Monday, February 13, 2006

Guerilla Tourism

On Wednesday I went to the Palasso Massimo museum with Art and Arch. None of the problems of the last trip occurred, in fact we got to the Metro station where we were to meet Marry Anne, the Student Life Secretary two hours early. Our unfailing nerd senses led the Doppelganger, Treco, Nick, and I straight to a bar for coffee, and then to Mel Bookstore, which is evidently the Italian equivalent of Barnes and Noble. We went in just seeing the store front, and surmising that it was long and then, but no bigger than any of the other stores on the street. Then I turned a corner around a bookshelf and discovered that it went much deeper into the building and there were exits on the street running parallel to the one from which we had entered, and that there were two other floors in the building. ^_^

The museum itself, one of the three National Archeology Museums, was smaller then the Capitoline Museums and it’s collection consists of Roman sculpture and portraiture. I liked it better than the Capitoline as well – its size made it easier to take in, and there were a lot of cool things there. If you have seen anything from its collection than it is probably either this, or possibly this, which is a Roman copy of a Greek original. My personal favorite, and that of everyone I talked to, was this room. When I get home I’ll show people the video I made of it, but even that does not do the room justice. There are frescoes like this along all four walls. It was originally an underground barrel vault from the garden at the private villa of one of the emperors. I also overheard more than one person express a desire to do this in their own home, an idea which I too plan to carry out. It was nice at the end of the tour to just sit down and look at this room.

So, I went to London this weekend, just, you know, because. Let me begin this with a definition and another note.

Guerilla Tourism: lurk underground then jump out and take pictures of the monuments while their guard is down, than disappear onto the Underground.

My partners in crime were Lauren, the Doppelganger, Nick, and Treco.

Treco is a lighting rod of hate. If anything bad can happen, it will happen to him. The trick is to stand near him, so that anything bad which would have happened to you will happen to him instead, but don’t stand to close otherwise you get all of his bad karma, plus whatever was already going to happen to you.

Our flight on Friday was to leave at 11:00. So, leaving an hour for check in, security, and passport control, we needed to be at the airport by 10:00. Presupposing the existence of a bus, it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to get to the airport, which means that for comfort’s sake we deeded to be on a bus by 9:30 at the absolute latest. Now the existence of a bus is a big assumption to make, if you want a 9:30 bus, you need to be at the stop at 8:30 otherwise you won’t make it. So, we made our first mistake and stayed up late the night before, and each of us got roughly six hours of sleep. Treco is nearly impossible to wake up, and may even beat me in the World Sleeping In Championship. So, at 9:30, when despite numerous attempts to get him moving, Treco was still not fully packed, the rest of us went out to the bus stop fully prepared to leave him.

We caught a bus which was more or less on time, and made it to Chiampano without much trouble. A consultation with the departures board told us that the flight has been delayed, so my cell phone was abused to call back to campus, to Angie, one of the Student Life Coordinators, whom we had spoken to at breakfast and who knew what was going on with our trip, and asked her to try and find Treco and tell him that he might still make it. She never did talk to him, because in the intervening time since our departure, he had finished packing and caught the next bus.

The rest of us got our boarding passes and changed our money (one of my 50 dollar traveler’s checks was magically turned into 19 Pounds by a particularly obtuse clerk who insisted on changing it into Euros before giving me pounds) and were just about to go through security when Treco came dashing in. We debated killing each other and decided to go to London instead.

He got his boarding pass and we all passed through security and passport control. The maniac their decided to stamp mine on the page across from my visa, underneath the little information notice from the Italian Embassy that is stapled in there. We did this just in time for the beginning of the line to board our flight.

Let me take this moment to say that Americans pay far too much for airfare. For the flight to London together with the flight back, we paid $87.55 per person, and we were grumbling about the price, because there are a lot of British airport taxes and the flight home was roughly three times as much as the flight back. As another example, in the Metro in Rome there are Lufthansa billboards advertising round-trip flights to Miami for 324 EUR. Why do Americans pay so much more to fly?

