Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Into the World of Ska

About a week ago, I noticed a strange bit of the USA plastered on the walls of INSA. It was a poster for the band Streetlight Manifesto (pictured to the left). It was nice to see that there were fans of the band in town, and I reminisced on that time about a year ago when I was going to see them in San Antonio with my friend Chris but decided instead to put my 8 hours in at work and have a relaxing evening with my girlfriend.

So asking if I'm a fan of Streetlight Manifesto is kind of like asking some random person on the street if they're a fan of the mayor. Sure, maybe they voted for him, know his name, heard of a few things he's done. But really ? their feelings are not that strong. I suppose the term «familiar» comes to mind. But sure, Chris really likes them and I've always wanted to experience a new type of show.

And this is when I realize that no only are there posters up promoting the band, they are coming. to my school. in France. for 4€. omgwtf.

As it turns out, Streetlight Manifesto concerts are amazing. So I decide to go. Seriously... 4€. where can you wrong?

So the night of the concert comes, I buy my ticket they write «NTL» on my hand (i don't know why). And I'm with my friend Nathan who is a huge Streetlight Fan. Far more than I in any case. And he is pumped because he just got over a cold just in time for the concert and he's got 2 half-liters of Kronenbourg in his hands. He's just ready to party.

The first opening band goes on. They're called Defy Control. They're punk, they're sound is a little too thin for my taste, but they're decent. I meet them after they go on and they say they're from Portugal. Pretty cool.

So the next opening band goes on. They're called Charly Fiasco and they are French. Wow what a difference it makes. Suddenly there's energy in the crowd. Not too much dancing going on, but a respectable amount of head bobbing.

They sound a lot like Green Day, which is to say, simple, sweet and pretty good. I liked them and enjoyed their show quite a bit.

And then the main attraction comes on. That space you see at the front of the stage gets filled and the party really starts. Now I had no idea about this before. Being a frequenter of more indie concerts that attract the kind of people whose dancing tops off at the headbob and foot tap move, I really had no idea how much fun a crazy (slightly drunk) energetic and happy crowd could be. What. A. Blast.

It was amazing. The music was energetic and lively, the technical difficulties were charming, the moshing was quite enjoyable, the crowdsurfing on a crowd of only ~50 people was ridiculous and awesome. I had no idea.

And for the fans of Tomas Kalnoky out there. Who knew he looked so much like Charlie from Lost?

Monday, March 9, 2009

They Came Back

For those who haven't been following, about a week ago, two french hooligans/vandals came to my window, pulled my hair and beat in my window... you can read about it in the previous post.

Well, they came back. To be clear, it seemed to actually be someone else who came. But they attempted to do the same thing, break in my window. It went something like this.

The Phon and I were hanging out in my room after deciding to not go party downtown with the other Americans. We started watching the HBO series True Blood (which I quite enjoyed despite it's unnerving similarities to Twilight). After watching the first two episodes, The Phon decided he'd had enough and left to go to his room, so I started watching the third episode by myself.

I got through about 10 minutes before I heard a sound. Now this wasn't too weird, because I hear weird noises all the time. They're very deliberate and usually consist of someone using a hammer or slamming a door. But this time it seemed eerie... close.

And then I realized someone was ripping out my blackout blinds!* I saw half of them fall off and I freaked out. I ran out of the room and I heard loud banging noises all the way from the hallway. They're trying to get into my room! Eventually, I went back into my room, turned on the light, grabbed my cleaver and went to the window and before I got there, the guy had run off. I heard what I would imagine to be "he's here? run away!"

I called the police, but they decided to not do anything since the guy left. I decided to spend the night in The Phon's room (taking my valuables with me). When I wake up, I made my way to my room, and I run into the maintenance man outside of my window looking at it. He helps me out to clean up and patch my window.

So now I'm scared of my room... since there are no blackout blinds (so people can see into my room), there's a hole in my window so sound gets through easily, and there have been 2 attempts to burgle my apartment. Bleh... I think I might try to move.

*For those who have not heard of them, they are blinds that roll down on the outside of your window and are able to block out all light.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

So... That's the French Police

An event transpired this night.

