Two plane rides, a new hat, several shirts, an uncollected Subways sub, some paintballing pain, three books, several new friends, a bunch of photographs, a massive invasion of internet memes, many blisters, lots of beer and even more (free) Pepsi, uncountable hours spent in underground tubes and a remarkably unmemorable episode of Dr. Who later, I have finally returned to the Netherlands.
I say finally, but I never really looked forward to coming back. I downright dreaded my return. Now that I am back, I find myself homesick. As if I’m far away from where I should be and need to get back as soon as I possibly can. It’s a strange feeling to return home with. London might be colorfully grey, but in comparison The Hague feels bleakly colored. I was trying to think of something I had really missed while I was gone and the only thing that really came up were the bookmarks on my computer and the silly images that I still have lined up for future uploads on Tumblr.
So here starts a series of posts about my trip to England, Escapism, exploring London, visiting Sheffield and the long ride back. I’m not entirely sure where to begin. I know it’s common to start with the beginning, but I think I feel more comfortable by going back a tiny bit further. The day before the actual beginning.
The night before leaving I was a nervous wreck. Everything that could possibly go wrong was going wrong in my head. My fantasy world was taking over, assuring me that I probably wouldn’t even make it to England and even if I did somehow make it, I’d probably forget packing everything I’d actually need. It took some time to fight off this feeling, and when I did I packed everything I needed while talking to Sky over Skype. She was packing and worrying as well. The few others that I saw post on Twitter and on The Escapist seemed to be in the same position. Even the ones that already packed or were in the area already seemed to be paranoid about things going wrong.
For the non-Escapist readers, the one thing that pushed me to finally go through with this whole trip was this event called Escapism UK. It’s a meet-up for people who are active members of the community on The Escapist and has a bunch of planned activities throughout the weekend, like paintballing, going to the arcade and general messing around with memes and more importantly, The Game. I think this is the second one, although I’m not too sure. I heard about it last year when I finally started paying attention to the site outside of the video content and wanted to go immediately. Since I didn’t have the money, and the time, and didn’t know the people from the site that well yet, I had to sit that year out. This year though, everything was perfectly set for me to go. Instead of just going for the weekend, I went for a bit over a week. I was in London from Friday until Thursday. Thursday I went to Sheffield because I saw pictures of the area and instantly fell in love with it. It helped I actually knew someone there as well. More on that in a future post.
After packing, I decided to log off from the internet and get some sleep. Or at least, play Dragon Quest IX until I felt tired enough to actually fall asleep. I already had packed my DS, so I had to take it out of my luggage. The next morning came all too soon. I had only slept for an hour. Quite possibly even less. After a quick shower, I got dressed took my things and left the house. It wasn’t until I was in the train that I realized I’d forgotten to pack my DS again. At least I was reassured by the fact that I didn’t forget the damn charger.
I was looking at the outside world while in the train. Trying to get a good last look at the country before leaving it. All I saw was this thick fog. It was so thick it almost felt like I was looking at this thick layer of wool spread over the land. It stretched on forever until it was stopped by what looked like green clouds. It took me a while to realize those clouds were in fact trees. I was that tired.
I arrived at Schiphol around 7am. It didn’t take me long to find the terminal I had to enter my e-ticket codes at. I still find it to be an interesting system. I’m guessing it was invented to decrease the use of paper, yet it seems to have done nothing but increase it.
You get your flight numbers and a bunch of other long codes. Too long to remember from the top of your head. So what do you do? You write them down. If you’re anything like me, you’ll write them in a notebook. I’m guessing some people would put them down in their mobile phones or anything, but I have a severe allergy for those things. Anyway, you enter your code and then you get your passport or ID card scanned. At this point, the machine will either freeze up or tell you it can’t scan your ID. I had the latter of the two, but I saw a few people having problems with the machine freezing around me. Then you enter the code from your ID, the expiration date of the ID, your name, your birthday, your nationality, and your current country of residence. After all of this, the machine will print out your boarding ticket, which includes none of this information.
After that comes the baggage drop machine. You scan your ticket, it gives you a sticker that you attach to your luggage. Then you put it on the machine and it does everything else for you itself. Painless and quick.
Holy crap, I have my boarding ticket and my luggage is being processed already. Why is everything going so easy?!
Next up, I had to show my ticket and ID to customs. They let me pass with barely a second glance. I was perplexed. All I had to do now was locate my gate and wait until boarding time. It didn’t take too long to find it, so I spent quite some time reading the book I was carrying with me: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. If there’s ever any advice I can give to anyone it’s not to read his work when getting on a plane. Or actually, before any big event that could easily go wrong. Especially this one and especially on a plane. If you’ve read it, you probably know why. If not, I’m not spoiling it.
Boarding was interesting as well. Me and all the other passengers spent quite a long time in the seating area waiting for boarding to commence. Right before it started, we all got told to leave that area and walk back to the entrance of it. The reason for this being that the metal detector is right at the entrance. So we had to get up, walk to the entrance, get in line and wait. When boarding finally started, we had to go through the metal detector and then get back to our seats to wait some more. When everyone had gone through it, the gates opened up and we could get seated.
