AFRICA DAY 1 - DENVER TO LONDON
Friday, June 24 & Saturday, June 25
 
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The flight out of Denver took off a little earlier than I thought it was going to, but I still had plenty of time. Note to self: remember to check flight schedules for updates before leaving. At the airport I met the final three in the Kilimanjaro hiking group - the family of Alan, Hilary, and Alex; they had been unable to make the planning meetings I had previously attended. The whole group was soon assembled as well - myself and the aforementioned three, along with Mike (trip leader), Ryan and Kim, Yoko, Randy (my roommate), and Nikki.

On the plane I was in the last row, but was still able to recline so it wasn't really an issue. Previous times I've been stuck there the seats wouldn't recline - which would make for a very uncomfortable flight. I tried and failed miserably at the crossword puzzle in the airplane magazine, but they cheated by using the extremely difficult Saturday New York Times puzzle instead of their own easier ones most other airlines use. On the Mensa quiz in the magazine I did a bit better with six of nine correct. Despite my crossword puzzle shortcomings, it was at least a good way to kill some time - we arrived in Chicago a bit late.

We had a three hour layover, so we grabbed dinner at the Goose Ale pub - bacon burger and fries for me. No beer. I commented on how I was avoiding alcohol and carbonation before the climb, explaining why carbon dioxide can be bad for hiking (especially at altitude). Everyone else thought it was a decent idea, and no one got carbonated beverages - though others did drink alcohol.

I managed to change my seat before the overnight flight to London to an aisle seat instead of a middle seat in the center section. It was a good move - especially as Yoko and I ended up having our own row and the ability to spread across four seats, when most of the rest of the plane was full. They did server dinner on the flight, but I skipped the entré (chicken or pasta were the choices) as we had recently eaten, eating only the salad and cookie, and saving the roll for the morning breakfast.

I slept okay considering it was on a bumpy plane flight across the Atlantic Ocean, waking up just in time for breakfast around an hour before we landed. It was only a croissant, some orange juice, and crappy yogurt. We landed in London right on time, and didn't even need to taxi for very long to get to the terminal, unlike in Chicago (where it seemed to take forever to taxi to the gate).

The Customs line wasn't too long and we got through pretty quickly, but it was now 1 ½ hours after touching down and we were all ready to go into the city. Ryan, Kim and Yoko were meeting a friend of theirs in London, so the other seven of us decided to head into the city on the "tube" (the subway/train) to play tourists for a while. After figuring out how to buy tickets using the kiosk (and finding a credit card that actually worked - thank you Chase for actually listening to me when I said I would be in London unlike Citibank) we jumped on the London Underground train to head into downtown. Entertainingly (for a while at least) we were reminded by the automated voice in the train to "Mind the Gap" at almost every opportunity. It was also quite funny to hear that we were always on the way to the "Cockfosters" stop at the end of the line.

We got to our stop after about 45 minutes and one train change later. It was the Westminster stop, and we exited the station right at the foot of Big Ben. As we climbed the stairs out to the street level we looked up at the tower over us. From that vantage point it looked quite large, though personally I still thought it looked pretty sizable even given better perspective from a further distance. I later learned that it's the 3rd tallest free-standing clock tower in the world at about 316 feet tall, so I guess my initial impression wasn't too far off. The architecture was quite interesting, a type of gothic style, though I was a bit disappointed we didn't get to see the Parliament building Big Ben is attached to from across the Thames River. We didn't have too much time, needing to get back to the airport for our evening flight, so we walked around the area for a bit passing Westminster Abbey, though we didn't go in. We walked down "Pall Mall" for a bit and ate lunch at the Clarence - one of the pubs on that street. I had Shepherd's Pie, which is ground lamb with (a small amount of) carrots and celery underneath mashed potatoes with green beans on the side. It was rather overpriced and I used up most of the pounds I had earlier converted from dollars in the airport. I held onto 3 pounds to make sure I still had enough to buy a magnet at a small souvenir shop outside the pub while a few in the group used the "loo."

The city was hectic - probably especially so as it was the weekend and full of other tourists as well. Since I couldn't check my smaller suitcase that I had carried on the plane (it was too early) or store it in a locker (there are no more public lockers in the airport due to security concerns) I had to drag the rolling suitcase with me. It made taking pictures a bit harder as I didn't really have a free hand, so I just had to move a bit quicker now and again to catch up.