A sickly young asian-american sitting in his apartment in France was watching an episode of Fringe when he heard a knock at his window.


standing up to go see who it was, he found that it was two boys who were unfamiliar to him. he opened the window to see who it was
Immediately one of the boys jumped up and grabbed the young man's (finely taken care of) beautiful black locks. On this cue, he closed the window and the other boy outside the window retrieved a bottle that resided on the window sill and repeatedly smashed it into the window, shattering glass and spreading it around the room.

After the ordeal had taken place, the young man phoned the police to realize that the police only speak french. He attempted to portray the event to the policeman on the phone to no avail.

Eventually, after a quarter of the Americans who were in France with the young man passed through the apartment and he found a convenient neighbor to help him out with dealing with the cops. And everything went smoothly.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


To those who follow our blog, I thank you. But to explain as to our whereabouts the last week or so would require a much longer entry than I am going to place here. But know that both Michael and I are doing well and that we have arrived at INSA-Toulouse and are getting along relatively well. Procuring internet has been somewhat hellish since arriving, only being able to receive a connection in the bitter cold outside of the random office of a club. Know that we have, however, now procured an internet connection and will be filling everyone in on the happenings from the last post made to now. Merci.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Uh Oh!

Arrival al'arrabiata

Debark. Baggage claim. Rejoice, a new currency!

Transportation is closed. Taxis line the road by the exit.

Signs proclaim: Thirty Euro, anywhere inside the Aurelian Wall!

Drivers disagree, claim fifty. No beds at the airport.

Offer forty, the cabbies hide in the cabby cave.

Close eyes for five seconds. Open eyes again.
Still no beds at the airport.

Part with 50 euros, nearly our lives. They drive just like I was afraid they did. Their fear lies not with the rain.

It is awesome.

"You know cops? Poleezmen? You know, BAD BOYS BAD BOYS NA NA NA NA NA?"
"Yeah, cops, yeah..."
"BAD BOYS BAD BOYS... it's like cops, but there are no cops! HAHAHA!"
proceeds to drive across Rome in the manner of a suicidal carrier pigeon

We drive past the hotel and begin to check for addresses. Hotel is on a one way street.

Cabbie has a deeper understanding of what one way means. One way means the car has to point the same way as the arrow. High tails it in reverse for about half a mile to the front of hotel.

Bags are unloaded. Stomachs settle. Arrangements are finalized.

There is a neato elevator. It fits 3 people cozily, and once it's on its way somewhere, the carriage never stops until it has dropped off eager passengers.

Our room is very nice. There is a fold out bunk bed. Also very neat. That and a king sized bed. Everyone's comfy. Dormerunt.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009



Day 1

London is easy to get around. Maybe a little too easy for us aspiring world citizens.

The tube, London's subway, has a major junction just two short blocks from our hotel. We could get anywhere in the city with half an hour and four pounds sterling. So naturally, the first thing we do is wait around for an idea of where to go.

The only thing that materialized from the thin air at this point was rain, so we decided to head to what turned out to be a very logical starting place: Parliament.

It was a curious experience walking out of the subway. The only thing we could see through the stairway back to the surface was a wall of the Parliament building. Strange to see some of the most recognizable and iconic architecture in the country, the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions London, through a modern, crowded concrete hallway underground.

I didn't realize that Big Ben was attached to the building, so that turned out to be a nice surprise. Of all the landmarks I'd wanted to see, I had completely forgotten about the mighty clock. We took some pictures, Bryant naturally showing Kyle and I up with his photography prowess (and superior camera).

