Tuesday, April 4, 2017

London 2017: Day 3 and Finale

Day 11, April 2nd, 2017-Day 12, April 3rd, 2017

I toss and turn and wake up feeling like a git for my behavior yesterday.  I piddle around on my computer as I wait on Alex and Aurora to get up. It's an extremely lazy morning, as it should be after the big day we'd put in.  Once we wander into the kitchen for breakfast, I apologize and they graciously shake it off.

I'm leaving in the evening and it's a lovely day out, but we're feeling sluggish, so Alex suggests a movie. We walk along, stopping briefly at a realty shop and peruse the multi-million pound properties. "Oh, I think I'll have this one." "Not me; too small! I need much larger! If it's not 10 million, it's rubbish."


After the movie, we wander about, basking in the sunshine.   London in spring is lovely, but I'm of an age that big-city-life, no matter the beauty, simply can't be done. Alex and Aurora are 24 and the world's their oyster.  Big-city-life is precisely where they should be.  But not for me. Fortunately, I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I can be on a sailboat and cavorting about the harbor.  I want to go home. 

But that is later and this is now, and now it's time to head back so I can pack and be on my way.  They escort me on the bus to the train station and then we say our goodbyes and I'm off to Gatwick.  Goodbye, London. Til next time.


Irish customs is as indifferent as before. I stop at the general shop in the airport to pick up another plug adapter because I somehow misplaced the one I got the last time I came through less than two weeks ago.

It's been a long day and I feel like hell. I'm of no mood to catch a cab into town and then try to figure out a hotel at 9:45 on Sunday night. I walk over to the airport hotel, happily fork over the way-too-much they want for the room and collapse on the bed to sleep, blessed sleep.


I wake up, get breakfast in the dining room, pack up, and head out.  I drop my key-card off at the desk and, on my way out the front door, I pat my pocket to make sure I have my passport. I don't.  I remain calm. It must be in the room. That's why I check my pockets, after all. Things happen.

I turn around and grab the key-card I just dropped off at the desk. I head back to the room and search. It's nowhere to be found.  I calmly go to the front desk and ask the woman to check to see where the clerk the night before put my passport, because I must have left it at the desk when I was checking in.  She looks around and says there is no passport.


Now, I panic. I race back to my room and this time, I toss it, like the FBI does in a movie.  There is no passport. It's now two hours until my international flight. I have to get over to the airport.

As I walk over, I make sure I have my wallet. It's got my driver's license and my military ID.  Surely, I can sweet-talk my way over to the US with those. Still, I'm nervous.


Once in the airport, I head to "Information" and ask the man behind the counter that, if I dropped my passport somehow last night, who would it get turned into. I explain that I had to have had it to get in through customs last night.  I think it must have fallen out of my pocket when I bought the adapter.

He makes a phone call to security to see if they have it.  While we wait, I ask him what I do.  He tells me that since I came in last night, a scan of my passport should be on record with the airline so that probably will get me through US customs. Probably. I gulp, nervously.


But, Praise Be!  Security did have my passport.  I make it on the plane.


And then it's a long flight and then a longer layover in NYC because of storms and by the time I land in Charleston, it's 1am when mom picks me up.  


And instead of dropping me off at my boat, she just takes me back to her house, and though it's a guest room, I'm back where I'm supposed to be: home.



Irish folks drink and drive?!?

Monday, April 3, 2017

London 2017; Day 2

Day 10, April 1st, 2017

We have a lazy morning and an English breakfast and though we have no plan other than a comedy show tonight, we head out just after noon, but not before cracking a beer.  We walk along the Thames and spring’s in the air and it’s warm and lovely.

We spot a pub and Aurora needs to use the loo, so we head towards it.  There’s a very drunk forty-something-year-old woman sitting outside at a table with three guys and she asks me if I’m Crocodile Dundee, because, though I ditched the poncho, I’m wearing the Australian model cowboy hat.  We briefly chat and I perform a bit, but I also don’t want to get roped into it with people who are hammered drunk by 1pm, so we make our excuses and head inside. 

I get us a round and Alex and I are chatting when the woman (we’ll call her Kelly) comes in and asks to sit with us and then she’s telling me how I’m fascinating and I’m like, all right, here we go.

