Getting Lost in London
Our flight departed the morning of the 31st of October. I pulled on my leather jacket over my strap top. Neither seemed to compliment nor contradict the other too much, except that the jackets inside was a little scratchy on my bare arms. After arriving at Heathrow we took a bus to Bath, it was the same bus stop where 6 months previously we had boarded to visit Oxford. The bus came and we drove through the British country side. I had pizza for dinner.
The next morning (1 November) I woke up at about 4a.m. – jet lag still had the upper hand the first few nights. I got up, dressed and an hour later decided to take a stroll outside. The remainder of the previous night’s Halloween gatherings was evident. Drunk people, garbage everywhere. Many people seemed to have lost bits of their costumes. I spotted a few drunk guys and decided to wait for sunrise. Light would probably send most of them crawling back to bed.
At around 5:30 I was standing in the queue at McDonald’s. Two high school boys came up next to me with a strange request to the waitress. “Could you cut off my friends tie, please?” the one asked her. I started giggling. His school tie had formed such a tight knot that nothing else seemed possible. I tried helping, but in the end the managers pocket knife succeeded. I left and one of them yelled “I love you” and waived his hand with a kiss. I walked away still giggling and determined to find the place where my tour bus would pick me up in a few hours.
I asked directions, got lost, asked again. By the time I found my bus stop my feet seemed tired after the 90min walk in the tiny city. When I knew where to go it took me 10minutes at most. Sainsbury’s opened at 7a.m. I went to buy some breakfast things and sped off only to arrive 30minutes early.
The bus came and we left for Castle Combe. This village was used in the filming of War Horse. It’s a tiny village with a beautiful church. I bought a piece of cake using the “trust system”. I put my money through the mail hole in the door and took a piece of cake from the lonely table in front of the door. I didn’t really want cake, but I had only ever read about the trust system.
The bus departed for Avesbury. It’s a Henge similar to Stonehenge, just older, bigger and not so famous. Many of the huge ancient stones have broken away, but still many remained. Since they don’t allow any machinery near the sight there are goats to trip the grass. Walking through and stepping on only grass was tricky.
Lunch was had in Lacock. The Hogsmeade scenes in Harry Potter where filmed here. The driver, Mike, gave us instructions as to where we could each have a good lunch. I decided on the Red Lion pub, fish and chips could never be a mistake. I went into the pub, had lunch and explored the village afterwards. It’s a tiny village, you take three left turns and you’re back in the center. The village experienced financial trouble in the 1700’s and thus seems frozen in an old time zone with no modern buildings.
After this we drove to Stonehenge. It was awe inspiring. A thin rope barred off all the tourists and protected the stones. It was bitterly cold and a fierce, piercing wind was blowing. It was probably 3p.m. The two Thai sisters and I had become friends. I stared at the ancient structure. Not crumbling, not cracking or breaking or showing any signs of being worn out except that some of the stones had fallen from where they had once stood it seemed almost entirely as it must have been a thousand years ago. We circled it, posed for pictures, together, apart, smiling, jumping, and then I got bored and left the sisters to their own photographic experiments while I continued to walk and stare at the stone structure.
In the end I went back to the information center. It was amazing, but after spending 2hours in the cold wind the amazement started wearing off and my fingers where turning numb in my gloves.
I strolled around in the gift shop looking for something to buy to commemorate this day. I found some fudge, and continued my search. In the end I bought a cheap little necklace that probably only I will know commemorates my trip to Stonehenge.
Me, the Dutch family and the Thai sisters got back into the bus and drove to bath. The sun setting, the dusk turning darker into night and with no sightseeing possible most of us where about to fall asleep when we pulled into Bath. What a day!
After an entire tour day where everything had been planned for me, when Mum asked me if I wanted dinner and what I wanted to eat I had no idea. It had been almost 12 hours since I had consciously made my own decisions and it took a moment before I could decide and even then I only came up with “not McDonald’s”. We had steak for dinner.
The next day, 2 November, I spent in Bath. I was going to wonder around and meet Mum at the Roman baths just after they opened. I really wanted to see the Abbey, but it was Sunday, so no tourists where allowed in, only people attending the services. I told the lady at the door that I wanted to pray, truth was I did want to pray, but I also wanted to see the abbey! I knelt down and prayed staring up at the sealing I bowed my head and scanned the wooden floor. Then I closed my eyes, truly prayed and got up took 2 pictures of the abbey and left.
