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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.

(Deleted comment)
Yes yes yes. I adore that book, and I want *more* . . . love love love love love.

-- A :)

22. And we feel strongly that you should come back. :)

Oh sweet mother of potatoes, YES, what this person said (hi!). It was fantastic having you two over, and as said, it will be a delight to welcome you again as your future schedules (and latent state of travel fatigue) allows. I still had a thousand questions about a thousand things, but as it turns out, not being a bother to people I appreciate is still an overriding concern even as I steadily careen toward midlife, so hey. Still all bouncy and happy about the con, which was great and fantastic and and and I'll be good and go back to work now. Just with a spring in my step. :)

Yeah, the British Museum is amazing. Hidden away (okay, not actually hidden) is something they DID NOT STEAL: fake British currency with David Tennant's face on it.

German beer is good, but wait till you try some Belgian or Czech at the source. :)

Also, #13 reminds me of an occasion in Philadelphia when I found myself in a steakhouse in company of: three Americans, one of them Jewish, two Japanese artists, a (neutral) Swiss and his German mom, myself half Russian, and I thought: blimey, we have World War II in the miniature...

Edited at 2014-08-27 02:58 pm (UTC)

Regarding 7a: Somebody once said that one of the fundamental cultural differences between the US and the UK is that in the US they think 200 years is a long time and in the UK they think 200 miles is a long distance.

Edited at 2014-08-27 03:13 pm (UTC)

I heard it with the number '100'.

I was doing well right up to "five Trabbis welded together".
It's okay, this keyboard needed to be cleaned soon anyway...
Welcome back to the States!

**beams** I've lived in Germany and traveled extensively through Britain, and I totally agree with every weirdness you listed. Weirdness is a totally one-way-mirror thing, utterly invisible from either direction depending on who's looking, but damn it's weird over there to us poor benighted Americans...

#1: Did you get to Westminster? Stranger to me than the subway stations was walking around in the cathedral and seeing tombs or plaques for historical kings and queens. These people happened. They were real. History happened!
#2: No corbie should look that much like a bird of prey. They look at you like they're just waiting for you to die, don't they? And the German ones are just as big, and territorial as all hell.
#7a: I remember standing somewhere in the British Museum and looking at a set of crude green glass beads that some clever person among the Beaker People had made 4500 years earlier by melting copper-bearing sand and winding it around a stick... and realizing that I had some chunky African trade-beads that had been made in exactly the same way from British beer-bottles. And that they were utterly identical in every way, even to the size of the stick. I don't even know what to call what that made me feel, but it fell somewhere between deja vu and awe.
#9: BREAKFAST. YES. ALL THE BREAKFAST. Kippers are awesome, English breakfast sausage less so; it tasted like fried canned Vienna Sausage to me, but maybe that's just me. And Germans get downright *serious* about your breakfast if you don't eat enough-- they'll make comments. They'll look at you like you've just shamed their ancestors.
#12: Eh, for really good currywurst it has to be the best wurst. And *lots* of curry powder in the ketchup. Hey, did you have any bratkartoffeln? That's kinda the German version of breakfast potatoes.
#20: I drove in East Berlin and West Berlin when the Trabbis were still on the road. My hand to the gods, I swear you can put your foot through the door of one of those things if you try hard enough, and the tiny engines sound exactly like sewing-machines when you're next to one on the Autobahn.
#21: The first trip is to learn that Culture Shock Is Really A Thing. The second trip is to enthusiastically revisit the best-loved places you went to the first time and try to visit the ones that were closed during the first trip. The third trip, though, is best undertaken with a willingness to just pick a direction and get lost. I once ended up spending a day at a tiny, tiny Dorset village that was having a hedge-clipping festival that day. I don't think five hundred people lived there, but damn near every garden of every house had been clipped into castle walls, dinosaurs, chessmen, geometric designs, you name it. It was magnificent.

Westminster is amazing. We went there many years ago on a weekday morning in 1991 when it and the surrounding streets were nearly deserted. Just as we came out something went BOOM!, and very shortly thereafter there were *lots* of sirens and police vehicles and emergency vehicles. Turned out the IRA had fired some homebrew mortars at 10 Downing Street. Kinda cemented that morning in my memory...

New York and other questionably existent places

You're supposed to take Manhattan before you take Berlin.

(It was great meeting you in London. Thanks for taking time to chat and sign my ebook cover over to my son (he's given me a replacement, so now it adorns his Nook).)

You're supposed to take Manhattan before you take Berlin.

*spluttering with laughter*

I have had that song in my head all day.

Oooh.. I am envious! It sounds like you had a blast!

And yes, I have heard (mostly from Kage) that EuroFurence is pretty much a blast from start to finish.

Have you heard of this project - "A History of the World in 100 objects?" http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/

It was a series of 15 minute radio programmes covering the history of humanity from all around the world, with each episode themed around an object from the British Museum, from a prehistoric hand-axe to a solar powered lamp. It is written and read by the director of the British Museum, Neil Macgregor. It is amazing and thought-provoking and I believe you can download the podcasts from outside the UK

Yep! I'm in Denmark and I'm in the process of listening to it just now, and I was sent the link from someone in Canada.

Re 13 - Is that an unusual way to deal with a horrible event?

People in Manchester talk in exactly the same way about the IRA bomb (which demolished part of the city centre but didn't cause any deaths). The reconstruction work improved the area and lead to a lot of investment so there are perennial jokes about inviting them back to finish off the job.

Michael Collins' Unofficial Urban Clearance Volunteers? At least they could find Manchester, unlike the relevant Government of the day.

Edited at 2014-08-27 05:34 pm (UTC)

Congratulations on the fine trip. I do hope you get to go again. My mom absolutely adores London.


Re #4: London Zoo?

(I was there last month and derived way too much pleasure from watching jewel wasps drag roaches off to their doom. But they're so pretty!)

I've been reading plenty of travelogues to Loncon 3 and side trips about Europe. Hands down this one is my favorite. Nice balance of humor and perspective.

Dr. Phil

PS- That limo sounds just wrong. The horror, the horror....

#20: That thing was made out of Trabis? < boggles >

Yes. He took great pride in explaining the manufacture of Trabis, and how it was modified and built out of about four of them.