23 July, 2005

Dawn brought arrival at the dock in Southampton.

This is the scene in the big room people go to once they disembark to retrieve their checked luggage.

One of the strange looking help phones located on a train platform near Southampton.

From luxury to economy: my tiny home for the next few days. No such thing as room service, air conditioning, or an in-room bathroom. The television still hasn't been upgraded to carry Channel Five. It's perfect.

Piccadilly Circus continues to be as lively as ever.

One of the Underground entrances. Service throughout the city remains disrupted.

People continue to stream downstairs at a frenetic pace.

It's business as usual in nearby Leicester Square.

In various sections, giant LED signs remind people to be vigilant.

It's also business as usual inside Virgin Megastore.

London has been hit with the Smart car bug in a big way. I've seen six so far.

23 July, 2005

Day 7. Back on dry land. It actually was a little difficult to walk at first, absent the delicate swaying that one gets used to when traveling across an ocean. But the disorientation was only momentary.

I pulled an all-nighter on the boat and it was definitely the right thing to do. I saw land creeping up on us, other boats in the water, seagulls, all signs of life that had been missing for so long. And a lot of us on the ship also opted to stay up. The mood was so much more casual than it had been during the week and I really began to feel much more comfortable. The smoothness of the ride from start to finish was truly impressive.

It wasn't until we had actually docked that the rest of the passengers started to wake up. I had always figured it would be like the end of a plane ride when we reached our destination with everyone clamoring to get off but it seemed like people were content to lounge about for a bit longer. For the first time, I went to breakfast and realized that while I had sometimes been attending dinner, most of the others were going to the dining establishments no less than three times a day getting completely stuffed. I'm sure glad I didn't go along with this mindset because I honestly couldn't fathom taking in that much food. Lots of people go on these cruises and walk off a whole lot heavier than when they started. It really can't be all that good for you. But since food is all part of the package, there's almost an obligation to overdo it.

Anyway, since immigration had already been taken care of a couple of days ago, all they had to do was swipe my magic card and I was in England. My new friends from Scotland gave me a ride to the train station where I hopped on the slow train to London. (There's no need to hurry when you're arriving this early in the morning plus it was half the price as the fast train to London Waterloo.)

Arriving at Victoria Station I was expecting all sorts of hysteria and mayhem. It was there all right but nothing really out of the ordinary. Just a lot of people running around trying to catch trains. Trains which incidentally seemed to ride quite a bit smoother than the last time I tried this. So the first place I headed upon arrival was the Underground, the site of all of the recent craziness.

I would be lying if I said it didn't scare the shit out of me to go into the depths of the city where there has been so much death and terror in recent weeks. But once I actually got down there and was waiting on the tube platform with everybody else, it all just felt normal again. I was a bit more watchful on the train and I knew others were as well. But fear just wasn't an overwhelming sensation. Life on the other hand was. Adding defiance to your normal routine makes the whole thing somehow more meaningful.

Since some lines are still shut down, I had to take a bus where tickets weren't being checked. That also was a little nerve wracking since all I could think of at first was the blown apart bus of two weeks ago. But you just can't obsess over these things or you'll never move forward.

I missed a good part of the day due to catching up on sleep. But when I emerged later and spent time walking around Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, it became apparent that not only were people not afraid, they had more spirit than ever. I didn't even see an excessive show of force among the police, maybe four cops in total in the whole area which is among the busiest in the city. No doubt they're out there someplace but I was happy to not see a city under occupation. That's not to say things are being handled properly. As it turns out, that person the cops killed yesterday on the Underground was completely innocent. They shot him simply because they thought he was suspicious and he apparently had no idea they were plainclothes cops. It looks like a real scandal is developing. After all, London is a place where police as a rule don't even carry guns. The city and country will no doubt be reeling from this for quite some time to come.

I've gone from luxury to budget accommodations really quickly. The hotel I'm in doesn't have bathrooms in the rooms so you have to make an appointment if you want to take a shower and you have to use a public lavatory for everything else. At least they're the kind where the doors go all the way to the floor. Something else I realized when checking in: the price I got online through one of those discount travel sites was the same in dollars as they charge in pounds at the desk. At a two to one exchange rate, that's not insignificant. I just wonder if it's a mistake.

Tomorrow morning it's over to Speakers' Corner to see what people have to say in that famous part of the world. I hope it doesn't rain.