“Travel is educational; it teaches you how to get rid of money in a hurry.”
~ S. Barry Lipkin
I don’t care what happened to the Minnow, I love those three hour tours. When I land in a new city I sign up for a day tour. I see things that I want to go back to or spend more time at. In Rome, Lisbon and Madrid, I joined groups of tourists out of the city by bus. Washington DC and San Francisco have trams. Double-decker buses in London, Manhattan, Shanghai let you get on and off in. You can tour downtown Atlanta on a Segway. But I’m particularly fond of those two to four hour walking tours that show off gardens, old houses and historic landmarks. And for someone who travels alone, it is a good way to see the city and meet new people.
On a lark in New Orleans, I signed up for a ghost tour in the French Quarter. The tour started after dark and we met on a street corner. It was a sweltering July evening, even after the sun was down. The guide was dressed for the macabre with white face paint, black hair, a filmy black gown and blood red fingernails that matched her lips. Before we started she admonished us gravely that this was a very emotional tour. Looking us each straight in the eye, in her most solemn tone, she said that those “sensitive to the spirits” often fainted.
I think I laughed out loud.
She turned out to be a consummate story teller, invoking visions of the departed on every street corner of “Ol Nawlins” I figured her for an out of work actor, who would not be unemployed long. Her eyes glowed with hatred for a merciless killer. When she described a chase through the dark streets, you thought you heard footsteps on the cobblestones. When she spoke of voodoo priestesses, the hair on the back of your neck stood up. A partygoer’s high pitched laughter became a distant scream. It was spine-tingling.
I don’t remember the particulars of any of her stories, just that each was more riveting than the last. I didn’t care if the stories were true. Who would let the facts get in the way of a perfectly good story, anyway?
Near the end of our two hour tour, the guide was gesturing to an upstairs window, telling a tale of a blazing fire and describing how many jumped to their death. Her story was so enthralling that I easily visualized the flames. That why I didn’t see the movement of the woman next to me. I heard her fall facedown onto the cobblestones.
I consider myself a good person. I’ve had first responder training and generally launch into action at the first sign of injury. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my first thought was not about this woman’s safety. What I thought was, “Wow, This girl is good.”
And I was hooked on ghost tours from then on.
But, I told you that story, so I could tell you this one.
I was sure that the London ghost tour would be the best yet. I actually signed up for two tours to be sure I didn’t miss a great experience. The first was a Jack the Ripper Tour. It had been a sunny November day, but the weather accommodated by turning misty as dusk. Following the footsteps of one of the world’s first documented serial killer was thrilling. While the tour guide was not as dramatic as the one in New Orleans, her subject matter was genuine. The information made more chilling by the fog and her cold, frank delivery. I slept with the light on that night.
The next night was the City Ghost tour. Our tour guide was rotund with a cockney accent, red nose and easy laugh. He explained that he worked as a bus driver through the day so he knew the city and could really show us all the places that mattered. It became clear quickly what mattered to him, though. Every stop on the tour went like this: “Well now, over ‘ere something really ‘orrible ‘appened many a year ago. People bloody died and all. Really grisly business. I don’t remember all the details, but…’ey look! Ere’s a pub!” This wasn’t the kind of spirits I was looking for. In fact, this wasn’t a ghost tour, it was a pub crawl. And the guide was (surprise!) well known at each bar. They began pouring his pint before he even sat down. And he didn’t have to pay like the rest of us. Making the best of it, I ordered a pint at the first couple places, but I’m not much of a drinker.
When our guide ushered us to the fifth tavern, he exclaimed we were in for a real treat. “The owner see, he’s a real fancier of Sherlock ‘omes. Ee’s got a museum ‘o sorts upstairs, made up to look just like ‘omes’ study. Why, ee’s got things up there that old Sherlock hisself owned.”
“Sir,” I frowned. “You do realize that Sherlock Homes is a fictional character, right?”
“Oh, is that right, Love? Well, cheers!” and with a smile, he emptied his glass.
I took the Tube back to my hotel. I don’t mind being told stories; I just want to be able to believe they might be true.