GET ME ON THE GROUND!
Phew! The trip to London was a bit of a bumpy one.
Flight from Calgary to London
We left Calgary at noon on Saturday with 30 pound backpacks and a dream. Haha! Kidding. I’m not that cliche. We left with 30 pound backpacks and early onset back pain. But we were pretty excited for our 2 month European backpacking trip! The Calgary airport was a breeze, even though Miguel was anxiously sipping his last Tim Hortons coffee. You see, Miguel hates flying… and this was about to be the biggest flight of his life. He had never left Canada before (aside from a few drives over for snowboarding in the states) and his one flight home to New Brunswick sounded like quite a terror show (lights flickering, screaming, and everything). He stood and watched planes come in, asking if they were supposed to be going that fast. I tried to reassure him, while also tease him (because that’s what love is) as we waited for our time to board.
We got lucky and had an empty seat between us on the way to our layover in Toronto. He was pretty grey in the face but I assured him that shaking did not mean we lost a wing. Things were a little bumpier than usual but most of the flight was ok… until we were nearing Toronto. The captain told us we would be needing to prepare for arrival early and that there may be some turbulence. He wasn’t lying. Every time we tried to slip down between the clouds the plane would shake and drop and turn. I was trying to keep my cool so Miguel wouldn’t go into cardiac arrest, but I too was having a mini heart attack. We seemed to be turning a lot and our landing time came and went and we were still in the clouds. The Pilot apologized for the rough ride, and even sounded a bit nervous – which wasn’t reassuring. We should also apologize to Westjet for the nail marks in their seats, as we were a little on edge. I tried to hold Miguel’s hand but both of us had sweaty palms.
We of course eventually landed (or I could be writing this from the ‘other side’. I guess you’ll never know). We headed to find one of the nice lounges that I am fortunate enough to have a pass for. After settling in with some free food in some comfortable chairs for a while we started talking to another couple who was from Toronto but also heading to London. We told them about our flight and they said they were not surprised because there was a TORNADO AND THUNDERSTORM WARNING IN THE AREA. Yea… we literally just came down on a plan through clouds that were so turbulent they were not only a thunderstorm, but brewing a tornado?! Miguel looked like he had seen his very own ghost standing in front of him. He said that if he had known about the weather, he would not have gotten on the plane.
After some calming down, a beer, and a few more nibbles of free food (I’m not much of an eater when I fly… motion sickness and all), I convinced him to get on the next plane.
The flight to London was so close to being promising. I had an aisle seat on a 2-3-2 plane with nobody at the window, and he had an aisle seat in the middle with 2 empty seats beside him. Can you imagine?! And right when the doors shut and we nearly let out a scream of excitement… the stewardess moved a couple who wanted to sit together in beside Miguel, and a man from another window seat who had been in the wrong seat right next to me… so our dreams of the best sleep ever were shattered.
The flight was bumpier than usual, and even the stewardess said so. Almost the whole flight had the seatbelt sign on, but I wasn’t too worried. I had told myself that there is no point in worrying because if we drop out of the sky, there is nothing I can do – so why stress. Miguel was white knuckled but seemed comforted by the fact that our stewardess was from New Brunswick and had a quick chat about lobster.
Transportation in London
None of this is surprising to me. Every single traveler has their own stories of bumpy planes and bad traffic, so I am writing this more so you know what to expect, not to surprise anyone.
The Express bus from London Gatwick is over £40 for 2 people to ride for 30 minutes (which is almost $70 CAN). Seems a little excessive, but I heard it is worth it. It was all smooth sailing.
When we got into Victoria Park station we had to buy an ‘Oyster Pass’. These are refillable reimbursable cards that cost £5 that you use for transit. There is no option to drop coins in on any bus or train. So… we waited along with the rest of the UK for 45 minutes in a line to get one. Both Miguel and I were getting pretty hangry at this point as neither of us slept and there was no free food on the plane. We grabbed our oyster pass and then beelined for a small cafe in the station for a juice and a sandwich.
There was a Vodaphone booth next to the cafe and I decided ease was our mission now so I’d just get a sim card there (even though it wasn’t as cheap as ‘Three’ that I had googled before. However, after I paid and we were getting it all set up – they told me my phone was locked… Strange, since I bought it straight from Samsung… So I was unable to switch sims… 30 minutes later.
I went back to find Miguel sleeping on the table (very safe in a train station with pickpockets…).