I had some middle seat somewhere with a cute little asian girl next to me that kept falling asleep and leaning on my shoulder. In the meantime, I continued to read Slaughterhouse-Five. I’m not entire sure why, but I always imagined that the plane would just move, and immediately take flight. Instead it was driving along all the runways for what seemed like forever until it suddenly sped up and took flight. It felt like how a rollercoaster slowly makes its way up and then suddenly rushes down. Except instead of down, we were going up. Seeing the country disappearing, slowly becoming smaller and smaller while angles keep changing as the plane moves around was one of the strangest and unnatural experiences I’ve ever encountered.
After the novelty of the idea that I was stuck in a gigantic cylinder-shaped monstrosity with wings that was being hurled across the ocean at breakneck speeds had worn off I returned to my book. Funny how fast one can get used to concepts that, if you’d actually stop and think about them, are absolutely horrifying. The flight was smooth and painless. There was no turbulence. Barely any clouds in the sky. If there were, I didn’t see them. I came across the part about the plane in Slaughterhouse-Five, not a good moment to read something like that. I put it down for a bit, but picked it up soon enough. One hour later, I arrived in Heathrow airport, London.
After picking up my luggage, I walked through the airport in search of the tubes. I had clear instructions on how to find the hostel we were all supposed to meet at for Escapism and intended to follow them. I’d probably be way too early, but I didn’t really care. First I’d find the hostel to make sure I didn’t get lost, then I’d explore the area for a bit.
Following the advice Claire, someone who I was going to meet later that week, had given me, I got an Oyster card and put some money on it. The idea seemed a bit weird though. The Oyster card actually being a good thing? We had the same kind of card in the Netherlands. It’s a complete failure here. Making travel much more expensive and confusing. Then again, it ties in with my city wanting to look like London – they actually made an official statement about this regarding the new buildings they’re making and the old ones they’re destroying. Not to mention the damned tunnel they made that cost several million for absolutely nothing. The advice of getting an Oyster card was solid though. It made travelling a lot more easier and it was shocking just how much you can travel with a relatively small amount of money. Maybe to people in England it seems expensive, but to me it felt cheap. Years of being cheated by your local public transportation system will do that to you.
I had to take the Picadilly line and get off at Green Park. Then switch to the Victoria line and get off at Pimlico. Easy enough. Everything was easy to understand, what with all the information everywhere. It all made sense. I was wondering how the Netherlands would’ve handled this and figured they’d find a way to make it unusable in a matter of seconds. I would like to note that after getting on the Picadilly line I spent quite some time staring at the name of the final stop of that line. Cockfosters. One of the first things I saw in England was that the final stop for the tube line I was in was Cockfosters. Absolutely brilliant.
I got off at Pimlico and looked around. It looked nice. Like how I remembered a few areas in the Netherlands were before they took down a bunch of the old buildings. I walked down… wait for it… Lupus Street, trying to see if I could find the general direction I need to go. This is when things started to get extremely weird. A guy literally came up to me and asked if I was lost. I told him I only just got off the tube, so I hadn’t been around long enough to get lost just yet. He asked me where I was going. I told him. He had no idea and called another guy to ask him if he knew where it was. The other guy had no idea either. They pointed towards a black cab and told me they should be able to tell me where it is. So I did.
The two guys in the black cab didn’t know the street either. They did know a street that sounded quite similar but didn’t think there was a hostel there. Then one remembered that there was a bar there and that they did change things around, so it could be possible that there was a hostel there now. They directed me to it. I thanked them and got on my way. They were right, I found the hostel. I was the first to arrive by several hours.
The biggest reason this feels so weird is because where I’m from – I can’t attest if this goes for all of the Netherlands, but it does for The Hague – you don’t tell people the directions. You just shrug and say I don’t know. Even if they’re in the street they’re asking to be directed towards. You tell them you don’t know. It’s how it works. That or you tell them you’re not familiar with the area or that you’re just visiting the city, even if you’ve lived there for years. Someone actually asking me if I’m lost and trying to help me find my way even when he doesn’t know where it is sounded like a completely foreign concept to me. Then again, I was in a foreign country after all. I don’t think I really have to mention nearly getting hit by a car because I forgot they’re on the other side of the road in England. And yes, I did nearly get hit by a car after returning to the Netherlands because I adjusted to the concept of them being on the left side of the road instead of the right.
Sometime after finding the hostel, I went out to buy a few things I needed. Disposable razors band aids and such. After that I returned and waited. I was tired from walking so much. Little did I know just how much more walking I was going to do during the trip. This was absolutely nothing.
I waited outside the hostel for some time. Finishing the book I was reading. After I finished it, I went to see the bookcase I had noticed when I first entered the hostel. There weren’t that many interesting things in there. Three Lord of the Rings books, for some reason they had Return of the King twice and no Fellowship. A Wheel of Time book, I think it was the sixth or so, but I could be wrong. A bunch of pointless other books that didn’t really spark my interest. I went back outside.
