Day 1 – I Get Wet (a travel diary unlikely to be updated consistently)August 26, 2012
Today’s short story:
Woken up by angry fire alarm.
Exhausted early by the fact that my hotel has no elevator.
Took double-decker bus tour – hopefully most touristy thing I’ll do.
Watched horses do royal things.
Found bar near hotel and got drunk with lovely family from Leeds.
And now, the rest of the story
Woke up this morning, nearly this afternoon, to the very blaring sounds of a fire alarm. I stood in my room for a whole minute, trying to get my bearings, listening to this alarm and never once thinking “wow, I’m glad this hotel is built to code and I won’t die to death in hot, fiery flames.”
Instead I was annoyed that it was so loud.
When was the last time a fire alarm meant a fire?
I can hear other lazy people who haven’t managed to leave their hotel by 11 a.m. opening their doors and wondering in a variety of languages if they really have to get out. And if so, if they really are forbidden from taking the lift. I can get by in French and Dutch, none of what I’m hearing is in those languages, but it doesn’t matter. Some things really are so universal that you don’t need words.
This alarm, like every other alarm, does not mean that there’s a fire.
My hotel room is odd. The reviews castigated it for being far too small. I don’t think it’s too small, I just think it’s odd. It’s definitely not big, but for a single traveler and a place that’s not a resort, I think it’s fine.
The lights don’t come on in the room until you put the key card into a slot on the wall illuminated by a tiny red light. It took me a few minutes too many to figure this out last night.
True enough, there’s not enough room between the sink and the tub, you have to turn sideways to get out. But that only comes into play a couple of times a day, so it’s not really a big deal.
The fact that there is no shower curtain is a bigger concern. Not because of the time spent in the shower, but rather because after the shower, the floor doesn’t dry instantly. As I wander back and forth and back and forth to brush teeth and hair, wash my hands again, wee one more time, etc., my feet remain wet and I’m too worried about upsetting the staff to wear shoes and make footprints in here.
I walk to the Tube. It’s less than five minutes away. My hotel is just off the Earl’s Court stop. Apparently, there’s a football stadium nearby. My hotel is also in the middle of a rather ethnic neighborhood. While I appreciate the smells—lots of spice and lightness—I I haven’t run into too many pasty British faces or bouncy little accents. Am vaguely disappointed by this.
I’m overly proud of the fact that I choose the right train immediately. In New York once, I tried to get to Manhattan from Brooklyn. Ended up in Brighton Beach instead. This time, I go right to Piccadilly Circus. Later I will learn that a piccadilly is a fancy, fluffy necktie. I had no idea.
I don’t know why I choose Piccadilly Circus. It sounded familiar and like there might be a lot going on around there. There is. The main statue thing looks exactly like it does on TV and in movies and I don’t know why that surprises me. It also makes me feel bored for a moment. Thanks to a bunch of shows and films, I feel like I’ve been here before and the point of travel is to go where you haven’t and to see what you’ve never. So I start walking.
A few blocks later and I find a double-decker bus tour. It’s the one super touristy thing I plan on allowing myself to do. I stand in line for one, but am stalled by a group of old, fat Midwesterners who want to go to Madame Tussaud’s later. I wait for them to finish paying for like 15 minutes and give up. There’s another double-decker guy right behind them and he has no line.
On the bus, I feel like an adult because I am interested in the history. Nelson had one arm and when he died at sea, his body preserved in rum that sailors drank while his corpse was soaking in it. Tapping the admiral they call it. How shitty must it be on boats? The Thames stopped flowing once because there was too much poop in it. There’s a statue dedicated to the animals forced into the War Effort. Once upon a time, brides could wear whatever color they wanted and a white dress has nothing to do with purity. Queen Victoria just wore white so she could incorporate a piece of family lace. Now we’re all suck with it. “One for the road” originated in the public hanging days—during which more than 60,000 people were hanged to death. Men on their way to the gallows were paraded by pubs where the owners would give them beers. If the guys got lucky, they were too pissed to know what was happening by the time it happened.
I also realize I get real hard for Neo-Gothic architecture. I could stare at Parliament all day.
For realsies: I want this thing inside of me.
