Monday, February 18, 2008

The Eye has it

You Belong in London

A little old fashioned, and a little modern.

A little traditional, and a little bit punk rock.

A unique soul like you needs a city that offers everything.

No wonder you and London will get along so well.

This is a little test I snatched from Sweet Irene. Her city is Paris. Somehow, I got London. I have been to London. I think I would like it better now than when I was there as a rather young newlywed. Honestly, we couldn't wait to get OUT of London. Ugh. There's nothing quite like arriving in a big, snarling city on 90 minutes' sleep a day after you've just gotten married. We were so fried and so American we couldn't even understand the bus driver's accent. We'd done OK up to then, but when he actually said, "That's lovely, I'm sure," I kind of checked out for a minute.

So we retrieved our rental car and headed into the city center. Why in the name of arse (See? I have to use the language of my city.) did our travel agent tell us to get a car in London? Dunno. We told her we wanted to spend a couple of days there, then move on. Why not just tell us to use public transport like sane people do in large cities? She must have been getting a good commission.

Anyway, London driving on little sleep on the wrong side of the car and the wrong side of the road is not good. Do you know where they put the street signs? This kills me. Honest to Queen Elizabeth. They put many of the street signs on the buildings ... around the corner so that you have to drive past them, then crane your neck around to see what street it was, at which point you say, "Yup, that was the one." AND they change the names of the streets seemingly every block, so you think you're on one street, but suddenly you're on a different one, even though you've only moved ahead one block. Any reason for that? Do they need to honor so many members of the royal family with 100 feet of asphalt? No clue.

So in your suburban American fatigue, you have to navigate random streets, the names of which are displayed AFTER you need to see them, all the while trying not to run anyone over in these crosswalks named after animals or plough into anyone in a bustling city center (rather, centre) with streets roughly as wide as a 27-inch television. And shifting and signaling with your left hand.

You finally find your destination, only you have to drive several miles to find a parking space for the nominal fee of your left tit.

You check into your hotel, so exhausted you just want someone to carry you to bed, and again, you can't understand a word anyone is saying because they're speaking English they learned in a different country, just like you, and the accents are so utterly foreign you just can't make them out. These kind people explaining to you that you can't actually park where you've left your car are the same ones who try to tell you your room is simply up the stairs and around the corner and breakfast consists of burned (burnt) toast and marmalade, don't miss it. These people speak several dozen languages as is evidenced by the number of flag pins on their lapels. It's frightening, really, because they look like decked out war veterans, and while you're thinking you should salute them, you're also feeling like an utter hick because you just speak Wisconsin and a little bit of Spanish, like, you know, taco.

Finally, up the stairs to what is possibly the dirtiest hotel room you've ever set foot in. Do they wash the sheets? Are they aware of the rainbow mold in the shower? You're paying how much? Curse the travel agent and hope to get out of London ASAP. Maybe just a nap first. Aaahhhh....

And then you're awake again and hungry and the desk clerk, who has suddenly morphed into an Englishwoman you can understand (mostly), tells you you'd better hurry if you want to get some food, most of the shops close at 5, but there's one that's open until 5:30. It's now 5:20. If people work all day, how do they get their shopping done when the stores close so early? And then there's half-days. WTF? We call that Saturday in America, and it only applies to banks. Anyway –

These little grocers accept credit cards and you bag your own stuff. More little lessons. Now, of course, most grocery stores around here accept credit cards, but in the olden days, when people had money, that's what grocery stores accepted – money. It was sort of thrilling to buy groceries with a credit card. It felt so scandalous. You could eat that stuff, then not pay your bill, and the credit card companies couldn't repossess it! Ha! What a scam! Let's do it!

Another awesome thing about London: business cards for ladies of the night posted in phone booths. Sarah! 18-year-old blonde likes to give spankings! Then there's Lucy, Asian dominatrix. I really wanted to call one of them, but I couldn't figure out how to use a phone.

Really, though, there's a lot to see in London that we never saw, of course, and I'd love to go back. Especially now that I'm older and I don't just hate big cities for no reason other than they're big cities.

I had spent time in Mexico in a big city prior to visiting London and confronted several cultural misconceptions. And I wasn't driving. Well, just that once, even though I didn't have a license and I couldn't really drive a stick, but they asked if I wanted to drive, and I could hardly say no, could I? But I was there a lot longer and had a host family to show me around a little. And the time zone switch was only an hour.

