Who Ate My Train?

Written by Concrete on . Posted in London, Team Fail

There was at least one positive to our bonus days in London: sunshine! Something not often seen in a British winter, and which we had yet to come across in four days in the city of fog. We tried to set off on another day of sightseeing, finally smart enough to take the train instead of bothering with the bus anymore, just to find that the trains weren’t stopping. Two of them blasted through the station at full speed, failing to make the Tulse Hill stop, with announcements counting down the minutes then apologizing for the cancellation of the train we just saw pass by.

After the second one, one of the frustrated passengers picked up the emergency phone and made a call to Transport, asking in classic British deadpan, “Who ate my train?”. and getting the answer that another one would be on the way.

The automated announcements counted down again, and finally said the train was in the station. If that was the case, it could only have been the Hogwarts express. There was nothing whatsoever at the platform, that was for sure. So he picked up the phone again, with a whole crowd becoming less and less gruntled by the minute gathering around, and inquired again, “who ate two of my trains?!” Predictably, the dispatcher was not amused, and told us that there had just been a train less than a minute ago, which was notably invisible, if it had arrived at all, a trait not usually seen on Southern Rail. Or any rail, for that matter. Eventually, she let us know that there was in fact a Train Eater, and it was located somewhere near Croydon, but getting farther away.

Eventually, one managed to get away from the Train Eaters and make its appointed run to London Bridge, and we finally got into the city. And were finally smart enough to take the Tube and not bother with the buses and traffic!

Just a little Shard:

Private Road — Children Dead Slow

With it being such a beautiful (and un-Londonlike) day we decided to go up to Primrose Hill and check out the city view before Camden Market.

Even more than the rest of it, Primrose Hill is a millionaire’s London.

And it’s a little too small to see in this picture, but we passed by Mornington Crescent and Cecil Sharpe House too. Just two minor landmarks for a geek with the epitome of two left feet…

After a beautiful sunset walk on the canal, we found Camden Town and we were HUNGRY!

First a little bakery that was painfully overpriced and had nothing of particular note except this poster…

Then toward Camden Market, and a vegan restaurant called inspiral foods that seemed oddly familiar. I figured out quickly enough why – I’d built their website about a year ago, and at the time never thought I’d be in London. Their food, despite being vegan, impressed me even more in real life than it already did just from having seen all those pictures at work. We also tried beer brewed from hemp seeds, just because the bartender pointed out to us it’s illegal in our country. But it was delicious too!

And then, we saw what we should have done. Half the price, twice the tasty. Street food stands of just about every country on earth, in a maze of indoor and outdoor stalls

After Ben’s performance at the Cambrian, he put me up to making a fool of myself on a piano in a little tea house, and butchering a few show tunes. Once we’d had enough of Camden (or, Camden had enough of us, as the case may be), we stopped by a pub with wifi to stress about the rest of the trip. In about half an hour, over one beer, we just reached the fuck it point, and booked a flight to Berlin, two nights there, a night in Szczecin, and a flight from there to Oslo on our way home. Without really giving any thought to anything, except no RyanAir was to be involved this time! With that out of the way, we embarked on our second mission: live jazz. We found a few places that should have music, but most of them were either far away or expensive, and there was still quite a while before midnight and our tickets to Ronnie Scott’s.

We settled for Charlie Wright’s, even though it was almost to Islington, and took the tube there, just to see that it was CLOSED. Of course. Team Fail!

Unable to find jazz, cheap booze or wifi, any of which could have led to a plan C, we just wandered around for hours until Bekki was ready to meet us, and then got into Ronnie Scott’s for the midnight show, with the same band we’d seen at the Cambrian, and some amazing guest musicians!

On the way back, Bekki helped navigate our drunk arses back to Tulse Hill on the night bus, and we got back at 4.30am to just about the one thing that could ruin this night… worried and angry emails from my mom, who had been wondering what happened to me, and calling bars, venues and hostels all over south London looking for me! Shit!

By the time that was settled, it was after 6am and people in the hostel were waking up already…

We didn’t have time to do much on our last (part) day in London except have lunch and go to the airport. On trains this time, without getting lost this time. The flight from “London” Southend (actually an hour and a half train ride away) to Berlin was quick and uneventful. And just like that, we were in Germany, a country we’d never even planned on going to!

I Can’t Even

Written by Concrete on . Posted in London, Team Fail

I woke up shortly after noon, with the kind of headache that could only mean spending another long night with our guest from the Highlands, Johnnie Walker…

The pub was already packed, and a crowd roared on occasion – it must have been the football. Flipping through the channels on TV, I found the matching match, England and Ireland playing Six Nations rugby. No one would be singing “Jerusalem” after this one, so we skipped the pub and headed out at halftime.

On our last full day in London, we decided to go looking for more culture, starting at the world renowned Tate Modern.

The structure, meant to resemble a power plant, defied any museum we’d seen before.

Unfortunately, so did the art, and mostly in underwhelming ways. The first piece visitors to the museum encounter, a giant but inscrutable Christo sculpture, might have been the highlight.

From there, the art quickly descended into the absurd – works so simple anyone could come up with them, paired with explanations so verbose and self-referential they probably out-arted the artists themselves!

