Posts Tagged ‘oops’

There is Never Any End to Paris

3 July 2009

When we last checked in with our intrepid young travelers, they had just seen the sunset over the Seine and made their way back to promptly pass out in their highly proximitous bunkbeds.

Yes. Proximitous. As in very close together. So close, in fact, that Tyler and Hannah could hold hands while each in their own bed.

bunkbeds

On Wednesday of Paris week, we ventured through the “seedy” 10th arrondissement (Seriously.the guidebook’s breakdown of what was worth seeing in each arrondissement, which is like a district of the city, said that the 10th had the Gare du Nord and a bunch of porn shops and nothing worth seeing…and it was right by where we stayed. Nice, right?) to the train station to make our reservations for the trip to Switzerland before heading off to the ‘burbs to see Versailles.

Wow, kudos if you can follow all of that.

At the Tra Sta, we had a bit of a travelfail. We were standing in line, blissfully tra la la-ing about how 2 days in advance is enough time to get reservations because, really, how many people are clamoring to get to Laussane on a Friday morning?

And then we got up to the window, and Monseiur Ticketbooth was all “Zuit alours! Zhere are non tickets available avec Eurail pass to Switzerland on Friday!” To which we responded with a hearty panic because we had no time/day flexibility for travel because of everything we wanted to see in Paris and when the Swiss family was expecting us. We ended up paying 70 euros each to just book normal tickets for the earliest train on Friday. It was a cringey moment for my wallet, but it had to be done.

With those annoying logistics out of the way, we were more than ready to be escape to a palace of opulence and extravagance and cake.

Versailles!

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The lines were approximately 1000 years long, but we had Contact (really fun game…I’ll teach you sometime) and a fisticuff with some line cutters to keep us occupied.

It’s very grand, but it’s also very crowded and touristy…I don’t want to say I was underwhelmed, I was just not as whelmed as I was expecting to be, you know?

The Hall of Mirrors was pretty bombdiggity,

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and I definitely think I should have some of these installed over my bed:

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On the other hand, the gardens are where it’s AT, yo. Though some people were “not even hungry anymore…just miserable” by the time we got to them, and the fountains were not on, it was pretty cool.

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My favorite part was the Queen’s Hamlet, a little pretend “peasant” village for Marie Antoinette to frolic and play in. So we thought it only appropriate for us to frolic and play as well. It was…um…an homage! To her memory! Really, we were obliged to do it. It was work. Not fun. At all.

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There is also a farm! With animals!

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This picture does not show the animals, but they were there.

Think what you will about Marie Antoinette. Sure, maybe she was a little bit too flippant and carefree and extravagant and unqualified to rule a country, but an adorable little town with all of the charm and none of the work of Provencal life? BRILLIANT.

After Versailles, we went back to Paris and ventured to the top of one of the most famous landmarks in the world…drumroll please…

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LE TOUR EIFFEL!

The views were AMAZING (even though it was cold and windy) and the whole structure is pretty remarkable, especially since it was originally only going to be a temporary thing! Whoa!

Also, while we were at the top, we saw a proposal!! It was so life romantic (and romantic romantic)! Everyone was excited and cheering and clapping for them. The girl was SO happy and surprised! I definitely did not get goosebumps and did not get a little teary. Definitely not.

It occured to me, while we were up there, that I had seen a lot of movie trailers recently in which explosions or similar tragedies bring down the Eiffel Tower. Of course, I thought it highly appropriate to mention these while standing atop the thing.

ME: Hey, so, there are a zillion movies coming out soon, and in every one of them THE EIFFEL TOWER EXPLODES.
RANDOM AMERICAN MAN NEAR BY: Oh my. Please…don’t.
ME: Yeah, one is GI Joe, and there’s like lots of fire, and it falls over.
RAMNB: Nah nah nah. Not listening.
ME: And the other one was Transformers…and there was more fire, and maybe it fell over in that one too.
RAMNB: Can you please talk about something else??!
HANNAH: ZOMG. What if the Eiffel Tower actually IS a transformer? Only it’s been…dormant?
EIFFEL TOWER: (Sways)
RAMNB: (Runs away screaming)

After the ridonkulous lines at Versailles, we were relieved that getting up and down the tower was relatively painless. We designated that night as “nice dinner night” and had THE BEST TIME at a nearby restaurant. We were there for about 3 hours. It was so European!

