Mind The Gap

I’ve been off the grid for awhile. Well, not really, but I have been out of the country and very busy vacationing with my hubby. Endless sightseeing, dining, and delighting in just being away doesn’t leave much time for blogging. But never fear; I’ve been storing up my thoughts the whole time.

As I wrote about several weeks ago, we made a trip to London. This was our first international trip together other than a few Caribbean vacations. And while there were no umbrella drinks on this trip, we made up for it in Ale and Prosecco. The only way to keep Billy moving through my packed schedule of castles and museums and cathedrals was to allow a pub stop on a regular basis. In particular, I found it best to allow him to skip the gift shop process. I realized that no matter how much he actually enjoyed touring Parliament or Buckingham Palace, the gift shop brought out a surly side, probably directly related to the swipe of his credit card. To be perfectly honest, 90% of what I bought were gifts for family or friends and he wasn’t totally disapproving, but the man just isn’t a shopper. He is an accountant, though, and can’t help but keep a running tally in his head. Therefore, off with his head….I mean off to the pub with him!

The pubs were great places to observe English habits and oddities. For the most part you order at the bar. No table service. And no running of a tab. Whatever you order you pay for right then and carry to your table, or barstool not at the bar, but at a ledge somewhere else. Not being a beer drinker myself, I fell into a Prosecco pattern. I just couldn’t do wine or a cocktail and continue on with the itinerary. Prosecco felt light and festive, and made me feel fairly festive, too. One of the most fascinating things to us was how festive London businessmen get at lunch. They crowded into the pubs in their suits, downed a few pints, and then went back to the office. Or maybe they really went for a nap somewhere. A siesta! (Wait, that’s in Mexico!)

We lunched almost daily at a pub as it was easiest (as in they were everywhere) and didn’t bust the budget. We experienced fish and chips, meat pies, and other assorted sandwiches, including a couple of different versions of what I think of as OUR food…the hamburger. We didn’t completely dislike anything, though some pub food is better than others. Every single pub has the lingering odor of fish due to the prevalence of the afore-mentioned fish and chips. It’s a smell that makes my nose twitch, not in a good way, and I wasn’t inclined to eat it twice.

In fact, I think all of London smells a tiny bit fishy. Maybe it’s the accumulation of centuries of fishing and fish cooking. The worst was fish at breakfast. I can’t say we had a single bad meal, but the aroma of a fishy breakfast was not the way I wanted to start my day. We had heard much ado about a full English breakfast that included sausages and stuff. Tried it one morning, but not particularly impressed. We were much happier with a yummy croissant and delicious caffe latte, sitting in a corner window of the coffee shop, watching the crazy London drivers outside.

And speaking of driving, well, it’s just plain scary. I’m sure they feel the same when that visit the U.S. but they are driving on the WRONG side of the road. It is so interesting how ingrained our habits for driving on the right are, and how our reflexes responded to turning into a lane that doesn’t feel correct. And that’s in a taxi! We would never have attempted it ourselves. So many round-a-bouts and one way roads and bike lanes and motorcycles “filtering” in and out between the cars (which is legal), left us gasping and grabbing for a handhold as we careened through London. However, we did love using the taxis. They are funny-shaped yet roomy, and somehow make you feel a bit posh. Unlike the tube, which is anything but.

As part of my careful planning for this trip I had purchased us each a visitor Oyster Card, which is what they call their subway pass. (Somehow relates to that fishy thing, maybe?) Anyway, it took us a couple of days to get up the nerve to actually go down there. Now, I realize that some major cities in our country have subways or trains or other methods of rapid transit, but as Charlotteans and suburbanites we are unaccustomed. But, finally, we ventured into the belly of the beast and it really wasn’t that hard to figure out. Maps and signage were everywhere plus I had carefully studied my own map, and we managed to make it from point A to point B with very little fuss. The biggest challenge was all the levels of stairs and escalators, particularly the day a major escalator was down. It was quite the hike UP about three stories on a dead escalator. And busy Londoners are not in the mood to wait on a couple of huffing and puffing Americans. They want to get on with it, so for the love of the queen don’t stand to the left! I mean…it’s a rule!

And “mind the gap”, the space between the tube car and the platform. An automated British voice repeats this endlessly as you are boarding and un-boarding. In other words DON’T FALL IN! Which always made me a tiny bit nervous as I stepped over with the throngs of people. Like, what if you missed? How quick would someone notice? Or would my fallen body cause a logjam of people stuck in the closing doors as the train makes its takeoff for the next station. Shudder!!! These are the thoughts of a nervous, inexperienced traveler. So many gaps to mind, in the tube and everywhere else. The perfect metaphor for our trip; two bumbling Americans trying to make the leap from one culture to another. Maybe another Prosecco will help!

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