It’s been a little while since I’ve written anything. Not that there hasn’t been fun stuff happening – I spent five days seeing shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I got to wander the streets of Glasgow for three days, and I now I’m in London for two weeks. It’s not like I was too busy to write, but, as it seems to happen at times, I found myself lacking inspiration. I can force myself to write anyway – I almost did last night – but the result always seems dull and straightforward and lacking in my personal voice, so I’ve learned that it’s not worth it.
I was a little confused as to why inspiration alluded me this time. Usually, it’s boredom or frustration that causes it to slip away, not new cities and explorations. But lately, I’ve been feeling tired. Just perpetually tired. As I told one of my friends, I think I hit my limit. After three months of being in the same place, I tend to get restless, and after three months of constant traveling, apparently, I start to crave a little routine and recognizable company. Frankly, I was in need of some good conversation. So this morning, despite my half-heartedly-made plan to set out for the more tourist-happy areas of London, I slept in, watched TV, and ate lunch at the hostel. When I finally set off, it was more out of a desire to avoid the six flights of stairs back to my room, and I still had no idea where I was going.
Whiney, whiney, right? Where’s the cheese for that whine? Don’t worry – it goes up from here. I bought a ticket for Charing Cross and hopped on the Underground (which I claim to have mastered after one ride), emerging to an overcast day right beside Trafalgar Square and just in time to see a giant pro-EU rally passing by. Now, my mood was already improving simply because for some reason I really like riding the tube. Perhaps it makes me feel like a native… Which is ironic, because I think the reason Trafalgar Square lifted my spirits is that it was so flooded with tourists. What can I say? I’m fickle.
When the clouds began to tease us with a light sprinkle, I considered spending the rest of the day in the National Gallery, but with a strange inclination to stroll, I decided to deal with the droplets and carry on towards the next landmark I could see: Big Ben. I never got there. Honestly, I can’t even quite remember how it happened, but I ended up at Buckingham Palace. Pretty buildings are to me as Cheerios are to a two-year-old. There was a trail; I followed.
I’m glad I did. I figured since I was there, I might as well take the tour (although I’ll definitely be returning later this week for the Changing of the Guard). They say a self-paced, audio-guide tour can take up to two hours. I had a 3:30 ticket and was in the last group being politely shoved out when they closed at 6:00. The sumptuous grandness of it all was almost too much to take in at one time, but what really slowed me down is the exhibit of HM the Queen’s gowns and hats they currently have on display in honor of her 90th year. I already saw the first installment of the 3-part exhibit at the Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, and this one was at least three times as big, including both her wedding and coronation gowns. It’s like they knew I was coming! Not gonna lie, I spent a long time gaping at the beading and embroidery and wistfully imagining what it would feel like to wear these dresses. Sadly, though I was all prepared to take the trip out to Windsor Castle to see the third installment of the exhibition, it opens the day after I leave the country. Well, crumpnuggets.
By the time I was bustled out of Buckingham, it was rainy steadily outside. I found a purple umbrella covered in sweater-wearing corgis in the palace gift shop and splurged on what is technically the first non-edible souvenir I’ve bought in these three months. It was highly justifiable. I mean, the corgis are wearing sweaters. Is there any temptation stronger?
Earlier, while waiting for my tour time at the palace, I had searched out a restaurant called The Library (gotta love Pinterest and Buzzfeed for these suggestions) and made a reservation for 8:30 that night. It’s a rather high-class place in a famously fancy hotel called Ruben’s, so I had intended to return home and make myself appropriately presentable. The rain and longer tour time canceled those plans. After wandering around joyously in the fairly deserted streets surrounding the Wellington Arch and Hyde Park, I made my way back to the restaurant, grateful that I had chosen to wear a dress that day instead of my typical jeans and T-shirt. So what if it was accompanied by hot-pink Converse? Sometimes, the love of gourmet food and wine trumps the desire to keep up appearances.
The restaurant was delightfully cozy, with the warm, bookcase-lined atmosphere the name implies and comfortable chairs you would normally find in a sitting room. There weren’t many guests about at this later hour, and I was content to lounge in my pleasant mood and eavesdrop on the conversations of two American couples seated near me. Hey, don’t judge. When you eat alone, it’s what you do.
