With the royal wedding still fresh on our minds, I wanted to take this opportunity to share my experience traveling around in London. I hope you enjoy!
It was late march and I had just completed (or so I thought) an entire day of travelling. Living in Southern Germany at the time, I took a train up to Stuttgart, a journey consisting of beautiful sapphire streams, black forest pines and the occasional castle. I then flew up to Gatwick and got off, confident I could navigate my way to the quaint suburbs where I would be spending the weekend. After all, everyone here spoke the same language as me, right? Wrong. I could see the look of frustration mixed with amusement on the officer’s face as I pronounced “Anerley” for the fourth time in my American accent until he finally understood and pointed me to my train. With no internet, no local currency and no idea where the heck I was going, I headed out of the city towards the suburbs. I ended up convincing a few kids to let me use their phone so I could find the correct route, and soon I was walking on the wrong side of the poorly-lit streets to my eventual destination.
Looking for apartment number 50, I headed to the block labeled 41-61. What I would later realize is that this was the building for the odd numbered apartments (41, 43, 45 etc.) and the even numbered ones were about a block away. I wish I had known this before banging on the door for over an hour, hoping someone would let me in. If that wasn’t enough, I also noticed a pair of glowing eyes looking at me from a nearby bush. Even a harmless little fox at the time seemed to rattle me. When I finally got to my room, or should I say my closet that someone had put a bed in, I passed out immediately in preparation for what was sure to be an action packed weekend.
In the morning, we went into the outskirts of the city to meet with a business partner of ours. The three of us sat and chatted over coffee and then we headed down town to see the city center for the first time. We took the train into Waterloo station and I have to say, this was a really cool way to see a city. When we came up for the big reveal, we saw all of the famous landmarks at once. There was big ben, the London eye, the tower bridge, all in view of the station. Normally when you visit a new city, you see little pieces at a time. You see the skyline in the distance and then you get closer and closer. In this case, we saw everything at once.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed, we devised a plan to see all the things we wanted in just one day. We walked about 20 miles in total that day, wandering through busy city streets and back alleys. The funniest thing I saw that day was a man dressed as Hagrid leading around a group of American tourists on a Harry Potter tour. The fact that people come to London because of a fictional series is utterly hilarious. I guess its not that much different than going to Orlando for Universal Studios or something like that. We really didn't take any other public transportation that day, we walked everywhere. If we saw a cool building off in the distance, we would just walk to it. This was a fun way to see the city, and a fun way to travel in general. We ended up seeing just about everything on our list. Neither of us like doing things with long lines and crowds, and instead enjoy the more underrated parts of a city.
That night, on the way back from Buckingham Palace, we walked through Kensington park at around dusk. I noticed a small dog walking around the park without a leash. As I got closer to it to say hello, I noticed it wasn’t a dog at all, it was a fox! These things were everywhere! I wasn’t surprised to see one the other night clambering around the suburbs, but this was in the middle of the city! This poor guy must’ve been so frightened by the city lights and noise. Hopefully he was able to find enough cover as he ran deeper into the park.
By the second full day, I felt as if I had gotten my footing. I decided to ride the tube to seek out an authentic British tea experience. We went outside the city to a town called East Finchley. This was a good place to explore the parts of London that tourists don’t go to as much. I felt as if I got a better taste of the city by exploring some of the towns that surrounded it. We stopped at a local pub, and tried carrying out a conversation with a man with an accent so thick, I probably had better odds understanding him if he spoke German. After getting lost a few times, I eventually came to a small tea shop known as “The Tea Rooms” where I enjoyed a nice cup of Earl Grey in peace. I had walked about 40 miles that weekend and was really starting to feel it. It was nice to have a little place to relax and reflect on my packed weekend, and the tea only made it that much better.
Given my track record of constantly getting lost, I decided to leave for the airport at 3:00am the next morning. I wandered through the suburbs during a time where there were probably more foxes than people wandering the streets. I waited for the first bus of the morning (or maybe it was the last bus of the night). I got on the double decker bus and began to take an impromptu tour through London at 4 in the morning. It seemed like it took forever to get to the airport, and by the time I did get there the sun was just starting to come up. I ordered a nice hot cup of tea and began to mentally prepare myself for a full day of travel. I think tea and travel go hand and hand. No matter how hectic my itinerary is (and believe me, I’ve had some crazy ones) I always find time to sit for at least 5 minutes and slowly sip a cup of tea.
I returned to find my new friends still just beginning to get comfortable with their new surroundings. Was it ambitious of me to skip a day of class to book an international flight on the first week after missing orientation? Of course it was. Would I take it back? Definitely not. There will always be an excuse not to travel, but more often than not, you will be glad that you did.