Mi viaje loco a Londres [London]

March 9, 2010

This past Thursday through Monday, I went to London! It was an interesting experience. I had a great time with my friends, the sun shined the whole time, and my hostel was pretty cool, but the sights were less than impressive. And traveling was a nightmare, but that has more to do with my bad luck than London. I swear all of the following is true, no matter how unbelievable it may seem, trust me, this kind of stuff only happens to me.

Getting There

From Madrid, I know a few buses run from my apartment to the airport, so I looked up a route that ended in Barajas and took the bus. It turns out Barajas is not only the name of the airport, but also the name of the area right by the airport. I’m going along and the bus stops in this little suburban area, and the driver looks at me and shrugs. I said, “El aeropuerto?” He replied, “No.” He explained that I had reached the end of the route. And I was like, “Well how do I get to the airport?” And he told me the metro was about a 10 minute walk. Luckily I had left my apartment at 5 p.m. even though my flight was at 9 p.m. It was 5:50 p.m. at this point, so I hustled to the metro, took it the one metro stop away to the airport, and rushed through the airport to security. Luckily there was no line, and I ended up at my gate by 6:30 p.m. So I relaxed, ate a sandwich, read my book, listened to music, then at about 8:30 p.m., we started to line up at the gate and I was relatively near the front of the line. I pulled out my boarding pass and waited in line, and then the person behind me informed me that I was at the WRONG GATE. It was like, “What? No…. Umm, Londres, Gatwick?” Everyone shook their heads and said, “Luton.” So I just booked it, in the wrong direction obviously. I ran about 3 gates away, looked at the board, and realized my gate was on the other side of where I was, so I ran past my people.

Luckily, they hadn’t boarded yet. The bad news was, I was the very back of the line and there was no assigned seating. When I finally got on the plane, there were a few seats open, but there was no room in the overhead storage anywhere. I finally saw one with a little bit of space (people put their coats and laptop bags up there, annoying!), so I was trying to arrange some room for my backpack, but needless to say I ws a little stressed at that point and just a little too short to see what I was doing. Just then, a tall, good-looking man with an English accent helped organize the overhead storage at put my bag away for me. 🙂

So I finally settled down into my seat, thinking I was holding up the plane and we could leave now that I was taken care of. But no, we ended up sitting there for an hour because there was “too much luggage on board.”

My flight was supposed to have gotten in at 10:20 p.m., but we didn’t get there to 11:15 p.m. I knew the metro closed at midnight and I only knew how to get to my hostel from the metro, so I rushed from the plane to security.

Welcome to London: Border Patrol

I got to border patrol and was glad I am not an EU citizen because their line was very long. I only waited about 10 minutes, then took my little Entry Card to the Border Patrol Lady (we’ll call her BPL). On the card, it’s all standard information and then you have to put where you’re staying and for how long. I put the address of my hostel and 4 days, but I didn’t know the zip code of my hostel and I was getting nervous that I would have to go to the end of the line, which was getting longer because the other passengers on my plane were just catching up. I was going to ask the girl in front of me the zip code she wrote and just copy it, but I decided it would be best not to lie on this card. I got to the front of the line and there was a Border Patrol Man and BPL. The girl in front of me, went through BPL in about 10 seconds, and kept going, so she called me up next.

I was excited to be there and I said, “Hi!” as I approached. This woman replied by saying, “Where are you staying?” I said, “St Christopher’s Village Inn.”

She said, “What is that, a hostel?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know anyone here in London?”

I replied, “Yes, my friends…”

She interrupted, “Why aren’t you staying with them?”

“I don’t know, they didn’t invite me…”

“How are you going to get to your hostel?”

I said, “I was going to take the metro..”

“Do you know how to get to the metro?”

“Yes, I have to take the Gatwick train..”

“The Gatwick EXPRESS,” BPL said angrily. “The metro CLOSES at midnight!”

“Oh, ok,” I replied, taken aback.

“Well, do you have any money?” Again, with attitude.

“Yes..” My plan was to hit up the ATM in the station. I had Euros and dollars on me just in case, but I didn’t have pounds yet. However, I thought I might have gotten deported if I answered, “No,” to that question.