Now Ryan Air is a “low fares” airline, and part of the way they achieve this is at the terminal. They have itty bitty little airplanes that are accessed by stairs on the tarmac, not a gangway attached to the building. Our flight is parked on the opposite side of the air port from where the terminal is, and we have to take a shuttle bus to the plane. They save even more money by trying to sell things to you all throughout the flight: hot and cold drinks, food (although there is nothing stopping you from bringing your own), souvenirs, fragrances, children’s toys, and bus passes from the airport into the city (we did get that last one, because we had been warned by friends who went last week that they were far cheaper onboard then at the station and there was no other way into the city).

The flight itself was without incident, and Lauren got some great shots of the some mountains (the Alps?) and the costs of Corsica and France. We landed in London and were filling out the landing cards for customs when we realize that the Doppelganger had not printed the confirmation email for our hostel and we consequently did not have anything to put in the blank labeled “Address in the United Kingdom”. This wasn’t a problem for me because the guy had trouble finding where the Italian passport control officer had stamped my passport (I finally had to tell him) and that distracted him. My other four accomplices were read the riot act by an increasingly irate passport minion.

Finding the correct bus wasn’t any trouble, and not having any other instruction we rode it all the way into Victoria Station, which is one of the bigger Tube Stations in the city, in addition to being combined with National Rail, and a coach station. Just before we got there, we spotted an STA Travel outlet, and since that is where we had all gotten our Student ID cards we went there first. Treco inquired about replacing his stolen ID, and I called directory assistance in an effort to locate our hostel. I was less than successful, as London is divided into many small towns all of which are mashed together into one metropolis, rather like New York City. This means that if you call directory assistance and say “London” they will not be able to locate a hostel in Kensington or Chelsea (we never did figure out where it actually was) and they will treat you like an idiot for not knowing. Thus defeated, we went back to Victoria Station and at the ridiculous rate of 1 Pound ($1.80) a minute, the Doppelganger used a public access terminal to find the address of the Hostel. After that, we bought tickets and took the Tube across town to our hostel.

I will never say another word against the organization of the Roman Metro again. The Metro looks like this. The Tube looks like this.

We weren’t entirely sure where on the street our hostel was, so we took the Tube to one end of it, and started walking. The street number of the hostel was 149. We emerged from the tube at Number 8. Only the residential buildings were numbered, so the walk lasted a lot longer than it would have otherwise. It was a long walk, past another Tube station and several bus stops that we could have taken if we had bothered to try to understand the London bus system. One of the few amenities offered by the hostel was its location, it was 20 minutes by Tube from Victoria station, sure, but it was in a nice area, on our way there we walked by the Natural History Museum, the French Embassy, the Yemeni Embassy, and the Baden-Powell House [sorry boys, but I didn’t have a chance to stop :(]. We were next door to a large modern glass-and steel Marriot with waterfalls and torches out front. We checked in at the hostel, got directions to the Earl’s Court High Street, dropped our luggage and went in search of food. I’ll come back to the hostel later, but let me just say now that our plan was to check in and hit one museum that afternoon. Between the hour and a half on the bus and the confusion in reaching the hostel it was dinner time before we were ready to go anywhere.

We ate in the Earl’s Court Tavern, which had good food. We tried the appetizer nachos in homage to a favorite comedian who laments the lack of good Mexican food in England. He was right, they used Doritos for tortilla chips, and the chili included beans. On the other hand, the hamburgers we had were wonderful, and the chips were a welcome break from the pasta we’ve been eating. Our waitress was new, something we forgave her and left an over generous tip for after confirming that service had not been included in the bill. She was also not a native speaker of English: her understanding and usage were both good, but she was used to hearing British accents, and ours threw her for a loop. We found that everywhere we went our accents and idioms caused problems. Lauren found out the hard way that you do not ask “Do you carry Nutella?” at a grocery store. Apparently that means does the clerk personally carry Nutella. The correct form is “Do you have any Nutella?”

After dinner we went on a lightning tour of the monuments by night, using what I called Guerilla Tourism, see the definition above. We started at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, then went to Westminster Abby. We walked up the street past Horse Guards Palace, the Admiralty Arch, and the turn off for Scotland Yard, ending in Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column. We hit a souvenir shop and a pub before heading back to the hostel for the night.

