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Lord, I just LOVE being special!


Well, I do believe I will start at the beginning, as that is usually the most convenient, and I find that nonlinear and nonchronological literature (yes, this is literature - Clay plans on recommending this thread as soon as y'all finish The Kite Runner - but since this is a graduate course for minions, there will not be a quiz afterwards. However, memorizing huge chunks of it like serious geeks do for their favorite movies will earn you extra minion points.

Well, after finishing my Clay odyssey over the Chrismas holidays (those details can be found at the Clackhouse if I actually finished writing them - I don't really remember) with Merrieeee (a delightful person of English origin), I decided to head to jolly old England because if it produced her, clearly it was full of people ready for my helpful and kind influence. And they have the Crown Jewels, which I had a really powerful interest in seeing. Just seeing. I swear. Really. I found a good fare on Continental (round trip nonstop Houston to London for less than $540), and begin drafting minions/friends/sycophants to go with me, and I made the first of the mildly-horrifying-but-not-really-too-bad-because-it-was-actually-fine-in-the-end-and -so-I'm-actually-looking-forward-to-doing-it-again discoveries: most of the people I know simply will not just up and run off to Europe, leaving behind family and responsibilities, cackling happily, if Clay is not involved. Hard to believe, I know! But since I enjoy a good cackle, I decide to go anyway, therefore leaving myself open to more than three months of the following being repeated constantly and only varying slightly from person to person: "Who are you going with? No, really, who are you going with? Whaddya mean, nobody? Is that legal? Is that moral? Are you crazy? Did you ask Angela, Debbie, Charise, Denise, Troy, Kathy, Roxanne, Richa, Lori, Michelle, Dana, Roslyn, Opal, Jacque, Arleen, Joice, SaneAikenFan, Lynn, Christine, Merriee, Abbyharp, Portia, etc. etc. etc.? Something will get you. Something will eat you! No, not that way, you perv. They don't even use American money over there! What if you get sick? What if they speak to you in a foreign language? You're actually going to meet Clay over there, aren't you? Stop lying, that's the only reason you ever ran off to strange places before. Well, that time doesn't count. That one, either. You ran off with me that time! Well, ok, maybe you do run off to strange place by yourself all the time but it's clearly wrong this time. Because I said so. OW! OK, it's clear you're gonna do what you want anyway."

Once I got the tickets to London, I was playing around on Travelocity and an ad popped up for a flight from London to Rome for only $200! I said feh to that and went to Alitalia and discover that if I went through the British site and sorta said I lived there (technically, this is true as while I was in London, I certainly wasn't like, dead, right?), I could get the tickets for less than $140! So I did. And since I was going to Rome anyway, I figured Paris is like halfway between London and Paris and would be a nice place to take a breather. And something about Paris called to moi. And the Eurostar was only like $120 if you pre-order far enough in advance. So transportation was set and I had to start looking for lodging. NEWSFLASH: Hotels lie through their teeth on the internet. At first I decided to try the student hostels because the sheer frugalness is so very, very attractive and then I remember that I would probably end killing everyone in my little dorm because I try to avoid student hand-to-mouth dorm like living and eliminating my roommates would have made me more comfortable. And the movie Hostel came out and I took that as a sign. So I thought about what my bare necessities were in a hotel:

1) My own personal bathroom in my own personal room.

2) If above the ground floor, an elevator/lift.

3) Cute/charming staff that could at least fake English if I woke up at 2 am convinced that cannibals were attempting to enter my room.

4) Close or easily accesible by foot to major transportation hubs.

5) Staff whose attractiveness negated the need for fake English.

6) Some sort of indication on the website that the webmaster had at least set foot in the country that the hotel was located.

7) A limited number of guest reviews who wanted to destroy the hotel and salt the earth where it stood.

I started with venere.com and began by eliminating any and all American chains since frankly I could stay in a Holiday Inn here. They had to have at least 20 reviews of a diverse multicultural cross-section that could be translated sensibly by Babelfish, their self-description needed to include words such as "superb", "extraordinary", "we will worship the ground on which you trod", and they had to have really nice pictures, supposedly of the hotel. That has fooled me before, but I live in hope. I choose the Central Park Hotel in London - their little blurb said:

