Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Bad Traveler Day

I'm maybe too pragmatic for my own good, constantly weighing pros and cons to decide if I like a place or an experience. Consequently, I sometimes hit a point in a vacation where I think, "I made a bad decision in spending so much money and my precious vacation time to come here." But sometimes (okay only once in Hood River, Oregon) I think, "I like this place so much, I want to move here. Now."

Sunday, my second full day in London, mostly inspired thoughts of the "this was a mistake" variety. Chad and I took a bus past some post-Armageddon-looking, graffiti-scrawled, derelict housing projects on our way into central London. Upon exiting the bus, we found ourselves in flappy-foot-walker tourist purgatory. I witnessed a German tourist pull down his toddler-aged daughter's pants, carry her to a grassy patch and instruct her to pee on the ground like a dog. This happened as hordes of people walked at different speeds and/or stopped for no reason on uneven cobblestone streets en route to touristy destinations of varying degrees of good taste and civility. Our destination, Covent Garden, proved to be mobbed by street performers with gathering crowds and people who seemed simultaneously in a big hurry and lost. I wish we had skipped Covent Garden. Covent Garden is nothing special. It's not even a garden. It's some local vendor stalls mixed with chain stores and lots of street performers. Gross.

From (stupid) Covent Gardens, we walked to Selfridges & Co. department store. The walk was too long and among too many fellow-tourists, past too many cruddy chain stores that repeated too many times. Does London really need three H&M stores in a two-mile radius? The walk took so much longer than we thought it would that we had to stop to consult maps three times to make sure we were still on track. Selfridges & Co. was pretty fabulous when we finally arrived. The sheer size of the store is amazing with a real sense of history in the architecture.The staff dress strictly in black and white, and all look so fashionable. There seemed to be a staff person for every two customers even on a busy weekend day. Every rack, aisle and display were immaculately neat and lovely. My only complaint (other than the meandering, irritating journey to the place): not enough seating in the food hall. Chad and I thought we'd have lunch there, but found ourselves overwhelmed by food choices and underwhelmed by lack of seats. We ended up sharing a few mini cupcakes in the only shop-in-a-shop nook where we could find a seat. Hunger for "real food" (i.e. not cupcakes) got the better of us, and forced an exit sooner than I would have liked.

Back on the wiley streets of Oxford Circus, Chad and I ducked down some quieter side roads hoping to escape the crowded sidewalks. We wandered past a Rolls Royce showroom and a Mastretta showroom. We saw lovely apartments and hotels with Georgian architecture. We resisted the urge to press our noses against the windows of these drool-worthy showrooms and abodes.

Upon recommendation of one of Chad's English coworkers, we searched out a pub called The Cross Keys for lunch. We were told the place was a quiet, non-touristy, very old and traditional English pub. We walked through cold, drippy rain and more tourist trap mess and more crowds for too long before finding the The Cross Keys pub. Guess what? It's tiny and doesn't serve food past 3:00 PM. It was just past 3:00 PM. Chad and I each had a room temperature, sudsy English ale (not so good) so as not to be super-conspicuous tourist-types. Then back out into the unwashed masses in search of some semi-authentic, semi-nutritious, vegetarian food. More walking and crowd-surfing. Much menu-looking. Much "I don't see a single open seat in there" disappointment. Much consulting yelp on Chad's phone.

We ended up at Nag's Head. As evidenced by the ketchup bottles on every table, we landed at a tourist trap, but were both so hungry we didn't care. The vegetarian "phish and chips" was some kind of dry white fried cheese. It was okay. What was not okay was the swelling crowd around us, and the American couple who asked if they could share our tiny table, because they couldn't order food at the bar until they could point to their table. I don't go on vacation in a foreign country to talk to other American tourists. Sorry. After forced niceties of the how-is-your-trip & what-have-you-seen variety, we hustled out of the crowded tourist pub to the crowded tourist streets. We couldn't find our bus stop to get back to the apartment. I whined that we could just take a cab as we passed a cab stand area, but Chad pretended he didn't see the cab stand. I got pouty and quiet because my feet hurt, and because I was tired. Then we walked for forty-five minutes back to the apartment. The only saving grace of that long walk was some cool public installation art under bridges.

We rested, showered and went to bed early.

Now is when I reassure you that "it gets better." The trip did get better. Tune in tomorrow to read all about it.