Dee was hoping to buy Albo’s new book at the airport — but instead just had to download it to the Kindle.
This is the story of our 40 day trip to Europe. It was a “busy” trip. It made my head spin when the reality of it all hit the night before we left. I was a mess of nerves and I genuinely believe I was more anxious than I had been on the eve of our first time to Europe almost 10 years ago. This time we were jumping about Europe like iced-up-maniacs on pogo-sticks. By our standards it was an unprecedentedly hectic schedule. We weren’t stopping for very long in any one place — apart from the 6 days in a row at London right at the very end. (Which was essentially a reward for all our previous express-tourism). We had three separate car hires, one of which was that right-hand drive bullshit with a manual — meaning I not only had to get my shit together to drive on the opposite side of the road, but had to change gears with my right hand.
There were a bunch of intra-Europe flights on airline carriers we had never heard of and all the transfers that necessitated. There were a bunch of extremely early flights. And we were yet to book a bunch stuff — particularly in Ireland.
The last time we arrived in London it was at 6am. (This was back in 2011). And thus we made it to our hotel in record time. Probably just before 9. Naturally the hotel room wasn’t ready so we were forced to wander around a bleak, grey city like zombies for hours and hours until we could check in at 3pm. Lesson-learnt, this time we booked an airport day room. It was so tiny and super hi-tech it was like living on the International Space Station. There were buttons everywhere for lights and the TV but crucially a button that would un-furl the bed. (It was like a massive robotic Jason-Recliner). That done the entire room was filled up. Once you were done napping you literally had to collapse the bed so you could move about the place again. We only got about 1.5 hours sleep but it was enough to feel a tiny bit fresh for the trip from Heathrow into the city proper.
We took the express train to Paddington, then got some brand new Oyster cards and planted 20 pounds on each. At Liverpool Station we took a quaint black cab and the (equally-quaint) driver was the most ENGLISH person you could imagine. I actually think he called me “Gov” or “Governor”.
So we were staying in Hackney. About halfway down Hackney Road in a spot I would describe as “authentic” London. On the “dodgy-scale” I would rate it at about 15%. Like there was perhaps a 15% chance anytime you ventured out there that something uncomfortable would occur. Within a stone’s throw there was a Chippy, three off-licenses, a Tesco and some weird proliferation of bag merchants.
ON THE BUSES
We soon learnt our road had three great services (the 26, 48 & 55) that would certainly get us moving in the general direction we needed to be — if not taking us almost exactly where we wanted to go. So we didn’t use much of the Tube. It is only a pound per journey on the bus — no matter how far you travel (as long as you stay on that particular bus). As opposed to the Tube which is almost 4 quid minimum a trip. It was now all about the buses. We would always ride up top to get the views and to be guaranteed a seat and jut for the novelty. Plenty of people also took dogs on the bus — Dee would rate that as another bonus.
Our date with Laura K and Laura Morrissey was in Shoreditch at the Owl and Pussycat. We walked over and, being inherently super-punctual — we got there early and I was faced with my first cultural malaise. I was ordering our drinks and I had been prepared for Dee’s wine but my beer proved a complication. I successfully ordered the wine, but as I looked down at the beer-taps I couldn’t recognise any brand — or any variety. As far as I could tell there was not even a Guinness or Kronenberg option. Whatever I stumbled into ordering was barely OK. I think I even ordered it again just cause I couldn’t bear the roulette of trying something else which might have been worse. It was a bit of a wake up call. I was now on the other side of the planet and I had to get my shit together.
It was so great to see the Lauras and epic good times were had. PizzaEast for dinner.
I CAUSE AN INCIDENT
We were back at the hotel by 10 and we crashed into bed. Asleep almost immediately. But at about 3:30am we both woke up and I decided to use the facilities. The room was unfamiliar and completely dark and I was searching for the bathroom light. “Where the fuck is the bathroom light?, “ I said to Dee. I had completely forgotten that bathrooms in the UK have the light switch on the outside. It is absolute stupidity — but that is how they do things over there. I was stumbling around and Dee was giving me some suggestions. Eventually I found this cord and I think I said, “Hey maybe this cord is it.” Dee literally screamed, “NO DON’T!” But it was too late.
I yanked this cord and suddenly all these alarms went off. I literally thought I had set of the Hotel’s fire alarm. Dee sprung out of bed in a panic and was like, “That’s the panic cord.”
See we were in one of those “ambulent rooms”. Designed for people with disabilities. That panic-cord was super-effective. It not only made unspecified people in the hotel (or else) in panic-mode – but I too was now also quite a bit PANICKED. I dived upon the room’s telephone and was immediately in touch with someone in Reception. In hindsight I realised I had picked up the receiver just at that instant after Reception had dialled our room number to check on us.
