Usually with these international trips, there’s a lynchpin event.

Something I really want to see or experience which drives the desire to go, with everything else planned around it. Dominica was the Boiling Lake. Costa Rica was the volcano hike. France was walking on the beach at Normandy and through the trenches at Ypres in Belgium. Norway was the Trolltunga Hike. China was the Plank Walk. Even through it didn’t happen as planned, I still got to eat scorpion and make it a wonderful, memorable trip.

With London, this wasn’t initially the case.

I’d always wanted to visit England, as both sides of my family’s roots originate from there. My grandmother on my father’s side immigrated to the United States as a young child from Sheffield in 1918, and on my mother’s side, we’re distant relatives of the Duke of Warwick. It would be like visiting the Motherland.

In the waning months leading up to November, there were a few destinations in mind as to where to visit for the annual birthday trip, but there was no key event to experience or sight to see that really grabbed my interest. I really wanted to visit Tokyo, so I could have seen it and Beijing in the same year, but airfare to Japan can be prohibitively expensive – not to mention everything else when visiting.

Seeing Kiev and touring Chernobyl remains the holy grail of travel destinations, but with the popularity of the miniseries, there’s no doubt prices to visit would have gone up, as well as drawn much larger crowds than before, when it would have just been weirdos obsessed with visiting radioactive ghost towns and a dead power plant. Additionally, there isn’t much in Kiev that I really care about seeing not to mention it’s not the most stable part of the world at the moment.

I’d been tracking the flight prices for London for a few months as of June and knew I didn’t have much time before they skyrocketed. I don’t know whether you’d call it fortunate or unfortunate timing, but an event transpired that influenced my decision to buy the tickets.

Anyone I’ve talked with for any length of time in the past few months already knows, but Megan ended our relationship in July. When some serious issues came to light toward the end of June, we decided to take a month-long break and come back and see if things would or could get better. They didn’t.

I won’t go into any further detail than that. Posting about my personal life is not something I do lightly.

I bought the airfare in the few days after the break started, as I was absolutely wracked with anxiety and needed something – anything – to take my mind off of it. Planning for London and finding something to make the key event would be little more than a distraction, at least for the time being.

With the previous research I’d done, it didn’t take long to see that Bonfire Night was occurring on November 5th, commemorating the night in 1605 when Guy Fawkes was caught guarding explosives meant to level the House of Lords. “Remember, remember the 5th of November,” for those who’ve seen ‘V for Vendetta.” Think July 4th with fireworks displays all over town, except it goes on the whole week. So, Bonfire Night it was.

Between that and seeing the normal touristy sites like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and nearby Tower Bridge, Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square, Tate Modern, the famous Abbey Road crossing and a large selection of historical museums to choose from, there would be no lack of things to see and do – even if there wasn’t some main event tying the trip together.

Then I found out about the National Computing Museum in Bletchley Park, home of the rebuilt Colossus, arguably the very first electrical computer ever made. This was also the location where Alan Turing, largely considered the father of modern computing, and his team had cracked the “Enigma” Nazi encryption. Initially thought to be unbreakable, Turing quite literally changed the course of the Second World War and human history by solving it’s puzzle.

I had found my lynchpin event.

With just a few weeks to go, by a stroke of luck, I found another.

I’ve largely given up on mainstream television. Between Better Call Saul and Rick & Morty, there isn’t much at all which draws my interest. I haven’t paid for a cable television subscription in over a decade. YouTube has become my primary mode of visual entertainment outside of movie theaters. No doubt the toxicity in the comments section of many videos rivals that of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste facility, but the creators produce interesting, original, thought-provoking and hilarious content for their channels, some of which never fail to make me laugh at the end of any given day.

One of my favorites is a young Brit by the name of ‘Pyrocynical’, who makes videos mocking the cringey content of other more popular YouTubers like the awful Paul brothers with trademark dry, sarcastic British wit and meme-laced editing. After watching one of his videos in the weeks leading up to November, he announced at the end that he would be doing a Meet & Greet at the Insomnia Gaming Convention in Dublin on November 9th, two days before my flight home.

It always seems there’s a sub-trip to these excursions, where I travel hours away from where I’m visiting order to do something else. London would be no exception, as I couldn’t pass up a chance to meet him.

Fearing I’d have to drop another few hundred dollars getting to Dublin and back on the same day, as it turns out, airfare between the two cities is about fifty bucks. Fifty Bucks. That’s about what I spend each month on Chicken Fried Rice from Samurai Sushi. Sold.

So now things were set. What began as little more than something to be excited about during a time where I was worried sick with heartache had shaped up into a fairly decent vacation. As for the breakup interfering with enjoying myself overseas, the door to reconciliation had been welded shut by the time I stepped onto the first flight, never to be reopened.

As a bonus, the flight included a seven-hour layover in Houston. My hope was to spend time catching up with an old friend, Shiraz, whom I worked with at my previous job.

Yet another early departure had me up at 4:30 in the morning, however this time getting through security was a breeze compared to China, and plenty of time to relax in the terminal with the first of countless Lattes to come over the next seven days.

Of course, no flight would be complete without a crying baby.

Typically, they’ll calm down, but this one was going off like a klaxon alarm for most of the three-hour journey. I can’t hate an infant for being an infant. But I most certainly can be driven mad listening to their wailing, as I’m sure most of the other passengers were. Yes, I had earbuds. They only somewhat helped.

Landing in Houston, I messaged Shiraz initially just to make sure it was still his number, as we hadn’t been in contact for few years. In case I wasn’t able to, I had a backup plan of visiting the Houston Museum of Natural Science. It was a healthy 30 minutes away, so I grabbed an Uber. The driver, Felix, was from the Philippines and very pleasant to chat with.

I asked him about Duterte and how the local population feels about him, since he’s seen as borderline dictatorial in other parts of the world due to his brutal treatment of drug dealers. He did not share their disdain, as he had seen first-hand how bad things are over there due to the influx of meth coming from China. Addicts everywhere, robbing and killing, and the police pitting families against each other by persuading them to become informants. It was a position I hadn’t considered.

Shiraz got back to me as I reached the museum and said it would take him at least an hour to get there, plenty of time to do a quick tour. Stopping just inside the entrance, I realized a mistake I’d made which would later prompt me to sign up for a trial membership of Amazon Prime UK. The night before I left, I’d put my third DSLR battery on the charger and summarily forgotten them both, only finding out when the camera wouldn’t turn on inside the museum. The other two were sitting in my bag in an airport cargo hold.

I love my Pentax, but the shit battery life is easily its worst feature. Dammit. Thus, it would have to be the subpar iPhone camera.

Frustrating as it was, I almost completely forgot about it upon seeing the vast collection of full dinosaur skeletons inside the museum. They were amazing, and there’s no need to wonder about whether or not I put the Jurassic Park soundtrack on my earbuds, because it absolutely happened. I find it endlessly amusing just how little of a chance humans would have had even today against those giant fucking lizard-bird hybrids.

The next exhibit contained relics from ancient Egypt, including full mummies and their numerous sarcophaguses. The level of detail on the coffins and stone tablets never fails to amaze me, not to mention the fact that they’re still largely intact after literally thousands of years.

Being able to see relics like that up close is one of the reasons I love museums, and the best was yet to come in London.

After an hour or so, Shiraz arrived and the only exhibit I missed was one involving chemistry. I’d only noticed as I was leaving, wishing I had seen that one instead of the geology exhibit. Rocks are neat, but I’m much more interested in chemicals.

Neither of us remembered the last time we’d seen each other, as he left the company we’d both worked for in 2008 and the only contact since was via a Fantasy Football league I was no longer in. Still, with what we both went through, not to mention everyone else who did time there, we shared a bond that couldn’t easily be broken.

