March 25. Day 1.
It’s 5:00 am, London time. I’ve been awake for the last four hours. Tossing and turning and thinking – a lot. It’s been a long day. We (Roger and myself, a nice change of pace from the solo trips I’ve now become accustomed to) got in at roughly 11:30 am, local. It was snowing, unexpectedly, reminiscent of the trip to Chicago, down to the train that took you from the airport easterly towards the city. I was a little more prepared this time around, though – with the trusty Cubs beanie. Me and Rog walked around the West End of the city for about six or seven hours – from Paddington Station (at my insistence, due to my nostalgic fondness for the marmalade-loving bear) to Harrod’s, with many stops and detours in between. It’s been a trip so far – things are kind of quaint here. Compact and narrow, lots of international flavor as well. Anyway, I need to catch a few Zs. Day 2 begins in three hours. Here we go again.
March 25. Day 2.
One of – if not – the coolest things about the Met in New York is the openness to photography on their premises. Neither Westminster Abbey nor the National Gallery in London affords that same luxury – though, I’m sure, for completely different reasons. At least with the latter, there was a solution, and I’ve got the cheap postcards to prove it. (Impressively, cheap not just in London terms, but in the American sense, a critical distinction given the brutal exchange rate). With the Abbey, however, I’ll have to rely on the memories. The stained glass windows, the sky high ceilings. The breathtaking tombs of kings and queens, princes and princesses, dukes and earls… but not the duke of earl. The coats of arms and family emblems. The plaques for TWO who share my name (Owen & Thomas). It’s easily one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever been to. That’s the Westminster Abbey. Words can’t do it justice – least of all, mine; if only I had the pictures to show you.
March 26. Day 3.
It’s 11:00 pm, local time. I’ve just had a 20 hour day. I’ve been walking so much that my feet hurt, and I’m starting to feel like a hunchback. Four hours of sleep before I jolted awake for no reason at 2:40 am. I stared at the ceiling until 3:15 am, half an hour before the scheduled wake-up call. Roger and I took a cab out to St. Pancras. The Eurostar took off at 5:25 am, as promised (despite the gates not opening and boarding not beginning until about ten minutes prior). With the jump in time zones, it arrived at Gare Du Nord at 8:50 am. That’s Paris, for the uninitiated… which until today, included me and Rog. A brief detour to the hotel, then over to Notre Dame by 11:00 am. That’s the Notre Dame without the Touchdown Jesus. A stroll through the cathedral. An hour wait. 400 steps to the top. It was nearly 2:00 pm now when we stopped for lunch back across the river. The Seine. Over to the Louvre at 3:00 pm. Six hours there, and only the surface of it scratched. Ah, so dark the con of man. A crepe and a sandwich. Back to the hotel. And thus, here I am. Hour 21. I rest.
March 28. Day 4.
The Statue of Liberty just passed by to my left. Well… it’s a statue of liberty. I think it’s the copy that’s supposed to remind the world that the original was a gift. Everything I need to know about European history I picked up from National Treasure 2 – the Book of Secrets, indeed. I’m writing this report from a crowded train to Versailles; hence, the pass-by. It’s a day late and a buck short, but for good reason. Physically, it was rough yesterday. I felt like my ankle was going to shatter. My back has been stiff forever, the soles of my feet hurt like hell, and every conceivable part of me is sore. The tricky gypsies approaching us at every tourist attraction don’t help. It’s coming from all sides, and it’s wearing me down. But I know – I’m in Paris. Woe is me. It’s been awesome, so I man up. Back straight. Legs out. Kick the tires and light the fires.
March 28. Day 5.
We saw a group of children today at the Palace of Versailles, seemingly engaged at some kind of Easter Egg Hunt. We had another bunch with us tonight, riding the tour boat on the the Seine. There are always a fair number of them in a group, accompanied by a teacher, perhaps a few parents or guardians. They were there at the Louvre, clamoring about for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. At the National Gallery in London, holding hands as not to get lost. Singing birthday songs for two of their classmates (not to mention Irish folk songs) at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I wonder if they realize how lucky they are. Maybe it’s standard for kids over here to be this incredibly fortunate and cultured at such a young age. And maybe that’s why the rest of the world hates us so much. Well… there’s also this and this. U-S-A! U-S-A!
March 29. Day 6.
The real world sucks. I have e-mail access for the first time in a week… and immediately see like six messages from my bank about insufficient funds. Remember that monthly rent check I made out ten days ago? Yeah, it was withdrawn for $5000 more than it should have been. It’s a miracle my card hasn’t been declined at some point, given that my official balance is in the negatives – like I had just floundered my way through the first round of Jeopardy or something. So I call and get that fixed (in two business days. Great). I check the news and we find out that the new terminal at Heathrow – the one we’re supposed to be flying out of in two days, by the way – is having problems left and right, canceling flights and losing luggage. The grades from the previous quarter aren’t exactly what I was hoping for. Sometimes, I wish I were off the grid completely… I need a vacation. Oh wait.
March 30. Day 7.
Me and Rog went through all of today with the finish line in mind and sight. Yeah, everything still remained impressive, but when you hit day 7 of your 7.5-day trip, there comes a point when you’re pretty much ready to pack it in. I’m pretty sure both of us had hit a wall of sorts after the third day, when we got into that cab at 4 in the morning. So we trudged through the British Museum today – the Rosetta Stone, Cleopatra, and all. We wandered through the Tower of England, knowing full well it was the last planned, official activity of this fun yet exhausting trip. There was just an aura of finality that permeated through the entire day’s events. And then… just when I thought we had all the answers, they went ahead and changed the questions. Flight canceled. Meticulously packed schedule imploded. And all of a sudden, this trip is interfering with real life. Yeah, it’s just a day at this point (figures crossed), but that’s still a day too many. I have no idea what we’re doing tomorrow. All I know is, we’re not getting on a plane for a ten hour trip. In this particular case, that’s actually a problem.
March 31. Day 8*
I’m tired. Exhausted. What does it feel like to have an extra, unplanned day of an European trip? It’s obviously not that bad, or bad at all, once I pushed my real-life responsibilities out of my mind. Isn’t that the entire point of a break anyway? The weather is beautiful today… well, London beautiful. There’s a soft breeze and a solid amount of sun as we make our way through Greenwich. There’s little rush, there’s little hurry, and despite the surprising size of both the Royal Observatory and the Planetarium, we get very little accomplished. I’ll miss all this. The squiggly lines that signal the coming of intersections. The quaint mailboxes. The ever-entertaining accents. And especially the architecture. Every block out here looks historical. Every block out here deserves a picture (lord knows I tried). Every block out here looks like it means something. That’s pretty cool.
*Courtesy of British Airways and the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow.
April 1. Day 9.
A couple of hours at Heathrow, one more on the runway, and then it’s ten in the air. I’m already getting back into the swing of things, having a little movie marathon on the plane instead of doing the wise thing and trying to nap for a few hours. The only form we have to fill out is the customs declaration (uh, ceramic teapot, $80). The line we get in at the airport isn’t the “all others” line. And there’s no funny accents… people just go ahead and speak their own languages. Back in Los Angeles. Then, back to Irvine. I was at the Louvre, staring at – or being stared at by – the Mona Lisa, like five days ago. I was in Greenwich yesterday. And in two days, I’m going back to class. It’s absolutely unreal.