Sunday, July 12, 2009

Europe, Part 1

I counted the months, the weeks, the days. Countdowns were started on every calendar in my possession. I wrote the counts on the corners of my planner in neat red ink, and in big swirly writing on the whiteboard in my room. It still has the “1 day left!” written in bright green ink across the top. I remember how satisfying it was to mark down a “1” after having started at over a hundred and patiently writing the painfully large triple- and double-digits. I etched the numbers in the margins of papers, memorizing the number of days and weeks left. There were new numbers each day, printed in unused corners and vacancies in homework sheets, glancing out from behind notebook pages. The digits repeated themselves everywhere: I wrote the numbers down again and again to reassure myself that a good thing was coming, something worth waiting for.
The good thing came, and it was absolutely worth waiting for. The Europe trip rocked me to the moon and back. I loved visiting a place with something to see everywhere you turned, history and artwork lacing the cities. Knowing that there was sure to be adventure ahead with every step I took was so, so diatonically different from the long, dull days at home that I associate with summertime. I kept a journal of the whole thing, which I’m going to type out here. Enjoy a nice long post after seventeen days of nothing. (It’s so weird to refer to the last seventeen days of my life as “nothing.” Those days were the furthest from “nothing” that I have ever been in my entire life.) (Oh and uhhh the first one is in Spanish. Use or something if you want, or just skip that entry.)

June 17, 2:54 P.M. (US Time) Estoy en el aeropuerto. Estoy esperando la hora tres y media. Eso es cuando el avion va a Europe. Vamos a ir a London primer. -upside down exclamation point- Tengo que montar el avion por diez horas o mas! Compre una merienda sana y rica, y tengo tres libros buenos para leer. No pienso que lo va a estar muy mal. Pero tal vez lo va a estar pequito aburrido.

June 17, 2:30 P.M. (US Time) I just got on the plane. Right on schedule. I’m sitting next to a nice lady and her mom. There is enough legroom, plus little headsets so you can listen to music. They provide a nice thick magazine to read, and also blankets and pillows and those weird eye cover thingies for when it’s time to sleep. And there are T.V. sets to watch movies on. The flight will be good. 10 hours? Pssh. I can make it. P.S. I have a window seat. That means I get a great view, but have to inch past two people if I need to pee.

June 17, 4:05 (US Time) Wait, how is it already 4:05? We just took off a while ago. My watch must be wrong, or maybe we hit a stitch in the timezones. The takeoff was cool. First we coasted along a concrete path for a solid ten minutes, watching other planes whiz by as they gained enough momentum to veer up, up, and away. I watched a few as they angled upward and lifted off the ground. They looked like little birds or something, not big clankety machines. I watched them soar upward, but then suddenly a cloud would wrap itself around a plane and swallow it in its fluffy white mass. Planes climbed into the sky, then--whoof--disappeared. It was exciting to feel our plane tip upward and wobble in the air. I couldn’t wait to get devoured by a cloud. Watching the earth drop away from underneath me was awesome, but also a little scary, but really interesting. We sliced right through a cloud on the way up. At first my view was shrouded by a puffy white blur, but then we pulled out over atop the cloud. IT WAS WEIRD. It looked like a meadow of marshmallow glop, or cotton, or snow. And clouds, I guess they’re a lot bigger than they appear. The cottony marshmallow snow stretched out forever in every direction. I guess that is what it feels like to be stranded in Antartica.

June 17, 10:30 P.M. A few hours ago, I looked out the window and saw a lovely sunset. An hour or so later, give or take an hour, it was beginning to darken, just slightly. I took a peek out the window just now, and the sun streamed into the dimly lit plane. I’m guessing we’ve crossed over to a different time zone, then. Sunrise doesn’t occur at 10:30 in the night.

June 18th, 10:45 A.M. (Paris time, I finally changed my watch.) Clouds are weird. Sometimes they’re all fluffy and yummy-looking, and sometimes they resemble big old hunkering clods of styrofoam skimming mountaintops. When you’re atop a cloud with early sunlight spilling across it, it’s like a miniature heaven. When you’re soaring through the interior of a cloud, it’s just a flurry of white. Sometimes clods are a semi-transparent sheet suspended above the earth. Sometimes a cloud is just a stray wisp of water vapor hovering in the air. Spend eleven hours on a plane, and you begin to appreciate clouds.

June 18, 1:00 (Paris time) This is so weird. I never slept on the plane, just sat there until the lights came back on and they started serving a breakfast of salty ham and sour yogurt. So now it’s tomorrow even though it feels like yesterday’s today. We have to wait for four hours in the terminal. Everything here is painfully expensive.

