July 7, 2014

Eurotrip: In Over My Head

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” -Helen Keller

After an eight-hour flight on the largest plane I’ve ever been on (just more seats, not more leg room!) and not sleeping at all, I finally landed in London around 8:30am. It hit me as I walked off the plane and watched passengers greet friends and family and rush off to their destinations that I had absolutely nowhere to go. I kept asking myself, “What do I do now?” First agenda item: brushing my teeth and washing my face because somewhere on that plane ride it turned from day to night and back to day. Feeling clean(er), I followed the exit signs knowing there had to be taxis or buses or something that could take me… well… somewhere. I came across a currency exchange booth on the way and decided to cash in while I could. I greeted the woman at the counter who replied to me, “I can tell you’re American and not because of your accent, but because you asked how I was doing.” The “Iowa-nice” stereotype was always one I was proud to belong to. She pointed me to the transportation booth and five pounds and some pence later I had my ticket for the underground subway system called the Tube. And so my adventure began.

I met three people on the Tube ironically from Kansas City. We had a nice chat but they had a destination in mind and a stop to get off at. That was more than I had. I recalled hearing fun things about Zone 1 from coworkers, so I randomly picked a stop located in Zone 1 hoping to find some touristy stuff to do. I got lucky and landed in Chinatown and was also walking distance from the British Museum (which was free!). I had my first few hours planned. Phew. Okay, I got this.

For lunch I stopped at a local pub and got my first order of fish and chips. They had free WiFi so I was able to do some Googling to find my next destination and roughly how to get there by foot and bus. I was so exhausted from the lack of sleep on the plane and tired of carrying my backpack around that I decided to look for a hostel. I found one online that was about 3km away, mapped it out, and off I went hunting for it. The streets are quite different here and not at all clearly marked, so it was definitely a challenge to find my way around. I learned I needed to hop on bus 14 but had to get an Oyster card (bus pass) before they’d let me ride. Once I found a place to buy an Oyster card I still had to find the right bus stop. After walking the streets up and down for what felt like hours while stopping frequently at coffee shops to use their WiFi to check the status of my location, I finally found it. Small victory.

I got on the bus but it wasn’t exactly clear which stop I needed to get off at. After only about five minutes of riding the driver yelled “last stop,” so I guess that meant I had to get off. I asked the driver for help but he didn’t offer much, and his accent was so thick I could hardly understand him anyways. The thing about London I discovered pretty quickly is that no one is actually from London. Even the workers are from out of town and not overly familiar with the area. People are not the friendliest and everyone very much minds their own business. This was quite discouraging.

After getting off the bus at a totally random spot, I now felt even more lost, as if that was possible. Enough time had passed now that I decided to skip the hostel and attempt to get to Leeds instead. Leeds is about three hours north of London and is where the Pearl Jam concert is tomorrow night. Luckily, I’ve been in contact with this girl, Rebecca, whom I met on couchsurfing.org and who was going to be hosting me on her couch in Leeds tomorrow night. She welcomed me coming a night early and told me about a cheap bus option to get there. I booked that and took the Tube to a part of London called Victoria where my bus departed from. I spent the rest of the day in Victoria to minimize the risk of missing my bus. I was so exhausted I literally couldn’t think straight, so I decided to nap in a nearby park. I slept outside under a tree for a good hour. As much sleep as you can get anyways while hugging your belongings so they don’t get stolen. I felt a bit like a homeless person, but I got over it. Once I got up I decided to go walking since I still had a few hours until my bus left. Buckingham Palace was nearby, but I missed the last tour by 10 minutes :(. It was still cool to see the grounds, but I’d like to go back during my last few days. I did some more wandering but feared getting lost, so I stopped at a nice coffee shop where I utilized their WiFi and killed time until my bus departure.

The bus ride was about three and a half hours so I didn’t get to Leeds until 11:30pm (or should I say 19:30 as they don’t use the 12-hour format here). Rebecca sent me directions on how to walk to her place from the bus station, but again, those darn street labels and lack of a phone made it challenging regardless. There were no places open to steal WiFi from either. So there I was walking around a foreign city near midnight alone trying to read street maps. You can imagine how relieved I was once I finally located her flat. Another victory. It’s late so we didn’t have much time to chat, but she is BEYOND kind. At this point, I am so happy to have a “home” and finally a place to set down my heavy backpack.

I read a lot about solo traveling and was told by so many I’d have my days where I questioned what was I doing and would want to just break down and cry. Today I experienced moments like that first hand, more than I’d like to admit. There were other times I literally laughed out loud at the situation in disbelief that I am actually doing this. Everyone told me how crazy I was before I left… I can’t help but wonder if maybe I really am. Having read blogs and knowing others have gone through the same emotions and survived and still had the trip of their life is what carried me through the day. Each small victory felt like I climbed a mountain and gave me enough of a confidence boost to push forward and keep my head up.

Bed time, finally. Has it really only been one day?! Tomorrow should be much less stressful… let’s hope.