London’s got what you need.

My latest visit to the doctor to check on the healing progress of my woe-begotten foot revealed a bit of the fabled “socialized medicine” issues I’ve heard of but not experienced yet.

  • My appointment was at 9:30am. I arrived early, having mastered the bus system I no longer need cabs, but I’m a slave to the timetables.
  • The waiting room was full, so I watched as 9:30 approached, then whizzed by with alarming speed.
  • This being the fracture clinic, I got to amuse myself for an hour or so by watching all manner of broken arms and legs hobble and gallop about the place. Grace is not often found in a cast.
  • At nearly eleven, I had a five minute consultation with the doctor, who prodded my foot and the informed me that I should start putting weight on the full foot, keep the walking boot on for another two weeks, then switch to shoes. Come see them in two months for another x-ray to see if it’s fully healed or not. Don’t run on it until after that consultation.
  • That’ll be 86 pounds, please ($130).  Best of both worlds: I get to pay for the socialized medicine!

On the good side, I can now put weight on my whole foot, not just my heel.  It makes a HUGE difference.  I shall now resume my ambulation around the world with gusto!

However, I have not been entirely idle.  I have hobbled into London a few times and have discovered a few things worth reporting.  And since this is covering quite a few outings, I’ve got a little something for architecture, sculpture, food, art, and entertainment.  What more does one need in life?

First off, I keep finding buildings to be enthralled with, both old and new:

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Little bit o’ the old…
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Little bit o’ the new.

In addition to marvelous buildings, I’ve also found some sculptural things to get fascinated by.  For instance, check out this guy.  I would love to see an entire medieval world realized in movie or game form, all in the style of this one sculpture:

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Knight be stylin’! Also: forgive the thumb: taking pictures is hard when balancing on one foot and keeping a crutch from falling at the same time.

The structure below is found in a little shopping village right by the Thames. The style, like the one above, is just fantastic. I could have spend a long time just checking out the details. Sadly the light was poor (it’s London, the sun never really comes out) and my phone’s camera was not up to the task of illuminating the dark areas properly.

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Roald Dahl meets steampunk meets awesome?

Still, on close up you can see why it’s so awesome:

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I mean, seriously, just LOOK at this guy.

As for food, people grouse about British food all the time, and I think there is merit to that. After all, there’s a reason why the phrase “I know of a great bangers-and-mash joint” hasn’t been invented yet. You don’t see “Authentic British” restaurants in other countries.  (correction provided from Kabes: I actually lived near one back in Redmond.  Oops).  But the one thing they do have going for them is the ol’ fish and chips.

Apparently, though, the fish are starting to suffer from the nuclear fallout of the Japan meltdown?

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Fish. Now in “Y” configuration.

Overall though, if you want any kind of food in London, you can find it, and find great quality to boot. I’ve had some beautiful Italian, excellent Thai, and even some Eritrean food that was worth writing home about. I fear my indulgence in food coupled with my relative sedentary nature enforced by my foot issues have not been kind to my mid section.

In other news, while I think the museums here are brilliant (and free!), the real action may be in the galleries. For example, check this out:

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Best thing I’ve seen in a long time.

I can’t convey how cool this is up close. It’s made entirely of plastic army men, and since they are all odd-shaped, and all aligned to point towards the center, the image shifts as you walk around it, moving and contorting along with you. It’s kind of creepy, kind of fascinating, and entirely awesome.

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Close-up from the side. It’s plastic army men all the way through.

Lastly, a note on shows. London, like New York, is a place where you can see the best stage shows in the world. So of course I had to see Spamalot, as already noted. However, there are all kinds of other fare on offer. Shakespeare is rampant (The Henry’s, Macbeth, 12th night, etc). There are many comedies (stand-up, Hitchhikers Guide Radio Live, etc). Big musicals are definitely a thing (Book of Mormon, Chorus line). And even musicals put together just based on popular music. For example, some fine folks took the collected works of Queen and made a pretty fun musical out of it called “We Will Rock You”. And while it’s somewhat cheesy, it’s actually quite entertaining, and it’s been running for more than a decade now.

However, I was surprised at a few other entries into this genre. For example: Thriller. I suppose this is a no-brainer, especially if you have ever seen anything like his 1995 mtv performance.

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Honestly? Kinda tempted to go see it.

But… But… a stage show for the Spice Girls? Is this really a thing?

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Not tempted. Not even close.

Yes, yes it is. They aren’t even kidding.

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Sadly not being done ironically. Nope.

Ultimately, London’s got everything you need. Well, most things you need. There are the few odd things I have had a craving for that just can’t be obtained here. for example, Mike&Ike’s? Not a thing here. Can’t get ’em. However, you can easily replace little things like that with lovely little surprised for what IS available here, and doesn’t exist in the states:

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Sounds brilliant. In reality tastes exactly like pouring a pint in a blender along with a potato. Then making it crunchy.

Walking. Healing. Geekery. Writing.

when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; 
for there is in London all that life can afford."

 — Samuel Johnson

London is far more interesting when you are ambulatory. As my healing progresses, so does my experience of London. Brief note on the foot: follow up declares that no surgery is needed, no further movement of bones is seen, life may indeed return to normal some day many weeks from now. Side note: moving around enough to work up a sweat means a walking boot can become… stinky.

But on to more pleasant topics!  Whilst making my way around London with ever progressing pedestrian capabilities, I have begun to sample a bit more of what she has to offer.  For example, I met up with fellow Barcelona Hosteller Schnaps, fresh back from Portugal, and she and I procured cheap tickets to a showing of Spamalot.  Needless to say, if you enjoy Monty Python and musicals, you owe it to yourself to see this.  I’ve seen it once before, but my how times have changed over six or seven years.  The play has evolved and at numerous points the cast saw fit to add lib to themselves and the audience, making for a particularly unpredictable show.  While it can’t come anywhere close to being as amazing as Book of Mormon (still the best thing I’ve ever seen on stage), it’s a fun show.

