In the not too distant future I’d like to form the bond with England that I’ve always thought I had. Growing up my home was full of BBC shows that mostly highlighted life in England through smaller villages, thatched roofs, and endless tea. The subtle, dry sense of humor also spoke to me, and despite being zero percent British, I feel a close affinity with the culture. My search for the London travel experience has been a mixed bag thus far, and my first 2 attempts bond with the motherland, while memorable and positive in their own rights, still haven’t given me the experience I’m questing for.
The very first time my feet left the soil of America was for a spring break trip to London. My friend planned this trip, and she did so in the same way she lived her life; with reckless abandonment and overconfidence – God love her. One brilliant thing she did was bring a camcorder, which in those days was unheard of advanced technology and I really need to dig up the footage as I remember us taking with crap accents for the entire thing. I’m sure it’s complete rubbish.
But, overall the trip wasn’t quit the ace we thought it would be. think there are quite a few reasons for this, starting with the fact that it was my very first trip abroad, and I had no idea what I was doing. I was new to travel, and under confident with everything I was doing. My friend put on a much braver face, and while at the time I thought she was an absolute travel wizard, looking back she too had no idea what she was doing.
Another problem in our big spring break extravaganza was that we were poor college students off in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Navigating an expensive destination can take a little more expertise if on a tight budget, and that expertise was something we both woefully lacked. The prices were stifling for us, and made us feel unable to participate in some basic activities, like eating and sightseeing.
The next issue we faced was being on our own to navigate the city. For two extremely green noobs, we really should have done a small group tour. We would have enjoyed it more, and not felt like most of our time was survival based instead of tourism or adventure based. All in all, we survived, but the first trip was medium. I would however like to give us both props for being so optimistic – ignorance really is bliss.
Flash forward a handful of years, and my travel mate and I decided to add England to our summer holiday where we would be traveling to Ireland, England, The Netherlands, and Belgium. At this time I was much more versed in the ways of traveling abroad, having already lived in Spain, Costa Rica, and traveled quite a few places in between. This friend was also much more travel versed, and I was eager to dispel my distant London memories. I knew things like taking the tube would be no problem for us, and we’d booked a rather posh hotel near Hyde Park – so no sketchy hostel for us. As we were proper working adults now, this was hyped to be the London experience I’d missed years ago.
Starting on the wrong foot…
We arrived in London in the early evening after a wildly successful few days in Ireland. This was the first problem – our time in Ireland was so incredible, that topping it was going to be very difficult. After the short flight we took a bus from the Airport to Central London, and from there the tube to what appeared to be the metro station nearest the park and our accommodation. From the maps it looked like we just needed to pop through the park via a quick 10 minute walk. When we entered the park, and the street lights thinned, we realized how dark it already was. With our backpacks weighing us down, we tried to make the walk as brisk as possible as the park was already making us uneasy. We spoke to each other quietly so our American accents wouldn’t expose our tourist status to those around us, but the uneasiness thickened as we passed groups of men who would stare us down, those that walked a little too close, and homeless who shouted or swayed in our direction. The amount of sweat I was producing was shocking and not ideal, but we felt we must be close to our destination and didn’t want to waste money on a cab. Forty five minutes of speed walking later, muscles tensed, and stitches in our sides we came across a map which rendered our spirits even lower. We had to be only a fraction of the way to our hotel. We couldn’t possibly make the walk as it was clearly much longer a distance than we’d realized, but we were also far from a taxi queue. With feet of lead, we trudged onward to find the nearest road, cursing ourselves for packing our bags so fully, and for thinking we could tackle a task as simple as walking through a park to a hotel. Already I was feeling like London was besting me and I had barely arrived.
One 25 minute cab ride later we arrived at our hotel. It was picturesque but covered in scaffolding, so the lobby and staircase were plastered with construction paper and buckets, and any sense of luxury was sniffed out. The room was as big as the bed, and I had to keep my backpack at the foot of the bed as there was no space for it on the floor. We sat on the bed together drinking tea from the kettle in our room, and letting our sweaty clothes dry. We had envisioned a night out at a restaurant, but hours had passed since that notion was viable, and our weary feet begged us to stay in. We ordered a pizza from room service, which was small and inadequate for two adults. We supplemented it with the in-room biscuits, and told ourselves that tomorrow the real adventure would start.
The good and the missteps…
Things did get better over the next few days. We successfully visited Bath, went on a Sandemans walking tour, pub crawled, visited castles, saw Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and London Tower. But, we still struggled to pull off this trip with the same ease as Ireland. We accidentally ate mayonnaise noodles before a 3 hours bus journey returning from Stonehenge, which left us ill and weak. We spent all of our money on the pub crawl, and then had to ask a cab driver to take us as close to our hotel as possible on our remaining £5 (luckily he pitied us and took us the whole way – what an angel). We skipped the London Eye after seeing the price sticker and feeling like we were just bleeding money. We spent only half an hour in the British Museum as we confronted the fact that despite really wanting to be, we weren’t museum people. And, we struggled to find nightlife outside of the group pub tour. I’m sure there are hundreds of pubs in London, but the only one we found was closing at 11 pm, and the rest were following soon after. Nightlife was alluding us and this was frustrating as we knew it was everywhere around us. To top it off the hotel room we were in backed to the laundry room, and about every 3 minutes the door slammed so loudly the room shook (womp womp).
Still searching for the London Travel Experience I’m dreaming of…
My most recent trip was leaps and bounds better than my first, but I wouldn’t say I felt like I really jived in the city. But, I still want to experience London and English countryside I’m sure are out there. (I do realize it won’t be just like Sherlock – sadly).
So, this is a plea to anyone who has insight into successfully navigating London or England. I need help before my next attempt!