I had screen shotted our route when we had airport wifi and we went to find our bus. The first #52 we got on was going the wrong way (which we were alerted to after Miguel scanned his pass… oops). The second one we got on was going the right direction… very slowly… Our 9 minute Google Maps estimate turned into 45 with a road closure. But we couldn’t get out and walk (which would have been faster) because we didn’t know where to go until the bust stop. So we sat for 45 minutes on a stationary bus with no air conditioning on what they are saying was the hottest day in London.
Once we finally made it, we wandered around trying to follow our map. I believe we may have gotten off on the wrong stop… but we walked for a bit and then asked a store where we were, showing our screenshot. Somehow we had made it close by. It took us much longer than I’d like to admit to figure out where their street signs were. We walked around cursing for a solid 30 minutes wondering how people navigate a city with no street names posted… before finally seeing that they are not on poles like at home, but attached right on the side of the corner building on each block. With that we were finally able to drag our sweaty selves to our Airbnb.
Harrods and High Tea
Our AirBnB was not going to be ready for another hour, of course, so we decided to head over to Harrods a few blocks away. It became clear to us that we were in a very nice area of London (a quick judgement based on all of the extremely high end stores that we felt ashamed to enter in our dirty flight clothes and the sheer amount of luxury sports cars passing us).
We popped into Harrods where I inquired about an adorable elephant shaped purse (but £900 was a little steep for me), perused the exorbitant meats and desserts, and found our way to a teashop. I knew we would not have much time in London and I absolutely loved High Tea. This teashop had it on the menu (no it wasn’t called ‘high tea’ – it had some fancy name… like… ‘the Williamshire’ or something). We sat down to chai tea with an adorable little strainer, and a stack of sandwiches, biscuits, and a pretty freaking amazing chocolate mouse dessert. All, of course, on beautiful china.
We started to get pretty dopy from sleep deprivation, as it had now been 24 hours since we’d slept, and I didn’t even feel well enough to finish what could have been the most amazing desert of my life (something I may also regret). The AirBnB would be ready at 2 and it was 150. We were heading back.
We came to a screeching halt when we hit our room (which smelled a bit musty, but that was quaint and bright), and decided it was definitely nap time.
I had a quick shower and dried off with a facecloth (because there were no towels) and set an alarm for 3 hours – we didn’t want to waste the whole first day).
We are not in Kanata anymore
We woke up pretty groggy but determined to make the most of our day. It was slightly cooler now (but not much) and we dressed up in our finest shorts and shirts (or a jumper for me) and went on a quest to find some food.
We strolled past the V&A museum and Natural History Museum and admired the amazing *artitecture. The stonework was absolutely ‘brilliant’ (a little english terminology for you chaps). Although free, they were closed for the day.
We didn’t know what we were looking for, but we knew it when we saw it. A traditional English Pub. We went inside and followed the instructions for ordering (yes… they had them posted… for silly tourists like us). The servers do not take your orders. You go to the bar to get a drink, find a table, read the menu, and then order your food from the bar. Miguel got a ‘local beer’ that was room temperature (on purpose). I ordered a huge puff pastry pie and Miguel got the traditional Sunday Dinner (chicken, roast, potatoes, peas, carrots, cauliflower, and a yorkshire pudding). We were pretty pleased with our choices and for the first time since we left, I finally felt excited. I absolutely love culture, and these traditional meals brought us right there. And I just have to put this out there – those were the most amazing potatoes I have ever tasted in my entire life; I did not know potatoes had the ability to taste so amazing.
We left the pub (pretty handy that you pay up front so you can leave right when you are done) and toured around for a little longer looking at some of the residential areas around us. The #allwhiteeverything row homes (townhouses) were to die for. It was clear that this was a ritzy neighbourhood – every single car out front was high end. We even found what I believe could be my favourite little circle of homes ever. It was a small cul de sac with an ‘award winning garden’ in the middle. The houses were all attached 4-story brick townhomes, but not in the typical townhome sense. I imagine these were in the $$$millions. And yet, it seemed so cozy. There was also a private garden across the street that you needed a key to enter. And to top it off, a finely dressed couple walked outside talking to each other in a thick english accent. My heart melted.
We were not quite ready to come home and so stopped at the prettiest teashop I have ever laid eyes on (honestly, I want to open one in Calgary). It was so girly and tea-party like that I felt like I was a puddle of princess happiness sitting out front. We sipped our cuppa’s and watched the fancy cars go by for a little while before we headed back to the Airbnb to sleep.
(Or at least sleep was the plan… I got a solid 3 hours before I was wide awake at 4am and writing this blog until our 7am alarm time).