We continued down the road, quickly passing by Trafalgar Square with the famous statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson towering above. A bit further down we came to Piccadilly Circus. I didn't previously know what it was, but learned it was a large shopping and theatre district, commonly used for filming movies and TV shows as well. The Piccadilly circus area reminded me a bit of a cross between Shibuya (in Tokyo) and New York's Times Square - billboards and marquees and TV advertising on giant screens everywhere, filled with throngs of people and a lot of Asians (for some reason). The big difference was that the buildings all looked more classic (rather than more modern) in their design and construction. It was packed with people - and we were practically shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of others when we headed down into the Underground station.

As it was a Saturday we were certainly out on one of the busiest days. Much like our capital of Washington DC, lots of tourists were around the monuments and government buildings. However, it didn't seem quite as pedestrian friendly. You had to cross a lot of busy roads to get places - there didn't seem to be anything quite like our National Mall where it was pretty much walking only, though given our limited time it's possible we just weren't able to visit it. The roads were extra hard to be safe around as they drive on the opposite side - you really have to catch yourself and slow down to make sure you look RIGHT first before entering the road. I saw several almost-accidents where people didn't follow those rules - though whether they were suicidally-inclined native Londoners or tourists I don't know. There were even painted warnings on the roads themselves to remind people to look before crossing.

We soon left on the train from the Piccadilly Circus tube station heading back to the airport. I was a bit disappointed we left as early as we did (in that I didn't get to see more of London), but realized we had to be sure to get the airport on time. Missing the flight to Nairobi would be far worse.

On the train back it was extremely busy at first - standing room only - and barely at that. I did manage to work my way into a corner of the train with my luggage where I could stay mostly out of the way. A bit into the trip, an older English gentlemen (later he said he was 70) sat down by our group and struck up a conversation with Alan, though this gentlemen did most of the talking by far. He commented on how he had visited 35 US states and lived in Canada for a while, all while balancing multiple girlfriends in different locations all at once. Overall it was quite an entertaining discussion.

We got to the airport after an hour or so, just after 5:00 PM. At first it seemed that the line for Kenya Airways was packed, but it turned out that most of the waiting was for checking bags, so we didn't have to wait too long. Fortunately for us, American Airlines has a partnership with Kenya Airways so all of our bags checked in Denver were set to go all the way to our final destination in Moshi without us needing to collect them in London (or anywhere else). We did get to the gate rather early (before it was even staffed) so that gave a few people some time for a quick nap, and gave me time to write a bit.

We boarded the plane, another 777 (just like the plane from Chicago to London), right on time. The configuration of this plane was three sets of three seats per row (as opposed to 2/5/2 on American). I ended up in an aisle seat in the middle grouping so it wasn't too bad. Randy was on the other aisle opposite of me in the same middle group with a middle-aged woman from the Congo sitting between us. They served dinner shortly after takeoff, which I ate while watching "The Tourist" on the setback screen. Dinner was lamb curry with rice and cauliflower, salad, rolls, and crackers. Overall it wasn't actually that bad (especially for airplane food), and while the movie was only okay it did provide a good way to pass the time. Although the flight was really smooth and uneventful (unlike the bumpy ride into London from Chicago) I didn't sleep well at all. I never seemed to be able to get into a comfortable position, and either my back or neck (or both) seemed to be hurting in the various positions. I also had a light headache (probably from being dehydrated). I did manage to get some sleep though, unlike some in our group who couldn't sleep at all.

Kenya Airways reminded bit a bit of what flying in the US in the more glamorous times of the airlines might have been like (at least what I've seen of that era in movies). The flight attendants were all dressed very nicely (suits or shirt/tie/vest) and were rather young and attractive. This was directly in contrast with the AA flight where the youngest flight attendant was probably 40-something and all the rest were even older fat women. I realize that seniority plays a role in which flights attendants work on - so maybe the Chicago/London flight is a more desired flight and the more senior attendants get first dibs.


>> View all pictures from today <<      

 
bigben
Big Ben (London, UK)


parliament
Parliament (London, UK)


westabbey
Westminster Abbey (London, UK)


clarence
The Clarence Pub (London, UK)


nelson
Trafalgar Square (London, UK)


buses
Double-Decker Buses (London, UK)


redlion
The Red Lion (London, UK)


phone
Telephone Booths (London, UK)


plane
Our Plane (London, UK)

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