European Vacation

I’ve been able to make three trips to Europe thanks to the generosity of my friends who live in the U.K. – I met C. when he was a foreign exchange student at the university we attended in 1992-1993. C. has always been really good about keeping in touch with me, so our friendship has weathered 23 years with an ocean separating us. He and his family have graciously played host and tour guide every time.

The first time I was there, C. was still a bachelor, and he and his father shared the house in which C. grew up. Unfortunately C. was not able to request time off from work, so his father A. was my tour guide. A. was a charming Welshman who liked one particular pub, so every day, we went to The Cricketers Pub.

It was mostly older, retired folks gathering midday for their whiskey and beer, but I became acquainted with two men who were a bit closer to me in age. One was Michael; I remember he wore a blue and tan sweater and blushed like a choir boy, and I’m thinking he was in his mid-30s. The other was Barry, who was around age 45, and had an unfortunate run-in with burgundy hair dye that he had hoped would make him look younger, but instead gave him an unnatural purple halo. The other regulars at the pub teased him mercilessly.

While the older patrons and I chatted, I tried to draw Michael into the conversation, but with my brash American loudness, I think I might have been too much of a bulldozer for him. However, I discovered that I unknowingly caught Barry’s eye.

The next day we entered The Cricketers, the barkeep held up an envelope and sang out gleefully, “I have a note for you!” That set all of the elder patrons into squawks and chirps – it seems it was the topic of the pub, something to break up the mundane. It was a love note from Barry. He was requesting the pleasure of my company if I had time during my holiday to join him for dinner.

I left A. at his table and went to a shop to purchase blank notes to reply back. When I returned I sat with A.’s cronies and I wrote back to him that I was flattered, but I had a boyfriend and wasn’t available to date, and wished him well. I think the elders were hoping for a little more juiciness. I left the note with the barkeep.

The next day we returned to the pub, and the barkeep waved me over for another note. Barry said he understood that I was not available, but wondered if we could at least be pen pals. I left another note with my address. I did receive a few letters after I returned back to the states, but did not keep up correspondence on my end, so that was the end of that.

By the time I took my second trip, I had relocated to Arizona and had been working at a large international bank for three years. I worked in the tech area, which in 2006 was still greatly dominated by men. I managed to become acquainted with a woman in my area, S. (Her brother is the one that set me up with his work buddy who was still married and tried to assault me on our date.) We became closer when I changed from wearing blonde wigs to dark red ones; she walked past my cubicle and said, “Oh, that one girl is gone, and they hired another one with the same name.” Nope, I was the same person, just a different wig – but that’s hilarious and something she will never live down.

By the time I made it over for this visit, C. had gotten married to his wife E. and they had a little girl together, K.. C. encouraged us to go to the town center and see some live music or whatever entertainment we could find – the next day was a bank holiday, so he expected everyone to be out, even though it was a Sunday evening. He dropped S. and I off and told us to call when we were ready to come home.

We walked up and down the center, but it was very quiet, and most places were closed. We happened upon an old church that had been re-purposed as a bar; we asked the doorman if it was worth paying a cover to enter. He looked us up and down, told us we were too posh for the bug eating contest that was happening, and suggested we try to find a particular jazz bar.

We walked up and down that street and couldn’t find the jazz bar for about an hour until we realized it was closed for the evening. S. and I ended up at a pub, bought one rum & coke (no ice, of course, because Brits do not put ice in their beverages) and then called C. to pick us up. When C. got there he had a loaf of stale bread with him; he said he wanted to feed the ducks and geese while we were down there. C. pulled into a spot by the river and we grabbed the bread and ran down to the edge. By that time we were thoroughly cold and jetlagged, so instead of tearing off nice little hunks to feed the birds at 11 pm local time, we heaved the whole loaf into the river with a loud ker-plunk that sounded like an alligator made a landing. We were ready for that day and night to be over.

During the 2006 trip we also all hopped on a plane to visit C.’s friend J. in the Czech Republic. We planned it so C., his wife E., their daughter K., C.’s dad A., S. and I could spend some time in Prague in addition to being hosted by J. and her little family at their house.

By that time, A. was elderly and had to be pushed around in a wheelchair – no more pub hopping with him. My friends suggested that S. and I run around Prague on our own since it was our first time in that city, and we could meet up later in the restaurant below our hotel.

