Sunday, September 2, 2012

The First Days of the Rest of My Life

    So I've been gearing up for this transition for a while, as many of you know. By "gearing up", you know, of course, that I mean, "shutting my eyes and trying to pretend it's not happening so I don't have to worry about it." This was silly and foolish but the time is gone so there it is. If there are others out there reading this who feel guilty about the mental evasive maneuvers you go through to avoid thinking about a big, scary something that's coming up, then feel stupid once it arrives and you haven't properly prepared--you are not alone.
No further explanation should be necessary.
    Right. Anyway, to both of our relief, my mother and I got all my stuff packed and stored by the time I was due to leave (by some astounding miracle), with most of my earthly possessions in boxes in the basement and the rest in three large-ish suitcases which I would use to begin my new life. My epic journey began for real with the flight to London, so on Tuesday afternoon, Mom and I made the trek to Canada and I left from the Vancouver airport. The flight was uneventful, except for two major problems: 1) there was some fairly stomach-churning turbulence near the beginning of the flight that left me feeling ill, and I have never been airsick in my life, and 2) although they were showing "Avengers" on other routes, including the back-to-the-Americas route, the to-the-UK route had mostly crappy movies and no Hawkeye. This was only partly remedied by them having M:I4 and therefore some small measure of consolation.
    At Heathrow, I coasted through customs after a nice chat with a border agent who advised me to take National Express coaches to Edinburgh instead of the train (apparently it's cheaper) and picked up my three bags from the baggage claim: a 25 lb backpack, a 50 lb wheelie-bag, and a 70-lb monster wheelie-bag. I mention this because it suddenly gets important in the next half of this sentence: halfway through the endless tunnels connecting the arrivals hall to the Tube station, one of the wheels on the 50-lb back just broke right off. The metal pin that should have been holding it in place was so hot from the friction that it burned my fingers when I tried to mess with it. Instead, I ended up carrying the broken bag and wheeling the other, so by the time I made it on the Tube, I was pretty exhausted already.
    I made it off the train at King's Cross and up the first escalator okay, but by the time I'd staggered to the second, I was running out of strength and starting to seriously wonder how I was going to make it out of the station and several blocks away to my hostel. As I stood there regarding the escalator like an invader trying to scale the Great Wall of China, a man and a woman on their way down to the train stopped to ask me if I needed help. They each took a bag and took everything up the escalator to find me some assistance. Upon asking a station employee, though, we were told that the station staff couldn't help me with my bags, at which point both of them decided to help me take everything to my hostel several blocks away, despite my protests. This wonderful pair walked with me all the way there--the man even carried my 50-lb bag in his arms all the way--and then, with a handshake and a hug, disappeared back to the Tube. The random kindness of strangers simply bowled me over; they really saved me and I wish I could've given them more than effusive thanks.
    I got settled into my room and wandered to the Tesco's across the street for a lunch/dinner to placate my seriously confused stomach, as it was then about 4:30 pm local time and about 8:30 am PST. I headed down to the very nearby British Library and looked at the books a bit, munched on my sandwich, and made some semblance of a plan for the following day. The jet lag was getting to me, though, so I made my slow way back to the hostel and went to bed.

August 30th
    I started out at the Globe in the hopes of getting a ticket for "The Taming of the Shrew," but those hopes were dashed by the information that all tickets are sold out until Tuesday. Now aimless, I meandered down the South Bank toward Westminster, and at an Olympics info booth, was advised to visit the Royal Festival Hall. I didn't find much inside, but around back the open square was filled with tents from which wafted the most delicious smells: a Real Food market, full of delightful delicacies and just in time for lunch. I walked around a couple times, trying to decide what I wanted, but I got completely sidetracked talking to a young bloke manning a booth full of preserves and cheeses. It started out by me asking what, exactly, a chutney is, than cajoling him into telling me about the different cheeses, and then him convincing me to try their cider (which was lovely when cut with a generous splash of apple juice), then somehow discussing world overpopulation and the nature of humanity and whether ice cream has salt in. I must've stood there for an hour, just laughing and chatting away, until finally hunger compelled me to go buy a sandwich, which turned out to be one of the best food-related life choices I've ever made (slow-roasted herbed pork, applesauce, and just a bit of lettuce...absolutely heavenly). I dropped by the preserves booth to say goodbye to my new friend and his aunt and strolled off across the Golden Jubilee bridge toward Covent Garden. On the way I stopped by Somerset House, which was hosting an exhibition about Brazil to promote the 2016 Games in Rio. I think I need to start working on my Portuguese asap...
The only proper way to watch the Olympics
    It had been raining in fits all day, and in Covent Garden it started to drizzle again. I took a peek in some stores but didn't stay long--it was all a bit too artsy and expensive for me. Once the rain let up, I headed out again towards Trafalgar Square. There was a Jumbotron set up right in front of the Column showing the Paralympics, so I joined the crowd on the steps leading up to the National Gallery and cheered along with the crowd when Storey won her gold in cycling. It was a very different experience to sit there in crowd who were clapping and cheering as the race happened, rather than watching on my computer hours later. The sun even managed to come out for a bit, but once seven o'clock rolled around and it started to get cold, I was on my way again.
Big Ben watches the sunset
    I made my way down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament, to which I am undeniably drawn every time I come to London. I must have a hundred pictures of Big Ben, yet the tower remains so gloriously photogenic, especially gleaming gold in the afternoon sunlight, that I just couldn't resist. I wandered past Parliament, also golden and impressive, and through the park to the bridge on the other end. Crossing the Thames for the third time that day, I found myself in Lambeth outside the Archbishop of Canterbury's residence--who knew? An educational stroll through the park on the grounds (a plaque set in the sidewalk informed me that in 1802, a hermit named Matthews the Hairyman lived nearby) brought me back to Westminster Bridge as the sun was setting, which of course meant more pictures of Big Ben.
An eye and the Eye--get it?
    My plan was to walk back up to Hungerford where I'd crossed before and take the Northern line from Embankment back to the hostel, and that led me past the Eye. When I stopped to take a picture of one of the frankly bizarre and disturbing one-eyed Olympic mascots, I fell into conversation with a large man with a Spanish accent who was waiting for another man taking pictures. These two, Ale (that's two syllables: ah-ley) and Rodrigo, were on a grand tour from their home in Argentina and were beginning their stay in London after visiting Italy and France. I hung out with them as they waited in line for tickets to the Eye (not wanting to spend £20 for a Ferris wheel ride) and said farewell when they joined the line to embark. Not thirty seconds later, I heard my name: they wanted me to wait for them to get off the Eye so we could go to dinner together. I assented, having no better plans, and wandered back towards the ticket booth to find a cafe to wait. Then I heard my name yet again: Ale was looking for me.
Westminster Bridge from the Eye
    "You come with us," he informed me, slipping his arm through mine and pulling me into the ticket office. "We buy you ticket."
    I tried to pay for it myself, but I didn't really have much choice in the matter. We got through the line quickly and rejoined Rodrigo where he was waiting for us near the Eye, grinning good-naturedly. Almost right away, we were stepping into one of the Eye's glass pods and rising ponderously above the city as the evening lights came on. I'd never been on the Eye before--it's one of the few major London attractions I haven't experienced, as it has been on my list of Tourist Boondoggles that also includes Madame Tussaud's and the London Dungeon--but it was genuinely a treat. The sky was still light in the west, and the whole city was spread out at our feet, cut in half by a river rendered glitteringly beautiful by the night lights. Rodrigo felt a little dizzy and sat on the bench while Ale and I took pictures like mad.
    Back on solid ground, we decided on pizza for dinner and strolled back to Piccadilly Circus via Trafalgar Square. We opted for Pizza Hut and chatted about traveling and makeup (Ale does, like, everything, from drawing and photography to hair and makeup), then at Piccadilly Circus we split up to go home. These two were absolutely delightful and utterly hilarious.

