Monday, April 27, 2009

Traveling and Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

Picture my mom calls my "hooker pose"

For the past month, I've been living like John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I've been traveling/backpacking through Europe, and have spent a good part of my time waiting. Waiting for a plane to take off, a bus to automobiles, sadly, but I was trying for the metaphor. Patience has been a virtue.

While we were in route to Santorini from Athens (my most anticipated destination), our 10:50 a.m. flight was canceled. We were rescheduled for an 8 p.m. flight. Spending ten hours in the Athens airport was a real treat. I am now thoroughly acquainted with its spotless bathrooms, Bailey's testing table, suspicious Greek airline receptionists and its swanky McDonald's.

We spent the time aimlessly wandering up and down the white aisles of the airport, and then drinking and playing Never Have I Ever (I hate that game) in the posh hotel across the street where the waiters were reluctant to let six greasy backpackers mix with Japanese business men eating gourmet mousaka.

I felt like a caged pigeon. I kept checking my phone. Only 3 p.m.? Five more hours of sipping beer and feeling like I needed to run wild through the airport streaking like Will Ferrell in Old School? Shoot me.

Hour 7

Hour 9

To cope, my friend Graydon got drunk at McDonald's and did the Elf up the escalator (when Will Ferrell spreads his legs up the escalator). Our flight was delayed and delayed, but finally took off at 10 p.m. I call sitting in Athens airport for ten hours an accomplishment. I bet John Candy is giving me a thumbs up.

McDonald's beer

The next round of waiting was a lot more scary, and sober. I was finally leaving to go back to London from Athens, and my flight landed at 12:30 a.m. I took a train to the Victoria Train Station, which arrived at 2 a.m. When I got to the vast, empty station, a kind attendant informed me that the station was closed from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m., and the next train to Canterbury wouldn't leave till 8. Great. Real great. But I felt like it was a backpacker's rite of passage to sit outside in the cold and wait.

Outside, I immediately grabbed a large steak Cornish Pasty and sat down amidst gothic kids huddled against a wall, wasted blonde girls stumbling in barefoot (I think one later peed on the ground), couples holding hands, a boy in an Oxford shirt slouching against a wall with his eyes closed while he unconsciously chewed a kebab, homeless people, sketchy people and a man in a cheap tuxedo and bow tie eating a pasty. If it hadn't been so cold, I would have been fascinated. It was like exposing the ocean at night, you see all the wild life emerge and light up. "The freaks come out at night," kind of thing.

Once I got into the station, I huddled over the Dubliners, tried to stay warm, and watched group after group of drunkards scream and sprint into the station. I sat next to a man who kept saying "sweetie," and moved next to a kind old lady.

It's funny the things people to do amuse themselves to pass the time. Two girls started dancing the Macarena while Mexican kids next to me hummed the tune for them. The dancers then would squeal with laughter and ask for "coffee and tea" from passerbys (the train attendant finally bought them coffee to shut them up). Another drunk man with a massive pregnant belly and skinny hips made conversation with everyone around him. "You homeless?" "Why you here so early?" And to the old lady, "I saw you last week!"

I finally caught a 7 a.m. bus home and am happy to never travel again. Sitting at my computer and watching Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is more than enough.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Catching a Whiff of Public Toilets

I've been traveling in London and Paris now for two weeks, and have been at the mercy of public bathrooms, or loos, or toilets, or however you want to term the crapper.

I'm no germophob; I can handle hairy hostel showers, mildewed bed and breakfast loos, but I do like a little cleanliness when it comes to public bathrooms (I realize that's an oxymoron).

I've been in and out of so many public toilets that you could call me Rick Steves' Toilets.

When I was in London, the bathrooms were lovely. Pub restrooms were tight, but clean and rustic. At Heathrow airport's bathroom, the stall doors were wooden and modern, there were pristine individual sinks, glowing mirrors and a horizontal bronze opening where your hands air dried. I felt like I was vacationing at Oprah's house.

The only hitch is that English loos have no water pressure, so you literally have to break your arm to flush them. It takes time to learn the proper technique, as I have learned after cursing and pacing the bathroom stalls.

Otherwise, Rick gives London toilets a thumbs up.

As for Paris, I expected better. In a city that is the epicenter of style, where pates, children, fine wine and Coco Chanel are idolized, you'd think you'd have some tasteful, exquisite public bathrooms. You'd think.

Yesterday, my mom, sister and I went to Le Bon Marche, Paris' oldest department store-the Harrods of Paris. Le Bon Marche has Chanel make-up counters, lacy lingerie, waxed white staircases, and a bathroom that smelled like, in the words of Veronica Corningstone from Anchorman, "a used diaper filled with Indian food."

I did not expect a sticky stall that smelled like the airport bathroom Christ Farley gets stuck in in Tommy Boy.

The biggest disappointment was the palace of Versailles. This is where Marie Antoinette created a pseudo-peasant-Disney-like-dairy village, where gondoladeers were flown in from Venice, where flowers were changed every day for the King's eye. I expected bathrooms with at least gold-plated toilet paper.

Instead, peeling, orange, 70's counters greeted me and my stall smelled like its last victim. Oo lala!

I guess I have too high of standards. Back to the hostel bathrooms...