In addition, Baylor and I took a turn out on the town to quaff beer and cider at several fine local watering holes.  In London, it seems that starting around 4 on a weekday the pubs begin to fill up and spill out on the sidewalks with people who are just damn finished with working and would kill for a pint.  I attempted to blend in with the suits-and-tie crowd by wearing all black along with my black walking boot and black-topped crutch.  I’m sure I was a natural.

While stumbling from one pub to the next, I got to record a few more excellent buildings in London.  For example: the stack of coins:

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Yep. Coins. Ostensibly the Mayor’s office is here. You think they could stack them straight, no?
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The Tower bridge. Blue and white seems more festive than I’m used to with British architecture.
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Much construction going on.

Another day, while stumping along on my own, I discovered a store that is Geek Holy Ground: The Forbidden Planet. This place is amazing. Upstairs is a sprawling collection of models, figurines, paraphernalia, toys and other goodies related to comics, games, movies, and all things geeky. Downstairs is a massive dungeon of comics, graphic novels, RPGs, sci-fi and fantasy books. A few images to drive the point home:

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So, sure, they have Star Wars. I mean, that’s just baseline expectations.
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Love me some TF.
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Sweet TV Batman.
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Well, it’s England. They kind of HAVE to represent, no?
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House Baratheon scarf and cap? No? How about Stark? Lannister? It’s all here.
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Ye old Wall Of Portal.
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Bruce Lee in a chair, wearing a suit, giving you a “thumb’s up”? Check.
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Because you need your own minecraft sword, but you don’t want to actually forge one like that one guy did.

Another great thing about London: free museums. Yep, just walk right in. And they are non too shabby, too:

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The British Museum has a purty ceiling.
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Nice mix of classic walls and artistic, modern architecture.

Many impressive things await you at the British Museum. Much of it, strangely, having nothing to do with Britain. However, there was one display in a larger collection themed around “life and death” that I thought was absolutely brilliant. There were old pictures, snapshots from moments in people’s lives, lined around a massive center piece which was a tapestry made of pills. Yep, some seventeen thousand and more pills from vitamins to pain killers to heart medication, all stitched together to represent the pharmacopeia of two people’s life from birth to death. There were printed pages detailing how vitamin K is prescribed for a new born, all the way through being diagnosed with heart disease (for the man) or menopause (for the woman) and the requisite prescriptions. I thought it was a fascinating statement about our casual reliance on health in pill form.

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Every pill a couple would take from birth through death, snipped out in their individual blister package, woven into a massive tapestry.

Heading home I noticed this at Green Park subway station: if you want to see a map of the Underground, but really don’t like things printed on icky, boring paper, they have hung this on the wall:

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Made of all Legos. Why? Because awesome, duh.

Lastly, for those interested in reading (and critiquing!) my in-progress novel aimed (potentially) at the young-adult crowd, I’ve committed to posting new chapters every Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday. Three chapters a week (oy). I’ve gotten some great, insightful, and super-duper-helpful feedback and critiques on what I’ve posted already, so once I actually get the whole thing written I’ll be re-writing it with all the changes I see I need to make.  Thanks for those of you reading along and making the story better!

London via crutches

When I left the hospital last week, I asked how much walking I was allowed to do on my leg.  The answer was “as much as you can bear.”

So I decided to put that to the test and finally make like a proper tourist after spending many many days at my friend’s house with my leg propped up.

First off: mass transport in London.  This is transit done right.  Done proper if you will.  You purchase a stored value card (called, oddly, “the Oyster” card), and this works for both busses and subway (Tube, Underground, etc).  I’ve used it three day running now and am quite a fan.  Also: the busses are those fabulous double-decker contraptions with huge windows, perfect for a tourist with limited mobility.

Baylor lives in an area called Crystal Palace.  This is 7 miles south-east of London proper, so while my instructions were to walk as much as I could bear, walking into town seemed a little aggressive.  So, the first day was a trial foray: can I make it into London, mosey around a bit, and get back with no mishaps.

The day started marvelously, and I had the top floor seat, right up front.  Just perfect for taking pictures from:

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Finally! A nice, summery day!
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Ah London, such beautiful buildings.
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Ooooo, pretty.

The first wrinkle came when the bus stopped partway through the route and announced the bus had been redirected; everyone off. Strange. I took the transfer ticket the driver gave me and asked for his recommendations on what bus to take instead to reach my destination. I’m sure he gave me advice that would be just right for someone who knew the city. I was quickly lost and decided to just wander and make the best of it. One easy landmark to run into was the new building (The Shard). It kinda sticks out:

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Er… BIG. Also: crap picture from my Surface tablet. Yes: I was that guy, taking pictures from my tablet. I had no choice.

So, the rest of that day I wandered on my crutches and walking boot. One observation: when you are hobbling about town on crutches, other people pointedly do NOT stare at you, but their kids (7 and younger) stare at you from the moment you are in sight until you are completely out of site, even turning their heads and walking backwards, wondering “why does that man walk so funny? Is he in a circus?” Good times.

Soon enough the nice weather realized that this was not Spain and returned to proper form. Luckily I was back on a bus by then.

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Now we are doing London proper.
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Oh look, Piccadilly is coming up. Just how I always pictured it.

Also on the way back, the bus stopped twice and forced everyone off it and onto a replacement bus. Each time was for no discernible reason other than to force the passengers to get a little exercise. Might be a new NHS policy? I don’t know.

Day two was much the same, although this time the buses operated flawlessly. On this trip I decided to purchase a new phone (seeing as how my old phone has now stubbornly refused to hold a charge or even work when plugged directly in). So I am now armed with a full and working UK phone. Stand back, people, I might be dangerous. (I expect only DT will get that quote).  Benefit: back to taking pictures with a phone like a normal human.

Day three I felt like I knew the limits of my foot more (or, rather, was ready to push them a bit), so I spent even longer wandering about town.  This took me to all kinds of places where I failed to take pictures.  The aptly named Green Park.  The tiny Soho Square park.  China town.  Oxford Circus (much less clowns than you’d expect).  Piccadilly circus (ditto.  What’s up with the disappointing circuses here?).

I did, however, get a few pictures of random things I came across:

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Exiting Chinatown. You can tell ’cause of the lantern, right?

