Paddington Station in London. More train and station pictures.
Although you wouldn't expect it from this oft-neglected blog, I just got back from two weeks in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Over the course of my last big trip, I turned Channel Six into a travel blog and managed a post most days. This time, I knew my internet access was going to be spotty and, well, I wanted to maximize my precious Europe time and save the posts for back at home. So NOW it's time for some trip blogging.
As the title of this post would indicate, after last year's public-transit-all-the-way New England trip, this time I ended up having to take a cab. Two cabs, actually. On my New England trip, I felt like everything came together perfectly, like I was just executing my travel plans, one leg of the trip after another. I might have been lucky. I mean, I planned an entire trip around Amtrak and didn't have any problems.
This time, things did not go according to plan. A lot.
I should have known when I had an entire middle row to myself on my redeye British Airways flight over. As I stretched out for some true jet-lag-preventing sleep, in retrospect I can see that I was sucking up all of my logistical karma. But I didn't think about such things.
I landed in London, saw a quick sight (the Roman ampitheatre ruins in the basement of Guildhall Art Gallery), and then headed to St. Pancras train station for a train up to London Luton airport, for my flight to Ireland. I was on the train when they announced that they were at a stand; there'd been a person killed by a train on the route we were supposed to take. I had just read "Waiting on a Train," and I should have known we were screwed. Instead of figuring out an alternate plan, though, I listened to the employees at the station when they said it would be another half hour, another 40 minutes.
I'd given myself a ton of time to get to Luton, but eventually it was starting to run out. A cab from St. Pancras would have been hugely expensive — and might not have made it in time with traffic, since Luton is so far from the city it probably shouldn't have "London" in its name. I asked at the information desk if there was another way to get there. Go over to King's Cross, and take the train to Hitchin, they said, there's a bus that goes from there. And how much longer was the train from St. Pancras going to be? They didn't know, but it could be another couple hours.
Hitchin it was, then. Fortunately King's Cross station is right next to St. Pancras. I should mention at this point that I was wearing an air cast, the result of a mysteriously swollen foot that my podiatrist never quite came up with a diagnosis for. But I still managed to book it over to King's Cross, inquire there about the train to Hitchin, and get on. At this point, I figured I had about a 50/50 chance of making my flight. I sat through about a 45-minute train ride, tense, staring out the window and willing the stops to go by faster, not sure what this mystery bus situation was going to be like when I got there.
But when I got out at Hitchin, there was a cab stand. For once in my travels, I said screw the bus, and asked the first driver in line how much and how far. 24 pounds and 20 minutes. I made my flight to Ireland's Kerry Airport, and in fact took another cab (this one planned) to the house in Killarney my friends and I were renting for the week.
That didn't end up being the only logistical problem I had during the trip. I used London as my transportation base, and I was supposed to take the Caledonian Sleeper train from there to Edinburgh. Except when the train car attendant asked me when I wanted my breakfast, we had a conversation that went a bit like this:
Me: Well, let's see, we get in to Edinburgh at...
Attendant (in heavy Scottish accent): Yuuuur nawt gowin to Edinburrrahhh. Yuuuur gowin ta Glaaasgoow.
Turns out the terrible weather that had hit Edinburgh the in the days before my trip up there had prevented the Edinburgh sleeper train from making it back. So they were putting everyone on the Glasgow train instead. All we had to do was take a train to Edinburgh from Glasgow. From a different train station. With no maps or human guidance.
The fact that I'm back here to write this blog post would indicate that I did manage to get from Glasgow to Edinburgh. I did so using a combination of following people with luggage, using Glasgow's well-placed maps, and The Force. I should note that The Force is pretty strong in me. I use it every time I need to find my way out of Baltimore.
There were other problems, too, aside from occasionally needing to wear the air cast when my foot got bad. There was the sinus infection I started the trip with (the best thing I've ever done to prepare for a trip was ask my doctor for a just-in-case Z pack prescription). There was the two-hour delay on my flight home to BWI airport that pushed me onto a midnight train home (by the time I stepped into my condo I had been up almost 24 hours straight and my eyelids were about ready to stick to my eyeballs, but I had managed to avoid a third cab and the ensuing environmental guilt).
And there was the food poisoning. Yes, food poisoning. A friend and I both came down with it after (we think) some bad fish at a pub on the Dingle peninsula. I ended up missing our group's day trip to Cork, and learning that nothing is worse when it comes up than black pudding. Nothing. After a night of throwing up, and a day of lying in bed feeling miserable, I felt well enough to keep going and seeing things. And after a few days, I was back to gargantuan pub meals, including the best fish and chips in the history of fish and chips. But more on that later.
It might seem like a real downer to make my first post about all of the things that went wrong on this trip. But there was a positive that came out of everything — I learned that it can feel far more empowering when you find your way out of a jam than when you execute a perfect plan. Many of the times things went wrong, I was by myself, and I had to figure out what to do myself, and I did it.