Server Intellect was run by a man who could go from zero to a hundred in a split second; from exuberantly happy to a blind rage and benevolence to malevolence within a single sentence. He was in complete control of every single aspect of the small webhosting company, and never let you forget it. The worst part wasn’t getting yelled at or chewed out, it was never quite knowing what Eric you were going to get or was going to trigger an meltdown.

Hence, for all of us who worked there and lived through it, it’s almost like having served some special forces detachment together. We’ve seen some shit, man. Credit where it’s due, though, as I wouldn’t have the job I have to day without it, made wonderful friends and have a very, very steep curve for what constitutes a “hostile work environment.”

Aside of that, he and I had collectively lost over 200 pounds over the last few years and each had an abdominoplasty. We went from being severely overweight into the best shape of our lives, discussing workout and diet routines, and just how much fucking better life is as a result being healthy.

Of course, we did this while eating delicious and horribly unhealthy foods at a Cajun Restaurant. Next time I order a Po’boy sandwich, remind me to only get a half portion. It turned into a makeshift salad of meat, bread and mayo that I had to eat with a fork.

It was wonderful to catch up. He got me back to the airport with plenty of time, so he could pick up his wife and enjoy a Sunday of watching football. Returning to Houston for a longer visit, and perhaps a SI reunion, is definitely on the travel destination list.

Getting through security took less ten minutes. Perfect.

Walking on the plane, I nearly forgot what seat I’d picked and feared I’d mistakenly chosen a middle seat, 39B. I didn’t, and remembered finding it that I’d specifically chosen the seat at the very last row of the aircraft, which also happened to be an aisle seat.

Typically, I always take the window, whether it’s a short or long flight. After a cumulative 28 hours back and forth from China, I’m never taking the window seat on a flight longer than four hours ever again. I’m only claustrophobic under extreme circumstances, and a cramped seat where I can’t stretch or comfortably cross my legs for that long will easily do the trick.

For this eight-hour trip, I deliberately took the aisle, and what a wonderful decision it was.

I finally got a chance to watch John Wick 3 and loved every second of it. So much over the top, violent shooty fun. As if the world building in the first one wasn’t good enough, they just keep expanding on it. I nearly shouted in my seat amidst the hum of the jet engines in the otherwise quiet cabin when Keanu quoted himself from the Matrix.

After we landed, the jet then started making an ungodly loud humming noise all the way from the runway to the terminal and didn’t stop until they killed the engines. I have no idea what it was, but it drove me and the young girl I was sitting next to crazy. I recorded it just so I can remember how awful it was.

There were a few minutes of panic at the baggage claim when mine took what felt like forever to pop out of the conveyer, despite how irrational t was irrational to have worried about it.

I knew the way to get from Heathrow to London was to take the Heathrow Express, a train that goes directly from the airport to Paddington Station, only a few blocks from my hotels. I didn’t anticipate this when I picked them out, scouting for places which have my trifecta of requirements: good reviews, decent prices and the abilities to both cancel & reserve without any upfront costs.  The two I’d picked out were the Olympic House Hotel and the Royal Lancaster, continuing the newly founded tradition of being economic for most of the trip with a lavish final evening. It turned out to be one of the best possible decisions for the trip, as I had an easy access point to and from the London Underground subway system, or ‘Tube’ as it’s known by.

Tickets for the Heathrow Express are shockingly simple to obtain. Attendants stand right outside the baggage claim exit, eager to help hapless tourists figure out where they’re going, and selling legit tickets on the spot with portable printers. I was no exception. I also pulled out 300₤ from an ATM before heading to the trains. If you’re traveling internationally, you would do well to have both your card(s) and some of the local hard currency.

Stepping out of the building, the first of many icy cold winds hit my face, and it felt like heaven.

Everyone makes fun of ‘Florida Man’ and laughs at all the stupid shit we get into down here. Never mind the fact that it’s because we have open police records, but I can’t argue that we don’t have exceptionally stupid people who do exceptionally dumb shit.

I will say that for everyone else who gets an actual Autumn with changing leaves, cooler temperatures and less humidity when September rolls around, I’m sure if they were still dealing with 87 degrees, 70% humidity, “Feels Like 95” and zero cloud cover into late October, they would be Perfectly Rational And Sane And Never Lose Their Fucking Minds At All Because Of The Unrelenting Goddamn Heat.

The fact that I got to experience actual cold for the first time since February was a gift in and of itself. I didn’t put on a jacket for the entire week, while all the Londoners walked around in heavy coats and scarves. Only once was this a glaring mistake.

When I walked outside Paddington, I only had a few blocks to go to reach the Olympic House Hotel. Still, I wanted to avoid a repeat of Paris where I took a wrong turn right out of the gate and nearly got lost in the first five minutes.

It was then that I experienced the first of what would be many times to follow where I had to reboot my phone in order to get usable cell signal.

Seriously. I don’t know whether it was Verizon or the partner carrier, 02-UK, but the LTE coverage was absolute, unmitigated garbage for the entire time. Randomly dropping signal and switching to 3G intermittently was maddening. Thankfully there was a small alcove along the busy street where I could get out of the way of people rushing by with their luggage to reboot. London is no different from New York in that sense. If you stop in the middle of a sidewalk, you will either be asked to move or be moved.

Phone rebooted; cell signal was good.

Check-in wasn’t until 2pm, and with the time change, it was barely 9am. The man at the front desk told me I couldn’t check in yet, but got the bill out of the way and said he would try to see what he could do, as well as look after my bag if I wanted to walk around.

First, I needed to rest, as it was nearing 24 hours since waking up. I also needed a decent, hot, non—airline food or protein bar meal.

Paddington is a fairly busy station, so there isn’t a lack of restaurants in the immediate and neighboring blocks. I practically picked a cafe at random, and had the traditional English breakfast without baked beans. As we discussed previously, no, I usually don’t gooify my toast with runny eggs, but I was starving and exhausted and that’s how they were served. Don’t @ Me.

After a stroll around the neighborhood to get a feel for my surroundings, I walked back to the hotel where a room had opened up early and was ready for check in. Perfect. I went upstairs and practically collapsed. I never expect to do anything on the actual day of arrival with any trip except eat and pass out from being awake so long, and this was no exception.

My nap was interrupted by a trio of hotel maids who didn’t get the memo that my room was ready ahead of schedule and opened the door to find me passed out. They’re lucky I was so exhausted that I didn’t even bother taking my jeans off.

Later that evening I got up and scouted for grocery stores on Google Maps. Most all of the ones around the hotel had awful reviews, except for one the next block over called ‘Foodwise.’ I walked over and found it was an extremely small, cramped store run by a husky Middle Eastern man who was super pleasant to chat with. I can see why it had the reviews it did. I picked out a few random items, and dropped them back at the hotel, only mildly disappointed that I didn’t get to play the game where I have no clue what I’m actually purchasing.

One of them was orange crème biscuits (cookies), which I am now hopelessly addicted to, but they weren’t going to cut it for dinner. On London St., there are four restaurants lined right up against each other. I tried every single one before I left. The first was the Sussex Fish House.

What do you order as your first dinner in England, and at a place with ‘Fish’ right in the title? Do you really have to ask?

I ate Fish & Chips a total of four times throughout the trip. These were the third best. I devoured the French fries, as I genuinely could not remember the last time I’d eaten them. Ever since Megan and I took our break, I’d become incredibly strict with my eating habits, to the point where it was nearly punishment, and even the few breaks I’d been giving myself were off limits. I haven’t eaten so much as a slice of pizza since May.

Knowing I’d likely be back in the dating pool sooner rather than later, in order to have any measure of success on sites and apps as a man in terms of getting matches, dates and messages answered, I had to be in the absolute best physical shape possible.

