Encores

This blog entry about the events of Sunday, July 01, 2007 was originally posted on August 07, 2007.

PART 12:  “You haven’t changed one bit,” said a familiar voice from a familiar face.  Both belonged to Zoe, the British lass I’d met at random at a cafe in Uyuni, Bolivia during my big trip around the world.  Little did I know during our initial encounter that she’d end up as a recurring character on “The Trinidad Show”: with her traveling buddy Sam, we were in the same jeep on our tour of the famed salt flats and surreal desert sands of Bolivia; we met up in Sucre for a kitschy dinosaur tour and makeshift puppet show; and now, 479 blog entries later, we were in Zoe’s hometown of London.

“Wait, I have something for you to listen to,” she said, turning on a CD in the car.  Soon the background music of our conversation reverted back to the 1980s, with songs we’d heard over and over and over in the four-wheel-drive of our tour of the salt flats, including “Land Down Under,” “Sunshine Reggae,” and “Part Time Lover.”  It all came back to memory, even after two and a half years, with the music and conversation.  (It also helped that I immortalized the experience on my blog, as she did in her written travel journal.) The only things missing to bring it completely all back — aside from a forty odd square mile reflective salt flat — were her friend Sam, who would have loved to catch up with me on my long weekend in London, but was on busy being the crewmember of a fund-raising sailing voyage to Denmark; and Lara, the girl from Guernsey, who had been M.I.A. in all my recent e-correspondences with her, much to my chagrin.  Last I’d heard she’d quit traveling, bought a house, and worked at some financial firm in Guernsey.  Alas, it happens.

No matter, I had Zoe to accompany me, not only in my stroll down memory lane (including Liliput, Gulliver, John, Yoko, and Gilbert for you diehard blog readers), but on my three-day stopover in London, an acclimatization period before heading back to New York City.

“What do you want to do?” Zoe asked me.

“I have no agenda,” I told her and her friends my first evening there, as we went on a pub crawl through the hip, artsy neighborhood of Camden Town.  “I’ve done all the touristy stuff already [on a previous un-blogged trip] and am really just here to hang out and visit on an extended layover.”

With that said, my first evening with Zoe and her friends was a casual one.  We wandered pub after pub in Camden — coincidentally on the historic last day smoking was legal in the pubs of London — drinking English ciders and beers, playing the name game around the table (where you had to guess the name written on your forehead by asking a series of yes/no questions) and Uno Stacker, a different take on the game Jenga.  “I’m pretty excited about the Jenga,” I said.  I felt right at home with Zoe’s social circle; Zoe was a package designer and many of her friends, like mine, were in the creative industry — I gallivanted with young art directors, writers, and fellow designers.  “I feel like I’m hanging out with friends in Brooklyn,” I admitted to Zoe — the only difference being the accents.

We partied that night over dinner and drinks, and perhaps for me it was a bit too much because I sort of passed out on the train, although I hadn’t had that much to drink — I blame the mere four hours of sleep I had the night before in Interlaken.  It was a rather funny scene though, taking the Tube back to the suburbs; I was sitting upright in my seat with my eyes closed and simply fell over to my left, right into the aisle, rigid like a tree that had just been chopped, onto a poor guy across the way.  The girl in front of us couldn’t stop laughing about it, but I wasn’t bothered.  “It’s okay.  I know.  It’s funny,” I told her.

She calmed down, but then rethought about the image of me falling down and burst into a hysterical laughter again — she had a real case of the giggles.  “That’s about the funniest thing I’ve seen,” she told us as we left the train car.  “Whenever I feel sad, I’m going to think about you from now on.”

I turned to Zoe, “Wow, what if she was suicidal or something?”

“Yeah, you probably saved her life.”

