I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that London was never on my radar. The gray, gloomy days and unpredictable rain showers are the ultimate turn off. No thanks. But, that’s where I was headed. Or rather, it was the first leg of my Euro tour. I’d spend just a couple days there before jetting off to the next country. I wanted to give London a fair chance before counting it out. I wanted to say I’d at least been.
I awoke Sunday morning with a laundry list of things to do, packing being one of them. At some point in the afternoon I got around to it and was sure to pack my umbrella because…London. I toyed with taking the train but opted for an uber thinking I had a free ride to spare. I would’ve used it in Europe, but the way those terms and conditions were set up meant that it was impossible. I ordered my uber and wobbled outside with my backpack and overstuffed purse to pack myself into the funkiest smelling car I’d ever been in. That was strike one. It was the first of many unchivalrous moments that I would encounter before sitting idle in traffic, slowly but surely making my way to JFK airport. I chalked it up to mercury being in retrograde.
Finally making it to the airport and realizing that my ride from Brooklyn to next door Queens was a cool $33, I knew then and there that that coupon was nonexistent. Oh well, que sera, sera. I let myself out of my uber (strike two) and strolled into the airport past super long lines in search of the ticket counter. After walking in circles for a few minutes I found it, checked in, and made it to the longest line of them all. At first glance I thought it was check in for a flight that would take off soon. It wasn’t. Eventually a woman escorted me to a shorter line as I was pushing it close to missing my flight. I made my way through security and made a beeline for food. You see, I had spent about $20 on food for the journey and realized 5 minutes into my uber ride that I left it on my kitchen counter. It took everything in me not to ask the uber driver to turn around.
With McDonalds being the cheapest option I stood in the short line only to order and wait a good 10 minutes for my food. Hearing several final boarding call messages had me on edge and ready to forfeit the $10 I’d just spent, but I chose to snatch an employee over the counter and demand my food. Okay so that didn’t happen, but that was my tone. I grabbed my food, thanked the man, and ran to my gate. I can’t believe I wasn’t the last person on the plane, just close to it. Maybe my tardiness is why a male flight attendant stood less than a foot from me, waiting for me to finish struggling with shoving my backpack into the overhead compartment. Ugh. Strike three.
After a brief layover in Keflavik, I finally landed in London. The line “…just touched down in Londontown” from Estelle’s “American Boy” song constantly replayed in my head as I fought the urge to make it an Instagram caption. I’m the most frugal person I know, so I immediately was off to find the train to make it to where I would be staying, King’s Cross. A taxi, uber, or anything resembling the two was out of the question seeing as how I had no plans to head to an atm, and wasn’t selling a kidney for my journey. The train tickets alone where expensive as hell, no way I was paying double or triple that.
The ride from Heathrow to King’s Cross was like something out of a movie. I was passing through suburbia. It was the London you get snippets of in movies. Beautiful single family homes lined up ever so neatly along tree lined streets. However, I stepped off of the train and into the city. In my usual fashion I got turned around once or twice before getting on the correct route to my Hostel. Yes, you read that correctly. Hostel. This is what my trial run hostel stay in San Francisco was for. I didn’t have this trip in the works back then but I knew when I made it to Europe again, especially Western Europe, I’d be backpacking and staying in hostels to make up for all the years I didn’t get to have this ever so cliche experience.
After checking in and stomping my way up the stairs and down the hall to my four bed, female hostel room, I was greeted with disappointment as I threw the door open to one of the tiniest rooms imaginable. There were two bunk beds, parallel to each other of course, and a couple feet in between. And how could I forget the micro-sink in front of my bunkbed. The one you had to stand sideways at due to lack of space. The plan was to spend two nights here, country hop, and come back for a third night before heading to my 4th and final country. I’ll jump to the end of my hostel story and admit that after night one, after uncomfortable sleep, on an uncomfortable mattress, complete with noisy guests outside of my door, and a roommate coming in in the middle of the night and checking out even earlier – and her incessant crumpling of a plastic bag that to this day I still have no clue what it contained – after all of that…I hopped on airbnb and booked another place for what would be my third and final night in London. I’d have just one more night to rough it out in the hostel, and that was fine.
I set my bags down and immediately left my room so I could explore London. I had no time to waste. While King’s Cross is a hub for anywhere you want to go, I set off on foot because I’m a walker. That’s how I get to know a city. That’s how I explore places and find the hidden gems. That’s how I found Terry’s Grill in Belize and stumbled upon some of the most beautiful churches I will ever see in Italy. It’s just what I do. Not knowing where exactly to head, and willing to walk up to an hour away (often times more), I put in the address to Top Shop on Oxford Street, knowing that that was probably the liveliest area, especially on a Monday afternoon.
I walked around and forced myself to pass stores with the cutest outfits in the window screaming “buy me!” The price couldn’t have been better but I was only armed with a backpack in one of the most expensive countries in Europe. I had to speedwalk far away. I ended up in Soho Square, where I’d send my first “proof of life” photo to my boss. For some reason my traveling alone scares her half to death. But that’s a different story.
The walk from King’s Cross to Soho Square caused me to work up quite an appetite. I immediately knew I didn’t feel like trying new foods (another reason I never cared to visit London) so I decided that fish n’ chips would be my best bet. I ended up walking down a narrow street. The type where restaurants sit tables outside not for customers to enjoy on a nice day, but because they’re so small inside people need to sit outside as well. While my hunt for beer battered cod and thick cut fries was one of importance, I saw several people eating a dish that the waitress could only describe as a thin pancake that you could fill with different ingredients. I opted for spinach, chicken, and feta. The hummus and sweet dipping sauce was to die for and I probably finished that before wolfing down the rest of the food. I washed it down with a glass of wine whilst people watching patrons and passersby. To this day I still can’t tell you what that dish was called, aside from delicious.
I spent the rest of my day roaming London before heading back to my hostel. That’s another thing I do. I’ll wear myself out to the point of exhaustion so I end up turning in early. I never mind and it always leaves me well rested for the next day. I walked until I didn’t feel like it. I saw huge buildings out of the corner of my eye that I gravitated toward. That’s literally how I decide where to go next. It all depends on the strength of the pull. I got caught in the rain. I took cover in tunnels under buildings older than my oldest relative. I took photos for a man who wanted to document hisself getting soaked in the downpour. I passed by actual parks that I was sure were featured in Mary Poppins. It was nostalgic.
I guess you could say day one in London was more than lovely. The weather, the architecture, the food, the sights. I’m used to falling in love with cities…every new place I’ve ever visited in fact, but I must admit that London took me by surprise. I was swept off of my feet and am still wondering what to do about it. Only time will tell.