I went to sit down on an icy front step of a shop and started fiddling with my phone. A young man on a bicycle stopped and asked directions. We started talking. He asked if I wanted to grab some coffee. I stared at him, prayed and then said yes. He had different views on life than I did, but we didn’t argue. We searched almost in vain for the coffee shop he had passed while cycling into the city.
After a while we started talking about God, Jesus, religion vs. faith. Here was a guy who had never read the bible, everything I said wasn’t answered by a “yeah, I know” or a smirk. He seemed to regard the bible as just more knowledge. I kept talking. We walked around and the beautiful city of Bath seemed to unwrap with the daylight.
We passed under a bridge, I kept looking to make sure we weren’t going anywhere deserted. I wanted other people present. I had only met him, the conversation turned back to Jesus. I wasn’t sure what I was saying, but I knew what was happening. He seemed to be searching so longingly for something. Maybe minutes passed, perhaps hours. We talked, he bowed his head and prayed to Jesus for the first time. I had known this moment was coming but I still stared at it as if I thought it was fake.
He took my hand, as if he was making sure I wasn’t a dream, then questions seemed to burst from him. Questions I am still trying to answer for myself. I explained everything as best I could. He seemed almost to have more faith in me and my faith than in God. I stood there wishing I had read my bible more thoroughly maybe then I would know what to say, but still words came out of my mouth and he seemed to take my almost childish explanations as concrete, sovereign concepts.
The time came to say goodbye, and board the train to London. I plugged in my headphones and gazed out the window as the green country side slid by. “Next stop Kings Cross, Kings Cross folks!” Me and Mum got up, unloaded out bags and stepped out onto the London platforms. I carried both bags up almost 2 flights of stairs. The bags weighed almost 20kg when I reached the top however I saw a sign saying “lift”. Mum and I dragged our bags to the taxi line. It was my first time in a black London cabbie.
A year ago we were in London and went to see Lion King, before the show we went into the nearest restaurant. I left the hotel that night and immediately recognized the yellow Lion King posters and then found the restaurant, Bill’s, right next to the theater. Not the most exquisite place, but decent food, fairly priced – good enough.
The morning of the 3rd November I woke early. London was just outside the door! I gobbled down my breakfast as fast as I possibly could and rushed out the door at 7a.m. Only to remember that nothing opened before 10a.m. I escaped the cold by darting into the nearest Boots pharmacy and browsing around for a little while.
I decided that I wanted to see Les Misérables that evening. After finishing the book and seeing to movie I wanted to see the stage play. I lost my way to the theatre and spent a great deal of time staggering around West End. Finally I found the theatre – Shaftsbury Avenue at last came into view. The ticket box would open at precisely 10a.m. I went to search for a seat inside a coffee house, the pavement was still icy. My macchiato was just finished when the theater doors where pushed open. I darted over the street and bought the cheapest ticket available.
BTW it’s currently 11:45p.m. Jetlag is still playing its cruel trick of sleep deprivation.
Mum and I seemed to keep missing each other. I got on a train to Camden Town. Last year it had seemed to fabulous. So different and interesting, this time I was coming home. It felt normal, expected. Nothing out of the ordinary. The same sale was still on “4 shirts for 10Pounds!” only the selection had changed. I rummaged through 3 different stalls before finding one that had designs I could maybe like. I haggled with the store owner, and got an extra shirt free!
It was early for lunch, but I had passed food, good food. Maybe I wouldn’t find another cheap restaurant again. I bought a large bowl of Chinese Bang Bang Chicken from a stall. It was perhaps the best Chinese food I’d ever had and I’ve been to PF Chang’s… I have a vague memory of spending the afternoon in Oxford Street, but I can’t remember why.
That evening Mum and I had dinner together. I spent another 40minutes getting there getting lost on my way to the theatre that I had just located that morning! A very handsome polish guy helped me with google maps and directions. A little out of breath and almost late I arrived at the theatre. The play mesmerized me. I drank in the music, the props the stage, the story. They had gotten the essence of the book, but also skipped large portions of the story. Summarizing a thousand pages into 3hours of music. I was sitting next to an elderly Scottish gentleman. We both enjoyed the play tremendously. The music seemed to penetrate me.
I awoke the next morning, 4 November. “Do you hear the people sing” was still playing in my mind and I would see the red flag waving over the stage. I had no idea what I wanted to do that day. An entire day in London. Theatre tickets would have first priority. I had breakfast with Mum, there was no point in heading out to early. We had different agendas and yet again split up.