I will not argue this biological point. If you don’t believe me or think looks doesn’t really matter when women see your picture, you simply have not experienced it.

Yet, after four months of not even so much as sniffing an unhealthy meal, all bets were now off and it was Weapons Free. Even with the restrictions lifted, if something I wanted to see was two miles or less away, I walked. I hit 25,000 steps three different days during the trip. That doesn’t mean I didn’t take the Tube, I just used it sparingly and to save time when needed or at the end of a long day when my feet were screaming for relief. I also practically ran up and down every single escalator to and from platforms.

When I got back to the hotel, before crashing I needed to figure out where to go for Bonfire Night. I’d looked at options before booking the flight, but hadn’t confirmed anything since I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d be going. This was a mistake, as the few events the following night on the 5th were all sold out. If it were just that day, I wouldn’t have gotten to experience it.

Sometimes plans falling apart isn’t a bad thing, as it opens up new opportunities which you didn’t realize were there. Closed doors, open windows and such.

Just Googling for events during the week, I found one in a place called Chiswick Park, a large office block which some major corporations call home or have their regional offices, not unlike International Parkway. It was free to attend, not that far of a subway ride outside the city, on my actual birthday of the 7th, and was going to be host to an event that immediately spurred my interest and took no time whatsoever to sign up for.

A Fire Walk across hot coals. Hell. Yes.

I’ve jumped out of a plane 15,000 feet in the air. I crawled through caves littered with tarantulas in Costa Rica. I trudged up a freezing mountain in Norway carrying a bag of wet clothes in showshoes as the snow blew in sideways. I wanted to scuttle along a narrow ledge of shaky planks hanging above a 7,000-foot drop in China.

I’ve let fear rule too many of my decisions and its cost me more than I’ll ever be able to quantify.

I want to strive as hard as I can to live without fear from here on out.

Given the chance to walk across burning hot coals the night I turned 41, there was absolutely no way I was passing it up.

There was also the matter of obtaining camera battery charger. None of the stores in London had the kind I needed, as Pentax isn’t as popular of a brand as Nikon or Canon. This is when I found out that Amazon Prime in the states does not also apply to the UK. I had to sign up for a trial of Prime UK in order to have the charger arrive at the hotel the following day.

I ordered it with less than an hour and a half remaining for next day delivery. Crisis Averted.

I woke up before they even started serving breakfast.

When they did, it was the most Carb-Filled Breakfast in Europe. Three slices of toast, white cake and hazelnut croissants. Every morning. Hence why every single day started with at least a few miles worth of walking. I’m not getting on the scale for at least two weeks after I get home.

The first order of business was Abbey Road, just about a mile and a half from the hotel, and yes, I had the Beatles ‘1’ album playing during the walk there.

All the Londoners rushing to get to work must have found it odd for some guy without a jacket and a shit-eating grin mouthing the words to “Can’t Buy Me Love” practically skipping down the bustling street.

It was early enough that the crossing was fairly empty, just three young women from Indiana and another couple taking pictures. The thing about Abbey Road is that it isn’t a quiet intersection and sees more than a bit of traffic. There’s no stoplight, and while cars in London will generally stop and let pedestrians cross, this isn’t always the case.

I helped the couple take their photo, the girls were able to pose for their picture and helped me get a few for myself. I don’t think I could have looked more awkward if I tried. I eventually returned on the last day to re-do them, where my experience was much different. More on that later.

The Abbey Road museum is just a few blocks up but wasn’t open yet. The girls from Indiana were waiting around, but I didn’t feel like waiting, so I walked to the nearest Underground station and hopped on for the first time. After Beijing, it took no time at all to figure out. The first destination was King’s Cross, home of the fictional ‘Platform 9 ½’ from Harry Potter. After visiting Universal recently, I assumed there was no way the gift shop could’ve rivaled that of an entire theme park section devoted to it. I was right.

They did have a photo spot where eager fans could get their picture taken with luggage appearing to disappear into the wall.

Outside I had a latte and pain du chocolate to refuel, tossing crumbs to the pigeons. It really doesn’t take much for the to draw a crowd. Once they noticed one eating, within 30 seconds there were six more. It was stupidly amusing to watch them peck up the remains of my croissant.

From there I figured I should get Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square out of the way, as they were within walking distance. It may have been just because it was early, but there wasn’t as much activity as I expected; no punks with foot-high purple mohawks and studded leather standing around. Trafalgar was much more interesting and spread out, with statues and fountains.

Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey weren’t far, so they came next.

Taking a shortcut through St. James Park and stopping for a falafel and hummus wrap at a cafe right in the middle of it, the pigeons were a lot gutsier there. I was eating outside and one just strolled right up and stood on my table. I laughed trying to shoo him away, but he wasn’t having it. My attempt to have him chase a piece to get away were in vain, as this just emboldened him further. Eventually I went inside to counter his attempts of a hostile takeover on my delicious yellow cake.

My timing was good, as I caught a front row seat to the changing of the guards at Horse Guards Parade.

Once I got to Parliament Square, I looked around and could not find Big Ben for the life of me and was terribly confused. Eventually I realized it was hidden underneath the tall collection of scaffolding and metal reaching into the sky, undergoing maintenance and repairs. Figures. Not a huge deal, but disappointing.

Westminster Abbey, on the other hand, was open.

Walking up, the lawns around it are covered with crosses adorned with Poppies, commemorating Armistice Day on the 11th, not unlike what I saw in France and Belgium two years ago.

It’s hard to describe how ornate and detailed the architecture inside the Abbey truly is. There isn’t a square inch of it that isn’t adorned with decorative stone; angelic figures carved out of marble, or Latin characters inscribed into them. Breathtaking stained-glass murals. The graves of Darwin, Henry the VII and VIII. The chair which Kings and Queens of England going back centuries sat in during their coronations.

Unfortunately, I can’t show you any pictures of it, as photography is not allowed. At all.

It’s good thing I queued up ‘Miserere mei, Deus’ on the way in, so I at least had music for the first 10 minutes or so. I figured I was going to at least try to break the rule, and have a Forgiveness over Permission moment if I get busted. Hiding up against a wall and reaching into my pocket, I try to slip my phone out just barely enough so the camera sticks out, thinking I’m being all Jack Bauer stealthy.

I look up to see one of the Clergy walking swiftly in my direction within seconds.

“I don’t think he’s headed for me, I didn’t actually-“

My thought process is interrupted as he barrels right up to me. I didn’t catch the first part of what he said as I pulled the earbuds out.

“—not allowed to take pictures, there are closed circuit cameras everywhere. Keep your phone in your pocket,” he says quietly but sternly.

“Understood.” He walks off without another word.

They absolutely do not fuck around inside that church. At first, I have that hot-stomach trifecta of embarrassment, disappointment and frustration. I figured I’d get caught, but this was like trying to cheat at a casino. I take solace in the fact that they didn’t throw me out, as I walk around and look at the burial coffins of famous monarchs within the narrow, ornate corridors.

Once outside in a courtyard, people are again snapping photos, as I find another room with age old middle eastern paintings on the wall, tile in the center and large pieces of reproduced stained glass, the originals having been destroyed during the Blitz. There’s an attendant answering questions for other tourists, and I ask if it’s okay to take photos here, which she politely says yes.

I ask her why no one is allowed to inside the Abbey, figuring it’s for some sacred reason. She explained that if they allowed it, people would be crowding those same narrow corridors to take selfies, congest things to the point where nothing would move and the church would grind to a halt – not to mention that it remains a functioning church with active services.

Much like the ever-present tourist clusterfuck orbiting the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, it would be the same for the Coronation Chair and every other historically significant item, and they want no part of it.

