I was all Who-ed out, and it was time to leave Wales behind. I hopped a fairly expensive (US$35) train, not to London but Kettering, home of my longtime friends David and Sue. Could it really be true that I hadn’t visited them in over a decade? Sure enough, it’s been long enough that their kids have moved on to university and only their pooch, Marley, remains.
I caught up with David, my corporate soulmate. I met him in 1997 when we worked together on a Snap-on Tools video. Though he left the company shortly thereafter, he has recently returned to Snap-on… just as I have returned to having Snap-on as a client. Once the Kenosha, Wisconsin, toolmaker has its hooks in, it doesn’t let go.
After a few nights in a Welsh hostel, nothing beats lounging at a friend’s home.
Sadly, in the morning the British weather robbed me of the chance to take Marley for a walk in the fields surrounding the house.
Then it was back to London. This is about when I started to notice how expensive things are in the UK (with partial blame going to the US dollar’s exchange rate). Since I didn’t book the train in advance, that hourlong train ride cost almost US$70… one way. I can make the Milwaukee to Chicago trip on much-maligned Amtrak for $48… round trip.
Back in London, you hop on the Underground and- gulp- pay £4.50 (over 7 US dollars!) for a single ride. Then you get smart and buy a rechargeable Oyster card, which discounts single rides to a mere £2.10 (US$3.45). Clack-clack-clacking along beneath London, I fondly recalled dollar rides on the metro in Bangkok and 30-cent trips in Mexico City (though fares have recently risen to 40¢ there, prompting protests in the streets).
To offset my transportation expenses and save a few £s, I found the cheapest hotel I could.
Among the “features” of the Stay in Chelsea Guesthouse: a tiny room… a shared bathroom with a head-bonkingly angled ceiling… half the power shut off to protect some painters downstairs… sketchy wi-fi… and no staff. That’s right, there were no hotel employees on site. I had to phone ahead for someone to let me in, and I got there by Tube before he turned up on his bike. He showed me the keypad combination for my room, made a half-hearted apology for the lack of electricity, and pedaled away.
The upside: a low price (US$60) in a location (Chelsea) near my dinner date.
Throughout our travels, we’ve met loads of Brits, a great many of whom reside in London. So I emailed them all to see who could come out for dinner on a Wednesday night. Emma responded- we met her in New Zealand, the day we rolled down a hill in a giant plastic ball. Lisa, whom we met at a friend’s wedding in Colorado, was also in, along with her boyfriend, Chris. Table for four. And this being London, we were destined to eat- what else?- Indian food.
As fellow travelers and Londoners, I was hoping Emma and Lisa would hit it off. Little did I know that a moment after they met, Lisa would say to Emma, “You look really familiar.” Sure enough, they knew each other. Not only did they once work for the same company, Emma crashed on Lisa’s floor one weekend in New Mexico or some such unbelievable tale.
We ordered plenty of small plates of different dishes. Since I tutor a Sri Lankan student at Literacy Services of Wisconsin, I added a Sri Lankan dish to the mix. Admittedly, I couldn’t tell much difference between the cuisines, though my student Dinesh could surely set me straight. I emailed him a photo, and he said kottu is often too hot even for him. My version was definitely toned down for civilian consumption.
Many glasses of wine and many laughs later, we went our separate ways. Until we meet again, fellow travelers.