Monthly Archives: October 2012

Maybe I’m an Uptight Prude. Or, In Defense of the Chain Hotel

I arrived in London without a place to live, not even a place to crash for a night. It was one of those minor details that slipped through the cracks as I tried to juggle all the balls of a transatlantic move: oh, right, a bed and a roof. Trivial necessities.

I was hoping one of my future classmates who had been in town for a while would magically give me an address  by the time my flight took off (isn’t this what facebook is for?), so I could just step off the plane and into a flat without a single hassle or worry, but surprisingly, that didn’t work out. With my 30 minutes of free internet at JFK I tried to locate a cheap hotel in an area of London I had actually heard of. My incapacity with decisions in 30 minutes or less (I am no Pizza Hut, folks) means my row got called and I still didn’t know where I was going when I arrived (wherever you go, there you are). But I had noticed a disturbing feature in my speedy browsing of,, and shared bathrooms.

A not inexpensive hotel in a first world country, in fact a major metropolitan capital city without private bathrooms? What?

An email from my mother when I landed confirmed my fears: in her research on my behalf, she had also found a plethora of shared bathroom hotels. I trudged hesitantly to the tourism counter in Heathrow, dully certain I could get an overpriced hotel for a few days as I sussed out something better. The man at the counter asked my budget, made some calls, and got me a room close to Victoria Station in Zone 1, a convenient tube ride to school, at the tippy top end of my budget. Without a private bathroom.

What choice did I have?  I was not in a position to negotiate, lugging three suitcases and a backpack, with no sleep and no friends in London to take me in.

The Wellington Hotel (I later found out) is a converted college dorm, which makes sense, and it was generally very nice. Except when I wanted to shower. Or pee in the middle of the night. Which required taking my key card, and where can you tuck that into your pajamas? In your shoes of course, because you have to put on shoes to go pee.

I lived in a college dorm and I’ve stayed in (much cheaper) hostels but I have never seen a shower room with less privacy. There were three stalls lined up next to each other. There was no changing area, nowhere to hang a towel except the wall opposite the shower. And that wall was a good two and a half feet away. So in order to utilize the hook, you had to lean naked out of the shower, either facing an-oh-so-conveniently placed mirror, or, an open window.

But this was clearly no place to worry about modesty, because the doors to these shower stalls were made of glass. Clear glass, not the fancy frosted or textured kind.

Admittedly I never saw anyone in that bathroom. It was however a real treat running into people in the hall in my short bathrobe. But maybe I’m just being a prude? What is the deal with my lifelong phobia of gym showers, camping tents, anyplace where I can’t close a door, be alone, and take off my clothes? Intellectually, I know nudity is nothing to be ashamed of. It is really a big deal?

Yes. Yes it is a big deal. At £50 a night, it is a very big deal.

Also a big deal: in my preflight packing hysteria, I had UNpacked my flipflops, assuming I wouldn’t be getting to a beach any time soon, and I could retrieve them when I came home for Christmas.

Always pack flip flops, kids. Always. No matter what else you leave at home.  Travel lesson number one. (That I always regretfully forget.)

It’s impossible to shave your legs in one of these shower stalls without touching the walls, and I don’t know who else is touching these walls, and with what…

Some people hate chain hotels: they hate the cheap and tacky art, the polyester shimmer of the bedspreads, the sameness and anonymity and anywhere-equals-nowhere-ness.

I happen to like them. Hampton Inns, with their giant buffet breakfast, cheap rates, shower walls that you can be (nearly) positive only your ass is occasionally grazing, and the knowledge that you know EXACTLY what you’re going to get, these are all thumbs up in my book.

Chain hotel uniformity (OR, less pejoratively, their consistency) is still foreign (these are not decorating decisions I would ever make) and they mean I’m not home, which is always invigorating. The neutrality of most hotels, I don’t know why, it feels like a familiar jumping off point into the less familiar. I like it.

Always an adventure, right? After several days I switched to another hotel, in a questionable area, way out in zone three, that cost just as much.

But I had my very own bathroom.



Categories: London, Travel Musings | 1 Comment

I Keep My Eggs in a Drawer Now, But I Still Don’t Quite Belong. And That’s Ok.

I hate the part where I look like a tourist. It’s like I’m doing a waltz – walking five feet in one direction, then back seven in the other, before pirouetting back to an angle slightly off from the first, trying now, finally, to stride forward as authoritatively and nonchalantly as possible.

I want to tell everyone as they pass, scowling at me as I stop dead in front of them: no, no, I live here! I’m not a tourist! I’m just…new. Give me a little bit of time and I’ll put away my laminated Streetwise map, I won’t stare for a full five minutes at an intersection of four roads, desperate for some sort of street sign indicating where I am, I will stop my hesitant pauses in front of untried restaurants.  I’ll turn automatically in the correct direction when I step off the Tube train to get to my connection, rather than becoming a mid-river island, forcing streams of commuters around me as I contemplate which way to go.

