Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lost in London Again

London is a place where the present is constantly being overlaid on the past without straightening some of the strange bends.  A cart path that zig zagged it's way up the side of a rise is now a main throughfare to Notting Hill.  They'll push a motorway through the center of town but won't lay out access routes and as a result, you wind up on an ersatz bobsled run just to get on the M-25.

If you're on foot, you're even worse off.  Streets abruptly start, end and then re-start.  Palaces and government facilities all start to look alike and unless you take a constant bearing on the Gherkin as a reference point, you're going to get lost.

A companion and I went to London for a friend's wedding outside of the city some time ago.  After all the ceremonies, accosts by drunken Englishmen and lies that back home I was really a hit man for the New Jersey mob were done, we moved to a hotel in the city. 

The first evening in, we set out for a short walk in search of dinner.  We found a delightful Thai place just past a crescent somewhere in Chelsea.  As we had our first glass of an outstanding white wine, it began to rain.  A perfect moment.  We went back to London two years later and despite being in a new hotel in an adjoining neighborhood, we managed to find the telltale crescent and find the restaurant still in the same place, still with the best Thai food we ever had.

That kind of luck didn't hold a few years later when I was there on my own.  Having wrapped up some business meetings and having some challenges waiting for me at home, I took a walk on the eve of my homebound flight to sort my thoughts out and get some dinner.  I came across a promising sandwich shop just off Baker Street, or what I thought was Baker Street.  I placed my order and the woman behind the counter asked "Take away or staying?" 

Take away.

"Figures, we never seem to hold onto the good ones."

It wasn't Baker Street either.  It was some main road that I had wandered away from into a maze of streets that I hadn't noted the name of and now they all looked alike.  Add to that a knee injury and you have a clueless Yank holding a sandwich bag, limping back and forth across neighborhoods that sure as heck look familiar, but no.   Finally looked at a map on a bus shelter with the earnest expression of "the Tottenham local must stop here" so as not to attract undue attention.  Once I found a main road, I traced it back to where the shelter was, took a bearing and headed back to the hotel.  Hobbled, actually.

London's weather has given me a few moments to remember as well.  I have been there on both the coldest and hottest day of the respective year.  On the former, the idea of an open topped double decker bus tour of the city turned into something worth re-considering once icicles began to form on the handrails.  On the hottest day, that would be the day I had to haul luggage up King's road, I realized that the Brits are as hopelessly unprepared for hot weather as we might be for the metric system, say.  Air conditioning does not exist so by the time I got up to the third floor (by stairs) I needed some sort of quick cool down.  A shower, perhaps.  It was a small but functional bath with the shower head mounted on a pole that you could adjust the height of the water stream on.  Or you could just turn the thing on and watch the shower spin around the pole like a lawn sprinkler set up for the kids in the backyard.

Cooled down, I flopped on the bed to watch a German broadcast game show called "Quizfire" in which contestants sat in large, recliner sized chairs answering questions.  Right answers moved on to the next round.  Wrong answers, the entire chair dropped down into the basement of the set through a trap door.

"At least we're in England where they'd apologize politely first.  I'd hate to be there."

Next:  Germany

Monday, September 22, 2014

Honestly, Mr. Bryson

I'm reading Notes From a Small Island, Bill Bryson's travelogue of wandering through Britain before re-patriating to the United States and finding it very enjoyable.  I'm familiar with a lot of his locales and tend to do as he does, wander semi-pointlessly while collecting observations along the way.

It got me to thinking, always a dangerous position, that I could regale you (both of you) with a few of my journeys of the past few years.  This is the same dangerous thinking that hit me when I found out my friend, the magazine man, had started this new thing called a "blog" that I thought I could do just as well.  I can't match Bryson and I'll never catch MM but the challenge is there, nonetheless.  I'm hoping that a few anecdotes about pulling off of a London road just off of Tower Bridge to warm myself with a pint, of getting back to an "A" road in Scotland after negotiating a soaked fauna canopy on a drizzly September day to try and score a lukewarm bath in the incredibly stingy hotel we had booked, to a northern Italian meat dinner by a two thousand year old forum, might pique the interest of whomever still reads this thing.

So in the next few weeks, look for England, Scotland, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona and whatever else I can dredge up to populate this site.  I like to travel, I like to watch people and collect their stories and I like to prime myself to get back to my third unpublished book.

As with all things, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing about it.

Bunny on.

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