Wednesday, March 2, 2011

London: Day One

Oh, London Day One. What an interesting day. Looking back, I'm actually very grateful for it- this may sound silly, but I feel like it has fundamentally changed my time abroad, for the better, and in doing so perhaps changed me a little for the better as well. At the time, however, it was almost enough to overcome my extremely well-trenched optimism and sense of whimsy.

The day started out fairly promising- I woke a full half an hour before my already very early alarm (set for 4:55am), and so was actually able to sneak a few bites of breakfast and put on makeup before I went down the street to catch the first Metro of the morning a little after 5:30. I had no troubles with anyone unpleasant on the Metro, and made all of my transfers quiet easily. The lady at the train station gave me quite a few disapproving looks when I had her print out my tickets, but after an oddly long wait I got them. Security and customs were easy, if a long wait, and then I dashed up the platform in the wrong direction for my car, but halfway through my dash back down the platform, a nice lady informed me that since they weren't sold out and had no stops, I could just sit anywhere I liked. So I hopped on the middle of the train and settled in.

I believe you already know how the train ride went, so I'll move on!

At St. Pancras International- all of these place names just seem so very British!
I arrived at the St. Pancras International train station. I can't help but read "St. Pancreas" every time I see that, but there you go. It's a lovely train station, and lots of convenient currency exchanges that don't rip you off.

I grabbed a free map of the London Underground (or the "Tube" as it is more commonly termed), and boldly set off. No idea where I was going, but jazzed to be in London. It's pretty! It's historic! They speak English! I had vague ideas of wandering into the heart of London, but it was starting to close in on 9am, and I had told my hostel that I would arrive at 10. 

Fortunately, my time in Washington DC and Paris have given me a pretty good understanding of metro systems, and I was able to navigate my way to my hostel with little issue, passing many thrilling stops such as Baker's Street on the way. My Underground even became an Aboveground towards the end of my journey, which always makes me happy. 

The hostel was pretty comfortable and cute. I checked in, though I could not move into my room for another 4 hours. At this point, I was feeling the early start and my legs were randomly quite sore, so I opted to curl up in the lounge and use the wifi rather than stash my baggage somewhere and head back into London. It felt wonderful, but was probably Mistake No. 1. 

I found the coinage very fun 

Four hours later, I moved into my room, and still wanted to curl up and watch movies for the rest of the day. But no, I told myself sternly, the whole point of getting here a day early was to actually see London! So I went to the front desk and learned how to get to Oxford Street from the hostel (the female front desk person had assured me that this was the place for reasonably priced shopping). The front desk guy told me that the bus that passed directly in front of the hospital actually went straight to Oxford Street. But he wasn't sure which side of the street. The one on the other side, he thought. I know a fair bit about bus systems, and so wisely asked in which direction I should take the bus. "To Oxford Street." Excellent. Easy to remember. I purchased a ticket for the Original Tour, so that I wouldn't have to decide what to see with my time, and resolutely marched out into the crisp London air.

As I crossed the street, I saw a bus about to pull up to the stop, and booked it. I had only glanced at the stop on the closest side of the street, just enough to see that it didn't list "Oxford Street" as an end-point. Therefore, I reasoned, it must be the one on the other side. I climbed aboard, and went up top.

Cute English homes, as seem from the bus
The bus announced that it was heading to Holborn, I believe. Hobourn? Regardless, this didn't sound correct. Then, out the window, I can see a bus from the same line, going the opposite direction. On the front of the bus, I see "Kilborn - Oxford Street." I realized that I must be going in the wrong direction. I decided to give it two stops so I wouldn't look silly, then hopped off the bus and crossed the street. I waited patiently for 10 minutes for my new bus, and didn't look at it when I got on. I just knew it was the right number, now clearly going in the right direction. Right?

Well, I got on, and pretty soon the bus was announcing that it was heading to Willesden Bus Garage (pronounced like "carriage," except with a G in front). As I was already in Willesden, this seemed suspicious. I hop off of this bus too. Immediately behind it, another bus on the same line pulled up- and this one said "Kilborn - Oxford Street" on the front! I excitedly ran up and got on. The driver looked at me, bemused. I scurried up to the top, very pleased with myself. 

Two stops later, the bus pulled into to the Willesden Bus Garage and ended its run. I finally figured out that all of the buses on this line say "Kilborn - Oxford Street." Turns out, Holborn is on the end of Oxford Street. So the first bus was the right bus all along. I walk a little bit and locate a stop. So, about 40 minutes after I first walked out the door of the hostel, I am finally on my way. On the same side of the street as I started. Ai yi yi. 

I finally get down to Oxford street, and wander for about 30-40 minutes looking at shoes. I can't find a pair of flats that is cheap enough to motivate me to... actually buy flats. I almost died at the collection of reasonably-priced adorable heels and hats at Marks and Spencers, but firmly reminded myself that I was only looking for walking shoes. 

Oh, and remember that peanut butter and Nutella baguette I was slowly eating on the train (see Train post for details)? It was now about 4pm, and that, plus a small bag of peanut M&Ms, was still all I had eaten at this point. 

I decided that it was time to move on and find my tour bus. I never did pick up a proper map of London in the entire weekend, but I did have my little map of the tour route, which included a few cross streets and the like. I set about trying to find a stop. 

An off-shoot from Oxford Street, as I recall

My first telephone box!

I had been walking for about 20 minutes, getting turned about several times, when suddenly my left foot went wonky. I didn't step wrong, I didn't land on anything, just one step it was fine and the next step something was wrong. I still don't know what went wrong, and it's still acting up a little. After another 3-5 minutes, it was getting seriously painful, and I looped back around to Oxford Street and ran into the first cheapish looking store I saw and bought the cheapest pair of shoes they had- which rather unfortunately turned out to be flip flops. In London. In February. 

I'm going to fast-forward through most of the rest of the evening. Basically, I wandered around for a very long time, getting lost on multiple occasions, and when I finally found a stop for my bus, it was getting dark and the tour buses had stopped running for the evening. I have to tell you, it took some serious powers of optimism and rational thinking to not burst into tears right there on the street. But I prevailed, and I knew my ticket was good for two days as part of a winter special they had going on. So I found my way back to my hostel, via the Tube this time. I picked up some almonds, a bottle of water, and chocolate on my way back, in case I didn't like any of the food offered by the hostel. Fortunately, that night was "Mexican Night" (I gather it is more of a long-stay hostel, so they try to jazz it up with theme nights and game nights and the like), so they had nachos that evening! So I limped back to the hostel, and spent the evening watching more of The West Wing and eating my nachos and chocolate, and then I went to sleep. 

The super-cool old-fashioned double-decker bus (enough hyphens for you?) I came upon

So, Day 1 was interesting. If you are on Facebook, you probably saw something to that effect on a status update. But I resolved that it was an experience to go down in history, and that the next day would be better.

And it was.

To come: London, Day 2....


  1. Your unfailing optimism is an inspiration to us Get-Lost-At-Every-Turn folks. I feel your pain- I know that overwhelmed feeling, and the accompanying "I'm not going to burst into tears" thought process very well from personal experience (think 2am Arizona... ) and I'm glad you got to where you can now classify it as an interesting adventure. Besides, you now have a great story! ;)

  2. Hi Elena:

    When you get home I'll share with you my 3 near misses in Greece with Lulu. I can relate!

    Thanks for the post!

    Aunt Wendy