S. and I signed up for a tour of the palace grounds and cathedral, as we figured it would be a good introduction to some remarkable history. We bought our tickets and sat in a little bus that would take us to our starting point. After we sat, a man with four henchmen entered and sat directly behind me. They all stared openly at me; the main guy leaned forward and asked me where I was from, visibly trying to turn on the charm. I told him I was from the U.S. He smiled and told me he was from Jordan. Then the men rearranged themselves in the bus seats so we were surrounded on all sides. S. and I gave each other side eyes.

When we arrived at the palace gate to start the tour, S. and I lost all of our cool points because we started swooning over the guards. At one point she and I ran over to one who was standing still as a statue and we both attempted selfies without being too invasive. S.’s picture of the guard was of one eyeball and eyebrow, and my picture was of his very perfect lips and cleft chin. We didn’t feel bad about missing our own faces because he was so handsome. Our tour was timed perfectly because we actually got to see the changing of the guard as well.

Our tour guide was a very short German woman who gave the tour in German and English. At that point I remembered enough German to understand what she was saying.

The Jordanian man and his bodyguards became more bold with me. I’m not sure if he was fascinated because I looked to have green eyes and red hair, but he was convinced I was going to be his next wife. The bodyguards started snapping photos of him standing near me. Imagine if you can a very serious Jordanian man photobombing me to make it look like we were together.

S. and I were creeped out. We tried to stay close to the tiny tour guide, but as stern as she was, we knew she wouldn’t be able to physically help us if the bodyguards decided to snatch me. Susan and I linked elbows and kept moving out of the way of the men. Eventually they tired of the cat and mouse game and started mocking us and imitating us with our arms clasped together.

At the end of the tour, the Jordanian man confronted the tour guide and demanded a refund because he wasn’t allowed to enter a particular room in the cathedral. It ended with him being completely nasty to the guide but finally giving up his demand. After that he turned to me and put on his charm and asked if I enjoyed the tour as if he hadn’t at all been unpleasant seconds before. I simply said “yes” and S. and I linked arms again and took off. No one came after us, so we figured he gave up.

At the end of the day we all met up at the restaurant for some goulash. S. and I were sitting next to the window, and who did we spot? The Jordanian guy with the body guards – they were walking down the sidewalk towards the city center. S. and I immediately dove under the table. Our friends were completely flabbergasted and convinced we had lost our marbles. After peeking a number of times, we climbed back up and told our tale. Luckily, we didn’t see that guy any time after that.

S. and I tried to go clubbing in Prague. We left the rest of our friends at the hotel and went to a place that J.’s daughter recommended. We had to take an elevator to the top floor of a building to get to the club. When we arrived, no one was there, and it was approximately 10:30 at night. The doormen gave us wristbands and said we could leave and come back later when it was much busier. We did, but it hadn’t improved when we returned. S. and I decided we just wanted to dance, so we did. Out of the shadows men converged on the outer edge of the dance floor, basically forming a circle around S. and I as we were dancing. After about four songs we got creeped out and decided to give up and go back to the hotel.

After we returned to England, E. and her daughter K. brought us to London for another mini trip. We were one stop away from the infamous Leicester Square. E. encouraged us to go out to the clubs while she and K. stayed back at the hotel. We went to the square and received many solicitations for the various nightclubs, and we finally settled on one. It was the same as in Prague! Hardly no one was there, and when we decided to say screw it and take over the floor, men came out of the shadows and stood around us in a circle while we danced. That was the final straw. S. and I headed back to the hotel.

When we returned to the town where C., E., K. and A. lived, C. offered to drop us off again in the center for one last night out. We turned it down. S. and I agreed that we were not meant to have wild nights out on that trip, no matter how hard we tried.

I returned to England in July of 2012, three weeks before the Olympics. By that time, C. and E. added a son to the family, J. Little J. was young enough that that trip had to be planned around the needs of the family, so there was no chance of me venturing out for some clubbing. At that time I was more fit than I had been in decades. It’s too bad I couldn’t go out and become acquainted with some British future husband(s). It may have been my last European holiday.

Vacations overseas never turn out like they do in the movies, that’s for sure.

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