We walked around Parliament building, and there's an awesome statue of Oliver Cromwell with some lions at his feet. Bryant and Kyle were like, "Yeah that's cool I guess..." That's about when I came to terms with the fact that my job in the group is to make people slow down and look at stuff. Nothing you can say will make me take this incredibly important job lightly. Parliament is surrounded by a bunch of pretty buildings, and across the street are Westminster Abbey and a little green with a bunch of statues of former prime ministers. Winston Churchill is a scary looking guy. He's about twice as broad shouldered as anyone else on the green, and a good 5 inches taller. I wish I could have taken a picture with his bronze likeness. I don't think he was smoking a cigar. Nobody else wanted to go visit the prime ministers, so we headed to Westminster. Photo op out front. We enter the famed landmark, where no photography is allowed. I think Bryant and Kyle got bored pretty fast, but there was so much to see. Many tombs. I mentioned Sir Isaac Newton's memorial was somewhere in the Abby, and we kind of split up for a while. I tried not to miss any tombs. I think the whole idea is kind of morbid, or I used to, but the artistry and the history is so amazing... Bryant got really excited in Poet's Corner, where Handel is buried. I tried my hand at translating the Latin epitaphs, but most of them were kind of difficult to translate, especially without knowing any of the words on them. Quite difficult. The most interesting thing... I'll spare ye the nerdiness.

Newton's tomb was in the Sacristy, the last room we visited, and as soon as we saw it Bryant and Kyle wanted the heck out of there. We found some musicians's and composers's tombs in there too, but that only bought me another five minutes. Like I said, I'm kind of a drag. We left, were forced through the gift shop to the exit (they think they're sooo much better than us over here, don't they... and a church!)

Once we made it outside, we stopped for lunch at a little restaurant. A weird half Italian half English place. Let's consider that English is a dominant trait for suck when it comes to food.

Bryant and I ordered fish n' chips. The national delicacy. Shouldn't matter where you order it for two reasons:

  1. It is deep fried.
  2. It is the national dish.
Bryant would immortalize the soft outer batter and tasteless fish with a quick turn of phrase:
This tastes like they deep fried it, left it out for a day, and popped it in the oven.
From there, we headed to Trafalgar square for no particular reason. Passed some horse guards, but the horses decided to hide when it started raining. I don't know what's so famous about Trafalgar square, but there's a Canadian and Malaysian embassy there. And a giant statue of Lord Nelson on a giant column surrounded by giant lions. I think they liked that guy better than Oliver Cromwell. From there, a left through some really fancy looking arch/gate thing towards Buckingham palace. We took shelter from the rain and cold in some museum for contemporary art. It was very contemporary.

Then we went to the palace and headed home. Guns are strictly against the law here, but the palace guards, dressed in gray for the winter, were packing some serious heat. But it was still cold outside.

Day Two: In which they visit the Tower of London and go shopping. Some come out ahead, some behind. There is also shopping.

We awoke early to meet up with my cousin Rosie. She is studying abroad at the London School of Economics, where, she says, they love to fail Americans.

The Tower of London is old. It is a castle. It is inhabited by Yeoman Warders. It is also where the crown jewels reside. Yeoman Warders. The name is awesome. The clothes are awesome. They are also great comedians.

"This used to be called the Water Gate. You see, Americans, WE HAD IT FIRST!"

That's about all I can remember. But some of it was actually funny. There is a museum full of armors of kings and the growth of the Royal Armory. And Henry the VIII's armor has some special ...enhancements... yeah.

We left the tower. Kyle, Bryant, and I went out to lunch at a chain shop,
and we headed to Leicester Square next, home of a few video casinos and Chinatown. I do not have a gambling problem, so Bryant came with me into the first casino we saw. All video poker and video slots. Video poker is evil and lies. We left and went into a more real looking casino, including bouncer. I don't think I have ever felt more like the rich evil guy in a cop movie than I did walking down the glinty silver hallway into that place. It was so flashy that seedy was the only word we found to describe it. They said they wouldn't let us in unless we registered since we were under 21, so we left there too and headed to Chinatown. Zillions of pretty lanterns hung across the avenues. It smelled delicious. So we went into another casino, this one with video roulette.

Kyle does not like casinos anymore. They are not nice to him. Bryant had fun, set a budget, and walked out alive. I would not leave until I had won some money. See? No gambling problem. Now, Roulette, like all casino games, has a house advantage, usually one or two spots that aren't covered by bets that would otherwise be 50/50. This video roulette was at least 3 times worse since it had some magic squares that ALWAYS lose (unless you hit one twice in a row, then you win 10 pounds). Those started to piss me off. Another wonderful thing about these video machines is that it says, plain as day, that the odds change based on prior play.

