Sunday, January 17, 2010

Practically Perfect

My lips curved as we left Manchester and headed what I’m fairly sure was west. The soot that sullenly stains the pretty red brick of so many buildings in town leaves me feeling a bit sad. It’s as if the price paid for industrialization – and progress, in general, really – has been painted across the otherwise pretty architecture.

Deciding it likely had a charm all its own and I was simply too tired to properly appreciate it, I was nonetheless grateful when the train sped through more picturesque scenes – fences on hillsides and stone buildings in the valleys. As I turned sideways in my seat, muscles protesting any position that wasn’t completely supine, I squinted in fierce concentration as I tried to decide whether the pretty boundaries seemingly placed at random were made of stone or wood. I grinned, ducking my head when I caught my reflection, when I saw sheep dotting the landscape and sighed, shifting in my seat and trying to soothe myself with the thought that I was nearly done with the hardest part of the travel on this trip.

Out of America

The drive to my parents’ had been smooth and uneventful. The short trip to their local airport was less so, Little One asking constant questions and Smallest One being quite vocal about her opinion that Aunt Katie was Not to Leave. They were both in tears by the time I tugged my heavy suitcase out of the back of the van and I checked in with aching heart and throat tight with sadness. I could not, I decided, as I cleared security and reassembled myself and my belongings, do this job if I had children.

The flight to O’Hare was late, leaving me rather twitchy with the worry that I’d not be able to get my international power adapters or local currency. It turned out I did both, with a lavender neck pillow and bottle of water as a bonus, and I boarded the flight and blessed American Airlines when most of the middle seats were left empty. I don’t do well on lengthy flights, though the one to Manchester was less than 7 hours, but feel the shifting and groaning and readjustment of my body into less torturous positions after hour 5 is aided when I don’t have an immediate neighbor. So, lavender wafting from my shoulders courtesy of my new pillow, I read and nibbled the food they brought, watched movies while trying desperately and futilely to sleep and waited until we landed.

British Boys

I expected it to feel more different than it did, which seemed silly even as I moved briskly through the airport corridors toward passport control. I got to talk to the cute boy agent, reminding myself sternly to be unflappable and instead chattering like a chipmunk when I was charmed by his accent. Regardless, he let me in the country so, after asking directions to the train station and hoping I didn’t slip on rain-slicked sidewalks, I managed to print my prepurchased tickets and found the bus that replaced the construction-ridden train to Piccadilly. It took me a mere 4 minutes (I timed it) to frown at the mass of humanity waiting for said bus, all of us laden with luggage and looking rumpled and worse for wear after flights, before I gripped my suitcase once again and headed off to find a taxi.

I felt my shoulders slump at the prospect of carrying all my things back up the steps since the blasted escalator was broken, but squared my shoulders, set my mouth and bent to grab my suitcase. A man paused, having just lifted his suitcase and grinned at my expression before reaching for the larger of my two pieces.

“Oh,” I said, startled and more confused than I ought to have been, “you don’t have to…” Smiling at his “No trouble at all,” I scampered up the steps behind him and smiled my thanks, wanting to hug him when he bowed his head in return. Newly pleased with the country in general but wondering with some horror if I was starting to smell, I went out into the damp, cool morning and waved at a waiting driver.

“I’d like to go to Piccadilly Station,” I told him simply and waited for instructions.

“Would you like me to take you there?” he asked, already opening his door and coming round the odd car with the huge area between back seat and front and placing my luggage in before offering his hand to help me. I must have looked wobbly, I decided, making the modest step into the car and settling in. He chattered about how smart I was to take a cab rather than wait for the bus, discussing how I could get tea (or coffee, he allowed) and pastries before it was time for my train to depart. I waved and nodded when he made sure I understood his directions to the platforms, managing yet another flight of stairs (I’m afraid the country is in dire need of escalator reform) and going to find more water.

I remembered being there, in the bookshop, on my last trip to England so I smiled and went to find something to read. When nothing appealed, I selected a book by a Katie whose last name escapes me. Realizing with some dismay that she had several titles available, I debated mere moments before reaching for Practically Perfect, deciding the name fit the first day of my European adventure.

Oh, the hotel

Of all the places I’ve booked – in the center of London, on the island in Paris – I’ve anticipated this one the most. And it was lovely – at once charmingly friendly and elegantly attired. They sent me off upon arrival as they continued to deal with guests checking out before the 11AM deadline, but I returned not an hour later.

“I’m sorry,” I told the young man behind the glossy counter. “I’m exhausted and I can’t bear whiling away hours right now. It just hurts to think. So if I could get my smaller bag back, I’ll just sit over there in the corner and read. Until 1,” I concluded, though the thought nearly made me whimper. He settled me with some juice when I declined tea and coffee and I hadn’t even managed to figure out the wireless internet when he returned to say he’d found a vacant space I could have if I’d like to check in now.

I think I called him an angel – I’m certain I thought it – and followed him dutifully onto the lift and through the corridors (see what I did there? I’m using their words!) and into a positively wonderful corner room. Too thrilled to be much more than mildly confused when I couldn’t get the lights to turn on, I shrugged and showered in the diffuse light coming through the sheer curtains covering the tall windows in the bedroom. Blessedly clean, I battled to gain access to the internet before slipping out of the hotel robe and between soft, white sheets and falling deeply asleep.

I opened my eyes a couple of times to peer at the clock, stretch in the unexpected sunshine streaming through one window, and scold myself for screwing up my jet lag plan. Unfazed, I snuggled back into the perfect mattress and luxurious bedding and rested some more.

When I finally awakened – after an – I’m sure – ill-advised 3 hour nap, I called the desk to ask how to get online. Given the magical code, I sent a quick note home and took out the outfit I’ll wear tomorrow before shoving items back in my suitcase. I scampered to answer the knock at the door a few minutes later, happily accepting the cupcakes I ordered to celebrate my birthday tomorrow, and deciding to ask about the lights.

“I wondered what that was for,” I told her, when she placed my room key in the white slot just inside the door and every light bulb in the room immediately illuminated. I blinked at her, shrugging bashfully and thanked her. (Tricky British with your games and rules to turn on a lamp.)

Work begins in a mere 2 hours with dinner before the full day tomorrow. But I’m happy. I’m here. And so it begins.


JaneB said...

Glad to hear you managed the trip despite the permanently broken escalators and roadworks and annoying stairs (which definitely get steeper the more luggage you have or the less sleep you've had! I used to travel through Manchester a lot and it is full of nice people, but not the easiest place when you're tired. Hope everything continues to go smoothly.

rpg said...

Katie! The UK welcomes you!

hgg said...

welcome to Europe, hope you'll enjoy your stay!

Amelie said...

Have a lovely trip!
And enjoy your birthday!

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