And though we slept, I’m still just sorta worn out tired from the trip and we did it up the night before and I go to push again and it’s improv with folks who have no idea again, but something goes wrong, as it sometimes does, and I’m not hitting the notes right, and I’m being a bit of an ass.

The key to improv is the very basic, but crucial, dictum “yes, and…” whereby you go positive.  But tired and drinking, from time to time I’ll get on a bad angle and then I’m negative and crap on people’s good time because the meta of being a bummer is amusing to me in that condition and whelp that’s where we are. 

So Kelly is very drunk and hadn’t been to bed last night. She and her friends just kept it going.  She’s not getting that I’m being straight-faced ridiculous and I’m saying things like “Well, you know you shouldn’t feel bad about staying out drinking because, at the end of all this, we’re all going to be dead and nothing means anything. Babies die of cancer. Jerks make billions of dollars. Nothing’s fair.”

She pauses and says, “Are you single?”

To which I say, “Of course. Always. People are awful.”

Kelly wanders off to use the Loo and Aurora says, “I think she likes you. She asked if you were single.”

And round about the time Kelly returns from the loo, her mates come in and here we go. They sit down and join us and they’re a rough bunch, but pretty darn friendly.  And one of them, a forty-something Jamaican DJ, takes a shine to me and he and I banter and I ask him if he’s as good a DJ as Paris Hilton and he pauses and sizes me up and laughs and laughs.

And then I see if I can bum him out and go back to the negative well and finally Alex has to say, “Yeah. Ha. That’s getting a bit old.” Which, if you know how polite the British are, means I am being a shit because he had to say it.  I try to curb my behavior, but fail. Mea culpa.

And they buy us a round and they tell Aurora and Alex that they’re a good-looking couple and the DJ says, “You know how I can tell you’re rich? It’s the teeth.”  His teeth are jacked up; as are Kelly’s; as are the two other drunk guys.  My teeth are middle-class messed up.

Somehow the drunk folk ask about guns, but I explain that guns are tools and it’s really the willpower is what matters. I shake the empty pint glass in my hand and say, “My go-to is the Old Crack-and-Stab!” as I pretend to break the glass and stab the DJ with it and he howls with laughter. “The Old Crack-and-Stab! Hahahaha!”

They want to do more beer, but I have no interest in letting strangers hijack our day and I can already tell I’m being too much, so I apologize and tell them we have to meet people and off we go. Kelly is heartbroken.

We walk along and have to go by Parliament and Big Ben, where there was recently a terrorist stabbing, and there’s a huge crowd out in front of the McDonalds. There are lots of tourists, but then also immigrants, and I see many women in hijabs.  I don’t like crowds at all.















We walk on past the crowded areas and find another pub. We get a pint and have a seat and then I turn into the bummer guy, but not because I’m trying to ruin Alex and Aurora’s day, but because I’m tired and in a way and we had enough beer to put me in a mental rut and I’m really displeased with my behavior. It’s sunny in London! And I’m being a bummer.

We leave and find their friends at an outdoor market and there’s more drinks and I’m pushing again and being way too much. This time I’m trying to pretend I’m a Kiwi. Then it’s more drinks as we head to the comedy club and then it’s more drinks and we kinda, sorta, forgot to eat lunch or supper and I’m being, in a word, obnoxious. I even tell a few folks my goal is to be obnoxious up to the point of being punched. Because that’s a great way to behave with folks. “It’s meta!” I slur.

The comedians are funny, but my hat gets me called out by the MC and then I make a particularly loud groan at a joke and get called out again and not great. Not great. 

And then we head to another place, but, by this point, my go-to move has kicked in and I’m just exhausted and I’m falling asleep any time we sit for longer than a few moments. This time, it is not sleep, blessed sleep.  It’s “Wake up. We’re leaving.” And we get back to their place and I pour into the bed and I am not real proud of myself; I can tell you that.  It's April Fools' Day. I'm the April Fool.

London 2017; Day 1

Day 9; March 31st, 2017

I finally just get pissed off because the horrid harpies talked for so long and then after they finally went to sleep, one of them turns into a chainsaw.  At 1am, I pack up my things, hike it over to the parking garage, and proceed to crunch the back bumper into a concrete support that I didn’t see because I’m tired and the $!#%ing back window is the size of a postage stamp. 