Except this one. Which is almost definitely a lost work of Jacob Huxley that somehow found its way to London.

Uhhh…

Uhhhhhh…

Yes, this is “art”, not just a ceiling vent that fell into the exhibit area?

This is “art” too. There are two drops of off-white paint, the exact color of the canvas, just off center toward the lower left. They convey no known additional meaning.

But that was more than these ones have. Three blank, matted canvases, that are officially, by pronouncement of the Tate committee, modern art.

So is this. Finally something I’d put on my wall, maybe, but I still find it hard to believe that it cost Tate £150,000 to exhibit!

At this point, every next piece we saw elicited another groan and another “I can’t even…” as we tried to digest explanations made of mostly distilled hipsterdom. It only made sense to create one of our own, outside an artisanal restroom. I think it’s some kind of social commentary on millennials in the Western world, but it would take a critic to know for sure.

After a while, we did at least get to an older section with some “real art” like Picasso and Dalí

And probably best of all, the view from the top!

On the way out, we crossed London Bridge, a seemingly obligatory stop on a tour of London.

Of course, it started raining almost immediately, cutting short our time in the City of London. (An interesting fact here – the city of London has a population of under 10,000, and an area well under a square mile. Historically, in medieval and early modern London, this was the area inside the city walls, and was brutally dense and filthy, with the castles and palaces safely away from the City itself. Most of what one thinks of as “London” is actually the 32 boroughs, which range from inner ones like Westminster and Buckingham to fully suburban outer boroughs like Croydon.)

Forced indoors slightly sooner than we might have liked, we picked out a jazz club for the night, the Cambrian in Brixton. At first we were just there to listen, but a couple of pints convinced Ben to ask if he could get on the list for a song, even though the band and most of the guests were professionals. It seemed like the show was about to end without his chance, and then the band called him to the stage, and he impressed everyone with “Body and Soul.” Even more incredibly, he impressed the band enough to be invited back for an appearance at Ronnie Scott’s, one of the world’s top jazz clubs! Unfortunately, with us leaving London in the afternoon, that wouldn’t be a possibility, but still, quite the debut!

We spent the night, just like the last few, getting absolutely pissed on another few bottles of Scotch and purloined wine, and staying up until all hours with the staff of the pub.

On our way out of London, we stopped for lunch at Southwark market, a street market in an African neighborhood near Elephant and Castle, and picked up some Turkish pastries and Ghanaian palm beer to drink (along with the rest of the stolen wine) in a nearby park. And then it was on to Liverpool Station, for another “Amazing Race” moment running around in circles looking for the train to Stanstead (there is none) then the bus to Stansted (there is one, and it’s expensive and overcrowded) to catch our flight to Berlin.

Once we got to Stansted, that’s when all our trouble began. Trying to print our tickets at the checkin kiosk, we found we’d have to pay £140 EACH (!) just to get on the plane. All because we missed an impossible online checkin window that ended 24 hours before the flight, and we bought our tickets only 14 hours before takeoff. So we went to the Ryanair counter to try to get an answer on this, and at least give them a piece of our minds, and all we got were more fees, yes they could check us in, but not only would we have to pay the airport checkin fee, but also the ticket counter fee. Or they could change our flight to one leaving in a few hours, but then we’d have to pay the checkin fee, the ticket counter fee and a change fee. Or they could put us on a plane the next day, but then we’d have to pay the full price of the ticket, and a change fee, and a ticket counter fee. Plus the £10 delay fee we had accrued just for slowing down the line, which we had to cough up to even leave the counter.

It became obvious at about that point that we were better off never flying Ryanair again (oh, and there’s a fee for that. The missed flight fee is also £140, and after you no-show for a flight, you have to pay that if you ever want to be able to book a ticket on their shitty excuse for an airline again!) Fuck Ryanair. Really, just fuck them!

So we got on the bus back to London, and then a train back to Tulse hill, and then into the pub for a more passionate round of drinking than usual.

And when the pub closed, occasionally ventured far enough from the bottles of Scotch to take some random artsy pictures of the back porch.

Once I was drunk enough to stand the thought of trying to book a ticket again, we bought another pair of tickets to Berlin, leaving on Wednesday, giving us another day and a half in London to occupy…

I’ve Seen the Flag on the Marble Arch

Written by Concrete on . Posted in London, Team Fail

And right from the start, London meant business. If business means separating tourists (and locals, I’m sure) from their money as expediently as possible. Just to leave the airport (Luton, since we took a cheap flight) cost £52 for a train to our hostel in Tulse Hill. And despite that, we had to wonder the whole time if we were on the wrong train, there was almost no directional signage anywhere to be found, and even the locals didn’t seem to know where exactly Tulse Hill was, or if this train was in fact going there.

When the train finally assured us that we’d arrived at Tulse Hill, it was obvious we had found the Londoners’ London. It’s not the kind of a place a tourist would wander into – not too distant, or scary, just off the beaten path enough to probably blend in with a hundred other stations and neighborhoods just like it.

