London Calling (#128)

IMG_6884Those readers who follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram know that Andy and I recently took a trip to Great Britain.

Those readers who don’t follow me on social media, well, you should. I have live action videos on everything from the Whitehall Horse Guards to Andy’s ongoing battle with the neighborhood squirrels.

Andy and I haven’t had a real vacation since our honeymoon. That was years ago. No, I’m not telling you how many, but remember, this is a memoir blog. It could be 3 years ago, it could be fifty! (It’s not fifty.)

My reliable readers are now all, “Whaddaya mean, you haven’t had a vacation? I saw this post on skiing, and this post on Hawaii for chrissakes. You’re a big fat liar.”

But those trips involved visits with family. Spending time with family IS NOT A VACATION. Okay, maybe it is for some of you. If it is, then, congrats, you have nice parents who probably do your laundry (JOCELYN) and restful siblings . Maybe you even get both at the same time, damn your eyes. (I saw the Globe Theatre recently, people – prepare to be peppered with some Britishisms.) My family is not relaxing like that. Andy’s family is DEFINITELY not relaxing like that.

If we go to Andy’s house, he’s cooking and helping his parents with “projects.” These may include the demolition of an entire deck or installing air conditioning.

If we visit my family, we get roped into free childcare. Oh, yeah, and my siblings hound Andy until he makes them hot & sour soup and potstickers. (Two kinds of potstickers, because certainly siblings require a VEGAN option, yes, of course they do.) And guess who is doing all of Andy’s dishes? Hint: just call me “Palmolive Autumn.”

So it’s probably not surprising that when we planned a trip to London, Andy was anti- “Vacation Rental By Owner,” better known as AirB&B.

“We could get more space at a VRBO,” I argued. “For less money.”

Usually that’s a clincher with my frugal husband. But this time he shook his head. “I want a vacation. I don’t want to see a frying pan or an oven.”

I couldn’t argue with that. I didn’t want to see a kitchen sink or a vacuum on my vacation, either. I went off to research hotels.

About 16 hours later, I had a plan. Also lower back lumbar spasms. And a new appreciation for travel agents.

We would take the redeye on Friday night to London, stay in a less-than-posh but centrally located hotel by Eccelston Square, and tour the city for three-and-a-half days.

I proudly showed Andy a map with the hotel. “Look! It’s a short walk to Buckingham Palace! It’s less than half a mile from Victoria Station –trains — Victoria Coach Station – buses — and the Victoria Underground, where 3 different lines converge on the tube.”

Andy said, “The what?”

“The subway!”

Andy the American asked, “Aren’t we going to rent a car?”

“Are you kidding? The roads are super narrow, there are roundabouts everywhere, they drive on the wrong side of the road, and you want a car in London?”

Andy sulked off to be a backseat driver do his own research. A few minutes later, he yelled, “Hey, your tube is not that cheap! It’s like 5 pounds to ride it anywhere and that works out to about $7.50! So that’s like $15.00 for round trip every day! For 2 of us! And you can rent a car for 30 pounds!”

“Mass transit is better for the environment! And we can do a lot of walking!”

“But we’re on vacation!”

I yelled back, “Look up parking fees! Gas taxes! Congestion pricing!”

Andy stomped back in a few minutes later. “Fine. We’ll walk a lot. London is expensive.”

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The English countryside. With actual Vicarage on the left.

“Don’t worry honey, after London, we will head out into the countryside.”

Andy said, “Why? All the good restaurants and places where they tortured people are in London.”

“Because I want to see a village! Old churches! Country lanes! Places that look like they did before the wars or when Agatha Christie wrote about them!”

Andy said, “But…why?”

“Because I’ve read about them all my life. Or seen them on Masterpiece Theater! I want to see a bloody vicarage and a manor house with my own eyes and if you say why one more time I shall fetch you a cuff on the ear!”

“I didn’t understand any of that except the handcuffs?”

“Oh my God,” I groaned. “It’ll be like watching Downton Abbey or Dr. Who with you. I’ll have to be your interpreter for British English.”

“So where are we going out in the country?”

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This is NOT the luxury part of the castle hotel.

I showed him a webpage. “There’s this castle that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed in that’s now a hotel. It’s about two hours west of London.”

“A castle? Like cold and damp and has rats?”

“It’s a LUXURY hotel. With a world-class restaurant. Although you CAN have a special meal in the dungeon, although that’s really pricey–”

“No, no,” Andy interrupted hastily. “But you said it’s two hours from London. We’ll need a car.”

“There are trains, remember?”

Andy scowled. “Why do you hate cars?”

“I like to travel light. A car becomes this thing you have to haul around with you. You have to find a a place for it. Like extra baggage. And remember, wrong side of road. Tiny streets.”

Andy slouched off to the living room. I heard his fingers tapping.

He returned 20 minutes later with a spreadsheet, a smug expression, and a Hertz reservation. “Here.”

It was a cost comparison of trains and cars. And the cheapest car WAS cheaper, especially with the cab and bus fare from the train station to the hotel. Bollocks.

Andy just left out one detail. The cheapest car was a MANUAL transmission.

Which is how I came to be driving a stick shift. On the wrong side of the road. In driving rain and hail on single lane roads.