DAYTIME WITH ZOE was not as funny, just casually fun.  We went to the Tate Modern Museum and checked out the “Global Cities” show — an informative and hugely impressive exhibition that I would have loved to be a part of, combining many of my interests in one: geography, urban planning, art, design, and filmmaking.  We also walked by Leicester Square, trying to see if there were any available cheap theater tickets for London’s West End (there weren’t any on a Sunday), and walked across the bridge to the Southbank promenade, with its people watchers, skater kids, and buskers, both musical and quiet — only one statue performer stood out for me, an invisible man.  The Southbank promenade is a very touristy area particularly because of its juxtaposition to the Thames, its proximity to the playful jumping water fountain in front of Queen Elizabeth Hall, Millennium Bridge, and the International Star Wars exhibit at the County Hall.  Most noticeably, it is home to the towering London Eye ferris wheel, London’s modern icon for the 21st century, constructed for the 2000 Millennium celebration. 

Surprisingly, the streets of London were unusually sparse for the weekend; we speculated many Londoners were at home in fear of the recent threat of bombs in response to the new transfer of Prime Minister power from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown.  Not that that stopped us; along with Zoe’s friend John, we went on the London Eye for its postcard views of London with Big Ben, Parliament, (picture above), and “the Big Gherkin” building.  John and Zoe didn’t seem to mind to do the tourist thing of the London Eye; John had never been, and Zoe not in ages.  “I like when you have visitors,” she told me.  “Because you feel like you’re on holiday too!”

When Zoe was not on holiday but at work on Monday, I spent my alone time at the British Museum, a vast cornucopia of worldly antiquities, the most impressive to me being the granddaddy ancient translating tablet of them all, the Rosetta Stone.  And not too far from the British Museum was a store that lured me with the one item I’ve always wanted to buy in London: a proper, old-fashioned umbrella.

WHILE LONDON RETAIL INSTITUTION Harrods carried decent umbrellas, they were all off the rack models with no real character to them. I actually bought one at Harrods but returned it, knowing there had to be some other definitive umbrella shop in town.  And after some asking around, there was in fact such a place that even the saleswoman at Harrods recommended: James Smith & Sons.  The famed umbrella shop has been hand-making umbrellas since 1830, and still does so today for a pretty pence.  Not only did I get to pick a classic, single-wood-stick umbrella with my choice of wood (maple), finish (matte), and size (regular), it was custom cut to my height and stance.  The friendly old salesman there guided me through the entire custom process like a fine tailor, measuring my stance with an adjustable cane.  “So what brings you here?” he asked me.

“Well I was at Harrods this morning and I didn’t really like anything.”

“Oh, Harrods,” he said in a friendly mocking way.  “There’s not much there.”

Despite the hefty price, I was pleased with my customized purchase, particularly when I needed it during the downpour that afternoon.  It also came in handy to pose like the icons in the funny Elderly People crossing sign on Zoe’s block in the northern residential suburb of Edgware

Edgware, like Zoe’s artsy social circle, felt very familiar to me; like New York and Teaneck, NJ, it was a very ethnically diverse town with really good bagel shops.  “I’m really excited about the bagels,” I said.

“Would you like some tea?” Zoe asked me when I entered her Edgware home.

I smirked.  “Of course.”  When in England…

Zoe’s house — her parents’ place — was where I crashed for my extended layover, a nice accommodation with a comfy bed in a spare room, a cozy backyard for breakfast (weather permitting), a sun room that they referred to as their “conservatory,” and nice-looking living room that was closed for renovation.  Above all, it had a more than friendly host family.  Zoe and her older sister Sarah still lived there for the time being, and so I sat with them and their parents David and Anne for casual family dinners in the dining room.  Meal conversations were always fun, with talk of England’s consistently gloomy weather, international travel — everyone was fairly well-traveled — and corny jokes and puns coming from Zoe’s father David.  Specific jokes escape my mind — I regret not having written them down — but he was the type of guy to say, in his British accent, something like “Oh, that knife salesman’s very witty… He’s quite sharp,” before smirking and waiting for a delayed reaction.