Did I say London was turbulent for us? Well it has not stopped.
Today we caught a tour bus to Stonehenge which would then head to Bath. I was the most excited about Stonehenge as it was something I had seen in movies growing up, and it was an iconic place to visit. I was hoping for at least a burst of energy or something when visiting the site.
Unfortunately… I was extremely motion sick from the bus ride there, and when we got there they told us that we had an hour and a half to visit the site. Seems long enough, right? Well… it isn’t if you go 2 days before summer solstice and experience one of the busiest days of the year. In order to get to the stones you have to take a shuttle bus. Convenient, except for the fact that the lineup to get there was 45 minutes… and the one to get back was another 45 minute…
We hopped off the shuttle bus and sped around half of the circle before we had to go back to the bus (they will leave without you if you are late). We saw only the front of the stones and took a few pictures, but the audioguide was not fast enough.
The line getting back was way too long so we decided to walk the 30 minutes back to our bus so that we would not be late. Me, still feeling like garbage, whimpered the entire way back. But we made it, and got to see some beautiful butterflies on the way.
When we got back I sat in the front seat, popped a drowsy ‘gravol’ (some other brand i got from a stranger on the bus) and slept on the way to Bath.
I woke up just outside of Bath and held on for dear life as the bus weaved down a steep windy road (still not sure why Miguel woke me for this part). When we finally landed in Bath we headed over to the Roman Baths – a site of historical interest. It was really interesting to try and imagine how this would have looked hundreds of years ago. Much of the original stone was still in place, and the rooms were displayed with pictures and video to help you imagine what it would have looked like.
The large bath outside has turned completely green over the years, as the roof to the building no longer exists, and the sun causes algae to grow. They mentioned offering ‘green drink’ or something, but the system was broken. I’m still not sure what they meant but I think I would have passed anyway.
After taking everything in and helping other tourists take group photos, we headed out to go find a pharmacy as I was now feeling extremely ill. I will spare you the details but let’s just say that finding a bathroom every 15 minutes and holding an empty water bottle up to my mouth as we walked was really putting a damper on the whole experience. The place was a total maze and our map was not helping, but at least it was beautiful. We wandered and wandered for over an hour before finally finding a pharmacy. I grabbed some medicine for both ends of my body and then beelined to where the bus had dropped us off so I could sleep on a chair for the last hour while Miguel tried to enjoy the trip.
However, when we got back to where the bus was it was no longer there. It had moved and the marshal only knew when it would be back. I told Miguel to go find food for himself and I would wait on the stairs nearby. He took off and I found my way into a hotel lobby bathroom. They had a nice large ottoman I could sit on and cool down, and I filled my hat with cold water. I popped my new medicine and tried to wait it out. Once it was time to go I dragged myself back onto the bus, popped a drowsy ‘gravol’ again and slept most of the way back to London.
I can’t say I regret going, because I am so glad I got to see everything in person – but I do admit it would have been a totally different experience had I been able to do more than ‘survive’.
When we got back into London we had to grab our bags from the last AirBnB and move them to the new one for the night. The second AirBnB was much nicer and had a wonderful older couple who owned a few rooms in the building.
We dropped our bags off and I was feeling well enough to go out for dinner.
We sat down at a little restaurant around the corner and ordered – smoked salmon to start of course. Next to us was a lady chain smoking and talking about the most intense gossip I’ve ever heard. Her and her friend were talking about how one started dating the other’s ex-fiance and how it was a bad idea since the man was physically abusive and in trouble with the law (they were mid 20s). It went on and on and I was so tempted to tell them both that they had already spent too much brain power and used too much oxygen on him. But… I did not. Instead, we asked for a to-go container (which apparently is not a thing in London) and headed back.
The Hospital Visit
You guessed it… Sarah traveling means Sarah is probably sick. The next morning I woke up feeling just as bad as before. We decided that a hop-on hop-off bus would be a bad idea given my circumstances and opted to head to the hospital. We went to emergency where they gave me an appointment time to see a doctor. While we waited we tried to get my European sim card working and sat at a pub with wifi – as navigation was getting painful without maps (how did people survive before?! #millenial).
At the time of my appointment we went to the clinic – and 45 minutes later we had still not been seen. But it was too late. We had to catch a train to Paris. So, i popped some more pills and dragged myself to the train station (where the train was out of order so we had to take a cab).
We made it in the nick of time (literally.. 1 minute until gates closed) and nestled into our 2 hour trip to Paris.