Found a street than randomly had many awesome cars parked. An absolutely drool-worthy Aston Martin Vantage was just hanging out on the curb. A few 911’s. Then this absolute beauty:

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Note: left-side driver. Must be confusing to drive over here.

I ran into a giant drum band, randomly. Couldn’t do much dancing of jigs what with my leg / crutch situation and all, but they were fun to stand and listen to.

Then, eventually I stumbled on what appeared to be a large crowd, barriers, and this thing:

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That carpet looks awfully red. Waitaminit… red carpet? I know what that’s for…
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Ruins my belief that these things are one big roll. Also: nice thumb action Mr. Paparazzi. First time using a camera?

So, since I’ve never seen an honest-to-god movie premier before, I figured I’d hang around and see how these things work. Note for those of you who attend these in the future:

  • find the guys with earbuds in. Watch them, you’ll knew when things are going to be happening.
  • Finding the guy with an earbud AND a clipboard means you’ve got your finger on the pulse.
  • The celebrities are unleashed in waves, giving ample time for interviews and such.
  • Along with celebrities are floods of seemingly normal folk. Hard to tell the difference sometimes.
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Celebrity?
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Er… Celebrity?

Often there would be enough of a ruckus made that you know it was someone, but since I don’t read many tabloids on a regular basis, I’m afraid I’m the worst sort of paparazzi here.

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Photographers made a lot of fuss over the blonde lady. Not sure who she was.
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People kept yelling “Rosie” at her. So, I guess she’s Rosie?

Now most celebrities faced away from the “fan” group because they were playing to the other side of the line up; the one with all the TV cameras. Near the end, there was one bloke that broke this pattern and came to hobnob with the rabble:

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Then this dude came out.

He turned out to be pretty cool, was signing things and joking with people and generally having a good time with it.

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Quothe Statham: “hey, this guy here’s my stunt double, let’s get a picture!”

Which is good ’cause it’s kinda his night and all.

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Guess it’s a movie! Neat!

Turns out the DailyMail does a much better job covering this than I.  I did see the other people they pictured, but got even worse pictures of them than what I have above so didn’t think they were worth cluttering this page with.

After that, I wandered around and right nearby found posters for what might be the most awesome combinations and themes of movies I’ve ever seen:

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In the running for coolest theater. I would go to this lineup.
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Um… quote along? You mean everyone in the theater would be as obnoxious as me? Sign me up!
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Cagesploitation? Does the awesome never end?

Finally, I stumbled home on sore and aching feet (both of ’em) to a fabulous sunset. Good day in London: accomplished.

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Note: Picture doesn’t do justice.

Socialized Medicine: Part deux

Today was checkup day.  A return to the doctor, another x-ray, and a prognosis on what my next 2 months would look like.  Needless to say, I was hoping for a diagnosis of “my god, it’s totally healed!  Go scamper, young man.  Go!”

Yesterday introduced a bit of fly in that soup though.  You see, instead of wearing my giant black Walking Boot of Doom (WBOD) when I go to bed, I figure there’s very little chance of me putting weight on my foot while asleep, so I take it off before turning in.  Thursday morning I wake up because nature was informing me that I need to handle some business.  URGENTLY.

Now, the WBOD takes a few minutes to put on properly.  Plus, I’m right next to the three-year-old’s room (we’ll call him R-Monster), and I’m pretty clear that sleep is precious to working parents, so I’m loath to make any noise that will wake him up, which a stomping boot is likely to do.  Also, I’ve been walking around pretty well putting all weight on my heel all week, so I grab a crutch and silently, slowly, heel-crutch my way to the toilet.  I’m pretty happy as I take care of business, and I’m eager to get back into bed, when I feel a slight “click” in my foot, right where my 5th metatarsal is.  Right on the site of the break.  Crap.

The rest of the day I actually had pain in my foot, which I hadn’t had all week.  I had obviously done something bad.  Consulting with Fashion Athlete for her PT knowledge, she informed me that I had a Bad Break (bad enough that she showed my x-rays around to other people to say: “look, pretty bad, right?”), and she advised that the doctor may need to put me in a fiberglass cast for 6-8 weeks or even do surgery to pin the bones together (yikes).

So it was that I went to bed juggling the following thoughts:

  • Should I just book a trip home now?  It sounds like my days of galloping around Europe are pretty well shot.
  • Should I find a place to rent and do my recuperation in London?  I think over a week of being an invalid in a friend’s house is pushing the limits.  6-8 weeks is beyond any form of good manners.
  • I’ve paid in full my planned trip to the Arctic on July 19th.  Is there any way to salvage this?

I woke up today, put my walking boot on, and: Miracle of miracles!  No pain!  I’m walking around just as well as I have all week!  Yay!

Off to the doctor’s.  There a new doctor (not the one from last week) inspects my foot.  He seems okay with the slight swelling I still have around my ankle and happy with my range of motion for foot rotation, toe-wiggling, and general state of the foot.  He pushes in on the swelling at the breakage site and notes that it is pretty tender there still.  He sums up that it looks like things are going well, but he’d like to get the x-rays to be sure.

I arrive in the x-ray room in high spirits.  There are about 20 people waiting here this time, about 10 times what it was last week.  Note: early morning appointments are best.  After about 20 minutes of waiting, a nurse comes out and calls: “Mr. Krauskopf?”  I get up, and notice that to my left, a man in his late 70’s has also stood up.  We stare at each other for a moment an odd sort of stand-off, then at the nurse.  She checks her sheet: “Kordell Krauskopf?”

I boggle at the fact that I’ve encountered another Krauskopf in a waiting room in London.

The x-ray goes quickly, I wave my goodbye’s to the elderly Krauskopf couple waiting their turn, and return to the doctor’s office.  This time I get yet another doctor to do the follow up, as the earlier doctor has left.  He looks at the x-ray, then back at my foot, then back at the x-ray.  Then he shows me the x-ray, explaining that last week’s shot is on the right, and today’s is on the left.

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My achey breaky bone. Wish the sequence was flipped so it looked like I was healing.