Really, I can’t blame them. It was never meant to be photographed.

With that reasoning, it made perfect sense and I understood – again thankful that I wasn’t kicked out for trying. If I’d tried a second time, no doubt I would have been. This was the “Oh well, that’s a shame,” moment I alluded to earlier. I was even laughing about how quickly I was busted after I left. In years past, I would have been growling and grumbling to myself about what assholes they were for hours afterward.

The closest thing to visit from there was the Imperial War Museum, one of the museums in London with free admissions, only about a mile away. The falafel wrap had just about worn off by then, and I needed something if I was going to go traipsing around another museum for two hours.

Luckily there was a small café just outside, where I had the second order of Fish & Chips. These were the worst. I couldn’t even bring myself to finish it. You wouldn’t think it’d be possible for a street side cafe in London to fuck up that meal. It absolutely is.

The Imperial War Museum is amazing. So many relics from both World Wars, including an entire section dedicated to Ypres, recalling memories of having visited two years ago. Mock trenches you walk through, seeing shadows of soldiers projected onto the fake rock. Nearly every type of weapon used throughout the conflict. I think only the Hill 62 memorial museum had it beat.

Up in the section dedicated to the Second World War, it houses both a full Sherman tank, as well as the near-skeletonized remains of a Japanese Zero, which I was particularly impressed by.

On the uppermost floor is one of the harder sections to visit – the Holocaust Exhibit. Like Westminster, they also ask that you don’t take photos in that wing. This time, I wasn’t going to be sneaky, but respectful.

The artifacts housed there are beyond heartbreaking.

One of the things you get an up close and personal look at is a black Nazi SS uniform. Something I never noticed seeing pictures of it, but now up close I could see there’s a literal fucking skull on the hat. Jesus. Then you come to the shoes. They’re right next to the complete scale model of Auschwitz, which takes up almost the entire room.

It’s just horrifying.

I’m glad I didn’t see anyone trying to take pictures. I might have gotten kicked out for different reasons from that of Westminster. After that, I was done. I bought a small SR-71 souvenir keychain and headed out.

All things considered I’d made pretty good time on the day. There were a few hours of sunlight left, and I needed something to cleanse my palette of being reminded just how unimaginably awful humans can be to one another.

Luckily, the Tate Modern art museum wasn’t far away.

Going back to what I mentioned before about YouTube being my main source of entertainment, I knew about this museum only because of a video Anthony Fantano, the “Internet’s Busiest Music Nerd,” did on a conspiracy-nut moobat who works for InfoWars, Paul Joseph Watson. Watson argued that modern art is awful, citing the example of a literal urinal on display inside Tate Modern. Fantano goes on to explain the history and reasoning as to why it’s there. Too much go to into here, but you should take the 15 minutes and watch it, because it’s hilarious and informative. Its title is “Paul Joseph Watson is a Pop-Culture Pleb”.

Tate is massive, spanning multiple floors with huge wings housing all types of modern art, from paintings to sculptures. On the 10th floor is an open-air patio and café, where I was able to get some good pictures of the London skyline.

I took my time going through it and taking it all in. I appreciate weird, frufy art as much as classic, more traditional stuff. It was an eclectic mix of minimalist art of all manner and variety. Special shoutout to Michael Gossett for providing the soundtrack to my experience there, with his “S Y N T H E T I C  A E S T H E T I C” playlist. The neatest piece on display was a two-story stack of retro radios which all lit up, bathed in a pale, blue light. It was amazing.

Eventually I found the famed urinal and could not resist taking a ridiculous selfie with it.

By the time I’d gotten through all the wings, I’d reached 25,000 steps and my feet were absolutely dying for a reprieve. I took tube back to Paddington and decided on the restaurant directly next to the one I’d eaten at the previous night, the London Street Brasserie.

Their chicken Caesar salad was passable, but the real treat was dessert, called the “Eton Mess” and was nothing but fruit, frosting, ice cream and whipped cream, drizzled with raspberry sauce. “You want dessert? Here’s a literal plate of sugar.” It was delicious and I only kind of hated myself afterward.

The next morning, I decided to give my feel a rest, even after another carb-laden breakfast, and took the tube to the Tower of London, a castle in the heart of the city dating back centuries built by William the Conqueror. It houses the armor and weapons of all the monarchs entombed at Westminster. For this, the only appropriate music was the Game of Thrones soundtrack.

I may have had nothing but contempt for the show, but that doesn’t mean the music wasn’t wonderful and the perfect score to walking through a thousand-year-old medieval fortress made of stone and wood. The oldest thing there is the remains of a stone wall built by the Romans, long before England was a country.

The amount of armor it contains is near impossible to count. If the zombie apocalypse ever did come to pass, that would be place to hold up.

Also housed there are the Crown Jewels, another area where photography isn’t allowed. The level of detail the crowns, scepters and other pieces of royal jewelry is astounding. I can’t even begin to imagine the cumulative dollar value of the entire collection, if it would even be possible to calculate.

A neat moment came when the guards who are stationed 24 hours outside the building did their march to the center and back, and with no one else around, I was able to get perfectly framed picture. Later I got one of one of the ravens hanging out on the lawn in the center. Another was determined to get into one of the trashcans, not caring if the man sitting a foot away was bothered by it.

Tower Bridge nearly connects directly to it, so that was next. It certainly held a unique interest of its own having been featured in ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home.’ At first, I ended up on the wrong side of the road to take the elevator up to the walkway and had to backtrack to cross the insanely busy road, but not before a passing mother asked me to take a picture of her with her infant, after seeing me with my camera.

She remarked, “You’ll do a better job of it than my husband will,” who’d already passed with their other kid. I happily obliged.

At top of the walkway, they show you a short movie with old film footage of the bridge’s construction. I asked the attendant about filming Spiderman, and he said that they took some of the exterior shots on location, but the actors themselves were never really there, which makes sense. The actual walkway itself is smaller than it looked on-screen.

Another thing I didn’t anticipate was the glass floor section of it.

It was slightly unnerving, but not so much that I didn’t want to walk across it. Other people really had to work up some nerve to do it. When you saw the display example of how thick the glass was, though, the idea of it breaking was just comical.

Down the other side, you’re led to the engine rooms preserved from the Victorian Era, when they were still used to power the drawbridge. They’re kept in pristine condition. Exiting through the gift shop, I wanted to buy a small pewter or gold desk statue of the bridge and to my surprise they didn’t have it. It wasn’t until I was on the way to the gate to fly home that I found one in a duty-free store.

Outside, the RMS Belfast was maybe a few hundred yards away – a now decommissioned WWII warship turned museum. It was also on the list of spots I wanted to visit. With the ground I was covering, I was making unreal time and quickly crossing things off. I did take a breather in the gift shop for another latte and a huge cookie.

The ship itself was very reminiscent of the Intrepid museum and Growler submarine the year prior in New York. Both had been vessels used in the Second World War. Admittedly I knew very little about its specific history, but won’t pass up the chance to take a tour of an old warship. To that end, all of the museums except for Tate offered Audio Guidebooks to listen to in each section. It may cost me interesting information, but I’d rather listen to music.

The best part was seeing the bridge, lit up with replica radars. Even though it’s completely fictional, in space and not related at all, I couldn’t help but listen to music from Battlestar Galactica. Because I’m just that much of a fucking soundtrack nerd. I apologize for nothing.

After I was finished, it was time to eat, and not just a snack with a latte. A bit of backtracking.

Part of the planning for the trip included eating at one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, having watched his various shows on an off for years. He’s got four of them in London proper, ranging from the cheap, relaxed café and pub, to the 150 pound per plate dinner. I initially made a reservation for the 2nd most expensive, “London House”, set for the last night of the trip.

