Well we successfully made it out of the country…and back in! Alex, Taylor, and I took our first weekend trip (outside of Ireland) Thursday, Feb. 7 through Sunday, Feb. 10 to London! Our flight departed from Cork Airport at 10:00 pm and arrived in London Heathrow at 11:15. It was exciting getting on an airplane again knowing the flight was only an hour and 15 minutes! Taylor and I had seats next to each other (and were acting like excited children on our way to Disney World) and Alex was somewhere in the back of the plane (probably acting like a sophisticated adult). Since he was in the back he boarded through the back door, so we never actually saw him board, but we hoped for the best! The flight went smoothly…and let’s just say it was the easiest transportation portion of our trip.
We arrived in Heathrow and probably walked a good 2.71 miles just to get to the tube station. The place is huge! But the last time I landed in Heathrow I had strep throat, so in comparison to that, it was wonderful. After finding an ATM, we all withdrew some money. The conversion rate from the US Dollar to the Pound is the devil. 1.52X. And even worse through an ATM. We then found electronic ticket machines (and though we were unsuccessful at using them), Taylor found money! So that was a good start! We then went and bought our tickets from real humans and waited for our train to arrive.
We hopped on, Alex’s smart phone told us to head toward “Oakwood” on the train to Cockfosters, so we did. It was a long ride. Eventually I’m like, “I feel like we’re in the middle of no where.” And what do you know? We were. Apparently when directions say “toward”, that doesn’t me “to”. We were supposed to head “toward Oakwood”, but get off some 5-10 stops earlier. But since we took the tube so far, we literally heard the word “Cockfosters” like 30 times (because the automated recording reminds all passengers that “This is a train to Cockfosters.”). And it was funny every time.
I couldn’t even tell you which stop we finally got off at, but when we did, we had to get on a bus. There were two bus stops, one on each side of the road. We took a gamble and ran across the street, only to realize that the bus we needed was at the other stop. We saw it just in time to get our hopes up, but it pulled away before we could scramble our way back over to it. Eventually though, a lovely double-decker arrived and we hopped on. At this point it was like midnight. And it was a long bus ride. Like an hour.
Good news was, it got us really close to our hostel. Supposedly. But we couldn’t find it. It was dark. I told Alex had he (and his smart phone) not been with us I probably would have been crying (I was joking…kind of). We could see the hostel on his map, but couldn’t get to it for the life of us. We walked around the block. Walked across the street. Walked & walked. Finally we were back to where we had been dropped off by the bus and we realized that we had literally walked passed it a half an hour earlier. The sign was poorly lit and in the smallest font possible. But we had made it! And it was only 1:30 am, so the sun hadn’t started rising yet. But maybe if the sun had been rising we would have actually seen our hostel.
Mind you, the only reason this is relatively lit is because of my camera flash.
We were let into the hostel by the 24 hour receptionist and things got better from there. We went and got some food. I had my very first kebab. There are kebab places absolutely everywhere. Our beds were made up before we arrived, we had individual lockable luggage cages under our beds, and no one was really snoring. But our room did smell like cannabis.
The next day we enjoyed our free breakfast at the hostel. I grabbed a map from the lobby (which was a essentially our Bible for the remainder of the weekend) and right at the very top there was mention of a free walking tour of the city. So we hit that up at a 11:00 am and got a feel for the beautiful and elaborate city of London. And the sun was out! The tour group gathered in Green Park and we made our way to Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and all the insanely elaborate, expensive buildings in between.
After the tour, we met our friend Kyle (from St. Norbert), who is studying in London. We took the classic phonebooth photos (in the original model booths) and grabbed some lunch. Baguette sandwiches for less than £2 (the only reasonably priced thing in the country). At this point, I had to go to the bathroom. I had been looking for one since our free tour had ended, but hadn’t seen any. And we didn’t see any for a long time. Eventually I went into a hotel and asked if I could use their restroom, they said, “Are you staying here as a guest?” I said no. And then they said that I couldn’t use it. I guess we’re not in the presence of Irish hospitality any more! So the hunt was on again and I was losing hope…scoping out possible bushes and such. But eventually we came upon a KFC where there was a bathroom and it cost 50 pence! Best 50 pence I’ve ever spent. So keep that in mind: When in London, take advantage of the bathrooms you see, because you’ll be lucky if you ever come across one again.
After that situation was taken care of, Kyle became our new tour guide. He brought us around the city and we were able to see the London Eye, Tower Bridge, the real London Bridge, and some lovely buildings in between.
That night we hit up a club. No complaints there. Afterward though, we had an awful time trying to find the bus stop to get us back to Kyle’s. Eventually after a good 42 minutes of freezing cold wandering about, we found the correct stop and got on the bus. But after a short little ride, the bus pulled over to the side of the road, and an automated voice said, “This bus terminates here.” Are you kidding me?! So we gave up on going back to Kyle’s to pick up our stuff and instead manned up and got a taxi back to our hostel. And that was that.
The next day we were basically on our own. So we went back to a few of the places we had been to on the walking tour and took some time to appreciate them a little more. By this time we had managed to master the tube within the inner zones. We spent some of our day at a few of the museums and all in all it was wonderful! We loved the British Museum…enough to go on Saturday and back on Sunday to explore all that we could.
Saturday night we participated in our very first pub crawl. The Camden Pub Crawl. It was a fun time! It was £10 for the night which included “free” entry into all the pubs, 3 “free” shots (the first 2 were sambuca, so when the second one turned out to be tequila it was an awful surprise for Taylor and I), and a “free” T-SHIRT!!!! We didn’t bother with buses this night, just taxi-ed it home.
Sunday turned out to be the Chinese New Year! So that was exciting. Apparently London’s celebration is one of the biggest after China itself! We wandered about through all of the activity and of course ate some Chinese food. Then we headed back to the British Museum and finished up our time in London there.
The transportation back to the airport wasn’t quite as entertaining as Thursday night’s fiasco, but it was quite a joke nonetheless. The tube that went directly to Heathrow was closed for a portion due to construction, as well as a few other critical lines. But after a few transfers and a bus, we made it. We had to get off of a train, walk down a street, get on a bus, and then get back on another train. It was like a little makeshift tube “section”, but it all worked out and we made it back to Cork. I was grateful I had the opportunity to see London, but was happy to be home.