June 18, 5:00 (UK time) We’re through with plane flights and passports and such. I bought exotic foreign candy bars at a terminal to bring home so people can ooh and aah over the weird wrappers and then snarf them down and say, “gee, I shoulda savored that, considering I’ll never be able to get ahold of one of those again unless I fly to the UK!” A voice on the intercom announces, “For security reasons, any unattended baggage will be removed and destroyed.” That made me chortle.

June 19, 7:25 A.M. (UK time) SO today we get to do fun stuff, not security checks or bus rides and all. Today we take a walking tour of London. That’s going to be fun. You know what wasn’t fun? My shower earlier this morning. It took me quite a bit of time to figure out how to turn the thing on. When it came on, finally, the pressure was all messed up. So I reached up to fiddle with the showerhead, and had hardly touched it when it fell off and clonked me on the head. The water started shooting a jetstream straight across to the other wall. I cupped my hands around it in a pitiful attempt to somehow shove it all back into the wall. It never occurred to me to just shut the water off. Then I grabbed the showerhead and clamped it over the hole where the water was flooding from, stepping onto the ledge and balancing delicately on the edge of the tub in order to reach the spot where the showerhead needed to be. Gingerly, I adjusted the pressure, stepped down into the tub, and washed my hair at warp speed, bracing myself for another blow by falling showerhead.

June 19, 8:50 A.M. (UK time) The bus chugs along. London has a lot of pretty brick buildings, but we have yet to arrive at famous attractions. After dinner, we can go see a play, which would be very glamorous and fun. But it costs 40 pounds, or 70 dollars, so maybe not.
-London sets apart a bit of land for every living space, where people used to keep cows and goats. The “common grounds” are now used as parks to walk dogs in, have picnics, and stuff. Only people living in the group of houses/apartment building/whatever can use the common ground, but everybody has one near where they live.
-There are about 18,000 taxis in London. Most people don’t own cars because parking is inconvenient and expensive- $6/hour.
-Houses are squished up right next to each other to make room for common grounds. Townhouses don’t appear to exist here, but probably do in less bust parts of the city.
-King Edward made an oath to travel to Rome and help them in their time of need before he was king. Once he became king, he had to stay in England and help his own country. He asked his priest what he could do to compensate for breaking the oath, and was told to build a church dedicated to Saint Paul. The king did so, and built a house next to it to live in. Before the church was finished, he died and was buried in the abbey of the house. <-- Saint Paul’s Cathedral: we’re going there right now. Our tour guide just told us that little story.
We’re in Brixton, in the western part of London. This is where you buy sarongs and samosas: Indian goods. There are Arabic, Russian, and other communities here in London as well.

June 19, 10:00 A.M. (UK time) We saw Big Ben, the London Eye, and the Houses of Parliament. It’s striking to have these iconic things that I’ve only ever seen in movies, on television, or in pictures suddenly come into view. I took a picture of a long skinny thing, which turned out to be a monument dedicated to the Fires of London. The city burned for four days and four nights, and a thousand people died. Depressing.

June 19, 11:05 A.M. (UK time) I have been attempting to take pictures of myself with background through the window. It is not working tremendously well. Oh well. We are off to the Buckingham Palace now.

June 19, 11:45 A.M. (UK time) I’m back! I got lovely pictures of the Changing of the Guards, but none of the interior of the castle. Mrs. Kalman said it was too crowded. You would need to make reservations several months in advance. D:3 <--tilt head to the right.

June 19, 7:50 P.M. (UK time) WHAT A DAY. TOO MUCH TO SAY. AND I’M ABOUT TO GO OUT AGAIN, ANYWAY. Oh wait, I do need to announce that I just took my first subway ride. It was certainly a very pushy-shovy atmosphere. As in, lots of pushes and shoves. And when the bus thing took off, nobody in our group knew to grab ahold of the nearest pole or seat back or subway ridee, so we all lurched backwards and stumbled all over each other while the more experienced subway riders looked on in disdain and smirked.

