Blimey, I'm in London...

London Travel Blog

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It was May 16th, 2004, and I was on my first trip out of the continent. I had 300 pounds in my wallet, a death grip on my passport and arrived at the airport entirely too early. I'd been packed since the night before and chomping at the bit every minute since waiting to get on the road.

I love to travel. I love going places and seeing new things. Kind of. I love BEING new places, but the actual getting there is more often than not a necessary evil that has to be put up with. This particular flight wasn't too bad for my first 7 hours mini-marathon in an aerial tin can.

The flight left on time at 8PM and the was largely uneventful. The children two rows in front on my only screamed for 2.5 hours, and the meal only made me hyper gassy for 1.5 hours. I never did get any sleep, which would have really helped as I desperately needed a cigarette.

We landed on time, and proceeded to line up at customs. At the same time as three other flights, two of which we filled with people who didn't speak English. Luckily, they subdivided the groups, and I ended up in the North American citizen lane, which was one of the shortest, and was very shortly waiting for my checked bagged (the first and last time I ever packed more than carry on, and the only time I every willfully checked my bags.)

Bags in tow, I set off to look for the tube station. I entered into a huge room filled with people all jumbled together going this way and that. It was entirely too busy for me, and I was saved by seeing a small door leading outside. Cigarette time! As the nicotine worked it's way into my desperate system, I was able to contemplate that I was breathing foreign air for the first time (albeit blended with Canadian poisons.

) I was in the UK! It was an electric feeling. After what seemed like 6.1 bazillion kilometers, I finally reached the tube station and boarded the train for Piccadilly Circus, where my hostel was located.

I'd chosen to stay at the Piccadilly Backpackers.Centrally located and exceptionally priced, it met all of needs. They also taught me to read the fine print, specifically the part about how they are located on 5th-8h floors of a building that only has one tiny little, mostly out of service elevator. Walking up to the 5th floor with all of my bags after being awake for 18 hours was not the best way to make a first impression. Somewhere around the third floor, a group of what I can best describe as East European models walked by, about 15 of them, out for a day of site seeing.

Sufficed to say, my opinion of the place improve almost immediately.

My room wasn't ready, but I was able to check in and drop off my bags. I trouped back down the stairs and out into London. No question about it, the location of the hostel was excellent. Within 2 minutes walk, I was in one of the more recognizable places in London, Piccadilly Circus. I took a few minutes to let it sink in, and then took another few minutes trying to cross the street without dying, and then set off kinda 'that-a-way'. I had a quasi plan to got to the British Museum, but wasn't in any kind of rush.

I was still low on nicotine and thrilling at a world full of signs I didn't recognize and ads for products I'd never heard of. I was marveling at the fact that whether I was going to drink my tea in the shop made a difference in the tax rate, and just generally enjoying the heck out of being in the middle of London.

I finally decided that I was going to go to the British Museum since it was quite close by, so I pulled out the mimeographed map I'd grabbed at the hostel and started to get my barrings. Within seconds, a lovely little septuagenarian stepped up and asked if I was lost or needed help. I politely declined, internally thrilled at my interaction with my first real Londoner (all the staff at the hostel were ex-pats from somewhere else.)

I reached the museum and was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was free.

I spent a good couple of hours in there, eyes wide and glistening (exhaustion helped that.) The Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles... treasures of human history that I never thought I'd get to see with my own eyes. It became a bit of a blur. I left and went back to the hostel to check in and freshen up a bit. On the way, I looked for a phone to call my friend, who I planned to visit that afternoon. The first 3 phone boxes I tried had broken phones. The fourth one had a phone that worked, but was covered in blood. Not being a wussy, I proceeded to use it and set my plans with my friend.

I got back to the hostel, took a sink bath and changed, then trundled out to Greenwich where I spent a pleasant afternoon visit with my friend Samantha, her husband and their little baby. I then stumbled back to the hostel and passed out some where around 10:30PM.

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photo by: ulysses