15 minutes before my taxi was to arrive I got a call – the driver was lost. This always happens. He put my address into his phone and it gave him the tennis courts behind my house. I can see the tennis courts, but there isn't a direct way from them to my house.
Thankfully the call wasn't from the driver, but from the dispatch center. When I booked the taxi, they knew my neighbor's name, so she gave him guided instructions to my house. I get in the car and we're off.
Then almost immediately he takes a right instead of a left to get out to the main road. GPS is mostly useless in Japanese neighborhoods. A quick chat and I got him to the main road.
Checkin to the airport was smooth as could be. The flight was smooth too. This time I sat in "Premium Economy" and it was nice. Your seat doesn't go flat like in business class, but does manage to get you to about a 45 degree without leaning back, which means there's plenty of room to cross your legs if you choose.
Upon arrival at Heathrow I was reminded just how clean and smooth things operate in Japan – which is easy to take for granted. For example, the escalator we rode immediately after getting off the plane was creaky and somehow at the top there was a bit of bread that just couldn't get over the lip so it sat there rolling around.
Immigration was the smoothest I've ever experienced because it was all automated. There was a staff member there kind of guiding people a bit, but she seemed half-distracted by a conversation she was having with a co-worker.
As for Customs declarations, I didn't have anything to declare, so I could just walk straight through, without talking to anyone. I looked at the area where you'd go if you had something to declare and there wasn't anyone even there. This is a stark contrast with what I've experienced in Japan, returning the US...even Sweden I had to state my purpose to a person. It's pure honor system here. Crazy. Suddenly all those movies where people think they can just smuggle stuff into a country make sense.
In many respects, London reminds me of New York. Heaps of people, loud, gratified buildings, and a bit of a sensory overload. People FaceTime while they're walking down the street. There's pedi cabs with boomboxes. The taxi drivers don't wear suits and there's tattoos everywhere. The opposite of what I'm used to. Different, but in a good way.
There were also a number of homeless, which despite it's best efforts to hide, you do see in Japan as well. But they don't ask you for money in Japan. Having my airpods in, even not listening to anything is a godsend. I can walk and listen to the city and when the ask for cash I pretend I didn't hear, they see my earbuds and move on.
But the largest thing to get used to is the masks – or lack thereof. Each country experienced the pandemic differently. And in Japan 99%+ of people have been wearing masks all the time in public and sometimes at home if a guest came over. And because of this we've never had any lockdowns, it's all been voluntary.
To dive off the deep end to near zero masks is...quite a shock to the system. It's not something you can do immediately, you've got to ease yourself into it. I'm still mostly wearing my mask outside of my hotel room. And thankfully I did as the little elevator became full capacity and I was the only one with a mask (KN95) on. Coming from Japan, "no masks on a crowded and vent-less elevator, are you crazy?!" and "thank god I decided to wear this" were the two main thoughts that went through my head. It's so weird being able to see more than people's eyes in public.
All of this said, it's not that I'm afraid of getting covid (again). Given the choice, I'd prefer not to. It's that should I get it, and should I test positive at the wrong times, it could delay me return. The "threat model" that I'm think I'm going to settle on is basically this: I trust that if my co-workers are stick, they're not going to come into the office, but all these other people...I don't know...so maybe it's better to be a bit cautious around them. In the end, it'll be what it'll be.
After a long flight and while walking around, a beer sounded great. But I couldn't quite build up the gumption to get into a pub full of people laughing and talking loudly, sharing their droplets like it's 2019. I will, but it's something I'll have to ease myself into for sure.
Instead of opted for a takeaway sandwich (chicken in a "bap") and can of craft beer from the local Stansbury. It was fine, perhaps a bit dry. My favorite thing about the sandwich was the note that said something to the effect of "We made an effort to de-bone this piece of boneless chicken you're about to eat, but we might've missed some, so be careful". Thanks for trying to debone this boneless chicken for me, I guess?
I found a nice bookshop that had a good selection of books. The nice thing is that they're all in English (duh) so there wee heaps of good options for me to bring back for Leo. So far he's getting a big shiny "Peppa Pig goes to London", and a Paddington Bear 3-story collection book.
1. The reason people don’t wait for signals to change before crossing the street in the west is because it takes ages. You quickly adapt. These little reminders on the road are helpful in such situations.
2. I lost data for some reason mid-run so got a bit lost on the way back. But I could see Buckingham Palace and run through a fantastic park.
Seeing the palace for the first time really gives you a sense of “wow Kings and Queens really did rule the country”.
I've been back in Japan for almost 3 weeks and am finally getting 'round to writing the final "wrapup" post for my trip to London. A common question people ask me is "What was the best thing/worst thing about the trip", which I'll answer here as well.
Best thing: Hands down, the bicycle culture in London. There's heaps of bike lanes throughout the city. Some are just paint, but many are proper protected bike lanes. I saw cargo bikes, cargo bikes with children in them (wish I could do this!), and even paramedics on a bike (all of his gear was bike-packed in panniers). Perhaps my favorite though, and I saw him twice, was this morning commuter that had his pug riding with him between his hands sitting on a little platform. The only regrettable thing is my cards didn't seem to work with the Boris bikes, so I couldn't rent a bike and cycle about.
Worst thing: I had to think about this and the worst thing I could come up with wasn't even that bad, but there was trash everywhere. Not bits of paper or candy wrappers, but like a random garbage sack, only one on the street, so it's not even trash pickup day/time, sitting there smelling things up. It could be hyper-sensitivity because Japan is really clean, generally speaking.
The flight back to Japan was good. On the flight to London, I didn't realize that I could select my seat before checkin, so I ended up with a window seat. Sitting in a window seat on long haul flights isn't fun as it makes it harder to get up and move about when you please. This time about I managed to snag one of the last aisle seats.
The seating in premium economy is quite nice. You can't lay flat like you can in business, but you the seats slide out (so no front passenger getting in your space / nearly breaking your laptop with a sudden recline (true story)) and you have leg support.
Food was also quite nice, though the combination was a bit odd – lasagna and soba?
With everything going on in Ukraine, just like the flight there, we couldn't fly over Russia. As such we took the southern route back, which added a couple of hours to our flight time.
Upon arrival in Japan we all had to do covid tests. If I had arrived 2 days later, I wouldn't needed to do the arrival test. It was just a simple saliva test, but my mouth was quite dry by then, so I had to really work to get enough. They hung a photo of a lemon to help you salivate.
Getting through the covid test queue was straight forward enough. But with the number of steps in the flow, I can see why the government has done away with it. There's no way that it could handle more passengers than it was already.
Most of things post has been not about London, but the trip back from London, so I'll end with this. London is great. Despite being about 36% smaller than Tokyo, the amount of diversity you experience in London is night and day different. I can't wait to go back.