First things first. Reading maps 101: when looking at a map, calculate the distance you are actually looking at. For instance, walking three blocks sounds pretty easy. However, the distance between each block could vary from 3 minutes to 30 minutes. We found that out the hard way.
We arrived at Gatwick Airport. It was only an hour plane ride, so we weren’t exhausted. We sat outside the airport, waiting for our bus to take us on our hour journey to London. We didn’t actually know what part it was taking us to. We didn’t even have a map at this point. But not knowing and spontaneously figuring out our destinations were our forte. We arrived at a corner. I couldn’t even tell you the names of the streets. I asked the bus driver, “so, you probably get this question a lot, but where are we and where can we get a map?” It was quite unfortunate that he couldn’t speak English. I’m not really sure where he was from to tell you the truth. I knew we would eventually confront a language barrier, but I was not expecting that in another English speaking country quite yet.
He gestured down the road, and we gathered that there was an underground station where we could get directions. We trudged down the road, with our backpacks the size of boulders on our backs. We found a map that gave us an idea of where our hostel was located and continued on our way.
We found it a few miles up the road and checked-in, set down our backpacks in a not so trusting closet, and went on to find a place to eat to fill our time until we could get into our room at the hostel. We fell upon a small pub and for the first time ever, I ordered fish and chips, how appropriate. They had some tasty tartar sauce.
After claiming our beds at Earls Court Hostel, located in the southwestern part of London, we ventured out and about. We were in a convenient location, although Buckingham Palace was quite a trek away, it was still walk-able.
Buckingham Palace was quite a sight to see. I remember always seeing it on movies, shows and news programs, especially since the Olympics were in London this year. The only disappointment I had about the Palace was the guards. They were not dressed in that traditional red garb with their furry black hats. I know there are more proper words for their type of attire, however I do not know them. So there you go.
We did the best we could to see as much as possible, fighting any exhaustion we felt from our very recent plane ride. It was only an hour flight from Ireland, however any type of traveling for some reason takes so much energy out of you.
Next stop, Harrods. Harrods is a large shopping mall. It was luxurious. And I am very literal when I say that. As we walked through each department, they had signs posted above every archway of the door scripted, “Luxury Room 1” and so on and so on. Their rooms were called luxury rooms, so of course you can now imagine how upscale this place is. I personally would not be able to afford much in the store. Mainly because I was saving all of the money I had saved on traveling costs. Even in the daily life of mine, I probably wouldn’t be able to shop for much there either. I was the target of every salesclerk. They lurked at a respectable distance. I’m not really sure how to take this. It’s good to know that they protect their items, however, did my clothes that day scream “thief”? Note to self: wear a fancier dress of some sorts. I should have matched my fellow shoppers in some chic attire. I guess my timberland boots, blue jeans and multi-colored peat coat didn’t do myself enough justice.
We fell upon the candy shop. I was with my friend Erin and we had lost three of our friends: Molly, Brittany and Jordon. It was a pretty big place, but we knew we’d eventually find them somewhere. I would’ve loved to have an excuse to use the loudspeaker to call for them. However, we ran into them in the candy shop, how appropriate. We skimmed each counter, searching for what we searched for best, free samples. We found a few, and they all tasted great to me. I am not even a dessert person, but there is something about free samples that just screams deliciousness.
We moved on to Big Ben. My friend, Molly, was navigating. As soon as she said, it should be up here on our left, we turned a corner and there he was. Big Ben blew me away. I could stare at him all day and night, boy did he look good. It was a time where I thought to myself, “how many people right now walking around us are currently taking this for granted?” Maybe there are some beautiful sights in Philadelphia that I don’t realize because they have become so normal, but this was like nothing that I ever saw. We crossed the bridge nearby and made our way to the London Eye. I took a few pictures, however, I found myself turning back to Big Ben. My friend, Erin, took about 40 pictures of Big Ben from the same spot. “I just can’t get enough of him,” she kept saying. If you were to go through her phone the same picture, 40 times in a row will appear. I don’t think she can find the courage to delete any.
