Achievement Unlocked: London & Berlin

We are back from the wilds of Europe!

…wow. That was pretty awesome.

So much happened that I feel like I have no chance of talking about all of it. It was Kevin’s first trip out of North America, so it was awesome to be able to take him there, and it was only my second as an adult. Loncon was actually fantastic, and there is just no comparison to the Worldcon in San Antonio. And Eurofurence was amazing and I had so much fun. They took very good care of us.

Since I have absolutely no way of breaking down everything, here is a partial list of interesting things I did or discovered or saw or thought or whatever.

1. It is super weird to take the Tube in London and see all the station names and know that they are attached to places that you’ve read about. I never disbelieved in Hyde Park or the Tower of London, you understand, but it existed in my head in bookspace rather than realspace and thus on some level was lumped with Narnia and Pern and New York and other questionably existent places.

2. The ravens at the Tower of London are enormous.

3. I got to meet Terri Windling and talk to her for awhile and tell her that the Wood Wife is one of my great comfort reads and that was really wonderful. Also Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman and Amal El-motar and Terese Nielsen Hayden and SO MANY OTHER AWESOME PEOPLE. And a bunch of them knew I existed! What’s up with that? How did they know that? These are real people with names on books! I draw honey badgers on the internet! How is this my life, again?

4. Aardvarks are much bigger than I thought they were. They’re like the size of pigs. Holy mackerel.

5. I still vaguely regret not buying the T-shirt with the Underground logo that said “Mind The Gap” on it.

6. Crosswalk signs in Berlin are very strange.

7. The British Museum goes on forever. Every single Brit I spoke to about it uttered some variation on “Oh, yeah, that’s where we keep all the stuff we stole!”

7a. We spent about two hours at the British Museum and it pretty much destroyed our sense of age. You walk in and look at paintings painted when our country hadn’t been founded yet, you think “Old.” Then you go down and there’s the Rosetta Stone and statuary from 1500 BC and you go “Really old.” And then you wander into the room where they’ve got ancient Chinese jade and there are pieces from 5000 BC and you go “These were really old when they were carving those statues downstairs.” And then you go through another room and another room and hey, look, it’s artifacts from Jericho. And those were ancient when the jade pieces were carved.

Kevin sort of gave up at that point and started clutching his head and heading for the gift shop. Unfortunately for us, on the far side of the gift shop was a library with stuffed hoopoes. Great! And also hand axes, which were dated at something like 400,000 BC, and at that point you are standing on a fractional sliver of the vast sweep of human history and you realize that if civilization were pounded into dust tomorrow, it would be the eradication of an exceedingly brief anomaly.

And then you go buy a hot dog stuffed into a hollowed-out baguette, because really, what else can you do?

8. Hot dogs stuffed into hollowed-out baguettes are awesome.

9. Both hotels, in London and Berlin, did these massive breakfasts like they expected we were preparing for a nine-day siege.

10. The Brandenburg Gate is amazing and I am a terrible person because all I could think for a minute on seeing it was “Hey! I built that in Civ 5!”

11. It is very surreal to walk through Berlin and keep seeing this meandering double line of bricks. It’s where the wall was. Every now and again that realization would kind of grab me by the throat. That happened in my lifetime. I watched that wall come down on TV as a kid. And here I am, many thousands of miles and over two decades away from being that kid and I am actually standing here staring at the place where the wall was and a whole city that has basically put itself together in the aftermath and things grind in my head between real and unreal.

12. I just don’t get currywurst.

13. The European way of living with WWII is a lot different than the American one. A very nice German woman in London gave me directions to an old Templar church, which she said was the best in London. “Of course, we blew out all the stained glass in the Blitz,” she said cheerfully. “Pity we didn’t get [German train station],” muttered her (British) friend. “Yeah,” said the German woman, “if you had, we could have built something that actually worked.”

There is no possible response an American can make to any of this, beyond smiling and nodding. This is a far greater culture shock than little things like lack of public restrooms.

14. There is a near-total lack of public restrooms.

15. German coffee is mediocre. British cream is amazing. I am told that German beer is basically the greatest thing ever.

16. The British version of Indian cuisine lives up to all the hype and is incredible.

17. You can sell alcohol at a dealer’s table in Berlin. We were seated next to the schnapps dealer. One of them spoke very good English and helped me navigate a phone tree to figure out where my laptop had gone to (answer: left on plane flying into Berlin) and the other spoke virtually no English. He and Kevin, with a mutual vocabulary of perhaps ten words, managed to have several lengthy discussions of techno music. Apparently “oontz” is universal.

18. Losing my laptop was very stressful, but I tried to make the best of it. “We will go in early on Monday,” I said, “and check with lost & found. I am sure the airport is run with typical German efficiency!”

“….No,” said one of our German hosts sadly.

Despite this, after a lengthy wait in a line full of increasingly angry people, I got into the Lost & Found and said “I left my messenger bag on this flight, it had a laptop–”

“Brown leather, Macbook Air. Wait here.” Two minutes later, I was reunited with my laptop. So that was nice.

19. There is this moment where you are standing in an electronica dance party full of furries and somebody hands you a straw and you are drinking Cuba Libres out of a gallon bucket with a group of fursuiters and you think “How is this my life, again?”

20. When the con sends a limo to pick you up that is made out of five Trabbis welded together and the limo driver is explaining that these cars are made primarily out of pressed wool and incidentally, that’s the Reichstaag over there and you think “How is this my life, again?”

21. I would love to go back.

  • reply Liddle-Oldman ,

    British Museum — there’s an old saying; “In England they think 100 miles is a long distance. In America they think 100 years is a long time”.

    That being said, what my wife remembers about German hotel breakfasts is that they were largely cold cuts.

    • reply Darla ,

      It sounds like it may take you a while to process your experience. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed it, and just as glad that you shared those bits with us. Sounds like a wonderful month you had last week.

      • reply Emily` ,

        YES. LONDON. IT’S REAL. Isn’t it amazing?

        The Victoria and Albert museum is a different kind of mind-boggling in scale – you can put it on your list for next time.

        • reply C. S. P. Schofield ,

          Welcome back. I’m glad you had a good time. I’ve been twice; once with my folks and once with my Lady. Is Asterix The Gaul still available almost everywhere, or is he forgotten? Sad to say, I only met the work of GILES (British cartoonist, if you don’t know him, look him up) after I got back the second time, so I couldn’t hit the used bookstores for cheap annuals. Did you get to see the work of a bunch of graphic artists we don’t get to see over here? Anyone strike you as worth looking up?

          May I recommend Italy from personal experience? The people have a cheerful irreverence for their Heritage that takes the curse off it, and the food is wonderful, provided you stay the hell out of the cafeteria-style ‘trattoria’ that are largely intended to allow tourists who actually like airline food something that fits their tastes.

          • reply Athena ,

            Next visit try Paris: Best Public Bathrooms Anywhere! Modern plus 19th century pissoirs for monsieur, as long as monsieur doesn’t mind peeing in a public concrete cubicle where his head & shoulders are well above the modesty wall so passers-by know he’s having a bit of a wee in there.

            • reply Hannah ,

              My fiancee and I have had a nasty, emotional, draining day. I read out your comment about the Brandenburg Gate and he laughed *so hard!* because he had the exact same reaction as soon as I said ‘Brandenburg Gate’.
              Thanks for all the little sparks of laughter you bring into our house. They make a huge difference.

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