A Day with Leonardo but not Tutankhamun
Holiday Day 18 (March 19th) Heathrow
The distance so far
We are on the last leg of this trip now, but not entirely on our last legs, despite travelling over 12,000 miles so far. I was interested to know the distances of the stages of the journey, so turned to Google Map Developers to find some answers. These distances are as the crow flies, assuming the crow flies in a straight line, so are not 100% exact, and I have rounded them up. Still, this might be of interest to travel nerds like me.
So far, in miles, we’d travelled:
Symi to Athens, Boat, 245
Athens to London, Plane, 1,486
London to Toronto, Plane, 3,550
Toronto to Vancouver, Train, 2,087
Vancouver to London, Plane, 4,710
Total so far, 12,078
That is further than the distance between London and Auckland, NZ, according to Google Maps. With two stages left to go, we had only another 1,737 miles to look forward to. London to Athens by plane, 1,486 miles and Athens to Symi by boat, 245 miles.
There was plenty of waiting around time in between as we are now on Thursday afternoon and we weren’t to reach home until Monday morning.
That’s for later in the week. Right now, we’re stretching our legs after a ten-hour flight from Vancouver to London which, now I think back on it, seemed to pass very quickly. I’m sure there were films, sleeping and food involved, and we arrived back at Heathrow around midday to a cold and drizzly afternoon. People had onward journeys, trains to catch, cars to collect, and we said goodbyes at baggage reclaim rather briefly, as I recall. By then, I was keen to get to our hotel, book in, and check our plans for the rest of the journey because I was aware the situation out there in the real world was changing rapidly. In fact, the world had changed considerably since we were last in London, and travelling through it required a different approach.
After some to-and-fro at the taxi rank (where the driver tried to barter us off to another cabbie because we were only making a short trip and I guess he wanted a longer one for income’s sake), we set off across the airport complex towards the Heathrow Leonardo hotel. Looking back, the airport was unusually quiet, and there was no queue for the taxies – a sign of things to come.
Remember that last time we were in London we’d been to see shows, walked around the West End, battled through the traditional Saturday night fights and frolics in Leicester Square, and negotiated our way through a full Travelodge. Now, looking at the television reports and hearing news from taxi drivers and others, it seemed London was in a post-apocalyptic state of desertion. You almost expected to see zombies staggering through the empty streets. A triffid, at least. It was as if everything here had closed behind us when we left, as Vancouver had closed with our departure. We had just disembarked from one of the last scheduled flights from Canada to London.
But the hotel was open and running as normally as it could be. They preferred cards to cash and offered hand-san on counters and bars, but otherwise, the advice was still to be cautious, sing Happy Birthday and keep a stiff upper lip, but that’s London for you. We checked in, recovered, found the scheduled itinerary and set up central control in the lounge/bar area. The original plan had been to stay at the hotel that night, pop into town the next day for the Tutankhamun exhibition and lunch with friends, stay at the hotel for the Friday night and fly to Athens for two days/three nights on Saturday lunchtime. That, clearly, had to change.
While I am dealing with changing a flight from Saturday to Sunday and booking a night at the Plaza in Rhodes, let’s go back in time to 1972. I am nine and standing in line with my parents and brothers outside the British Museum, waiting to see the Treasure of Tutankhamen exhibition. I remember a long, slow-moving line of people, the black iron railings beside me on the street, a vast courtyard with the line heading towards the entrance, and excitement mounting with each climb of the steps.
After that, I have a collage of images of massive, echoing halls, lots of people, and later, dark rooms with beautiful treasures. One room was in complete darkness, it seemed, apart from the golden death mask of a boy who died about 3,300 years ago. Everything else was gold and turquoise, jewelled and dazzling, so much so, I don’t remember the rest of that day or the trip home.
The visit sparked an interest in Ancient Egypt which then led to a fascination with Universal horror films, Boris Karloff and the rest, and I am still interested in both subjects today. In fact, I still have a book of the Tut treasures which may have been bought at that time as it’s always been in my memory. I notice it was published in the year of my birth, so there’s obviously some spooky tie-in there.
I’ve seen the treasures again since then. This was in 1987, when I went to Egypt on a tour, a day of which was spent in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo. As you might imagine, it was hot and busy, somewhat chaotic, and this time, we were herded through rooms and had all of five seconds to admire each piece, but it was all there. The following year, I went back to Luxor on my own for two weeks, and one day, took a boat and taxi to the Valley of the Kings after the tourists had gone and while the hawkers and hecklers were dozing in the shade. (It was about 45 degrees or something daft.) The lack of others made it possible for me to stand in King Tut’s tomb on my own, just me, and him in his sarcophagus (because he hadn’t been removed by then), and just ‘be’ for a while. Fabulous, but I digress.
The treasures, or some of them, were due to be at the Saatchi Gallery until May of this year and we had tickets. By then, however, the event was cancelled and our money refunded.
So, we had an afternoon and evening to hang around the hotel, but it wasn’t without things to do. I’d managed to change our flight and bring it forward by a day, so we were now due to fly to Athens the following night, wait overnight at the airport (only four hours) and fly on to Rhodes for one more night before taking the Spanos boat to Symi, arriving on Sunday morning. That meant cancelling one night with Leonardo, three nights accommodation in Athens, booking an extra hotel and boat tickets. Luckily, as it turned out, I didn’t cancel the Blue Star tickets from the original plan, because I thought, I can do that when we get back, as with this new itinerary, we’d get home a day before the boat we were going to take left Piraeus.
I do hope you’re keeping up.
There was nothing else to be done but wait for the (new) evening flight due to depart the next day, so we sat, read, ate and had a bottle of wine of £15.00, the cheapest way to buy wine at this particular hotel, apparently. We also chatted to a young guy who was with an under-18 football team who had been hoping to fly out to Romania or somewhere exotic for a youth tournament, but because it was cancelled, now had a squad of disappointed but understanding teens to deal with, and he wasn’t much older than them. We also met a chap who was hoping to get back to Vancouver, but wasn’t sure he could – we said, of course, he could, we’d just left it, so there was plenty of space, but flights were being cancelled left right and centre.
That’s actually the board for tomorrow, but it was the same story. As I mentioned, I was already putting my mind to what if? And we came up with all kinds of ideas for how to reach home if all else failed. I was imagining a kind of Whacky Races dash across Europe and wondering if I could still remember how to drive after 17 years of not doing so and told myself, of course, I could. Not that I wanted to… Or maybe I did. We were in contact with friends in Brighton who offered us their spare room and money should we need it while we holed up there for however many days or weeks a sudden quarantine might last, but we were, at that point, all planned-out and had everything ready to go the next day. At least the bars were still open. For now.
More tomorrow, and by ‘more’, I mean more changes to the route, more things closing down behind us, and a growing sense that we were being chased by events caused by the virus.