The only time David wasn’t laughing or joking around was he feared Zoe and I would burn the house down when we decided to try out using ear candles that we bought a local health store.  If you’ve never heard of ear candles, they’re this cleansing method of clearing out your ears by sticking a narrow cotton cone in your ear and burning it; the heat and shape of the cone create a vacuum that sucks out wax and debris, lightly and naturally.  Of course, it is a rather odd experience, especially from a third-person perspective; I couldn’t imagine what was going through Zoe’s parents’ minds when they walked into the conservatory and saw me lying on the floor like a corpse with a flaming torch coming out of my ear.  They were quite stern at the two of us, for fear of burning embers catching onto something, but in the end, it was a somewhat relaxing experience — even without the official relaxation CD of Native American music, recommended by the instructions for “maximum relaxation.”

“Can you hear any better?” David asked.

“What was that?” Zoe answered.

THE TITLE OF THIS ENTRY is “Encores,” plural, for my time with Zoe wasn’t the only “extra set” in London.  Since my jetsetting girlfriend Stephanie decided to visit her friend Mike in Nottingham only for a night and a morning, she therefore rode a train into London for a night and morning layover, before catching the EuroStar train through the Chunnel to Paris (where her flight home to the States departed from).  Zoe and I met up with Steph at the King’s Cross station on a late afternoon, where she had arrived early and was already carrying one of the free flowers some cult-like, but non-aggressive organization was handing out. 

“Zoe, Stephanie.  Steph, Zoe,” I made the introductions.  It was about dinner time that evening the three of us regrouped, and so me and my two “cool Jewish girls with curly hair” (as Steph put it) went out to London’s working class East End, home of the famed Brick Road.  While the old cliché of English cuisine only goes as far as fish and chips, the very English dish to eat is actually “a curry,” as in South Asian food, due to its massive South Asian immigrant population.  Brick Road was lined with restaurants and cafes serving fine Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi fare — in fact there were so many of them that the competition was fierce.  Touts called to us for our business in a very familiar way.  “Ha, it’s like we’re backpacking again,” I told the girls.

“Please come in!  Everything on the menu is twenty five percent off!  And we have complimentary wine and beer,” said one tout in front of one restaurant.

“Look at our menu!  We have good price.  Everything thirty percent off!  Free wine or beer with your dinner,” said another.  I realized that everyone was talking about the price of things, ignoring the more important thing.

“But how’s the food?

“Oh, the food is very good!  Come, please.”

We politely declined the pushier guys and eventually settled on Preem, the small Indian restaurant with recommendations from Time Out and Lonely Planet in the window.  Service was slow, but it only made us hungrier as we caught each other up on the past couple of days.  In the end, it was all worth it; Zoe, Steph and I devoured the curry, paneer, aloo, and biriyani dishes in no time.  For dessert, Steph took us to an Indian pastry shop for “those little sweet things”, round and overly sweet treats that she remembered from her study abroad in India.

MY ENCORE WITH STEPH (at least on this trip) continued the following morning and early afternoon when Zoe was at work.  “So did you miss me?” I asked her.

“Yes.”

“And my ‘69’ jokes?”

“Did you miss me asking you what time it is?”

“It’s time to… look at your Swiss keychain.”  (She had bought a Swiss keychain at the duty-free shop in Basel.)

Steph and I started things early that day by getting a ride from Zoe’s dad to the train station to ride into town.  We grabbed breakfast at the amazing food halls of Harrods department store (the food department), which was reminiscent of a set from Hogwarts in Harry Potter, only with fresh cuts of meat, fresh seafood, and just about anything and everything a gourmand could ask for.  “Isn’t it amazing?” Steph raved.  We grabbed some baked goods to eat while shopping around.  Steph got some British-exclusive housewares and puppy stuff for her soon-to-be-acquired new Tibetan Terrier puppy, while I mulled over different umbrellas. 

Perhaps we were at Harrods a bit too long because then came another time crunch to get to Steph’s train — and as I’d learned before, she gets quite moody when “she wants to be somewhere.”  Like our little tiff when rushing around Naples to get the ferry to Capri, we had another bout of travelers’ tension when trying to rush out of Harrods to get to the EuroStar train station. 