Thursday was our last Paris day, so we naturally had a lot to cram in. The Louvre

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bless it, took up most of the morning/a bit of afternoon. We saw the “big three” first (Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo) first, and then did a pretty extensive (if brief) sweep of almost the whole museum.

Hannah and I were VERY upset, however, that one of the painting galleries was closed, so we could not see “Liberty Leading the People,” of Ms. Hayes’ art history classroom poster and Coldplay album cover fame.

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Alack!

Oh well.

After that, we ate a quick lunch on the steps of the (Phantom of the) Opera House, and then dashed off to the catacombs.

IT IS SO FREAKY! Basically, you wander around along 1.4 km of underground corridors that are COMPLETELY LINED WITH BONES. Human bones! That are all stacked and neat and orderly and unreal seeming.

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Why, hello, lil skulls of dead french people!

So that was weird. And cool?

Then it was Disneyfail (long story…don’t want to get worked up), the Moulin Rouge, touristy/sexshoppey Monmartre, souvenir shopping, crepe eating, bunkbed picnicing and packing!

Paris was SO MUCH FUN! As with any travel, it had it’s ups and downs, but the company was great, the city was beautiful, and THE TEAM will always have Paris!

Sorry. Had to.

Versailles and the rest of Paris pics are on facebook.

And here’s a nonsequiter bonus treat:

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Choose your own Rome cliche!!

1 May 2009

It’s like Choose Your Own Adventure, but significantly less exciting.

This post needs a title. Do you choose:

a) All roads lead to Rome
b) When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
c) Rome wasn’t built in a day.

If you chose a), please start reading now. For b and c, keep scrolling.

All roads lead to Rome  

But that doesn’t mean you won’t face obstacles trying to get there. 

The scene: Milan, early morning. Sunny and warm (it’s ALWAYS the best weather on the day you have to leave).

The Team rises from their comfy faux-sleeping bags to shove all of their worldly belongings back into too small bags. Dressed in clothes long since sullied with the burden of travel, they depart their lodging and make their way to the tram to the metro to the 9:30 train to Rome. However, as The Team approaches the tram stop, there appears to be a mass migration of people walking down the sidewalk next to the tram tracks.  The Team waits a few moments, and then decides that they are either caught in the movie The Happening or the train is not running. They decide to walk to the metro, along with many other unhappy commuters. Approximately 7 trams pass going the other way during the 15 minute walk.

Alarm begins to grow in some members of The Team. 0900 comes and goes, and time ticks forward with an uncomfortable rapidness. On the metro, each stop seems a lingering frivolity, a cruel game intending to toil with emotions. The Team consults their watches and ponders their accuracy.

Finally, The Team arrives at Milano Centrale and begins the epic dash from subway to train tracks. Time, the coyest of temptresses, seems to slow. The Team is running through the magnificent neo-classical halls of the station. The hands of the giant station clock click to 9:30 as The Team passes under with barely enough time for a slow-mo turn around and a weirdly deep “NOOOOOOOOOO!” But then, the track comes in to view and, lo, miracle of miracles, the train IS STILL THERE. The Team refuses to be lulled into complacency, and finally skids to a stop in front of the first car, frantically pushing the “Door Open” button. “No,” they think, “No this isn’t happening! We made it! We’re touching the train! Let us in! LET US INNNN!!”

And then, tragedy strikes. Before their very eyes, the train pulls away, sending The Team to their knees, grasping at the air in anguish.

Fade to black.

End scene.

Ok, maybe it wasn’t quiet that dramatic, but I swear, at one point, I heard the music from the Qui-Gon/Darth Maul Star Wars EpI fight playing softly in the background. It was a little bit hard to make out though, over the pounding of our sneakers on the marble floor and the exaggerated heavy breathing noises that always accompany slow-motion running sequences.