Now, I’m no doctor, but looks to me like the bone has moved, and the gap is larger than before.  My heart sinks, as do my hopes of continuing my journeys.

I say: “wow, that looks worse.”

he says: “yes, well, it does I think.”

Silence while we ponder the image.  He says “I’m going to go consult with my boss on this.”

He leaves me to contemplate my next steps.  Will it be cheaper to get surgery done here?  Should I head home to have it done where I have far more friends (and especially family: looking at you, Elder Wanker) to impose on?  How should I go about getting any kind of refund from the Arctic trip, the flights, etc?

After 15 minutes of my pondering, he comes back in and says: “Okay, you are all set to go.”

I boggle at him.  “Go where?”

“No, you are all set to go for the day, just be sure to wear your boot at all times, even to bed.  Prop it up on a pillow when you sleep.  Also, take vitamin D supplements, that will help.  I want to see you again in 4-5 weeks.  You should wear the boot the entire time.”

“But, the separation….”

“Yes, I confirmed with my boss.  The space between there is still well within tolerance for healing.  So just make sure you keep the boot wrapped snug, that will keep everything in place.  And put weight only on your heel.”

“And you think after another 4-5 weeks I might be able to be without the boot still?”

“Hopefully, but that’s what the follow-up will be for.  And for sure, if you feel anything like you did yesterday again, come back and see us immediately.”

Boggle.

“Okay, er, how much walking am I allowed to do on it per day?”

“Oh, as much as you can tolerate, as long as it’s all on your heel.  Listen to your body, and ease up if it’s telling you to.  Otherwise, the exercise and movement is good for you.”

Boggle yet again.

So, now I’m left with the following questions:

  1. Do I get a second opinion?  If so, how does that work in this country?  Something to ask around about.
  2. Given that I’m BEST CASE boot-ridden for 5 weeks, but I’m encouraged to get out and about on it, what to do about my travel plans?  Start being a tourist in London?  Get out to Germany like I’d planned?  Be the Hostel Gimp like I was in Spain?
  3. Do I gamble with the Arctic trip in the hopes I can still make it?  Or look for a refund starting now expecting that I’ll still be pretty well boot-ridden come late July.

So many questions.  Luckily, Baylor and I are going out to sample some fine British ales tonight at a local pub.  I’m sure everything will be much clearer after that.

In the meantime, I’ll retreat into writing more chapters for my novel.  At least that part is under my control.

London, the daily life

Since I’m still instructed to keep my foot elevated whenever possible, and when elevated to keep it 30 degrees above my heart, and even when it isn’t elevated to keep my bloody weight off of it, I find that I’m doing very little rambling around London.

No, mostly I’m spending my time writing new chapters and revising old ones.  Which is good, ’cause I intended to do a lot of writing on this trip, but previously was too busy being a tourist to focus on the writing.

Still, I’ve learned a few things in my last week as a temporary house-bound London citizen.

First:the weather.  While it lulled me in with false promises of summer when I got here, it has rapidly resorted to it’s classic and legendary state.  For example, here’s today’s sunny, summery outlook.

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Note: the image lies. There are no pretty flowers.

The reality obscured by this lovely image is that the days are gray, cold, windy, and pretty much reminiscent of Seattle.  I’ve mentioned that Seattle weather is stalking me, so perhaps I’m to blame since the weather was stunning when I got here.

Now, even though I am supposed to be sitting around with my leg in the air all day, I enact a small bit of rebellion every day and hobble around the triangle of streets near my home base.  This allows me to sample the local food for lunch, and have a chance to interact with locals.  From this I have made the following observations:

Shopping carts are superior in London in a few ways:

  1. In order to use a cart, you must put a deposit in.  This confounded me at first; there was a full row of carts, all neatly waiting for someone to adopt one, but on selecting one I discovered they were all locked, one chained to the next.  Attempting to remove this chain were unsuccessful, until I noticed the chain from the next cart locked into a small device on my chosen cart.  This device had a small slot just large enough for a 1 pound coin.  Luckily I had a coin, put it in, and was rewarded with a liberated cart.  “But wait” you decry, “I don’t want to pay one pound just to use a cart to shop with!”  Fear not: when you return the cart, you insert the chain back into the lock device and that pushes your pound coin right back out.  Simple and easy, and probably leads to number 2 (below).  Why is this an advantage, you ask?  Well simply put, people put the carts back where they belong, and you don’t find them strewn all over the place, running into cars, and stuck in the walkways of random buildings 4 blocks away.
  2. The wheels work.  I have yet to encounter a cart with the classic “bum leg” syndrome that all carts in the US seem to experience, leaving you fighting against a cart that dearly wishes to steer sideways, or dealing with pushing a cart that announces loudly either through a rhythmic “thump thump thump” or piercing squeal, exactly where in the store you are and how fast you might be going.

As for the food, I’ve sampled a few restaurants here so far.  I’ve tried fish and chips twice, and on both occasions have been surprised that instead of getting 2-3 pieces of cod with some tartar sauce and chips, I am delivered what appears to be one giant slab of whale, deep fried, on a plate, accompanied by chips of course, but also a cup of pasty green… something?  At first I thought they had sent me a year’s supply of wasabi.  Upon further inspection, this turns out to be mashed peas.  It’s not an option, this is compulsory with your order.  Myself: not a fan.

Also, a place called The Sparrowhawk makes one of the best burgers I’ve had in a long time, surprisingly.  They’ll charge you your first-born child for it, but it’s quite tasty (the burger, not the child).  You ask for it “medium rare” and you’ll get a burger that’s charred on the outside, pink on the inside, and just pretty much perfect.

Also, accents here are a source of never-ending joy.  As mentioned in my last post, I get to learn new phrases like “I won’t keep you a minute, luv”, which is at face value an absolute lie, but delivered with such a charming lilt I hardly mind.  The extreme side of this is a man who wanted to make conversation with me while I was waiting for my taxi, leg up, holding my crutches.  His lead off line was something like:

“Eh, y’ga’ a bi’ kickn yer hup eh?”

