I didn’t intend on travelling to London when I walked into the travel agency 2 months ago. As it turned out, flying direct to London was much cheaper than flying direct to Copenhagen. I originally planned to spend a good chunk of time (i.e 2 weeks) in Copenhagen before I started at Lund University in the middle of August. I generally feel that one should try to experience a destination as fully as possible – and that means spending a decent amount of time in one place, rather than flitting around like a bee in a flower garden and only seeing the surface of any given place.
However, the price difference was not insignificant, especially when factoring in the cost of accommodation. With this in mind, I made a snap decision to spend a few days in London thereby reducing the cost and minimising the time ‘lost’ in Copenhagen. In hindsight this was stupid. London is incredible. Pop culture does it no justice. There is, quite literally, something interesting around every corner – particularly in the Central part of London. But of course, when I thought of London, all I thought of were the quintessential things like Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London or Buckingham Palace. I could knock that over in a few days, easy.
Even still, I did none of those things. On my first day, I woke up early and decided to wander around by foot. I briefly saw the British Museum and then wandered down through Soho and Covent Garden. At one point I ended up in Trafalgar Square, without even realising where I was. I didn’t get back to Bloomsbury (where I’m staying) for 12 hours, by which point my feet hurt so much, I couldn’t even walk the 500 meters from Russell Square station to my hostel. So I sat in a random old style pub and had a chat with a local. The next day I did much the same. I intended on going to the Tate Modern but I ended up detouring at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and catching a play – ‘Measure for Measure’. WHICH WAS ALL KINDS OF AWESOME.
Rather obnoxiously, I’d been describing these first couple of days as ‘just allowing myself to get lost’. Hah. Yeah that’s pretty glamorous and ignorant when you’re exploring the central (read: tourist) part of London. It’s almost impossible to get properly lost in the central part of London. There’s a Starbucks (i.e. free wifi) around every corner, where you can pop in and pull up that nifty GPS map on your phone. If that doesn’t work, a black cab will be by shortly (and honestly not too expensively) to take you home. Essentially the touristy part of London is entirely safe and glittery and in all seriousness, the ‘travelling experience’ is meant to be about going beyond your own bubble or comfort zone. But if you toe the tourists line, you’re simply shifting your comfy home bubble for a comfy tourist bubble.
On Thursday there was a tube strike. My feet couldn’t handle another big day walking so I hired a bike for 2 pounds. I had never ridden a bike in traffic before, so to say the experience was terrifying was an understatement.
Reminded of my mortality and liability for the bike, I decided to buy myself a helmet and bike lock (eh i’ll use it in Sweden). I spent the morning, shakily dodging cars, buses and other cyclists down Oxford Street, then through Hyde Park and down through Notting Hill. Despite the fear, this was a really fun and pleasant way to spend a morning. In the afternoon I really wanted to go and check out Russell Brand’s Trew Era Cafe. I like his work and watch his videos so it made sense to make the pilgrimage, so to speak. Being beholden to wifi hotspots means that your navigation gets truly tested. Especially when you’re exploring beyond the narrow bounds of the ‘tourists maps’. It took me an hour to complete a 30 minute journey, but I made it. The coffee was good and the staff were more than willing to have a chat with a solo traveller. When I left, however, my trusty phone was on it’s last 10% and for some reason, decided to make the map directions unnecessarily difficult. So I figured I’d try go back the way I came. At some point I missed a turn but figured I’d be fine as long as I went South and then West. HAHAHA. Good joke. I ended up in Victoria Park and then kept heading South and taking right turns whenever presented with the choice. Here’s a map to show you exactly how far away I was.
Starting to panic and growing more and more fatigued/sore from riding a bike all day, I began asking people for directions back to the city. Some laughed and said that was a long way. Others screwed up their face and said they had no idea. My phone had died by this point, and I hadn’t seen a Starbucks or Black Cab in a good two hours. At this point I was just trying to find a dock to ditch the bike and then at least try and find a way via public transport. I spotted a pub so I locked up the bike, went inside, almost in tears and two lovely people gave me some very detailed instructions to get back. Bless them. I followed those and after another 30 minutes started seeing familiar signs like ‘Islington’ and ‘Angel’. I finally found a dock, ditched the bike and grabbed a cab. I was so done.
Point is, getting lost is scary and not in a fun way. There is a reason we used to say, ‘get lost’ when we were kids. I realised how pretentious it was to describe my cushy exploring as ‘getting lost’ when I never really was. Next time I’ll make sure to have a bigger map.