London – Day One

Day One of the trip started innocently enough.  Everything went smoothly the morning of the flight.  Made it to the airport on time.  An 8-hour direct flight – very little turbulence, free movies and tv shows provided for everyone, food was decent, and we arrived on time.

I only got one hour of sleep on the flight, either from excitement or nerves and that will begin the downhill slide.  Number one, I don’t do well without sleep.  Number two, after an 8 hour flight I felt nasty and just wanted a shower.  I don’t do well when I feel nasty either.

Disembark the plane, go through customs and my passport gets its approved stamp.  First one!  Next it’s time for me to hop aboard the Gatwick Express for my train ride to London only it’s 6:30 AM and the ticket counter outside customs is not open.

Instead I have to drag my two suitcases to a shuttle bus that goes to the other terminal, drag them another 1/2 mile or so to get my ticket, then find the train.  After waiting about 20 minutes, I board to find every seat taken.  I have to stand in the middle aisle with one huge suitcase and one carry-on suitcase for the 30 minute ride, rocking back and forth with the train trying desperately to keep my rear out of the poor gent’s face who was unfortunate enough to sit in the seat I stopped next to.

I arrive at Victoria Station and find my way to the taxi pick-ups.  Not long after I’m on my way to the hotel.  The taxi driver was lovely.  He pointed out places of importance along the way and threw in a little history for good measure.  Back of Buckingham Palace…Hyde Park…the first building ever built in London.

The hotel is a small converted townhouse and is actually quite cute.  The reception is down a narrow flight of stairs so I leave my luggage in the lobby and go to check-in.  Unfortunately their check-in time is 1 PM and it’s only about 7:30 at this point.  I can leave my bags with them, but that requires me carrying both down that flight of stairs.  It was not fun.

They do allow me to sit and eat a breakfast though which killed about 30 minutes and made me feel slightly more human.  I then pull my laptop out of it’s case and send emails to everyone who requested updates on my whereabouts.

I’m left with about 4 1/2 hours to kill.  I return my laptop and decide to take a little stroll around the neighborhood.  Let me go ahead and forewarn anyone planning on visiting London in the future….there are no “little strolls” in London.  Fair warning.

I’m exhausted, I’m nasty, and I just want my room.  Translation…I am ill.  I shoot out my hotel paying little attention to where I’m going.  I leave my luggage behind but I do carry my purse which suddenly feels 63 pounds heavy.

My hotel is about a 5 minute walk from Marble Arch so I’m heading in that direction.  I find it with no real problem and decide I’ll sit on a bench until I can check in my hotel.

I’d had a plan to walk through Hyde Park to Harrod’s, then over to the Victoria & Albert Museum but I just couldn’t make myself do it.  My feet already hurt because I was dumb enough to buy a new pair of sneakers a week before I left and not wear them at all before that day.  (Another tip – do not make that same mistake.)

So I sit on a bench at Marble Arch for a good 45 minutes.  I managed to take the following two pictures while I sat there:

This would be Marble Arch – from the bench I couldn’t be bothered to get off in order to take this picture.

And this would be a pair of shoes I spotted hanging from a tree.  I’m guessing the exhaustion made this fascinating at the time.

It takes about 45 minutes for me to get bored and cold enough to try and brainstorm something else to do.  I finally decide I’ll make my first attempt at the tube system and maybe visit the V&A Museum after all.  The Marble Arch tube station is directly across the street so I make my way over and off I go!  I navigated the tubes well enough and find myself outside South Kensington tube stop.

Side note:  I did lots of research before my trip, I can assure you.  I made detailed walking directions for each day of sightseeing and Day One was no different.  However, I soon found that reading out of a book or gathering information off a web site is no substitute for actually being there.  I was quite unaware that there are often several exits from a single tube stop.

I walk out of the station and find that my walking directions do me no good whatsoever.  I have no clue where I am.  So I walk back inside to a little shop and buy the London A to Z map guide I’d seen suggested a few times.  This map definitely helps, but it’s a little difficult to figure out where exactly you’re starting from and where each street is going just because the roads seem to be so haphazard.  (I end up having trouble with this the rest of my trip.)  Once you get started in the right direction though, it’s golden.

So I find my way to the V&A Museum and make my way inside.  It’s a free museum but they do ask for a small donation.  It’s only fair, right?

I pay for my entrance and immediately spot a “cloakroom” that I make a beeline for and drop off that ridiculous purse I’m carrying.

The V&A Museum is a great place to check out a history of decorative arts and design.  Unfortunately, I’m so tired I can barely focus enough to read the little plaques beside displays so despite my best intentions, my visit quickly declines to a quick walk-through.  I did manage to get some pictures though, and a few are below:

This is an amazing chandelier they have in the main area.

I think I remember reading that these were all remakes of the originals.  Impressive all the same.

Another remake.

It wasn’t long after that I found out you aren’t supposed to take pictures in there.  Oopsie. 