To say it started raining would be an understatment…I think. I live in Los Angeles where it never rains. So thought I was soaked to the bone, it was rather nice to feel it. I get to so seldomly.
Eventually, we all scurry off the top of the bus and hole up underneath. Between the rain, the advertisements painted on the windows and the breathy windows, we can’t see anything anymore. That doesn’t stop our tour guide, however, from continuing with his spiel. Which he must know better than he ever hoped to.
Behind me, some American woman asks if he’ll tell her where to get off to see Churchill’s underground rooms. He tells her it’s the next stop. She asks if he’ll remind her. He repeats himself. Good on you, tour guide.
I then realize what a difference one word can make. I have absolutely no interest in watching the Changing of the Guard. However, when our tour driver told us we would be passing the Changing of the Horse Guard I couldn’t have gotten off the bus fast enough.
I leave the bus a stop away from the Changing of the Horse Guard. I don’t have a camera or a phone that’s worth a damn, so I video it and almost get trampled. They don’t have ropes up that clear the way or send a friendly Brit on ahead to make a path, they just run out of the stables, and God help you if you’re in the way.
I stand there and watch not just the horses but the people running up to take pictures next to the horses. There’s a steady stream. One after another after another after another. Some smile big, some barely smile at all. Some touch the horse, some stand closer to the sign that says “warning, horse may bite or kick.” I feel sorry for the horses and their mounts. I’d hate to have that many strangers touching my tools of work while I was doing my job. Especially if my job was rooted in tradition and prestige and had now been turned into a tourist attraction. I wonder how I’d feel if production staff suddenly became trendy. What it would be like to have people running up to my cubicle one after another after another to have their picture taken. I’d train my keyboard to bite on command just to keep things moving along.
After the horses, I decide to look for a jacket and dry ground. I’m soaked through now. My jeans weigh a couple of pounds more than they did before and my knitted sweater is useless. I also want to photograph the rain, so it’s a bit of a catch-22 which I remind myself to read again. I hole up in a souvenir store with a bunch of other Americans and look for a rain jacket. They don’t have any.
They do have, however, a Nigerian guy minding the door who tells me that if I come back, he’ll take me to some great places. I don’t actually know that he’s Nigerian, but I assume he is I’m apparently racist and he is extraordinarily assertive.
I get on the train and back to my odd hotel, which has not burned to the ground. I spend an hour drying off and talking to Lovely. I can’t decide if I wish he were here or if I’m glad that he’s not so I’m forced to be a big girl. I miss him. But I also miss myself and that’s what this trip is about—finding a bit of me again. (That’s what writers do every now and again, isn’t it?) I could have taken a week off of work and working on finding myself in Los Angeles; but I doubt it would be as effective.
Back home, I would have been in all the old habits, all the old haunts. I would have discovered nothing. Here, I’m forced to discover at least something. I don’t know anyone, I speak the language, but I’m not part of the culture. I have no responsibilities except to myself which is nice. I can’t be concerned about my cats or my artists at work or my friends. Admittedly, the first night of this felt strange. Even this morning was odd to realize that all I had on the agenda was to make myself happy. I’m getting used to it, though.
After Lovely and I log off, I take a shower and ruin the floor again, squeeze past the sink a few times and climb back down the stairs to head to this pub I saw my first night in. Couldn’t go to it then because things close down at midnight. This is maybe the worst thing about London. Midnight is too late to start an evening, surely, but it’s the perfect time to be in the middle of something. Why would a city so full of theater be so down on Act II?
A woman walks in who has just been to visit Jimmy Choo. They look American. Why would you waste time buying the same expensive shoes over here that you can back at home?
She nags her boyfriend and I hear that they are American. I’ve never been so aware of my accent before. In other countries, I don’t speak much, so I never have to deal with my accent directly. I also hear less English, so frankly, all voices collect into one vague din of noise that after a while disappears from my ears all together.
Here, I can talk to anyone and when I do, I sound aggressive and entitled.
There’s something vaguely 1990s about the style here. I kind of like it and wonder if I would be prettier if I lived in the UK. I can totally rock some side bangs.
It’s the first time I’ve been drunk overseas without someone to blame but myself. If I play my cards right, tomorrow will be the second time.
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