I'll let that sink in.

It is already stacked against us. It will look at your betting pattern and try to beat you. Not all the time, but just enough to take all of your money. Somehow I ended up a pound ahead of where I started and we hightailed it out of the casino and down through the appetizing avenue of Chinese goodness (With a few patisseries thrown in for good measure). Kyle is not a huge fan of Chinese food, but needless to say the decision had been made. We'd come back here for dinner tonight, once my cousin was out of class.

From Hanging out with Roe
Nextlyward, we headed to Camden Town. Shopping. Touristy shopping. There is a hemp store there. I accidentally bought a bowler hat for 10 pounds. The guy thought it was a serious offer, went and asked the store manager if it was ok, and sold it to me. Manager glared at me the whole time I payed for it. (It was apparently marked for 25). Bryant still wasn't happy with the deal I got, saying I could have gotten it cheaper in Thailand. I gave Kyle the UT hat I had been wearing. We couldn't have looked more like tourists if we were carrying a sign. Bryant appeared to be let down by the hemp store, so we wandered around until dark, when we went back to Chinatown to meet up with Rosie. We found a restaurant with more guidebook recommendations than Din Ho and went in for food. Atmosphere was nice, they gave us tap water which was superb and wonderful in so many ways (have to buy bottled water at most places it seems) and the food.... tasted like pretty much everything else in England. And so we made a pact.

The four of us had to get the hell out of there. First thing tomorrow morning, there would be a new diaspora, a quest for new sights and bearable tastes. We would make no compromise, and leave no rock unturned: we would find something edible, no matter the cost... We would head to Edinburgh, far to the north. Home of the one English speaking delicacy that was strange enough to still have hope, terrifying enough to draw us together: Haggis.

Edinburgh, Journey To, Happenings In

Day One

Trains are great when they run on time. Much less stressful than planes. Big windows to take pictures from, even if, despite extreme speed and sparse placement, the only damn thing you can get a picture of is the electrical pole right outside the window which must be visible for oh, about a quarter of a second every 5 seconds. Some adorable little seaside towns out the window, too. No pictures though. Only pictures of electrical poles holding up the electrical wires to run electric trains on the tracks where our diesel train cut its way through the peaceful, gloomy countryside.
It was a very pleasant trip and everyone enjoyed it.

We got to the train station in Edinburgh, walked to our hostel about a block away, dropped our stuff off, and walked about half a mile to Edinburgh castle. I'm not going to try to describe it. Pictures are all that will do it justice. There is a WWI and WW2 memorial inside where photography isn't allowed, and it was a pretty neat (if somber) place. We had to rush through as we got there only an hour before closing, but I think we did alright. I also locked my cousin into a cell in the dungeon (working doors, working bolts! HA!)
Then the time came to open it up and uhh... Well, at least we could communicate through the peephole.

Lesson learned: Just because you can close and lock a 100 year old door doesn't mean you SHOULD close and lock a 100 year old door. After what seemed like about 5 minutes but must have been more like 40 seconds, Bryant and I managed to pull the bolt open again and let her out. That was almost an exciting incident. We went back out of the dungeon and were herded immediately out of the castle by a Scots Guard who was yelling to anyone who would listen and had a penchant for understanding thick Scottish accents:

"Castle's closed, Army's taking over, Real guns, Real bullets, Real bayonets and Real soldiers!"