As the sun set, we decided to make our way back to the hostel to get some sleep for our sightseeing adventures to come the next day. This is where we realized the map was not what we thought. The map condensed all of London. However, London was not as condensed as previously thought. I can’t even tell you where we started walking from to make it back to Earls Court. It took us two hours of walking to get there. On top of that, we were tired, hungry, and felt the real troubles of a constant traveler. We stopped at a hotel and asked for directions at the main desk. The woman did not speak English too well. “Where are all the English speaking people in this country?” I joked. I thought it very ironic that there was no language barrier, however, that was one of the main problems we kept coming across.
She drew a few lines on our map and we made our way down the road. Then I spotted a sign from far directing travelers to the hostel. We made it. We walked into our hostel and saw that our two new roommates were there. I introduced myself and the other girls did the same. “Hello I’m Annika from Sweden.” She must know about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. That was my first reaction. “Hello, I’m Margarite from Mexico.” After I explained that I was studying in Ireland, however we were all from the states, Magarite said, “Ah the U.S. so we are neighbors!” I laughed. Indeed we are.
We all knocked out. It was a great night of sleep. Apparently we all snore, which was unfortunate for our roommates, but oh well. We woke up early the next day and continue to sight see. We went to the Imperial War Museum. It was my cup of tea, mainly because I love history and tea. There was a teashop half way through the museum, where you could stop and enjoy before continuing to relive a gruesome past. At least, that’s how I saw it. It was a great cup of tea I might add.
We went on to see other great parts of London recommended by a friend of a friend. We saw Tower and London Bridge, along with Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. I pretended that I was going shopping for my first wand, however they were way too expensive. I also wanted to make Diagon Alley exist. It would attract so many tourists. When you go and see that the wand shop is now a luggage store, it is a bit disappointing.
Our last night was not spent at our hostel getting a sound sleep. It was spent getting a sound sleep on a bus, but I will get to that in a minute. We went to meet up with our friends at a club. It was by Kings Crossing stop of the tube. It was way to expensive, £30 is not worth it. I would rather spend that much at a bar that is free to walk into then pay for that entrance fee where all I’d get is some fancy furniture and cool lighting. When I walked in, they had security check your bag and such. The woman saw gum in my bag and took it. I looked at her and said, “Why did you take my gum?” She said it was because they had nice furniture. I said I wasn’t 2 years old. It wasn’t going to fall out of my mouth. Plus it was a full pack of gum that I had just bought, so of course I was angry.
I told the lady, “I might not even be going into the club, I have to wait for my friends.” She then took my gum and threw it in the trashcan. “Aw hell no,” I said. I took my gum out and said, “This club can suck it”. I don’t know if I was tired or maybe just a little too attached to my pack of gum, but either way, I did not feel welcomed. So I walked outside, chewed the entire pack of gum, and may or may not have spit it on the side of the club. I know what you’re thinking. I am crazy. My mom likes to call it passive aggressive. For me, I liked to think I believe in gum equality. I also believe in cheaper entrance fees. I guess it was a long day of walking. And then again, we got lost.
Since the tube closed, we had to take the bus back to our hostel. The hostel was far from where we were. We spent that night sleeping on the bus, not exactly sure if we were on the right one. I woke up and a guy was sitting next to me. He was speaking German, so I listened closely since I can speak a little. It was a business phone call. He saw me wake up and turn to my friend behind me who I asked the time. He said, “Ah I can hear the accent, are you Canadian or American?” I told him I was from the states. He asked if I was enjoying my time in London, and I told him it was grand. He then asked, “So how long are you staying for?” I looked at my phone, “Well our plane leaves in two hours.” He laughed.
Another gentleman helped us navigate our way back. Once we arrived at our hostel, I said, “screw sleeping.” I walked upstairs and gathered my things. I went back downstairs to the 24-hour front desk and bought a muffin. I hung out on the lobby room couches and listened to a few Iranians have a conversation at 5am. We left Earls Court and made it to our bus in time to take our flight back to Dublin. With the lack of sleep and an exhausting night, I stepped off the plane, went back to my apartment, and felt jetlagged from a 1-hour plane ride that had no time change. Word to the wise, try not to get lost in London. However, if anyone were to ask, I would do it again in a heartbeat.