Thursday, September 10, 2009

London: The Hunt

First day in London 9:00am - I'm exhausted but no warm, welcoming bed yet for me.

On my way to the London Tower

British National Museum - Egyptian Cat statues

Huge skeleton dinosaur in the center of Natural Science Museum

In front of Big Ben

My small hostel room is decorated with bubblegum pink walls. Four bunk beds lined with butter cream linen take up most of the space. I occupy the farthest bed - top bunk, just below the only window in the claustrophic and always too warm room. The stairwell is narrow and hot with the sickly scent of body odor that makes you scrunch your nose and walk faster just to escape from. The shower is horrible and for some reason, there's only half a glass door which means that the floor is always wet from all the water that escaped the pathetic stall.

Yesterday, I started my day off with one single purpose...I was on a hunt. A hunt for a damned computer repairman (it's what they call themselves here) - which frustratingly enough, turned out to much more difficult because of course, my unlucky streak was still running its course.

After being given the look of "you're lost darling...very, very lost..." from the receptionist at 27 Hammersmith Grove after asking, "Hi! Where can I find the Computer Repair & IT Support Company?" My then eager smile dropped when her brows furrowed and her lips pursed. My mind only shouted "Damnit!" After an embarassing apology and a pitying smile from her as she confirmed "we don't have a business like that here..." I ground my teeth and headed back to the Internet Cafe.

My faith in Google Maps has now waned. I found myself standing in front of the still closed cafe staring at my watch. It was early yet, almost 9am, plenty of time to find an IT guru...

That's when I met a local named Ben. With a cup of coffee in hand he waited in front of the Cafe with me. I smiled politely at him and picked up my travel guide, signaling my desire to be left alone - because honstely, I was still mad...

Ben seemed unpreturbed by my efforts, interrupting me with questions and ignoring my short crisp answers. Apparently, I wasn't doing a good enough job of showing my "leave me alone" vibes because he says, "You must be a tourist on holiday, you're smiling so happily." The voice in my head says, "No, I'm not. Not really..."

It's 9:06am and the Cafe is still closed. Clearly, they don't abide by their posted hours of operation around here (which I come to find out later, is completely true). Ben sees my desperation and asks me about my plight. I give him my story and he grins, "Well, I've got a guy..." Now, I'm thinking, maybe i'm not so unlucky.

He asks, "You wouldn't mind a bit of a walk would you?"

I shake my head. Just get me to your guy!

We take the Tube and make idle chat. I learn that he's a self-employed entrepreneur. He also casually slips in the whole, "My family owns a castle in the countryside" comment and my internal voice laughed loudly in my head. Is that the sort of lines they pull out here?

More polite chat and after a long walk, we get to the shop - only to find that it's closed. Damn. We walk quickly down South Kensignton through Hyde Park until we reach the 2nd shop of his preference. He runs a frustrated hand through his already unruly hair and says sheepishly, "Closed. This shop is closed as well." He looks at me in embarassment, "I'm so sorry to have wasted your time - this is quite strange. A bit unlucky, yeah?"

Between my heavy panting, because really, we just walked through Hyde Park in record time for crying out loud and an hour and a half into our search, I laugh... "No, It's OK. I'm no longer surprised," I say.

He turns to look at me and his face shifts to signal a revelation. "Oh! It's Ramadan..." I could only stare back - my face saying - of course it is. Just my luck.

All in all I didn't mind too much. It had been a pleasant stroll particularly because of the conversation with Ben. I'm proud to have, "Changed his opinion of Americans - because I'm so easy to talk to and don't use much slang."

He told me of his crazy friend in L.A. aka Britain's Kitten, whom he visited for 3 weeks, which he says, "was a complete waste of his time". He found it hard to tell me why as he searched for a polite way to tell me it had left a bad impression of Americans. Afterwards he says, "I shouldn't say horrible things about people. I take it all back. Kitten isn't crazy. She's just kinky. Into the whole kinky sex thing." I remember peeking at him from the corner of my eyes and laughing inside my head.

He tells me of the friends he'd made there and the places he'd visited.

"You know Lebron, yeah?" He asks.

