We’ve just gotten back from our first adventure together in London. And it was an adventure. We didn’t get to do much of the tourist-y things that we wanted to, but everything that we had to get done was accomplished. The only things that we did that could be considered tourist-y were getting lost, looking lost and doing entirely too much walking. Hopefully without being too narrative, here’s an overview of our chaotic day with tidbits that I’ve picked up about London and its inhabitants sprinkled throughout.
10:30 am We started out in Southampton, a little later than planned, and took the train 90 minutes into London.
12:00 pm We arrived at Waterloo Station, loaded up like pack mules with all of our bags (rolling suitcases to put in storage, backpacks of clothes for the next couple of days, suit carrier and my purse) and began the journey. First we found the bus station and took the bus to the storage center that we had reserved a place at that morning. We got off at the stop that we were told (by Google maps) was ours, and walked. And walked. And walked. Then we called the storage center to make sure that we were walking in the right direction. Louis gave them our location, which took a while to find.
Interesting tidbit #1: It seems that London likes to keep its addresses a secret. Finding your way around is meant to be a big guessing game! Street names and numbers on buildings are put in inconspicuous places. Really, we had to walk a couple of blocks just to see what street we were on.
The response of the woman on the phone, “uh yeah. It’s a big grey building. You can’t miss it.” And that was it. So we kept walking.
All the while we couldn’t look more like tourists. That’s the one thing that I hate about traveling. I hate tourists; I don’t want to look like one. But when you’re rolling giant suitcases, wearing backpacks and comfortable shoes, it’s hard to look like anything else. You might as well slap a stupid, confused look on your face because anyone within a 2-block radius can tell that’s exactly what you are.
At last, we see the storage center (CELEBRATION!!!) but we walk in to find that it’s not the right one. And they have no available units. They assure us to keep walking because it’s “not too far”. This happens once more before we finally find the storage center that we were looking for. It was indeed, a big grey building. Right next to a bus stop for the bus that we exited many stops ago, and next to a primary school, and across the street from a Catholic church. Really, I think that there were many more descriptive landmarks that could have been given on the phone. I assure you that if “big grey building” is the standout characteristic of your building in one of the largest cities in the world, I can miss it.
2:00 pm With the bags put in storage, Louis changed clothes, as his interview was across town in an hour, while I chatted with, and tried to avoid chewing out, the people who work at Store4U! By this point we haven’t eaten since 8:30; we planned to do it after we put the bags in storage, but didn’t allow time for so much hiking. And so we get back on the bus.
2:43 pm We find a pub for me to wait at while he interviews, because my phone still would not unlock (shoutout to AT&T!!) and he would have had no way of contacting me if I were to wander. So I waited with the bags. It was a nice pub, quiet during the day. I find a table near the window and drool over the menu. I wanted at the very least a large glass of water, and at the most one of everything on the menu. I then read a small line on the back page that directs you to order at the bar. My table is not close to the bar. And there is a plaque on the table that says “WATCH YOUR BAGS” with a crude image of a hand snatching at air. And so I helplessly sit and wait until he comes back to order anything. If the bag that held my entire life (passport, visa, birth certificate, banking information, etc.) weren’t at stake, I may have risked it. Pretty miserable, really. Being so hungry and thirsty, in a place filled with food and drink, but unable to do anything about it. What’s that saying about all the water but not a drop to drink?
Instead I watched what must have been thousands of people pass the window I sat by. What I learned was that I did not bring nearly enough tights or sweaters. London summer clothes are more closely related to Texas/Alabama winter clothes. So that’s not great…
Interesting tidbit #2: The women who you see wearing posh shoes during the day can be divided into three categories. 1) women who wear tennis shoes (trainers) on the commute and change into the killer shoes when they get to work. 2) Women who can be seen hobbling home at the end of the day. 3) Superhuman women who have either had some kind of surgery to deaden the pain receptors below their ankles, do not stand up from a desk during the workday or were born with a grace I have not perfected and walk perfectly normally at the end of the day.
4:30 pm Louis has finished his interview and we finally refuel. He points out that if nothing else we did save money today, because we didn’t eat lunch. And then we load up our bags and go to find the place that I’m working the next day, a job that I’m not entirely at liberty to discus as it caters to London’s top 1%. As we’re walking there we pass through what must be the Ancient Art District. We see at least three ancient art dealerships. Not galleries, but places where you can BUY a piece of HISTORY. Greek vases that are thousands of years old, that people are going to put on their mantle. We look around for a bit, vow to live there one day, and press on.
