Friday night Hubby and I returned from a two-week vacation to London and Paris. We saw EVERYTHING. (Seriously, everything.) We walked ten miles each day, plus rode the Tube (in London) and the Metro (in Paris) many miles to get to where we wanted to be. Mostly we saw tons of art, but also magnificent historical architecture and beautiful gardens. We stayed at really cool hotels (CitizenM Tower of London and Residence Foch) and consumed lots of fish and chips and hamburgers (the meat there is sooooo delicious compared to the ground beef you can buy in the States) and British craft beers. Hubby and did not get in even one fight, which I consider pretty amazing. Things got dicey on our last day in England, when Hubby insisted on reading EVERY didactic at the Greenwich Museum, and I was so done that I considered pulling the fire alarm and then at dinner pretended I had poisoned him (“are you dizzy? blurred vision? throat tightening? No? Hmmmmm). But overall, it felt like a second honeymoon, since we’ve never gone away for more than five days without the kids before. We celebrated our 29th anniversary on the hotel balcony with a spectacular view of the Tower of London and felt pretty damned fortunate.
The best thing about a fabulous vacation: Coming home. Our youngest son, William, did an excellent job of holding down the fort while we were gone—feeding and caring for our five pets and keeping the house clean is not an easy job. His best girl, Katherine, helped out, too. I left William a credit card and I’m sure I’ll cry when that next bill arrives and I see how much money “we” spent at Dutch Bros Coffee while we were away. Apparently we also paid him in beer since our keg of expensive IPA was empty. (College kids—what are you going to do??)
Today getting groceries I was so happy to have eye contact with people again. My experience was that in London and in Paris, there is absolutely no eye contact with strangers, unless you are a waiter serving dinner or hotel staff helping you as their guest. I did not like being invisible. I like to smile at people and have offhand chit chat. I can count on one hand the people who talked to us:
- The French woman at the coin laundromat who spoke no English but was able to guide us through the very unfamiliar laundry system. I gave her my most sincere smile, accompanied by a “merci beaucoup” and felt so grateful. Hubby and I were already feeling irritated at not being able to find the darn place having walked a mile in all directions in a fancy neighborhood, each of us carrying black hefty bags of dirty laundry!
- The “skin heads” on the Tube elevator in London who alerted me that the doors would be opening in the opposite direction from where I was standing. We’d traveled so much that day and I was daydreaming, not noticing that the 20 other people on this large elevator were facing the opposite direction. I said, “Thank you! I probably would have figured it out eventually! I’d think, where did all the people go? Why am I all alone?” They proceeded to do a bit which included the guy saying, “Dear Diary, Month 15 and I’m still in the Tube elevator. It’s not all bad. It’s warm in winter and cool in summer. People leave bags of chips. I’m happy here.”
- The woman whose feet my suitcase fell on in the Tube. She glared at me so hard I thought I might burst into flames. Seriously? I was carrying a huge paper sack which held three Starbuck’s London coffee cups and three London Toblerones that were gifts for the kids. It was unwieldy and when I shifted, my bag fell over. The part that landed on her feet was not heavy and I apologized sincerely, but she was just mad and mean and well, I’m sorry that when you ride the Tube you are so grumpy. I love riding the Tube. I love watching the comings and goings, and the families and the groups of friends and the handsome young men in their skinny suits headed to and from work (I especially love that).
- The young man on the Tube escalator that kept me from falling backwards when my huge, embarrassing, American suitcase started to fall off the step behind me. I started wobbling and made a sound like “ooooohhhhh,”and he heaved my case up to the step and gently kept me from falling. Oy vey, so embarrassing! If you’ve never been on a Tube escalator, I can tell you it’s very stressful. They are inclined at an extreme angle and go up four floors! As a person who is afraid of heights, I can say going up is easier but going down I look at my feet and breathe slowly in and out so as not to scream out, “We’re all going to die!!!!” Which would be really embarrassing.
- The business woman at the St. Pancras train station in London who so nicely gave me directions to where to catch our Eurostar (Chunnel) train. This station is HUGE and is the only international station in London. It’s super cool . . . if you’re not in a hurry to catch a train. I mistook her for a station information attendant because she was in a suit and was standing next to the Information sign (most stations have these with staff positioned there to answer questions). She did not laugh at me and was very sweet. Hubby, on the other hand, mocked me endlessly, so much so that anytime we were lost after that, I asked him, “Shall I go ask a stranger how to get there?” If you don’t get lost while on your Europe vacations, then you’re just not doing it right. We spent two hours one night looking for a restaurant called Hot Box that some website had recommended. It was not a “good lost” since it was in a business area with huge sky scrapers. We finally found the place. HA. Long picnic tables in a dark room with expensive hamburgers.
One reason I’m glad I was completely invisible in Europe: I was the only person wearing leggings. Here in Tempe that’s the norm! Next blog will be European fashion tips! Stay tuned!