I say nothing but I think, Lebron James? Some athlete right? Honestly, I don't really have a clue.

He continues, "Well, anyway I met some people and we visit his mansion and everyone's all excited, they smoke pot and some other stuff and honestly, I can't relate. The girl talks a mile a minute - I can't understand her and her boyfriend isn't very bright." He shakes his head then.

He tells me after sometime, that I'm easy to talk to, that I must have over 2000 friends on Facebook. I laugh and tell him no because I'm very shy. He jerks his head back in disbelief and I could only laugh and reply, "No really, I am!" I learn a lot from Ben and was happy to have heard a few stories from him. We part ways when he remembers that he has an appointment and I take the opportunity to move on and retrace my steps to the sites I'd seen on our walk - while keeping an eye out for repairshops, of course.

I made my way to the Natural History Museum, then hopped over to the Victoria & Albert Museum circling back to Hyde Park and the Serpintine. I couldn't believe I was in the park! I'm a fan of historical romance novels, many of them with locations situated in London and here I was strolling around the Serpentine!

I take the tube once more, heading to Leicester Square to peruse the shops of the small Chinatown and explore the bustling scene of SOHO, what Ben says is "a very Gay area...But I have don't have anything against Gays. I'm incredibly progressive. But there's something..." I diverted to another topic because he seemed embarassed. One of those insert-foot-in-mouth moments.

Oxford Street is shoulder to shoulder crowded with shoppers and I was happy to steer clear of the the windows of the many alluring boutiques.

After finding out from the one repairman I found in Leicester Square (yes, I managed to find one!) that it would cost around £50 to fix my laptop. Pricey, but at that point I would've gladly thrust the machine at him to please, please just fix it. But, somehow I'd stupidly left the charger in my hostel room. It turns out to be a blessing. Arman (as I'd like to call him because I forgot his name - give me a break, exhaustion tends to make ones already forgetful mind to give up attempting to remember an already difficult to pronounce name) as he tells me in the dank cellar-like basement of his food shop that it would take an entire day and that he doesn't have the equipment complete with his reassurings of "We'll have it fixed for you in no time, Love - no worries, Love."

I continue on with my hunt, stopping along to view the British Museum and the National Gallery. Finally, exhaustion overtakes me. A nap sounded like heaven so I went in search for the British Library. What better place for a power nap right? But sadly, the library eluded me...or maybe it was because I couldn't figure out the map in my deliriousness. I'd been on my feet for the past 6 hours, stopping only to eat lunch at McDonalds - I swear they're a gift from the Gods. I opt to take the bus for a longer leisure ride home; sitting on the top deck at the front of the bus. But as I reach the hostel and lay blissfully on my bed, it took me all of two minutes before I jerk upright. I NEEDED to find a damned repairman. I think back on the advice the locals have given me and I decide to visit Shepherds Bush.

Three. There were 3 shops that "Repaired Laptops". I peak inside all the shops and choose the least seediest of them all. The owner tells me he can fix it and unahppily concedes to accepting my offer of £50. He tells me, "It's a big job and I've got 2 other laptops to fix."

I'm about ready to beg. But instead I give him my best, please don't make me cry look and...he accepts. I think, holy crap, it actually worked!

I'd managed to get a wicked virus which corrupted all my data - making it irretrievable. Although, my laptop was salvageable. The hunt is officially over, even though it was only partially successful. Gul (pronounced Gool) the IT guru was happy to get me out of his hair and I was happy to have my baby up and running again sans all my precious data and photos. I'm trying not to think too hard about that because I might just get too upset.

I feel as though I've lost weigh. In fact, I was banking on this trip to jump start my attempt to get back into shape. I can say, it's likely to work, seeing as all the walking with small meals - making it the most expensive diet I've ever been on.

Perhaps my unlucky streak is running out...We'll just have to wait and see I suppose.

It felt as if it was, when I spotted a hidden McDonald's across the street from the Hostel. Oh chicken nuggets, how I've missed you. What a damnation and yet a salvation you've turned out to be. Time for as my Russian model-esque, underwear prancing roomie says, "Ciao!"

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