However, on the previous night, I’d been looking at some of the more recent reviews. They were not encouraging. It was getting slammed for bad food, bad services – and it wasn’t just outliers, they were consistent. So, I checked TripAdvisor for the top-rated restaurants in London for British cuisine specifically. The twelfth-rated was a place called “The Foyer and Reading Room” at Claridge’s, a fancy hotel. Checking their site, it looked immaculate and had nothing but five-star reviews across the board. Immediately booked for the 10th and then cancelled the ones for London House.

I noticed the thirteenth rated place right beneath it had one of the greatest names I’ve ever heard for a seafood restaurant. “Fishcotheque.” It sounded like the best name The Simpsons never came up with, had some of the highest ratings for Fish & Chips in the city and was only a two mile walk from the Belfast.

If I was going to stuff my face with fried fish and salty potatoes for the third time in 72 hours, I was going to earn them.

One of the first things I see when I walk through the door are the “Cash Only” signs. That’s when you know you’ve found somewhere that’s stood the test of time. That’s also why you always take hard currency with you, as you’ll never know when you’ll randomly need it.

I ordered a full-size portion, ate every last bite and holy god, was it amazing. Fried perfectly. Fresh Cod. Steaming hot. Ready in minutes

They officially ruined Fish & Chips for me. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to order it again back in the states, even at Fiddler’s Green in Winter Park. Your bill even comes in an adorable little wooden treasure chest.

Despite the fact that I probably should have walked some of it off afterwards, I needed a break and took a crowded rush-hour Tube back to the hotel, but not before stopping at Foodwise again for more orange cremes to take home. This time, I remembered to grab some of the ice cream made famous by ‘Shaun of the Dead.’

“Do you want anything from the shop?” “Cornetto!”

Really, there’s nothing terribly special about it, it’s just an ice cream cone, but it’s the principle of it.

It had to be an early night, since I had a train to catch to Bletchley in the morning. After having to catch trains in Paris and Beijing, it was no trouble at all to figure out where to go and what to do. The ride itself took less than an hour, and I had a moment of amusement when I noticed a man reading a book titled, “Brexit without the Bullshit.”

Bletchley Park is a five-minute walk from the station, a fairly large park with multiple buildings and huts to explore where all the codebreaking happened. The first thing you see when you walk in is a model of the Engima machine. It looks like a wooden typewriter with wires.

Also housed at Bletchley is the National Radio Centre, with all models of radio transmitter ranging from old to current, and then what is essentially HQ for the UK’s amateur radio network. An older gentleman named Eric gave me a full detailed breakdown of every machine there and what its function was. He was one of those rare people who was impossibly passionate about what he did, and expressed that he wished more young people took an interest in radio, as it had fallen by the wayside to smartphones and modern digital tech.

The next building was dedicated to Turing himself, complete with many more models of the Enigma machines, as well as Turing’s handwritten notes. Before you ask, I had not seen ‘The Imitation Game’ and didn’t get a chance to before I left. I watched it the night after arriving home and had a unique appreciation for it I would not have otherwise had.

What I didn’t know is that Turing was outed as gay long before it was accepted by society as a whole and committed suicide because of it. He died at the age of 41, the same age I was turning the day of my visit. Included in the museum was a framed letter from the government to his surviving family, formally apologizing for their treatment of him. Maybe the most moving exhibit in the museum.

Outside, I was looking around for the National Computing Museum, since that was the main attraction, but couldn’t locate it.

I asked one of the attendants where it was, and she said it was actually separate from Bletchley Park, in a different area just up the road. Thankfully, the standard ticket I purchased to the park was good for an entire year, rather than just the day. How’s that for an Annual Pass? Wanting to make sure I hit the museum before anything else, I headed out and would come back to the Park after finishing there.

It was a separate entrance fee, but they could have charged me whatever they wanted.

Seeing all of the ancient, green-screen terminals had me laughing like a little kid, snapping pictures of computers I’d never seen before and large tape-driven data banks like the ones from ‘The Winter Soldier.’

The BOMBA replica was the first big exhibit, and I caught it just before an Elementary (Primary?) School field trip showed up to get the explanation. I didn’t stay around for it, because what I really wanted to see was a few rooms over.

The rebuilt Colossus.

Arguably the first electrical computer ever built. It’s the size of a minivan, with vacuum tubes and wires going where, clicking and whirring, with punctured tape spinning like crazy on pulleys. The field trip wasn’t there, so I had all the time in the world to geek out and take pictures, as well as try to use the camera’s self-timer.

Of course, it didn’t want to focus, but thankfully another American tourist was there and helped out. He was a programmer. I would expect nothing less.

Progressing through the museum, I came to a room which housed nearly every home PC dating back to the Altair, to the Commodore 64.

As if the Colossus wasn’t enough, there was a working Apple IIe.

Not only did I come face to face with the machine origins of my lifelong passion, which have turned into a successful 20-year career, but also the machine which I was first sat in front of in elementary school, where it all started. I don’t even know what game it had loaded up, but played it as long as I could before the kids walked in. After messing up the commands, I finally got one right and heard the CLICK WHIRR of the 5 ¼ drive firing up.

Instant goosebumps. I’m generally not one for reveling in 80’s nostalgia, but this was an exception.

The next room over was the game room, with consoles dating back to the Atari. The kids had already gotten to it, so I walked around amused at watching them try to figure it out. Their chaperone announced it was time for their lunch and I had the room to myself, finishing out World 1-1 of Super Mario Brothers on the NES for them.

Next to it was one of the old beige-box Dell Optiplexes, that I’d become very familiar with during the inhuman amount of time I spent working for Convergys. It was sitting at a DOS prompt, with an error about a HIMEM test, asking to retry or continue. Intrigued at what it was trying to load, I hit continue and felt like a complete idiot seeing game it loaded.


It rounded out the list of origins, and I was near-biologically compelled to play a few levels and listen to the soundtrack from the 2016 remake.

I could not possibly have been more elated in those few minutes. Happy Birthday, indeed.

Eventually I got up and made my way through the rest of the museum, housing shelves full of manuals year by year going back to the 1970’s and more examples of older hardware. Usually I don’t buy cheesy gift shop t-shirts, but again this was an exception.

I headed back to Bletchley Park, touring more of the huts and rooms where some of the smartest men and women of their time worked tirelessly to break Nazi codes. For as much as I learned about D-Day going back to the trip to France two years ago, what I didn’t know is that part of the reason why the Normandy Invasion was so successful is that the codes which were intercepted and deciphered at Bletchley led to the Allies being able to send false intel to the Nazis regarding the invasion point. They lapped it up, put all their defenses in a fake location and the rest, as they say, is history.

I’d now walked both on the beach itself and through the rooms which helped the US take it.

By this point in the day, it was time to head back to London, as I needed to be in Chiswick Park to prep for the Fire Walk by 5:15 at the latest. It was barely 2pm when I left Bletchley, so with plenty of time and intended to keep it that way. I didn’t get to see every square inch, but I saw enough.

There was a bit of confusion at the Tube station when I got back, mainly because Google Maps wants to swivel around like an unbalanced office chair when you’re trying to figure out if the GPS is picking you up in the right direction.

Chiswick was right next to a stop, and I had arrived early to the point where everyone was still on the clock and the office plaza is empty except for the few food trucks and live band doing their soundcheck. As office park complexes go, it’s rather nice. When you play host to organizations like the EU HQ for Starbucks, UK HQ for Sony, and regional office for Columbia Pictures, you sort of have to be.

I’d avoided Starbucks at this point after how heavily I leaned on them in Paris, but this time I just gave up. Turns out they serve Stroopwaffles in UK Starbucks, so that had to be done while I relaxed and waited for the Fire Walk registration to open, which started at 4:30. I figured it was done at the tent I’d seen walking in, for the Shooting Star Children’s Hospice organization, which the walk was a fundraiser for. Yet another reason to not give it a second thought.

