Sunday, June 22, 2014

All aboard the struggle train…...

      And so,  almost a week ago, we departed from the fabulous folks at YHA and went on to meet our host family. It is not really a host family in the sense of the word, because I had to find my own accommodations, but nevertheless they have been extremely gracious in dealing with our unique way of doing things.
      This journey would require  a trip across town,  and  when I was looking up the options, the least convoluted and easiest thing seemed to be a journey on the Underground- the Tube-- why not?  And since  our host had looked up the directions for step free access, we decided to give it a try! We now know just how very wrong we were.  Granted, it would have been simple enough if we were not packing 4 bags around… or so we thought.
      You see,  despite the incredibly detailed and confusing labeling system that the Tube has for different levels of accessibility,  you never actually know how big the fabled “gap” is, or which part of the journey itself is, in fact, accessible. It varies from stop to stop, and I feel like someone should just go through with a pencil and mark each one. Sometimes, the gap is a foot tall, and sometimes there is not  one at all. In our case, it was where it said there was a lift (elevator) out of the station itself, when there was not. So, about 6 trains and switching directions later, we finally decided that we had to take an alternative route on the District line. A staff member was gracious enough to help me onto the inaccessible (of course!) older trains. When we got there, we went the wrong direction to the next stop, and then also went the wrong direction on the next form of transportation. The problem is, when they marked the routes, they actually give you the name of some random stop  on that line, not the end of the line, not even the next stop  or the middle of the line. If somebody could enlighten me as to the naming of the directional system, that would be greatly appreciated! So, about 4 hours later, we arrived here at the B&B, but not before someone yelled at us for fare evasion  because we didn't realize that the cards actually timed out after 2 hours,   while our journey ended up taking twice as long. This whole experience made us both want to buy a certain  souvenir T-shirt and replace it with something a little more accurate!
      Needless to say, the struggle  has not only been physical, but metaphorical as well. One of my instructors kept talking about the fact that there  would be cultural overload within the 1st week. Having to plan for many situations, I knew that there were a lot of things that I would be thinking about during this time, including but not limited to money, energy, accessibility, geographical location (I'm horrible with directions) and getting used to the notion of constantly being around other people. Now, granted, you'd think that since at any given time, I might have no less than 4 people trying to hover over me, that this would not be a problem. But usually, in this case, I would pack a pair of headphones and turn the volume up so loud that I couldn't even hear myself think. But, alas, my wireless headphones died before the trip and I elected not to bring them. Having dealt with so many different types of people, you would think I would have learned a thing or two by now about how to do it. Sadly, that is not the case. as in this situation, when all involved have no idea what the hell they're doing, the difficulty lies in many facets, from my traveling narcolepsy (yes, it's back) to the different foods, to the way my friend asked me to do things.  Throw in some sign language  and some sometimes comical interpretation fails, and you have a little bit of an idea. Sure, I thought, going with someone I knew would be easy, no problem! How about no. In a situation like this, I didn't realize I was stressed about things that I didn't even know I could be stressed about, such as my doing things almost entirely separately from the rest of the group for the 1st week. I didn't realize how  upsetting that was to me, as it is something I usually deal with  on a daily basis. So if you think that you can go with just about any situation, think again, you don't realize how many factors are influencing you at any one moment.
      As  far as the courses were concerned, I finally got a chance to  meet the other 2 professors, both of whom are very considerate and very hilarious.  This week focused mostly on our class about art and architecture, where, as one of the professors said, ““If the Victorians didn't like it , they took it and shoved a bunch of crap on the front of it.” This pretty much sums up most of the buildings in London. I have probably been able to see more sights in the 1st week than many people would get to see in their entire stay, complete with authentic Brit commentary. We have been to most of Central London already. For me, the highlights included going into some of the most incredible churches and learning about the history behind them. We visited Temple Church,  the church of St. Bartholomew the Great, and I even attended an evening service at Westminster Abbey. My great grandma  would  be so proud right now.  Honestly, there are too many things that I have seen to list them all here, but I will try to go back and get pictures of some of them as time allows. I hope to be able to post a more extensive list here.

 Until next time!

A hop, skip, and a jump (over the pond!)

Hello all!

 As promised,  I am finally taking some time to update you all in reader world out there about our adventures so far!  As many of you know, I am now abroad in London, England, actually  earning credit to be able to see some of the most spectacular architectural and theatrical productions that  Europe has to offer. Over the next few posts, I hope to give you some highlights of how it went down. Unfortunately, we are still technologically challenged with my camera charger, and hope to find the right one today. I am so disappointed, because I've probably seen more sights this week that people would give their front teeth for  than I have in my entire life, and I'm not able to share them with you (yet!) On the bright side, I do have some footage on my video camera (now I just have to figure out how to charge and upload the damn thing!)

 I'm happy to report  that the flight over was rather uneventful in itself, thanks in part to our fabulous driver (thanks Gram!) Other than it being delayed for half an hour, there were no other problems with the airline service (thank you universe!) We even scored seats literally right across from the bathroom, which was a definite plus.  The only downside to this was that these seats did not recline at all, which made me a very unhappy panda after about 5 hours. You would think that, being a wheelchair user, and being used to sitting 15+ hours a day that I would be used to it, but for some reason, this was not the case. I'm curious to know if anybody else has this experience on the plane. Usually, I'm fine for short flights, and have been on long plane and road trips before. Luckily, my friend and traveling companion  was a saint about it and didn't mind me waking them up periodically. Finally, we arrived (mostly) unscathed at our destination.

 One last thing on the subject of airports, I must say that the airport staff in the UK really has its stuff together! My chair was off the plane within 5 min. of arriving at the gate, and there was somebody there to guide us to the next place we needed to go!  When I applied for this program, I remember one of the support services people telling me that I couldn't rely on the kindness of strangers, but I still find that almost without exception, every person we've asked when trying to get around has been extremely knowledgeable and helpful. Or, if they are not, they know someone who is.  Unlike in America, where if anybody saw us trying to navigate the airport with 4 bags attached to us and my chair, they would just stare at us like we had 3 heads and keep going on their  merry way. Indeed, not so here!

But, you don't want to hear about that…

 We boarded the train, and took a scenic ride into the city, arriving at St Pancras International Station, which is a majestic building in itself, made of red brick, ornate statues, and a clock tower.  I have since learned that  it's probably Victorian, but that's another story for another post.

  Our destination was right up the street.  The folks at YHA were absolutely phenomenal. Not only were they able to tell us where to go, they even helped me with some navigational issues, and some things that I needed to buy upon arrival. They were even able to find me an accessible shower seat within about 10 min. so I didn't have to go buy one  right away. The people were super friendly and didn't  laugh when we asked stupid questions like what is the VAT? (Answer: the British  sales tax). Even though we stayed in a shared room this time, the facilities were much nicer than what I expected. After recuperating, we were able to browse around the local area to find food and things to do the next day. The Camden town Sunday market was a lot busier than I expected, although it was very touristy, it seemed to be the kind of street that was bustling all the time. We were also able to see Regent's Canal and the locks. The day before, we had gone to the usual spots like Piccadilly Circus, where we found a group that was breakdancing to "Gangnam Style." I have since discovered that this is indeed a daily occurrence. Overall, even though we didn't do much, I can't wait to come back at the end of the trip to stay in this area.

 Onward to the next phase of the journey!