Whereas our hostel in Copenhagen was quiet, almost to a fault, we could hear this one from the train station door! (Not surprising, since it’s only across the street, but still…) In the reviews, people said the place was loud, and it was impossible to sleep, but even trying to check in at a reception desk surrounded by a pounding reggae dance floor was close to impossible. Once we at least paid, the manager Bekki showed us to our room. Which, contrary to our reading of the listing on Hostelworld, contained just one bed. Oops…

Perhaps it was because of this apparent touchstone of British culture that no one had thought to question the reservation…

We had never heard of it, but it was something we would hear quite a bit more from, traveling through London together as a Bill and Ben. And even after downing a few shots of duty-free scotch and trying to ironically comprehend an episode of it, the show still defies all logic. Unless England has some kind of psychoactive flowers they’re holding back from the rest of us?

Once that was sorted out, and I was relegated to the dorms, we went down to the pub for some hideously expensive pints. (Which turned out to be relatively cheap for London, £8 for a beer isn’t unusual!), and after the pub closed, stayed around to party with the bartenders and other hostel guests. We had no difficulty reaching the bottom of the bottle of scotch, or finding another at the 24-hour liquor store (something much needed in America) to continue the memorable, forgettable night much longer than we should have.

Waking up the next afternoon, we figured we might as well see London’s landmarks, or as many as we could pack into half a day. Thinking it might be cheaper, we tried to board a bus toward Victoria Station instead of the train, being quite scared to buy another train ticket after the £52 soaking from the airport! But the driver wouldn’t let us on without Oysters (and wouldn’t tell us where to get one). The next person we asked knew, we got the Oyster cards, and caught the next bus.

At Victoria, I spent a while arguing on the phone with the people I was supposed to meet up with the next day for some urbex, and for being hopelessly unable to come up with a plan, they canceled the whole thing on me, costing us an hour and leaving us with no plans for Sunday and no good reason to go to Portsmouth anymore.

By the way, these are actually slightly smaller inside than out. And no longer contain phones or time machines.

At least we were close to Buckingham Palace and the tourist circuit.

Even if The Queen was absent, and there was just one lone guard, not the usual parading and changing of the guards. (Also, anyone know what happened to the red coats?)

This is not the Marble Arch. We sure took enough pictures of it though thinking it was!

We tried to check out the Speaker’s Corner, where usually something political is going on. For us, though, all we got was a parliament of pigeons.

An umbrella store. How British…

Eventually we found the actual Marble Arch. Which is much smaller, less impressive, and mobbed with tourists.

The constant crush of people continued all afternoon, shoving our way through Oxford street to the British Museum. We probably should have just avoided the whole mess, having no interest in Soho or shopping… it could just as easily have been New York but for the cars driving on the wrong side of the street. By the time we reached the Museum, it was nearly closing time.

So we did the one thing that made sense, and ran around there as fast as we could, trying to appreciate with excessive speed as many priceless antiquities and trophies of the Empire as we could before they made us leave.

I’m pretty sure this thing was on a textbook I had in college

Is this vaporwave?

I think this was something Etruscan. People seemed to think it was very important.

It’s chess, but one side gets all the pieces, and the other side gets 24 pawns

The Rosetta stone was here, but I somehow completely forgot to take a picture of that one. So here’s an Easter Island Moai head instead

By this time it was already dark and a fine British rain had started to fall (of course).

We continued our wandering through the West End, still trying to see Trafalgar Square and Big Ben. We end up sidetracked at a casino, and try to take some of the bite off of London’s expense by dropping £50 on the blackjack table and winning ourselves a nice dinner and a few pints. I think you can guess what would happen to Team Fail.

Once we were done going through the motions of being tourists, and it had started raining enough that we didn’t want to walk around any farther, we tried to get directions for a bus back to Tulse Hill. Asking in a nearby store didn’t help, so we just got on the first bus that seemed like it was headed the right way, and it got us close enough. On the ride there, a helpful old man told us just how overrated and even MORE expensive Paris and Amsterdam were, and that we should try Berlin and Prague instead.

In Tulse Hill we picked up some frozen curries, a few pints, and another bottle of Scotchy, Scotchy Johnny Walker black label Scotch. Of course we weren’t the only drunks in the pub and hostel. I ended up in a bit of an altercation with a bloke Dennis who claimed he used to play for Millwall FC some years ago… he heard me speaking American, saw my rather substantial girth, and immediately started going off about McDonalds and the NFL and how Americans are just too fat and ugly to handle real football, let alone to have any kind of responsible role in the world. Once I figured out he was pissed beyond reason, I set out to reach the same state as quickly as possible, chugged the beers, and went downstairs for more…

If anything, the pub was even crazier, with a dance floor going (disco never died in Europe) and a louder, rowdier, drunker than average clientele. Once they were all shown out the door, the party raged on in the hostel, and we made it through two more entire bottles of scotch (and an assortment of other stuff) pissing the night away. At some point during all this, I booked our tickets to Berlin on Ryanair, something sober me would probably have known better than to try…

At the end of all that though we did get to experience Tandoori chicken pizza. Which might not have been quite as awe inspiring as smørrebrød, but certainly a delicious end to our second night in London!