Jon and I had been wanting to make a trip to Europe for a few years. Our friend was living in London and about to move back to his home country of Latvia. (Latvia? Check the map. It's that small Baltic country between Estonia and Lithuania, butting up against Russia and Belarus.) We decided to fly to London to meet him, then fly together to Riga for a few days before traveling around, visiting a few cities. At first we were going to do a short trip, maybe cover some ground in the Baltic region before flying out from Copenhagen. But some other friends had recently moved from Alaska back to southern France. We thought it would be nice to visit them. Jon glanced at the map and suggested we fly out of Paris. I'll admit, I was concerned. It may all look close together on the map, but Europe is a huge place with so many things to see. I booked the trip and crossed my fingers in hopes that we would see what we wanted on our lists.
|bike, bus, ben|
|Earlier in the evening I had picked up the book District and Circle.|
|Not quite portable.|
Returning to London, our ride included busy streets and a few sidewalks as we pedaled in the rain to the Tate Modern. On that particular day, most of their galleries were closed due to an unnamed technical glitch. We hadn't much time anyway because we were to join Janis at an end-of-season work party that would double as his going-away party. We zipped along the wet streets, navigating roundabouts and cobbles until finally making it back to his work place which occupied one of the many enclosed arches underneath the city's rail line. We changed into nicer clothes, then boarded a bus to take us to the party. Yes, upper level on one of the ubiquitous double-decker buses which gave us a unique, white-knuckle view of London's rush-hour bus, car, scooter and bike traffic. Yikes!
|View from the upper deck doesn't look all that scary. Lots of bikes|
jockeying for the same space as the buses, cars and motor scooters.
We stayed out late that night, joining the coworkers as they migrated to a corner pub where they proceeded to get drunk as college students at a frat party. Finally we walked to the tube stop to see the truly deranged on the late night train, shouting admonitions, scaring the other passengers, including a young woman we offered to walk with if the man exited at our stop. After a late night take-out order of schwarma, we walked the now-quiet streets back to our room and to bed.
The next day we packed our bags and took the tube one last time to the city where we stashed the luggage so we could take another walk around before our late-afternoon flight. It was a warm, sunny day. We walked by St Paul's Cathedral, then crossed the Millennium Bridge, past the groundlings waiting to get tickets for the Globe. Janis had left to finish his packing and wrap up some business. Jon and I were on our own for the afternoon. We returned to the Tate to see if everything was open. But first, some lunch. We went to the restaurant (not to be confused with the cafe) in the museum. I remember looking at the menu and when Jon seemed hesitant, I remember telling him: I want to sit and enjoy a meal and not feel like I'm rushing. Because everything we had done for the past few days had felt like a race to do what we were doing so we could go to the next place, do the next thing. Pile that atop the jetlag and who wouldn't be a little stressed out? So, we got a table. Shared parsnip and pear soup, barley risotto, Suffolk chicken with potatoes, I don't remember everything, but I slowed down and was aware of each flavor as we relaxed for the hour. We then wandered the galleries where we saw works by Picasso, Dali and others, plus an entire room filled with Soviet Propaganda posters. I was glad we'd returned to see more of the museum.
|Detail of gate at the Globe.|
|How could I walk past this?|
The man checking passports looked at mine. Looked at Jon's.
Took them to a woman in a room near Passport Control.
She asked a few questions.
We couldn't enter the country. I didn't understand. Schengen. You must have 90 days before your passport expires to enter the region known as Schengen, the region that includes 26 European nations that have open borders with each other. We both had 76 days left on our passports, having applied for them at the same time almost 10 years ago. What could we do? It was midnight. They let me call the U.S. Embassy. Was that the first time someone said we needed to go back to London and get temporary passports from the embassy there? Maybe. I would have all night to worry over what to do.