I love maps.
I enjoy looking at them, even if following them sometimes can be a tad tortuous. I like looking at the pathways, I don’t know why. I just know that I appreciate the act of looking at those images and attempting (however futile) to follow the directions by simply (I exaggerate, of course) keeping track of points A and B and staying on course (easier said than done, I know, especially if A.1 happens to be a bookshop and A.2 a shoe store ).
Last year I wrote this, about a guide/map that I lost a long time ago. It was a map that served me well back in 2007, my first foray in London.
I was able to buy an exact copy during our fourth day in London! Huzzah!
You should have seen me when I saw it on the shelf of some small-time souvenir shop. I immediately grabbed it from the display and held on to it, Gryffindor gloves be damned. That was the only thing I bought from that store, well, that and a pack of Mentos (a travel staple for me), and I must say it was an excellent purchase. I gave my small London map (a freebie I snatched upon landing at Heathrow airport; Abbey was very impressed with my dexterity) to Giselle so she and Abbey could use it at will even if we part ways (I do have a tendency to wander off on my own, with their awareness and full understanding, of course). I am now reunited with my very own, tremendously reliable London guide.
It was a good reunion. I didn’t need any sort of getting-to-know-you period. I went right down to it as if we were never parted. I knew where to find the landmarks section. I easily understood how the entire map of London as they have printed it on glossy paper, works. In fact, ‘understanding’ doesn’t seem like the right word for it suggests a process. My map and I didn’t go through any process at all. It’s that easy to get, I swear. It’s as if the whole book was written with my mind, in mind.
It has everything a tourist would want from a guidebook—all the essential sights, places of general interest with an updated information about the best time of the day to visit, how much money to prepare for fees, and even comes with appropriate scoring and assessment (1 star being ho-hum, 5 stars as excellent), the map of entire London (of course, duh) complete with monuments and statues that speckle your path (most helpful for folks who rely on landmarks), subway map, bus routes, even a list of main theatres and concert halls plus tips for theatregoers.
All in 48 pages!
It’s so easy to pack in my small Pacsafe shoulder bag. I didn’t even have to fold it. It was the perfect size.
It is the perfect map.
So to my handy, little red London map and guide, thank you for coming back to me. I don’t mind the £2.95 price tag. You’re worth every penny.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I didn’t get lost, oh dear heavens no. But wandering off-course was usually the result of me not looking at my map, so there you go. Why didn’t I look at my map at all times, then, you ask? Well, aside from the obvious that being seen with a map screams ‘TOURIST!” to a random pickpocket, sometimes, you just have to let go of your guide. That’s the only way to learn. The resulting disorientation would usually lead me to a) ask people for directions (like what happened when we were trying to look for the Carlton B&B. In hindsight, I should have asked for directions immediately upon leaving the train station to spare us the trouble of walking all over Euston Road), b) rely on my two companions (like when we were desperately trying to spot this Middle-eastern restaurant called Gaby’s Deli near Leicester Square. Their salted meat is to die for, by the way), or c) just trust my intuition and memory, as was the case when we looked for the Temple Church or the British Museum. I remember an American couple who even asked us for directions while we were on our way to the Museum. That was cool. Granted that the Museum visit happened before I was reunited with my map, I still trusted my instincts (and my memory for I’ve been there before) so that’s that.
I miss looking at my map. I miss riding the subway and its challenging, color-coded lines and routes. I miss saying “Hammersmith” and “Tottenham” and “Piccadilly” and “Knightsbridge.” I miss seeing those funny names on buses like “Clapham Junction” or “Tooting Station” or “Barking”.
I don’t miss looking first on the right side of the road before looking at the left, though, that’s for sure. I never really got the hang of it, though it was not really a problem for me as I usually follow the other pedestrians while crossing the street. And I also do not miss radiators/heaters that do not work (curses Carlton). And most of all, I do not miss “hotels” that have six flights of steep stairs sans an elevator (curses Belvedere).
I have a niggling question, though. Will there be a third time for me to need my London map? Is third time the charm for me and this city? Or was the second time the last I will have a need for it?
Then again, maybe it’s because the next time I go to London, I won’t need to look at any guide anymore.