After landing at Heathrow and convincing the immigration officer we were dutifully employed, we headed straight to the hotel we had booked just a few days earlier. While we are not picky when it comes to accommodation, we wanted to make sure we actually had a room—finding one had been almost too easy, especially considering the Olympic Games.
We booked the Norfolk Plaza Hotel, mostly because we got a good rate on Expedia and because its location was convenient. I wasn’t expecting much from it but I hoped the room would be at least clean and functional—like in Paris and most tourist areas, some London hotels are a complete rip-off and seemingly nice-looking rooms can turn out to be awful (remember the insect invasion in Paris?).
The hotel was located a couple of blocks from the Paddington subway station, right in front of Norfolk Square Gardens, a small public park. The area was a good pick: there were restaurants and convenience stores nearby, as well as many other hotels around the square. The reception felt very posh but the rest of the hotel screamed “budget travel”: the hallways were narrow, the Wi-Fi connection only worked downstairs (and I suspect the codes were borrowed from another hotel given the poor signal strength), the bed was small, the mattress a bit lumpy and the tiny TV was probably the same age as me.
While I was busy checking the water pressure in the shower (a recurrent problem in Paris I was hoping to avoid in London), Feng immediately noticed the lack of air-con and screens on windows—and it made me smile. After living in Canada where each window has a screen, I do understand how he feels but I have no explanation to offer as to why Europe has never adopted the trend. I guess Europeans don’t mind flies and mosquitoes as much as North Americans! As for the air con, the nights were going to be cool so I wasn’t too worried.
Anyway, I knew what to expect from European hotels so I wasn’t disappointed, and to the hotel’s credit, the rooms were actually pretty big for London, the shower/bathtub was good and the place was clean overall. I would never have paid the posted rate, but for an Expedia deal, it wasn’t bad.
We spent the rest of the day rediscovering downtown London, going back to familiar places such as the London Eye, the Millennium Bridge and Piccadilly Circus. London is actually quite compact once you know your way around.
As the evening approached and the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony was about to start, we weren’t sure where to go. We had checked out Trafalgar Square, hoping for a big screen since it was the place where Canada Day was held the last time we were there, but there was nothing special going on there—same with Piccadilly Circus. In fact, we were surprised to see that there were few big screens set up to watch the Games. I remember that in France, during the 98 World Cup, there were big screens everywhere, including in parking lots in Nantes. But according to the newspaper we picked up in the Tube, “the best place to watch the ceremony is at home.” Yeah, well… so much for the Olympic spirit and so much for travellers like us who only have a shitty tiny TV at the hotel!
We tried to go to Hyde Park, one of the “official” places where you can watch the Olympics, but the queue to get in was quite scary and we quickly gave up—way too crowded, the queue actually reminded me of the border crossing between Costa Rica and Nicaragua! So we did watch the opening ceremony in our room, at the hotel. I passed out somewhere between Algeria and China and woke up dazed and confused a couple of hours later, when the Venezuelan team was called, missing most of the alphabet. For a second, I had no idea where I was or what time it was, and I quickly fell back asleep.