Sleep. It's good. It's time.


Lola said...

You are absolutely right, about everything. It really hasn't changed that much. Hotel breakfasts are bad, rooms are dirty, prices are un-*!%&!-be-lieeeevable, and you need to mortgage your house to drive or park. But it's the most amazing city to visit; all you need is a friendly blogger who offers you a bed in his/her spare room for a week or two...

Sweet Irene said...

No, you should most definitely not drive a car around London if you can avoid it at all and your travel agent was very naive or evil, either of the two.

I have been to Paris and drove a car around there and it was sheer thrill seeking and "oh my god, I want to get off." Outside of Paris, there is a ring and it is a crap shoot. Miss one exit and you are dead meat.

I have also tried to get out of Berlin in a car and it couldn't be done until many tries and many hours later. Sheer exhaustion and frustration set in.

It's best to always go for public transport, even here in the Netherlands when you go to Amsterdam or The Hague. Europe is not car friendly and nobody is trying to make it that way, at least not in the cities.

laurie said...

you need to go back without a car and see how you like it.

we were there in april and got an oyster card and just took the tube everywhere. and walked our socks off.

never encountered a dirty hotel room, though. ick.

MJ Krech said...

What a delight! I love to read posts that speak of "foreign" lands and languages. Lovely, Amy! Thanks!

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Paris. But I'll settle for farm life.

Interesting blog.

Crystal xx

Rash Vows and Beautiful Grandchildren said...

Amy - believe it or not - I got London too! Don't know what it has to do with London, but when I thought of food - I wanted COMFORT food! Also = when I thought of culture - I almost could not choose. I like a simple life with beauty, good food, family and friends and a good fire in the fireplace - that's about all I need!! Once again = your writing hits home! When I was in Ireland with Bill's Mom and Sisters in 2006 - I actually kept a log of the funny way that they talked!! Like they said a Crash for a Car Accident, Have a bit of Crack meant Have a bit of fun (ya sure!) a Bap was a Kaiser roll, a strand was a beach, a jumper was a sweater (what in the world!) Hurling wasn't what you did when you overindulged or had the flu - it was a game like baseball! A camper/trailer was a caravan (not a parade of cars!)Pub Crawl was bar hopping, Loose chipping was loose gravel, and my personal favorite - a HOOKER - NOT the world's oldest profession - but a small row boat. Enjoy!

The Rotten Correspondent said...

I'm London, too. But I adore London and haven't had bad experiences there. Knock wood.

Although there was the cab that jumped the curb and slowly pushed me into a wall.


The Rotten Correspondent said...

I have to clarify that. I'm a bad cab experiences magnet. I have a story in every city I've been to.

That isn't even the worst one.

Amy said...

Lola, let me save my pennies and I will take you up on that offer.

Irene, I think my travel agent was getting a cut of everything she arranged for us, so, evil. Well, greedy. Definitely looking out for number one. It didn't serve her well. We certainly never went back to her.

Laurie, I think it would be fun to go back there. We really didn't do much there.

Marcia, I finally started writing down all the words and phrases we didn't know. We felt sort of stupid sometimes, and realized we'd said something naughty a couple of times. Heh.

CJ, I don't know about Paris, but life on the farm is definitely not for me. I like reading about it from you, though.

Laura, I never heard of a hooker being a boat. When we were in Ireland, we tried to order a pizza. I couldn't understand a word the guy said over the phone. I finally just said OK and hung up. We got what we wanted.

RC, I want to hear your cab stories. My cab rides are uneventful.

aims said...

Apparently I belong in Rome - but for me anywhere will do really!

I loved your description of London. It made me laugh...I too have been in a room with dirty sheets but it was a bordello my brother and I stayed in in Los Mochis while waiting to catch the Copper Canyon Train...he believed anything cheap for a couple of hours - we got some weird looks - and that whole place is a story in itself...

Amy said...

Aims, I also have a Los Mochis story, but I can't tell it on my blog. I was going to La Paz from Copper Canyon.

Sweet Irene said...

Amy, there is an award for you over at my place, come and get it.

Heidi said...

I got London, too.

I guess Kansas City wasn't an option.