Central Park Hotel is a mere stone’s throw away from the splendours of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and is superbly located in the residential area of Bayswater. All our 261 bedrooms are non-smoking with light maple furniture, luxury cotton sateen décor and en-suite facilities. The bathrooms are nice and bright with ample space to manoeuvre. All the rooms offer tea/coffee making facilities, direct-dial telephones, hairdryers, safes, small fridges, local TV channels and radio, plus access to satellite channels at no extra charge. Smoking is allowed in the public areas only!You can sit and relax to a light meal in our bar and lounge area and room service is available until 9:00pm. In our restaurant we offer a daily Carte du Jour and special dietary needs can be catered for. In addition, the Central Park Hotel also provides the perfect venue for Conferences, Meetings, Wedding Receptions and Dinner Parties etc. A laundry and dry cleaning service is available for your convenience. Assistance with your luggage is also available on request.  Continental breakfast is included in the room rates, which includes: - Cereals, Croissants, Rolls/Toast, Mixed Preserves, Marmalades, Orange Juice and Teas/Coffees.  Central Park Hotel is easily accessible from Paddington Station with the London Heathrow Express in 15 minutes, every 15 minutes. Queensway and Bayswater Underground is a 5-minute walk away. The hotel is within a few minutes walk from Queensway, with its late-night shopping, cosmopolitan restaurants and the famous Whiteleys Shopping Centre.

And it was £38 a night. Perfection!

That was easy, so I moved on to the Eternal City. And voila! There is was, the Hotel Italia (extra points because I could actually pronouce the name) saying stuff like: Hotel Italia enjoys a superb position in the historic centre of Rome, within comfortable walking distance of many of the city's most important sights and monuments such as the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and Colosseum and within easy reach of the Termini railway station. The property, run by an extremely attentive and courteous staff, offers clean and comfortable accommodation at a great price. Guests are offered a delicious buffet breakfast each morning and free Internet connection. The hotel is tastefully furnished and provides a very welcoming atmosphere. It was €70 a night but the pictures were prettier.

This was a snap! Gay Paree was next and there is was: The Gare du Nord - Suède! ...enjoys an exceptional location in Paris, between the Gare du Nord (Eurostar & Thalys trains) and Gare de l'Est railway stations and within walking distance of the beauties of Montmartre. On-site amenities include a comfortable lounge, a veranda, a courtyard and an Internet point. The reception, open 24 hours a day, features a safety deposit box and a courteous staff is always on hand to provide you with any information you may need on Paris. Within a few minutes on foot, you can walk along the famous Grands Boulevards and discover its numerous restaurants and bars, visit the magnificent Musée Baccarat or admire the majestic Place de la République. Other beautiful attractions are easily reachable, such as the peaceful Canal Saint-Martin and the romantic Butte Montmartre. And only €60 a night but it was exceptional!

I began downloading maps of the Underground and the Metro - ordered tickets for the Gatwick and Heathrow Express, found thing like the London and Paris Passes (totally worth it for the line/queue cutting alone, free admissions to major attractions and access to public transporation). So far a 10-day trip to London, Rome and Paris was costing me a grand total of $1,850. For everything except food. I was THRILLED. Foolish, foolish moi.

I happily tuned out my boss' whining as v-day approached. I arranged for the limo service to pick me up at my office as it seemed appropriate, explained to my co-workers that caller ID still worked in Europe and I wouldn't be answering their calls, explained to my son that I was leaving with a reasonably intact apartment and expected to return to one, kissed the cats' and boy's head, and took off.

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So, when do we get to the important parts: Shoes and cute boys? Hee.

Can't wait for the next installment.

And by the way, while I'm KAndre's faithful subminion-in-waiting, in matters of literature, I am not Clay's. No way I'm going to read his depressing sounding book. My mind is as enlarged as it's gonna get. ;)

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Pip pip cheerio and all that:

