I’ve arrived in the loverly land of Great Britain! It already seems like a lifetime ago since I heard people speak in the droll midwestern speech that I’m accustomed too and I’m conversing with Brits like they’ve been lifetime chums. Everyone that I’ve met so far on my journey has been wonderful…when was my last entry? Merely a day ago from the Van Galder station?

I first met a chap on the bus to O’Hare itself, he and I chatted on the way to the airport. He was also a student at UW-Madison (since the bus came from there first and merely passed through Janesville on the way to Chicago) but he had just graduated with a Master’s Degree in music theory the day before and was on his way back home. He even knew my teaching assistant from my choir class last semester, they had been office neighbours!

The arrival at O’Hare was amazingly uneventful. What with announcements of “The Threat Level has been raised to Orange, be on your guard” coming every five minutes or so, I was half-expecting crazed nuts to leap out from pizza stands in the airport. Certainly I was nervous when it came time for me to have the TSA go through my luggage upon entry…I had heard the announcement that all liquids were to follow the “3-1-1 Rule” – you can have all liquids, et cetera in 3 ounce bottles, in a 1 quart bag, and you can only have 1 of those 1 quart bags. That last one was the problem…I had all of my stuff in three separate 1 quart bags, and the line was moving too fast for me to get out of it and dig around and change things around. With a low sense of dread and already feeling the thick meaty arms of security guards wrestling me to the ground and snapping the cuffs on me, I approached the checkpoint like a condemned man.

Of course, they didn’t even ask. Bored, they asked me to put the laptop in a separate bin and waved me through. I didn’t even set off the metal detector – a first for me because I’m usually covered in electronics and I often forget some of them the first time through and it requires the unpleasant ringing of the alarm and the tensing of everyone around me to jolt me into “remembering.” My heart was still beating pretty fast. Maybe that was just the copious amounts of caffeine I was already consuming, though.

I spent the next 4 hours sitting in the Air Canada terminal, with people around me speaking french and the sound of wheeled bags clicking around me. Me being a dumb American, I didn’t even realize until later that my transfer flight, through Montreal, was a french-speaking flight since (and I didn’t know this) Montreal is in Quebec. I spent my time on Facebook, of course, and randomly messaging people with “I’m in an airport!” – it was worth the $6.95 wireless charge in the concourse.

My first flight, from O’Hare to Montreal was great. I had a window seat in our tiny little airbus, and met the first of my series of seatmates. An older gentlemen named Bob was my companion, very important looking with a blackberry beeping next to him as I took my seat (climbing over the poor guy)…of course, I’m always filled with questions, so we struck up a conversation as the plane meandered about the runways. As it turns out, he is the vice president of a dental equipment manufacturing firm out of Hellsinki, the American branch. We chatted about cars and technology and about life in general, about me being a student and his daughter just graduating from college. When he found out I worked in technology but was also a legal studies major, he encouraged me to become a “software lawyer” and work on copyright cases. I never actually did think of that before.

However, I was growing increasingly nervous about the time coming up. My flight to London was supposed to take off at 7:45, and with this 1 hour time change, I only had an hour between flights. However, when we got there, Bob directed me and another woman (heading to Paris with a a flight at the same time) to an agent, who was actually waiting for us both (how kind!) to take us directly to our flights. I got there with 10 minutes to spare. So far so good.

My overnight flight was a lot of fun. My seatmate, a chap named Jesse, was good conversation – we chatted about politics and video games and my work with the Madison antiwar group. The movie Eragon was playing on the tiny little LCD 5 rows ahead, so when I should have been sleeping, I couldn’t help myself – I watched that instead. Meanwhile, Jesse’s headrest on the seat kept snapping off, and we stared at it in bewilderment. High quality stuff, indeed!

As the sunlight started to stream into the cabin, I realized that I had only gotten about an hour of sleep after the movie. No matter, right – that’s what expresso is for! We had even arrived an hour earlier at Heathrow than expected, at 7:00 instead of 7:30 – however, that extra half hour was rapidly eaten up by the long, long line at the passport check-in. That took about 45 minutes in itself. I struck up a chat with the British custom’s official, who was a little skeptical about my claims of “backpacking around England, staying at hostels” and not knowing the address of the place I was staying tonight, my first night. I assured him that it was a friend’s place in Wellington, and he relaxed. I was here! I was in London at last!

Or at least somewhere. After wandering around in the miles of tunnels leading into the tube stations and getting a ticket for “Waterloo Station” (£4) I spent the next hour watching in desperation as the various stops on my printed page for Waterloo-Salisbury became invalid. It seemed I must have picked the slowest tube car in London. I chatted with a group of English teens, about my age…I loved the accents. I loved everything. I loved the clothes, the hair…I felt positively old fashioned and it was so bizarre that I loved it anyway. Pants are really tight here, on both genders. That was unexpected. Hair is gelled and slicked and people my age seem to be pierced by default. Or maybe that’s just London…who knows yet!

After finally manouvering my way into Waterloo Station (and getting coffee at a ubiquitous Starbucks, for which I shamed myself repeatedly) I made it to my 9:50 train to Salisbury. These trains seem to be a work of art. They’re clean, plush seats, smooth transit (my coffee is barely rippling as I type this) and smell like flowers and happy things. I mean, not to mention the amazingness of trains that go everywhere in a country, with no hassle! I guess that’s another definite advantage of a country the size of my home state.

I struck up a conversation with a fellow sitting next to me on the train, with whom I talked politics, showed some photos on the laptop, and got some more terms down. He showed me how to use my cell phone (which is somehow working over here without me doing anything, but I can only shudder at how much this is probably going to cost me at some dire point in the future) to call Brit mobile numbers. Eventually I had to back off with my questions and let the gentleman get some work done!

Definitely going to put the laptop away now and keep enjoying the beautiful scenery. There’s something both home-like and alien about it at the same time. The rolling hills and green fields remind me of northern Wisconsin, but the trees (poplars, the gentleman told me) are essentially nonexistent in my region. The roofs of the buildings are tile, not shingles and the chimneys really are like something out of a movie…rows and rows of them stretching far off into the distance whenever we speed through a town. I can almost see Dick van Dyke dancing on top of them with a sweep brush.

Well, my train is supposed to arrive in another 20 minutes at Salisbury station, so here it goes! My first day in the Queen’s Country is off to a jolly ol’ start!