My flight to London was non-stop: eight hours, forty-five minutes, and two-hundred fifty dollars. I’d miraculously managed to cram my life into two suitcases. At check-in, the desk attendant kindly informed me that my carry-on was too heavy, so I got to experience the joy of shifting shit from one bag to the other.
Then it was off to the gate. From the gate, we were herded down a long, looping ramp and onto a shuttle bus, which took us across the tarmac and all the way over to where our Boeing: 787 Dreamliner awaited us. This thing was massive – one of the biggest airplanes I’ve ever seen in my life. We then proceeded up another vertical ramp and finally onto the aircraft.
The flight itself was blissfully uneventful. Only one baby cried. I made it through Flintstones, X-Men: Evolution, The Mask, Get Smart, and halfway through Interstellar. I think I slept for an hour. Screen time over snooze time always!
Through customs, baggage claim, and off to the travel information counter… There were three agents representing three different forms of travel. I settled on the middle option, as it was the cheapest and therefore seemed most promising: local bus/train fare.
“This is where I’m staying,” I told the agent when I finally made it to the front. I stabbed at the hostel address. “I need a ticket that gets me there.”
She said “mhmm,” punched in some figures on her keyboard, tapped some more keys, and produced a vividly orange transit ticket. “It lasts all day,” she explained. “€15 and will grant you access through zones 1-6 in London.”
I wasn’t entirely sure where to go after that. I queued up in front of a currency exchange ATM, but the lowest denomination option was $200. Hahahaha no thank you. I proceeded on to the elevators (or lifts) and went down to the lower level. Was my little orange ticket for a bus? A train? Whatever form of transport, it didn’t seem to be found down here. I approached a transit operator in a blue and orange uniform. I waved my little orange ticket and hoped he was friendly. “Excuse me, sir…”
“You’ve just got into Gatwick, ya?” Very friendly, very British.
“And you want to go to London, ya?”
“All you need to do is go back up, through the airport, and into the train station on the other side. It’ll take you straight there.”
“Thank you so much sir!” I said very sincerely, feeling very clueless and very American.
He laughed and waved me off.
Following his directions, I retraced my steps and made it to the train station. But I was then confronted with a new problem. Looking up at the flashing icons, I wasn’t entirely sure which train I wanted. There were about ten options, four of which said London. I eenie-minie-moed and landed on London Blackfriars. It was a long, scenic train ride. Green pastures flashed by, graffiti and London Eyes and horses. A little girl sipped Ribena and stabbed away at an essay. A group of loud French people said loud French things that I did not understand.
Blackfriars was the last stop. I got off, attempted to leave the station, and resorted to asking for help once more. “This is where I’m staying,” I told yet another very friendly and British attendant, jabbing a finger at the address of the hostel on my phone screen. “Am I close?”
He laughed (kindly) which I took to mean no. “You want Platform 2. Get off at Monument.” He then pulled out his tablet and double checked on Google Maps, just to be sure. A group of confused travelers were accumulating behind him, but he very politely ignored them and focused on me instead. “Yes, Monument.”
I followed his directions exactly. It was only three stops to Monument. I climbed out of the underground and surfaced into London. Big red double-decker buses flew down the street. Tourists in white sneakers and big hats lugged suitcases. Lilting British accents buzzed the airwaves. It was insane, but I was here.
I looped around in circles for a while, wondering which direction my hostel might possibly be in. I ended up standing just close enough to a Starbucks to steal their free Wi-Fi (shush) and plugged in my hostel, St Christopher’s Village – only to find out that I’d been headed in the complete opposite direction from where I needed to be going.
With the destination planted firmly in mind, I 180’ed and headed for the London Bridge (yes, that London Bridge), gargantuan bags in tow.
Finally, I saw it! Me and the bags squeezed into the establishment. “Hello, I’m here to check in!” I said warmly to the girl at the counter. “Here’s my confirmation.” I passed over my phone.
She looked down at my phone, then at me, then back at my phone. “This is St. Christopher’s Inn,” she said with a polite but slightly pained kind of expression.
“You’re staying at St. Christopher’s VILLAGE.”
My entire face turned red. “Oh, I’m sorry. I could’ve sworn…”
“It happens a lot,” she said, handing my phone back.
“Am I close, at least?” I asked.
She nodded. “It’s just a little further down the block. Just keep going.”
I kept going and going – found Mermaid Court and Disney Street along the way – and eventually found St. Christopher’s Village. Which, in retrospect, should have been located further from St. Christopher’s Inn, to avoid confusion. As I made my way inside and set my bags down by the counter, I feared that I would be at the wrong place yet again. That was not the case–although…
“You were supposed to be here last night.”
“Excuse me?” I said. “I’m pretty sure I booked a room for the 20th.”
“Last night was the 20th,” the clerk deadpanned.
“Oh my god. It’s the 21st today, isn’t it? You know, I came all the way from Seattle and must’ve gotten mixed up with the time differences and losing a day. Is there any way I can get a refund?”
“No,” said the clerk. “But breakfast is free.”
Oh great. Free breakfast. Can’t beat that. I would’ve taken a refund, but complimentary bacon and eggs are a plus at least.
The hostel had an elevator, but it was out of service (obviously). The clerk helped me haul my stuff up the stairs. Luckily I was only on the second floor (there were five total). Room 202, the same number of my grandparents’ apartment.
I set my bags down and met my roommate. He was tall, loud, and to the point. “My name is Paul. I’m from New York. I’m going for a run now. Goodbye.”
I changed into flip flops and decided to do a bit of exploring myself – not running, sorry Paul. I meandered around and up the block, encountering a graveyard and a decidedly livelier marketplace.
“And over there, you’ll see where the Leaky Cauldron was filmed,” chirped a tour guide, gesturing at one of the squat buildings on the corner. I clung to the outskirts of the group, listening in on the Harry Potter trivia. The tour was concluding, so I scurried around and sampled, feasting on – chicken shwarma and tomato beans, a lime-grapefruit-lemon juice concoction, and a scoop of organic chocolate ice cream.
After all that excitement at Borough Market, it was back to the hostel for a nap. My mother had sent me a message over WhatsApp, the contents of which read: “why aren’t you sleeping?”
I mean, fair. I realized that I probably should have spent more time on the airplane trying to sleep (oops). I decided to curl up on my very stiff hostel bed and nod off for a few….
I awoke with a start. My phone was lit up with messages. The one on top, from Emma: “I’m here! I’m at the bar!”
“I was napping! I’m so sorry!” I hurriedly texted as I threw shoes onto feet and tried my best to readjust into the waking world. “Be right down!”
Emma is a cruise ship worker and total babe from Liverpool. In 2015, we worked together at the happiest place on earth. When I told her I was coming to England, she booked the same hostel!!!
Emma was sitting on a stool near the bar. She jumped up upon seeing me. “You cut your hair!”
“I did!” I hugged her and screamed and scared people at the bar probably. “I can’t believe it’s been three years. We have so much to catch up on. How are you?”
“I’m okay,” said Emma. “How are you?”
“I’m okay,” I said, honestly. “Shall we go up to your room? Are you checked in?”
“I can’t check in until 2.”
“Isn’t it 2 now?”
“I’m jetlagged,” I confessed, “and on Seattle time still – I think it’s like 4am there? I watched movies instead of sleeping on the airplane. A truly genius decision. I think I might go back to sleep?”
Emma laughed. “Completely understandable. I think I’ll have a drink.”
Next time….. More England adventures. Day One continued. Don’t miss it! ❤️