A Tale of Trafalgar Square: My Second-Worst Travel Story

by  Maryrose Mullen | Oct 18, 2012
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square / anyaivanova/iStock

Travel is about more than exploring new lands and cultures. It’s about fostering memories that will last long after the embarrassing snapshots fade. Once a memory – exceptional or mortifying – is forged, it’s difficult to shake it from the place it was created, for better or worse.

I’m not short on fond family vacation memories: rafting down the Colorado River, kayaking alongside sea lions in Monterey Bay, standing waist-deep in Lake Michigan while marveling at the Chicago skyline (most of my family vacations have involved massive bodies of water). I’ve been fortunate not only to do a healthy bit of traveling, but also to have a wealth of wonderful experiences. But my most unforgettable moment? Not quite so wonderful. And as ShermansTravel’s new editorial intern, I can think of no better way to say hello than by telling my second-worst vacation story of all time.

The first big vacation my family took was a two-week trip to the United Kingdom the summer before I entered sixth grade. Before this, our summers were spent at the municipal pool, save for a week at the Jersey Shore watching out for the errant tramcar. The bulk of the trip was spent meeting relatives in Scotland, but for the first three days we were sightseeing in London. My brothers and I reveled in the city’s morbid history. We propped our chins on the wooden block at the Tower of London where many lost their heads, crossing our eyes and grinning.

On our second day, we ventured to Trafalgar Square, a London mainstay. Until recently, it was also known for its exceedingly high pigeon population. The city has since taken measures to rid the spot of birds, but, at the time, the square was awash with grey, cooing masses with no sense of personal space. There was a small tin cart near the center of the square where you could buy a cup of birdseed for a few pence. I had watched birds alight on visitors’ shoulders and nimbly hop to their open palms, delicately pecking at the feed within. It was so charming – so British – and I begged my parents for coins to try myself.

I scattered some seed at my feet and, to my delight, a group of pigeons began to feed. These were nothing like the pigeons I had seen in New York; these birds didn’t see me as a threat, but as a perpetual food-providing mechanism. They weren’t afraid, and soon the crowd around me began to grow. They drew closer and closer, wings beating, and seeing the creatures up close made the idea of them touching me far less charming. That was when a crazed feathered beast descended and sunk its claws into my scalp.

I screamed, and the pigeon, just as confused as I was, flapped furiously, tightening its grip on my hair. Trying to dislodge it, I began running around the square, shrieking, with a bird attached to my head like a panicking hat. Finally it released, and I sat at the base of Nelson’s Column wailing, “Is this how people get rabies?!”

As for my worst vacation story? It was on this same trip, a few days later, when I learned the Spice Girls had broken up. These were dark times.

Do you have a terrible travel story that can top mine? Please share in the comments!

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