I was just finishing dessert when one of the gentlemen rose and asked if I would like to join them at their table. I did so gladly, and we ended up talking over dessert and coffee for almost an hour. One couple, Jim and Judy, was celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and they had decided to invite their friends Kenneth and Sharron to London for the occasion. Though I could only imagine the number of incredible stories and the amount of wisdom simmering within these four, they seemed fascinated with my short wanderings. At one point, they said I must have many good stories from my travels because I am so personable. I couldn’t help laughing. When someone thinks I’m personable, it’s a surefire sign that they are great conversationalists. As the still somewhat reclusive, shy person I am, I relish chatting with such people. I try to pick up tips to improve my own social skills, and over and over, I learn that being personable springs from having a genuine interest in others. These four made it easy to converse: Jim and Judy were thinking of going to Iceland soon; Sharron was interested in reading my blog; Kenneth is the son of one of Disney’s original animators, the “Nine Old Men” (yep, that’s right, all my Disney-nerd friends – I had to resist “fangirling”). It was the delightful conversation I had been needing for three months.
What struck me most about these two couples was their generous spirit. Not only did they give me a card and tell me to call them if I ever come to San Diego, but when I told them I was in the entertainment business, they instantly began wracking their brains for any connections they have to the entertainment world. I was so touched by their consideration and enthusiasm for a kid they had just met over dessert. When we parted ways so the poor server could finally go home, all I could think was how lucky I was to have met these four and how much I would like to grow up to be like them.
The night didn’t end there though! It was now 11:00, and I still had to make it back to my hostel. The air smelled fresh from the recent rain, and there was a spring in my step only slightly due to that last glass of port. I started down the stairs to pass through an underground tunnel, and right as I was thinking, “Hey, these stairs are wet and slippery – you should be careful, or you’re going to fall down them,” I fell down them. Now, here’s the thing about falling down stairs: I do it a lot (apparently, I’m clumsy?), and it only takes me 3-10 seconds to find it absolutely hilarious. If you ever see me sitting at the bottom of a stairwell, laughing my head off, I probably just took the quick route down. So really, it was the perfect end to the night, because now I had something to giggle about on the walk home. Which was helpful, considering I decided to walk home through the deserted Hyde Park.
I’ve noticed that I now base all my walking attempts off of my longest trek in Iceland: two miles to see the DC-3 plane crash and two miles back. So basically, if it’s less than two miles, I’m like, “Yeah, I can walk that.” Assuming there aren’t too many hills, and I’ve either just had food or have the promise of food upon my success, I’m usually right. The thing about walking home by yourself through an unlit park at night? You shouldn’t do it. In fact, a gentleman I spoke to on my first night in London told me I shouldn’t do it. But as usual, I’m not one to follow directions. I stood there staring at the Underground for a minute and thought, “Nah, I’ll get some exercise.” I passed by the well-lit, street-side path and thought, “Nah, I’ll cut through the park.” The daredevil in me comes out at inopportune times.
I did learn some interesting things on this hike: 1) all you people who think I walk ridiculously fast, you ain’t seen nothing till you see me tearing through a dark park in the middle of the night; 2) I definitely have the hyper-aware senses necessary for a career as a super-spy; and 3) while ducks and geese appear to have a bedtime prior to 11:00, swans are the party animals that stay up much later. Although, I did see a few rebel ducks joining in the midnight shenanigans at one party-central, lake-side location.
Somehow, I ended up walking past my street (quite ashamedly I admit that I was following a live map at the time) and taking a strange loop through some back alleys. Granted, the back alleys of Lancaster Gate, London, are a lot prettier than the typical Texas suburb street. I was less concerned about shady characters here and more concerned about slipping and falling again on the quaint cobblestones. But soon, I was back on track, calmly passing by tourists posing with the bushes in front of their picturesque Georgian hotels. Because of all the amazing sights in London, the spherical topiary by the steps makes the best pictorial companion. Walked right by my own front door because I was too absorbed in writing this. That’s right: I can write and walk at the same time. Multi-tasking like a pro here… Another point for a career as a super-spy.
Anyway, I managed to make it home safely (with a slightly bruised butt for my troubles), and rather than sludging to bed (yes, sludging is a word I just made up), I sat up in the stairwell to write this. Sometimes, you are completely rejuvenated by an unexpectedly awesome day, and writing about it sounds more fun than sleeping. Beyond the Tube and the Palace and the rain and the umbrella, that comes down to four people who made my night with their kindness. So to Kenneth, Sharron, Jim, and Judy, if you are reading this: thank you! Not only are you wonderfully generous, sweet people and great company, but you have also provided the inspiration I needed to write. I genuinely hope we meet again someday soon.