And Andy? Mr. I Can’t Live Without A Car was asleep in the passenger seat.

Apparently he was finally done backseat driving.

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This is me confronting the steering wheel on THE WRONG SIDE OF THE CAR. We’ll get to the sneaky VAT tax and roundabouts later…

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

32 thoughts on “London Calling (#128)”

  1. OMG I’m shocked you rented a car!!! And I’m impressed you drive a manual, cause damn girl I can’t. I know that in EU/UK it’s 50% cheaper to get a manual, but there’s no way I could do it… I need lessons from you Autumn!

    I’m so excited to hear about the rest of the trip! I saw some of your photos already and they were amazing, can’t wait to hear the accompanying narrative!

    1. I learned on a manual. I actually prefer to drive manual transmissions, being a control freak, and all. But it’s really hard to feel the gears properly with a different — and non-dominant — hand. All while you are trying to drive the wrong way. 🙂

  2. A rental car (“hire car”) in London…hahaha.

    This post brings back so many memories for me. I lived in London for five months about a million years ago (in the 90s), and when my mom came to visit we rented a car to drive to Bath and Stonehenge. My mom did all the driving because I couldn’t drive stick-shift (although I’ve since learned in Joburg), and she panicked every time we reached a roundabout and forgot which direction to drive in. It’s a miracle we didn’t have any head-on collisions.

    At least you’re all practiced up now — you can take a vacation to South Africa next time!

    1. Oh, my gosh, the roundabouts require a special skill. They are smaller and very different from American rotaries. I’ll have to do a whole post just on driving advice. I feel for your mother.

      If I drive in Joburg, I’m getting one of the giant Marauder cars I saw on Top Gear.

  3. Good Lord, at least he was not backseat driving… But why the heck was Andy not driving? Since he insisted on the cheaper, harder option, and he’s asleep in the back seat? Ugh!!

    1. Well, he was dozing in the passenger seat. Probably because he was all tired out form yelling “curb! curb!” when we left Heathrow. 🙂

      I drove because I grew up driving a stick shift and I have better night vision. Also a better driving record.

  4. What a coincidence, I went to London last week for my birthday (I live in Wales)! It was certainly an experience, the Tube was crazy and hectic, they need aircon installed. Worth noting that there is a daily limit of £6.60 as long as you stay within zones 1 and 2 (the main stops)

  5. Aaaand that’s why you should’ve visited Romania instead. *Hint hint* We drive “on the right side of the road”. xD And MANUAL CARSSS!!! Wait, what do you mean you can’t drive a manual one? o.o Though, I think I would suck at driving an automatic one too? Or maybe not, since I played racing games? xDD

    I tried “stalking” your Instagram, but my internet connection is slow and didn’t load the pictures/videos. Was that you talking in the first video with the squirrels? o3o Cute voice!

    Also, memoir blog means that all of what you’ve written previously could have happened one year ago too, no? (Yeah, I’m one of those curious about the time span. :P)

    1. Stalk away, Mei! I think if you’re in Romania I’m pretty safe. Yeah, that was me laughing as Andy got out the nerf shotgun.

      I claim the fifth on the timeline. But it was more than a year ago. Except for London. And the telemarketer. And the fight over desserts. 🙂

      1. If I had an IG account, I’d have followed, but it’s too much work. I don’t know how you can keep up with so many social media! I only use Facebook and Twitter which is actually connected to Facebook (so I don’t really use it, haha).
        Those pictures you got there are amazing! (Yes, I’ll go look again tomorrow, hopefully my internet connection is better…)

        Yayyy! I could be the guide. xD (I should maybe write some things about me and the city. Something like country girl vs. city.)

        Oh? *Blink blink* So it’s around five? Ooo~

  6. I have to side with Andy on this point.

    I’ve seen more of Asia than Europe, but on one trip to England, France, and Spain, we did the train and subway thing until we got to Galicia. Train stations and subways leave me feeling frazzled. The worst part of the trip was a cheap overnight train from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela. (We were saving time and money. Ugh!)

    The best part was traveling around Galicia in our own little car. It was wonderful! We found all these little out-of-the-way places, stayed at cute little inns, played on the sand dunes. (Do I sound like the small town girl from America that I am?)

      1. Yep, same here! The first car I ever drove was a stick shift. But I really do prefer walking and mass transit whenever possible, especially in cities. On the other hand, driving through the Alps and the Italian countryside were both awesome.

  7. Throughout the post I thought Andy would be the one driving! It does not seem fair at all that you got convinced to rent a car and you had to navigate it in a foreign land with foreign road rules. And, MANUAL. I hope you didn’t stuff up switching gears and the car didn’t stall. You could have muscled your way to the passenger seat first…

  8. OMG. Soooo stressful driving on the other side of the road. I know! You have to keep telling yourself, “Keep right.” or “Keep left.” Hahahahha. But who cares, right, you were in England!!!!

    1. Yes! And Andy insists I still hit the curb at Heathrow once. I keep telling him it was a pothole, and I should know. DC is the capital of potholes (as well as the US).

      But yeah, I was in England! Driving!

  9. This had me dying and howling and dying again: ‘Andy said, “Why? All the good restaurants and places where they tortured people are in London.”’

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