I would have thought with the time I spent in West End it would be impossible for me to get lost there. I found War Horse’s theatre and again bought “the cheapest seat available, please” seeing it from a restricted view was better than not seeing it at all.
I got onto a train and saw that Notting Hill was only a few stops away. Last year I had seen a watch there, thought it an unnecessary expenditure and left it. My feet where aching, but I found my way to Portobello Market and the small store selling the watches. I picked it up, and doubted then something seemed to snap. I had wanted this watch for a year. I was buying it – now! Had lunch at SubWay, got on a train and went back to bed for an hour.
After my nap I decided to visit the British Museum. I arrived there just too late, if I went in I would be late for dinner and War Horse. I had now located the place and would be able to find it easier in the morning, hopefully.
I had gone to search for the theatre 2hours early so as to have enough time to find it and then find dinner. It was a whole hour before I finally saw the big posters and billboard looming up in front of me. How I had missed it before and walked in the wrong direction I couldn’t explain. It was so vivid. Pub dinner, alone. Fish and chips, my waiter seemed very new.
Last year I had seen War Horse twice, it had fascinated me so much. Both times I had almost exactly the same seat, this time however my seat was on the other side and I couldn’t help thinking of Dead Poet Society and saying to myself “Mr. Keating was right, position does change your perspective take on things”. I left the theatre humming the tune of “only remembered for what we have done”.
November 5 seemed to come to quickly my time in London was getting less. I still wanted to see the British museum. Some of the Archaeology discoveries that I’m studying are in the British Museum. I spent the hour between 9 and 10 in St. James’s Park waiting for the theatre to unlock its doors. The park was beautiful and smelled like autumn. The big trees stretched up to the grey, clouded heaven.
I bought a ticket for Phantom of the Opera. I had finished the book and wanted to compare. I got on a train and went to the British Museum. Finally I found what I wanted – Assyrian inscriptions. The Black Obelisk seemed to be towering over me. In truth it wasn’t much larger than I was, but it stood on a podium, ancient and hard and fact. Other Assyrian inscriptions stood around it. I spent a great deal of time meandering around all of them. Here where things that had been created thousands of years ago. Small keys into the lives of those who came before. I went to the café and had chicken pie for lunch.
Oxford street was still on my to do list. I had no idea how close I actually was to it. I walked into the train station asked for directions and was told to just use the other exit. The quiet, tree grown Museum Street vanished and I was on a bustling shopping street.
I was searching for a sport store, the ones in Dubai didn’t have the sports clothing I preferred. I found a store, found the gear I needed and went back to the hotel. My toes where blistered. It was wonderful being in London.
Mum and I had returned to Bill’s almost every evening. I had no problem locating Phantom’s theatre and therefore I ate in peace. Our waiter was a drama graduate. I seemed to bounce with every step and had put on a very bouncy, smiley persona for the evening. We speculated if he perhaps changed his personas every evening, seeing the restaurant as his personal stage. He seemed to be bustling even though the place was half way empty.
In the book of Phantom of the Opera all the deeds of the Phantom could be traced back to a human, the stage play really focused on making it seem more than human. The music was beautiful. Andrew Lloyd Webber seems to only prefer sopranos and the shrill voices pierced the air around me. Christine wasn’t 16 as in the book or film and Raul wasn’t as dashingly handsome as described. It was beautiful. Music seems to be able to condense messages that take up chapters in books into minutes in songs without leaving any detail missing or trailing behind.
November 6 I woke up and knew that I was sick, I dressed and got back in bed, breakfast felt impossible to eat. Sleep didn’t want to come and I decided to walk down to the Big Ben, spend the little energy I have and then return. Maybe once I was outside I would feel better. The big clock towered over everything, the top shimmered with real gold. It was 8:30 according to the huge hands and I remembered how Peter Pan had landed neatly on the long arm then decided to return to the hotel. I spent the day in bed. Travel tummy seemed to have caught up with me. Next time I travel I’m paying attention to what I eat every single day! Losing a day in London, having to stay in bed it was terrible.
