We stumbled our way through London, SarahB and I, exhausted but eager, generally plan-less but ready for luck. (Actually we had no choice, our chief rallier having fallen ill at the last minute. Woe!) We were forced to be nimble, if you will, and made the best of it by stumbling. The city that received us was ready to help, by the grace of taxi drivers, shopkeepers, concierges, ticket salesmen, and waiters. Eternally patient men. I suppose they've seen worse than us.
Stumbling opens the city before you, lays you at its mercy, drops you at doorways and odd corners and—at least once—onto a train heading in the opposite direction of your desire (Moorgate, to be precise). It renders you vulnerable—one wrong turn turns into three and then six and by the time you recover your wits you are already on the wrong side of the map. You may need to part ways with your pride on this, but it's true: you have to step into the map.
Stumbling leaves wide room for surprise. It's what makes you audience to a parade of mounted sentries passing through Hyde Park as you search for a bathroom (of course) five hours after arriving, barely awake but still standing thanks to an ice-cold lemonade and the clip of an autumn breeze. Hark! say your ears before you turn your head, are those horses I hear? Horses far off, horses drawing close, the racketing counterpoint of hooves on cement, fresh on the heels of a rollerblader. (What do they sound like through headphones? The rollerblader's not telling.)
Stumbling says, Here are your limits. Dear god, HERE ARE YOUR LIMITS, and wear comfortable shoes. Bring a scarf. But mostly it says, Why not? It leads you through bright garden squares and book-lined streets, into public houses large and small and even something nicknamed "The Show after the Show," where you dine before the show on pâté and salad as a guitar-and-accordion ensemble bears its mark upon your evening. (I wouldn't discount the accordion as an instrument of joy, though it sounds better at the other end of the table.)
Stumbling means sometimes you should check the facts beforehand, so you'll know whether or not Elizabeth I (via Westminster Abbey) is entertaining on Sundays. (Tragically not. But she was always a little weird about religion.) Likewise the Leicester Square discount ticket booth, where you flip your proverbial coin and take your proverbial chances (in this case, An Inspector Calls, which came out one pro and one con, noir-ish allegory understandably not to everyone's liking). Also, you're liable to eat more sausage & mash than is good for you, and are all the gladder for it. And nothing stands between you and the Strongbow.
Finally—do I need to say this?—stumbling requires good instincts (i.e., we're not dum-dums, and SarahB is no London neophyte). A vibe is a vibe and a big city can be mighty big, and this one felt substantially bigger than the one we had left. Nerve-making, is the true sense of it, and in the way of the best adventures—as foretold, as sought out, as stumbled upon—utterly rich and rewarding.
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