Hope at Heathrow, Tower of London, Rimowa suitcase test, G'bye Samaranch
LONDON - No offence to my friends in London and Britain tourism, but I'm hoping to get outta here on Thursday.
I was supposed to fly Belfast to London last Sunday and then be home for Sunday dinner. Alas, volcano ash did me - and a lot of others - in. But things were better at Heathrow today - see our story at thestar.com - so I'm hoping to get out Thursday morning.
It's been a fun, if unexpected couple days. The hotel the tourism folks got me, City Inn Westminster, more than did the trick. Nice room, good location, and a nice pub nearby; the White Swan on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Good and spicy Indonesian prawn curry for dinner tonight, plus a pint of Staropramen beer from the Czech Republic. It's a cozy but also elegant kinda spot; the sort of pub I wish I had in my neighborhood near Yonge and Lawrence.
Anyway, I AM hoping to be home so we'll see.
Things were calm at Heathrow today and most of the Canucks waiting to get on the 6 p.m. departure for Pearson were able to sneak on board. They all praised Air Canada for the job they did in London, so let's give them some credit, just like this pair of guys pictured here from Peterborough.
Spent the morning at the Tower of London. I expected schlock for some reason. The Beefeater guy who gave us tour had a couple cheesy lines but he made it a lot of fun, actually, and I thoroughly enjoyed the Tower. Great history, lots of blood and gore, fascinating if overly gaudy Crown Jewels and some great armour from old kings and lots of military stuff to keep guys fascinated. And plenty of dark corridors and winding staircases for kids. Quite good, actually.
There are so many delights in London; small, neighbourhood parks with lovely flowers, perfect Victorian buildings, wonderful pubs (see above) and tons of energy. The tube has its breakdown issues but the sheer breadth of the underground rail system is astonishing - and a lesson to the Ontario government if you don't mind my wearing my old Toronto City Hall correspondent's cap.
Anyway, it'll be sad to leave London. But I can't wait to get home.
The good folks at Rimowa gave me a chance to try one of their suitcases for my trip. And I gotta say they're wonderful. Mine is a good-sized but not large carry-on case; silvery grey and sleek and about light as a proverbial feather. The best things is how it goes on four wheels and really slides over surfaces. It's almost effortless to pull.
One small criticism: the handle is a bit thick and slightly uncomfortable. But if you adjust your fingers it's pretty good, and the thing is so light and nimble that it's a joy to take on an airplane. I think they make them in all sizes, and I should look into it sometime.
When I was in Vancouver for the Olympics I bought myself a big, monster case that also have four wheels and moves quite well. Almost too well; when I got to London I put it in the middle of the mini-bus that took me to my hotel and it kept sliding up and down the main compartment of the bus. A nice British guy kept jumping up and pushing it back to its place, but it was a wee bit embarrassing. It's also fluorescent/mustard yellow-orange. Ugly, I guess, but it's easy to see which bag is mine at the airport.
SAMARANCH SAYS SAYONARA
Not really a travel item, but kinda: I see that old Sammy died today, that being former International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch. A very conniving, cold, ruthless leader he was. He got his own way most often, but many people paid the price. And he hardly cared about most of the causes he espoused; fairness for athletes, equal opportunities for women in the IOC, etc... Full of crap on those issues; all hat and no cattle as they say in Texas.
The Salt Lake scandal took place under his watch, as did the doping scandals, as Star amateur sports columnist Randy Starkman rightly points out. Good stuff, Starks.
Anyway, my favourite memory of him was one day when I was in Atlanta for something and the Atlanta 1996 Olympic folks took him on a tour of the Coca-Cola museum. I was there, but I don't recall why. They showed the original soda fountains where they used to serve it and talked about the secret recipe and all that. Samaranch was, for all his faults, a man of culture. He served for quite some time as the Spanish ambassador to the Soviet Union. He probably didn't lack for tickets to the Bolshoi. But here he was down in Gooberville, listening to Billy Bob someone or other blather on about the miracle of Coca-Cola. Yeah, Coke was a big IOC sponsor but Samaranch had this glazed look in his eye that said, "My God, my organization gave the Olympics to these people." It was great stuff; just priceless.