Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wales: Day 11 (Part 2) Paddington Insomnia

When I left you last, we'd just enjoyed a lovely performance of Henry IV, Pt. II in The Globe during our London excursion. Everything was going according to plan and we were greatly enjoying our visit. Here's where the story really gets interesting. It's long. I know. Oh, don't I know. But worth it. I promise.

We meandered out of the theatre at about 10:40 and began to regroup. Tom had been hoping we could be out and on our way by 10:30 so we could walk along the Thames and see the Houses of Parliament and all that jazz at night, which I'm sure is beautiful. Our train was leaving Paddington for Cardiff by 11:30 and we decided we wouldn't have time. Instead, we walked across the Millenium Bridge.

Let me rephrase that. We SPRINTED across the bridge, yelling "The Death Eaters! The Death Eaters!" or "Avada Kedavra!" over and over, and generally having a great time. By the time we reached the end of the bridge we were breathless and laughing too hard to stand up straight. We continued walking straight to the foot of St. Paul's, which is absolutely beautiful, day or night.

Our original intention was to jump onto the St. Paul's Underground station and ride that around to Paddington. Theoretically, that should have worked beautifully. Effectively, it failed miserably. We apparently missed the turn to get to the station, so we found another station. This station was closed, due to the late hour.

A good thing to keep in mind throughout my telling of this story is that rarely during the entire episode did any of us have all of this information. There are about 30 of us total, walking in a double-to-triple file line along dark London streets. Tom and our adult leaders are in the front, and I was somewhere near the middle of the group, just following like everyone else. So I have no idea why we were walking so far. We're in great spirits though, walking and singing and talking in accents like we do about 50% of the time.

All of a sudden, the gap between me and the feet of the girls in front of me widens considerably. They're running! And shrieking! What the?! So of course my natural instinct is to sprint along after them. This chain reaction is absolutely frantic. We begin sprinting, some of us holding bags, souvenirs, food, and are completely confused as to where we are going or what we are doing. Sometimes we'd turn a corner super fast or slide quickly to the side to avoid fellow pedestrians. At one point I clearly remember the faces of two pedestrians pressed up against the nearest building, looking at us with expressions of absolute terror and confusion.

Can you imagine? A group of 20+ coed girls, running frantically, laughing and screaming through the streets of London in the middle of the night, following a white-haired man at the head of the group. I'm sure it was absolutely ludicrous to them.

After sprinting for a few minutes or so, or after coming up to a street crossing with a light, we'd all stop, crashing into one another, laughing, panting, straightening our hair and clothes. We later found that the first time the spontaneous sprinting broke out, it was because Tom was being goofy (as per his normal interactions with us) and began skipping. The lack of communication and distance between him and the tail end of the group translated to chaos only a few people behind him.

Successive sprints were a result of our unfortunate timing. By this time it was after 11, and we couldn't find an Underground station. The train leaving from Paddington was the last one for the night, and we had no other way to get back to Cardiff. Some real panic set in with our frenzied laughter. Some girls at the back of the group or who weren't physically up to our interval speedwalking and sprinting were pretty far behind us, so confusion was further heightened.

Finally, we find a suitable Underground station. It was approximately 11:22 as we came barreling through the ticket-stands and along the escalators and stairs, once again frightening everyone in our path. I jumped down the last few stairs onto the platform just to see the train doors shut 6 feet in front of me with about 1/2 our group on it. The rest of my half came stumbling down the stairs, red-faced and panting, laughing at how ridiculous we looked watching the train speed away. We thankfully had 2 minutes to sit before our train came, and the rest was welcome.

Our train arrives at about 11:26. We jump on and begin to ride. We had to switch from the Central Line to the Circle Line in order to get to Paddington, so we all prepared to alight from the train and find the nearest portal. We spilled out onto the platform, sprinted up escalators and stairs, across the station and onto a platform, then onto the correct platform, just in time to jump on the correct line. Tom and another student got on another line entirely which might get there before us so he could try to delay the train. Once we were on the Circle Line en route to the station, it was 11:29. I'm sure we looked so ridiculous. Jumping onto the train, sweating, panting, laughing, disheveled and with the nervous tick of constantly checking our watches.