The drive is loooooonnnnngggg and I’m so tired that I have to pull over several times to sleep for thirty minutes a pop, just to make sure I don’t drift off the road.  I get back to Faro and I’m wondering what scratching the bumper’s gonna cause, but they just say “you paid for the coverage; you’re fine.”

I try to sleep in the plane to London, and do a bit, but it’s really hot on the plane for some reason.  I am sound asleep when we make the hardest landing I’ve ever been on and I wake up thinking the chair is going to break and that my spine has just compressed three inches.  I figure out a bus to get into the city to a metro hub that will then get me to Victoria Station where I’m meeting my friend, Aurora.
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I started this trip by going the wedding of friends of mine I made through playing trivia. I met Aurora at trivia as well.  She was an 18yo College of Charleston freshman and she was a waitress at O’Malley’s and she was nice and super friendly and we made friends with her.  She went off for semester abroad in England her sophomore year and I kept in touch (I having lived in England as a child and then in Germany whilst in the Army and enjoying living vicariously through other people doing the same).  There, she met Alex, a horrifically good-looking, tall, athletic, smart, nice student at the University of Nottingham.  Aurora also being horrifically good-looking, tall, smart, and nice; they started dating.

When she came back to the states, she joined the trivia team from time to time instead of slinging beer at us and when Alex came to visit, he joined in too.  They are easy to get along with and they travel a bunch.  Keeping tabs on their adventures, be they sailing the Greek islands in the Aegean or backpacking around Southeast Asia, has been fun (and frustrating, because I want to be doing that). 

They’re engaged to be wed later this year and if it’s a hop, skip, and a jump, I figured I’d visit them in their stomping grounds.  Also, Alex is very successful and comes from a good family, so he and Aurora live in a flat next to a castle, looking out over the Thames in Chelsea.  That's not a bad way to visit London.  He won’t say it, but I’m not altogether sure Alex won’t be the Prime Minister or Emperor or something by the time he’s 30.
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Completely whupped, I find her and, yup, that’s Aurora.  As always, she’s smiling and in a good mood and we take a bus to their flat and she apologizes and makes me promise not to judge them for living in a really nice place. 

“You can try hard and succeed; you can try hard and fail; you can be lazy and fail; you can be lazy and succeed.  If something good happens to you; you don’t need to apologize for it.  Embrace it and enjoy it.”

Aurora’s no slouch in the success department herself, mind you.  She graduated with a degree in marketing from CoC and she’s starting a prestigious internship at a well-known international firm. Maybe she’ll be the Empress and Alex can be her Prime Minister.

We get to the flat and, yup, it’s very nice. I have a chance to shower, which I need because I look like half-a-can-of-wet-ass, or maybe a whole can, and I slug a coffee and then we’re off out the door to go out and have a damn Friday night.

I’m exhausted and I am loaded up on caffeine and I know I have to keep up with 24yos.  So I push.  When I push, it’s like making myself perform.  I decide I’m going to be a super-American braggart.  Sure, it’s annoying, but if it works, it’s something to talk about or react against, for good or ill. Long form improv with an unknowing audience.  So I wear my poncho and we get beers and we’re headed to an underground arcade, of sorts, that has a mini-golf course and bars in it.

We meet up with Alex’s little brother, Guy, who’s also horrifically good-looking, tall, athletic, smart, and nice.  I, of course, tell them I’m the best and there’s never been another better and they really should all just go ahead and give up before we even start. And then we play and Guy wins because that’s what I get for running my mouth like an ass.

And then we head to a block nearby that is all Indian restaurants.  They have different fronts, but they share a kitchen, so it doesn’t matter, really, which one we get in, but Alex knows which one’s the one we want to sit in and in we go.


And, yeah, Indian food in London is amazing and Alex and Aurora say they’re impressed because they thought I’d have fallen on my face by now. I’d warned them that my go-to exhausted move when I’m drinking is to quietly go to sleep sitting somewhere in public, but somehow I stay up.  Then it’s back to their house and we put on The Big Lebowski on the tv and crack open the bottle of Irish whiskey I brought them and we do some pretty serious damage to it and Aurora and Guy fall asleep on the couch and, fine, he beat me at putt-putt, but I’m better at drinking! 

I don’t know that I want to be better at drinking than a college senior, but here we are.