To which my brain ran through all it’s filters: was that English?  Doesn’t seem to be.  How about Spanish?  Nope.  French?  German?  Something else?  Nope to all. Okay, maybe it was actually English and I didn’t understand.  So:

“I’m sorry?”

“Ah, y’ stump dere, y’ga a bi’ kickn yer up, hey?  lie a bi’ no aie, eh?”

At this he made kicking motions with his leg.  So, I was left to guess this was probably his way of asking what I did to my leg, and whether I got it… kicking something?  Maybe playing a sport?

“Ah, no, not a good story, just twisted my ankle and came up with a broken foot.”

“Oh, aye, ye gaen gone wit stuffed bane an’ no go’ a fur bin some time, eh?”

Me: nodding, smiling.  Hoping I haven’t just accidentally agreed to something nefarious.  After a few more statements back and forth I was able to somewhat acclimate to his accent, and perhaps he to mine, and we ended up talking about Spain and how hot it was when he visited it 20 years ago.

“Ah, t’was nigh abot furty aight ina shade, so ‘twould be ’bout, oh, ‘bot mayb won twenty, aye?”

“wow, that’s too hot”

“ye be tellin’ me! No, was ’bout roasted in bot din fen wit’ de falsen bat, no?”

“er… aye?”

“oh, aye, aye.”

So, conversations can be a constant source of fun.

One last observation: tea isn’t a “sometimes” thing.  Tea is all the time, any place, for any reason.  And normally you don’t have a follow-up question of “what kind of tea?”, no; there’s just TEA.  Brown, hot, with a bit of milk in it.  Given the weather, this is a very good thing.

Socialized Medicine

“I won’t keep you a moment, luv”

I’m pretty sure this is British slang for “I have to leave for a moment and how no idea how long I’ll be gone, but just hang out and I’ll be back at some time.”  This is good to know so you can translate properly and set your expectations.

Many people in the US are throwing the word “socialist” around like its a grenade, and health care is one of the main battle grounds for this.  So I was interested to see what socialized medicine was actually like.  Would the wait times be monstrous?  The quality of doctor sub-par?  The facilities more akin to 1970’s soviet bunkers than a proper hospital?  Would they charge this foreigner 2 arms and three legs since I don’t pay into their system?  Should be interesting.

As noted in my previous post, the first step was to call a hotline, explain my situation, and they recommended I just go to the ER (A&E, here) to have my cast inspected since it was already showing signs of wear.  So I found myself in the lobby of the Accidents and Emergency office with around 20 other people, waiting my turn.

And waiting.

The lobby was a bit shabby, but then this hospital is potentially the worst example.  It is in a run down area in a questionable region, and the nickname for the Mayday hospital is “May Die”.  So I would probably need to hang out in a hospital in Compton to compare properly.

After 2.5 hours, I was admitted and had a 5 minute discussion about the state of my cast and what I needed, and it was decided I needed to see a specialist / osteopath.  This was who I was hoping to see, so I was a bit deflated that one was not available after 2.5 hours.  However, they understood I’d waited a long time and made sure they got me the earliest possible appointment: 9:45 the next morning.

So, the longest I’ve spent in an American E.R. is a little over an hour.  Advantage: US.

However, next-day appointment for a doctor?  That would be pretty rare.  Slight advantage UK?  Tough call.

The following day I arrived at precisely 9:45.  The waiting room was similarly old, but this time I was in seeing the doctor in under 10 minutes.  The doctor, similar to doctors in the Seattle area, was a man with a name of far too many consonants, both first and last, so I won’t even attempt to reproduce it here.  We had a quick and friendly discussion about how the leg felt and he sent me to get the cast removed so he could examine it properly and get a fresh set of x-rays.

I hobbled down to the “Plaster Room” where a lady took a rotating saw to the cast, along with a miniature “jaws of life” device and efficiently, brutally, and thoroughly removed the cast.  I was only able to salvage a tiny portion once it was all over:

picture006
Only Trogdor survives

It’s hard to describe how nice it was to see my foot again!  And be able to rotate my ankle!  And yes; scratch my bloody leg.  So.  Nice.

Next I hobbled to the x-ray room.  My wait there was pretty much non-existent.  They efficiently took 2 shots of my foot, then I hobbled back down the hall to the doctor who already had the x-rays on his computer.

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One of these things is not like the other.

He explained how a “shaft fracture” like mine is going to take longer to heal (bad news), but the bone was maintaining a good position over all (good news).  He also advised that we put the leg back in a cast, this time fiberglass which would be much lighter and stronger than the plaster one I was in, and hold up to more abuse.

I was keen to get into a walking boot, however.  We discussed my longer-term goals (get back to running, resume my travels, be in a kayak in the arctic by end of July, etc).  He agreed to let me try a walking boot with the only stipulation that I can only put weight on my heel, absolutely no weight on my forefoot.  Deal.  Score.

And so I present you: the new hotness:

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Black goes with everything

In addition, we scheduled a follow-up for next week to ensure the bone was staying in a good position and would continue to heal properly.

So: now to pay.

I asked the lady working admittance how payment should work, and was met with my first instance of this phrase:

“I won’t keep you a moment, luv.”

After a few minutes waiting around, testing my new-found hobbling abilities up and down the hall, she put me on the phone with a lady from “Financing”.  The nice lady explained how payment would work (just need to give them my credit card) and then they would mail a paid invoice to my address.  All fine, though my address is my brother’s house, so he might wonder why Mayday Hospital in London is sending him mail.  After giving her my info, I got my second instance:

“I won’t keep you a moment luv.”

Hobbling up and down the hall is a little more restrictive when tethered to a phone cord.  Nevertheless: hobbling was done.  Several more exchanges of information, and several more instances of “won’t keep you a moment” later, she came back with a full description of charges.  So, we have an ER visit, a doctor visit, x-rays, cast removal, walking boot, plus next week’s visit that they’ll just charge now, as well as the follow-up x-rays.

Bracing for the total.

186 pounds.  Around $289.

Advantage: squarely in socialized medicine’s court.

So, let’s take a final tally of socialized medicine, shall we?

