Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Dan's Trip to London, Part Two. Or: I'm boring myself, too.

Friends, it is SNOWING here. Hard. This is a picture of my front yard from this morning:

...and it has continued to snow all day. The internet was not working most of the day, due to snow on the satellite (I would like to know who went up to the roof to get it off; this person deserves an extra coffee!), so I am glad that I am able to share PART TWO with you at all, in between repeated short bouts of hypothermia. By now you may already be wearying of my London adventure; rest assured that I am not, and may in fact spring 47 new installments of Dan Goes to London on you, if I Feel Like It.

Also, a note: those of you who are spamming my comments sections: stop. Those of you who are not commenting in my comments sections: start. Unless your comments have to do with get-rich-quick websites or enhancement cream.

We felt like we had one more day of tour-based tourism in us, so the next day we took a bus full of other tourists to Stonehenge, which I can describe in one word:[17]. Also, it is literally right next to the highway. This is something you don’t see in photographs. You’re driving along, assuming that it will be a bit of a trek to Stonehenge from the actual road, and then you approach it and bam it’s just right there, like a rest stop Wendy’s. But first, we visited the Roman baths at Bath. That visit got off to a good start when our tour guide started making snide remarks at an employee, and got better when we realized that there was a building built really weirdly around the Roman ruins. Like, the signs and audio tour would tell you to imagine that there wasn’t a wall bisecting the ruins of the Roman courtyard, when really they could have just not built a wall down the middle of the ruins of the Roman courtyard. Also, there were little sprinklers everywhere – perhaps stones need to be damp to look authentic when they’re covered by walls and a roof for no reason. Also, the building that awkwardly contains the baths is in the middle of a smallish courtyard in the town of Bath. On one side of the courtyard are the baths, on one side is a very nice looking church, and on the other two sides are strip malls. You could throw a 1,500 year old stone from a Roman ruin and hit a Burger King.

Wanting something more nakedly historical, we rode from Bath to Stonehenge, where my brother and I scrambled out of the bus [18] and were immediately knocked down by a wind nearly as stiff as the famed English upper lip. So we sort of ran around the path that circles Stonehenge, taking arty pictures, and then jumped back on the bus. But it was nice nonetheless. I particularly enjoyed the audio tour, which, since nobody has any idea why Stonehenge was erected, consisted mostly of the voices saying things like, “Look how big THAT rock is! It’s huge! How could anyone have picked it up?” and discussing the various myths of Stonehenge, like that Satan stole the rocks from an old woman. This is where the term, “getting your rocks off” comes from. [19]

After one more stop on Stonehenge Day, at a 750 year old church in Sheffield, we got back to London quite tour-ed out. My mom and youngest brother wanted to go back to our hotel, but I convinced my father and my two other brothers to come out to dinner with me somewhere in the city. This was an excellent idea, except for the small fact that the restaurant I was trying to lead them to, which was discussed in our guidebook, apparently does not exist. For an hour, we circled the part of the city that was supposed to contain the particular street we were looking for, even asking a few people if they knew where this street was, and got nowhere. Eventually, about to be the cause of a family mutiny, I decided to allow the others to just pick a place, and we found a perfectly acceptable pub. While eating, drinking, and listening to my little brother complain that everyone was staring at him because he doesn’t “look 18,”[20] I realized I didn’t have my wallet. I never wear a wallet in Georgia[21], so always making sure I knew its whereabouts was not as automatic an action as it had been when I lived in America. Panicked that I’d left my wallet on the bus, I remembered that our tour guide was a crotchety old man who had yelled at a Roman Baths employee, and I became certain that this old man would steal my money. I sprinted out to a pay phone to call my mother, back at the hotel. While I was fumbling with the coins for the phone[22], my father came out of the pub with a smile on his face. My oldest brother had apparently picked my wallet up from the bus, and had been carrying it around for an hour and a half. He says he “forgot” he had it. And somehow he still thinks I owe him money for drinks.

We finished eating at this pub, and my father decided he wanted to go see Trafalgar Square, which was within walking distance. So we started walking down towards it, and someone had the idea to turn the trek into a pub hop. This was an excellent idea. We walked to Trafalgar Square, then down to Big Ben, London Bridge, and the Thames, which looks even cooler after you’ve had a couple drinks, and then walked back up to Piccadilly Circus, where we took the Tube back to our hotel. We didn’t stop at very many pubs, so my father and I weren’t affected much, but my younger brothers can’t hold their liquor. So it was an enjoyable family evening all around. I just wish someone had vomited into the Thames. Maybe next vacation.

With three more days of family togetherness time, we set off around the city to do as much as we could. For instance, we went to Harrods, the famous London department store, where I bought the aforementioned overpriced scarf, as well as a sweater and English tea for my host family. Speaking of tea, my mother wanted us to have traditional English tea that afternoon, since Harrods has a very nice dining room on its top floor. The tea was very sophisticated – we had scones and finger sandwiches and like five teapots – but I really just can’t help myself, so I spent the entire time making dirty jokes while being hushed. I did a lot of dirty-joke-making, in London. I think I just can’t help it when I’m around family. It doesn’t matter how mature the activity I am doing AWAY from my family is; when I am around my parents and brothers, I seem to revert to a role. If I win a Nobel Prize, and my family comes to celebrate with me in Sweden, I will probably start the first conversation off by mentioning a disgusting sexual act. And then my mother will shush me, and they’ll take away my medal.

