*a not so fictional tale not by Bilbo Baggins
So okay, those last 3 days I was in London. I can’t tell you much about the why at this point, but I certainly can tell you the how and indeed just like The Hobbit, this will be mostly about how to get somewhere, rather than actually staying anywhere.
First, let me say that I really do not do a lot of traveling, as it does not exactly make a lot of sense to plan on fancy holidays as a single gay man. I’ve always wanted to go to London to see their museums, though, but man, the Pound was always so high and things so expensive, I’ve been putting this off for ages. Therefore this opportunity was most welcome, especially when it’s on someone else’s bill. (you know who you are) :-).
It all began with the madness of the planning of the trip. Luckily I didn’t have to take care of that, either, or else I never would have done the trip. After I had my initial reservations long before last Tuesday, on Wednesday that same week Lufthansa pilots declared they would go on strike this week’s Monday to Thursday. Now they cancelled after Monday and returned to the negotiation table, but the chaos still ensued. Guess how that can piss you off when that one time in a hundred years you get invited to a free lunch. Okay, luckily I got shuffled around to Air France last minute, but it made the schedule quite messy. Flights would be later and all that. Eventually we managed to pull it all together and so I went.
After a night with far too little sleep due to all that excitement and anxiety, I took the train to our regional airport here in Leipzig and ultimately we actually did get to Paris for our connecting flight in a plane booked to the last seat (obviously others changed airlines as well). This is where I made my first big mistake – stupid me, did I really take a wrong turn and out of the security area I was! Not that it would have mattered massively, as I found out later, from terminal 2G to terminal 2E you always get "out" somehow, but it had me end up on the shuttle bus in the wrong direction. Luckily, I kinda realized that I could jump off the bus at terminal F and take some cross-connection to terminal E, and did just that, but I still felt massively stupid and embarassed and had to run through the security check again. Now on any other day that wouldn’t have disturbed me in any way and I would have kept my cool, but with only 40 minutes of stopover time, you can imagine the adrenaline rush. Once I got to the check-in counter for the flight, people were nicely queuing up, so this saved me from more awkward explanations to security personnel. After I took my seat, this uneasy feeling started to spread. Not only did the check-in too long, but we actually waited another half an hour for some other connecting flights because – surprise, surprise – there was a strike of French air traffic controllers in some of their regions and they, too, suffered from cancelling and rescheduling.
Already late, we landed on Heathrow and I really must say of all the fucked up airports I have seen so far it is the most fucked up one. Honestly, the logistics are just idiotic – planes queue up on the runway to cross it just in order to get to the terminals or the other runway. Plane stupid, so to say. I mean, there are airports where they use a scheme where starting and landing take place on the same runway with the shortest route to the terminal, you know. As anyone can guess, that resulted in even more delays after, at least that was my impression (can’t say it more specifically, whether was all cloudy and murky, so no sun compass), we already had been doing some honorary rounds in the air.
That day I also learned to love my personal ID card, or as they write so nicely "government issued identification for EU citizens". I think all in all I wen through something like 7 security checks just on such a short trip. I wouldn’t wanna imagine what procedures you have to go through when going overseas or at least outside the US. The phrase "sticking flash lights in orifices" comes to mind…
Now Heathrow is of course London, but not where I wanted to go, so I still had some travelling ahead of me. Since I really like to get to know these things and I am an adamant advocate of public transport, I opted for the underground train or Tube, as it’s called. I should have known better! It took seemingly forever and added almost another hour. It was also massively annoying to begin with. I mean, I’m all for multicultural intermingling and all that, but the last thing I need after a stressful journey is some noisy Russian woman filling the whole coach with her chatter. Is this Moscow or what? *argh* Additionally, I can’t help but feel the Brits just don’t know how to maintain their trains and stations. The carriages make so much noise because poor bumpy railing, the whole cable system with tubed wires is any German electrical engineer’s nightmare and the stations just look like shit – either they are so neglected and decayed, you think the Blitz is still on or they look like a bathroom with those ugly white tiles.