  • wait times for initial visit: poor.
  • Facilities: about on par with an older hospital in the US.
  • Doctor availability: very good.
  • Doctor quality: I’m no expert, but he seemed very knowledgeable, and what’s more: collaborative, friendly, helpful, and flexible.  Not cold and dismissive like some US doctors can be.
  • Cost: ridiculously cheap compared to the US.  Embarrassingly so.  The entire US health care system should be ashamed of what it costs for treatment.

Now, this is a sample size of one, with a fairly pedestrian (pun unintentional)  treatment, nothing like open heart surgery, or prolonged treatment like diabetes or cancer.  Still, for those who fear socialized medicine, the US could do way worse than offer what the UK did to me.

Stepping off soapbox.

So I have to report that being able to put weight on my foot is AWESOME.  I can now walk for a long time, whereas before I had to stop every couple blocks to sweat and massage my hands.  I left the hospital and promptly explored down 8 blocks to a park near Baylor’s house.  I had my first authentic British fish-n-chips (appropriately bland and greasy, as expected, and with a cup of bright green mashed peas to add extra authenticity).  Also: I don’t always need to use both crutches now, so around the house I can actually carry things.  Like a cup of tea.  Or my laptop.  Or my toothbrush on the way to the bathroom.  It’s the little things in life.

So: walking boot: fantastic.  It’s a whole new world.  Next: London will be mine <tenting fingers, cackling>.

Health Care in London.

Ah, London. (This clip is required viewing anytime London is mentioned anywhere)

I have come here far earlier than planned due to the unfortunate state of my right foot.  My plan is to discuss options with someone in the medical profession through a purely English dialect, instead of trying to fumble my way through the details of Spanish + medical jargon.

My brilliant plan has a catch: this being the UK and I being a foreigner who doesn’t pay into their medical plan, I’m not exactly sure how all this will work out.  However, so far I’m quite happy with the approach.  There is one number to call to begin to “triage” your issue (111, pretty easy to remember, really).  Once you get hold of this number, the kind person on the other side will ask you a string of questions, much like troubleshooting a computer issue really, before recommending your next steps.

It took a bit of wrangling to get to this point though.  First off, the number my friend (we’ll call him Baylor) gathered for me before heading off to work turned out to be old, and when dialed advised me instead to dial 111.  Trying “111” from Skype was met with no success as Skype flagged this as an emergency number and thus wouldn’t call it (???).  So I attempted the call with my Spanish phone, which yielded some recorded Spanish message explaining that the number didn’t exist.  Adding in the country code + 111 didn’t help either.

However, Baylor came to the rescue again and guided me to a local SIM card he wasn’t using which fit my phone perfectly and I was then on the call with NHS.  After numerous questions, it came down to the fact that my cast has begun to see some wear and tear in form of a seam opening up near my ankle, and thus the advice was: go to your nearest hospital’s ER and get them to assess it.  Fair enough.  Baylor advised me from afar that, since it was already late in the day by the time I got to this point I should just go tomorrow since wait times are notorious for being several hours and usually at their worst later in the day.  Also, the nearest hospital is Mayday, colloquially known as “May Die”.  That doesn’t bode well…

This was not all I have done on my first day in London though!  First off: whatever image you have of London, potentially influenced by the clip included at the start of this post, is wrong, based on my current experience.  I arrived in Gatwick and am staying in an area near Croyden called “Crystal Place”.  This is ostensibly all “London”, but very much on the outskirts.  The drive in from Gatwick is gorgeous: you go through Surrey so it’s all rolling hills, trees, bushes and greenery.

The weather has been absolutely perfect: Sunny, about 70 (20 C), not a cloud in the sky.  I took a mid-day hobble 3 blocks away to a Chinese take out place and was greeted with an absolutely stunning view of London from atop the hill.  I would provide a picture, but sadly my phone (which is my only camera) has decided it hates electricity and refuses to charge.  So you get stock views (my view is actually prettier than this):

Horniman_London_skyline

Regardless: beautiful! The addition of that monstrous building in the center that dwarfs everything else is new since I was here briefly 4 years ago.  It’s called “The Shard”, and simply dominates the skyline.  Broken foot or no, I need to get down to see it.

I got my Chinese food and wobbled back to the house (stopping to sweat every block or so) where I discovered my hosts have a lovely back yard / garden area which proves to be perfect for enjoying a bit o’ chicken-n-broccoli.

While tucking in (see, I’m already picking up the London vernacular), I heard a surprised “Oh, hello!” with a strong English lilt to it. Looking up I saw a head of colorful curlers suspended atop a woman, perhaps in her 60’s, looking over the fence at me, much like Wilson from Home Improvement.

wilson
Though not nearly this close.

We ended up having a lovely little conversation, similar to the following:

“Are you moved in then?”

“Oh, no I’m just staying with my friends.  I broke my foot so I’m staying here to heal up”

“Oh, I see!  Well, you’ll be a proper nuisance then won’t you?”

“Er, yes, I suppose so…”

In addition, I should point out you haven’t experienced adorableness properly until you have a 3-year old boy with a budding English lilt tempered by a bit of German accent as well (Baylor speaks mostly in German to him so he can grow up bi-lingual), come up and ask you:

“Kodey, would you like a cup o’ tea?”

I’m not sure there’s anyone out there who could turn that down, even if drinking tea gave you hives and projectile vomiting.  Simply crushing with cuteness.

Tomorrow I’ll see how May Die performs, whether the waiting times are as legendary as expected, what an American in London can expect to pay for health care, and more.  What fun!

One Legged Wonder

Over the massive speakers comes the sound of YMCA.  Yes, by the Village People.

I’m in Barcelona.  At a packed club. It’s 2013.  YMCA? How (why) is this happening?

Also, why am I dancing on the elevated stage with my crutches held above my head?

– let’s back up.