After we stood on the platform in shock for a few minutes, we went to the ticket office and managed to change our reservations to the 10:30 train with no extra fee. But we seriously perplexed the ticket man in the process. I may write to the phrase book people and tell them the phrase “We missed our train” should be included in future additions.

And then we got on the 10:30 (Eurostar! posh) and passed through Genova and Firenze (I caught a glimpse of Brunelleschi’s dome on the Cathedral!) on the way to Rome. YAY.

If you chose b), please start reading now. For c, keep scrolling.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

It’s hard to evaluate the truth behind this cliche because I don’t even know if I saw any Romans while in Rome. I think the city is made entirely of tourists, only some have been altered to work in places in order to cater to their fellow tourists. This was good because everyone spoke English (huge sigh of relief on my part, since almost no one in Milan did), and maps were almost not needed because we could follow either signs or the tide of other tourists. This is bad because there were a lot of tourists, and tourists are annoying. Except for me. I am a good tourist.

There are SO MANY amazing things in Rome, and in 2 full days + 2 partial days, I think we made a good effort, but we still barely scratched the surface. 

To give you an idea of what we covered, here is my beloved trusty friend:

map

Pretty good right? And with the exception of the Metro to the Vatican (not back), that was all covered on foot.

Wait, I’ve just thought of something that the Romans and (smart) tourists do: Ignore the HORRIBLE street hustlers who try to sell you roses and tripods and noisemakers and light-up toys and ugly bean bag things and pictures in front of Trevi fountain.

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No thanks, dude. I’ll take my own.

Oh and Romans have their gas stations on the sidewalk.

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And they go to church. Though with something like 900 churches in the city, there’s really not enough space for everyone to worship. It’s a problem, and they should do something about it.

Seriously though. The Vatican. Blew. My. Mind. There are no words, so I will show you a video:

Taken inside St. Peter’s. And that doesn’t even account for the aneurysm of awesome I had in the museum. Guess what I did after shooting this video? That’s right. Climb up a death-defying 551 steps to the top of the basilica! And you have to go between the two layers of the dome and walk leaning sideways.

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Ta da! Rome.

Here’s more of what I’ll call “Essence of Rome”

If you chose c), please start reading now. 

Rome wasn’t built in a day

In fact, Rome was built over the course of many, many, many days. 2762 years worth of days, to be exact.

Yes. 2762 years. And I know that because it was ROME’S BIRTHDAY while we were there. And WHEN IN ROME for Rome’s birthday, EVERYTHING IS FREE. Ok, not everything, but all of the state museums, including all the ancient ruins and all that. Silly Rome! You’re supposed to GET presents on your birthday, not give them to others! That’s not to say I’m not incredibly greatful, because srsly, thanks.

So in honor of Rome’s bday, we stumbled upon (and by stumbled upon, I mean saw people lining a street, inquired via my Italian skillz, and waited for like an hour) a PARADE OF ANCIENT ROMAN SOLDIERS IN COSTUME.

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Except that the moment the parade finally started, it began to rain. Here’s a new cliche for you, Rome: When it rains, it POURS. It rained so hard. My shoes were wetter than marching band practice in a thunderstorm. We eventually had to take cover under the mighty edifice of the Colosseum, along with some of the paraders.

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Most of my time in Rome was spent being utterly perplexed by how OLD everything is. Like walking around in the Colosseum and the Forum and looking at ruins like this:

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and being like, “Oh, of COURSE there was a Temple here. And of COURSE Caesar and all those other famous ancient Romans hung out here thousands of years ok. Yes. That is totally reasonable and easy to imagine.”

FALSE.

It is impossible to fathom. My mindgrapes were thoroughly blown.

But it’s a great city, and I wish I could’ve spent more time there.

Photo roundup: I am not exaggerating when I say I took 700 photos of Rome. Seven. Hundred. So here are the best of the best, because the only person would ever want to see all of them is probably my mom.

