London, III.

“Hello? Yes, uh, I’m a student from your tour group.”

I frown, thinking. Stupid body and its unquenchable thirst for water… I walk into a nearby shop. It’s one of the small ones against the outer wall of one of the circular rooms in the tube. Nobody’s inside but the clerk, and it still feels crowded. Sometimes I feel like an American.

“Sorry, but have you got change for a ten-pound note?”

I frown and half-turn, the merchandise catching my eye.

“Do you have change if I buy something?”

I glance at the rack and grab something edible. He gives me a handful of change and mutters something about being sorry. I don’t catch it because I’m striding out. I glance at the tube exits and pick the one that seems most familiar. I end up in Piccadilly Circus, which was quite familiar because I was fortunately there last night. I look around for the nearest bright red phone box. I would use a Tardis-colored booth but they don’t seem to exist in London- all the boxes are red. (This fact is the saddest thing my mom will learn from this trip.) Near a statue of three rearing horses with water eternally spitting out of their mouths I find two phone booths back to back.

I enter, read the instructions, and proceed to waste the next twenty minutes dialing and redialing. See, I copied down our guide’s phone number (unlike everyone else bar two) when she announced it to the group, but she gave us fourteen digits. In the US, phone numbers have at most ten. So (after figuring out how to operate the dang thing) I try the full number. No luck. I take the first number off. No luck. I take the next number, and then the next, until I get to six digits which can’t possibly hold all the numbers of just people in London. I eventually call the operator and ask what I’m doing wrong, I’m using a London phone box, I’m not from here, I’m a bloody stupid foreigner, god help me, or rather you, please, and she informs me that I need to put a zero before the fifth digit. Okay, fair enough. I figured it’d be something like that.

*dial, click*
“Hello? Yes, I’m a student from your tour group.”
“Yeah, when you stopped in the tube to get tickets for the play, I wandered off to find somewhere to fill my water bottle. I came back and you were gone. Yeah- and hey, that was really my fault. Sure, I’ll wait for you here. See ya.”

London, II

I should really type this up and post it before having a good night’s sleep. Otherwise, it might retain some sense of normalcy which doesn’t quite grasp my feelings throughout the day. Oh, it was a fine day, but all this happens after the nasty jetlag with three-ish hours of sleep, so I wasn’t feeling terribly normal today.

I forgot to mention it was sunny all day. I hear that’s quite unusual.

I’ve never been to Mardi Gras. My grandparents have, though. I’ve seen the pictures and I’ve heard the tales. I don’t think I’m old enough to go. In fact, I think they might have been too old to go. Regardless, I hear Mardi Gras involves copious amounts of alcohol, probably lots of drugs, and skimpily-dressed girls. If you subtract the- well, the drugs are probably still part of it. Come to think of it, there was no lack of girls wearing short skirts, revealing blouses, or tight dresses either. Really, both are festering drunken orgies of debauchery.

I am talking about St. Patrick’s Day, of course.

Well, maybe the ‘of course’ has no place whatsoever in that sentence, if you’re from East Tennessee like me and are nearly 18 like me. I had no idea St. Patrick’s was such an alcoholic holiday. I know the stereotypes about the Irish and their drink, but apparently that applies to all of London this holiday.

Their is some beautiful architecture here. It reminds me of D.C.

I was hoping to type up some more, but I’m much too tired for that.

London, I

These drivers are terrible. Everyone drives on the wrong side of the road here. It is cool how everyone has a British accent, though.

Okay, the intentional American insensitivity is out of the way. Let’s move onto any unintentional insensitivity. Note that this is lightly edited and was written with nasty jetlag on three-ish nonconsecutive hours of sleep during an abnormally long drive to the hotel on the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day. What this means is that it’s probably safe to ignore any insanity herein. Also I was feeling mildly neurotic because our hours’ drive took three hours and I was hot, hungry, and dehydrated. But so far, it’s been great.
Note that this is not intended to be chronological, but merely a way to help me remember the drive and prevent insanity from nesting itself further .

The Americans’ tour continued. Our bus swerved through the tight streets of London- they certainly seemed tight compared to the fat United States interstate, anyway- showing ever more of the city. I couldn’t help but compare it to the other cities I’d been in. I’d walked the streets of Knoxville, Chattanooga, Baltimore, and D.C., so while no expert on the urban, I wasn’t a country hick. Our journey began (disregarding the airport) in what I would call suburbs. They reminded me of Columbia Heights in D.C.- a row of residential houses all physically connected with their own little garden and doorway in front, rarely with a driveway to be found. Instead, the streets were lined with cars shoved against the edge of the sidewalk. Few walked here, as there were hardly any shops, and what were tended to have shutters shut. The description of the shops may sound sketchy, and think of criminals, but it didn’t seem quite like that to my highly trained eye. It just didn’t seem like a good place to open a shop.

London is so much more friendly to bikers than anywhere I’ve been. D.C. had bike lanes, but they were quite new and the drivers seemed to have taken the lanes as a personal insult to their dominance of the roads. Nevertheless, it was against the law to hit bikers.* Knoxvillian drivers treat bikers like the person talking loudly on the bus- they glare at them and aren’t afraid of a passive-aggressive shoulder bump to show who’s boss.

Seriously, the swerving of this bus is terrifying. It’s not the swerving really; if we were swerving in an empty parking lot I wouldn’t give it a second thought other than to wonder about our presence and purpose there, but it’s the nearly hitting everything that worries me. Traffic lights, cars, pedestrians- it’s as if our bus driver thinks he’s driving the Knight bus and all obstacles will step aside with nary a thought. The lanes are definitely smaller here.

*It also ‘is’ against the law to hit bikers. With car or fist, although it’s interesting to compare the pros and cons: one is much easier to get away with and less likely to get charges pressed, but the other gives you a much speedier getaway, especially considering the first involves you on foot and an angry person on a bike.