Tuesday, June 8, 2010

London's Calling

London: what a city! Active, engaging and modern, yet there is so much history present as well. It has the same feeling I found in cities like Paris and Rome: simply iconic. Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace...and so much more.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you about my trip and arrival. My flight left from Madrid early, before any buses left from Salamanca. Which meant I had a slumber party in the airport. It wasn't horrible. I had my laptop and movies, but by the time I arrived around 1:00am, I was so exhausted I didn't really need anything to help me fall asleep. I found a relatively quiet, slightly dim hallway and set up camp. I was as smart as I could be: used my duffel as a pillow, put all my valuables in my backpack, and secured that with my luggage lock, and kept it near me. At one point, I heard a strange noise and opened my eyes to see two police men in a golf cart, driving down the hallway in reverse (at first I thought it was a dream). They spoke to someone at the other end of the hallway, and at that point I was expecting them to tell me I couldn't stay in this part. They approached me, stopped, but didn't say anything. I turned over, opened my eyes, smiled and said as sweetly as possible, "¡hola!" Again, they did not reply right away, but then smiled and told me to be careful with my belongings. I explained my methods, and they nodded, paused again (maybe they hadn't yet had their coffee break?) and then instructed me to put an arm through my backpack straps. I did, they nodded their approval, and drove off. Strange. In retrospect, maybe it was another dream. I did wake up in a panic at one point, certain that someone had stolen my camera. But I know that was just a dream. I guess I should be thankful they are concerned!

Now, my arrival. You would think that my fiasco in Morocco (not having the hostel address and struggling to find a place to sleep, in a not so safe country...) taught me a lesson: WRITE DOWN IMPORTANT INFORMATION. But maybe it takes a few experiences like that to really learn a lesson. Because, I arrived in South Kensington with clear directions on how to get to the hostel, but without the exact address, telephone number, or even the name. Embarrassing to admit? Yes.

And it was pouring rain. And I was carrying my purse, my backpack (with my overweight laptop), and my over-packed duffel bag...Though my directions were "clear," the street I was supposed to take happened to be more of a path between museums, and of course I didn't find it. When I finally found the street of my hostel, I had no idea which direction to turn (the house numbers were arranged strangely). I finally found it, soaked through, and exhausted. Because my friend Christie was arriving later that afternoon, and I couldn't check into the hostel until 2:00pm, I changed into fresh clothes and set off to explore the neighborhood a bit. We were less than a block from the south border of Kensington Gardens, near the Flower Walk. Even in the rain, the flowers were so lovely. Then I wandered into a darling little neighborhood with a variety of restaurants and shops. I found a designer thrift store, where I couldn't afford the labels even at second-hand prices! But then I found another thrift store that is operated through a charity which supports orphans in Romania. I found some souvenirs there, and didn't feel too bad about spending money, because the proceeds went to a good cause!

Christie arrived that afternoon, and, both tired from travels, we took a (what we intended to be short) nap. And then, with blood sugar levels low from no lunch, we set off for a big dinner. Not acquainted in the least with the city, we chose a familiar sounding area and got on a bus, heading for Trafalgar Square.

In an attempt to avoid the rain, and possible fainting spells due to hunger, we ducked in a warm-looking pub. We waited anxiously to be served, and finally realized that we place our order at the bar. After dinner, energized by our meal, and our long nap, and pleased that the rain had subsided a bit, we headed towards Big Ben. This was after finding the street we needed on our map, and walking around the entire square (which is more of a really big circle), asking for directions multiple times, before realizing that the street we wanted was, in fact, the street where we dined. Oops.

Well, to avoid a novel-like post, I will finish relating my adventures a bit later!

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