After our last two international trips - the chaos of India and the language struggles of Japan and the lengthy flights both countries required, flying to London felt almost as easy as a quick trip to Florida. The plane was not full, something we always hope for traveling in the shoulder season. However, the Iberia/American Airlines code share flight had medieval media. There were no seatback entertainment systems, just tiny TV's dangling from the ceiling offering no viewing choices. Luckily we always bring our own plane toys and after dinner a few hours of shut eye were more important than any movie.
Lines at immigration moved quickly and our bags were circling the carousel as soon as we got there. A van waited outside to take us to the rental car and we had our choice of all the cars grouped within the booking price range. As always Ken took to driving on the left using a stick shift with aplomb. Even with the GPS the road configurations were a bit confusing for jet lag addled brains and we took a wrong turn coming out of the airport, but it wasn't long before we found ourselves on the M4, whizzing toward Swindon. The Holiday Inn is pretty much like Holiday Inns everywhere with decent internet and enough space for our luggage AND walking around the bed, unlike Japan.
If you are not on the motorway (expressway) you are confronted by roundabouts, the UK way to handle intersections. These traffic circles crop up at intervals of less than half a mile and at each one you have to merge into the traffic already in the roundabout and make a decision about where to get off. The GPS does a good job of advising us, but it's still easy to make a mistake. Every time I think I've got Ken on the right road, another roundabout rears its ugly head. For our afternoon entertainment we headed to a Walmart-ish shopping center less than two miles from our hotel and went through six roundabouts to get there.
Our goal was to buy a sim card for the iPhone. There is so much telephone competition here, prices for both talking and data minutes are dirt cheap. It gives us piece of mind to be able to call our new landlord tomorrow in case we can't find the condo or to get information or make reservations.
Even though we all speak English, we still thrashed around accomplishing this simple task. The store we were sent to looked like a very nice grocery store. A clerk there sent us to a music store, which sold sims, but not what we needed. They sent us to a kiosk in the mall, where a Pakistani looking dude was hard at work reassembling a cell phone with the tiniest screws I have ever seen. He sold us the card, but then we had to get it activated and buy minutes of connectivity. This involved two more shops and many questions. Finally, Ken had to go online to get the account started and now we realized we did not buy enough minutes for data so we'll have to do the sim minuet again tomorrow.
Thank goodness we all speak English and everyone we encountered tried to help.