Give me another month. Then I’ll know. I’ll be one of you.

But for now, I’m awkward. I’m tentative. I’m foreign, and everything is foreign to me. There’s no grid to follow in London, I’m just a mouse in a maze.

On the other hand, once I lift my eyes out of the map, I keep looking up, up, up.  Tourists are always looking, right and left, forward and backward, absorbing, noticing, wondering at everything. This whole British world is new to me, and I’m seeing things people who tread these streets every day don’t see. The Tube seats are upholstered. They have arm rests. The signs guiding one out of stations lead to the “Way Out” instead of the “exit.” What makes the “American Dry Cleaning Company” American? At the supermarket you can get your “flu jab” – a violently whimsical name, much preferable to a “shot.” Milk is “skimmed” instead of “skim” – and really, doesn’t that make more sense? But keeping my eggs unrefrigerated does freak me out a little – I know my mom will freak out even more. Why do all pubs have an immediately recognizable architectural style? Who decided on that? There are bookie/betting joints on every other street. I guess they like their gambling over here. The Holiday Inn has bellhops in top hats. Why are there so many people drunk between 4-5pm on a weekday?

You can see so much from the upper deck of a big red bus.

London looks oldish and a little worn out, everything is straight-laced and stiff-upper-lippy and yes I’m projecting and romanticizing, but I’m also noticing.

And there is the paradox.

I long for the day I feel comfortable saying, “I live here.” When I can confidently offer directions to those still carrying their laminated maps.

But oh bittersweet because on that day, the world around me will be less shiny, less conspicuous to my overfamiliar eyes. My thoughts will be somewhere else while my feet move over the London pavement, my vision blurred by my inner world, no longer aware of the outer mingling worlds of Edward, Victoria, Gherkin pickle.

And that’s kind of a shame. That’s the price you pay to belong.

As I add streets and neighborhoods and shops to the labyrinth growing in my mind’s eye, London becomes more mine. And at the same time I’m losing it.

It’s like any romance…as I get more comfortable it becomes less sparkly. My heart will palpitate less. I won’t have the giddy butteflies.

I’ll stop shaving my legs every time I go out.

But I will have a sense of stability. Comfort. Belonging.


It’s a tradeoff. The initial bloom fades. But in its place there’s a sturdy tree, to shelter and feed me. And build a tree house that is a place of my very own.

Categories: London, Travel Musings | 3 Comments

The Blog 2.0: New Format, Now with more Britain

Once again John Lennon has me pegged. Life’s what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

I didn’t mean to take a six month break from my blog. I just got involved in…stuff.

Right now I’d like to use the metaphor of being a caterpillar in a cocoon waiting to emerge as a beautiful butterfly.

But I hate butterflies. Seriously.

However, I do feel like I’ve been in a cocoon: reading and thinking and reformulating and agonizing and analyzing and reading some more. I applied to grad school mostly on a whim to move to London and ended up realizing how deeply in love I am with the non-fiction genre. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on, learning and thinking again.

And now I’m ready to write. New adventures are afoot.

I’m in London. For as many times as I imagined it, for as fidgety as my soul was, I never really thought I’d do it.

But here I am. And I am inspired.

I figured after such a long break I might as well pep things up, and thus the new layout and title. While “A Perfectly Glorious Hot Mess” was self-deprecating in an “I’m cheekily embracing my imperfections” kind of way, it suddenly occurred to me I just didn’t feel like projecting that image into the world anymore. I’m not a hot mess, cutesy or otherwise. I’m a lady with ambitions and passions and mad cases of the giggles. Time to embrace THAT.

So Wanderlust and Cupcakes. Because I love to travel. I’m restless, itchy, I need to go and see and seek and open myself to newness, particularly because a lot of the time I hate newness. The world is too big, it makes me anxious and giddy.

And cupcakes. Because I love cupcakes. But this blog won’t be a record documenting my attempts to find the best cupcake in London (though if I find good ones, you’ll be the first to know. Cupcakes seem scarcer in Europe than America, and that is a weighty issue that will require a whole blog of its own at some point.)

No, I mean existential cupcakes. Whatever it is that drives you, that makes you ecstatic, that makes your intensely personal and unique clock tick, bell ring, heart swoon.

A cupcake can definitely do that.  But so can so many other things, and I’m out to find all of mine.

(And before the PhDs among you jump down my throat, I suppose I mean metaphorical cupcakes rather than existential. But I imagine if the existentialists had had cupcakes they wouldn’t have been so gloomy.)

So watch this space. I have about six months of blogs leaking out my ears, begging to be written. London lays at my feet for observing and experiencing.  I already have trips planned to Amsterdam and Manchester. I already have an idea for a book.

So go find and eat your cupcakes and come back and read this and we’ll compare notes. There is so much to talk about.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | 7 Comments

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