Album 1: Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s

Album 2: The roof of St. Peter’s, Castel Sant’ Angelo, Piazza del Popolo, Trajan’s Column, VE II Monument, the parade, Ara Pacis, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon

Album 3: Chiesa del Gesu, Capitoline Museums, the Forums (foro, whatevs), the Colosseum, Palantine Hill, Circus Maximus, and the Bocca della Verita

In conclusion,

EPIC.

Lake Como and Milan

28 April 2009

Ok. For real this time.

I was distracted by some work I had to do for Barnard (shocking, right?). But now all is well.

So where was I? Right, Lake Como.

Now, this is not Lake Como the neighborhood in Orlando.

lake-como

Nor the elementary school where I went to gifted one day a week in 2nd grade.

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This is the Lake Como that was the basis of the Naboo lake country in Star Wars EpII where Padme and Anakin fall in lurv.

naboo

However, before we could enjoy its radiant beauty, The Team and I had to get there. It was supposed to be a simple 1 hour train ride. But as we all learned from EA!P1, there is no such thing as a simple train ride. First, the automatic ticket machine would only let us buy one ticket at a time. Then it wouldn’t take JP’s euros. Then it spit out tickets with this mysterious instruction to “Validate” before getting on the train. At that point, the train was about 2 minutes away from departing, so we ran like crazy, all the while frantically trying to determine how and where to “validate” the ticket. We got to the train and just decided to get on, throwing validation caution to the wind.

So a few minutes into the trip, Mr. Conductor comes through. When I give him my ticket, his brow furrows, and the following exchange occurs.

MR. CONDUCTOR: I am speaking in Italian, so you can only understand what I am saying from body language and context clues based on what you learned in that little pocket guide to Italian. I’m shaking my head and pointing to where it says Validate on the ticket.
ME: Yes, oops, about that…Also, I am not sure what you are saying.
MC: Kids these days. I shall now pull out a large notebook that contains the Naughty List. Babbo Natale will be hearing about this one.
ME: Mi dispiache?
MC: Here is a carbon copy of your Naughty List entry. Now give me 5 euro each. Which is the fine. For not validating your tickets. Even though you bought them from a machine that seems like it would dispense immediately usable tickets.
THE TEAM: (pays).
MC: Now, don’t you ever not validate your ticket again. This is a horrible crime. You could be fined 50 euros! Though there seems to be a hole in my logic because I did not take any identifying information from you that would in anyway lead to a record of this offense. Now I shall say something probably at your expense to the Italian lady sitting next to you and be on my way. Ciao!

And then we almost missed our stop because I didn’t see the sign and The Team was sleeping. Save for a little Italian lady who probably asked me how many more stops to Chiasso (the only word she said that I recognized), we would’ve ended up in Switzerland (this we didn’t learn until later, upon consultation of a map). So we lept off the train at the last moment.

After a bit of wandering, we found some food, an ATM, the Tourist Information (my new best friend) and, most importantly, THE LAKE.

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Lake Como is shaped kind of like an upside down “Y,” and Como is the city at the bottom of the left “/” We took a bus along up to Belaggio, which is the town where the “/” and the “\” parts of the lake meet. More or less.

On the bus, I had to stand at first because there were no seats, but then I kept standing because it was kinda fun to hang my head out the window and take pictures during the hour long drive along windy narrow cliffside roads.

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Dogs: You are definitely onto something with this head out the window of a moving vehicle idea. We should talk.

From Belaggio, we took a short ferry across to Varenna.

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And climbed that GIANT hill of hugeness. At the top, we found both a castle and stunning vistas.

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It was truly incredible. The Team and I marveled at the fact that we were just chillin on top of a hill in the middle of Lake Como in Italy. I had lots of “OH EM GEE REMEMBER HOW I’M IN ITALY RIGHT NOW??” moments during the trip. Also, after we saw the little tiny village at the top of the hill, with the three old ladies on the bench chatting up a storm in Italian, and heard various churchbells from all of the mountains chime 6’oclock, I tried to explain “life romantic” to The Team. It was a life-romance-explosion.