So after I skimmed through the V&A, it was finally time to go to the hotel for check-in.  Trace my route back through the tube and I start walking back what I thought was the way back to my hotel.  Um, it wasn’t.  When all was said and done, I spent at least 1 1/2 hours trying to find my way to the hotel by reading the maps in the A to Z book.  Keep in mind the painful shoes and the 63 pound purse. 

I finally found my street and hobble my way down to where my hotel should be.  It’s not.  I am very nearly ready to throw myself down on the sidewalk and cry like a baby.  I have a pretty fantastic sense of direction and I have never in my life been that lost.  Never.  It’s a very helpless, disconcerting feeling.

Fortunately a cab pulls up at the connecting street just across from me and I flag it down and run across to it. 

“I need to go to 33 Gloucester Place, please.”

“Gloucester Place?  This is Gloucester Place you’re on.”

“Yes, but I tried to find my hotel and it’s not here.  I don’t have a clue where I am.”

He pulls off to the side in order to search his map because I’ve probably blown his mind by this time.

“33 Gloucester Place, yeah?  This is it.  It should be right there.”  He’s pointing directly across the street.  I look in that direction and suddenly yes, that is my hotel. 

We both laugh at my idiocy and luckily he didn’t charge me the obligatory £2 just to open the door.  I’d been less than 20 yards down the damn street from the place.  I guess what threw me off was that I came at it from the opposite direction I originally left in (thanks to all the circling around I did when I was lost).

I finally am able to check-in.  My room is on the 3rd floor and there are 5 flights of stairs up to it.  No lift.  But I make it up there and that concludes London – Day One.

London, here I come!

Well, I’m finally all prepared for my trip to London this month!  Prepared but not packed, that is.

Let me tell you though, this little procrastinator has her pertinent information all neat and typed up including flight info, hotel info (yes, I finally reserved a hotel), a list of what I want to do that includes cost (in both currencies!!!), and a basic itinerary.  That itinerary is NO. JOKE. because this girl found a web site (walkit.com) that gives distance and walking directions from one location to another which I included in my itinerary.

Not only do I have my pertinent information organized, I have a file folder of awesome.  More detailed information and miscellaneous whatever-I-printed-out all grouped in one handy dandy manila folder that I have carried with me for about a month now in various stages of completion.  Now though, everything is complete.  Hotel’s done, itinerary’s mapped out, and I even booked a day tour.

I guess I could sum it up by saying that my best friend, who is Queen of List-Making, would be proud.  It is hella awesome.  I feel like I’m about as prepared as a person can possibly be without having actually traveled there before.

With all that said, I am equally excited and nervous about my trip.  I’ve done solo road trips before around the states – mainly to see hockey games – but I’ve never done a huge international trip like this, much less solo.  Scary, scary!!  But I think the worst part will be getting there.  Once I’m there I think I’ll be ok.  It’s that initial nervousness about venturing into the unknown.

Regardless, I will do it.  No going back now!  Bring on the fun, London!

Writer’s Block be Damned

Writer’s block is a bitch….let’s just get that out of the way.  I’ve come up with things to blog about every day since my last post but it takes me all of about 3.4 seconds to talk myself out of typing it.  I’ve decided that today is my day to win the battle.  So take that, writer’s block! BLAM!

Anyway, I’ve spent good portions of the past week planning my trip to London.  This is my first “passport travel” and I’m sooooo excited.  However, it’s also my first real solo trip.  Yes, I am going to a foreign country all by myself.  Absolutely exhilarating but at the same time, amazingly frightening.

I’ll be honest, I probably wouldn’t be going to London right now, and never by myself if it weren’t for a boy.  I’m such a sucker for those dirty mongrels.  ha!  That boy I blogged about last post….him.  So when I said it fell through, I wasn’t playing.  It really fell through.

I was originally going back in November to see him and spend a week.  Time passes, I run him off, and I’m stuck with a non-refundable ticket to Birmingham, UK.  I ended up trying to transfer.  It didn’t work out for me to make it a domestic flight so I decided to swallow the fear and just go on to London.  Hence, I’ll be an international traveler come March.

London, London, London….  I’m really excited about going to the UK at all.  Since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to visit.  One grandmother of mine was born and raised there.  My father was born there though they moved to the States shortly thereafter.  I’m not close to those family members, but I’ve inexplicably always felt a powerful draw to England.  Strange but true.

Aside from picking the dates and purchasing my flight though, I have not set anything in stone.  That would include my hotel.  I’m so scared I’m going to pick a rotten hotel, or one that’s not conveniently located that I just keep searching and searching, writing down hotel names and then searching some more.  I do have it narrowed down to maybe 2 or 3 now though.  Hoping to finalize a reservation in the next week.

Ya know, it sucks that things fell through with that boy over in Birmingham, UK.  However, I tend to believe that things happen for a reason.  So maybe there’s some divine, fated purpose for meeting said boy, buying said ticket, that situation falling through, and then me being stuck with a solo vacation.  Maybe I’ll have some grand personal epiphany while I’m there.  Or I’ll fall in love with the country and decide to move.  Ooh, I’ll meet someone special (Oh dear heavenly father, please.).  I don’t know but regardless, I’m looking forward to the adventure.

Now if I can just decide on a place to stay….