Monday, December 21, 2009

Frozen London

My husband paced nervously in and out of herds of angry people.

I sat on my suitcase and noticed that my dirty, hot pink underwear had been poking out the side of the suitcase for the entire Tube ride. Oh well. I read the sign again:

All trains to Paris cancelled

I should have known this trip would be a disaster when my husband peed his pants in Seattle before we even took off. But I was naïve enough to hope otherwise. After all, our first two days in London were perfect. Perfect if we forgot about the frisky squirrel that jumped into Sean’s pants at the Kensington Gardens or the 10 hour nap we took after arriving that left us wandering around London at 3 a.m. in desperate pursuit of sustenance.

I closed my eyes and imagined the 5-star hotel in Germany that we were supposed to stay at tonight. I imagined the fluffy bed covers, the scrumptious food, and the impeccable view of Neuschwanstein Castle. Bitterness washed over me as I realized that some lucky bastard would fall asleep clutching my soft covers after eating my delicious food and looking at my breathtaking castle.

“Sean,” I sighed. “We’re not going to fall asleep in Germany tonight.”

My husband was speechless and pale. His first trip across the pond and abroad was not going according to plan. And there was a plan: two days in London, four in Germany, five in Venice, five in Florence, five in Rome and five in Paris.

“It’ll be alright,” I said, grabbing his hand. “I mean, what else could go wrong?”

I should have known better than to utter those words.

Two hours later, we were back at the Wellington Court Hotel also known as The Dump. The bedrooms were closets with beds and sinks and garbage cans. White paint chipped from the wall and stains of mysterious origins littered our floor. Our room emitted a strong odor of sweat socks. The showers were down the hall, rusty, and desperately lacking consistently hot water. And to add insult to injury, we paid 70 Pounds a night.

The Austrian bellhop watched us contemptuously as we lugged our suitcases up the icy steps. Perhaps we should have listened to him when he said it was useless to try and get on our train bound for France. Instead, we defiantly ignored him, walked to Victoria Station in the freezing cold lugging our heavy suitcases behind us, paid 7 Pounds to get to Charing Cross Station only to read that sign.

All trains to Paris cancelled

The Dump provided us with a different room for the night next to Australian backpackers. I learned on my first trip to Europe that rooming beside Australian backpackers meant no sleep, the scent of toxic drugs, and outbursts of screaming from passionate sex or masturbation.

“So…” I said, opening the window to allow in fresh air.

“So…” Sean groaned, lying down on the lumpy bed.

“Here’s what we’re going to do: hang here for another night, go to Charing Cross Station first thing in the morning to see if we can get on a train. That way, we can at least spend one night in Germany. If the trains are still down, we’ll catch a bus and ferry to Paris.”

Sean sighed.

“Come on!” I said. “Stop moping and let’s go. We’re young, we’re alive, and we’re in London!”

“I simply cannot contain my excitement,” he said dryly.

“For crying out loud grandpa: get your coat on and let’s go have some fun!”

The sky was already black by the time we left The Dump and Jack Frost nipped savagely at our extremities.

“So explain to me what you were thinking when you decided to bring us to England in the dead of winter?” Sean asked, his teeth chattering and his neck disappearing into his jacket collar like a turtle.

“Come on,” I said. “It’s romantic, and scenic and less crowded during the winter.”

“Romantic? Did you really say romantic? Sure, you’re right. I think it’s really romantic when I try and get it on with my wife and I can hear the two guys next door farting. Nothing says romance like gas.”

I rolled my eyes.

“If you want to be miserable, that’s just fine. But I refuse. We’re in London and I plan on enjoying every second of it.”

We walked in silence all the way to Big Ben. It was illuminated in the night sky and we arrived just in time to hear it ring.

“Okay,” Sean admitted. “I guess that’s pretty cool.”

“You got that right…”

Two days later and fresh out of luck, we found ourselves standing beneath Big Ben once more.

“Is it still cool?” I asked, wrapping my scarf tighter around my neck as flakes fell from the sky.

“It lost its coolness factor yesterday,” Sean said. “Been there, done that.”

We had found a nice rhythm to our days: pay 3 Pounds to check the Internet, hyperventilate when we saw the trains were still out of service and the ferries were not running, pass out when we researched the cost of airfare to Venice, and then regain consciousness, lug our bodies heavy with sorrow upstairs, put on three layers of clothing and head to Subway desperate to save money. We frequented the sandwich joint so often that Robert, the pimply kid who worked there, knew our names and sandwiches.

We also made tri-daily stop at Starbucks for two Double Shot Grande Peppermint Mochas. The coffee warmed our souls as we walked aimlessly, legs frozen, all over London. We tried to remain positive about our predicament but found it hard when we realized that we could have been hunkered down in front of a crackling fire after a day of snowshoeing in Germany.

We drown our negativity the good old American way: through a massive sugar rush. We spotted just the place to self medicate on the bank of the Thames: the German Cologne Christmas Market. There, in the middle of the market, stood a candy stand. We filled our clear plastic bags with hot tamales, sour balls, licorice, and other goodies.

“Hey, after this we should go ice skating,” Sean said, handing our bags to Gary, the clerk. “I saw a rink at the Tower of London yesterday.”

“Alright, that sounds like fun.”

“That will be 20 Pounds,” Gary interrupted, handing the bags to Sean.

“What?” I gasped.

“That-will-be-20-Pounds,” Gary repeated, annunciating each word like I was special and frequently ate paste. I may have looked special because I was mesmerized by his teeth. They were crooked and yellow from eating too much candy.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said.

“The prices are listed right there,” he said, pointing to tiny writing next to the register.

“Well, Gary, if you expect me to pay 20 Pounds for this bag of candy you had better make me believe it’s magical. Oh, I know, will eating it give me the ability to fly? Or will it make me invisible? Will it give me super strength? How about-”

“Honey, you’re making a scene,” Sean said, handing Bad Teeth Gary 20 Pounds.

“What’re you doing? Don’t give that to him. He can take his candy back… I don’t want it anymore!”

“Let’s go,” Sean said, steering me away from Gary and his magical candy stand.

“You do realize you just forked over $40.00, right? For candy? Not even good candy. There wasn’t even any chocolate.”

“What were you going to do? Hit the guy over the head with hot talames?”

“Well if I did he would have deserved it! He’s a scam artist!”

“Okay, okay. Sheesh… calm down. We’ll go ice skating and you can knock some unsuspecting little kid over and pretend he’s Gary. How does that sound?”

“Fine,” I relented. “Maybe two kids, though.”

“Three even, if you want.”

“You know, I remember Londoners being much nicer the last time I came here,” I said, taking Sean’s hand as we strolled down the river side.

“Everything changes,” Sean said, offering me the candy bag. “Hot Tamale for the lady?”

“Sure,” I said, plopping red hot in my mouth wondering when our island fever would end.


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