The interrogation continued, “Where are you coming from?”

“Madrid.”

“Well what are you doing there?”

“Studying.”

“Why are you here?”

“Tourism?” I say with an inflection, not knowing if it’s an acceptable answer.

“How long are you here for?” All of this information is on my card, BPL, and you know it.

“Four days.”

“And then you go back to Madrid?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, the train’s right up the stairs,” she handed me back my passport.

“Thank you!” I say, relieved and exhausted, but in retrospect, I have no idea why I thanked her for interrogating me as if I looked identically like Osama bin Laden.

I ran up the stairs, boarded the 11:30 p.m. Gatwick Express, and got to the city by 12, making it too late to ride the metro. There were about 5 bus stops within sight outside of the station, so I looked at all the routes, and none of them went to where I was going. So I stopped a cab and asked him how much it would cost to get to London Bridge Metro stop, thinking it would be 30 pounds or more. He said, “Only about 15 or 20 pounds,” so I excitedly entered the cab. He asks me if I’m going to a hostel, and I told him yes and I told him the name of it, to which he confessed he didn’t know where it was, but he knows where the street is. We arrived to the area of the hostel and the street’s under construction! So he had to drop me off four blocks from my destination. I’m telling you, this stuff only happens to me.

Day One

The night before, I told my friend Allie that I had arrived safely at my hostel and I would call her and be ready to go by 9:30. The next morning, I got up to my alarm at 8:30 a.m., went downstairs and had my free breakfast, and then got ready and was ready to go by 9:30 a.m. I called Allie, and I was feeling very proud to actually be on time, but I had obviously woken her up. I was like, “I’m ready to go, where should I meet you?” She was like, “Come here I guess… Lola, you know it’s 8:30 a.m., right?” Stupid time change. I got up on Contenental Europe time, not London time.  Awesome.

On first day, we went to go to the British Museum, and ended up at the British Library instead, so we went in their first. There was a few really amazing primary documents, and I saw on my map, “Shakespeare’s Folios.” So we walked around the area on the map over and over and did not see them, so we asked a staff member where the original folios were. “They’re temporarily not on display.” !!!! Of course not.

Rest of the Time in London

The next few days were alright. I had a great time with my friends, they showed me all the good happy hours. But the “underground/tube” closes at midnight, even on Friday and Saturday!! So on Friday night, I wandered around Trafalgar Square trying to figure out my night bus (but the night bus ended up being awesome because I got to be on a double decker!!), and Saturday night, I we didn’t even stay out too late because most bars close by midnight or two at the latest! It was at that point were I really missed Madrid. Madrid is such a great place for people my age.

The Journey Home

On Monday morning, my flight was leaving at 7:25 a.m., so I was really nervous about making it there in time after my disasterous first experience with Gatwick. I took a cab at 4:30 a.m. to the Victoria Station to catch the first Gatwick Express. I then proceeded to practically run through the airport to get to an empty security area. I was literally the first person to pass through security that morning, then I ran to my gate and got there at about 5:50a.m., so I finally relaxed a little bit, but I didn’t get too comfortable because I rememebered that I waited at the wrong gate for two hours in Madrid, so I was very alert and spazzy. I went to a Pret-A-Manger, which is this cafe sort of place that is comically EVERYWHERE in London. There are literally two to a block on every block in London, but I had not gone to one until that morning when I was leaving.

Everything went fine, except that as soon as I got on the plane, I passed out and woke up an hour later and we had still not taken off yet. I wasn’t worried, though, because I didn’t have anything that day except clas at 4 p.m., and I knew I would definitely make it there in time.

When I arrived in Madrid, I took the metro back to my apartment even though I KNOW there are buses that go directly from the airport to my stop. I leave for Paris on Friday, so I am going to try the bus system again and hopefully not end up in a random neighborhood this time. But I’m sure that’ll be an adventure I will just blog about later.

crossing the street: for tourists

tourist shot!

View of Not-So-Big-Ben from Trafalgar Square

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