Having become an experienced and psychotic traveler following the current love of my life around the country, I decided to only take one piece of carry-on luggage and my purse. Yes, you heard me (or saw me type that as the case may be). ONE PIECE OF CARRY-ON LUGGAGE. I said to myself, "KAndre, you know you are lazy. You are not gonna wanna drag 50 lbs of luggage through a variety of airports, just because you want to have appropriate outfits for meeting various European royalty, seducing spies, escaping from a volcano or being the guest of honor at a cannibal feast. Layering is the way to go...two pairs of jeans, a pair of dress slacks, one skirt with a really high slit, some nice tops, stilletos, extremely cute walking boots, a couple of pieces of hair and jewelry...you'll be set. All the hotels have laundry service...what more could you ask for?" So I shoved all of this into a 21-in roller bag and smiled in a faintly superior fashion at those sweating, struggling people shoving behemoth pieces of luggage through baggage check. I wandered over and got an overpriced margarita, sipping it delicately. It is 3:25 in the afternoon, and my plane leaves at 4. Plenty of time, right? I wandered over to my gate and wonder where are the people are. Well, apparently they are on the plane. In what seems to becoming a routine matter for moi, I am the last to board, with a fair amount of eye-rolling from the crew, but I swear it was only 3:44:20! I had 40 seconds to go! Karma was clearly on my side from the beginning, as I had my little row ALL TO MYSELF. No one to climb over, no one to climb over me...the ultimately oxymoron, a comfortable cheap seat! The plane takes off on time, and off we go into the wild blue yonder. I get my dinner first, as I always request a special dinner (yeah, I know - y'all are shocked, SHOCKED!) but enjoyed my salmon while others were eating some sort of pressed turkey. I slept over the Atlantic and didn't wake up until we were crossing into Ireland. I then took my hair off, to the dismay of some dude watching me across the aisle. That's what he gets for staring at strange women. You never know what will come off. Bouncing off the plane at Gatwick, I cheerfully wave at all the poor peons trudging toward the luggage carousels, I head for a British dude waiting to look at my passport and some piece of paper I filled in on the plane to confirm I won't be sleeping in a gutter somewhere. He seemed to be a bit confused as I explained I would coming and going and coming and going and coming and going, but eventually stamped my passport (and not at all neatly) and thus I set foot into England with a fleeting thought to William the Conqueror, a small, secretive smile curling up the corner of my mouth.

The Gatwick Express was easy. I got onboard, showed them my little internet print out, they gave me a little receipt and I rode in comfort to the heart of London. I believe in doing my conquering the easy way. I disembark at Victoria Station which is chock full of people - I pull out my Tube map and plunged into the bowels of the Underground (which sounds much more disgusting than it actually was - sometimes I let my enthusiasm for witty metaphors overcome accuracy - I went down some faintly dingy looking steps, back up some other, arround a couple of corners and arrived at a train station where there happened to be the correct train. Piece of cake.)

This is taking longer than expected. Oddly enough, people seem to want me to like, work or something, instead of working on my memoirs.

I exit the train at the appropriate station and eventually figure out that they want me to stick the stupid card doohickey in the thing to let me out again. I exit the upper alimentary tract of the Underground onto Queensway. I have my little map, my hotel should be no more than three blocks away, and I take off. Twenty minutes later, after wandering up and down 50 million streets ending in "Terrace", I find a cabbie standing by a broken cab. Remembering that since he's a cabbie, he's supposed to have the "Knowledge", I ask him where on God's green earth is this frickin' Queensborough Terrace. I, of course, pick the one unknowlegeable cabbie in the City of London. Happily, though, he had a key map and apparently renamed me "loov". I head down the correct street and there it is! And it actually looks like the internet pictures! YAY! Even with all the extra trudging around, it's only 9 am, but they have my room ready. It's cute and clean and sweet.

Oh, I forgot. Since I am a sensible traveler on this trip and not chasing one Clay Aiken over creation, I have only $100 each of euros and pounds, because that's clearly gonna be enough.

OK, you're going to give yourselves hernias if you keep laughing like that.

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I was gonna BUDGET, I swear! I'm better than Rachel Ray, feh to $40 bucks a day - I could do it on $20! I had a PLAN! Yes, the little pieces of plastic are evil incarnate.

Well, the first thing I did after checking in was to attempt to call everyone to reassure them that cannibal season hadn't started yet and discover I had forgotten to activate my worldwide roaming. I bought a phone card. I went to a phone booth. The instructions were apparently written by James Joyce. I said screw it and used my credit card. I checked my statement upon my return. That 15 minute call cost me SEVENTY-NINE FRICKIN' (and you know what I am actually saying) DOLLARS. $5 and some change A MINUTE. They are INSANE. But I got my phone up and running. I decide to use my London Pass and get the Big Red Bus tour.

