Dearest family and friend folk,
My European ramblings sporadically whispered away without conclusion. Too many modes of transportation and emotions were to blame, as I surrendered to inconspicuous-ness and savored the wintery Christmas markets and my halfway homes in Lanark and London.
I’ll try my best to give a proper retrospective summation of the journey, and life since then, before transitioning into my new reason for keeping this open journal… on January 2 I’ll be moving to Kathmandu, Nepal. I want ya’ll to come with me, as always. So I’ll keep posting photos, words and revelries in hopes of staying close.
Without further ado… a short skip back in time to December 2011…
(cue Beirut song Bratislava)
As within most countries upon arrival, Nick and I were cold and lost once we reached the capital of Slovakia. Neither of us had much impetus to be there besides it being the nearest and cheapest place to fly from. After finally finding the final hostel we’d share on the trip, our spirits were brightened by the Christmas Market. Now veterans of the brilliant tradition of the outdoor European Christmas Market, we ordered some hot wine without hesitation, and the fattiest, most delicious street food in sight. I was mesmerized by the giant ham rotisserie over open flame, and listened to a band with an electric banjo while eating the best rendition of potato pancake ever-Zemiakové Placky. As we were debating over hot red or white wine, a Slovakian broadcast reporter squeezed between us with her microphone. Deer caught in the camera headlights, we were quickly convinced to participate in a battle-of-the-sexes-esque drinking contest of… hot spiked cider. “No thanks” didn’t seem polite at that point, so on the count of three we locked eyes and threw back the first of scalding hot ciders. Some dormant bout of grade school soccer competitiveness welled in me, and I got off to an early lead, unflinchingly chugging 3 and a half cups. The thing about drinking hot beverages in rapid secession is that it makes your stomach feel ready to implode. Nick had caught up to me, or so the newswoman said, as she raised both our hands up calling a “tie.” We were then instructed to walk in a straight line, at which point I realized the cider was spiked. The newswoman and crew left us drunk on adrenalin. We excitedly decided to eat, and only after taking the first bite did we remember how utterly sick and full of cider our stomachs were. We went to bed, woke up to eat the complimentary breakfast in a restaurant full of Americana kitsch. Nick walked me back to the train station, where I caught a bus to the airport and we parted from “our” journey unto short solo stints, mine to rewind back through the UK.
Sheep were camouflaged against all the snow. Donald graciously scooped me up from the airport and took me to Lanark. It was strange and nice to hear and see English language again. An epic storm turned over buses and cancelled the annual Christmas pageant. Journeying to our Campbeltown homeland was out of the question. Donald took me on a grand visiting tour of all the Scotland Stewarts’ homes… his children, his sister. We ate at Witherspoons and The Loch, watched soccer and the BBC. And I got a crash course in Stewart genealogy as Donald brought out the family tree.
The morning I was leaving on a bus bound for London, Donald played a CD of his he picked up while trekking through Nepal. How fateful it now seems in retrospect.
London- I surprised Jim at the front door, as no one had told him I was coming. But he and Molly and Stella welcomed me around the TV and I felt right at home. Susan got home eventually and we stayed up talking late into the night. She and Molly had made dozens of loafs and mini-loafs of pumkin bread for the OAP (old-age-pensioners) tea to be held at the American School in London the next day.
We made dozens of cucumber sandwiches… well-buttered bread and some cucumbers, per proper British tradition. The tea party was heartwarming. The elderly came dressed in their Christmas best and we took their coats and sat them down to listen to jazz. We spent the rest of the day making Sue’s Christmas tradition: biscotti with cranberries and pistachios. I felt so at home in the kitchen with her, for the first time in months. We went shopping with Molly for teddy bears at Harrod’s, a quintessential and absurdly chaotic quest during Christmas time. Sue and Jim and I went to dim sum (like Korean tapas) for dinner and walked around gazing at Christmas lights and window displays. To me they were extravagant, but Jim said compared to past years, they were a tad “recessionary.”
He drove me to catch the train to the airport, but not without trying a few different closed Subway stops, dodging tangles of traffic, and accidentally telling me to go the wrong way on the Tube. With the same utterly calm presence of my father he kept saying “stay calm, it will be alright.” I did end up making it just in time.
(The following is a direct exerpt from notes I took en route, summing up the rest of the journey… )
I’m at wit’s end on the 7-hour Megabus from Cincinnati to Chicago… sans internet. It’s broken and I’m longing to proclaim “AMERICA” to anyone online right now.
This final leg of the trip has really solidified a nugget of wisdom…. sometimes it is worth to pay 50$ to get there 4x faster. And the “deals” usually entail hidden fees anyways.
-a 1/2 hour to get to Victoria Station in London, amidst Christmas traffic
-a 1-hour flight December 11th 8:25 London to Manchester
-a 12-hour layover in Manchester which I spent in the airport Prayer Room doing yoga and reading a Buddhist text
-a 10-hour flight from Manchester to Chicago
-a 7-hour Megabus ride to Cincinnati
-a 15-minute drive home with dad, sure to be the most enjoyable leg of the journey
= thats about 34 hours of travel… totally unnecessary to get from London to Cincinnati
ALAS, I have had ample time to reflect and ease in to America. The transition is, thus far, underwhelming… which is just fine.