Definitely rehearsed. I heard it behind us at least 5 or 6 times as we walked out.
We left and headed down the Royal Mile, a night life district leading up to the castle. It was food time, and time to begin our search. Rosie had heard there was interesting stuff down by the harbor, so we headed that way until interesting shops ran out and we decided to turn back. We got a recommendation for the best restaurant in the area, turns out to be on the Mile, so we split into two groups, Rosie and me vs Kyle and Bryant, and raced back on two different routes. Bryant and Kyle found it first, but we couldn't go because it wasn't open for another 2.5 hours. We stopped in the nearest pub and ordered dinner. Bryant and I once again tried fish n' chips, and the four of us ordered a tiny haggis appetizer to test the waters. Fish n' chips was better, but still left a "why is this so popular?" feeling on the walls of my stomach, along with about a quart of oil. The haggis, on the other hand, was delicious. Kyle wasn't much of a fan, but Bryant, Rosie and I devoured the tiny plate. After dinner, the four of us headed back to our hostel. St. Christopher's is a chain of hostels, all of them reportedly quite nice. Ours was above a bar and a half (one for bar customers, one for people in the hostel--guess which one was larger). We had a room to the four of us, which was nice because we didn't have to worry about our stuff. We hung out at the hostel for a bit and then went to a guided tour called City of the Dead. Several horror tours of the vaults underneath Southbridge street were available, but we wanted a more history-y one. Not sure if ours was more history-y. It had some history, but was definitely geared towards the supernatural. Followed the guide around, got confused as to the origin of the Kilt (Kyle got to play Sir Walter Scott in a skit, to his chagrin) and went to some vaults while the guide tried to convince us of the supernatural and that there was gonna be some craziness going on near the end of the tour. There was, but it wasn't supernatural. It was Ted, and they payed him a Tenner to do that. But seriously guys, the point is that life down here kind of sucked and there was really a lot of negative energy.

We headed back to the hostel, scaring Rosie with sudden movements (she apparently had let the tour get to her) and went to bed.

Day Two

There was this really pretty mountain we saw from Edinburgh castle, right across the way. It is called Arthur's Seat. We climbed it the next day.
Through screaming winds and treacherous paths, we climbed. Even when we found ourselves down nearly to the bottom midway through our trek to the top we climbed. Even as toddlers raced their way down the uneven, rocky stairwells at breakneck speed, we kept our wits about us and dammit, we climbed!

Sometimes the wind was so strong I was afraid it would blow me right off the side of the mountain, but luckily it never did. The top was extremely rewarding, and we have pictures! YAY! It was a good climb, took us about an hour to the top at a leisurely pace. The way back down the mountain turned out to be far more treacherous. Though the slopes on the other side were far more gentle, and few falls would have really been terribly fatal, the trails were muddy and slick. I am proud to say that I have obtained a rare piece of footage depicting Bryant, Kyle, and Rosie all falling over at least once. Interspersed with this footage is more footage of nobody falling over and nothing interesting happening at all.

Edinburgh as a whole is a shrine to Sir Walter Scot, who apparently united the highlanders and the lowlanders (citation needed) and definitely wrote some book. He also found the Scottish crown jewels in a chest in the crown jewel storeroom of Edinburgh castle, where they had been hidden, brilliantly, from Cromwell after the glorious revolution. Brilliant guy, I guess. First person who thought to look there, in any case. Tons of monuments to him all over the place.

To the rest of the world, Edinburgh has claims to another significant historical figure. Who also wrote some book or seven. Anyway, we went to the little cafe where she wrote the first three of those books. The Elephant Room. It is cheap and delicious. I ordered a full-on meal of haggis. They had a sale for Sir Scott's birthday--Haggis and 250 ml of whiskey for 1 more pound than just the haggis. That is alot of whiskey. I didn't buy it. The haggis, neeps, and taters looks about as appetizing as a child's vomit, but I can assure you, it tastes so, so, so much better. It's the best meal I had in the UK. After this, we headed back to the hostel since Rosie had to get back to London for her internship. As we walked in, I saw an article in the open paper on the bar: Rowling gets a shot at owning the cafe we were just eating for just 1m pounds.

Rosie left and it was immediately naptime. Woke up, went downstairs for food. Bryant got a Corona, some Australian guy came buy and gave him a funny look.

Aussie: The fuck is that, mate? You're in Scotland and you're drinking a fucking American beer.

