Sunday morning at 430a Pacific Time I woke up and got all my things together and hopped in the car with my uncle, who so graciously drove me to the airport. Getting to the San Francisco International airport was uneventful, just early and dark. Though because it was so early on a Sunday and there were no drivers, we really got to test the limits of his Audi, and it was fun.
I waited in the airport for less than 40 minutes when I boarded my first flight to Cincinnati. I sat between a woman from Alabama and a man from Sussex. They were both very kind, especially the woman who went on an on about her dogs and wanted to send me photos of them. The man, Jim, oh he was nice and polite and such, but his breath was killer. (just for you Arrested Development fans)
My flight arrived on time and I had 6 hours to wait for my next flight. I read a bit, slept a bit, played "Creepy Airport Stalker," and walked around to stretch. When my flight got closer to leaving the terminal was packed with British families and the most adorable children with unbelievable accents. I couldn't contain my smiles.
I hadn't felt nervous at all. Nothing seemed to phase me. Perhaps that's because it's all very unreal. Even now, sitting in my room in the flat looking out my window into Central London, it doesn't seem real. London is beautiful -but more on that later!
My plane to London was huge! And somehow I really got lucky because I had a window seat and no one to occupy the seat next to me! I slept as much as I could. Even with two seats, it was uncomfortable, though. The dinner was interesting... And they showed Fred Claus, which wasn't as bad as expected.
When it seemed like I could sit no longer, we started making our descent. I could see all the beautiful manicured fields and hedges etching patterns all along the English countryside, and I couldn't believe it was real. The landing was perfect and when I stepped off the plane, I could smell Europe. I love the smell of Europe. It's old and a bit cigarette-y, but its got a crisp bite in the air, what ever it is, I love it.
Day 2: or rather a very long extension of day 1
We had to wait an hour in line to get to the passport bureaus, and then the fun started. The immigration officer who "helped" me looked just like the man from Shawn of the Dead. I had to suppress laughter the whole time, until business got bad. First, he was very nosey. He asked many more questions than I deemed necessary, and he kept delving deeper and deeper into details, what are you doing here, who are you staying with, how do you know this woman, who is your mutual friend, how much cash have you got with you, how much money do you have at your disposal, etc. On and on and on.
Then he told me that for my safety, since I was so young, they were going to detain me to check everything out and see if the woman had come for me and such. No harm right? Wrong. Well, I failed to mention that I was taking a cooking class here. Don't ask me why, I have no idea. Perhaps it was because I had been up for basically 24hours with very VERY little food in me. The sleep I did get wasn't proper and I was itching to go and get on with it all. But not telling them was my mistake. My very VERY big mistake.
They detained me for over an hour, then they decided they needed to rifle through my bags, luckily this gave me a chance to snag a Tiger's Milk bar to tide me over. The immigration officer found confirmation for my course at Le Cordon Bleu. That's when I knew that I had dug myself into the very muddy mess of British immigration.
She brought me upstairs with the new information. But at this time I had to be lugging both of my suitcases around behind me as well. The first officer gave me this very reproachful speech about withholding information. Valuable information, to be exact. Insufficient information to allow me to enter the UK. No flipping joke.
What business is it of theirs if I take a privately run course while I'm visiting London. They don't even need to know how much money I've got, where I'm staying or anything! That is definitely my business. All they should be concerned about is whether or not I'm planning on working, and when I fly home. But apparently, not telling them about Le Cordon Bleu, pissed them off. I had to wait another 30 minutes, and then I was ushered to a back room where I had mug shots taken. And Fingerprints. FINGERPRINTS!
I had to wait in a white room where another officer came in to pat me down. Then I had to sit in this windowed lobby area with a man being deported back to Albania, and an Ugandan man who was denied entrance due to insufficient funds! Good heavens! Is there no end? I was interviewed twice in between waiting in that god forsaken room of florescent lighting, bits of trash and foreign newspapers and smelling faintly of stale breath and cigarettes. At this time I was regretting my decision to eat and I could taste vomit in my mouth. The immigration officer questioned me about EVERY detail of my visit here, and why I'm going to cooking school if I'm enrolled in BYU to be a teacher, and why I didn't go to the school in France. You know, I'm starting to wonder that myself! She called me stupid. I felt ridiculous, indignant and very stupid. I told her everything and apologized. I honestly didn't think to tell them about Le Cordon Bleu, I didn't think it would matter. I didn't think it was their business. But withholding information is illegal. Next time, I'll be sure to tell them the color of my underpants.
Lucky for me, the adventure wasn't over yet. After I was returned my personal things I went down to the pick up zone, and the woman I'm staying with was no where to be found. Why would she be? Several hours AFTER I'd arrived. She had left her name and number at the information desk and I got in touch with her. I had to run to the other end of the airport and buy a ticket for the Gatwick Express. When the train arrived I had to stand with my bags by the door. But the ordeal was finally over. I stood next to this Italian family speaking beautiful rapid Italian and I watched London zoom by.
I watched dozens of tiny brick houses with even tinier gardens pass by. The green is so green. And the gardens were strewn about with pieces of brick or scraggly plants trying in earnest to grow. I saw gardens with white linens strung above, drying in the weak sunlight. I saw white rabbits gnawing at plants that I'm sure they were not allowed to be gnawing on. I saw children's toys, and a goat. It was all lovely.
Carol was at the Victoria station to meet me. She helped me load my bags into a taxi and off we went down the wrong side of the road to her little flat that will be my home for the next three months. Lucky I have a whole room to myself. Now, I am exhausted. But I'm here in London, and I'm in love already.