Pete's Log: Travels with Crazy Asian Chick, Part I: London

Entry #1410, (Travel)
(posted when I was 28 years old.)

I've been somewhat distracted of late, so this post is a couple weeks late. Hopefully I haven't forgotten anything fun.

As alluded to in previous posts, Sara and I decided to travel to London. The primary goal was to see Idina Menzel in Wicked, but we were confident that London would have other fun to offer. We were not disappointed.

We met at the airport Tuesday night--Halloween. Sara was dressed in a Japanese schoolgirl costume, I was in all black with the intent of further gothification. After we checked in, Sara painted my nails black, but we decided to hold off on the eyeliner and lipstick. Our flight to London was uneventful, but full of anticipation. Upon landing, we had to go through passport control. I was traveling on my Belgian passport (how cool is that?), but decided to wait in the slow-moving non-EU line with Sara. She had to fill out some form, and I dared her to put down Japanese schoolgirl as her occupation. She opted not to. But she did get a stamp in her passport. They barely even looked at mine.

We had flown into Stanstead airport, which is far enough outside the city to be outside the public transportation system. So we had to take a bus into London. The trip took about an hour, and Sara and I were both giddy about riding a bus on the wrong side of the road. We also were endlessly amused that the driver was sitting on the wrong side of the bus.

The coach from the airport dropped us off at Golders Green Station, where we had to catch one of the London Transport buses to the hostel. This was to be our first double decker experience. After getting a little lost, we finally made it to the hostel at 2 am. We were informed that nowhere nearby would be serving food at this point, but ventured out anyway. After some random wandering, we found a gas station and bought ourselves a bunch of junk food. It reminded us a little of the US, just because we saw more familiar brands than we had in a while. We took our stash back to the hostel where we feasted like kings in the kitchen.

The next morning I was awakened by Sara, who had climbed onto my bunk and started shaking me while repeating "It's Wicked Day! It's Wicked Day!" And so it was. After breakfast and showers, we headed downtown on the tube. We arrived at the Apollo Victoria Theatre and picked up our tickets, which were in the seats promised us: Row J, seats 22 and 23. We then had a while before the show, so proceeded to explore the area around the theater for a while. Finally the doors opened.

Our seats were great. Almost dead center, and ten rows from the stage. The show exceeded my expectations. The set was really cool (including a giant mechanical dragon), the show was fun, and the cast amazing. Idina (who won a Tony for this role on Broadway) gave me shivers on several occasions. The only thing that was a bit weird was that the woman playing Glinda had an English accent. Kristin Chenoweth has, I think, the perfect voice for the role, and so anything different--especially a different accent--sounded off.

After the show, we left the theater in high spirits. We wandered aimlessly at first, and I had a surprise for Sara. They sell green monkeys in Wicked shirts, and I felt compelled to buy her one. I had done so while she was in the restroom. I chose to surprise her with it as we were walking in heavy rush hour pedestrian traffic. In her excitement, Sara kinda jumped into another woman. It was funny.

We wandered off in the direction of Hyde Park, and Sara informed me that I should name her green monkey for her. I opened the little map of London I had and scanned through the street index. The name Finchley struck me as somehow appropriate. Sara approved. After some random wandering around the Hyde Park area, we ate dinner at McDonalds. Our goal was to do London on the cheap, so no fancy English food for us! At least not that night.

We then decided it would be fun to ride around on a double decker bus. This seemed like a great idea for several reasons: we could ride on the upper deck, the bus would drive on the wrong side of the road, it would be warm (London was very cold after dark), we had day passes for the transit system, and we'd get to see less touristy parts of London. So we enjoyed a nice ride on a double decker, until we realized it had pulled into a bus parking lot and was at the end of its trip. So we got off and waited for the next bus to come along. Before too long, one did, and of all places, it was headed for North Finchley! So we spent a while discussing how one might calculate the odds that the second bus we rode that night would be headed for the spot I named the monkey after.

We got off the bus in Finchley and found a pub where we drank some Stella Artois. We then found our way downtown again by means of another bus and proceeded to explore some. I caught site of the London eye over some buildings, and started heading in that general direction. We came to a pedestrian bridge over the Thames, giving me my first opportunity to pollute its waters with my saliva. We walked by the Eye, then found a bench to sit on for a while. It was a cold clear night and we were sitting across the Thames from Big Ben. Sara was in a skirt, so after a while the cold got to be a little much. So we crossed the Thames again, walked past Big Ben and Westminster, and went off in search of a bus to catch. This took a while. After hanging out in a phone booth for a while, we eventually ended up at Victoria station again. I tried briefly to find a reasonable bus to take, but quickly decided to just take the first one, since it was quite cold out.

We rode that bus until the end, and found ourselves who knows where. The posted information at that bus stop didn't provide me much insight into how to get us home, but somehow I formulated a plan that got us home via three night buses. After each bus ride, I had to check the info at the new bus stop in order to complete my picture of London's night bus scene. But eventually we got there.

Thursday morning we had breakfast next door to the hotel before heading downtown on the tube again. We got off at London Bridge, where we bought a disposable camera, since we hadn't brought one. We crossed over London Bridge and found The Monument. For two pounds each, we gained access to climb the monument. 311 steps to the top. It was worth every pound and every step, the view was incredible. We spent an hour or so up there, just enjoying the view and the beautiful clear day.

We then walked along the Thames, all the way to Westminster again. From there we found our way to Buckingham Palace and got to see the guards doing some marching around. I don't think we saw the official Changing of the Guard, but we saw some guys march out and take over the duty from the guys that were there. They were wearing silly hats.

We then made our way back to Hyde Park in a less than direct manner. There we found Speakers' Corner, but no speakers. So I ranted about something for a few minutes, but don't think I made any lasting contribution to anything.

We then rode the tube around some more, getting out at Bank and Angel among other spots. At Angel I had fish and chips for dinner. This, I'd been told, was one of the things I had to do while in London. I enjoyed it.

Since we had to get up early on Friday, we headed back to the hostel before too late. We hung out there for a while, chatting and such. Some silliness on my part followed, and then I kissed Sara for the first time. It hasn't been the last time either, though we're really just having fun together.

Friday morning we had to get up absurdly early to get to the airport. We couldn't find any vending machines for tickets, so Sara convinced me to try using our expired tickets from the previous day. It worked and we made it to the airport. I am silly, for I got a bit of a thrill out of cheating the system.

We boarded our plane for Munich, sat in it for a while, and then were forced to deplane and board another one, since the first one was apparently broken. But eventually we made it back to Munich, where we found it had snowed.

I think Sara may be one of the most fun people I've ever traveled with. She didn't care when I got us lost, enjoyed riding buses around at random, enjoyed the same goofy things I did, and was just generally laid back and fun. We laughed a lot. I taught her the German phrase "wo sie auf der falschen Straßenseite fahren," which means "where they drive on the wrong side of the street," and we just found endless amusement in little things like that.

We would imitate statues and street signs and the little guys in the pedestrian stop lights. We sat on statues, we got absurdly cold, we rode ten double decker buses (or twenty deckers, as Sara likes to point out), and huddled in a phone booth. I can't even describe how goofy and silly and fun it all was. But it was everything that a trip to one of the world's great cities should have been. And then some.