I wander aimlessly around with a big crinkly map and was stopped every five minutes by someone even more lost than I was, asking for directions. It's clear many, many tourist are seriously desperate. So I showed them where Victoria Station was, no matter what they asked, as that was the only thing I recognized. I'm sure they found it helpful. I finally found the tour office, presented the pass, and karma smiled on me again; the pass was good for a one-day, hop on, hop off tour, but they had a special and gave me two days! The guy at the tour stand tried to explain to me repeatedly where to go to catch the bus, but he didn't sound like a Monty Python guy, so eventually he said something like , "C'mon looov", crooked his arm and walked me to the bus place. I'm shocked there's not a higher incidence of heart attacks by tourist because that driving on the wrong side of the road stuff is so totally creepy. Even through I'm the last on the bus (I swear it wasn't my fault!) I get the front seat on the top.

See! My London pictures! If you can identify things, let me know. I do recognize Big Ben. And the London Eye. And some WWII battleship.

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Sniff, can't see the pictures - I think you have to do something so I can see them.

I identify with the tourists asking directions, the same thing happens to me when I leave the country or even around the block. I give directions every time I leave my small town and many times while I am walking the dog.

Psst Donna, when I was walking from your house to the store, someone stopped and asked me directions.

ETA - UM - normally when people ask directions I either lead them to where they are going ala Amazing Race, or point. Left and right takes a moment, I had not thought about it for a while, but I usually have to mentally start the pledge allegiance to remember right and left. If I am concious of doing it, I can do it right. But Port and starboard come more naturally (and are fixed even when I turn around in a boat).

Edited by playbiller
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Girl you are stone crazy. I'm fairly adventurous but don't even know if I'd do what you've done. Can't wait to hear more. I love your writing style. Forget work...finishe the memoirs!!

Yikes $79 for a phone call? That's even worse than my mom's $40 3 minute call from the Fairmount Hotel in New Orleans to her boyfriend in CA. I couldn't believe it when I checked out. HiGHWAY ROBBERY from that overrated peice of crap hotel. But I'm over it now!!

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I think I've fixed the photobucket thing...try again.

Note: The Big Red Bus company clearly requires that you be an adrenaline junky before they will hire you as a driver...Sitting at the top in the very front I could see that they clearly thought that more than 3/4 of an inch clearance from anything was just wasteful...

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BUt...but...but...KAndre...I wanted to see you!!!!

Don;t tell me you couldn't get one of those englishmen or other tourists to take a picture of you!!!!

Your pix are similar to Clay's...are you sure you went alone? :D

I totally agree...if Clay goes for Celebrity Amazing Race he should take you along.

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Let's see -

2. changing of the guard at the palace

3. Hyde park

5. looks like Trafalgar square from a different angle than this trafalgar here is another which is near the parliment

11. westminster abbey

The ferris wheel is called the eye of London and was built for the millenium.

Have to run off for a while, the dog actually wants to go out. The nerve.

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Be Patient, Young Grasshopper, I will be seen in Italy (have I mentioned I like Italian men?).

I chose the live commentary tour for my inital reconnoiter...just to have a base of reference. The tour guide, young, average loooking twenty-something dude without any singing talent did the typical 'where are from' thing, starting from the back. We had Canadians, Australians, Japanese, the Scots, some Welsh, a couple of Americans, and me, the lone Texan. He declared I didn't sound like a Texan, I replied I am one so clearly this is what they sound like. He then agreed that I was definitely a Texan. He was quite entertaining, and apparently wanted me to go to some bar made entirely of ice. I don't do the cold thing. Not even for Clay.

