The problem with planning a trip nearly five months in advance is that you can never know what last-minute hiccoughs will arise. Travelling from Dorchester South to London Waterloo is generally speaking straightforward. I drag myself out of bed, clamber awkwardly through Dorset’s county town and board a direct train. Track work and industrial action made this impossible on the one day I had to travel to London.This necessitated drastic action; namely, National Express.
It should come as no surprise to you that I loathe coaches. No, really, I do! One never feels entirely dignified in a peasant wagon. This was no exception. True, the coach driver had scraped the worst of the faeces and vomit off the benches but he could do little more than than. I spent the better part of four hours nauseous in that horrendous jalopy bouncing up and down at 60 MPH through narrow, hilly roads.
I was grateful, utterly grateful, to finally get into Victoria Coach Station. I found my hotel after a bit of getting lost. It’s one of my typical London hotels: small, clean, basic rooms in a character property in a better borough. My regular hotel at Pimlico was fully booked, so I spent the night at a similar property at Paddington. The room was minuscule, but clean. I’m not terribly tall as many of you already know. The bed was so short that I only had a couple inches. A man of average height would not have been able to stretch out. Still, it was cheap and cheerful and the employees were very kind and helpful. Thankfully so. I had to spend a penny at 3 AM and grabbed my house keys by mistake. The poor man at the desk searched through their spare keys and let me in. It was all a bit surreal, especially his prosthetic hand.
I visited the British Museum. It took some time to get through the security queue and it was a bit too crowded for my liking, but their collection of First Peoples artefacts and East Asian art made it worth the effort. One of my colleagues from my Madrid misadventure, an Australian, has been living in London for the better part of a year and we were finally able to meet for tea. I wonder if the waiters found us utterly barking. They’d be right. She was one of the few I met in Madrid who was worth the time and effort. Perhaps that’s why we bonded.
The V&A’s temporary exhibit on the golden age of ocean liners was an absolute hit. If any of you are in London or will be there before mid-June, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The gift aid fee is £20 but it’s worth every penny. One thing I quickly noticed was that the quality of craftsmanship isn’t what it used to be. The clothing, the gowns were incredibly elegant. Even the swimsuits were elegant and well-cut. The largest piece of the Titanic is on display. It’s not very big, just over a foot or so, but it is what it is — a fragment from where the ship ripped in half. The decorations from the Normandie, the glory of 1930s French design, were something I’ve wanted to see since I was a school boy. France put everything it had into that ship only for it to be destroyed in a fire in New York City during the early years of the Second World War.Then again, I’ve always liked older seafaring vessels. Just ask our resident Scot about my visits to Britannia.
I flew to Sweden on Norwegian. I gave it a go. I will give it a miss. Getting to Shatwick is a bloody nuisance and their fares don’t warrant the extra effort. SAS aren’t that much more expensive, in some cases less so, and they fly to Heathrow which is far cheaper and easier. Stockholm has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I staid at Skeppsholmen, across from Gamla Stan. Watching the sunset over the old town and Södermalm made the deprivations of my lodgings almost tolerable. Well, it was clean but extremely basic. The morning after I arrived, feeling funky, not so fresh, I went to take a shower. I’ve grown more humble over the years and accept rooms that arent’t en suite. I walked into the men’s shower room and… It was an open shower room with not so much as a curtain for privacy. Did I grimly accept it and make due with an unpleasant surprise? Or, my fellow Charioteers, did I stand there in abject horror, speechless for give minutes before rotating on my heels and marching back to my room to take the first of many sponge baths in the privacy of my room making the most of the in-room sink? If you chose the latter, you know me all too well.
Easter Sunday I met an old acquaintance who has been living in Stockholm for a couple years now. He’s somewhat an unusual lad, being Chinese, of the Malaysian variety, and over 6′. He towers over me. I was invited to a gathering with some of his uni mates. It was remarkably civilised. I went to Åsöberget earlier that day. I wanted to go the last time I was in Stockholm but did not make it. It’s a preserved neighbourhood that reflects the living conditions of the working classes in 19th century Sweden. The houses are tiny, but very pretty with a scenic view. The scenic views didn’t carry a premium. They were built on rocky knolls exposed to the brutal Nordic winter winds.
As is my wont, I went to Skansen. I spent the better part of a day there. It’s the world’s first open air museum and, I believe, the largest. It wasn’t terribly busy so I had the chance to chat with the staff. It was lovely. I was able to hold full conversations in Swedish. I ate a fried elk sandwich for lunch. I made an excellent impression and made Britain look really good.
As much as I adore Skansen, I was left underwhelmed by Prins Eugen’s Waldemarsudde. It’s a beautiful villa and his original collection was almost worth the entrance fee. I think I expected something other than what was there. The lower levels are original. He’s among my favourite Nordic artists and his taste was excellent. I wasn’t quite as impressed with the temporary exhibits. Suzy Strindberg’s embroidery pieces were interesting — in a good way. Her embroidery landscapes were convincing. The Sigrid Hjertén exhibit wasn’t the worst I’ve ever seen, but it was interesting more as a pictorial display of a woman’s descent into madness than anything else. The Alexander Klingspor exhibition was okay. Some of his paintings were actually quite nice. Edward Hopper is his primary influence. I like Edward Hopper’s artwork. On occasion, Klingspor’s works took on too much of the deranged surreal. I didn’t appreciate those works nearly as much. Then again, my tastes are generally conservative and conventional.The rest of my time in Stockholm was pleasantly uneventful. I visited a few free museums, took a walk through Gamla Stan, etc.
I woke up early on a Wednesday morning. I didn’t have even four hours of sleep. Some teenagers were living it up until nearly 2 AM and I had to be up no later than 5 to make it to my early KLM flight. Half asleep, I made it. It was a full flight, but we arrived ten minutes early and landed at a reasonable runway. It was slightly tense as I had a one-hour connexion to San Francisco. Schipol isn’t a small airport and Homeland Security seems to relish making flying to the USA as unpleasant as possible. Again, I made it without any worries. It was a packed flight, but unlike Dodgy Al’s Bloody Awful, they had regular drinks service and the staff were competent. I watched a few films, listened to some music, took a nap, etc. I nearly cried after watching “君の膵臓を食べたい” or, for the Japanese-challenged, “I Want to Eat Your Pancreas”. It’s a beautifully understated tear-jerker that isn’t nearly as gruesome as its title would suggest.
My flight was uneventful. Arriving at San Francisco was anything but. Passport control was a nightmare. Two flights from London, one from Mexico City, one from Amsterdam, one from Manila and one from Seoul arrived at about the same time. They had less than half their desks open and it took over an hour for me to get through. The female-type parent was scheduled to arrive at about the same time from Yeehawland, but she was nowhere to be found. After an hour of looking and waiting, I checked Skype. Her flight was cancelled and she had been rerouted over Oakland. I travelled to Oakland to meet her, but with no usable mobile and no Wi-Fi getting hold of her was nearly impossible. After much anguish, I took the train bound for Sacramento. The woman near me asked what was happening. I explained my situation. She asked me to alight with her at the next station. She telephoned the female-type parent and arranged for us to meet at a reasonable BART station. He gave me two BART tickets, he works for them and has promotional fares to give away, and made sure that I could get to where we were to be met by an old friend who would drive us to the glorious, mountainous East.