“I’m in Paris. I’m in Paris.” I had to keep saying that to myself. I arrived in Gare de Lyon, the main train station, which is already beautiful, and walked out into the chaos of a Paris taxi rank surrounded by 19th century buildings, trying not to cry. My taxi ride was a very similar experience to when I first walked on the Embankment in London…all of the places I’ve been hearing about my whole life actually exist and are right in front of me. When I first saw the Seine, I shrieked. I saw Notre Dame and felt my mouth fall open. My taxi driver pointed out Place la Concorde, and the Musee D’Orsay. I saw something pointing out above us, from behind another museum, and it took me moment to realise it was the Eiffel Tower. When we drove past the base, I choked a bit.
Because my residency in Vallauris only ended on 19 August, and I must be back in China for 1 September, I had to get home right away. I spent one night and morning in Paris before getting on a plane for Canada. I’m already thinking about when I can go back.
After getting on the plane, finally realizing what I was doing, and popping one of Ron and Linda’s presents — Gravol — I tried and failed to sleep. Shortly before we landed I started talking to a just-married couple who’d been to Heathrow before, but never Gatwick. I stuck to them. At immigration, the fellow looked at my Ancestry visa and asked me which grandparent was born in the UK. That’s all. We found our bags (mislabelled as being from Calgary?!) then our way out — and there was Jenn. She helped Allison, Dennis, and I find our way onto the train into the city — and the man who sold me my ticket was the 1st of several people today to call me “luv”. We were also offered a beverage — including alcohol — at 11 am, before getting out at Victoria Station.
There Allison & Dennis decided to see if the Holiday Inn right across from us had their hotel reservation, and Jenn and I proceeded into the part underground/part enclosed/ pigeon- filled shopping mall that doubles as a Tube stop. Not for the first time, I felt like I was in Diagon Alley. Jenn was confused for just a moment — I was plain bewildered — before I put my Travelcard — the right way! — through a stile and we were on the Tube to Earl’s Court. We weren’t even across the street when a guy shoved his card in my face, offering us a double room for what we’d pay for a dorm in a hostel. (I forgot to mention the teenager dressed as a cardboard robot, holding a bucket and wearing a sign saying “Feed the Android! Help the Aged.”)
We were totally lost when a lady offered directions — how nice! Found the hostel, found my room in the labyrinthine hostel, dumped off my stuff, then Jenn took me grocery shopping. I confess, I got a bit annoyed — all her advice was great but…I want to find out the culinary culture shock for myself — that’s part of the point. Example: Lightly Pressed Cloudy Apple Juice. Never, NEVER in North America would you find a more honest food label. I was a bit weirded out that this literally cloudy stuff was the only kind of apple juice in the entire shop, then looked at the ingredients. Apples. ONLY. Oh…this is what the JUICE of APPLE should look like.
Bought food, dropped if off, back on the Tube to go to Canada House. (They actually do say, over the loudspeakers, MIND THE GAP, btw.) Jenn and I get out at Leicester Square — where the tkts booth is!! — grabbed an excellent mozzarella & veggie sandwich from a shop on a side street, then went to Trafalgar Square. National Gallery, Canada House, and Nelson’s Monument. It was — literally — too big to absorb. After being rained on intermittently, we went into Canada House so I could send an e-mail confirming my arrival, and there we saw Dennis & Allison again! They asked me to come by their hotel Wed. evening — 2112 — to perhaps do something. I was starting to feel run-down — Jenn insisted I MUST stay awake until my regular bedtime hour here, to reset my clock. So I asked if we could walk down to the river — the Thames. On the way we passed the gate to Buckingham’s gardens, the Horse Guards’ stables — two were at attention, on horseback. I stroked the nose of one horse — I think that’s what convinced me I am actually here. We continued on past Whitehall, then came to a street closed off by what looked like bike racks, and surrounded by bobbies. I said to Jenn “Is that Downing Street?” She said yes, and asked “Is it always like that?” She observed that Tony Blair wasn’t the most popular guy in Britain right now. She then elaborated on what wouldn’t happen if England won the quarter-final in Euro 2004 tonight — and what would happen if they did.
I was speechless, because by this time we’d reached the riverbank and I had the London Eye, Parliament and Westminster Abbey in front of me. Jenn had to get to Liverpool Station to get back to Glasgow. I figured she was right — I should buy my train ticket to Edinburgh sooner rather than later — I looked at my hostel booking from March, and now realized it was for the week of July 27, not June! Before that could sink in, the Tube announcer said the line would be disrupted because of a person under the train at a station ahead. I quietly said to Jenn “How often does that happen?” We reached Liverpool Station eventually, and were accosted by a guy dressed as lemon-yellow terrycloth dog, also carrying a bucket saying “Help the Aged”. Jenn gave him 50p. I was — I kid you not — a little scared. Two in one day?? Then I remembered: I’m in London.
Jenn left me to get on her train, and I almost got back to Earl’s Court on my own — then got off one stop too early, got hopelessly lost trying to find my way back to the hostel, then a very nice elderly gentleman took pity on me, looking helplessly at my Let’s Go and (useless!) London A to Z books, before telling me I was only a block away from Bolton Garden. He didn’t tell me it bends. But I did get back here, ate my microwavable salmon, and am now trying to decide if I should go have a pint somewhere and watch the football match.
I’m taking a page from fellow blogger Andrea Beca’s virtual book—-I will be posting now and again about my adventurous four years in Scotland.
I lived in Edinburgh from November 2004 to February 2008. I was about to turn 30, and absolutely hated where my life was at, so I applied to film school, and for a UK Ancestry Visa. The visa is the one I got. I quit my job, gave away or sold all my stuff, and flew one-way to London in June of 2004. It amazes me now to remember I was THAT crazy.
Not completely crazy—I had the first two months there fully planned out before I left. I spent a week in London, took the train to Edinburgh, and after a week there I meant to visit some distant cousins (whom I’d never met!) in Belfast. On my third day in Edinburgh, I trudged up Arthur’s Seat, got caught in a rainstorm, and on trying to carefully pick my way down an extinct volcano of sheer granite, I slipped and did…something to my left hand. Understand that I had never broken a bone before in my life, and had no clue what it felt like. So when in just a few minutes I lost feeling in my hand and it swelled and, I thought: “You’re in a foreign country. BE a hypochondriac and find a hospital.” So I tracked down the double-decker bus and made my first of several visits to the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary, where they confirmed I had broken TWO metacarpals, the thin bones below my pinky and ring fingers. My visit to Belfast was pushed back, and I had a cast on my hand well into my Fringe job that August.
When I was told at the hospital that I wouldn’t be able to get on a plane to Northern Ireland until they had done a second X-ray, my reaction was kind of odd. (And yes, I was actually thinking about my own reaction at that moment, because it was so odd.) I was told I couldn’t leave Edinburgh, and I immediately thought: “Okay.” I had come to the UK with an Ancestry visa which would allow me to work there, but I by no means had a job lined up, or any plans at all, for after summer. But I had been in Edinburgh at that point for 10 days, and had already decided I never wanted to leave. My hand’s broken, my plans and job at a Fringe venue might have been screwed up, but I was “stuck” in Edinburgh, and I couldn’t have been happier.