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Doctor Who meets Back To The Future. In Chinese.

Doctor Who meets Back To The Future. In Chinese.

London to Cleveland. In 37 hours.

London to Cleveland. In 37 hours.

The epic voyage of 3727 miles began with a short journey from my London flat to Hammersmith tube station at 5am. Where I waited for 30 minutes having failed to realise that the first tube to leave for Heathrow Airport wouldn’t do so till 5.30am.

T+1: Finally at Heathrow, the first long queue was to check-in, but there was a brief excitement as they said they were looking for volunteers to deplane the flight (in return for a US$500 voucher), but alas eventually we weren’t needed so two hours later, off into the skies we go.

T+10: Seven hours later, the plane touched down at JFK airport in New York at around 12pm New York time. I was expecting a long queue and harried, bored, angry immigration officials but for some reason the queues were relatively short and I got a nice Lopez-esque immigration officer, who even handled my gentle queries as to why I’d been asked to fill in an ESTA form online a week before I left (as all UK citizens who want to go to America have to do), only to also have to answer the same questions (eg have I ever been a Nazi?) on the traditional I-94W visa waiver form and hand it over to her in person.

T+10.5: Pick up my suitcase, hurl it past Customs, and then dump it to be re-baggaged. Where they tell me that my next flight to Cleveland has been cancelled, so I’ll have to go via Chicago. And that flight leaves in seven hours. Well, at least it gives me plenty of time at JFK Airport… which turns out to be relatively dull. No central shopping/food court area (as far as I can see) – instead all the shops are dotted between the various gates. I manage to secure a table for two hours at a cool bistro, but once I leave, I have to leave so I spend a while wandering between the gates.

In the meantime, I persuade my lovely assistant (in real life my friend Miss Hob Nobs) to call American Airlines on my behalf to try and find another flight out, only to find that planes have been grounded all day in New York, Chicago and Cleveland thanks to lightning in New York and storms in Chicago and Cleveland, and no planes are heading out in that direction just yet. Darn.

T+15.5: It’s 5.30pm New York time, so I go to the gate where the flight to Chicago is meant to leave, only to find the flight departure has now been delayed to 8pm. I talk to the lovely airline lady on the counter, and discover that the plane that was meant to leave Chicago to be our plane back to Chicago hasn’t even left yet.

So I sit at the gate, and generally end up talking to a bunch of St. Louis-bound teenagers, a Japanese-American grandmother from Memphis who’s just come back from two weeks in Europe, a woman with two small children who has been travelling from Pakistan to London to New York for the last two days, and a Hilary Clinton lookalike. There’s nothing like being trapped in an airport to get people doing small talk, but I note each conversation manages to last 30 minutes before people drift off bored. Must figure out an easy exit strategy for small talk conversations sometime.

T+18: It’s now 8pm New York time. The flight that was supposed to leave at 5.35pm, then 7pm, then 8pm, is now scheduled to leave at 9pm. The plane itself still hasn’t left Chicago.

T+19: An hour later, the flight that was supposed to leave at 5.35pm, then 7pm, then 8pm, then 9pm is now scheduled to leave at 10pm. The plane itself still hasn’t left Chicago.

T+20: It’s now 10pm in New York, and all the other shops at the airport are slowly closing up. The flight that was supposed to leave at 5.35pm, then 7pm, then 8pm, then 9pm, then 10pm now has a scheduled arrival time of 12.30am. But the plane hasn’t left Chicago yet.

T+20.5: The plane has finally left Chicago. Hurrah!

T+22: It’s midnight by the time the plane arrives at New York, and we all shuffle to get on board. Luckily, I find I have a first-class seat for once in my life. Unluckily, I’m so tired that I can barely keep my eyes open – but I do find time to chat to my single-serving friend who looks like a very smart business-class executive who has been travelling first class all her life. She turns out to fly around the world, sourcing new textiles and designs that she then sells to Bed, Bath and Beyond – but lives in Idaho. I think. Then I fall asleep.

