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Now. Where to begin?
The last week of my holiday (April 16-23) was full of adventure. Normally this column includes a bit of my own life philosophies, but this week, I feel like you all need to know what full of adventure really means…
Wednesday: The best bookstore ever
We met up with my flat mate Sylvia outside the Musée d’Orsay. I left the girls to explore the depths of a Van Gogh exhibit so that I could sit in the park with my WordPress account.
It was a beautiful day in Paris.
The three of us met up for lunch at a street-side café and then preceded to stroll past the Notre Dame on our way to Shakespeare and Company, a little English bookstore.
I picked up Fiesta: The Sun also Rises by Ernest Hemingway and found myself in a little room called “The Cave.”
A German girl named Miriam was playing an old piano with sticky keys. She was amazing.
After a small crowd collected in the room, she noticed she had an audience and stopped playing until a schoolteacher from the Netherlands convinced her to play another song.
When she finished, she asked a boy wearing overalls and a lip ring to play her something on his guitar in return. He sheepishly agreed as if he hadn’t been hoping for someone to ask—why else would you carry a guitar around Paris?
He began to play and two girls who were with him harmonized some American rock lyrics. They said they were part of a punk band called Basket Case, but they sounded killer on their impromptu acoustic set.
After a few songs, the schoolteacher collected Basket Case and the room emptied again.
Sylvia told me she was going back to her hostel for dinner and I continued to sit and listen to Miriam play the piano.
I had been texting Eileen asking her to meet me in the little room for about 30 minutes with no response, so I did what I felt was logical and decided to stay put with the hope she would come find me.
This is the point when Eileen and I got separated for real.
Her phone service shut off and she hadn’t received any of my text messages about the jam session.
Miriam and I became friends just in time to realize we had both been left in the bookstore by our friends, so we stuck together and got to know each other in front of the Notre Dame while her friends came to find her.
She asked me so many questions that I honestly felt like I was an interesting person.
We went through my entire backpack of knickknacks and necessities before I realized everything I carry with me has a story.
Miram said, “I can tell you are creative—it’s the chaos that gives it away,” as she flipped through my trusty moleskin notebook.
I only have a few pages left in it now, but man, there are some interesting thoughts scattered through that thing. I think that if I ever become famous enough to have a museum like Picasso, they’d put all my notebooks on display in order to try and explain the chaos that is my way of thinking.
After her friends got there I thought it would be best to try and find Eileen.
It wasn’t that hard actually. I just went back to the hostel and there she was!
Thursday: Spending money like I have it
I went shopping. I semi hate myself for spending money like I did, but the shoes I bought are so adorable that I think fasting for a meal here and there will be worth it.
The funny thing is, we explored all around the modern art museum and went in all these quirky vintage shops, only to find ourselves walking away with H&M bags.
Friday: A day of museums and homelessness
Because I bought new shoes the day before, I had to wear them around the city.
I can now say I thoroughly regret the decision to wear heels on an adventuring day.
We went to the Louvre to get our selfie with da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
It was everything I’d thought it would be–a small painting of a plain woman.
Eileen made the dry renaissance art more exciting when she gave me a little smile and touched a giant stone tub.
After that, we decided to enjoy our time in the Louvre by touching the sculptures and posing like the different statues. I’ll never look at museums the same again!
We went to the Musée d’Orsay next so I could see the Van Gogh exhibit for myself.
My feet were absolutely killing me, but it was worth the extra blister to end our stay in Paris walking in the presence of such beautiful artwork.
Eileen and I decided to end our habit of sprinting to catch our night buses by arriving at the bus station 30 minutes early. We sat down on a curb next to a spunky blonde named Hanna to wait.
The Brits take their queuing (standing in lines) very seriously.
“You are always a queue of one,” Hanna told us.
When the first Megabus arrived, we all formed a queue only to find out the bus was already full and would be leaving without us.
The driver said we could expect another bus around midnight.
So we waited some more as the temperature dropped!
Midnight came around and the next bus pulled in the car park. It brought nothing but more bad news: Yes, it was our bus, and no, it was not going to London.
Saturday: Homelessness meets hominess
The bus had been rerouted to Amsterdam because somehow a window on the Amsterdam night bus had been smashed out.
The Amsterdam travelers had priority over us so they climbed aboard only to wait for another three hours for their driver to arrive.
Meanwhile, I stood outside with approximately 50 other souls who were about to embark on a journey of homelessness.
Being that it was cold enough to see our breath, I thought it would be a perfect moment to use that emergency credit card my parents had slid into my wallet before I left the States; however, we did not have the option.
It was Easter weekend and all the hotels were booked full.
I lost faith in humanity when we walked into a hotel across the street from the station that had an expansive—and unused—lobby full of couches and a little thing called heat.
We didn’t speak French, but Hanna asked on our behalf if we could sit quietly in the corner.
Nope. Get out, they said. Freeze, they said.
We walked down the road only to find more restaurants that wouldn’t take us in, either.
Back to the car park we went.
We were surprised to see the Amsterdam bus was still running idle where we had left it.
We asked the driver if we could at least sit on the bus until it had to leave and he opened the doors.
I was so grateful to sit on the sticky floor of the bus!
I sat next to a sleeping French girl named Berenice.
After she nearly kicked me in the head as she stretched out in her double seat, she invited me to sit next to her.
She was going to Amsterdam for holiday and she invited me to come stay with her in the Parisian castle she lives in. Casual right?
