Thursday, May 27, 2010

I See London, I See France

By Claire
May 26
It was great being in France again, especially when we picked up our fresh croissants and baguette. We had both forgotten just how good this stuff is. The baguette made a great lunch when we stopped at another rest stop for our picnic on the way to Calais.

We managed to find the ferry port and the ticket office where I ran in to find out whether or not we needed a physical ticket. Nope, just the reference number. The woman at the desk looked us up on the computer, told me all we needed to do was drive through and present the number and oh, by the way, we could park overnight there; which we did, along with about 20 other campers and cars. Our ferry crossing was at 8:35 am so it was great to be able to look out the window and see when people started lining up. We zipped over, went through passport control then up to the booth to present our reference number but the woman at that window told me our names as we pulled up, handed me a number to hang on the mirror and told me what row to line up in. Wow! This went really well. I guess she could see our license plate number while we were idling at the other window and pulled it up on-line. What service.

The crossing went well and as soon as we got back to Homer, I fired up Susan and received this message:

We changed everything from kilometers to miles then I put in the information about our campground on Federation Road at Abbey Wood. We often go through frustration with her when she claims we’re on an unnamed road and then can’t find her way. This screen said it all.

Chuck was great and stayed on the left most of the time. We had a couple of heart stopping moments but managed to survive. Finding an ATM was the usual challenge but we stopped at a full serve service station with restaurant, casino, and market that also had two ATM machines. I enjoyed this “chewable toothbrush” dispenser.

We were lucky to get a spot at this very popular campground, Abbey Wood, especially since there is a Bank Holiday weekend coming up. The woman in reception was extremely nice and told me she would try her best. That was a little stressful since everywhere else would be booked up too. I decided to let it go--at least we could stay here until Sunday morning.

We walked to the train station where we bought 7-day travel cards that allows us unlimited rides on the Tube, the train, the light rail and buses. What a deal at £36 each. A one day travel card would have been £10 a day. I shudder to think what it would cost without a discount card.

As the nice, modern, clean train silently made its way along, I noticed a guy who had just gotten on using his iPhone. I asked him if he knew where we could go to find a cheap, basic phone and a SIM card for our Internet stick. We've decided that now that it is summer (or almost), we need to be able to phone ahead to campgrounds and make reservations. He suggested the stop we had just passed. It’s a neighborhood with small, independent shops and we could get a much better deal there than on Oxford St. We decided to get off at the next stop and go back. He got off with us and escorted us to the right platform. Our train was coming in (he knew because he looked up the schedule on his phone for us) so we said a rushed thank you and goodbye and sped up the stairs to our train.

The neighborhood was quite a mix of shops and people and languages. We found a small place where the owner sold us an inexpensive pay as you go phone and included a SIM card with £5 on it.

Turns out he is from Afghanistan and left 5 years ago with his family. He told us we were in his country but were not invited. We sympathized. It was an interesting encounter.

We asked about a data SIM for our Internet stick but he didn't know enough about it. A young guy jumped in and suggested a shop down the street. I admit, we had trouble understanding his English but we managed to find the place and he even showed up while we were there and tried to help us some more. After some discussion, we bought a SIM card for the Internet for £1 then topped it up at the post office with £10 to start with.

We took the train back to Abbey Wood and Chuck got a haircut along the way. We even picked up some groceries at a smallish market then dropped everything off in Homer. We stopped at Reception and much to our delight, found out we can stay until next Tuesday. Hooray! This is a really great place. Quite posh in fact. I signed us up for membership in the Caravan Camping Club which entitles us to a £7 reduction in camping fees at each club campground (they’re everywhere and very high standard). It cost us £45 but it will pay for itself in 7 days. We paid for our 6 nights in advance, £133.80.

We tried our Internet stick but when trying to register with T-Mobile online, were told that a pin number was sent to our "phone" so we could log in. So, now we have a pin number that has actually been sent to our computer as a text message. We were stuck.

Back on the train we made it all the way into London this time, deciding to find a T-Mobile store to see if they could give us the pin number we needed in order to get online. We walked and walked until we found one. A very helpful guy, Richard, did some magic with our phone, "gave" us 4 top-up SIM cards that we loaded with £5 each that would give us one month once activated with 1 GB of memory. If you are getting any of this, you're doing better than we are.

Now it was time to take in the sights. I really wanted to ride the London Eye and even if it is touristy, we really loved it. It rotates very slowly for 30 minutes—in fact, it doesn’t even stop when you walk on—and the views were wonderful. We got the senior discount so paid £14 each rather than the normal £17.50. There is a free 4-D film experience that was really fun and well worth the time (probably about 10 minutes). Chuck thought it was the best 3-D film he’d ever seen.

I love this skinny building

County Hall

By now it was 8:30 pm and we hadn't had lunch. We found a wonderful pub recommended by, who else? Rick Steves: The Lord Moon of the Mall on Whitehall near Trafalgar Square. Perfect ambiance, nice crowd and not too noisy but the food was only so-so. In fact, it was microwaved. You can always tell when the tomato on your hamburger is hot and the bun is steaming. Did we learn? Oh no; the toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream was too hard to pass up. Shortly we heard "DING!" and out came our microwaved dessert, melting into the plate along with the ice cream.

The day was long and had a certain amount of stress to it but we accomplished a lot, saw two different neighborhoods and walked way too many miles around London. However, we also managed to spend in one day £200. Yikes!

Later that evening, as I attempted to post a blog, I found that I could not even enter the site to do this. Instead, I found a pink T-Mobile banner stretched across the top of the page. After a rather frustrating time, I got a message telling me that I would have to prove that I am over 18 in order to drop the "content lock." How annoying--I can't even get into my own site because there might be questionable content and I might not be 18. Calling T-Mobile's customer service on our newly charged telephone, I was directed to press 4, then 1 then 3. Nothing was mentioned about "content lock" even though this was the number given to have it removed. Next, I tried option 1 (my last resort) which involved giving an automated voice my credit card number, expiration date, and security code only to be told that they could not authorize it and was promptly cut off. The human hours are 8-5 so I called this morning and after several very long minutes got through to a human. Much ridiculous bureaucracy later, it was determined that I would have to go to a T-Mobile store because I do not have an address here. We made our second trip to the T-Mobile shop, a very nice man was able to remove the "content lock" (he believed me that I was over 18) and off we went to enjoy our day.

We'll see how this SIM card deal works out.

Nothing is certain in London but expense. ~ William Shenstonent.

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