The hostel was the cheapest available, and we got what we paid for. It was sweltering hot, even with the window open. And the beds were tiny, although the linens were clean. Our rooms were divided: 2 in a 6 bedroom female dorm, and 3 in a 6 bed room mixed dorm. I drew the short straw and was in the mixed dorm, there was another girl my room, so it was sort of OK, we didn’t spend much time there. Anna and Lauren were in a room on, what the British called the 2nd Floor, which means the 3rd Floor to us. Nick, Treco and I were a floor above that. The stares were a continuous, orange painted, wrought iron monstrosity that started out with large good-sized steps, but got steadily narrower and steeper as it ascended, to the point that we regretted not packing climbing gear before we reached our room. The included breakfast turned out to be toast (your choice of butter and/or Apple-Plum-Rhubarb Jam) and juice. There were no smoking signs plastered all over the place, but the whole building reeked of cigarette smoke. We got what we paid for. My three other roommates were from Spain, and spoke very little English. The three of us colectivally knew German quite well, a little Italian, a little French, and a little Latin, but very little Spanish that wasn’t directly related to food or money. What Spanish we did know was Mexican Spanish, which is as different from Spanish in Spain as American is from British. We did not talk much, and I’m sure they 1.)thought we were crazy and 2.) wanted to murder me and throw my cell phone out the window after I hit the snooze alarm four times.

As we trekked down to breakfast, Lauren met Nick and me on the steps (Treco as up and
moving and swore that he was on his way down) to the basement where the kitchen was located and told us that the Doppelganger was sick. She was sick as in throwing up, but she had no temperature and was not coughing, nor was her nose stopped up. After we asked her several times if she didn’t want to stay there and I even offered to stay behind with her, the five of us got on our way. Our first stop, at the end of that block, was to a grocery store, where we got bottles of water, 7UP, and Milk of Magnesia (the only thing in the “Medicines” section that said it was good for upset stomach) and set out for a day of Guerilla Tourism. [I also found Dr. Pepper there. British Dr. Pepper tastes like the stuff in the glass bottles with the Imperial Cane Sugar that comes from Dublin, Texas. Good stuff, but more than twice what one would pay for it in the States.]

One can buy a day pass for the underground for the inner two zones (we only needed the first one, but that is as small as they come) for 3 Pounds 90, which is an incredible deal considering that a single ticket costs 4 Pounds, so that is what we all got. Treco, the Doppelganger and I all had change so we were able to use the machines. Lauren and Nick stood in line and bought the tickets from a real live human being. As Nick was leaving the teller, he heard the guy turn to the other one and ask Metro, tickets “You come to a foreign country without a quid in your pocket?” Our answer is of course, yes, when the exchange rate is this bad, although he restrained the urge to answer the question. We got as far as the Monument Tube stop, before the Doppelganger threw up again, although she did move away from us, and she had a bag handy. We exited hurriedly and began a search for a public restroom and a trashcan.

We made the discovery that neither thing exists in the Underground, apparently for security reasons. We landed at a Starbucks just outside the station, where the Doppelganger was able to throw the bag away. We all sat down to wait to see how the Doppelganger felt, and Lauren and I bought coffee since we were taking up space and using their restroom. After a while, in which Treco and I wrote a few postcards, Lauren and I drank our coffee, Anna drank a little water and had a dose of the Milk of Magnesia, and we re-plotted the day to allow for our troubles getting started, we left again.

Our first stop was the Tower of London. The Doppelganger decided not to go in, so she went to one of the gift shops and took a nap while the rest of us went. We took the tour from one of the Yeomen Warders, which was free with admission, and well worth it. Between Nick, Treco, and myself, we got most of the tour on our cameras (we didn’t get the first section because we didn’t think about it and we weren’t allowed to record the part in the chapel because of copy write restrictions) which we have strung together for the Doppelganger to see. Then we went into the Jewel House, where no photography was allowed, so we bought postcards of it. If we could have, we would have spent far more time at the Tower, but there were other places we wanted to see and we didn’t want to leave the Doppelganger alone any longer, so we hit the gift shop, collected our ailing comrade (now feeling a little bit better) and moved on.