June 20, 5:35 A.M. (UK time) Done with a country already! We are taking a train to Paris today and kissing Great Britain goodbye. Yesterday was a lot of sightseeing INCLUDING National Gallery-Buckingham Palace-London Eye-Houses of Parliament-Big Ben-St. Paul’s Cathedral-Piccadilly Circus--- and that was all very fun. Between attractions, we were given a lot of free time to shop, visit a marketplace, find a cafe or supermarket, and go to nearby parks. It was a “meet me here in two hours” type of thing. I liked having the freedom. Sarah, Shirley, and I went to a local supermarket and bought little plastic tubs of pasta to share. With the split cost, it was only 50p. While I was there I bought a bunch of those weird candy bars that they sell here but not in the U.S. How mysterious and elusive. I’ll have ten! Yeah. They’re pretty much the entirety of my gift shopping. “Yeah, I’m back from Europe, have a candy bar.”
Anyway, we walked back to the square, where we sat on the curb and watched a streetpreformer whilst shoveling pasta into our mouths. It was delicious. Then we went shopping for a while, which included my purchase of a can of authentic English tea for my momma. After awhile we wandered through a market, and by then it was time to return to the meeting spot. The tour guide led us up through a Chinatown, then down a row of side-by-side theaters, and landed us in Piccadilly Circus to use the restroom and take photos for a few minutes, before heading to the National Gallery. I really liked the Monet paintings. Up close the paint just looked like sloppy strokes and blurs, but the further you backed up, the clearer the image became. The paintings had the most clarity when you stood at the other end of the room. I’m off to breakfast now, more later.

June 20, 10:05 (UK time/11:05 Paris time) I am in a Eurostar train at the moment, headed to Paris. I’m unsure whether to use Uk time or Paris time, so I just put both in the heading. And since I already talked about yesterday, there isn’t much to document except the morning’s commute. But I guess other stuff will come up as I write. OH WAIT first I wanna say that the food here is wonderful. The first night everybody had spaghetti from the hotel restaurant, and last night we had Indian food. In England. But lunch is awesome because we get to go wherever we want to eat: yesterday it was a supermarket. They have entire aisles dedicated to lunch items, a la carte or full meals, ready for you to pick up and eat as soon as you step out of the store. There are sandwiches, wraps, cold pastas, salads, sushi, fruit salad cups, pizzas, stuffed pita, and also THAI SPICED AND COCONUT LEMONGRASS CHICKEN ROLLS!! which is what I got at the train station earlier on today to eat on the train at lunchtime. Why doesn’t Safeway offer such a gargantuan variety? Possibilities of lunchfood here are endless.
I hope everybody enjoys the harried phone message I left last night. It cost a dollar a minute, which included the time it took the phone to ring.

June 21st, 7:10 A.M. (Paris time) Sorry I didn’t write about my day in Paris yesterday. It was all go-go-go for the entire day, and we returned to the hotel at ten til one. In the morning. I would complain more about that, but the Eiffel Tower sure is pretty at night. I wish we could have rode to the top, but the lines were miles long and only one elevator was working. We were given ten minutes to look around a bit and snap pictures. Going to the top would have taken several hours of standing in line.
Now I’m all out of order. We didn’t see the Tower until later on. After the train, we dumped all our stuff in our hotel rooms. Sarah and I are rooming with a 17-year-old from Arizona. Then we took a Metro train to the Louvre, which was FANTASTIC. After edging our way into the crowd circling the Mona Lisa and taking a picture, we stumbled out, relieved to have that over with, and roamed through random rooms for a while. The place is so BIG. It’d have taken forever to see the entire thing, a week at least. Two hours was notably insufficient. But going outside to the gardens and pyramid was nice, too. The air was crisp and the sun was out, and there was plenty to see out there. Our nest stop was the Eiffel Tower, which you heard about, then dinner at a place with the unfortunate name of Flam’s. But the food was GOOOOOODDDD STUFFF. They make pizzas with super-thin crusts, then top it with sauce, cheese, onions, and ham. We sat at a long table, and they set down pizzas randomly. Once a pizza had been finished, they would bring out another. I had to control myself, because I know I could have eaten ten of those things. So I loaded up on salad instead. After that we revisited the Eiffel Tower because it was all lit up and glowy. Then there was an extra excursion for those who’d signed up and paid twelve euros. It was a boat cruise along the Seine. Guess who signed up and paid all by herself. That was really fun; they played music and told us little facts about the bridges we were passing under and some of the buildings we were seeing. It was kinda cold and kinda really late, but at the end when we pulled in near the Eiffel Tower, it was flashing a million tiny lights all over the place. The Eiffel Tower SPAHKULS at night. 11:00 P.M., for just ten or fifteen minutes. We had to take the grimy Metro home. It stopped in the middle of one of the tubes, and everybody lurched backward, and I thought we were going to die, but everybody laughed and made cheerful “what’s-going-on” noises, and after a minute of panic I realized that that just happens sometimes. Today we’re sightseeing again. I need to go to breakfast now. Lots of stories later!

You know what, guys? It is so tedious typing out that whole journal, so that’s all you get for now. I keep wanting to write blog entries, but can’t until I get this monster of a post out of the way. I’m sorry for taking so long to write this thing. I haven’t been on the computer much, so I couldn’t continue chipping away at the journal. At this point, summer is already half over. I’ll try to put up the rest of the journal, in small increments, up before September comes!

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