T+25: We touch down in Chicago at 2am Chicago time, 3am New York time, and 7am London time. The next flight to Cleveland isn’t till 11am, so if I want to find a bed for the night, I’ll have to pay for it (since the delays were apparently caused by the weather). Fortunately, I am given a coupon that gives me a bed for $70. Unfortunately, nothing for food or water. Fortunately, I did steal a biscuit earlier.

T+26: There’s nothing like three sleep-addled strangers trying to find a bus to a hotel at 2.30am Chicago time to guarantee inefficiency. We walk around in circles, up and down until we eventually find the hotel shuttle, and slump into our rooms. Which are spacious, ostentatious and gorgeous – but have no toothbrushes.

T+31: Five hours later (8am Chicago time), I’m up, check out of the hotel (well, dump my keycard at reception) and head for the airport.

T+34: Finally, I get to board a plane for Cleveland, at 11am Chicago time.

T+36: At 12pm Cleveland time, I arrive and am warmly greeted by HyperHam. But my suitcase hasn’t arrived, it would seem.

T+37: We’re still at the airport, trying to find my suitcase. It turns out that after I left it at JFK in New York, it got sent to San Diego. As suitcases do. I don’t pick it up again for another 24 hours. But at least I pick it up!

Random observations on flying…

Random observations on flying…

I love going to the airport. I love flying on a plane. I’m not sure why – but it’s a great way to observe how some people live, and the weird stuff that goes down. Especially on American air carriers. To whit, on my recent transAtlantic flight:

– the foolish foolish couple, who proposed to each other halfway through an eight-hour flight. Thankfully, she said Yes – but can you imagine if she’d declined? Stuck sitting next to someone who’d rejected your overtures of love for the next four hours, inside a hollow tube and unable to get out. Very French.

It’s not even particularly romantic. In the first-class cabin of a Concorde jet, that’s one thing. But in cattle class amongst the hoi polloi and a family of seven chavtastic Brits going to Florida?

Having said that, you do get free champagne out of it. I need to find a female partner in crime, get a diamond ring, and swindle restaurants across the world out of free champagne. It worked once.

– The SkyMall catalogue which seems to be endemic to all American aeroplanes is a hilarious hoot. All these utterly useless frivolous items on sale – like stairs for your pet so your obnoxious little cat/dog can climb up onto the sofa. Ion purifiers. Tranquil sound machines. No wonder the end of Western civilisation is nigh. Mind you, I imagine half the reason I want to live in the United States is so that I can purchase and use these projects, and live the quasi-Ikea lifestyle.

– the warning from the cabin crew not to congregate near toilets, as per anti-terrorist regulations. I couldn’t believe it when this policy was announced a year or so ago, so to see them doing it was just insane. Fortunately, it was never actually policed as far as I could tell.

– I got finger-printed and photo-ID’d when I arrived at US immigration. To be fair, the process was painless, quick and easy (hurrah for digital technology) but it still felt a little degrading. Plus, of course, the computer told the immigration agent exactly how long I’d spent in the US the last time.

– There was one elderly woman who’d booked two seats so she could have a seat all to herself. This strikes me as a tad expensive – wouldn’t it be cheaper to book a first-class seat?

I've seen just 8% of the world

I've seen just 8% of the world

I’ve seen 8% of the world…

and 29% of Europe (15 states)…

and 68% (35 states) of the United States. But that’s mainly because I spent two months on Greyhound going east and west twice, in my youth.

And then the UK…

County map
I’ve visited the counties in yellow.
Which counties have you visited?

made by marnanel
map reproduced from Ordnance Survey map data
by permission of the Ordnance Survey.
© Crown copyright 2001.

I haven’t even touched Africa, South America and barely touched the land of my forefathers (SE Asia). So why can’t I still make up my mind as to where to go?

Maps courtesy of the wonderful people at, and images uploaded via Ecto, which i’m just trying out, as written by Alex.

Ahhh, Roma!

Ahhh, Roma!

So Friday finally arrives – and H & I leave a wet Cardiff, changing trains very simply at London Paddington for Heathrow Airport. The easiest journey ever made, but at a whopping £79 price – it was cheaper to get the flight to Rome!

Once at Heathrow, I still manage to keep the flight destination a secret …

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