June 2, 2006
EN ROUTE TO AFRICA!
Since our flight to Johannesburg had London at approximately the halfway point, we finagled a stopover of two days and one night. World Vision's internet staff at our London headquarters (located at Milton Keynes, about an hour north of London, with a small office in the heart of London itself) graciously hosted our short visit.
Lost and Found
After a smooth, nine-hour flight on British Airways, we were grateful to arrive at Heathrow Airport at about 11 a.m. local time (which was really about 3 a.m. back in Seattle -- yawn). However, our tiredness turned into panic when we discovered, after waiting in the customs line, that my passport was no longer in my possession.
We made our way back to the plane and explained our predicament. They let us on board and we searched all around our seats, but could not find the critical document. I had removed it from the passport holder in Seattle in order to board, so I concluded I must have dropped it there.
I guess I am a fundamentally disorganized person, I am always losing things. I've also discovered that usually, when I lose something important, if I pray about it, it turns up. So, as we waited in the gangway, we prayed and asked God to help us find it. No sooner had I said amen than an excited maintenance worker came rushing out of the plane, my passport in hand. He had found it lying on the floor, somewhere near our seats.
Mandy said he looked disturbed when I threw my arms around him and hugged him, but I didn't care. I wanted to hug God, and he was the nearest one I could find.
So we made it through customs, and ever since Mandy has determined that she would be the keeper of the passports when we are in an important place like the airport.
After customs we were met by David, from World Vision UK's internet staff, who treated us to a rush hour drive out of London and up to Milton Keynes. Our hotel was located right across the street from the WVUK office. We went in and said hi to everyone, then retired for a quick nap before a meeting and dinner.
I won't bore you with talk about the various meetings we had while there, but dinner was fun. When in English, you have to go to an authentic British pub. This one sat on a canal. David explained that a network of canals crisscross England, and these were navigated continually by pleasurecraft. When he said that, I envisioned speedboats, but was surprised to see instead a sort of long, covered dugout. Basically they were narrow little houseboats. People who are well off or retired frequently live in these boats and cruise lazily around England's canals. Cool.
When at an English pub you also have to eat fish 'n chips, so Mandy and I both obliged. But a new addition to the treat was mashed peas with vinegar. This required a certain amount of courage from me, as I am no fan of peas per se, and when they are mashed they are certainly not any more appetizing. But these were tolerable and I was able to down the whole lot. We washed it all down with ale and ice cream and brownies.
Friday morning we checked out of our hotel, had some more meetings, then boarded the bullet train back for London with all our gear. The bullet trains are cool, they are fast, and they are quiet. Rocketing through the English countryside at what must have been close to 100mph at times was the way to go. Then we hired a taxi for the brief ride through London to the office.
The WV office in London is surprisingly close to Buckingham Palace -- just a few short blocks away. It is a one-room office which is used mostly for advocacy work, and was unoccupied on the day we visited. So we stowed our gear there, then set out on foot for a bite of lunch and some touring. We got to pose with the Buckingham Palace guards on horseback (sorry, the photo of us posing didn't work out, but here's one of the guard on horseback), then headed another few blocks away to the National Art Museum.
Mandy has an intense appreciation for fine art and it almost killed her to only be able to spend two hours in that amazing place, looking at original paintings by Van Gogh, El Greko, Da Vinci, Rembrandt and many more famous artists throughout history. They were so close you could touch them, but I suppose if you tried you would certainly regret it. The stern-faced guards in each of the many rooms we visited also informed us unsmilingly that absolutely no photos were allowed.
After this we headed back to the office, picked up our gear, then caught a taxi back to Heathrow for our 11-hour flight back to Johannesburg. We were tired but happy.
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