As I mentioned, the posts for the next few weeks will be chronological. Here’s where I was on this day, here’s what I did. A few thoughts, a few observations. But what I consider to be the “real” travel writing will occur after all that. Those are the essays I’m still fretting over and crafting and hoping they won’t be complete shite when I’m done. We’ll see. For now, let’s talk turkey.
August 11, 2006
I hate flying. Has this come up before? I’ve tried taking Xanax on a flight before. I’ve tried near OD levels of Tylenol PM. But there’s something about the first time the engines roar that sends enough adrenaline racing through my body as to counter a hippo sedative. This flight, I was armed with Valium. On the one hand, it didn’t do what I wanted it to do which was make me positively loopy. I wanted to be out of it and, if possible, drooling from the corner of my mouth. I considered pinning a note to my shirt: if I am still like this when we reach London, please put me in the nearest taxi and get me to King’s Cross. Sadly (?), this was unnecessary. The Valium did not make me loopy or even a little bit tired (or, if it was trying, it was fighting a losing battle with the adrenaline I could feel prickle outward from my chest to all my extremeties). But I do think it relaxed me a bit. I didn’t feel the crushing terror I normally feel on a flight. It was an overnight journey, scheduled to leave the Twin Cities and arrive Saturday morning at 9am in Gatwick. The theory, of course, was that if I could sleep on the plane, I would awake the next morning and already be on a new sleep schedule. It sort of worked. I never fell COMPLETELY asleep but I achieved a state of semi-consciousness for most of the flight.
August 12, 2006
I had some small anxieties about what had to happen once I landed. I knew I had to get from Gatwick Airport (about 30 minutes south of London) to King’s Cross Station (towards the north end of London). If the plane arrived on time (approximately 9am), I then had about 3 ½ hours to achieve this, once I’d located my baggage, hopped the Gatwick Express (a train that runs every 15 minutes from Gatwick to Victoria Station), then grabbed a taxi to take me to King’s Cross (I debated taking the Underground from Victoria to King’s Cross and, while I’ve used subway systems before, decided I didn’t want to risk it while in unfamiliar territory).
I’ve touched on my feelings about Gatwick before so I’ll save my Gatwick stories for future entries (short version: not impressed). The Gatwick Express took me through neighborhoods that looked like everything I’d ever seen about residential London on any British TV show. Sad to say, that I was so focused on getting to where I needed to be (I had a 12:30 train to Edinburgh to catch) that I didn’t quite have that “Oh my God, I’m in London” moment right away (I would not actually have that moment until I returned to London a little over a week later). The maelstrom of busy that I was (Get to King’s Cross, Get to King’s Cross…) didn’t allow for much of anything else. As soon as I hit Victoria Station, I found the line (hither to known as ‘queue’) for the cabs (the shortest I would yet encounter; really, I was two people from the front of the line….er, queue). And then I was whisked off to King’s Cross Station (note to self: future entry on driving in the UK and the wheel of terror known as the ‘roundabout’….”Look, kids! Big Ben! Parliament! Hot Flaming Death!”).
So I spent no time at Gatwick. No time at Victoria. But I managed to get to King’s Cross a good hour and a half before my train was to leave. So I took a breather. I had a pasty (for the uninitiated, I am descended from Cornish lead miners; pasty has been a staple in my family for as long as I can remember and remains, to this day, my favorite food). I looked around. I was pleased to see rampant non-discrimination everywhere. Even the bathrooms allowed for women, men, the infirmed, and DALEKS. (We-must-UR-IN-ATE!)
As I wandered around King’s Cross, I remembered Ian telling me that if I could catch an earlier train to Edinburgh, I should. After polishing off my pasty, and verifying with a ticket agent that my ticket was indeed good (train tickets are funny things; they’re open ended so that you don’t HAVE to catch a certain train at a certain time as long as you catch it on the certain day that the ticket is printed for) and then leaving a message with Roy and Ian that I would be arriving an hour early, I quickly hopped on the 11:30 train to Edinburgh. (I’m starting to feel like a tease when I say “My thoughts about train travel will be covered in a later entry” but, well, they will. Let’s just deal with the nitty gritty for now, shall we? I will say this for now: while there was absolutely no sign, no indication as to what point the train crossed over in to Scotland, there was a moment where the grey clouds and rain that had greeted my arrival and London and remained with me on the train journey yielded to blue skies, white fluffy clouds, and relentlessly green hills…I’m pretty sure that’s when I hit Scotland.)
Stepping off the train, I pleaded with any divine being in earshot to help me find Roy and Ian. See, I have this thing with faces. I’m really bad at them. No, honestly. Some day, perhaps on my other blog, I’ll tell the story that explains exactly how bad I am with faces. Sufficed to say that despite the fact that I’d studied their pictures from the blogs, I was worried I wouldn’t no them.
Worrying was silly. Mere moments after I stepped onto the platform, tall, smiling Ian and twinkle-eyed, grinning Roy emerged from the crowd, two collies in tow. I was struck, only for a moment, of how unusual it seemed to have dogs at the train station (I was to learn that the citizens of the UK take their dogs EVERYWHERE). I have mentioned, a time or two, how absolutely wonderful these men are and more will be said (in later entries, hitherto abbreviated ILE) on the subject. I knew I was in good hands when they flagged me down, embraced me, and led me back to the car (Roy being ever so kind as to let me sit up front….after guiding me to the front passenger seat which I, of course, regarded as the castrated driver’s seat).
I got a quick drive around Edinburgh and the lessons began IMMEDIATELY. Ian was quick to point out local sites and give me a quickie version of their significance. The streets choked on pedestrians and cars and I was surprised to hear that any other time of year, the streets are almost always empty.
“It’s the Festival,” Ian explained.
“By Festival,” I asked, “do you mean the Book Festival? The Film Festival? The Tattoo? The Fringe Festival?” I stopped there, knowing there were still half a dozen more events progressing simultaneously.
“They’re all ‘the Festival,” he said.
August is just ‘the Festival.’ Cool.
We went out to buy me a bike (I learned it would be cheaper for me to buy a bike than rent one for a week), home where I had haggis (yum), and then I took a small nap before Roy and I headed to the Tattoo.....