From the Archives: Luton / by Heather

From November, 2008: Luton, England

(in transit to Lisbon, Portugal)

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Due to trying to schedule our trips around my classes, instead of flying direct Edinburgh-London-Lisbon after our trip to the Isle of Skye, Jonathan and I left for London on a Wednesday evening, spent the night there, and left for Lisbon early in the morning. Now to clarify, we didn’t exactly stay in London, we stayed in the town of Luton. RyanAir likes to call it London anyway, despite it being a good hour and a half train ride to the actual city centre.  RyanAir may be cheap, but it likes to put its passengers in the “general area” of their destination, which can be quite inconvenient, as one might imagine. So if you are planning on buying a 5 pound ticket, just remember the extra coast of bags, all the fees, and the cost of train/bus/taxi to get yourself to your real destination. It's still usually worth the bargain-priced flight though.

So we arrived at Luton Airport late at night and took a taxi to one of the closer hotels next to the airport. Once we were there, we set out to find any restaurant open so late. We meandered down Luton’s closed and dark main street until lo and behold! A Chinese restaurant! I first thought that the restaurant was closed, because I couldn’t see into its dark windows, but then I realized that the windows were opaque because they were completely steamed up…which is rather scary for a public establishment. But not one to say no to Chinese food at 10 o clock at night, we ventured inside.

First off, the name of the restaurant was Man Ho, leading  to many, many jokes. Upon entry, Jonathan and I were greeted by bad, karaoke-sounding singing and a room packed full of people. Apparently, Man Ho will host parties for people, and we happened upon a particularly amazing one. The owner of the restaurant was a beautiful Chinese lady who welcomed us warmly and pointed out a photograph on the wall. It was of a slightly younger version of  herself dressed as a Playboy bunny and it was signed by Hugh Hefner. As we waited for our take-away dishes (it was a private party, so we had to take-away), we could only stare in fascination at the sight before us.

There were two singers on a little stage, backed by a guy with a machine that made it sound like they had a whole band with them. One of the singers was a younger woman and she wasn’t too bad, but the other was this little old English man who just could not sing. The music for a Bob Marley song came on, and as he sang, he quickly donned a giant Jamaican hat, complete with dreadlocks, and oversized yellow sunglasses. In addition to the singers, there was a huge mosh pit in the middle of the restaurant…filled with old English people and, for some odd reason, two extremely tall drag queens.  There was also a table filled with middle-aged lesbians next to us and they were all dancing happily around with each other. The entire scene was like a drug for the eyes, and neither Jonathan nor I could say no. The energy in the restaurant was of happiness and exuberance, and it was catching. It was in that moment, surrounded by Bob Marley-singing little old men, drag queens, an elderly mosh pit, flailing lesbians, and Chinese food, that I had to stop and truly admire the complete and utter randomness that traveling often throws people into. Only when you step outside your comfort zone and let the world hurl at you what it will, can you truly discover how fascinating and heartwarming the odd and the weird may be. It is always thrilling to me to know that I may become part of a completely random situation that I would never have gotten the chance to experience had I not been wandering about. That is what I really love about traveling….not so much about seeing the big tourist attractions and taking pictures in front of them, but rather those unique moments, that can rarely be photographed or even described. It is the unity of chaos, feeling right at home with the bizarre, and the awareness that weirdness is happening around the world, in millions of different places.

Soon our food came and we had to leave, though not without promising a return visit in the future to the staff (and to someday make it to Elvis night!). We went back to the hotel and while we ate (the food was excellent), we watched a show made up of what looked like animated Lego characters and called “Rick and Steve, the Happiest Gay Couple in the World.” A perfect end to the night.