Along with going to Harrods, we went ice skating, where I remembered that I am not very good at ice skating[23], and to see Spamalot on the West End, where I remembered that I had already SEEN Spamalot. Twice. We also went up on the London Eye, which is a huge thing across the Thames from Big Ben that looks like the love spawn of a ferris wheel and the Millenium Falcon. It takes you on something like a 20 minute ride, the entirety of which you spend fighting with other tourists to be in the best photo-taking spot in your “pod.” It is quite a nice view at the top. An interesting occurrence before we got our tickets: I got a Diet Coke with lunch and realized, to my delight, that the writing on the label was inexplicably in Georgian. I showed the others, but nobody shared in my delight, because they wouldn't know interesting bottling factoids if one hit them in the face. One of their bottles was also in Georgian - if anyone knows how Coca-Cola bottling works, and why they would send bottles or labels written in a language that 4 million people speak to one of the capitals of the English-speaking world, feel free to let me know. When we got our tickets for the Eye, we still had a wait, so we stopped into a Salvador Dali exhibit, and saw a bunch of statues of women with drawers sticking out of them. Apparently this symbolizes the revelation of the feminine mystique. Also, there was an elephant with giraffe legs holding up a pyramid. It must be nice to be a surrealist.[24]

On New Year’s Eve, after visiting an aviation museum near Cambridge, we came back to London for the festivities. We ate dinner at a nice Italian restaurant, and then headed to the Thames, hoping to see the fireworks that were reputedly millions of pounds in the making. Now, I’m going to preface this by saying that I never have good New Year’s Eves. I think that there are two kinds of people in the world: people who don’t have good New Year’s Eves, and people who lie. Nobody ever has a great New Year’s. This is because New Year’s is built up to be the best, most drunken, most debaucherous, most fun-filled night of the year, and when it inevitably is not, it always feels like a disappointment. New Year’s and Valentine’s Day are the two most overhyped holidays in existence. So you will not be surprised when I tell you that we did not really see the fireworks over the Thames. What happened was, we got to the closest open Tube station to the waterfront at about 11, and could do nothing but simply drift towards the river with the masses of other people doing the same thing. The spot we ended up was a fair distance from London Bridge, the Eye, and Big Ben, which was where the festivities were centered. People close to that area had been waiting for hours. Where we were, it was raining, and you could just barely see boats under London Bridge festively spewing fire into the air. We waited for about 45 minutes, getting pushed around in every direction but trying to retain our spots, until midnight struck. And: nothing. We were apparently too far away to hear Big Ben. Then the fireworks started! And they were coming from the Eye, and there were lights, and everything was awesome! For about two minutes! Because, friends, at that point, the smoke from a million British pounds’ worth of fireworks started to drift down the river. Towards us. Within minutes, it was completely impossible to even SEE the Eye. The smoke did not dissipate until the fireworks were over. And thus was New Year’s 2008 for me.

It wasn’t as bad as it would seem. I mean, if I lived in London, it probably would have sucked. But getting to be there on New Year’s was pretty cool in itself, even if the whole fireworks thing didn’t exactly work out. Probably one of my most memorable New Year’s Eves even without fireworks. I can only remember a few of the New Year’s Eves I’ve had. That’s how mediocre they tend to be. So this one was right up there. And, if you take it with the trip as a whole, which was awesome, I’d put it at #1. My #1 New Year’s ever. And it consisted of standing in the rain and not seeing fireworks.[26]

Tomorrow: PART THREE. Maybe.
[18]Not because we were itchin’ to see more stones, but because we were sitting behind a seemingly German couple who were not taking our repeated knee-based hints to put their seats back up. I will never stop railing about this practice. If you are a person who puts their seat back on airplanes or buses or whatever, just get out of this blog right now.
[19]Ok, I made that second sentence up. But the myth did apparently exist, at some point, if you’re to believe cheery audio tour recordings.
[20]He doesn’t. But you’ll get there, buddy! Keep your chin up! I only feel license to mock this because I was downright cherubic until I was about 19. My host family really enjoys looking at old photos of me and laughing. I was expecting it to be other parts of Peace Corps service that would require therapy.
[21]I almost never require more than ten lari in a day, so usually I just stuff between four and ten lari in my pocket when I wake up in the morning, and leave the rest at home. It’s easier than wearing the Peace Corps-issued travel pouch and enduring questions about why I look pregnant.
[22]British money is absolutely ridiculous, by the way. The lowest-denomination note they have is five pounds, so you have an enormous mass of coins in your pocket, and they’re all different shapes and sizes; these sizes do not correspond to their value at all. A 50p coin can be so small it’s hard to find, but you could eat dinner on a 2p coin. Also, some coins have multiple sizes. Can we check what’s in the afternoon tea at Her Majesty’s Mint? It’s just ridiculous. I feel very strongly about this.
[23]I didn’t fall, though. That was my goal. There are at least two ice rinks in Georgia – one in Batumi, and one in Tbilisi – so I wanted to practice before getting back here, so I could perhaps go with volunteer friends and not make a total fool of myself.
[24]Not to “diss” Salvador Dali, who I will admit was an artistic genius[25], but really you could find meaning in anything. I could fill a marshutka with cucumbers and power tools and claim that it symbolizes how the world is dominated by male paradigms. It would still be stupid. But you’ve stopped caring about this.
[25]Despite his surrealist film, “Un Chien Andalou,” which consists of ants crawling out of a guy’s hand and someone slicing an eyeball with a razorblade and is a total piece of crap despite what film professors say.
[26]For instance, New Year’s 2007 consisted of me and two friends at a bar in my hometown, and me being upset that I was not at another bar with a girl. I went to find the girl after midnight, since I didn’t want to leave my friends before midnight, and it turns out she wasn’t there but had been looking for me. Hooray! Happy New Year!

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