We had a bit of gratuitous sleeping in the next day, due to post Lake Como exhaustion, and got a late start in Milan. Still, I managed to summon the strength to climb on top of Il Duomo.

And that was pretty cool.

Milan was interesting. It wasn’t my favorite city of the trip; it’s a lot more like a commercial/business center for Italy rather than a tourist havin, but I was glad we went.

AlternaNorway ’09

19 February 2009

Norway.

The land of vikings, trolls, big dreams, and broken hearts.

Here’s how it was supposed to go down:

  • Meet travel group on campus at 2:55am Sunday.
  • Get on minibus cab for 14 at 3:00am.
  • Arrive at Liverpool St. Station in London approx 3:50am.
  • Figure out where to get on Stansted Airport bus. Wait
  • Get on bus to airport @ 4:20.
  • 5:00/5:15: Arrive at Stansted. Check in.
  • 6:30 Flight departs for OSLO.

But no. It couldn’t be that easy!

First, the driver was about 10 minutes late picking us up. Then, he drove aimlessly around the East End of London, supposedly due to “construction” and “traffic diversions.” We drove down the same streets as the Jack the Ripper walking tour. At one point we were like “Oh look! There’s that church that the prostitutes used to circle all night long because they could only get arrested if they weren’t moving!”

A few moments later: “And there it is again.”

And then: “And…again.”

And then: “FOR THE LOVE OF PETE!  Is this church pulling us into its orbit like a bunch of whores??”

When we finally found the station (only after asking random 4am London streetwalkers), we had thoroughly missed the bus to the airport. HOPE WAS NOT YET LOST! There was another bust at 4:40 am, which, naturally, left late.

We got to the airport around 5:45. We ran into the terminal with the belief that we could still pull it off.

And then.

crowds 

A jillion people and their moms were in line at the RyanAir counter. The check in machines weren’t working, and we couldn’t do online check in because none of us have EU passports. A few intrepid leaders of the group managed to squeeze in sideways to the counter, and in the face of supreme incompetence, managed to secure roughly 3/4 of the boarding passes.

I was in the 1/4 left behind, but we sent the others to RUN FOR THEIR LIVES through security while we retreated to yet another line to see what could be done about rebooking for a later flight.

The boarding passers arrived just in time to see the plane pull away from the yet and dejectedly rejoined us in the other line. After much waiting, witnessing of Crazys Shout at the Poor Staff People, we finally managed to find someone to ask about our chances for getting on another flight (though at that point, there was still much line left to be waited in). He said the cheapest same day we could get would be £245, at which point we abandoned ship and retired to wallow in the food court.

It was at that point that I reached approximately 24 hours of wakefulness (because Saturday I got up at 7am to go to Canterbury and Leeds on a romantic Valentine’s date with the English countryside). The good news is that we’re going to hopefully get a partial refund of our tickets, and we want to MAJORLY complain to the stupid taxi company for a full refund.

We caught the bus back to London, and the group disbanded. Some went straight back to Egham, some (like me) stayed for the day and then went home, and the rest stayed the night in London.

Sorrows were drowned in milkshakes and the cuddling of oversized stuffed animals in the London equivalent of FAO Schwartz.

I came back to Egham that night with the intentions of sleeping and maybe trying to meet up with Team London for some kind of day trip. Had a nice 12 hour nap, woke up, heard the plan to spend the day in Brighton, in the south on the Channel. I was about to just give up and spend the day moping and being emo, but I got in touch with another girl who came back to RoHo with me, and we decided we might as well go for it.

BEST DECISION EVER!

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The sun and the waves and the smell and the sound of seagulls…it was LOVE at first site.

Now I understand why people in Victorian novels are always going to the seaside to Recover and Improve their Fragile Conditions. It has magical healing powers of awesome.