To my surprise, almost everyone was outside. And by pretty much everyone, I mean pretty much everyone that was coming to Escapism. With perhaps the exception of (captain) Mike, Morgan and Sky. There could’ve been more people missing at this point, but I’m not entirely sure. I didn’t have the time to have a good look, because before I knew it I heard someone say “I think that’s Remy…”. Before I could check who said that, someone moved forward, saying “Yes, it is Remy.”
The person that came forward and had said this was Joe (Code_Red). Somehow I was able to recognize him from the picture he had up on his Skype profile for about 10 minutes a month ago. It’s a good thing too, because if he hadn’t dragged me into an easy conversation right there, I probably would’ve just stood there and stared for a while, increasing the awkwardness. Instead, I just easily flowed into the group. Talk of gaming, geeky books (Theflyingpeanut was reading Night Watch by Terry Pratchett by the way, which was a lot of win right there) and how Steve (Insanum) looks like a five-year old. All recurring subjects throughout the weekend.
Meeting a large group that you’ve known online for quite some time in real life all of a sudden is an amazing experience. It’s like meeting familiar strangers. You’re only just meeting them, but you already know them. People say you can’t really know someone you meet online, because it’s a lot easier to create an act, a character online than it is in real life. I have to call bullshit on that. It’s just as easy to do this in real life. People do this all the time. People living fictional lives filled with the grandeur of fantasy didn’t originally appear on the internet, they’ve been around for a long time. Most of them show the same signs that allow you to see through them online that they do offline. All you need to do is know them long enough. Know someone online for a year and chances are you know more about that person than you actually imagine. Quite a lot of the people I met online were exactly how I imagined them to be in real life, both in the good and bad ways.
It was quite amazing to see the internet invade real life the way it did that day. Lots of internet memes floated around ranging from The Game to They Took Your Jobs. A lot of it got pushed by Steve though. I have to admit to not having liked him that much before meeting him in person. I didn’t have problems with him, but I just never connected that well with him. After meeting him in person, I quite like him now. He’s awesome.
After a long time of messing around and not really doing anything. At least, if you count stuffing people in lockers, breaking a fan upon entering the room, (captain) Mike trying to kill flies with peach scented air sprays and joking about how the screws have been shagged loose from the beds because that’s what people do on vacation as nothing.
Some time passed before we started making our way to Forbidden Planet. I’m not a religious person at all. I’m an atheist. However, I now do believe in heaven. All the figurines, toys, comic books, books, DVDs, shirts… It was geek heaven. I managed to stop myself from buying anything though. Next time, I’m bringing much more money and I’ll buy the entire damn store. Just because I want to and I’m childish enough.
When we were about to leave someone mentioned we were missing someone. I forgot who, but someone blurted out the missing person was in fact, Dave. So we waited for a bit until we saw Luke waiting at the cash register. From that moment on Luke was christened as Dave. There wasn’t really anything he could do against it. If I did call him Luke around other people they’d seriously ask who this Luke was, to which the answer “Dave” would clear everything up in a heartbeat.
We made our way back to the hostel where I watched (captain) Mike and Morgan (Andalusa) shoot some pool on an amazingly crooked table. When they were done, Chris (Revelo) played Sky, I watched that game. In the meantime Spy was getting worried about the Tshirts that hadn’t arrived yet. I assured him that I was okay with it. He kept insisting it wasn’t okay. I started worrying if he’d ever be able to enjoy himself, I think he did in the end.
When they were done, we headed to the “the Akbar Curry House” Which surprisingly enough wasn’t a trap. And yes, the joke did get overused. Many strange jokes were made at the table. I’m sure they hated us there because we were by far the loudest table in the entire place. At least, until we paid. They probably love us now. A lot.
We arrived at the hostel after dark, and messed around at the bar downstairs. Just having fun with weird stories and conversations until it was time to head up and go to sleep. I talked with Tilly for a bit about writing, blogging, his comics, life, the universe and everything. We bonded in an extremely non-gay way. I talked to Sky about the basic plan for my trip to Sheffield later that week. Us being both tired at the end of the day we didn’t hear a single word either of us said. So we had to have the same talk again the next day.
Once upstairs, Steve (Insanum) was apparently in charge of the alarm clock, which was his phone set to a Beatles song. Tilly mentioned how he probably wasn’t going to get any sleep at all, so I gave him my PSP to mess around with if he had problems sleeping. I didn’t except to sleep myself either, but I was gone before I knew it.
I’ve just written this all down, and I still can’t believe this was all just a single day. It was more eventful than the entirety of last year.
I’ll continue this in future posts soon enough. The end of day 1 is a perfect cut-off point, I think.
I’d like to thank everyone that was there and helped organizing it, and those who have uploaded pictures ready for me to snatch and use during this post.