“What were you doing when I was trying to buy a ticket?” she asked me scoldingly when she went to Harrods travel department as I looked at umbrellas.  I was indecisive at what was before me in the umbrella department, still wondering about a better umbrella store — to her it translated to wasting her time.  However she calmed down and came to her senses when she realized our tardiness was not due to me, but the slow-moving salesman that packed her goods to be shipped to the States.  And she really calmed down when she just realized that she could just as easily take the next train, which gave us enough time to take a breather and actually have lunch at a decent tapas cafe in the Waterloo train station — our last meal together in our two-week-long “fake honeymoon.”

“This was just the right amount of time [to travel],” Steph told me.  “I’m ready to go home.”

I raised a toast.  “To a great trip with you.”

“To an amazing trip!”

We looked into each other’s eyes like an old happy couple and kissed.

THAT WAS PRETTY MUCH the anti-climactic ending to our trip together — I mean, it’s no jumping out of a helicopter or anything.  We finished our food and then walked down the station hall to the EuroStar ticket counter, noticing a billboard on the way that promoted the same product that we advertised on-line for our client (a big undisclosed electronics company) — if not for that project at our advertising agency back in New York, we’d might have never hooked up and been on this trip together. 

Steph bought a ticket for the 3:something train to her former homebase of Paris and then ran off to get all aboard — without me.  I wanted to wave goodbye in classic fashion — she’d wave back to me, peering from the train window as it pulled away — but with the added security gates, I simply dropped her off in the station hall before she went behind a closed perimeter for passengers only.  It was okay, because the cathartic conversation to our “fake honeymoon” happened before, on the train ride from St. Pancras (“St. Pancreas” as we called it) to the Waterloo/EuroStar station.  Steph stared out the window quietly, until she spoke: “Do you think that when you get married, your wife will be an appendage?”

“What do you mean, like an arm?” I asked.

“No, I mean, like an appendage.  I don’t know.”

“You mean, like ‘Oh, I like to stretch out my arms, like I stretch out my wife!’” I joked as I stretch out my arms.

“No, no.  Hmmm…  I know what I’m trying to say, but I can’t think of the words.  I don’t know, like an appendage.  Like you look over and your arm is just there.  Sometimes it hurts, but it doesn’t matter, ‘cause it’s your appendage.”

“Oh,” I said, finally understanding the gist of her explanation.  “Yes,” I said.  “Well, if it’s a good marriage.”

“Right.”

Even with our little tiffs and rocky points, I felt happy and completely honored that I’d met and traveled with Steph, the absolute “surprise gift of the year to me” as I said in the introductory entry of this trip blog.  Not that trying to make Stephanie my appendage was even an inkling on my to-do list in my immediate future (so don’t you concerned parents reading this be too worried); I’m years from getting to that page.  I agreed with Steph’s mom, who wrote in an email to Steph that she hoped any sort of real honeymoon wouldn’t come until much, much later.  I suppose if travel is one test for the inner workings of a relationship, the other one is the test of time — and only time will tell.

In the meantime, yet another one of my global trip adventures was over, this latest one another departure from the usual style — but at least I got the girl at the end.  In the bigger scheme of things, perhaps the blog entries of this departure from my old ways — even edited down to a PG-13 rating — have shown me evolving, growing, not only in travel, but in Life.  With that said, we’ve come full circle on this trip blog; as I stated in the first entry of “Two in the Boot and Beyond,” Life is what happens in between the things that you planned on.  While I always saw myself traveling solo, “wandering the earth like Kane in Kung Fu”, I have come to accept and enjoy traveling with a partner, a loved one — provided she’s as amazing as the one I had on this trip (although with Stephanie there’s no equal).