If I ever complain again about how the streets are illogically laid out in Houston, the minion-of-the-day is allowed to adminster one (1) small (clearly punitive, but not painful) slap to the back of the hand without fear of retribution. I swear, it's like somebody let a cat play with a ball of yarn for a couple of years, took a photo, and laid streets out to match. The Tube Map only vaguely corresponds with the real topography of the City, and they don't actually, like, MENTION that fact to tourist - it would really be helpful. They have lots of old stuff in London, and once I got over the fact that they used the same pricing in London as they do in the US, just exchanged the $ for a £ - let me stop lying. I never got over the fact they wanted me to pay £25 for a frickin' 256 MB no-name SD card! Really! And I went to big stores, little stores, medium-sized stores; I attempted to fake a Welsh accent; I batted my squinty brown eyes - nothing! I showed them on the Internet - 512 MB SD care - 24 bucks! Nothing. Damn them for being so photogenic! And for the fact that only about one out of five of my pictures come out not fuzzy. And when I say fuzzy, I mean three year old mold type fuzzy. They ruined my budget (as well as the fake bright orange pashmina - I saw it and had to have it, but justified it as being cheaper than Clay's - only £2.50 - and everybody was wearing them in Europe, and the new fanny pack. And the new purse. And the stupid £5 phone card I couldn't figure out how to use. Plastic does work very nicely in London.) Happily, my hotel included a daily continental breakfast with my room which was perfectly fine for me as I make rude hand gestures at the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and if I eat a half-assed breakfast, I usually skip lunch, so I should be able to get a decent dinner of real English cuisine for about $20. Having had a crash course in British food back in Houston from merrieee, I wanted to try a neighborhood pub first. I knew to avoid the smushed up peas (which a clearly some sort of punishment from the British vegetable industry) and so ordered a steak-and-ale (because unless I have been tried down, my mouth pried and held open with a vise, and Clay himself spooning it into me, I ain't eating kidneys) pie, mashed potatoes, and peas the way they were intended, round and undercooked, and some British beer. I personally don't like beer all that much (it all tastes just about the same to me - like Budweiswer - which as far as I can tell is a perfectly fine beer as it does not taste like cream soda which I thought beer should taste like from its appearance when I was to young to drink it. I was deeply disappointed, I tell you!) but as I occasionally watch things like "Fawlty Towers" I know when you're in a pub, you drink beer. The waitress then proceeds to bring me enough food to feed a family of four. The pie (which is basically a really well done pot pie) was at least 8 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep. The mound of potatoes was the size of a small cat, and there were peas everywhere. I ate mebbe half of it. The beer (something about a speckled hen ale) tasted like Budweiser. It was weird paying exactly what was on the menu and the charge receipt didn't have a line for tax or tips. Sunday, I did the Tower of London and some more tour busing. I want the Crown Jewels. Really badly. I'm sorry, Lizzie really doesn't wear them enough and I can tell they are feeling neglected. If I had them, I'd wear them every day. Especially the crown. And carry the scepter around. I'd even wear the sword. For dinner, I did a restaurant by the Globe Theater (I said a bit of that Hamlet thing, you know, "to be or not to be" in the Globe - as I don't actually know any other Shakespeare - I'm a science major, dammit! and that guide - also a twenty-something English dude, but seriously cute - said he'd hire me but it wasn't like he was an actor, just cute) and had Stilton-and-broccoli soup (which was oddly tasteless, it sounded better than it was), a bacon and tomato sandwich (and if that was bacon, what in the devil do they call ham?) and more beer. This time is was some beer name that involved blonde people - the bartender recommended it and apparently it came out of a barrel or something. It tasted like Budweiser. I then went to the Tate Museum, which is where I took the pictures of the white plastic boxes. They said it was art. I said, sure it is. But I took a picture so I could be all cultured and stuff.

Monday, I did the Thames cruise, talked to people in Hyde Park, went on the other sections of the bus tour, did Westminster Abbey - this was the only day I had a little bit of rain. I also went to Selfridges (it's to Harrods like Avis is to Hertz for London department stores) and got a shoulder and back massage by a guy who looked just like the first tour bus guy. He was quite good. For dinner, I decided to go all out and try real fish and chips - so I went to Harry Ramsden over in Picadilly since I was going out afterward. I swear, they had 6 or 7 kinds of fish! Some of which sounded, well, fishy! And I don't like fishy fish. So I did the cod, as they didn't have redfish. They brought me what looked the filet from the world's biggest cod - it hung over the plate. But it was tasty. I told the waiter this. They brought me another plate of cod, for what reason I don't have a clue. I sent the second plate of cod back and got a spotted dick instead. It was tasty. And I didn't have beer. I had hard cider instead, which does not taste like Budweiser. I eventually went to bed about 1 in morning as I had a plane to catch in the morning.

I woke up at 7 am, had my last continental breakfast in London (I was brave and tried the marmalade - it was still as nasty as it was in the States), checked out and walked over (still with my single suitcase!) to Paddington Station. Paddington Bear is across the street from it. He is still a very nice bear. Took the Paddington Express (which I then discovered is completely different from the Heathrow Express as apparently I should have gotten some sort of ticket before I got on the train, but the train conductors were cool and told me to take care of it at Heathrow, which I did.)


And of course the plane was therefore late. Thus ends my version of the Norman invasion of England. The floor is now open for questions, as I am now a self-appointed expert on all things English (in the great tradition of the Clay Nation).

The next segment with covering all things Italian.

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Love it...Love it....

You really tried the native cuisine and drink...good for you!!!! but not kidney pie and kippers?oh well...My mouth was watering over the cod fillet...love that!

So no adventures with englishmen?

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