It’s going to be a lonely trip at times. I know this. I’ve wanted to travel to Europe for years and years now, and for years and years I told myself that I should wait for the right time, that I should wait until I had someone that wanted to come along with me, a girlfriend or a wife or a family to take. But none of that ever came up, and I decided to go anyway, fly halfway across the world from my friends, family, and life just to see the sights.
Fortunately, it hasn’t been lonely yet — I’ve already met up with a few friends here in London that I’ve known from over the years, and as I said in the last post, a Tipoaa listener named Harvey from Oxford (who I did meet in person at Nerdtacular last year — he’s set to come again this year) kindly invited me into his house there, and he and his mom both kept great company, putting up with my rampant (and probably insulting) curiosity about all things English. While they were making tea for me the other day, Harvey’s mother’s electric kettle made what I thought was a surprising amount of noise and she shook her head at me while I frantically searched Google to find out why (answer: Steam bubbles form in the part of the water that reaches boiling, and then pop as they reach part of the water that’s still cold).
They put up with all my American ways as well — I discovered that I say “cool” and “awesome” way more often than I probably should, and though they kindly assured me that it was no big deal, I felt bad for seeing everything English through the lens of American show business. Oxford’s colleges reminded me of Harry Potter, the mossy gravestones reminded me of Tim Burton and World of Warcraft, and everything I know about cricket came to me through the parody of it in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
After saying farewell to Harvey’s mom and Oxford, we drove back into the city to meet up with his dad for lunch, an actual English barrister (he does indeed have a wig and gown, though he hasn’t worn it in a while, and of course I know what that meant because I’ve seen A Fish Called Wanda quite a few times), at an excellent pub in Hampstead. We ordered up pints of London Pride and three venison pies to eat, and even though the pies came way later than they should have (and were eventually free — apparently our order got lost in the Good Friday pub rush), it didn’t matter. We talked about all kinds of things: The differences between the English and American justice systems, the best places to stay and see in Paris and Berlin, how my generation doesn’t seem to feel the obligation that past generations have, and can thus try and define our own paths in life rather than following some prescribed destiny. I reminded Harvey’s dad that I’m not the only Schramm to chase destiny — my parents are also following their dreams around in an RV.
Afterwards, Harvey’s dad (also called Michael) took us for a ride in his classic 1970s Bristol, just an amazing car. We zoomed around the streets of Hampstead and he kindly delivered me to the hotel I’m staying at for my last five days in London.
I checked in and then got on the train where more good company awaited: I hosted a Tipoaa meetup at the Oxford Circus tube stop. I arrived timidly at the appointed time and tweeted where I was standing, and slowly but surely, listeners emerged from the crowd to greet me. Xav and Jaime were students, Xav a young guy in college (high school for us Americans), and Jaime studying economics in Nottingham. Paymon was a very cool web programmer with an eye for a good pub, and Andy was an airplane mechanic that works at a museum restoring old planes. Later on, Harvey rejoined us as well, and then Jess and Cain, friends of Paymon, and Chris, a guy from Northern Ireland with an awesome (there it is again) accent that didn’t let you forget it.
We started out at a pub across the street from our tube station, and stood in the entryway awkwardly, introducing ourselves and chatting about World of Warcraft. Then it was on to a dingy Tiki bar, where we talked about Diablo and whether you should play Diablo 2 if you haven’t yet before Diablo 3 comes out (Andy is planning to jump into Diablo 3 without having played any of the sequels). There was a good-looking bartender lady at the Tiki Bar, and I noticed that she had three Zelda hearts tattooed on her back. “I like your tattoo,” I told her, and she smiled and said thanks. “Are you a gamer?” I asked. “I was when I was younger,” she answered.
Then we went to a pub called the Glass Blower, and this is where the beer really started flowing. I got to try Guinness, my first in England, and it was as glorious as you could imagine (though still not, as Chris promised me, as good as Guinness in Ireland). I tried some chips (sorry, crisps) that were meant to be flavored like shrimp (though they didn’t actually contain any shrimp at all), and they weren’t bad. Salty, and terrible, but not bad. Despite this face.
We ended the night in a blur, of course, as all great nights out should end. We stumbled through what I was told was Soho, and it was so busy, with tons of crowds everywhere, drunken bars and clubs spilling out into the street. We were looking for a Japanese restaurant, I remember, but we passed one with the same name because we wanted to find a different one. This was the craziest I’d seen of London, with clubgoers everywhere and our little crew, fueled by plenty of beer, navigating through the crowd. Finally, we reached the restaurant and were duly informed by the server that we only had a half hour before close, so we ate our chicken teriyaki quickly. We said goodbye and thanks at the tube stop, and I walked home, my head filled with stories and new friends and excellent beer.
I don’t know what the rest of my trip will be like — I worry that when I do get to lands where I don’t know the language or anyone at all, they’ll be a lot lonelier than this past week. But it’s nice to travel halfway around the world, and find new friends just as willing to share a beer and their lives as much as my friends back home.
Posted on Sunday, April 8th, 2012 at 5:12 am. Filed under general.