Paige gave me fair warning that I had to get up early. Today was our last day in London, and we each had a list of what we wanted to accomplish with our limited time. I woke up at 5:00 and was ready to leave the house by 6:00. Paige was detained my needing to email her relatives (the ones she’d never met) so we weren’t able to leave Sharon’s until 6:30. We walked the two miles to Greenwich, expecting to begin our day buying souvenirs from the antique market we had visited previously. But when we arrived in Greenwich at 7:20, the booths had not even been set up yet. Apparently, the markets don’t begin until 9:00 in London.
The most important mission on my list was to go to Covent Garden so that I could buy my souvenir old-man pipe. It took us an hour to reach Covent Garden by train. (Did I mention that my toe was bleeding? I had worn my flirty dress in Paris the day before and had worn my cute shoes. They were actually the most comfortable shoes I wore the entire time abroad so I decided to wear them again for our last day in London. But I discovered as we walked to Greenwich that my toe was bleeding. Blood was seeping through the peek-a-boo toe holes. Distracting to say the least.) After arriving at Covent Garden, we discovered that the specialty cigar store didn’t open until 10:00. Now, it was 8:30.
So back we went to the Greenwich market where it would be 9:00 by the time we arrived. Paige’s Oyster card ran out of money…again. I’m not quite sure how she kept running out of money, and I didn’t. Paige bought a pretty English tea cup. I contemplated buying a mint-green oil can. (Mint-green is my favorite color right now, if you couldn’t tell.) But I told myself that realistically, what would I do with a mint-green oil can? Besides decoration. Sadly, Paige’s tea cup broke during our adventures of the day, but at least it was a clean break and easy to glue.
Earlier in the week we had bought tickets to ride the London Eye. One of my friends from Belgium told me I had to ride the London Eye, and another friend told me that it was the one thing in London he hadn’t been able to do. I was determined to ride the London Eye for their sakes. Paige had found tickets on her iPod that were far cheaper than the ones I had found on my phone. We got to the London Eye just in time for our 10:45 reservation, only to discover that we had bought the wrong tickets. We had accidentally bought the tickets for the river cruise around London. No wonder the tickets had been so cheap. We got back in the ticket line and explained that we had bought the wrong tickets and were hoping to exchange them, making up the difference of course, for two tickets to ride the London Eye. The English are admittedly not well-known for their customer service.
“Why did you buy these tickets if you didn’t want them?”
“We didn’t mean to. It was a mistake? My iPod is like…this big.”
“I don’t know that I can help you.”
The lady left to talk to another coworker and then she returned. “Next time please read the information more carefully.” Her entire tone then changed to one of honeysuckle sweetness. “Would you like a map of the London grounds for a pound?”
No, we wouldn’t. We wait in line for ten minutes and ride the half-hour long London Eye. Was it worth it? Yes–but only because I still got to buy my pipe. While we were on the ride, I looked at my phone and knew that we could not make it to Covent Garden, buy the pipe, and still catch the 12:32 train, which Paige had told her family we’d be on. We couldn’t miss it. We had no choice. I resigned myself to having no souvenir to bring back to America with me. (I have to be honest. I was so angry I could’ve cried. The one thing I wanted. The entire week I had hinted about going to get it. But now I can brag on Paige. I tried to make it seem like I didn’t care all that much. Her family was more important. But she told me that we could make it if we ran. And run we did.)
As we left the London Eye, this English woman carrying a sign with French on it approached me.
“Excuse me, are you French?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m looking for a French woman. I’m housing her; it’s her first time in London.”
Apparently, I look French.