I then get to experience public transportation during rush hour.
Interesting tidbit #3: London has adapted to not having warm weather by the use of public transportation. Essentially the buses and trains are mobile furnaces available to everyone! Especially between the hours of 7-9 am and 5-7 pm when simply going down the stairs can cause you to break a sweat.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if we didn’t have those damn backpacks with us still.
7:00 pm Although our initial plan was to go to the hostel earlier in the day to put our backpacks in a locker, we don’t make it there until 7. And so obviously our shoulders are killing us. We check in, take a quick look around the lobby, throw our backpacks in yet another storage locker, and quickly get back to the bus stop to go across town to meet our landlord at 8, which is also the time that the Arsenal game kicks off. In a frenzied state we (mostly Lou, I was unfortunately helpless and without technology the entire trip) try to figure out what mode of transportation to take, and hop on the first bus that comes through.
7:45 pm This time we get off at the bus stop closest to our destination and have a minute to look around. It is a beautiful area, right off the Thames River. Our landlord pulls up not a moment too soon; Lou’s phone dies as soon as he gets there. At this point I get to see our new flat. And it is perfect. There are no other words. He did a really good job finding it. Sign, Sign, Sign and we’re on our way to find a pub.
8:50 pm We’ve wandered for a while. As I mentioned in my last post, most pubs don’t have TVs. So we popped into a couple to ask if they knew the closest place that did. The first bartender’s directions were to “go to the main road…”. The main road? In London? Really? Hopefully someone in this city can give decent directions. We arrive at the Adam and Eve right after half time and get to see Arsenal win. Then we decide to head back to the hostel and get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow is a busy day for both of us.
11:30 pm By this time we’ve learned that even when you’re in a rush, if you’re leaving a place that you will eventually have to get back to, it is beneficial to take a second to look around and establish what the closest bus/tube stop is called, or even what street it’s on (which, as I established, is not the easiest task). Truly, I don’t know how people got around the city (or anywhere) without GPS and Internet. We certainly didn’t.
We got on and off the same bus at least 6 times. We got on and decided that we were going the wrong direction, so we got off and got on the same bus going the opposite way. That happened again. Then we got off and thought that we got off too early. Even though I insisted that I had recognized a building (I was told later that I didn’t insist hard enough…), a big green building (pictured above) near the hostel, which we had just passed on the train. So we got on again. Then we went across the river and knew ohhhh no we weren’t across the river.
It is also at this point that Lou decides to speak to me in nothing but Pig Latin. Which of course only added to my pleasant demeanor.
We decide to give up on the bus and just take the tube to the station that we know is closest to the hostel. We descend about 6 escalators to Middle Earth and are then told that we’ve missed the last train by about 5 minutes. I had by this time resigned myself to the idea that we wouldn’t make it back tonight and I would be working a 9 hour day on 0 hours of sleep. But a gracious and tipsy Londoner used his mobile to help us find our way back.
Interesting tidbit #4: The American accent draws the attention of the Londoners. They are instantly interested in where you’re from and why you’re in London and who your mother is and what you like to eat and your whole life story. In the past two days I was told that I “sounded very West Coast”, like I was from California (from an Englander who had never been to America), and also that my voice was “like a movie star’s”; both things that I had never heard before, but took in stride. It is equally as intriguing to them as the English accent is to Americans.
12:05 At last we arrive at the hostel. Lou has stayed in one before, but this is my first experience. I realize that there are two aspects of my personality that do not jibe well with the hostel lifestyle: I am a germaphobe and I am instinctively very untrusting of everyone. But all in all, the hostel was not bad. Even though I never found the women’s bathroom (there was a men’s). We had a pretty quiet 6-person room. And I managed to calm myself down just in time to get a solid three hours of sleep.
And that wraps up our first day in London. We knew that we’d get lost sometime. Might as well be the first day. I’m sure that there are many more nights of wandering in the future.
The first things we bought in London.
The view of the Tower Bridge from the second story of a double decker bus. How London is that?
We thought it was the end of our very long day…
Ever seen the London episode of Friends? LONDON BABY!!
I caught a glimpse of my beautiful campus.