In the about us, I list London as one of the places I most want to visit again. Unlike the other cities on my return list, this isn’t because I had a wonderful time. In fact, it was quite the opposite. My time in London was a comedy of errors. My travel companions were great people (some of whom I’m still in touch with) but we failed at every point to execute our plans. In spite of that, I found London to be one of the most amazing cities I’d ever been, and I’m dying for a chance at a do-over.
In spite of my rigorous academic schedule (seriously), I manage to head to London for a four-day weekend over Halloween. I can’t remember if we had a long weekend at the end of October or if I played hooky, but some fellow American’s and I decided to get out of France for the holiday.
Originally the trip was planned by three of us as a quick escape, but we later learned two other Americans in our group had booked the weekend in London at a different hostel. Our small venture suddenly turned into a trip for five, staying in two different parts of the city, with five very different ideas of how our short time in London should be spent.
Rather than fly or take a train through the Chunnel, we booked a bus from Caen to Ouistreham, an overnight ferry from Ouistreham to Portsmouth, and a bus from Portsmouth to London. Then it was a tube ride from Victoria Station to Edgeware Road, where we finally found the Green Man hostel and pub. For as complicated as this sounds, it went off without a hitch. We ate dinner and slept on the ferry, were in London by midday, and quickly found fliers for a free Sandeman’s walking tour (the best part of the trip). The tour was the last thing that would go smoothly all weekend.
I had three things I planned to do while in London:
- Find some American food in the form of a TGI Friday’s with mozzarella sticks. I would be mortified to admit that living in the culinary paradise that is France I was craving these, but it’s not like England is known for its food.
- See the tower of London and the Crown Jewels. I also wanted to see the British Museum, but the rest of my group was less inclined to spend time seeking out historical monuments and displays, so my tiara obsessed brain settled on the tower.
- On Halloween night, J and I booked tickets to a Rocky Horror Picture Show event.
Absolutely nothing went according to plan. I spent most of the trip alone with my friend J while the other members went off on their own, so the we in everything below refers to the two of us.
- TGI Friday’s was oddly difficult to find, and I definitely came off as a rude American tourist when I was emphatically asking strangers to point me in the direction of a chain restaurant with increasing desperation. Once we finally found it, the mozzarella sticks were a disappointment, resembling the atrocities described by gawker more than anything I’ve ever had at a Friday’s in the States.
- We had a terrible sense of time and how long the underground took to get places. As such, we arrived at the tower after it has already closed,and all of my pictures are sad shots from the outside. While my disappointment was palpable, the nightmare scenario of the day had to go to the other half of our group, who failed at reading the bus map so badly they got lost throughout the city for more than four hours.
- We never made it to the show. We estimated it would take about 45 minutes to get from our central location near Paddington to the theater located on the outskirts of the tube ( I think it was in Ickenham) judging from the apparent distance on the underground map. We’d also allocated a bit of time to get there early and settle in. In true Rocky Horror/Halloween spirit, J was in full drag and I was in a masquerade themed mini-dress and mask. We sat on the train for more than two hours, at which point we were still many stops from our destination. We gave up and got on a train heading back to our hostel. Unbeknownst to us, that Halloween night an NFL game was being played in London, and we happened to reverse course at the stadium stop right as the game was letting out. We went from being eccentrically dressed people alone on a train car, to packed in with a bunch of loud men in jerseys. Watching J discreetly try to remove his fake boobs without anyone noticing is forever burned into my brain as one of the weirdest moments of my life.
Other lowlights include our aggressive, drunk dormmates and the worst bagel I have ever consumed.
With all of that said, the trip had some highlights as well. Wandering London, walking the parks, visiting the monuments, and taking the obligatory phone booth pictures were perfect experiences minus the stench in the phone booths. I went in book stores and bought Cait a British copy of Prisoner of Azkaban.
More than anything else, I love London because after all the non-ideal experiences, we ended up back at the pub in our hostel where we met some awesome people. Even after the football game, we talked to two British football fans for hours about how they became interested in American sports and their favorite things to do in the city. Our tour guide was amazing and obviously super passionate about his subject, and every person I interacted with and cute shop I stumbled into fit every romantic notion I’d ever had of the city.
After leaving London, we reversed course and took the underground to a bus,to the ferry, which dropped us off at 11pm. We walked a mile from the dock to the bus station, only to realize all buses had stopped running for the night. Walking the mile back to the bus station, one of my friend’s shoes completely broke, and she had to wander the stone streets of Ouistreham with one bare foot. We were cold, tired, and laughing so hard we couldn’t keep walking. We eventually found an overpriced taxi to take us back to our dorms. It was a fitting end to a bizarrely terrible trip in an amazing place.