Sunday, March 15, 2009

London Heathrow Terminal 5 (Mar 7, 2009)

Ok…I am back again in London, but unlike the last time around in December where I tried to cover the city in 6 hours, this is a longer and hopefully relaxed trip.

The flight was uneventful, and although we left 30 minutes late, we reached Heathrow 10 minutes early, because of some good tail wind. Getting in was easy too, the immigration dude just asked me two questions and I did not have to show any extra documentation. The moment I reached baggage claim I found my bag.

Now the three most important things to do once you are out, at least for me:

Get some pounds: I had called up my bank before I left for the UK to inform them that I would be transacting in the UK. This is because most of the banks block your transactions as they may be fraudulent. So before leaving make sure that your bank is notified.

I inserted my card in and entered my PIN. Again, a word of caution – Most European and Indian banks take 4 digit PINs. My BoA card has five. So I changed it to four to fit the accepted norm. The conversion rate was pretty decent – 300 USD for 200 GBP. I got the money and step 1 was done.

Buy a sim card. The ATM machine is right next to arrivals, while the Vodafone showroom is on the departures floor. If you have an unlocked cell, it is very easy. The sim costs 5GBP, and to my luck that day they started a scheme of giving 5GBP top up free. Even if this scheme was not there you should be able to make calls easily in the UK by spending 10 GBP.

The last step was to head to the coach station where my cousin Anu had booked tickets. The National Express stop is right outside the arrivals in Terminal 5 from gate 12 to 16. A simple matter of getting there and boarding the coach. This cost her around 40GBP and my destination was Cardiff.

To get into London (I did this the previous time) there are 3 ways to travel from Heathrow. The Heathrow Express takes 15 minutes from Heathrow to Paddington, from where you can easily catch the tube. This is expensive and I suppose it costs around 25-30GBP roundtrip. Next is the Heathrow Connect which runs on the same track as the Express except that it has many more stops. But this is the best deal as it costs only 13-15GBP roundtrip and takes 25 minutes. This is not so well known, but it is a good way to travel and my pick.

The last option is the tube from Heathrow. It is pretty cheap, 5GBP one way I suppose, but the issue is that this could get delayed easily. It takes 40 minutes to proper London. So if you don’t mind the time taken and want to explore the tube system this is ideal.

That’s it for now. It will take me around 3 and half hours to reach Cardiff – time to get some shut eye.

Epilogue – I know there are a lot of Indians here, but seriously, there are a LOT.

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