The past three days have been a lesson in slowing down.  Hobbling from one room to the next, learning to use crutches for the first time has been a lesson in how weak my hands and arms are.  Two blocks to the cash machine leaves me sweaty and sore.  Shopping is a fresh challenge: I can’t hold a basket because I need both hands to use the crutches.  Mind you, these are hand-only crutches (called forearm crutches, I guess), apparently Spain doesn’t believe in the ones that go up to your armpits.  Thus: the hands and arms bear all 200 pounds of me on every step.

My days are spent with my leg propped up on chairs (or pillows if the couch is free).  I read more than I have in recent memory: blogs, news, stories.  I write in my always-in-progress novel, rewriting the first 2 chapters again, finishing a third, planning the fourth.  I listen to music.  I go to bed early.

However, by Saturday I’m feeling more confident with my crutches.  With help from Hook, another Aussie friend from the hostel here, I purchase enough groceries to make a large stir fry for dinner.  I offer others in the hostel to have some.  Hook and I eventually get caught up in a late-night game of “King’s Cup” with 11 other travelers.  If you have no experience with this, it’s basically a massively dangerous game where cards are picked up by person after person, and each card’s face value corresponds to an action (where action translates to: somebody in the circle will have to take a drink.  Or 12).

At one point in the game a rule has been made (anyone drawing a 10 makes a new rule) that nobody can speak in their own accent.  Penalty for failing this: you must take a drink.  We have a Brit speaking with a French accent, an American girl trying a bit of cockney, A Turkish girl taking far too many drinks because she can’t seem to remember to speak with an accent, a Mexican girl staying very quite, and a crew of Canadians and Australians leaping boldly between southern, Irish, Scottish, Russian, and Jamaican.

One of the hostel employees comes to inform us we are being far too loud.  It is, after all, 1 in the morning now.  The yelling dies for about 2 sentences, then resumes its full cacophony with Irish yelling over Jamaican over Russian.  Turkey looses the game by drawing the last king and has to drink the cup at the center of the table.  The table is littered with drained bottles of wine and cans of cheap beer.

I produce a black marker and prop my cast on the table: obviously rowdy, drunk people are the right people to sign my cast.  I acquire a well-rendered Trogdor near my foot, some cuss words from the Mexican, a plea to “pray for Turkey” from the Turkish girl, and a diagram of caffeine’s molecular structure from an American MIT biology student, among other things.

At some point, the crew is eager to head out to continue the party on the town.  I pack up my backpack (now my constant accessory since my hands can’t hold anything when I move around) and head to my room.  Hook meets me as I make my laborious way up the stairs and looks shocked “what, man, you aren’t coming out?  You should come out!”.

The following logic, if you can call it that, asserts itself:

Sure I can go to bed and get rested up.  Get an early start on more writing tomorrow.

But this will likely be my last chance to go out in Barcelona.

And wouldn’t it be a good story to be at a bar or club on my crutches in Barcelona?

And life is all about having good stories, right?

Well, at 2 am, this makes perfect sense.  Thus, I find myself in a group of 10 or so people, hailing a cab in the cool night air.  Through lack of planning and coordination, I’m in a cab with only a guy from Kansas and the rest of the people are hailing other cabs. Kansas and I are dropped in the heart of Tourist Barcelona: Las Ramblas. He’s never been here, so he is at the mercy of yours truly; the One Legged Wonder.  Ramblas at night is a gaudy mass of drunken clubbers, people selling cans of beer on the street, neon signs, street food vendors and prostitutes.

I lurch down the street, looking for the club we all agreed to meet at. Through several wrong turns and 2 attempts to ask directions, we discover the club, plus a line of about 100 people waiting to get in. I innocently go to the bouncer, an impressive pile of muscles with a bullet-shaped shaved head, and inquire: “perdon, este la cola para entrar?” (is this the line to get in). Bullet scowls, looks me up and down and says “el club, hay mucha gente. Mucha gente” (in the club, there are many people. Many people). He indicates my cast and crutches. I nod: “si, es no problemo”.

“Quantas personas?”

“solo dos”

He opens the rope and we roll on in. First advantage to being a gimp: cut through lines like butter. I kinda feel like a bad, bad person for skipping the line. But not bad enough to not do it.

inside, there are stairs. Oh so many stairs. One at a time with my lobster-claw crutches, in the dark, dodging other people. The main floor is crowded. American hip-hop blares, green laser lights spray the room with dots. People gyrate. I find that by sticking my crutches slight forward between people, I can easily clear a path. I apologize profusely as I cut through the crowd “Perdon, disculpe, perdon”. It’s too crowded, so we head to the back, and up 2 more flights of stairs. My god, the stairs. My hands are burning from the weight of every step, but we reach the top and we are in a blue-lit room, filled (but not packed) with people dancing, and the sounds of… seventies disco? Madness.

We order drinks. Kansas seems unsure how to conduct himself. He explains they have nothing like this where he’s from. His home town has 2000 people. Oh, my young friend, the things you have yet to see. Our friends eventually join us, but their number has dwindled to just 3 by now (Hook, MIT, and another who I forget…), the rest having fallen to one excuse or another along the way.

When I try to move from one side of the bar to the other, a group of three girls grab me exclaiming about my cast and how awesome it is that I don’t let that stop me from coming out. A big wet kiss is planted on my cheek. Kansas joins in and dances along. Soon he and a blonde girl are paired up. We all end up dancing on an elevated stage (my one-legged ascension less than graceful). YMCA plays.  I grimace at the awfulness.  Regardless: dancing.  Crutches over my head. Balancing on one foot and (gingerly) my cast. Our group disperses (girls go to smoke, Kansas goes somewhere), I ungracefully come down from the stage and make my way back to the bar above the dance floor.

On the way a girl tells me I look like Mathew McConaghuey (ah, beer goggles, what fun you are). She asks me 4 times if I’m straight, implying that any man putting forth the effort to dance with a leg in a cast must, surely, be gay. Despite my assertions she introduces me to her male friend, who kisses my hand. I stumble out my apologies and retire to the bar and the comfort of my hostel crew.

The girls re-appear and sign my cast, naming themselves “Walking Disaster” (a name which I think I could apply to myself, given the results manifest on my foot).   Dancing at the bar resumes.  The short haired girl and her long-haired friend dance around me, blondie and Kansas do some swing dancing. Hook and MIT dance.

