Sometimes, I don’t understand London. It’s not one thing in particular, it’s just that I’ll go out and come home feeling exhausted and frustrated. Most of the time I chalk it up to being American. I just don’t understand what to expect in some situations.
Like today, for example. Nothing big went wrong, yet I came home with wet socks, holding a raw egg in my hand, and wondering why I couldn’t manage a simple day’s itinerary. If you understand this city, please leave tips in the comment section. If London bewilders you, too, perhaps you’ll relate to this sequence of events:
1. Leave apartment with plan to: visit a library, check out the Gherkin building, and stop at Borough Market to buy ingredients for making a Jamie Oliver recipe called Singapore noodles.
2. Walk across Tower Bridge in a misty rain and locate the university that houses the library I want to visit, London Metropolitan University. I read in a book that the library, called The Women’s Library, is open to the public.
3. The entire building where the library is housed is under construction. Skip this stop.
4. Happily discover a street with African textile shops as I walk toward The Gherkin. Beautiful fabrics galore but fairly expensive and mostly sold in six meter swaths, so I settle for browsing instead of buying.
5. Walk on to The Gherkin, that distinctive glassy egg-shaped building that is the sixth tallest in London. Rain is picking up.
6. Arrive to the building, where I cannot enter or even access the restaurant because I don’t have a key card. Sit awkwardly in the lobby for 30 seconds, where I can’t see anything besides a reception desk and security guards. Leave.
7. Walk across London Bridge to get back over to the side of the Thames where Borough Market resides. Realize my toes are wet from rain soaking through my boots.
8. See a Holland & Barrett’s shop on the way to the market and stop to buy muesli and unsalted, unroasted peanuts (necessary for Singapore noodles). Accidentally pay $5.94 for four ounces of the cheapest nut known to man.
9. Walk onward to the market, trying to convince myself that the peanut mistake was no big deal.
10. Discover that Borough Market is wonderful. Buy a whole big beautiful Romanesco cauliflower for $3.92, telling myself that if I average that with the peanuts both are almost regularly priced.
11. Also buy six brown eggs, Napa cabbage, two red chili peppers, crimini mushrooms, two limes and leave the market with everything I need for Singapore noodles except for chicken, rice noodles, curry powder, and peas.
12. Walk back towards the apartment and stop at Tesco on the way, to get those last four ingredients.
13. Ride escalator down into Tesco carrying two moderately heavy bags with market produce and muesli. Search fruitlessly for rice noodles and shelled peas.
14. Settle for buying basmati rice, pea pods, curry powder and chicken. Require assistance at the self checkout because I don’t have a “chip card.” Think for the 106th time that it would be much easier to have a debit card with that damn chip, whatever it is.
15. Walk out into the pouring rain carrying three bags–two plastic, one paper–and hurry the remaining half mile home.
16. Wait to cross the bustling Tower Bridge Road. Realize a large truck is honking to get my attention as the driver waves me across the street.
17. Give a quick wave and take two steps into the traffic-jammed street before the sopping Holland & Barrett’s paper bag disintegrates.
18. Stare at five smashed eggs and a jumble of crimini mushrooms rolling across the slick pavement.
19. With desperate annoyance, pick up the rest of the bag’s contents from the street: one unbroken egg, the overpriced peanuts, and the dense package of muesli, undoubtedly the bag breaking culprit.
20. Walk, or rather squish, my way home holding the single remaining egg in my right hand. Cradle the egg as I swipe my way into the building and then fish out keys to unlock the apartment door. Briefly consider putting the egg in my coat pocket before realizing that raw egg dripping through my mesh pocket and onto my pants is not the way I want to end this excursion. Holding the lone survivor of my half dozen in my palm for the last few blocks also wasn’t the way I wanted it to end.
21. Sit down at my computer, accepting that on many of my days in London things do not go or cost as planned.
22. Remember that unexpected is one of travel’s best adjectives. And that the Romanesco in the fridge is oh, so beautiful.