“Oh My God, “ I said as calmly as I could muster. “I didn’t mean to do that.” She started telling me how to cancel/reset the alarm but her instructions weren’t quite specific enough. (I guess because all rooms are subtly different she was telling me to find this switch at a place it definitely was not.) Another panicked minute or two ensued before I found that cancel button — on the ceiling of all places. I leapt on a chair and the CRISIS was averted. But all that adrenaline was still swimming about our super-wired bodies and as we slumped back into bed it took us a bunch more time to get back to sleep. After that I started making a list of all the FAILS! we had done so far.
1) I said “G’Day” at least twice within hours of arriving.
2) I said, “Can I chuck that on my card?” — which would have been equally a highly mystifying and creepy thing to say now I realise it.|
3) Dee accidentally locked her suitcase after accidentally spinning the combination locks.
4) (In Brussels) Buying the cheapest/dodgiest wine available but when we realised it required a corkscrew, we realised we were in such a super-expensive hotel and asking the concierge to uncork it. So much AWKWARD.
(And in 2016)
The next day, a Friday, we went into the city to get UK phone cards and have a wander around. Went to the British Museum and it was “Saturday” chaotic. So much more security since last we visited. Not much else to report about that day except the epic stairs at the Russell Square Tube station.
BRISBANE IN LDN
That night we caught the bus up to one of most favourite places in London — Stoke Newington — initially to meet Laura K. But then a bunch of other Brisbane ex-pats were on our agenda. Sonya and Brad, Mark and Katie. We all piled into this tiny backroom section of an awesome vegetarian Indian restaurant (RASA) and shared stories of living in London and me and Dee got excited. Then LK and Dee and me headed to Camden (EDIT: Actually Dalston — thanks LK) to see Susan’s band. Laura Morrissey was there too and then suddenly Mitch appeared. So many Brisbane friends! But jet-lag was creeping up and I was mostly to blame for us leaving just before midnight. Moments before I made the call I had accidentally gone to the women’s toilet and it was horrifying. “OMG! I am just a tourist! I am a Deadshit! I am so sorry!” That was literally what I said when I emerged from the cubicle and when the realisation punched me in the face. The two women there were luckily very understanding.
The weather had turned a little. It was periodically drizzly but our tiny umbrella seemed to keep us dry as we walked over to the Columbia Road Flower Market. It’s a thing in London to buy flowers. It’s a bland and dreary existence here (nature-wise) and I guess you don’t get to see much natural colour and so people go a bit nuts for flowers to spice up their apartments. It was super-crowded and we slow-mo’d our way through the throng to find a quaint bagel place and dove out to the back for a bit of peace and to scoff some rather excellent bagels down. Then Dee and LK went off while we made own ways independently towards the War Cabinet Rooms over near Westminster. I made it most of the way just walking only having to get a four stop/one change tube ride to meet the deadline. The tube service was advising that patrons should take water to stave off the heat down there. It was good advice. The tube was disgustingly hot. You’d think being so deep underground it would be sufficiently insulated — but the air is so blisteringly stuffy. The atmosphere seems to be enriched by human body heat and having just walked up top for an hour meant my core temperature was already elevated. There was a spot at the end of the carriage where you could stand next to a tiny open window which provided some relief — but only while the train was moving.
The line-up for the War Rooms was epic, but after a quick stop at a Pret-a-Manger for a coffee we got hit by a sudden downpour. It was sufficiently severe to decimate the line-up and we made it down with only the briefest of waits. SCORE!
After learning quite a bit more about than I really needed to know about Churchill (but achingly little about his wife Clementine) we came up into the light again and realised we hadn’t seen a single window for hours. LK came back with us to our hotel room for drinks. Then collectively we did a poke-hunt in Haggerston Park and then at Bethnal Green we caught our first Mr. Mime — a Europe-only Pokemon. We were all so excited we did this big group hug. Embarrassing, but it felt good at the time.
MONDAY — BANK HOLIDAY
It was a slow start, but after wandering around the area we made it to a cafe attached to a recording studio called “The Premises”. It was one of those places with signed pictures in frames all over the walls. Jarvis Cocker, Little Boots, Lily Allen etc. A group of four fat Council workers had the table next to us and were so deplorably inappropriate they made Trump seem like an angel. The runt of the group was a guy called “Fat Paul” who copped most of the vile. And he wasn’t that fat. Poor bastard. Even the waitress was insulted — “You’re not as fat as Fat Paul,” one of them said. Literally.
Anyway. It was mostly a quiet day that ended with dinner in a section of Hackney that I can only describe as Little Vietnam. Tomorrow we had to negotiate THE CONTINENT. (More on that later.)
ASIDE: This was my favourite ad on UK TV. So good. (and the way the dog jumps up in the very last second is equal genius and magical.)
(Drinking in a park with a squirrel)