Another man comes and informs me, in halting English, that he owns a restaurant in town, and if I want to come tomorrow he’ll feed me for free. I have very little idea what to make of this overture. He continues to point to me and say “only you, only you”. He then gestures to my friends “no amigos, solo”. I thank him for his offer, hopefully politely.

By the time we leave, the sun is threatening to find us if we don’t get home soon; you can see the lightening of the sky on the horizon.  We hail taxis and arrive back at the hostel with little incident. Sleep quickly closes the night out.

Things I’ve learned:

  • One can still have fun at a club even when on crutches.
  • A cast, apparently, makes for a great ice breaker.
  • Dancing with crutches (especially to YMCA, naturally) is a foolproof way to advertise that you are gay.  And nothing you say afterwards will change this.
  • The club “Jamboree” in Barcelona inexplicably plays a long set of terrible 70’s and 80’s tunes.

The results of the night as played out on my cast:

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Please note the expertly rendered Trogdor, and the caffeine molecule.
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Walking Disaster indeed.

About hostels

Before heading out on my grand adventure, I wasn’t sure how I would control costs, especially for housing.  Hotels were right out: if you look into the average cost for a night in a hotel in Europe, you can see I’d quickly go bankrupt).  Besides, staying in hotels leaves you so separate.  You retreat to your fresh linen, 24 hour concierge, and bedside room service.  This is lovely for a weekend getaway, but I wanted to get to know the places I was in, along with the people.

So I signed up for a site called couchsurfing.com.  This is a great idea: if you have a place people can stay and you love to meet new people from different places, you can offer up your couch (bed, futon, whatever) and people can send you messages asking if they can stay with you.  This would be perfect for me: I get to stay with local people and learn the city and culture through their eyes!  perfect!

Well, apparently, there are few limitations to this.  First: many people are offering couches “to women only”.  Seems a bit creepy if it’s a guy hosting, but alright.  Secondly, I think being a large American man, traveling alone, also throws some people off as I sent out a few requests and got no reply.  How are they to know I’m not the next great serial killer?  The few replies I did get were either off on their own trips, or already hosting people.  So I hear couchsurfing.com is awesome if you are a young female.  I’m pretty far removed from both those descriptors.

So, eventually I found another site: airbnb.com.  Excellent and highly recommended.  The way this works: you have a room that you aren’t using, you can put it up on airbnb for rent.  Someone traveling in your area can rent it (for a day, a week, a month, whatever).  You get extra income, they get a place to stay and a local to talk with, everybody wins!  My experience with this in Mexico was fantastic, and in Madrid was pretty good as well.

However, since leaving Madrid, I’ve been staying in hostels.  Now I had some dire warnings about hostels before embarking on this trip:

Hostels can often be located in sketchy neighborhoods

sketchy
Doesn’t breed confidence.

The insides can be a little rougher than you might be used to

DIY
You need to make the bed before sleeping in it. Enjoy your stay.

And some hostels will try to attract you with somewhat questionable features

At no extra cost!
Also included: air.

Lastly, it was very clear to me that I would be the absolute oldest person in existence to ever set foot across the threshold of a “youth hostel” (named such for a reason, doncha know).

My experience so far:

First hostel in Seville: Backpackers Triana.

  • Clean and very well run, with people that were bi- or tri-lingual.
  • Amenities included a rooftop deck complete with hot tub.
  • Cost: 11 euro per night.
  • Bonus: in the 6-bed dorm I was in, I was actually the youngest person.  Craziness.

Following such a successful stay, I had to try again.  So, I drove to Malaga for the day, then to Granada for the night.

Second hostel: Granada inn backpackers (I figured it might be related to the one in Seville)

  • Clean, new, and HUGE.
  • One of the employees took everyone out for a “tapas crawl” on the city.  Excellent way to get to know everyone.
  • Cost: between 12 – 15 euro per night.
  • I was, indeed, the oldest person around.  But the young’uns took me in regardless.

So, after another excellent experience, I tried again in Valencia, to even better results.

Purple Nest Hostel, Valencia

    • Again, very clean, modern, and professionally run.
    • Super close to great nightlight, the “city of arts and sciences”, core downtown, parks, everything.
    • Cost: 15 euro.
    • Bonus: common area with beer taps, wine on sale, and major cooking events each night. Cue giant pan of paella:

WP_000917

Lastly (so far): Barcelona. I stayed in the sister-hostel of the one in Valencia, Yellow Nest:

  • Super friendly staff, regular nightly activities.
  • Excellent crowd of international travelers eager to make new friends and go out exploring.
  • Cost: between 13 – 18 euro.
  • Bonus: Movie room, from which we watched the European Futbal Final, as well as nightly movies for whoever doesn’t want to partake in the madness / drinking games / music sing-alongs going on in the common rooms.

In addition, I’ve found that cooking large meals in the common kitchen with a bunch of new-found friends is a pretty great wrap-up to the day.  In Barcelona we have 6 people and rotated responsibilities for a few nights, so you always get a surprise, or when it’s your turn you get sincere thanks and appreciation for what you provide.  Great atmosphere.

So, down sides to staying in hostels:

  • You are going to be sharing rooms with people.  This means snoring is inevitable.  As is people stumbling in drunk at 3am (or later).
  • Showers can be hit-and-miss.  Some are great, many employ various water-saving methods that can be annoying.
  • If you are over 30 (or in your mid-40’s like me) you WILL be with powerfully young people most of the time.  This can be good!  Can also be… odd.  Your mileage may vary.
  • Not everyone in the hostel will be awesome.  But that’s true pretty much anywhere.

So, in conclusion, I have to say that hostel stays have been absolutely fantastic for me.  If you are traveling in a manner where you don’t want to meet new people, have a rigid itinerary, or really REALLY need all the comforts of a 5-star hotel, by all means avoid the hostels.  If you are open and flexible and love meeting new people, then you really can’t go wrong with hostels (at least from what I’ve seen in Spain).  Perhaps I’ll have worse experiences as I head north, but so far I’m sold.