Finally reaching Paddington, we sprinted up a flight of stairs (OW), through the ticket turnstiles and up a ramp, just in time to run up and see Tom standing there, defeated, and no train in the station.

Yeah. We missed it.

Somehow we beat the previous group who got on the subway before us, so they came running up seconds later and we all stood there, sucking air and blinking, as Tom relayed our options.
  1. Wait for the 5:30 am train to Cardiff, so spend the night in Paddington Station, arriving in Cardiff at about 7:30 am.
  2. Take a train leaving in an hour or so to Oxford, then take one from there to Cardiff so we'd be warm and comfortable during the night, but get home later on Thursday morning
We opted to spend the night in the station, so we'd get home quicker and it'd just be easier than getting on and off trains all night. I was really proud of our entire group, because no one complained or got faint of heart. We literally just stood and laughed in amazement at our situation.

The warm interior portion was closing soon (it was 11:50 ish) so we had to chill (literally) on the platform. In an act of defiance, about 15 of us laid on the platform floor, right in the middle, in a circle. Soon Tom joined us and I suggested that we go around and each tell our worst date stories. Everyone heartily consented, and we were off. Everyone was quite giggly and in good spirits, so it was a fantastic discussion. Other travelers walked by with amused and quizzical looks on their faces, and a crazy homeless man took to sitting behind us and mimicking our gestures. At one point, a drunk ginger came and laid down by us and joined the circle. We were laughing so hard, and then when it came to be his turn he began relating his worst date story. As he progressed, I began to anticipate the trajectory this story was taking, and tried to stop him.

SIDEBAR - For those of you who know me well, you will be stunned that I
  1. Knew what he was talking about
  2. Anticipated it in advance and
  3. 3. that I was the one who stepped in to protect the delicate ears of my peers. Ridiculous.
I suggested that his story would be inappropriate for this group, but he blurted out another phrase which was crude and awful, but I don't think everyone understood it, thank goodness. Tom at this point somewhat abruptly told him we were a church group and that he was probably in the wrong place. He left very quickly and failed to hide his embarrassment. Hahahaha

After sharing and bonding, we moved to the metal benches. By this point, it's getting quite cold. The station is more of a shelter and less of a building, and the cold tile floors and metal benches were not kind. Tom ripped up some cardboard boxes to sit on for insulation and cushion. girls wrapped in the scarves they'd bought in the markets that day, and 80% of the group clustered together on the floor to fall asleep around 3 am. Some girls cut up a poncho and used it as a blanket, others wore multiple jackets and pulled the hoods up. We looked straight up HOBO. It was so hilarious.

As for me, I was loving it. We were staying the night in Paddington Station after a crazy, crazy day in London! This was the best story EVER. Who has stories like this? Danica Budge. It was fantastic. I literally did not have a negative thought enter my mind the entire night. I didn't really feel too tired until about 5 am, and didn't try to sleep. I was pretty chipper and social most of the night and I am really glad because I got to talk and get to know everyone much better. My voice was a little worst the next day for it (as you can see in this photo I'm chatting it up instead of sleeping), but it was worth it. While some of the group slept, I talked with Tom, Anna and Zoe about life experiences, books, and movies. It was great!

Around 5 am, we waited anxiously for the sign to show that our train was on time and ready to board. The restaurants started opening so a bunch of us grabbed hot chocolate and breakfast stuff, just in time to finally board our train home! We looked so disheveled and ridiculous, but everyone was positive and happy, so we had a great time. Everyone was quite exhausted and totally crashed on the way home. My friends here were lucky to get a table seat, I had to curl up against a window and woke up even more sore. Sore from walking all day, standing during the entire play, sprinting through London's streets, rapidly climbing staircase after staircase and escalator after escalator, then huddling in the cold, hard train station, it really didn't make too much of a difference to sleep for 2 hours in an awful position against a ledge and window.

Long story short? No. BEST. STORY. EVER.

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