Saturday, November 03, 2012

Venice to London – October 30, 2012

Venice to London – October 30, 2012

After breakfast, I checked out of the hotel and asked the desk attendants to call a water taxi for me.  They informed me that the cost of the taxi would be 107 Euros, and I quickly went to an ATM machine to get additional Euros.  As I waited for the water taxi to arrive, the hotel attendants, who were very friendly, mentioned that I would be missing a big event.  When I asked what it was, they told me that the following night, the high tide would raise the water level so that water would be 30 centimeters deep inside the hotel lobby.  Water had been standing inside the lobby each day that I was at the hotel, but not as much as that.  I found it interesting, but I was not sad to be leaving and missing the big event.

The water taxi turned off the Grand Canal toward the airport and wound its way through very narrow canals before arriving at the open water.  The distance to the airport was far enough that it took the water taxi half an hour to get there.  Once at the airport, I decided to ask for a porter to help me get to the British Airways counter, and I was very pleased that I did.  The porter soon put me into his van and took me more than a mile to the terminal building; I would have had great difficulty finding the path to the terminal, and the path was very rough.  When I got to the terminal building, the porter asked a local porter to take my bags from his van to the British Airways counter.  The total cost for all of the porters was 25 Euros, and I was pleased to pay it.

After checking in and dropping off my bags, I then found the tax refund office to get approval for the taxable items that I had purchased in Athens.  The rule is that tax refunds can be approved only at the last port of any European Union nation.  Venice was the last port I would be visiting, so that is where I had to get my tax refund.  In the past, I had tried to get tax refunds in numerous places, but I had never been successful.  The tax refund office is usually closed, or the line is so long and the clerk so slow that I had not been successful in getting a refund.  Furthermore, one must first get an approval from one office, and then get a refund from a separate office.  The complications are intentional and intended to minimize tax refunds.  At this tax office, the woman at the counter was talking on her cell phone, and clearly had no intention of talking with me; she held up her hand, palm toward me, to indicate that she would not talk with me.  Eventually, I put my completed forms on the counter in front of her, and she stamped the form without pausing in her phone conversation.  Success!!  I then went through security to the office where I was able to get my tax refund of 29 Euros. 

The flight to London was easy.  After retrieving my luggage at Gatwick Airport, I noticed an office with a large “TAXI” sign, and I asked for a taxi to the hotel.  A waiting taxi driver immediately took my luggage to his van, and we were off.  At Dulles Airport in Washington, one gets a taxi at an airport office and then goes to the taxi; I had assumed that Gatwick had a similar system, but later I realized that I had taken a private taxi, rather than a normal, public taxi, which I would have obtained at a taxi line.  However, I was able to pay by credit card, which I would not have been able to do in a public taxi.

The taxi ride was not along a freeway, and the driver explained that there is no freeway from Gatwick to central London because Margaret Thatcher had stopped construction of the freeway as a cost cutting measure.  As a result, Gatwick can never be widely used, as Heathrow is.  The only way for the taxi to get to London from Gatwick is to pass through local towns and neighborhoods, which is a time consuming ride of more than an hour, depending on traffic conditions.  I found the ride very pleasant; it was like taking a private tour of South London on the way to the hotel.

Once at the hotel, I was given a room, which I had reserved months before; however, when I got to the room, an extra cot had been set up in the room.  It seemed to me that the room had been planned for someone else who had an extra person, perhaps a child.  After some checking, I was assigned to a different room, and it turned out to be a pleasant room.  I noticed that the hotel – the Crown Plaza – was part of a large hotel complex that included the Raj, and I learned that the entire complex is owned by Tata.  The complex also includes a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant, Quilon.  I got a reservation and ate there later, and it was very nice, although not the type of Indian cuisine I was accustomed to eating in Washington, DC.

After dinner, I was very tired and decided to go to sleep early.  The time change from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time as well as the loss of an hour from Venice resulted in the loss of two hours.  As a result, I was very sleepy earlier than usual.  I fell asleep immediately, but then woke up very early the next morning.

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