Bryant: I can't get it in America
Aussie: That's not the point!
Bryant: Well... it's good anyway.
Aussie: Have you tried anything here?
Bryant: Yeah, I had a guiness last night.
Aussie: Pfft, whatever.
He walks off, we chill, get some food. After a while he comes back with a pint and gives it to Bryant.
Bryant: What's this?
Aussie: Does it matter?
Bryant: I guess not...
Bryant takes a sip
Bryant: Yummmm!
Aussie: See? Now that's real British stuff!
Bryant: What is it?
Aussie: Strongbow Cider.
Bryant: What?
Aussie: Strongbow.
Bryant: What?
Aussie: Strongbow!
Bryant didn't hear him correctly, but realized that this was getting ridiculous.

Aussie: Careful, two glasses of that and you'll be gone...

Three glasses later...

So he only drank one at that point, but I went upstairs to read and when I came back he and Kyle both had another glass by them, apparently supplied by the Aussie, who refused an alcoholic remuneration.

Now, All of this has a point.

Ladies and gentlemen, remember your NHBHBYBFs.


We had it all figured out. Train to London: 1 pound (that's how much a return ticket costs when bought with the initial ticket)

Flight to Rome 2.5 hours after the train is supposed to arrive: 60 pounds.

We find a nice hotel in Rome to go to and book it. We go back to book our plane tickets, and see that in the interim, our plans have apparently changed:

Flight to Rome 2.5 hours after the train is supposed to arrive: 80 pounds.

It's 20 pounds. It makes us start looking for different flights. There's one that leaves at 6 am for 40, but a 4.5 hour train ride to London plus another hour to get to Stanstead Airport (way out in the middle of nowhere) from King's Cross. Trains don't run at midnight. We find the same early morning flight for the day after, Tuesday. We could stay in a hostel over night for about 15 pounds apiece if we went cheap, we'd have most of another day in Edinburgh, and we'd save a ton on the flight since now, 2 days in advance, it would only cost us 24 pounds (plus bag checking fee). It turns out that finding a good hostel with a 1 night stay available (many require 2) and close to a way to get to the airport by 6 am is a logistical nightmare, and not worth however much money we would save. We decide to go with the 80 pound tickets. More expensive, but life is ten times easier. With the next day having been planned, we rest easy. Checkout time is 10 am.

Day Three: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

We figured we'd take the 1030 train from Edinburgh. We'd sleep in, and have the aforementioned time allotted for catching our plane. We'd get to the platform early (Train station had an entrance across the street from our hostel. Excellent Location, Would Stay Again, 5 Stars!) in order to get seats at a table so we could play rat screw and have a nice place to eat and read. This failed. Train was late. Quite a bit late, actually. The 10:30 to King's Cross via Edinburgh made the 11:00 to King's Cross via Edinburgh 5 minutes late. At about 5 after 11, we got on our train, which was basically a madhouse. Brits jockeyed for space. Normally, tickets stick up out of the back of reserved seats Is anyone still reading? Change your Facebook status to 'viva roma!' if you are, ye true defenders of the faith, warders of my heart. so that it's clear where's reserved and where isn't. Due to the train being late, this wasn't the case. We did end up getting to a table, but some dude insisted it belonged to him, despite there clearly being no reservations. He annoyedly insisted we leave. Now, we don't have a problem leaving him his supposedly reserved seats, we're nice, well raised young men. But there's a problem here.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Maybe that's taking it a bit far, but the aisle of the train on both sides of us was completely full. All we could see inside the car facing inwards towards the center of the car. Facing us. Awkward. We couldn't have moved if we wanted to. Eventually the crowd cleared up, and we moved, found 3 pairs of seats near each other and made camp. The engineer cleared up the situation for us as we pulled out of the station. No reservations on this train, sorry we're late. This is due to a signaling error on the control platform at Dundee. Thank you and we're approximately 30 minutes late blah blah blah so there's this town called Dundee up north that's pretty neat I guess. Probably no crocodiles.

I love train rides. Pleasant, and, like so few other things in life, there's no other thing you could be doing at the moment. Plus there's WiFi, so you actually can do just about anything you want unless your laptop is dead and the car's breaker has been tripped and there's no time to reset it since the train is late.