We then took the Tube to Blackfriars, and got turned around because we decided to try to reach our next location by following the posted signs instead of the map. Of course, part of the reason we got lost was because we only followed half of the directions on the map, but who am I to quibble? We doubled back and crossed the Thames via Blackfriars Bridge, which is a nifty piece of civic architecture put up by Queen Victoria. We walked down the Thames for a while, dutifully following signs that informed us that our target was only minutes away. We learned when we finally arrived that the Millennium Bridge would have been closer, but it was a moot point by then.

This is me at the Globe. ^_^

All the historic Any-things in London seem to close in the 4-5 o’clock hour, so we alas did not have time to take a tour or see the special exhibit that was there about Shakespeare’s connection with the Gunpowder Plot, both of which would have also cost money. We made up for not spending any money by blowing large portions of our remaining money at the gift shop. I spent 19 Pounds and some change, which translates to about $40.

We crossed the river on the way back to the Tube via the Millennium Bridge, which is a brand spanking new steel and glass footbridge – as wide as a two lane road, and not one of these narrow Italian roads either – that we could feel shaking beneath our feet with the weight of all the people walking on it. I didn’t like it because I’m afraid of heights. The others agreed that the shaking was disturbing and that Blackfriars was a much better bridge. On the flip side, the end of the bridge near the Globe and the Tate Modern was home to the best steel drum player I’ve ever heard. He was playing “Moonlight Sonata” and against all logic it actually sounded good. Nick recorded it, and I plan to get a copy from him. If any of us had had any change handy we would have left some.

Our next stop, just across the bridge and two streets directly north of the Globe, was Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Our stop there went something like this:

“Look it’s Saint Paul’s!” *click, click*

“So where’s the Tube Station?”

“Let me check the map.”

As for the map, we went through a song and dance every time we looked at it, which was often. It was a good map, but unfortunately it folded up into a continent pocket size and found a home in my purse. I had my camera, Augustine’s Confessions (which I was supposed to be reading for Theo Trad), and a growing collection of receipts in it. Every time we wanted the map we had to stop and spend a minute letting me search for it, declare I couldn’t find it, check the bag a was using for souvenirs, check my pockets, and then check the purse one last time, where I would find it tucked between two postcards. We did this EVERY TIME. In hindsight, we agree that I should have just given the map to Nick, who was my assistant navigator.

Our next stop was the British Museum. Finding it was a bit of a challenge, as there wasn’t a Tube stop that spit you our right at it, and Nick was allowed to navigate initially. The British Museum is cool. It’s big. It’s FREE (although they suggest a donation). They allow you to take pictures. We only had an hour before closing time, so we swung through the ancient Greek galleries and saw the Parthenon Room, we then went through the Egypt room. We saw the Rosetta Stone, some mummies, and a bunch of other nifty looking things, the names of which I can not for the life of me remember. We hit the gift shops(plural) and spent the last of our cash. On our way out the door we saw the main reading room, which is also very impressive. When I grow up, I want a library like that of my own. I’ll put it near the Roman frescos. Our last act was to take photos on the steps of the museum. While we were there everyone except Nick encountered some sort of trouble with their camera from Treco, who’s camera reported new batteries as being dead to Lauren, who’s camera randomly decided that it did not want to turn the flash on when we went outside. All in all, I could easily have spent a full day just in that museum and been perfectly happy.

About the time we left the museum it suddenly hit us all that we had eaten a very small breakfast and has skipped lunch completely (well except for the Doppelganger, who was feeling much better but still didn’t feel like trying to eat anything). We trooped back over to Blackfriars, were the pub had been recommended to Nick by a friend. It was worth the trip, I got sausage and mash because 1.) it was not pasta and 2.) it was as about as British as it is possible for food to get and still be edible. Those mashed potatoes were at least as good as the ones I make at home. Good stuff.

