Monday, July 21, 2008

Life is a 24-hour rollercoaster

On a partly cloudy Sunday morning I arrived at the Marble Arch tube station at 08:50 and started to wait for C. with whom we were going to pick-up the car from Hertz rent-a-car. C. arrived at 09.05 and a few minutes later came A. and G. as well. The quartet was complete and we all made our way into the Hertz office. We left the car-park around 09:40 after a long-queue and headed outside London into the Kent area in Southeast England.

Like all stories that end with fascination, this one had all started with an embroidery of small coincidences. As I was heading back home from school the previous Monday, I left my bike on campus and took the Tube due to my heavy load. I sat on a seat and across me was an ad. on "visiting Kent by train". A discounted travel for groups of 4+ for as low as £10 ticket for a 3-hour return journey. I sent a text message to A. and G. and to my surprise they were talking about going to Kent with me over the weekend. We topped the team to 4 with C. and decided to rent a car in the end, choosing flexibility of moving around on a day's trip over cheaper train rides. C. and me were responsible for transportation arrangement and the couple A. and G. were the Ministers of Tourism for the day.

We arrived roughly around 11:30 in Canterbury. I only knew about the University of Kent and had once heard about its Cathedral. After wandering around a bit with the car and walking around in the town, we carved for lunch, wanted to get away from the (American) Indian street musicians, skipped the £5.50 entrance fee for the Cathedral, randomly walked into the beautiful Greyfriars and had a good lunch with a superb apple-pie with ice-cream around the High Street. Having had enough of Canterbury with few surprises the city could offer, we made our way to Dover to find out about the White Cliffs under the advice of our Tourism Ministry and a suggestion I had received from a friend during the week.

As soon as we got back to the car, it started raining, reminding us to leave for the clearer skies further in the east. Around 15:30, we were setting off to the peaks of the White Cliffs, for the peak of our trip. I left the A2 road, steered into the road to Dover Castle. The clouds started to open up for a blue sky and there lay the ocean, the sea, the channel or whatever one may want to call, a wide-perspective of water our Turkish souls have been missing for a while. And across the other side, we could see the small harbours and towns of France, the excitement of being so close to the continent was good enough a reason to be there.

At the entrance of Dover Castle at 16:30 we had a tough decision to make. The castle would close at 18:00 and C. wanted to go in. Despite C. would get what she wanted through A.'s witty, innovative points-scheme he came up with, we decided to skip the castle. That gave us a couple of hours to wander around the White Cliffs, a stop that fulfilled our day with pictures, some trekking, big adrenaline-rush and even some drama acting and film-making.

Now, I believe life is only meaningful when you've got stories to tell that have a pack of adrenaline in them. I also believe Turks are a bit too-much of a last-minute people but if you're going to make it in the end, why not make an entertainment out of it? And if you end up losing it, you have always got something to talk about. A small flashback here... In 2005, I was doing language courses around Spain. My flights back to Istanbul were Easyjet-Germanwings connection via Valencia-Berlin-Istanbul. Valencia flight was leaving Sunday morning 08:30 and I was in Madrid the day before. My only connection was a bus from Madrid to Valencia at 01:00. After claiming my luggage at Atocha Station 3 minutes before lock-up and spending too long in Los Amigos Hostel in Madrid to re-live memories from 2004, I had to hassle through Saturday-night Madrid traffic with a cab that left me at the bus station at 01:02. I jumped in the bus that was moving out of the terminal and everything was in summer-heat order.

Back to the trip:
We had to be back at the car at 18:55 to make sure the doors of the White Cliffs national park would not be closed on us. We fooled around too long in our journey to the pebbles with the shipwreck, we had to pace on the way back. A detour took us further than we wanted to go but I was out of the gates at 19:01 to pick up A. and G. on the way. A coffee break in Dover settled the tired souls and we started rolling the tyres back into London. After about 200 miles and 14 hours, we were back in London. Driving over London Bridge we saw the most fascinating sight, if all we saw during the day wasn't enough. A. shouted "look under the Tower Bridge" as if the bridge was coming down or a ship was crashing into it. Just between the steelwork of the bridge you could see the moon, painted in misty-yellow, bigger than any I've ever seen, trying to make its way up in the cloudy London skies... I only had a brief second to see its blinding beauty overarching the blue-grey concrete of Tower Bridge, a sight to be long-remembered.

Car rental meant more than our trip and thanks to A. and G. After dropping off C. in Bethnal Green, we made our way to my house to pick-up 60-kilo of luggages to R.'s place at the end of the night. Well, the night wasn't ending just yet...

I picked R. after midnight for a stroll around east London, driving into the City Airport, the Docklands, the Thames Barrier, through abandoned avenues, futuristic DLR stations in the middle-of-nowhere's, horrendous housing estates on the edges of highways, truck driver's night-clubs with signs in pink-background with cracked windows; over bridges of numerous canals. We drove all the way up to Stratford and back into the Isle of Dogs as London was sleeping into a new week at Sunday 1 AM.

Grand finale:
I went for my last sleep in my house at 02:30 and woke up around 07:30. There was yet one last mission to be accomplished. Start from Kentish Town, fill the car-tank, pick-up C. from Liverpool Street, drive back to Marble Arch and deliver the car by 09:00. The sole reason why we had to drive with C. to drop the car was because she had rented the car to avoid paying more because of my age restrictions.

When I could only make it to Bethnal Green Road at 08:20 I had sheer hope but between me and C. we had more to fear for paying an extra £41 because of an additional day's rental.

I only missed 2 flights in my life and both were Germanwings flights from Berlin. The actors were the same in the both. Me, my then-girlfriend A., and a German taxi driver. The story was easy to follow. I would hesitate to leave Berlin and A. behind so easy, the S9 to Schonefeld would either break-up or delay, we would get a cab, the driver would never exceed the speed-limit and I would miss the flight.
I only rented a car once prior to yesterday and the Scottish trip a week ago. That was in Berlin and from Hertz rent-a-car. We had driven to Hamburg, and woke up too late the next morning and had to extend the rental to 2 days. We made most out of it anyways back then... This time, none of these could repeat. There was no more time and money to waste, and no desire to drive in London or levy more expenses on the whole team. We had to make it back from East End of London to West End of London through Monday-morning traffic in 40 minutes.

It could only take me and C.'s wishful thinking, full concentration, luck with traffic lights, C.'s small hints on the road, my full intuition and confidence in my orientation skills, and the patience of London drivers against us! Through small streets, side roads, roundabouts, Congestion Charging zone, 3 boroughs, 4 train stations, 10's of traffic lights and 100's of curses, a welcoming Hertz employee in yellow-suits checked-in the car at 08:55. As C. had expressed half an hour before, "it was a miracle come true".

Some days I just look up in the sky and wander how some coincidences weave together. Do people with strong thinking and feelings subconsciously build stories around themselves that come across each other's ways? The setting sun was right in my eye 12-hours ago on the M20. C. handed me her sunglasses, and said the clouds looked only so nice and yellow the way they did because they were over the oceans.
I looked up once again into the skies at Tottenham Court Road after dropping the car. C. headed into the school. Sun was trying to make its way behind the white clouds. Another step and the sun broke down behind the Central Point skyscraper. My eyeballs grew large, and I thought of something I repeatedly had over the last 24-hours:

Life is beautiful, inasmuch you've got stories to tell. I've just had another one.

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