The next day, November 7, was our last day. I set off to St. Paul’s. I just wanted to walk around it again, the gigantic white church with the beautiful pillars. “Feed the birds, tuppence a bag” was playing faintly in my mind. It had been years since I’d watched Mary Poppins. It’s the biggest church in the world by the measure of volume, or so I’ve read. My energy lagged and I stumbled to the nearest train station. Bed, and then I had a few precious hours left and spent 30minutes almost turning on the same spot in front of the hotel trying to decide what to do. Then suddenly I sprinted off.
The first train to Buckingham Palace, then a stroll through Hyde Park Corner. I started hearing many loud noises, was it safe to continue? I asked a man having his lunch, he removed his headphones and seemed surprised that I could expect anything unsafe. I continued, shouts and whistles filled the air. I drew closer and was handed a pamphlet that explained it was a protest against whale slaughter in Japan. I met a tipsy, gay guy with a megaphone. He put his arm around me and offered me the megaphone, I said no, he took a sip of beer and then bellowed “stop the slaughter”. I stared at him quite amused. Seeing that he was alone and about to be drunk in a crowd of angry protesters I asked if he’d be alright and was informed that his boyfriend was on the way. Right, that ought to be alright and I headed to the trains again.
Maybe there would still be enough daylight left to see London Bridge and then visit Peter Pan’s statue. At the St. Paul’s stop I got out, the light was going to fade within the next hour. My hands where freezing and I darted into the nearest store, bought a pair of red leather gloves and headed off to Notting Hill.
I walked through the beautiful Kensington Gardens. Autumn leaves had formed a tapestry on the green grass and huge trees surrounded me. Doves cooed and other birds twittered. A breeze stirred the dry leaves. I continued to walk with blistered aching feet. It was so beautiful I scarcely noticed anything else. According to Google the statue was next to “The Long Water”. I asked for directions three times. It was beautiful, but getting lost had no more magic to it, it had actually turned quite boring.
I found the tiny bronze statue on its Neverland podium. The little boy playing his flute. He looked fearless and arrogant, handsome and young. He had a daringness to him. I froze, years back I had watched Winning London and Ashely Olsen had stood where I was standing. I had thought “one day, maybe I’ll go to London and then oh, I do hope that I remember to visit this!” here I stood for the second time in a year. It felt like greeting an old friend. “The Boy Who Never Grew Up”. JM Barrie was right, Neverland is real, if you dare to imagine.
Dusk was setting on and the park was going to be locked up soon. The wind had turned cold and I could feel my cheeks burning red against the cold. It became almost impossible to see the expression on Peter’s face. The statue started to fade in with the darkness and the trees behind it. Still I stayed.
As I was sitting on the train I saw that it was only a few stops to Tottenham court road. I had read about this in a story book. I knew nothing about it, but I got off and started walking around. Hoping vaguely that I would find a tourist store to buy something tiny and commemorate this moment. It seemed to be the only street in London with no tourist stores popping out at me. Even though it was only 17:30 it was pitch black except for the street lights.
I had been in Tottenham Court Road. I had walked where fictional characters had. I had not seen London Bridge. Thoughts flew through my mind. Had I made the best of my time in London? What could I do better? Would I ever be able to come back?
I met Mum for dinner and then we had to pack. The next morning we would be leaving. I packed everything and miraculously my small suitcase was still able to close. I was off to see Mama Mia! that evening.
I stared at the 70’s fashions and for a moment I thought “oh, no, people actually wore that” and then something sparked “people had worn that! Oh, how fun it would have been wearing crazy bell bottoms and ridiculously high platform boots…” It didn’t seem old fashioned it seemed fun. Around me business men, working woman and family head seemed to have had 30years removed from them. The old music seemed to turn then all back into the teenagers they had been when they had last danced to this music.
In the morning, after finishing all my packing I still had one hour left. It was 4:30, was it safe outside? I didn’t put on my scarf and unzipped my jacket. I felt the cool wind against my skin. It smelled like London. Around the bus station many people were huddled. Somebody was already selling hotdogs. I looked up at the great lion statues in Trafalgar square and turned left. I would go to Big Ben. I walked down, the pavement was quite deserted, but many cars drove by. My presence evidently disturbed a flock of pigeons and they all flew out from under a bush they had been sleeping.
Only the lighted face of Big Ben was visible. It was too dark to distinguish the small, beautiful details of the tower. Heading back to the hotel I wished I had crossed over the Square and had rather spent my time in St. James Park. There was no time for regret, the private car had stopped in front of the hotel to take us to the airport. I breathed in the London air and got into the car. This was a magical city which I was leaving.