By 5:00, I hadn’t seen anyone down by the tent except for one lady, so I was slightly confused and checked with her. She confirmed the registration was in one of the buildings, so I nearly missed the entire event.

Most folks are already seated and wearing their turquoise event t-shirts. There looked to be about 30 people in total. The organizers ask if I work in the park and if I had a sponsor. I tell them the story of how I’m the random tourist who found out about it online at the last minute and couldn’t pass it up, which they’re all pleasantly surprised at. As it turns out, many of the Walkers are put up to this by their coworkers and friends, who pay the fee for them to do it.

They didn’t expect an American to show up out of nowhere and do it for funsies, and were extremely welcoming.

Soon after, the man running the show comes out and gives us all a briefing on how it’s going to go down, what to expect and dispelling some of the myths we may have heard about fire walking. Even before he said he’s been working these events for 30 years, it’s very clear this guy had the spiel down pat and loved doing what he did. Genuinely funny and his charisma was through the roof.

“Don’t mistake things – everyone out there watching is watching for one reason and one reason alone – they want to see you burn!”

When it’s time, we all walk downstairs where we can see the fire path raging. It’s using wood in place of coal, but was no less totally on fire. The crowd has now gathered in the open area between the buildings and congregated around the gates near the fire.

We all stand on the other side, receive our final briefings and remove our socks and shoes. I want to believe it was as much mental reassurance as physical that standing in wet grass in 45-degree weather for 10 minutes prior to walking on hot coals would help me from getting third degree burns.

The instructor asks everyone two final questions before they’re sent through: What their name is and are they ready. He’s ensured us that as long as we follow what he’s told us, that we won’t be harmed.

Eventually it’s my turn and I’m held up to make sure they can dump extra coal on the fire as it’s starting to lose strength. Awesome. He tells me to let them know if it’s too hot. I’m too amped to know whether or not he’s trolling me. The GoPro records the whole conversation.

“What’s your name!?” “Jon!” “Are you ready?!” “Hell yeah!”

“Go Jon, go go!”

I walk my happy ass across a ten-foot stretch of hot coals. Quickly.

I could feel the heat easily, know that if I’d lingered even a second longer than just a step, I would be laid up in a London hospital bed and taking crutches on the flight home. It was like walking on a thick comforter which had been left in the dryer 30 minutes too long.

My feet were a bizarre combination of hot and cold; stung in a sense, but sure enough were not burned. Just like a 5K, you get a medal at the end.

Picked up my shoes and socks and found a nearby rail to sit on, next to another older man who’d also just completed it. Told him I was a tourist and he legit confused me for someone he’d seen earlier that morning in one of the buildings. Apparently, I have an English doppelganger.

By that time the park was packed to capacity, and the MC tried and failed hilariously to get the crowd to sing karaoke with him on the screen. I kind of felt bad, because they were just having none of it. The fireworks display was well done. Unlike the medleys they usually do at Disney, they used full songs, the highlight of which was “Can’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. It was brilliant, and I recorded the whole thing while gleefully singing along.

Leaving the park was a cattle drive. Just a mass of people all being pushed in a direction that no one was quite sure of. It felt like it took longer than the fireworks display. I wanted to rush as I figured the Tube ride back would be more standing-room only, as I’d experienced with the few early morning rush hour rides I’d taken to that point, but there were plenty of seats.

Back at Paddington, I tried another new restaurant on the street near my hotel, Lite Bite, and it was dreadful. Bad service, worse food, and I immediately regretted not looking up reviews and finding somewhere else. I didn’t even finish my meal.

The next day I, everything was centered around making sure I would end up at The Shard, the tallest building in downtown London, for some decent night shots of the city. Only problem was that the tripod I’d brought would not fit in the bag I was taking everywhere, so I had to get a new one. With that in mind, it was a good time to walk through Hyde Park and Speaker’s corner, enroute to the Natural History Museum, and then onto the Royal Observatory in Greenwich to see the Prime Meridian.

A pretty neat moment happened when a construction worker saw me taking pictures of the Marble Arches near Speaker’s Corner, and pointed out artwork done by Banksy on a concrete wall nearby, who had been at one of the climate protests held there recently. Awesome seeing his work up close. If I only I could have visited Dismaland.

The Natural History Museum wasn’t exactly a letdown, but the Science Museum in Houston had the superior display of dinosaur bones and artifacts. It almost felt more like a much larger version of the Science Center in Winter Park. Not that that’s a bad thing, maybe I figured there’d be more to it. One neat moment came in the Human Biology exhibit, when I got to take a picture of my neuron tattoo next to a large display of one.

There were tons of small children running around and they were not quiet. After a few hours of nonstop yelling, I’d had my fill. Before catching a train to Greenwich, I hit a local camera store who had the perfect compact, sturdy tripod that fit like a glove in my bag. It was so solid, I “forgot” my shitty Amazon one at the hotel.

I was starving once I got there. Unwilling to get burned again by picking a place at random, I kept looking at reviews for the places right outside the Tube station and they were all mediocre, at best. Eventually I just Googled “Best Fish and Chips in Greenwich” and it returned with a place called ‘Golden Chippy.’ Five-star average on thousands of reviews. Sold. Mile walk? Worth it.

Tiny place, maybe smaller than Kappy’s Subs.

Full size order of cod, and it was just as good if not better than Fishcotheque. I look on the wall to see they’ve posted an article from TripAdvisor where they were at one point the Number Two rated restaurant in London. I pulled it up on my phone to see where they were at currently.

Number 26. Out of 19,299 restaurants listed in the city.

Running the numbers, this places them in upper the 0.098th percentile. At this point, I decided that was the last time I would eat fish & chips for the remainder of the trip. Not only because I didn’t want to gain double-digit weight before returning home, but also because between them and Fishcotheque, it just wasn’t going to get any better.

For the first time on the whole trip, I finally called an Uber to get me to the observatory. I was full of food, freezing and my feet were starting to bitch after tens of thousands of steps for days on end.

Unquestionably the worst Uber ride of my life. Dude didn’t know where to go when he picked me up and then asked if it was the right place when we arrived, which was the middle of a random intersection. It’ll likely be the only time I cancel the ride after getting out. I know it’s a shitty thing to do. Don’t care. If he knew where he was going, I wouldn’t have had to trudge all the way up the hill to the Observatory. I shouldn’t have to tell a local where to get to the most famous thing in town which is literally a mile away.

The Observatory itself is a must-see for anyone who’s a watch enthusiast. Mostly I wanted to see the Prime Meridian and get pictures of it, waiting for all of the tourists standing directly over top of it and getting their own pics. Yet, the museum itself is essentially a history of timekeeping, which every manner of watch and clock you can imagine.

I still had plenty of time to get to the Shard, but the hill on which the Observatory sits overlooks downtown. With the sun swiftly going down, I really wanted to break in the tripod, but with no gloves, no jacket and the wind whipping in, I figured I’d take my shots at the top of the Shard.

This was a mistake.

I should have known when the man at the camera store asked inquisitively, “They let you take those up there now?” referring to the tripod. “We’ll find out!” I replied enthusiastically.

Oh, I found out alright. Nope.

They hold it downstairs and give you what amounts to a luggage tag so you can collect it on the way back out. I may have been laughing about getting busted at Westminster, but now I was legitimately pissed. Really, it was the first time since being put on medication that my mood got the best of me. I didn’t snap, yell at anyone, lash out or make a scene, but I was not fucking happy.

As Strittmatter would say, “You’ve got steam coming off your ears.”