THE JOURNEY HOME for me would have been a relaxing resolution to this story, if only for the threat of terrorism looming in London at the time.  I bid Zoe and her family farewell, and then rode on the Tube to Heathrow Airport.  As I waited to board my Air India flight back to JFK in New York, I was shocked to see the BBC News report on the TV in front of me stating in big bold letters, “BREAKING NEWS: HEATHROW AIRPORT BEING EVACUATED.”  Fortunately I was in Terminal 3 — they had evacuated Terminal 4 only — and I was only delayed a couple of hours.  Tardiness was a better consolation than a canceled flight — there were 108 flight cancellations that day — or worse, shrapnel in my body.  Eventually my flight landed in New York safely, just in time for me to wake up early the next morning and rush off to Coney Island to see Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut square off at the annual 4th of July Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The following day I was surprised to be reunited with Steph in New York City; she always thought she’d booked a flight back to her parents’ in Michigan to hang out for a couple of days before going back to NYC, but forgot she switched airports over to JFK.  With Steph back in my embrace sooner than later, I was all smiles again.  Well, both of us were.  It was the telling to our obvious answer to the testing question, “Will travel make or break you?”

“I think I might be even more attracted to you after our trip,” I told Stephanie as if I was a contestant on The Amazing Race in a post race interview, discussing how the trip had affected my relationship with her.

“What time is it?” she asked me.

I looked at my watch and paused, contemplating revisiting an old joke.  “It’s three forty-two,” I simply informed her.  She smiled.

Our trip together might have been over, but our journey would continue, not only to places around the globe, but beyond, in Life.


FUN FACT:

It is purely coincidental that Steph’s Tibetan Terrier is named “Zoey.”  My friend Zoe in London is not her namesake; they have nothing to do with each other, other than the homophonic name.





Next entry: Lemons Into Lemonade

Previous entry: Ending On A High Note




Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Encores”

  • WHEW!  FINALLY I got these knocked out.  Sorry, it was extremely slow going.  Enjoy! 

    Also, my apologies to those blogreaders who miss my old adventures; I realize this departure from my usual stuff was less of a travel blog and more of a drawn out love poem.  But hey, That’s amore.

    Anyway, see you all on the next trip…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/07  at  03:12 PM


  • Hi Erik, thanks for another excellent blog.  These really do help me through the working day! 

    I notice you picked a fun weekend to visit our little Island.  What with the terrorists and all.  Lucky they were really bad at being terrorists though and only hurt themselves which was amusing.

    So are there any more trips in the pipeline?  I need my next fix!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/07  at  04:14 PM


  • IAIN:  Wow, that was fast; I think you read that even before Steph did.  The next trip?  To be determined… but I’m saving up for it. wink

    Posted by Erik TGT  on  08/07  at  05:57 PM


  • I think I speak for all your readers when I ask, How much was the umbrella?? Quite a trip. Thanks for sharing it!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/08  at  05:46 PM


  • DA3: Just a little over a hundred pounds; but not as much as the ones they have on-line:

    http://www.james-smith.co.uk/acatalog/The__Solid_Stick_Umbrella_.html

    So far, in New York, I’ve never gotten so many comments about an umbrella before.  Without me showing it off, people have come up to me and said, “Wow, that’s a really NICE umbrella!” and “Wow, you never see someone with a proper umbrella like that these days.”

    Posted by Erik TGT  on  08/08  at  06:08 PM


  • I really enjoyed this blog as I felt I got to know you much more personally.  Thank you for sharing your trip with us.  Good Luck to you & Steph.  Keep us posted!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  07:38 AM


  • ROSE:  Yes, I guess all the blogreaders DID learn a little bit more about me—for one thing, I’m not gay!  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’ve heard some people were starting to believe that.)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  07:45 AM


  • very informative writing…i am impressed….al

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/18  at  02:23 AM


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This blog post is one of twelve travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Two in The Boot and Beyond," which chronicled a romantic getaway through Italy, plus jaunts to Croatia, Switzerland, and London.

Next entry:
Lemons Into Lemonade

Previous entry:
Ending On A High Note




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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