Random Travel: January 2006 Archives

To Highbury and Burgundy

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I intended to compile a detailed report of all the minutiae of this trip. Alas that has not happened. So I’m just going to hit the highlights.

British Airways flight from SEA-LHR on Christmas Eve was an empty one. But my World Traveler Plus seat was the bomb—like an easy chair with an ottoman (see seat 29K--seats 28J/29J were empty).

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Four hours spent at the BA lounge at Heathrow eating numerous tiny sandwiches. Also during which time my baggage chose not to get onto my connecting flight to Paris with me.

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Flew BA onwards to CDG in an exit row seat that was next to the crew jump seat. The flight attendant was a Tunisian/British guy who asked incredulously, "Why are you going to Dijon?" But his best line came as we were taxiing to the gate in Paris and an eager beaver Asian traveller was out of his seat well before he had the green light to do so. The flight attendant was perturbed and sat him back down, then came back to his jump seat and said to us "These Koreans..."

Muddled through a Christmas night in Paris with horrible French language skills at Chez Francoise. Ate some memorable oysters and “bambi” (as described by the waitress). I was a bit chilly as my coat was in my lost luggage.

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Wasted time on Boxing Day morning trying to find change for the bus to get to the train station. Then stepped onto the TGV as the doors were closing. We glided onwards to Dijon to meet my Burgundy friends.

My Burgundy friends defy most French stereotypes—they aren’t constantly imbibing themselves with wine, they think cheese smells, and they don't wear berets. But they do purchase/eat three baguettes a day...

The cold got to me and I bought an Adidas French national team pullover guy with plans to charge this to British Airways. I felt silly buying/wearing this around. I kept thinking about my French friends visiting me in the US and walking around the Space Needle with them rocking jean jackets with the stars and stripes on the back.

If anyone heads to France, they should attempt to import Carhartt clothing. We went into a Carhartt company store in Dijon and there was MC Solaar playing and gigantic price tags on the merchandise. Far cry from the Quality Farm & Fleet I purchased my jacket at in Ohio.

I ate some foie gras for dinner at L'Epicerie & Cie the first night and proceeded to vomit twice on day two in Dijon. I took these mysterious French drugs. They were good.

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Fourty-four hours later British Airways and Chronopost, the French FedEx, got me my suitcase--that's my guy on the stoop.

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I chugged some blood orange-flavored Orangina Sanguine—anyone seen this state side? Delicious!

Hopped a train to Geneva which seemed at the time to be the coldest place on earth. I didn’t buy a Rolex, but I did indulge in some sweet sweet hot chocolate—and it lived up to the Swiss-hype. Just an eerily clean city, overall.

I began to get queasy again so headed to the BA lounge at the GVA airport for even more tiny sandwiches and Sprite. Boarded a BA CitiExpress flight to London City—this is the Seattle Boeing Field of London—a sweet and efficient little airport.

First major activity in London was Arsenal v Portsmouth at Highbury. My first Arsenal match and the stadium’s last year of existence after 93 years. Unbelievable seats sitting no more than 25-feet from the field. And 4-nil to the Arsenal—Dennis Bergkamp and Jose Antonio Reyes each scored and my boy Thierry Henry banged in two more.

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Oh yeah, before the match near the stadium I had my first taste of possibly the best to-go food I’ve ever experienced. Wasn’t hip to these things, so we asked this young Persian looking dude what he had in his hand. I’ll never forget the sly smile on his face as he raised his eyebrows saying “doner kebab”. And despite the Pounds Sterling these things were a bargain.

I flexed my ice skating prowess for the second time in as many years at Kew Gardens—which also featured some glassworks from Tacoma’s own Dale Chihuly. The ice was crazy sloppy but I of course never fell down. Though I did unintentionally do a crazy 360 turn.

Grabbed some paper masala dosa post-skating at the Elephant Walk in West Hampstead. The restaurant was weird as it was a young French waitress manning the shop and the food came up via dumb-waiter. Not real sure what was going on in that kitchen…but no complaints on the quality of the food.

Next day was spent traveling to the West Midlands to see Arsenal play at Aston Villa. The game was a bit of a bore and ended 0-0.

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The team took time out in the warm-ups to thank me for coming out. So no complaints on the overall experience.

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Oh yeah, there was one complaint. Took the Arsenal supporters coach from London and it stopped off at a highway rest-area before the match. Forced to eat Burger King—which is bad in America and even worse over there. The service was dreadfully slow and we were very nearly left behind by the waiting bus in the parking lot. I went running outside and saw what I presumed to be our coach driving away…I threw my body in front to stop it only to then find out that I had stopped the wrong one. Ooops.

By the time we arrived back in London, stomachs were very grouchy. Went racing to an Anatolian kebab restaurant we spotted before on Blackstock Road--Yildiz. This place made the donar kebab taste like foie gras. The grilled pitas, hummus, the lamb kebabs, and the baklavah were simply out of sight. The Turkish food I ate in London leaves me rooting for them to get into the EU.

This was New Year’s Eve and we were completely…how you say…knackered? Ended up watching some What Not to Wear, an awesome Jamie Oliver show, and then BBC’s coverage of Big Ben at midnight on the…how you say…telly? Then it was off to bed to rest up for the trip back to America.

Woke up early to finish off some leftover Chinese food and guacamole—not exactly a Wheaties-style breakfast. But can’t waste good food.

Addison Lee showed up about 20-minutes late to take us to the Heathrow Express (but check out their taxibikes!). Apparently the driver couldn’t find the pick-up spot, which is ironic considering the company heavily advertises that all their cars have GPS to prevent just such problems. Anyway, this combination of car/train is the most expensive airport transit I’ve ever taken part in and hope to never repeat again.

Back in the British Airways lounge to eat more tiny sandwiches before heading to the gate-area. The Seattle gate was next to the gate to Bangalore—chaos would describe the scene well.

This part of the story is just the cherry on top. When boarding the flight, we got the much sought after operational-upgrade. Coach and World Traveler Plus were packed to the gills, so we were off to New Club World--I plopped down in 61B. These are lay-flat beds but sadly one can only lay flat if under 6-feet tall. Can’t complain about seven people on the upper deck of a 747 with two flight attendants to ourselves, though. Best $550 airline ticket I’ve ever purchased.

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British Airways has a check in the mail to me to pay for the previously mentioned jacket. Huge thumbs up to BA overall, despite the luggage snafu. Alaska Air however is still hating on posting my frequent flyer miles for this trip.

Picked up Zizou from the Bone-A-Fide Dog Ranch, went back to our ranch, and did a Team America style "America! %*&#, yeah!"