Portugal 2017; Day 4

Day 8; March 30th, 2017

I do the morning walk and David the tour guide’s English isn’t as good as Nuno’s but he takes us through the old part of the city and points out the best place to get the city’s dish, franceshino, which apparently is a croque-monsieur on steroids with about a billionty extra calories due to layers of sausage and a fried egg.

After the tour I have a little time to look around but then I’m off meeting up for the Port wine tour.  The odd thing about Port wine is that it is produced in a valley over a hundred miles away, and then it is stored in cellars in the city across the river from Porto, Gaia, but it got called Port because that’s where the customs house was when it got shipped out around the world and everyone saw the customs stamp of Porto and here we are. 















We do seven tastings and the weather goes from sunny and 70 degrees to 55 and pouring rain as it finishes.  







But I’m in Gaia and it’s raining and I don’t have an umbrella and I'm wearing shorts and boat shoes and I’m pumped because this is going to suck and I head out into the downpour and get thoroughly soaked and walk the three miles across the bridge and up the hill to the hostel and I shiver and I slosh and slide in my shoes and it’s great.

My flight is at 10am tomorrow and I have to drive 300 miles down the country, so my plan is to go to bed around 8pm and wake up at 2am to make the drive.  I get in bed, but then the downside of hostel staying happens and the horrid, inconsiderate harpies in the room with me decide that the room is where they want to cackle and converse and I toss and turn and finally start loudly coughing and grunting to get the point across and they finally get quiet around 11pm. I get very little sleep, blessed sleep.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Portugal 2017; Day 3

Day 7, March 29th, 2017

I get the car and head north.  I would be so, so, so screwed trying to get out of Lisbon if I didn’t have the built-in GPS in the car. How did people attempt this before GPS?  The Portuguese are like the French in that the signs are put in the perfect places if you already know how to get where you’re going.

The landscape becomes hillier along the drive and finally, they get proper trees, instead of the scrub brush looking sad little things pretending to be trees. I think these proper ones are cork trees.

Getting into Porto is Chaos, but I get parked and to the hostel, right in the downtown area.  I have time to sign up for a walking tour, dinner at the hostel, and a port tour tomorrow and then I’m off for the walking tour.  The guide, Nuno, is gregarious and he takes us through the various sites of the more modern part of the city (the morning tour does the medieval part, the afternoon does the 19th century forward).  He explains how Portugal has had legal abortion for 80 years (ever since their dictatorship took over) and gay marriage since 2001 and decriminalization of drugs for twenty years or some such.












I’ve not mentioned it so far, but I’ve been hassled about “smoke? Marijuana? Cocaine?” throughout being here.  Nuno says that those people are selling fake crap, and then offhandedly mentions that the park we’re in, The Plaza of Virtue, is where people get the real stuff. Ha.

Then he finishes the tour by showing us a statue of Henry the Navigator and revealing that history books don’t tell the full truth, but that Henry was openly homosexual.  Then the tour is over and Nuno insists on a hug. Real progressive place they got here.

I wander a bit, but I saw a doner kebap shop on the main square, and even though I’m doing the hostel dinner at 9pm, I say hell with it and get a doner and a beer and enjoy sunset.  I had a doner kebap stand around the corner of my flat in Germany (Doner by Klaus!). Life has its moments.



Then it’s back to the hostel and they have draft beer in the lobby and I have some pints and chat with folks and then the dinner happens and there are more pints and a group is going out on a pub crawl, but I have no interest in feeling like hell tomorrow when I know I have a lot of walking, so I wander back to my bunk and sleep, blessed sleep.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Portugal 2017; Day 2

Day 6, March 28th, 2017
I got up and I got after it. My plan was to attempt to get to eight or nine different sites that require twelve miles of hiking to get to in the shortest route.  There’s not a lot to say other than that I ended up walking maybe half of that and taking buses, subway and a taxi to get to seven of them.  





































It was a big day, to the point that when I got back to the hostel at 6:30pm, I cracked open a few beers and spent time contemplating my throbbing feet and wondering if they hurt because of the leg injury from a couple years ago, the weight I’ve carried the past couple years after the injury, or that I’m just getting old and the miles are piling up.  I suspect all three.


No fado for me. I crawled into my bunk relatively early and sleep, blessed sleep