I had to talk to him. Since then, we had a long journey, that was cut abruptly by his deportation from the USA, after a failed asylum case.  He ended up in Lebanon, and after being prosecuted for his religious believes, he applied for asylum at UK.  I met him in Hyde park and we talked and walked for hours.

There are 8 coins in UK, and they all look funny to me. I had to get used to paying with these small medieval coins for my food and coffee.  To tell you the truth, I had fun paying with these coins. It seemed like a game more than a real transaction. A pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound, 2 pounds, 5 pounds, mostly with her majesty’s carving.

In London, dogs are welcomed everywhere, and leaching is not required.  I don’t know what it is, but I guess people are responsible enough to make the judgement, or the dogs behave better than the US.  As in most of Europe, portions are smaller, people are more fashionable and fit, and they are kind of slower paced.

Languages every where, multi languages, among which French stands out as probably the second most spoken language that I heard, but what do I know … I have only been to Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens area.  More to discover coming up.

We ate in a Greece restaurant called Halepi in Notting Hill.  Very luxurious area.  The restaurant was family owned since 1961, and had very authentic food. The baby lamb shoulder was to die for. It fed two, but I had it alone since Walid was focused on the salad and humus.  What is better than Greek salad in a real Greek restaurant.

Everything closed by 10 pm, so we decided to sleep early.  Yet, one subject after another, from recitation of poetry Walid has written, to Islamic topics, to existential topics of purpose, to debates on evolution and natural history, to meaning of death, and positive look at life, to definition of decency of human beings, we ended up sleeping at around 3 am.

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