As someone who loves to travel, last year I was given the opportunity to travel to England on an exchange program through my university. It was going to be my first ever solo travel, and for someone who can barely navigate her way through Sydney CBD I was nervous as hell. I would like to state that I really did try my absolute hardest to pack lightly, however the night before I found myself mentally trying to find reasons to pack my GHD, even though I was already 2kgs over the designated weight limit with my suitcase taking on the shape of a stuffed artichoke.
I guess, all those late night Tumblr surfing sessions really got to me since I decided to book my ticket a couple of days early to allow me to back-pack around London prior to meeting the university representatives.
To say that I was scared would be an understatement.
Those crucial hours prior to my flight my mind decided to evaluate every tragic plane crash that occurred on Air Crash Investigation. I mentally started creating a list of things to avoid doing while on the plane.
- Do not flush whilst on the toilet, your ass will get stuck and it will turn into the opening scene of the movie Soul Plane.
- Do not drink too much wine, although it is free remember that you are a light-weight and passing out on a plane could result in your hot European neighbour stealing your passport and using his soft grey eyes to convince you it was the bald man sitting behind you.
- Finally, do not at any cost take your phone off airplane mode because knowing your luck, things will go south. Literally!
When I stepped outside Heathrow Airport however it was a whole new ball game. The city had a whole new vibe to it. The architecture, the people and the amazing night life gave me memories that I will cherish forever. I remember sitting in the cab from the airport to my hostel and excitedly staring out of the window like a 5 year-old. The buildings had a Victorian feel to them and the pubs were packed. The streets were extravagant and as we went past some of the iconic streets like Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, I took out my DSLR and started snapping away like a crazy person.
The moment I arrived to the hostel I felt a little uneasy. Not only was it a cramped space, the lifts were so small and the air was heavy. I immediately felt my claustrophobia acting up. It was hot, sticky and in my head I was already thinking of an array of insults that I would throw at my English friend who told me summer in the UK is like an Australian winter. I dumped my bags in my room and locked up my belongings in the locker, made sure I had enough money to last me the day and went downstairs to find out, what this amazing city had to offer.
On the way to bus stop, I met this girl Claire who was on a scholarship at Oxford University to help conduct some research around cancer. I was incredibly impressed and burst out into a fit of laughter when she offered me a cigarette. So there we were at the Sherlock Holmes pub, sipping on our massive pints of beer, smoking and shamelessly talking about the cultural differences between Australia and England.
As the day progressed we decided to start off by checking out some iconic stops like the Buckingham palace, where I quickly realised that my lifelong dream of making the Queen’s Guard laugh wasn’t going to come true anytime soon, because we could only see the palace from the other side of the gates. Regardless we took some ruthless selfies and brought some funky English jam from the souvenir shop in the event that we got hungry and needed something to spread on our scones.
At some point Claire, realised she had some university briefing event that she had to attend so sometime mid-noon I was left to chill by myself. I got on one of those hop-on and hop-off buses and decided I might as well check out Oxford St and buy some summer clothes since I had essentially packed for winter.
To this day, whenever I look at the history of my credit card statement I am reminded of how I made efficient use of the tap and go feature. I spent a solid couple of hours buying essentials like: summer dresses, 2 shorts and a couple of loud shirts in the event I get lost and the police end up to relying on google maps to try and find me.
At 6pm I remembered I was meant to meet a friend at Green Park (I know, real creative huh? Jks I love London) and we all know Sana with Google Maps is horrible but Sana without Google Maps is a whole new level of chaotic. I somehow managed to make it to our meeting spot but made sure that I stopped over at Kings Cross station on the way to take a cheesy photo at platform 9 and 3/4. I am embarrassed to admit that my face did light up and I did annoy a number of passengers by asking them to take pictures of me as I pretended to run into the wall. Pretty sure the old lady with the cashmere scarf was secretly hoping that I would.
My friend then proceeded to take me to Churchill Arms for a classic pub meal. I had no idea mashed peas and fish were a thing up until then. One of the main reasons that I fell in love with the city was because I loved how every building, every park and every street that I walked into made me feel like I was stepping into a whole other era. Also I have a thing for brick walls.
We ended up having some weird organic smoothie at Trafalgar square as I recounted that scene from the Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb when the Trafalgar lions come to life. As the night came to an end I figured why not give my liver a tough time and check out the Icebar London. It was one of the few bars that I went to where the hem of the skirts and dresses were way below your knees. Of course to be fair it was -5 degrees Celsius since everything from the ‘lounge area’ to the shot glass was made out of ice. After doing everything from sitting inside an ice sculpted car to pretending to be SpongeBob inside a massive pineapple. We decided to call it a night as I proceeded to carry my jetlagged butt back to the hostel.
Did I get lost multiple times throughout the day and have mini breakdowns? Yes.
Did I also reach a new low when I proceeded to ask the drunken homeless man where the Sherlock Holmes pub was? Yes, possibly.
But did I also love bumping into new people and being completely lost in such a vibrant city? Hells yes!