I just dropped 50 pound so I don’t have to get shitty night pictures, and now I had to put the camera on my uneven, lumpy backpack to steady it. I find a lot of pleasure an enjoyment in night photography, messing with the F-Stop and Aperture, taking different variations and the only way you can reliably do it well is with a tripod and either time delay or remote shutter release.

Super frustrating. The lady who scanned my ticket in could see how upset I was and said, “Just have a drink when you get up there, you’ll feel better!”

Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

I was too annoyed to look at the reviews for the restaurants near Paddington that night and picked the one Italian place, San Marco Ristorante. It turned out to be quite a good decision, as they made one of the better chicken Caesar salads I’ve had in some time. The cheesecake was nothing to sneeze at, either. At least the day ended on a high note. When processed the photos, I did get a handful of decent shots, so I let go of the anger and made sure to take the mood stabilizer before going to bed.

It ended early, at that, since the next day was the Dublin Incursion and a 4:30 am start.

The flight to Ireland was at an airport almost an hour outside of the city, Stansted, rather than Heathrow. It was scheduled to leave at 8:20. Everything I’d read about Stansted in my research indicated it was a total clusterfuck, which meant getting there irrationally early. Thus, I bought a train ticket for 6:10, and with needing at least 30 minutes to get from Paddington to the Liverpool Street rail station and competing with rush hour, that meant being on the Tube by 5:15 at the absolute latest.

Part of what I enjoy about taking these international trips is setting ambitious itineraries in part just to see if I can pull them off.

Seeing how empty Paddington Station was that early in the morning was creepy.

I knew I was getting there before most of the rush, but figured there would still be a slew of early risers heading to work to beat the crowd. There was literally one other person on the opposite platform, and less than 10 people on the train. I had plenty of time to get a bite to eat before boarding the Stansted Express.

Stanstead itself wasn’t exactly a clusterfuck, but it was respectably busy for that time in the morning. What makes it unique is that the terminal does not connect directly to the aircraft. You take a shuttle and board from the tarmac.

An hour later I was in Dublin, and unlike entering England, I got my passport stamp and that made me happy.

The Insomnia convention was a good 30-minute drive, and without a subway to catch, it had to be a bus. It was noticeably colder than London, and the wind was not fucking around. Still enjoying the cold so much, I didn’t have a jacket, but only two long sleeve shirts. It was the only time I regretted it until getting back to the States.

Something about the Irish accent just tickles me.

After I boarded and sat in the front seat, a lady got on and told the driver her destination was Kilkenny when he asked what it was. Raising an eyebrow, he paused and asked, “Sure ‘bout that?” She answered yes, and now with a smirk he asked again, “Are ye sure yer sure?” She had the name wrong and was going to Killarney. “If yer headin’ to Kilkenny, you’d’ve ended up 200 miles away!” It was delightful.

RDS, which stands for Royal Dublin Society, is a convention hall venue about thirty minutes away from Dublin International. An Uber would have been upwards of $60, where the Aircoach bus was only $14 round trip.

Before getting off, I asked the driver what time I’d need to be on the bus back to the airport if I wanted to be there by six, and he confirmed five. My flight was due to take off at 8:20, so two hours was the minimum, as I had no idea what time through security would be like.

Walking in, I can see it’s much small than what I’m used to in terms of cons. MegaCon spans a hall the size of two football fields, and is so packed you can barely move. This was maybe a fifth of the size. Not that it was a bad thing, just meant less to really see and do. Besides, I was really only there to meet Pyrocynical. Also attending was one of the programmers of the original Doom, Wolfenstein and other classic PC games from the early 90’s which I’d grown up with, John Romero.

Rather infamous in the gaming community for a particularly inflammatory ad for a game which ended up being perhaps the largest flop of all time.

The line for Pyro was fairly long, so I figured I’d just get in and wait it out. Not seconds after I took my place, one of the convention workers came up and closed it off, saying there were more people than he expected and had a live Q&A to perform at 1pm. It was maybe 11:10. At the rate it was moving, I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it.

I passed the time chatting up the worker, and later the mom of the younger boys just ahead of me in line, as I was closer to her age than theirs. She’d worked in IT all her life and I told her how visiting Bletchley Park and the computer museum are must-sees for anyone in our industry.

Eventually it was coming down to the wire as we inched closer to 1pm. Pyro’s mother came out from behind the merch counter and thanked the mom, her son and I for our patience, as we were the last ones in line and had been waiting two hours. She was so impossibly sweet. I highly recommended seeing if she could get him to MegaCon, as he would have people tripping over themselves to meet him, since the majority of his audience is American.

Finally, it’s my turn. I always feel so super awkward meeting celebs I’m a fan of. We shake hands and I tell him how it was disappointing that he was kept out of a meet and greet for another YouTuber he routinely makes fun of. He laughs about it and says there were 14 or so others that were kept out.

I tell him about how I made the sub-trip over from London, my birthday and how I couldn’t pass up a chance to meet him, and he was genuinely appreciative and said there was no way he would leave us hanging after waiting for two hours, even though it was after 1 and he was already late. We take a few pictures and I get a video of us saying, “BRUH” over and over as it’s a soundbite he uses often to comedic effect and it always makes me laugh.

Stashing the tshirt I bought from his booth, I walk around and see what’s for sale at all the vendor booths. Usual standard con fare, geek paraphernalia. After some deliberation, I bought replica EDITH and Tony Stark sunglasses. Don’t judge.

Afterwards I walk over to Romero’s booth, where the line is non-existent. I tell him I just wanted to meet him and shake his hand, as he was responsible for one of my all-time favorite games and that’s shaped my tastes to this day. He was super cool, and didn’t charge me anything for a picture. I asked about the Doom 2016 remake and he says he loved it.

With that, after a box of sausages and french fries, there wasn’t much left at the con that really grabbed my interest.

They had VR stations set up and a few retro arcade boxes, but nothing that made me want to hang around. I was in Dublin, after all, so with the four hours I had left, I wanted to explore and see what there was to see that was within reasonable walking distance.

Turns out St. Patrick’s Cathedral was just under two miles away.

As in, THE St. Patrick who drove the snakes out of Ireland. As in, the holiday that everyone who drinks uses as an excuse to get lit like a pinball machine. Awesome.

In true music nerd fashion, I put on The Joshua Tree and again practically skipped through town, not unlike the walk to Abbey Road, as the wind rakes across my face. It was fucking brutal and I really began to regret not bringing the hoodie I wore almost every day in China. I tore my house apart looking for it before I left, but eventually realized it’s probably at someone’s house that I’ll never return to.

Either way, I was too damn happy to let it bother me. Listening to U2 can almost feel like a warm blanket of nostalgia at times.

Reaching the Cathedral, to my disappointment it was closed for a college graduation. Bad timing. It was unplanned, so I couldn’t be too upset. Next time.

Stopping on the way back in a café for latte #452 and a Caesar wrap, I got out of the cold for 30 minutes, as it was starting to get to me. Figured I would just catch the next bus back and hang out at the airport. Could’ve gone back into the con, but didn’t want to risk getting wrapped up in something and losing track of time or spending more money. By this point, it was time to start watching my wallet.

This is where things got rough, as the bus took a full hour to arrive, and the sun had begun it’s descent. I huddled up in the corner of a closed bank to get out of the wind. It only slightly helped. I felt like I was playing The Division’s ‘Survival’ DLC, fighting progressively harder against the cold. “Body temperature is deep below optimal levels.”

Mercifully the bus finally arrives, and my mood is hanging on by a thread. I had not read the bus stop sign closely enough, and misunderstood the part where it said, “Drop Off Only”, as the driver does not let me on. This is after waiting for an hour. I nearly screamed. He says the pickup is on the other side of the busy street. I run across at the next crossing, just as the #702 pulls up, and I ran as hard as I could when it stopped 100 feet past where I was standing.

