On my recent trip, I mastered the art of leaving the airport during a layover. My days of roaming an international departures area for hours upon hours have come to an end. It's not that I didn't think of you as a second home, San Salvador Comalapa International. But you know, "home is where the heart is, and my heart had to roam" (sang Travis).
So on the way to Istanbul I had Dublin. My first time in Ireland, and wow! It was, as you may have heard, green. I had read that getting into the Dublin city center could take 45 minutes and probably 45 euros for a cab each way, so I opted to instead see a little town nearer the airport, Malahide. There was Malahide Castle - again, so much green! - and then actual Malahide was a seaside town where I wandered, visited the bookshop, visited the coffee shop, talked to amiable people, observed all the Irish people doing typical 11 a.m. weekday things like chatting at a sidewalk table, pushing the baby in a stroller, playing tennis, and so on. Then I sat by the sea to write postcards.
There was such a great feel to the place. I instantly wanted more of Ireland, from the second my cab pulled away from the airport. (This could be the danger of leaving the airports, I suppose.) It is also interesting to me to be in a place that feels foreign while still being in English. I like comparing it to how it feels to be in places that feel foreign partly because there is a language other than English. The vast majority of my foreign travel has been in countries with languages other than English. Of course, that being said, Ireland is actually totally bilingualed out. I quickly discovered that all signs are in two languages, English and Irish. Turns out Irish is an official language under the Constitution although it is the first language of relatively few people. The Irish names of towns on road signs and the like seem so charming and poetic to us United Statesians, for whatever reason, with our wistful love of Irish things. But I was so amused by this that I had to take a picture when it came to the H1N1 sign in the airport. I love that the word is "fliu."
On my way back from Istanbul, after Habitat, Tajikistan, mud, travels, Turkey, travails, Dushanbe, Garm, epiphanies, etc., I flew through Heathrow. Again - first time in England. Again - only five hours. Plus, I allowed extra time because it was Heathrow, and I am glad I did, since when I came back through security it was 3 p.m. and there were marauding bands of stroller-wielding flying families everywhere, so the lines took about eighty-five minutes. Anyway, the trick to leaving Heathrow quickly is to take the high-speed Heathrow Express train, which gets you to Paddington Station in central London in about fifteen minutes. It's genius! It also costs 18 pounds each way, 32 pounds round-trip. But I had been pretty careful about my budget, and, like I said, I had never seen London.
Well, now I have! I walked and walked and walked. Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, the London Eye, Houses of Parliament & Big Ben, and there it is - Westminster Abbey! This is when I became sad to not have a whole day or two there, because I would have loved to go inside and see my poets. I consider it a taste of London to whet my appetite.
Around Trafalgar Square there were a gazillion tourists and school groups on field trips, who amused me with their chatter. I was walking down the street behind one group of 10-11-ish-year-olds, and they were babbling with one another("My family's Welsh on both sides. My mom's full Welsh."), jostling, linking arms, when suddenly one of their little friends up ahead came running back saying, "Hey, you know what? That's 10 Downing Street!" and they all were immediately pulled away from whatever they were doing and into this moment at this site. They grabbed their cameras and one child said, "I wonder if David Cameron is there" in that way 'tweens have of saying things to reveal their knowledge which would be really annoying if done by adults.
Then, of course, I rode the Underground, bringing my subway-train-light-rail city tally to twelve. Speaking of Downing Street, remember when we were all led to an insanely criminal war while for some reason England blindly followed George W. Bush as a puppy follows a really twisted, wack-job of a master? Good times.