She said there are six people sharing the castle right now and she helps clean it every so often to pay rent. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.
We exchanged emails just in time for the London riders to be forced out into the cold again. It was about 3 a.m.
All I had to keep warm was my thin tapestry, a scarf I had bought the day before and some extra gloves Hanna had in her suitcase.
A group of seven of us set up between two parked buses to try and block the wind. I covered our laps with the tapestry and we cuddled together to try and stay warm.
Everyone was fairly optimistic until 5 a.m.
At 5 a.m. I stood up because I could not feel my butt.
I started to walk around to warm up, but any ounce of positivity that I had once had had shriveled and died.
I thought to myself: I would rather be dead. Death must be better than freezing in a car park.
So as I fantasized about being dead, I told Eileen and Hanna my revelation. They both gave me worried looks and Hanna decided it was time to play a game to pass the time.
It was a simple counting game. You count upwards by yelling out numbers, but if two people say the same number at the same time, you have to start over.
It is riveting—I know.
The highest we got was 23.
After the game, I jumped and ran in place until the next Megabus arrived at about 7:30 a.m.
All the ticket holders crowed around the bus before the passengers could even get off. We must have looked a little threatening with our cold, purpled skin and sunken eyes.
We were exhausted and all we wanted was warmth.
The bus driver—Mike—exited the bus only to tell us that his bus was yet again not our bus.
Now, I’ve never been one for meanness, but seeing as that I had already accepted my death two hours earlier, I was one of the many yelling from the crowd.
I will never take Megabus again.
About five minutes later, a bus run by National Express (Megabus’s biggest competitor) pulled into the lot and we were finally allowed onboard.
Megabus had to hire out their competitor to get us to London.
After our driver had his 45-minute union break, we finally left for London.
I slept the entire way.
We arrived in London at about 2 p.m. to find Tom and his uncle Kevin waiting for us.
It was a little sad saying goodbye to our little car park family, but I was ready to see Kevin’s apartment.
Tom and Kevin took our bags and got us on the tube with no worries. I felt like a zombie following them through the tunnels.
The apartment was wonderful. He had a real couch to sit on and gave us hot tea and snacks.
(I have only enjoyed sitting on couches a handful of times this entire semester.)
I’ve never had a more gracious host.
After we recharged our bodies, we showered and got ready to see the Tate modern art museum via the five-minute Tom Hope walking tour.
Five minutes meant 30, but who can complain when you are walking along the Thames River? We made it to the museum with an hour to explore.
Tom and I played a game called “Good or s***” as we walked from room to room. Good meant the art was something you might have in your home and s*** meant the opposite.
We ended the longest day of my life with a bubble tea in Chinatown.
I slept so well on Kev’s living room floor that night.
Sunday: New shoes, new blisters
England welcomed us back with its traditional rainy weather.
On our way out the door that morning, I was reminded by a puddle that I had a giant hole in one of my shoes.
I have gone through three pairs of shoes since moving to England, so this time I decided to man up and buy a more durable pair of converse sneakers.
My feet were dry, but the stiff backs on the new shoes rubbed my heels in all the wrong ways. I dried my socks under a hand dryer in a bathroom and put them back on while we were in another art museum, but it was too late.
The blisters had already formed and I was in considerable pain.
Like the sensible person that I am, I ignored the pain and kept exploring London without missing a beat.
When dinner rolled around, Kev took us to his favorite vegetarian propaganda restaurant, Indian Veg.
The walls were covered with statistics and phrases like “Carnivorism = War, Vegetarianism = Peace.” It was an interesting in-your-face technique, but the food was great.
We made it back to the apartment and fell into the sofa to watch James Bond films and drink more tea.
My feet rejoiced at the idea of a night in.
Monday: Museums on museums
Kev woke us up early to get us out on the town and see more of the fabulous museums London has to offer.
We went to the Science Museum first and saw so many interesting pieces of history. They had an entire floor dedicated to airplanes and there were lots of interactive exhibits.
Afterwards, we went to the Victoria & Albert (V&A) museum.
It had everything: art, costumes, sculptures, jewelry and a fountain in the middle!
We even got to see a few more Van Gogh pieces.
That afternoon Tom, Eileen and I rented some bikes and explored a few parks.
Riding a bike through the streets of London only cemented the fact that I should not try and drive here. The left lane thing still throws me off.
We went back to the apartment with groceries in hand to make Kev a massive appreciation dinner.
Eileen and I made my favorite zucchini quesadillas with homemade guacamole and some oatmeal banana cookies.
We all ate so much that sleep came easy yet again.
Tuesday: Megabus part II
Travel days are always so awkward.
You have your bags with you, so it’s hard to go out and do things, and you just want to get on the road.
Our bus didn’t leave for Newcastle until 3 p.m. so we took our time waking up. When we did make it to the city center, we went through a grocery store for snacks that would get us through the seven-hour bus ride.
The bus was actually on time and got us to Newcastle efficiently—not that I would have minded sitting next to Tom for a little longer.
Tom took Eileen and I back to Sunderland and I crash-landed in my flat.
Wednesday: The impact of homelessness
After experiencing homelessness, I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t survive a week without a roof over my head.
I have some sort of cold or flu that I’m fighting now and my feet look like a pair of swollen water balloons.
I had such a great experience traveling the past 20 days, even with the little hardships mixed in, and I know I’ll be exploring again as soon as these blisters turn into calluses.
Cheers and beers,