Almost a year ago (or maybe more, I can’t remember), I convinced my grandmother to go on a trip to Ireland with me as a leg of my bigger trip. She seemed excited initially as well as terrified– I knew after going she wouldn’t be so scared, but it was getting to that point that would be difficult.
The most fun part about getting her to agree to going is that she’s 72 and has never seen the ocean or even been outside the U.S. But at three times my age, she started walking every day and dieting and getting in shape so she could make it around London for a day and Ireland for a whole week. I think I might have been more excited about it than she was…
I picked her up at London Heathrow at 11:30 in the morning and jumped immediately into the craziness that is London. I tried my best to explain what I meant by “tube” (he subway system), pounds and pence (the currency, which she still has no idea about), and Oyster card. There were mixed results.
“Any problems on the way over? Good flight and everything?” I asked.
“Yeah, it was actually really nice,” she said, the first hint of excitement overcoming terror I’d seen since she landed. “Really comfortable and they gave us food. There was this guy there at the airport who overheard your dad talking about how this was my first trip and he sorta took me under his wing.”
I finally saw in someone else’s face the way I feel every time I make a new friend while traveling. She was now smiling widely and there was genuine enjoyment in her face. “So he showed me where to go and gave me some gum on the way over when my ears popped. But I never did get to thank him– he done disappeared when we got off.”
“That’ll happen. Aw, Grandma, look at you! I’m so excited for you!”
“Well, hopefully nothing goes wrong.” Such a Midwest thing to say.
The train wasn’t so busy going back into London, so we sat in relative silence, gathering energy for the absolutely crazy day ahead.
Our first stop was King’s Cross Station, very near to where my amazing friend Heather (with whom I stayed the last time I was in London, and I also lived in her sorority house for a summer after being kicked out; long story) was living. She currently works for parliament but has to leave in a few months for Vanderbilt because she’s incredibly smart, but hates the idea of leaving London.
We dropped off our things and went for Indian food after unwinding a bit. This was a first for Grandma, and she was terrified of the idea of curry so she just got rice, which was a hilarious mistake.
“Oh! This rice is kind of dry…”
“You’re supposed to mix it with the curry,” I said, throwing some naan on her plate and spooning my curry into her rice, which was too hot, so she shared with Heather instead.
Since Heather had also just flown in from the states after a three week ‘vacation,’ we were all quite low on energy. But I wanted to make sure Grandma saw as much as possible.
After a lot of trouble figuring out how much to pay and divvying up change, Heather was going to have coffee with her (boy?)friend and walked us to the British museum to look around. By the time we had made it there, there were forty five minutes for us to explore before closing time.
“So what do you want to see?” I asked, laughing. It was a stupid question. The British museum takes days and days to explore, and we didn’t even have an hour.
“Well, I have no idea…” she said.
“Do you like history, paintings, sculptures, old writing…?”
“I guess I really like history.”
So show we managed to make in through three whole exhibits- ancient Egypt, European history, and Byzantine-era stuff.
Our next task was to see Big Ben, traveling by tube in the middle of rush hour. It. Was. Insane.
We didn’t actually make it onto a connecting train and tried to get out from the underground. Normally it’s pretty simple- you just follow the signs that say “WAY OUT,” but we somehow ended up running around in circles. It was right at the cross of the Jubilee line and the Piccadilly line, which we’d had to descend 175 spiral steps to reach. Eventually we were able to fit into another train and get to the Piccadilly Circus station. While in the cars, Grandma kept holding on to different rails for dear life. A woman with bright pink hair about her age stood a full foot shorter than me, smiling at us.
“Good grief! Good heavens! Jiminy!” Grandma repeated several times.
“Having a good time, then?” the woman asked her.
“This is crazy!” She responded, laughing and shaking with the tumble of the train car.
“This is her first and only day in London,” I said.
“Oh, a great holiday, then!”
As we came out, I had to keep reminding myself to slow down so she could take photos. She marveled at everything and it was refreshing to see someone enjoying themselves so much.
“Look at that! That building! Oh, how cool is that? This building takes up a whole block just by itself! Who builds all these things? What’s that? And that over there? Where are we now?”