Made it. Mood is instantly turned around listening to “Even Better Than The Real Thing,” finally relaxed and out of the cold with plenty of time to get back to the airport.

Getting through security took less than five minutes and my feet got a well-deserved reprieve in the terminal. Between the flight, the train to the city and the Tube to Paddington, I was back at my hotel at just after eleven.

A 19-hour day, but a successful one.

The next morning, I checked out of the Olympic House and into the Royal Lancaster, just a block away. So nice not having to screw around with a cab or uber. It wasn’t the China World Summit, but was still extremely fancy, with my room on the 17th floor overlooking Hyde Park.

There was only one final day of the trip, so I made a point to go back to Abbey Road for a better picture, and now I got the full tourist experience. The sidewalks on either side were absolutely packed with visitors from all over the world.

They were being so fucking obnoxious – literally standing in the middle of the street and holding up traffic, waiting for their friends to stop in mid-walk pose. This one Italian couple must have done it eight times. I was embarrassed for them.

If I were a local, I would take a uranium-tipped jackhammer to that intersection.

The lady I talked to about it at the coffee shop in the nearby Tube station for yet another latte said she didn’t even care anymore. She’d become used to people not caring if they blocked someone from getting to work. “Oh, let me just get out the paper and read a bit while you take your picture!”

Afterwards, it was time to hit the British Museum. I did not realize the scale of this museum when I arrived, and after almost three hours, still did not get to see it all. Full wings of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese artifacts and artwork dating back thousands of years. It’s amazing, like London’s answer to the Smithsonian.

The main attraction is the Rosetta Stone, which I had to fight my way to get a good picture of. I didn’t realize the significance of the stone until reading the description, how it’s been the key to translating hieroglyphs.

With a few hours before my fancy dinner at the Foyer and Reading Room, I’m glad I checked Google Maps one last time, because I almost forgot about the Churchill War Rooms. Secret bunkers underneath Downing Street where Churchill and his officers lived for the entirety of WWII. I only had two hours but it was enough. I can’t imagine living underground for that long, never knowing if the reinforced steel and concrete shield above would actually prevent a direct hit from killing you instantly.

The accompanying museum devoted to him is impressive as well, with every artifact and piece of memorabilia you could imagine. I was most impressed with his 1911.

From there, I dropped by bag at the hotel and walked the mile and a half to the restaurant. It felt good to finally walk without having to carry it. Even though I bought it as part of a cosplay outfit, it’s become my go-to travel pack for carrying camera equipment, batteries, cords and souvenirs.

Of course, the Foyer and Reading Room is just immaculate, complete with piano player, like you’ve just managed to get a reservation at Dorsia.

Instead of the small table for two, the host sporting Peggy Carter’s hairstyle offers me the larger table for four next to the fireplace, insisting it’s more comfortable even though I’m by myself. It’s the kind of moment Old Me might not have felt he deserved, but places like that go out of their way to make you feel welcome, so I had no issue letting them.

Service and food were both impeccable. They even arranged a chicken Caesar off the menu for me. This is why I love going all out on the last night. After a week of taking what you’re given, you finally get the white-glove service. My server even made a joke about my water with lemon being a “Vintage 2019”.

It reminds me that this is the pay-off from the five-hour calls and frustrating moments with my customers throughout the year. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible and I should never be anything but grateful, even in the difficult moments.

Afterwards, I head back to the Foodwise for one last round-up of biscuits and other goodies, thanking the Middle Eastern man for being so friendly throughout the week. I’m going to start using my cheesy, touristy “London” reusable grocery bag at Publix.

The next morning is the requisite fancy buffet spread, and I wasn’t judged as harshly by the other patrons as I was in China for showing up in flipflops. I don’t want to think about how many carbs and calories I ingested, brazenly lying to MyFitnessPal.

Leaving Heathrow was a snap all around. No issue with security or check in. The issues started when the ground came into view at ORD.

You’d think we were landing at the O’Hoth Rebel Depot. Snow blankets the ground as far as visibility allows.

Clearing Customs and getting the bag transferred, I walk outside to find it’s snowing. Even though I’m still not wearing a jacket, I’m reveling in it. So rarely do I get to experience snow, and as long as I don’t have to be out in it for long without proper attire, it’s so wonderful feel falling on you. Growing up in Florida, it’s like witnessing a comet that only passes once a decade.

Terminal 1 is a madhouse.

The United line for “Special Services” which includes cancellations is snaked around like a new attraction at Universal. “That’s peculiar,” I think to myself. It made all the more sense when I looked at the Departure board to find, sure enough, I’m going to go have to stand in it, too.

My flight’s cancelled. Goddamnit.

I call the 800 number while waiting in line to find that I won’t be leaving until the next morning, but at least won’t have to pay again, which is fair. A hotel just a few miles away is available, with good reviews and not excessively expensive, so I grab a room and an Uber – but not before standing on the curb in now 20-degree weather, still with no coat and waiting 15 minutes for the driver to show up

And I thought I was cold in Ireland. The driver says this is nothing compared to what it’ll be in a few months, and is surprised so many flights were cancelled.

The hotel is about what you’d expect, adequately serviceable. Only problem is I have no clean clothes, no toiletries, and most importantly – no access to my now necessary meds. Even a shower would be pointless. The only saving grace was a Mexican restaurant across the street, with an exuberant and super-friendly host named Juan who served me a delicious burrito bowl, which I laid waste to. The place was straight out of Breaking Bad.

I slept like garbage and woke up impossibly early the next morning with a headache, so I ordered an Uber from the hotel lobby and figure I’ll just kill time in the terminal rather than try to go back to sleep.

The Indian clerk behind the counter helps me out with some ibuprofen while I wait for the free coffee to cool down.

Out of nowhere, I hear a shriek coming from outside. Then another louder one.

A woman throws open the door to the lobby, shouting for help, and runs behind the counter and into the hotel office to hide. The clerk tells her to leave, and a man comes bursting into the lobby like the Terminator, and tries to follow her behind the counter, yelling “She got my money! She stole my fucking money, bro!”

“Get out now! GET OUT NOW!” The clerk shouts, as he physically restrains him from reaching her.

I’m sitting like a deer in headlights, trying to decide whether or not to help him. The Terminator could have easily had a firearm on him, and put three rounds into me, the woman or the clerk for all I know. This is why police can be so jumpy. They have no idea whether or not people who do this are armed and intent on shooting someone. I didn’t have to intervene. They do.

They’re not perfect, they make mistakes and some of them are racist fucking monsters, you just can’t ignore the fact that any situation like a quiet early morning in a cheap hotel lobby can turn into a triple murder in a New York Minute. They have to make decisions that regular citizens don’t. Sometimes they make the wrong ones.

The man slowly starts to walk back out, yelling at the Indian man, “You know I wouldn’t bring this on you, man! You know me! She stole my mothafuckin’ money!” He reluctantly leaves, while the clerk continues to shout at him to get out, and he’s already on the phone with the cops. The other clerk who checked me in the night before comes out, also on the phone with 911. He locks the door and apologizes to me. I apologize to him for not being able to help.

My Uber driver pulls up less than minute later, and they let me out. Two police cruisers pull in literally as we drive away. Quite the experience for less than 24 hours in the city.

Four hours later, after getting a bit of exercise by pacing up and down the half-mile terminal, I’m on a flight with as much leg room as my desk at work and an empty seat next to me.

I was worried when I booked the tickets that without something to pin the trip on, it wasn’t going to be that good, when it ended up being one of the best vacations I’ve taken.

Sometimes the best laid plans are the spontaneous ones that get made on the fly.

Closed doors, open windows and such.