A word on schedules before I continue:

Our flight back to Rome left London at 7:10 AM. It was the only Ryan Air flight going from London to Rome on Sunday, so missing it was not an option. Now, since unlike the Italians the British actually have something resembling customs and security, it was necessary to be there at least an hour early, which would be at 6:10 AM. We timed the bus going in and knew to allow an hour and a half, luckily the bus service was continuous, with up to three running every hour. Which meant be on a bus leaving Victoria Station at 4:30 AM. Problem: our hostel was a 20 minute Tube ride from Victoria and the first Tube in the morning to leave Victoria doesn’t come until 6:40 AM. Having already paid for our return bus tickets and being unwilling to chunk out money for a taxi, and totally unable to make heads our tales of the London bus system, we decided to take the only remaining option for us: stay in London as late as we could and then spend the night in Luton airport.

We went back to the hostel, collected our stuff, and checked out roughly 12 hours early. Treco wanted to get online before we left, because at the hostel it only costs 50 pence per half-hour. Unfortunately, the person before us paid for a full hour moments before he walked into the office. So we sat there and watched part of the Olympics on BBC2, which was kind of fun. We got to see the pair of skaters who came in first in whatever even was on Saturday.

We killed time in Victoria Station until it closed at 11, mostly by going to the grocery store in order to procure breakfast for Sunday, and at McDonalds. None of us wanted to go to McDonalds at any time this semester. We swore up and down that we would not be the obnoxious Americans that everyone complains about. Then we saw a billboard advertising Cadbury Crunchy McFlurries for 99 Pence, so we gave in and sacrificed a little bit of our souls to our evil corporate overlords.

When the station closed we caught the bus to the airport, there were four other passengers with us, but they got off before the airport. Anna and Treco managed to sleep a bit on the bus, the rest of us were kept wide awake by the driving. I did not know it was possible to get a bus moving so quickly, or handle it so sharply.

We arrived at the airport at a little past midnight and settled in to wait and wait and wait. Then finally the Ryan Air counter opened and we grabbed our boarding passes and went through security and waited for another hour, we were awoken by the cold wet air coming in from outside when a 6:30 flight to Milan left. We were the first people with out special needs or small children onboard out plane, and we were all asleep before it was off of the ground.

We got back to campus just in time for brunch, which was grabbed before retiring to our rooms to sleep.

Places where America has England beat: food, signage, and TV. If we pay far too much for airfare, then the British pay too much for food. One example: McDonalds has a 99 Pence menu, which equates to a $2 menu. A two litter bottle of Coke costs 2 Pounds, or $4. I would never pay more than $1 for any soda in the States. As for signage, the Brits always go for the most formal and wordy way to say anything. American TV programs are just better, hands down.

Funny Britishisms:

Quid- this is either 1.) a Pound; 2.) 20 pence (five to a pound); or 3.) a 5 Pound note. No matter what, it is defiantly money, and defiantly has something to do with the number 5, we didn’t have a dictionary handy, and certainly weren’t going to ask, but we are leaning towards number 2. Update: a consultation with a German dictionary (turns out the German for Quid is “Quid”) confirms that at Quid is, indeed, a Pound.

Underground- the subway, or Metro, sometimes called the Tube

Subway- a pedestrian underpass, sometimes connected with the Underground.

Way Out- Exit

Queue- used indiscriminately for the words line, traffic, or delay. Lauren has a picture of a road sign well outside the city with a picture of cars stopped by traffic and the sign says “Queues Likely”

Coach- a bus, not a person who leads a sports team.

Chips- French Fries

Lessons learned:

Don’t stay up late the night before you travel.

Don’t oversleep.

Don’t get sick.

Cheaper is not always better.

More TIME is always better.

Never ever sleep in an airport.

Always bring as many batteries as you can carry.

Pay cash.

Always print the confirmation as soon as you make a reservation.

Know where your towel is.



P.S. repeat after me: Roman copy of a Greek original. This is in the Palasso Massimo. This is in the British Museum.

P.P.S. The Doppelganger is feeling much better now, although her stomach is not happy about throwing up five times in one day, neither is she for that matter. She swares that as hard as it was to keep moving she would not have missed it for the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I LOVE "Guerilla Tourism". Still sounds like you are having a wonderful time. Enjoy. Happy Valentine's Day... Love Uncle Lynn