After that short conversation, Paige began running. Well, jogging for her is equivalent to a mad sprint for me. It was exhilarating to run to the train station. I had wanted to try it at least once before we left. And as we ran, a street filled with guys began cheering and whistling. I have no idea if they were cheering for us, but since they hadn’t been cheering before we rounded their corner of the street, I gladly own their cheering to be for us. We made it to Covent Garden where I tried as quickly as I could to buy a pipe for 20-35 pounds. Did they have a pipe for that “cheap”? No way. Forty-five pounds it was. The precious old man took his time showing me the three varieties of pipes that I could buy for forty-five pounds. I told him I wanted the tall ones. He slowly unlocked the glass case and took down the twirling display of tall pipes. I chose a chestnut-brown pipe. He slowly removed the stem (I have no idea if that’s what educated people call it) and replaced it with a tighter one. I paid for the pipe, and he slowly gave me the change. Paige and I wished that we didn’t have to run back to the train station to catch the 12:32 because Covent Garden was a unique square. I didn’t even have time to stop and take a picture. But we made it to the 12:32.
We traveled to Barnham to see Paige’s family. A man walked through the train asking to see people’s tickets. Paige and I showed him our Oyster cards, which we learned were not valid outside of London. Under normal circumstances, we would have had to pay the twenty-pound fee as well as the twenty-five pound fee for the actual ticket to Barnham. But the man obviously liked us because he only charged us thirteen pounds for a ticket from Three Bridges to Barnham. Paige had told her relative to look for a six-foot red-headed American girl and her sidekick. David found us right away.
David drove us (on the “wrong” side of the road!) to his house to meet his wife. (And with that car ride, I can officially say that Paige and I experienced every form of transportation available in London.) We participated in high tea before we went to meet David’s mother, who apparently is the woman to have started it all. I learned a lot about Paige’s family history that day. The facts are still a little foggy so I may not be entirely accurate with this doozy of a story, but it goes something like this: Many greats ago, there was a family who wanted to go to America. But the husband and wife could not afford to pay for their daughter Rosa to come with them. They left Rosa in the care of her grandparents while the husband and wife sailed to America. They planned to send enough money for Rosa to travel to them within the year. It took approximately ten years to raise the needed funds for Rosa to come to America with an escort. But by that time, the grandparents had decided to keep her in England. After all, they had provided for her all these years. Rosa practically became a slave. Another woman and her son sailed to America in her place. Upon arrival, she told the husband and wife that Rosa didn’t want to come. And thus communication between the two familial sides dwindled. Rosa eventually ran away from the life of servitude and had an illegitimate child. We met Granny, David’s mother. Granny remembers asking her mom about her parents, but Rosa was never able to give any answers. When Granny got older, she asked her son David to find out what happened to her family. Family trees had just become immensely popular in England, and David was able to connect with a company in Salt Lake City that specialized in finding missing relations. Through that agency, he was given the names of potential relatives. He wrote each one and finally hit success when he contacted Paige’s close relative, Marguerite. David and Marguerite swapped pictures, and apparently Granny and Marguerite look almost exactly alike.The families have met a few times at family reunions in Connecticut, but Paige had never gone to those particular family reunions.( I told you the story was a doozy.)
After meeting Granny and looking through the family history book that David had put together for his mum, he took us to the hill where the original family home had been. Now the house is gone, and in its backyard is a horse racetrack. The English countryside is uplifting. I felt like I was flying just standing on top of the hill. Paige’s family fed us, which we were incredibly thankful for since we hadn’t had time to eat all day! While letting our food settle, David turned on the American news for us, ironic and oddly comforting to hear about Hilary Clinton.
When David took us back to the train station to get back to Sharon’s, I remember explaining to him my response to France and my confusion about social decorum, particularly the French boy that made eye contact with me three times yet never said hello. I’ll never forget the utter joy I felt when I saw the English man in front of me almost literally rolling on the floor with laughter. I suppose I should have felt humiliated, but I just felt proud, as though I had accomplished something marvelous.
We almost made it back to Sharon’s without a problem. But we accidentally got on the wrong train to get home. Not horrible. We just hopped off at the next train stop and got on the right train. But I had to include it here. It was the first time we had gotten on the wrong train, and it was our last day in London. Not bad.