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Except it was only after I got there that I was informed of the plan to spend the night there in a hostel and continue exploring the coast on Tuesday. Throwing caution to the wind, we agreed. Everyone else still had their luggage from You Know Where, so between everyone, we managed to round up enough to get through the night. The hostel was super cheap, and they only had 4 blankets and no sheets for the 7 of us. I slept in my clothes with my jacket as a pillow. ADVENTURE!

Our hostel was also a bar, so we met an interesting group of English people that bought us lots of drinks, and a rousing good time was had by all.

The next morning, we continued onward down the coast to Portsmouth, where we spontaneously decided to catch the ferry to the Isle of Wight. It was about 10 times bigger than any of us were expecting, so we definitely did not have enough time to fully explore.

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So from the wreckage of the Trip That Shall Not Be Named, we managed to salvage an enjoyable mini-vacay on the seaside. 

The rest of the pictures are here.

We all decided that it was a learning curve kind of trip. We know now what we did wrong and how it will be better the next time. And by next time, I mean tomorrow when some of the same group are going to Bruges and Amsterdam. The good news is that we’re on a (mostly) guided tour, and we have already detailed (to the minute with A LOT of extra time to spare) how we’re going to meet the guide at 7am at Waterloo station.

Fingers crossed…

No-way to Norway

15 February 2009

Looks like the EPCOT version will just have to suffice…after a series of unfortunate disasters, my Norway trip did not happen.

At this point, I’m approaching 40 hours without sleeping, so…

More later.

Orange Wednesdays and Public Transport

24 January 2009

Have I mentioned that the lights in the hall in my flat are motion-activated? It’s very green, actually, so that when there’s no one out there, the lights automatically turn off without having to worry about switches and all that. And when you open the door, they come on within a second or two.

I’ve started playing this very exciting game called “Try To Get to the Kitchen from My Room Without Activating the Motion Detector Lights.” My room is like 1 or 2 feet from the kitchen door, so you’d think I might be able to dart out fast enough, but I ALWAYS LOSE. Sometimes, I’ll think I’ve almost made it, and I’m actually within the realm of the kitchen, but then the LIGHT TURNS ON BEHIND ME! I think I may try a new strategy of going super slow to see if that works any better.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Wow. She’s finally lost it. It was touch and go there for awhile, but no, now it’s definitely gone,” but YOU MUST UNDERSTAND what constant cloud cover and darkness and fog can do to a person.

Anyway.

My mobile is on the Orange network, and they offer this super awesome “Orange Wednesdays” deal where you can get 2 for 1 cinema tickets. Groovy, right? On Wednesday, my friend Victoria and I went to Staines (the next town over) to try and take advantage of that awesomeness. And lo and behold, student tickets are only 5.85…divide that by two, and it equals supercheap! So we’re all “la la la that was awesome and cheap!” and leave the theater afterward and THEN

1. It’s pouring rain and windy as all get out. My umbrella flips inside out and dies (I fixed it a little but it’s still kind of dead).
2. We go back to the bus stop and check the time of the next bus, which of course, was coming in negative an hour and 20 mins.

That’s right. The last bus leaves around 10:30pm, and it was 11:50. Oops! The pub across the street directed us to a taxi stand right around the corner, which was literally a hole in the wall. Seriously. A hole. With 3 chairs and a door. There was already a man waiting with a pizza, and we were soon joined by 5 drunkish 30somethings, which makes for a very crowded hole. One of the guys offered me a pound to either sit in my chair or my lap, I’m not quite sure which. The same guy also did the Incredibly Distasteful Act of hailing a random taxi from the street while simultaneously waiting at a taxi stand. This rather angered the Taxi Man, who used some colourful racial language to describe the typical driver of said cab.

After all that, the drunks left, and a driver finally showed up. We shared a taxi with Pizza Man back to RoHo (Royal Holloway) because apparently it was all in the same direction, and Taxi Man felt bad about us having to wait.

In the end, it turned out jolly good, and we learned the invaluable Thou Shalt Not Stay Out Past 22:30 on Small Town Surrey Weeknights lesson. Because after that Cinderella-esque hour, it’s only pizza eaters and drunks who roam the streets.