Thursday, June 18, 2015

Day 1 - London Calling and They Went to Paris

London Calling and They Went to Paris--the title of this year's ramble blog--is an h'omage to The Clash and Jimmy Buffett and both are great songs, with some  hint of the characteristics of their named city.

We began the 2015 Ramble with our trek to Dulles via the ever auto-friendly state of Northern Virginia. We did not even make it to the I295/I95 interchange in Richmond before the first traffic event was encountered. A side trip around and we are back on the highway headed north with time to spare. After putting Fredericksburg in our rear view and using the state route 619 exit and route (highly recommended, especially if one wants to envision what NOVA looked like before people) we cut across the terrain in a semi-blinding twaddle, finally hitting the Dulles parking deck 2.5 hours later. Check-in was seamless but we were dismayed that our boarding pass did not lie, and Virgin Atlantic has not discovered TSA Pre-check for international flights--booooooo. Our luck played out two trips in a row however, because the sorting hat (err man) randomly put us into the Pre- check security queue (see--the Brits are taking over already) and we shot through the line. We arrived for our flight with plenty of time and had a large Shocktop and calamari at the nearby Carrabbas.  They called our flight, and Economy Plus has its privileges--like boarding early. We were to begin our jaunt on an Airbus A-340/600--while quite a lovely airplane, it paled in comparison to the Air France A380 (and its economy plus amenities) we rode last time. If heading this way, we suggest going with Air France or pay up for first class.

The first day of this trip is always a struggle.  Get on a plane at 7pm, takeoff, have some drinks, get dinner, then watch a movie or try to sleep and get off at breakfast time in London. Which is the same as going to bed at 9pm and getting up at 2am and going all day in brain time.

After a seamless customs and bag claim excursion (editor note: the UK foks have been schooled by their TSA mates and now ask 5+ annoying question like "why are you here", "where are you staying", "where are you going" all somewhat accusatorially. I liked it better when they were happy to see you.).

We took Heathrow Express to Paddington and then caught a lovely cab ride to our hotel, The Stafford. While happy to see Uber and the like come to put pressure on the cab monopoly, I actually lament it making ground in London. They have well-designed cabs with very friendly and knowledgable drivers who drive in a non-life threatening manner. Take over New York but leave London I say. Sort of like other museums here, this can be the world's pre ride-sharing experience museum.  After our hotel check-in and celebrity encounter in the lobby with John Goodman, we set off walking around. Come to find out, our hotel literally backs-up to Green Park and thus is very close to Buckingham Palace. We enjoyed a lovely leg-stretching walk through the park and down the nearby streets to Trafalgar Square where we enjoyed a little breakfast in a lovely cafe.

On the first day of this type of trip the nap siren is blaring hard at 3pm London time and one can either push through or cave. We caved (or Rambler Hance did). After a 2 hour refresher we went to Purdy's which is to shotguns what the Louvre is to art. Alas, Rambler Jane would not let her hubby spend the kids college fund (and house fund, and retirement funds) on an English work of usable art, but we got to look around and even got an education in position finders (which you Downton Abbey fans will remember from the shoots that guests attended with Robert and crew and the stands or positions they selected to shoot from).  Nothing says "I pee on the 1%" quite like a Turkisk Walnut and Buffalo Horn case for ten small solid brass numbered pins to select shooting position that sets you back $1100 pre VAT tax. Takes drawing the short straw to a Christies type level.  (God, I want one!)

After our view into the sporting looking glass (alas, no David Beckham sighting there this trip) we did a little shopping excursion to Mayfair (looking excursion actually). Selfridges is a very high end department store ala Sax Fifth Avenue in New York (not Stony Point in Richmond) with little boutiques populating the place.  A trend we have clearly missed is the absolute need to have very (really, insanely???) expensive watches as a hobby or accoutrement.  The £5000 starter watch must be necessary to get to the £15-£25,000+ pound watch.  They had lots and lots of them and someone must be buying. I guess the same crowd that owns all the Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis etc. in the area are wearing them.  We also took a short jaunt through the Wallace Collection and it seems well worth a return trip. From art to weapons Mr. Wallace had a good eye and evidently an unlimited bank account.

After our long shopping trip walk, we headed back to the Stafford for a little dinner. We elected to go downstairs to the American Bar. So named we are told because the Americans took the place over during the Big One, WWII. It is papered with American sports memorbialia like college baseball hats, military pictures, etc. We intend to grant them a Virginia Tech hat to add to the collection.  We had a nice light dinner and wonderful conversation with a couple from San Diego.  For now it is off to bed and much needed sleep before the true trek of the ramblers starts in the morning. Something about big jewels and needing to be in line early.
Until then, keep rambling.

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