While we’re on this topic, generally I get the impression that the whole city is quite neglected and in decay on many levels. True, you you see people in warning vests picking up litter and trash all the time, but the rest feels very much like walking through some post-war depression. Especially the buildings contribute to that. Yes, of course, there is some well maintained historical buildings and of course some new ones, but many smaller houses and blocks clearly have seen better times. There is chipping paint, defective doors and windows, dirty plaster and so on on many of them. What’s funny is, that to an extend this is not much different in Paris, Amsterdam and Rome, but unlike those cities, London never really develops a charme. To me, anyway.
To me as a "country boy" such big cities are always scary for another reason – the traffic is murder. Oddly enough, there are lots of cyclists among the endless rows of cars and buses, which is quite amazing, given the danger. I can’t imagine doing that, as I prefer empty roads in the countryside for my spare time pleasure. In some areas the city is also hopelessly overrun with people, inhabitants and visitors alike. Especially near the so-called tourist attractions (which, of course, look a lot better in books and on postcards) and subway stations you can’t see where you are actually going and are just flowing along with the rest of the crowd, hoping you will get to the right side of the street or to the right train. But let’s not divert too much.
After literally collapsing in my bed quite early in the evening after my stressful first day, I had a quite long sleep, which is rather unusual, given that on other days I often barely can manage to sleep for a full 6 hours at a piece. The hotel felt quite like home as they had a washing machine two doors down my room going late in the evenings and early in the mornings and they, too, just like my neighbors probably didn’t know what doorknobs are good for. And of course there was the dumpster collecting trash at 6 in the morning and lots of noise from police and ambulance cars. If you get my meaning: It wasn’t that good, even if it looked quite posh in the interior.
The one full day I actually spent doing something meaningful was quite okay. Admittedly, sitting in some seminar is not necessarily a pleasurable experience and the information overflow made my brain all fuzzy, but it was still interesting enough. in what was left of the afternoon I went to explore the city a little, but as I wrote already, it’s the typical case of things just looking so much better on TV. Didn’t get much out of it.
After a second night in the same hotel it was time for the return trip. Unfortunately the plane was leaving around mid day, which didn’t make it worthwile to go to another part of the city because shops and museums would only open around 9 or 10, leaving not much time to actually go inside and see something. So I took off directly to the airport, again with the Tube, because naturally I had plenty of time. I checked in and went through security with no problems and then had to idle away almost 3 hours. During that time I had my first Starbuck’s coffee ever just to spend my last few coins. I did a little reading and watched the airplanes taking off and land and so it wasn’t that boring after all. I also had a slight giggle over a group of teenagers that were flying to Malta from another gate. Two of the – quite obviously gay – boys wore t-shirts, one declaring himself "Prettybum". I’ve forgotten what the other was, but it was something similarly gay that wouldn’t be printed on a straight guy’s shirt.
Well, shortly after that little anecdote we boarded our plane and just like at the day of the arrival, went through the same madness, just in reverse order. Yes, again, endless waiting and delays. We already waited about 20 minutes at the gate even though all passengers were already aboard and then another 10 minutes before crossing the runway. During all this time, a most annoying Frenchmen who seemed to be in the fashion business was doing phone calls. Not that I do not understand business men, but the calls revealed quite some awkward things about his personal life and the many women he seemed to be engaged with in one way or another, which made me feel uncomfortable. Then we finally took off to Paris, where after we landed this time I was much cooler because there was much more time. I made my way from terminal E to terminal G without much haste. Once there, it was another hour of waiting plus 20 minutes of delays in what is quite an ugly terminal for regional flights. I scoured the newsstand a bit and couldn’t resist to buy some of my beloved military aviation mags. when we took off, it soon enough would be sunset, which is quite a cool thing to experience in an airplane. You know, the sun setting behind you and the blue darkness before you… It also reveals the nature of our planet being a big blue ball as indeed the separation line between light and dark looks like a poorly done spherical sky gradient that is not correctly aligned with the horizon. At any rate, it looks beautiful, even though it meant for us to land in a dark Leipzig. From there it was only the train to home and after a long day, I was home around 20.30.