The misadventures of an American tourist
May 30, 2012 • Amber Lee Carnahan, Staff Writer
Filed under Feature
Landing at Cardiff Airport in Wales, anyone who saw us would have been convinced that we were gypsies ready to take up residence in their backyards, not knowing we were something much worse than that – American tourists.
My troupe, consisting of Michele and Eric Metzger, their young children Andrea, four, and Ryan, one, my mother, Kim Carnahan, and myself, arrived in Cardiff on Sunday, April 22. Back in America it was still only Saturday. The time difference is a pain, isn’t it? It would be much easier if long ago all the countries would have gotten together and decided on one time zone. That way there would be no such thing as jet lag.
Customs was quite an experience. It took us about a half hour just to get through their security questions, the whole time Andrea and Ryan were running through the rows. Yes, we were a security threat, alright. First they asked us why we were in Cardiff, and we told the woman because of a wedding. Why was the wedding being held in Cardiff? My mom and I didn’t have a clue. We told her we were just coming along to help watch the children. The lady then proceeded to ask why the parents would need help watching only two children. After we thought about it, it probably was a bit odd that two adults needed another two adults to watch two toddlers. Perhaps it would have been best if we had just pushed the kids toward her and said, “Here, you give it a go. Come back when you’ve had enough.”
This trip was my first big trip out of the States, not counting my one day trip to Canada. My mom was very excited for me to get my first stamp in my passport. She was so eager that she asked the customs worker if she was going to stamp it.
“When I’m duly satisfied,” was her response. A maybe wouldn’t have sufficed?
All worked out well in the end and we were deemed safe and let through to the baggage claim. All the other passengers had already left, and there sitting in the middle of the room were our twelve bags, not counting the carry-ons each of us brought. It took the help of four security guards for us to just get out the door.
A short time later we were picked up by Michele’s brother Phil, whose wedding we would be attending in the coming days. He and his fiancée, Samantha, loaded our luggage into the backs of their cars and we were off to new adventures.
My mom and I drove with Phil and got to experience the strange driving habits of Europe. It was like we opened a doorway into a parallel universe where everything is opposite. It was an odd feeling to drive on the left side of the road.
“Someone one day decided to paint zigzag lines on the ground and call it a road,” Eric said later.
It would be very confusing to have to drive in the United Kingdom. I spent nine days there and I’m still not sure how the roads work. One moment there’s two lanes going in opposite directions, and then a moment later there’s four all going the same way. Where the other cars going the opposite direction drive I’m still not sure.
The day after we settled our stuff into our apartment in Cardiff, Michele, Eric, my mom and I left for London to spend three days of relaxation – or at least it was supposed to be relaxing. It was actually very stressful, even with the children in Cardiff under their grandparents’ watch. We learned how to safely navigate the British underground. A blessing we were fortunate enough to have was our London pass, which allowed us to ride the tram without having to purchase a ticket each time.
We also learned the horror of rush hour. The phrase is enough to send chills through my bones. The day we left to visit the Tower of London turned out to be a bad day to ride the underground. The subway was so crowded that I ended up having to get on a car by myself. It wouldn’t have been so bad if only I knew what station we were supposed to get off on. Michelle, Eric, and my mom were in the car next to mine. At least they had poles to hang on to. I barely was able to get on the train and ended up being squashed against the door. Luckily as we neared our destination I caught my mom mouthing the words ‘Tower Hill’ to me, letting me know which stop I had to look out for.
Our living arrangements in London contrasted greatly against our three story apartment in Cardiff. My mom’s and my room was on the fourth floor. It felt as if I lost ten pounds every time I went to my room. Of course, there were no lifts. Just our luck, right? We had to go single file up the stairs otherwise it would have been impossible to even make it to the second floor.
Now, if you’re thinking that after all that hard work just to get to the fourth floor, the room must be pretty nice, then you are terribly wrong. There was hardly room to breathe in that teeny, tiny room. There was room for a double bed wedged against the wall and that was it. The bathroom was even worse. There was barely any room between the shower, sink, and toilet.
“It’s like a one-shop stop,” said Michele after seeing her own bathroom. “The good thing is that I can shower, [use the loo], and wash my hands all in one go!”
Hotel aside, London was lovely. I will always remember to keep to the right when on the escalator or the locals WILL knock you down. But of course they’d be polite about it.
The British are overly polite it seems. Warnings were spoken to you before exiting the subway. “Mind the gap,” or sometimes, “Mind your step.”
“The British are very polite, especially when it comes to their shortcomings,” a friend of the groom’s remarked to me.
I had a lot of experience with this fact during my short stay in London. Whenever I’d try to get directions, a similar response occurred each time.
“I’m sorry, I’m new to the area. I think it might be- you know, I can’t be sure. I’m sorry. Perhaps you could ask that person over there. I am truly sorry, is there anything else I can help with? I am sorry. Have a nice day! Sorry!”
It was nice seeing rude people once I landed in the States again. Who would’ve thought I’d miss the rash American personality? I bet the phrase, “Kill ‘em with Kindness” was made for the British.
London wasn’t the only excitement we got during our stay. The real work began when we returned back to Cardiff. Andrea and Ryan were ecstatic to finally see their parents again. Andrea and I played games the rest of the night.
Have you ever seen little children play games? They twist the rules until they’re in their favor. We were playing Tic Tac Toe, and I was winning. She was getting upset because I would block her moves, so she decided to change the rules a bit.
“How ‘bout when either of us gets a point, we both move up, ‘kay?” said my brilliant four-year-old. Of course I had to say yes.
But the real fun began on the day of the wedding. Eric left early in the morning because he was in charge of getting everything ready and making sure everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing. Michele, a bridesmaid, and Andrea, the flower girl, left a short while later, leaving only my mom, Ryan, and me in the flat. Ryan was so cute in his little tux, all ready to go see his Uncle Phil get married.
We were out of the flat a little after three, ready to be picked up and taken to Caerphilly Castle – then the impossible happened. Our ride failed to show up. We waited for ten minutes before setting off in search of a cab. By the time the taxi got on the road, it was rush hour. Traffic, like in any country, was terrible. For minutes at a time the car wouldn’t be moving at all. It wasn’t any surprise that we were late for the wedding.
Don’t worry, it gets better. The genius taxi driver dropped us off at the opposite end of the castle. Our trio was quite the sight. My mom and I in dresses, pulling a toddler dressed in a tux, every now and then stopping for directions, looked like a perfect image of classic American tourists. Ryan galloped along, having the time of his life. A couple times he’d stop, point at the lake, and yell “ducks!”
We made it into the castle just as the music was ending. Of course, by the time we got there we were exhausted, but at least we didn’t miss the vows. Ryan was a little angel for the ceremony, sitting on my lap and craning his neck to catch a glimpse of his uncle through the crowd.
If I’ve learned anything from my trip to London, it would be that American tourists stick out like sore thumbs. No one had to ask if we were Americans, they would instead ask us what part of the States we were from.
Overall, I was proud to be an American tourist, and I will be ready to face more misadventures abroad when the opportunity presents itself.