"Why are they wearing hairy hats, mummy?"
--an adorable child in the crowd
August 31st
    I began a little late, so I decided mostly at random to pop by Buckingham Palace to see if the Changing of the Guard was on, and what do you know, it was. I was there for a long time, holding my spot on the side of the fence, but had a great view of the red-coated men in furry hats marching about in the hot sun. They played for us a wonderful piece of classical music and then I wandered off towards Trafalgar Square--although I got redirected by a confused sign and ended up at Piccadilly Circus instead. What the heck, I thought, and started toward the British Library via Shaftesbury Avenue. Halfway there, I came across what can only be described as nerd utopia: a giant two-storey store packed to the gills with everything that makes a nerd's heart skip a beat, with a preoccupation with Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, and superheroes. The entire ground floor was merch of various sorts--mugs, clothing, posters, games, and mountains of statuettes and action figures--and the basement was a nerd-only bookstore. I was in heaven.
    Unfortunately, they weren't selling any of the Bourne Legacy posters they had in the window, so they directed me to HMV to look there. At Oxford Street, I went the wrong way and came upon a free art installation by a guy named Mr Brainwash. I got some trippy art experiences and two free posters out of it, so I was happy. Going the other way down Oxford Street, I finally found the HMV, and although I had no luck with Legacy, I did get another Avengers poster.
Pictured: squeeee.
    After a pasty lunch, I finally arrived at the British Museum. There was really only one thing I wanted to see, so I headed right there. The Rosetta Stone is famous around the world, of course, but I have an emotional attachment to it because I feel like it's part of my culture as a linguist. Historical linguists don't get a break like that very often--the Egyptian language, lost for hundreds of years, was opened to them through that stone, which couldn't have been more beautifully arranged for them if it had been mana from the heavens. The museum's description says something like "the value of the stone was recognized immediately." Can you imagine being those French soldiers, who saw that thing and said (in French of course), "Holy merde, you guys, that thing is going to change the world!"? What a fantastic moment!
    Anyway, I meandered around the Elgin marbles and then headed home because it was cloudy and grey and I was tired. I took a nap and then stayed up too late and it was boring. Let's move on.

September 1st
     Remarkably, the day began with a genuine plan: I was going to the street market on Portobello Road. Unlike last time, when I got ridiculously lost, I had no trouble finding it (maybe the intervening years have made me smarter...I can only hope) and strolled up the streets admiring watching, clothing, and antiques of every type and description. There were only two things I wanted: a new watch pendant and some food. I walked the entire length of the market, bought my watch, and had some delicious paella for lunch. I also found an Oxfam Books, which is like my favorite store ever, and got Tom Reynolds' first book. Altogether a very successful outing.
    I then turned my steps to the Natural History Museum and spent several hours looking at dinosaurs and dead animals of various descriptions, which was all interesting and a nice way to spend an afternoon, especially when I wasn't really sure what else to do. I especially liked the different rocks and minerals in the geology section and the blue whale skeleton, but then the museum closed and two things called my name: dinner and the Doctor.
    Dinner secured from Tesco's, I had to wait a bit to watch the Doctor (another hosteller was watching "The Mask of Zorro" and didn't want to watch DW, can you imagine!) but I finally got a hold of it from the iPlayer. God bless the iPlayer, by the way, although I'd like it even more if it worked outside the UK. Of course the season premiere was brilliant (my first impression is always positive, so I'll have to watch it again and decide if it actually makes sense). I just played on my computer after that until I went to bed far too late.

    That brings us to today, but this post is long enough and the next one's looking to be philosophical (brace yourselves), so...stay tuned!

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