Anyhow, train ride was nice, dominated these jokers at rat screw yet again, got to King's Cross 45 minutes late. I think they let the 11am from Edinburgh in before they let us in as well in York (2 stops before London) so we ended up getting there after the 11. C'est la vie. (I KNOW FRENCH ALREADY! YEAH!)

We figure we have time to visit platform 9 and three quarters, which is posted in King's Cross. Huge tourist magnet, to be sure. We get there, snap a couple photos...

And the BBC shows up.

BBC Dude: You... wouldn't happen to be tourists, by chance?

I am wearing a bowler hat with feathers and carrying 50 lbs of gear.
Me: Uh... yeah, we are.
BBC Dude: Would you mind us filming you taking pictures here?
Me: Sure...

Kyle, always the level headed, wanted to make sure these guys were legit. This thought, combined with his ability to talk to people he doesn't know, allowed us to carry forward.

So we did our thing, took pictures, got filmed taking pictures, posed, posed some more, gave the BBC our cameras to take pictures of us... more tourists showed up and the party grew. We got a group photo with some strange people we didn't know and hightailed it to the tube to catch our next train to Stansted.

We got to the station for that train and found out that it was in need of repairs. No worries, we should still get to the airport with about an hour to spare... It's only about 5 minutes late, we get on, get to the airport in the expected 45 minutes, check in... and that's when things started to fall apart. There is a mob waiting to check bags. Like, way more people than we wanted to be there. Most importantly, we learned that the gate closes 30 minutes before the flight is supposed to leave. It is 5:20. The flight is supposed to leave at 6:15. So, we have 25 minutes in this enormous line to check our bags. I am convinced of two things: We're not gonna make it in time, and the Good Lord will provide.

In this case, the Good Lord happened to be a slightly rotund Italian woman.

It's 5:45. The gate should be closed. There are about 10 people in front of us in line, and we don't even know how far it is to the gate. She calls ANY MORE PASSENGERS TO ROME!?

Hell yeah there are more passengers to Rome. She escorts us to the front of another line and gets our bags checked in. This irritates a small British woman, who becomes vocal. It was heartwarming to see that on both sides of the pond, people can still get upset waiting in line. Universal human common ground.

We ran to security, rushed through. Shoes flew from our feet to clank on the rollers of the security belt. I ran through the metal detector with careless haste, without emptying my pockets. Ran back to the bin and threw change, camera, everything I could reach into a bin. I ran through again, and naturally now I have to be frisked and hand detector'd. Bryant babysits my things as he comes through the checkpoint and I get felt up by a Scot. I grab my sweaters, wrap them around my books, and dash off. Through some miracle we got through security with all of our stuff. Bryant saved my ass by picking up a bunch of stuff I'd left behind.

There is epic chase music playing right now.

Hallway after hallway after food court stretches out before us. The gates are impossibly far away. This airport is ridiculous. There are signs outside of security that say '12 minutes to all gates.' By simple luck, our gate is the closest one, gate 40. We dodge through amblers biding their time. How inefficient, arriving early for their flights! The gate must be close, here is a glass hallway! Another, surely it must be here! Ah, a stairway! I see the gate! Nearly out of breath, I dodge under the line marker in a baseball slide and pull out my boarding pass from under my arm with my books. The gate checker gives me a funny look. I had just handed her my bookmark. Pro.

Bookmarks don't work as boarding passes these days I guess. I gave her the real thing, ran to the tarmac and shuffled to the back of the plane under the watchful gaze of our Irish head flight attendant. Kyle had beat us there, and Bryant was close behind me. We buckled up and hunkered down. Time to fly. I never even had time to be excited that I got to be on the runway with the airplane and get up close to it.

The last passenger showed up about five minutes later.

Uneventful flight. They sell toys and phone cards and food. I ate some mars bars, Bryant had some Pringles, Kyle roughed it. We hadn't eaten since Edinburgh, and it was about 8pm. We landed in Rome and I got to be excited, and I took a picture of Bryant debarking the plane for the second time (he thought he left his hat) before I got caught and they made me put the camera away. We caught up to Kyle, once again our trusty spearhead, and walked into the airport to get our fates and our passports stamped.