Since I didn’t know much about London other than the fact that everything is super old and or crazy expensive, I used google maps the whole time.
“So looks like we’re walking in St. James park now, and that’s the Churchill World War II museum, and the Supreme Court there, Westminster Abbey…”
“Oh my gosh! Look at this, who would have built something like that? Oh, hang on, I need to get s picture of that… I hope these are taking…”
“And there’s Big Ben, and the London Eye.”
By this point we were very tired of walking and rush hour was almost over, so we stopped on the east side of the River Thames and watched the sun go down behind Charing’s Cross.
And after taking the tube back, I dropped her off at Heather’s to sleep while I went to do an interview and hang out with the guitarist from London-based indie-band, Autoheart. (Details in another post)
The next morning was absolute hell. We both needed to get on the first train to our airports (she to Heathrow and I to Stansted). For her, it was fairly simple. We woke up at 4:30 am and I took her directly to King’s Cross and dropped her off at the correct terminal to go straight to the airport. As a result, I missed my tube by only a few seconds.
“Don’t panic. Don’t panic. There’s another one coming in eight minutes,” I kept repeating to myself. I needed to be at a bus station a couple kilometers away by 5:30, which was doable if I caught the next train which was to arrive in eight minutes. I waited. And waited. And finally, the sign that gave me times for the next train erased the first line. It was not coming.
Have you ever had those, “Oh shit” moments that are so bad you lose the entirety of your constitution and die on the inside? This was one of those moments. The reason this was so bad?
We woke up at 4:30 AM to catch literally the first trains of the day, because our flights left quite early.
Only the 5:30 AM coach to Standsted wasn’t sold out by the time I could get a ticket. Besides, the next one wouldn’t leave for another hour, meaning I would miss my flight.
My grandmother’s phone is literally incapable of international travel. (Psst, fuck you, Sprint.) If I wasn’t waiting for her in Dublin when she arrived, she would be alone in a new country with no clue where to go and NO means of communicating with me.
If that were to happen, my family would disown me (well, again). And I’d have to spend more money on yet another missed flight.
So as you can imagine, this was infuriating and terrible.
I ran full force carrying everything I had and my coat wrapped around my waist like an ungainly fanny pack. There were taxis/vultures lined up in black buggies (how depressingly London-y) just outside the station, waiting for carrion to waltz into their back seats. I picked the nearest one and politely asked through the window. “I’m sorry, could I get a ride to the 127 Baker Street bus station?”
“Sure,” the driver replied, pointing to the back seat. He was a middle-aged Englishman with a buzz cut and sounded like he very obviously did not want to be there.
“I need to be there within eight minutes, if that’s possible.”
“We’ll do our best sir. That’s all we can do.”
My heart danced frenetically as the seconds and minutes and years passed. The number on the toll screen continued to rise, forcing me to check how much cash I had. £10. Okay, there’s no way I’ll spend that much on this taxi ride. Right?
Four minutes to go. £7.40.
Three minutes to go. £8.60.
Two minutes to go. £9.80
One minute to go, and we arrive. £11. I can see the coach getting ready to leave, loading up the last bit of luggage. I had my card at the ready.
“Do you take card?” He waved his hand like he was trying to hit a fly in midair.
“No, none of that.”
“I’m so sorry. All I have is a ten. I could…”
“Just leave the bloody note,” he snapped.
“Thank you so much,” I said, sure that if I were in America, he would have shot me. Of course later, I discovered three pounds in my pocket.
From there, things finally started to go right. I got to the airport, checked in, and made it to the waiting area. The gate opened only ten minutes before departure, but it was a Ryanair flight, so I expected something weird like that. As we waited in a queue, four drunken Irishmen enjoyed a couple pints of beer, singing and laughing loudly, red-faced and obviously not giving a shit about the looks people were giving them (and I obviously didn’t care).
On the flight itself, they drank several rounds of Heineken. Why, I’ll never know. But I landed in Dublin a full hour before Grandma and was waiting for her when she landed again. We were about to embark on an adventure that neither of us would ever forget.