Tel Aviv to London, by way of Zurich
Despite the fact that it wasn't even 5am yet, we managed to gather up our belongings and take the cab ride to the airport. Susanne, to no surprise, slept the entire 30 minute ride. At the airport, though, we were greeted with extremely troubling news - our flight had been delayed for 10 hours due to a sick pilot, and we would miss our day in London, and most possibly our night at the Barbican Theatre. We were furious but too ill to show it, so we stood in line waiting for security to process us in the hopes of catching an earlier flight.
For over two hours, we queued along at a snail's pace. Fortunately, because there were two of us, one of us could leave and walk around while the other watched our bags. Other people traveling alone would leave their luggage for a minute to grab a cup of coffee or something, and each time this occurred, a plainclothes security officer swooped down on the queue, wanting to know whose bags they were and where the owners went. At least there were no terrorist incidents while we waited for our turn with security.
When we reached the security area, two young women, neither older than 20 or 21, began to ask us repetitious questions about our whereabouts, what we bought, who we met, who we knew in Israel, how long had we been planning the trip, etc. They even asked me to dig out my copy of Let's Go to show them on a map where we had visited. One of them asked for the receipts of the day tour we took, which we were never given, and they seemed annoyed by the fact that we didn't physically document our every move.
After 15 or 20 minutes of this, they covered us with security seals of approval and sent us to the counter, where the British Air rep once again said that the flight had been delayed. I was quite dismayed at this point, because it was now past 8:30am and according to the departure monitors, the last flight bound for Europe left at 8:20, and there would be no others before 2pm. But then, the British Air rep told us to run to the next counter and get seats on a delayed flight to Zurich. So we ran as fast as our fatigue and backpack-burdened bodies would let us and managed to get two seats on an Israeli Arkia flight.
By the time we exited passport control and had dropped off our bags, the flight to Zurich was ready to begin boarding. We entered the plane feeling quite relieved, but still not very positive we'd have a flight to London when we got there. And that's where I am right now, 30,000 feet over Serbia. We passed Mount Olympus about 45 minutes ago, and we should be on the ground in less than three hours. After that, we'll see what happens.
We landed in Zurich around 1pm local time. It turns out we needed to go through immigration to get our bags, but the passport officer just smiled when he saw our US passports and waved us through. Susanne was annoyed and asked if he would stamp our passports, which he did, laughing his way through each stamp.
The British Air folks then told us we were booked on a 3:30pm flight to Heathrow that would put us in the gate at 4:20 GMT. That should be enough time for us to get to London, check into our hotel, change, and get to the Barbican Theatre by 6:30. Maybe. For now, though, we had two hours to kill on the ground in Zurich, so we went to a shopping court, bought french bread and some cheese, grabbed some soda, and picnicked on a bench outside. Eating brie and baguettes in Zurich was the last thing I thought we'd be doing when I woke up that morning, but now that I knew we'd be in London by late afternoon, I was able to sit back and enjoy it.
Having finished lunch, Susanne and I decided to spend our last francs at a gift shop, where we got some chocolates and postcards. We then boarded the plane and started the 80-minute flight to Heathrow. In the air, our view of the Alps wasn't as clear as it had been on the flight into Zurich. We landed a bit early, around 4pm, cruised through customs, and caught the tube to Paddington, Westminster, in central London.
At Paddington, it was drizzling outside, but our hotel at Sussex Gardens was less than a five minute walk from the tube station. At the hotel, the receptionist said the room hadn't been held for us, since I didn't leave a credit card number when I made the reservation, which was absolutely false. I threw a minor fit, summing up the day's events, so she promptly apologized and got us a room down the street for 30 pounds, 20 quid cheaper than what we were supposed to pay. The room was more austere than any place we stayed in the Middle East (and more expensive), but it still seemed rather British in a plain, ironic way.
We quickly changed clothes, doing our best to appear as nice as possible for the British theatre scene, with our ragtag assortment of soiled shirts and dusty jeans. Eventually, we caught the tube to Barbican Centre, a post-war cultural citadel, packed with cinemas, theatres, exhibition halls, and other venues for the arts and gatherings. We went to the main theatre for the Royal Shakespeare Co.'s latest production of Henry V.
Though we weren't familiar with any of the individual performers that night, the overall production was solid and entertaining. Susanne and I have seen numerous interpretations of Henry V over the years, and we were both pleased to see that this version didn't seem to steal its overall style from any of the more well known arrangements. In particular, it was interesting to see the differences between it and Kenneth Branagh's film version, which was based on his original RSC stage production. That night's performance was much less cynical and introspective than Branagh's - though he was clearly attempting to convey a cautious, pessimistic view of the value of war in his interpretation. Not so in this show - our valiant King Harry is a bold, almost arrogant politician and soldier, who knows his subjects well enough to get what he wants without ever exploiting them outright.
The stage production was superb. RSC's budget allows them to put on sets not unlike a major Broadway show. The stage featured spectacular flashpots and cannon shot, as well as several dozen link chains that were raised up and down over the stage for a variety of functions, from the lifting of the king's cargo at Southampton to the serving of swords, which were lowered over the battlefield into the hands of the soldiers. One last note about the play - I enjoyed the interpretation of the bawdy bunch of Pistol, Nym and Bardolfe. Though they always serve as some of the funniest characters in the play, the actors' mastery of body movement and physical humor accentuated the characters in ways that I have rarely seen on stage or film.
We left the play before it was over, for we were exhausted from our 18-hour day and time zone change. Our flights the next day were in the late morning, which meant we could take our time and work our way out to Gatwick Airport.