A quiet Friday night allows me to catch up a bit on all of my usual goings-on. I haven’t missed being online all that much, to be honest, perhaps because I’m in a fantastic city with people I like. And, o yeah, I’m getting some work done, too.
The flight from SFO was nicer than I expected it to be. My boss and I flew British Airways’ World Traveler Plus class, which I think is comparable to Economy Plus on other airlines. The seats are cushier and there is more legroom, plus there are small perks like free drinks and individual video screens. I thought I might catch up with some email replies, but between the napping and the movie-watching (the mostly-mediocre Black Dahlia) and the eating, the 10.5 hours were quite full.
We arrived at Heathrow at half-past ten in the morning GMT on Tuesday. There was a car waiting for us to take us to the hotel, complete with a driver holding up a card with my boss’ name on it. I hardly felt fancy enough for that sort of treatment, but I had no idea what was in store for us.
It took an hour and a half for us to make it into central London. The infamous congestion has not been exaggerated. I didn’t mind the length of the trip, though, because I love looking out the window at all the new sights, including the other cars on the road and their drivers. We caught a woman biting off a split end, and a man enthusiastically picking his nose. Mostly everyone looked bored, but they did it very Britishly.
As we pulled up to the hotel, I thought it must be a joke. I had looked it up online before the trip, and it seemed posh, but I had never seen anything like it. “Stately” doesn’t begin to describe its edifice. The driver took our bags out of the car and they were immediately whisked off to some sort of Luggage Room where it magically figured out where I was staying. I’m not quite sure what happened there, as right around this time the full weight of my exhaustion seeped into my brain.
We checked in to the special “club” area of the hotel, saw our rooms, and took one look at the enormous bathtubs, and decided to head down Regent Street to Lush for bath bombs. What amazes me about Londoners is that they are all doing something while walking (like texting or talking) and yet I didn’t get my feet stomped on or pushed into the road or anything. A city of walkers, that’s for sure.
My boss’ husband, who was on a different, later flight than we were, met up with us back at the hotel and we all went to dinner at Grand Bazaar, where the food was pretty good but the service was not. On the way home, we stopped at a pub for a drink, and then I was suddenly back in my hotel room, filling up the tub with hot water and Lush goodness. I’m surprised I didn’t fall asleep in it.
Wednesday was a long and wonderful day. We took a taxi to the office, got our temporary badges, and found our UK counterparts on the fourth floor. After a full day of meetings and email catching-up and a lovely lunch at Cantina del Ponte, we took the Tube home. For a public transit aficionado like me, riding the Tube is like nothing else. It is marvelously complex and bizarre, and I loved learning about the different lines and stops and transfer points. After knowing Muni pretty well, being an abject newbie on a transit system is a delight. My boss was similarly excited, and we bounced and giggled all the way home.
The hotel has a separate lounge for club guests, which is well-stocked all day long with food and drink. We had cocktails there before taking the Tube to dinner, this time stumbling into Chinatown (all one block of it) and having a terrific meal at Royal Dragon. We took the Tube home and I collapsed, bathless.
Thursday was similarly busy, work-wise, and then we were treated to dinner by the UK team at an excellent African restaurant called Souk Medina. After stuffing ourselves with good food and laughing riotously, no one wanted the evening to end, so we found ourselves wandering Covent Garden in search of a club. The first one we found was packed and sort of blah, ambience-wise, so one of our coworkers led us to the Roadhouse, which is pretty much a collection of every American stereotype ever in club form. I loved it, from the bartenders who tossed glasses and bottles in the air, Cocktail-style, to the rock cover band, who opened with “Sweet Home Alabama”. It was a Night, and we went big. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, not least because of the open, friendly vibe of the place: everyone was there to have fun, and that was it. No drama, no harassment, just dancing and singing along and laughing, always laughing.
Sometime before 01:00, my boss and her husband and I managed to stumble out into the brisk air, and after a few drunken attempts to match our map to our surroundings, we hailed a pedi-cab. The driver was smaller in stature than me but still managed to bike three of us back to the hotel. Amazing.
Today was our last day in the office. For lunch, the UK team took us on an excursion to Borough Market for outstanding pork sandwiches. We strolled through the market as we ate and browsed through the stalls at all the produce, charcuterie, teas, jams and jellies. It was a perfect lunch, with everyone smiling and filling up on good food and chatting away as if we had known each other forever. It feels like we have.
I was thoroughly bereft to leave the office this evening. Everyone had made us feel so welcome, and had helped us immensely at the onset of our big project, that it was difficult to leave. I vowed to myself that I’d make it back, and soon.
I had conference calls and a little more work to do from my hotel room, so I did that and then napped briefly before meeting up with my boss for dinner. We were still exhausted from Thursday night’s outing, so we opted for room service, and had lovely Caesar salads and baked brie and chocolate mousse. And now it is time for another Lush-enhanced bath and bed, since tomorrow is our big sightseeing day before we have to leave on Sunday.
The best part of this trip has been what my company calls “team-building” (I sort of hate that word, hence the quotes), not just with the UK team, but with my boss. I have gotten to know her as a person a lot better – singing along to Red Hot Chili Peppers may have played a hand in that – and as a result I consider her a mentor as well as a friend. I also feel more myself than I have in ages, perhaps because I have felt more accepted and encouraged here than I expected to, even being a stranger, a guest, in unfamiliar surroundings.
And I love London. I love its myriad people speaking hundreds of languages; its history and architecture and streets that make no sense; its food and drink as the culmination of true cultural diversity; its Tube, solidly and tardily rumbling away beneath the hotel’s foundation, rocking me to smiling sleep. Tomorrow I will see her prettiest face, but I’ve already listened to her heart.