My European saga does not actually start in Europe. No, it begins in the United States, in Boston, Massachusetts, specifically at Logan Airport. One crucial detail of my European saga would be Neil. He was my companion for the entirety of my trip in Europe. In fact, the whole trip was mostly his idea. I had always wanted to go abroad; so much so that it was one of my most common lamentations. “Oh Europe, how I wish to visit thee.” And so, once upon a time a similar statement was uttered in Neil’s presence, something to the effect of – England, I’ve always wanted to go there. And he said why don’t you? And I said, because I don’t have enough money. He said it wasn’t that expensive, if done properly. To which I responded, well, I can’t go alone. To which he said, I’ll come with you.
And now we’re all up to speed. Travelling with Neil was absolutely vital to the enjoyment of this trip. Without him, I assure you I would have been lost (literally and figuratively) and potentially murdered, robbed, or worse. His ability to navigate foreign locations is astounding.
Our flight was a red-eye, taking off at six in the evening. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to sleep on the flight, despite my drugged, Dramamine state. As it turns out, not a problem.
We flew Aer Lingus, which meant a layover in Dublin. I was very impressed with the flight and service. Everyone was very attentive (when I was conscious) and we got a full meal that was not only edible, but dare I say delicious? It included a brownie and cheese, and if that wasn’t enough, a cracker to really win me over.
We landed in London at 8 am. I did get a little sleep on the flight, but plane sleep isn’t exactly restful. Neil barely slept at all. But we were in London and I was determined to enjoy it.
My first experience in the city was navigating the Underground, which is something of a feat when sober nevermind drunk on lack of sleep. I love the Tube. It’s so efficient and effective. There are just so many different route options. It seems impossible to truly get lost when you have access to the Underground. Plus the seats are soft and plush. And the adverts are usually amusing.
We had some trouble at first figuring out what pass to get , but an attendant at Heathrow was very helpful and instructed us to wait until after the peak period passed (at 9:30 am) and get a daily pass for about £8. Or something reasonable like that. We spent our time waiting at a Caffe Nero, where I had my first cup of tea on English soil (which was actually served in an Italian coffee chain).
We got off at Westminister to meet Neil’s friend Imogen, and the first sight to greet me was Big Ben, looming ahead of me in all its pointy, clock-like glory. What could be more quintessentially London? To invoke a cliche, it took my breath away. And fair enough. It was extremely surreal, especially on so little sleep.
From there we proceeded to wander about the city, which increasingly did not match up to my expectations. London is a city, much like how New York is a city. It is catering to an international audience. That is, it’s not exactly very British or English at all. Instead of traditional, English restaurants, there were a lot of French places or Italian ones. I searched high and low for an English tea shop in London, but I was clearly not looking in the right places.
Everything from Big Ben on was a blur of British tourist locations. I was groggy from the Dramamine and lack of sleep, but Imogen valiantly led us to several locations including Buckingham Palace (which is pronounced Bucking-em, not HAM), the Strand, Drury lane, Leicester Square, and Trafalgar Square (lions) where we had lunch at the popular chain Pret a Manger. Apparently there is a Pret in Boston now which I am going to have to check out, because for a chain their food is remarkably delicious. The whole morning was so lovely, I just wish I could have appreciated more at the time. I was so tired and so hungry that I couldn’t really focus on what was around me. I simultaneously felt sensory overload and an inability to absorb details.
We walked around for quite a while before going to check into our hostel at St. Christopher’s Inn, Shepherd’s Bush. I wasn’t exactly certain what to expect from a hostel having never stayed in one, but the vibe was pretty much college dorm life meets camp, but with more alcohol. Also, no one really speaks to each other. Neil and I had a bunk (he chivalrously slept on top). We shared the room with one Irishman, who never spoke when Neil was in the room, but immediately asked me where I was from the second Neil stepped out to use the bathroom. I never did catch the guy’s name. We took a nap and then had dinner at the hostel which is also attached to a bar called Belushi’s, all the St. Christopher’s are. Then we went to bed very, very early in order to be well rested for Day Two.
Stay tuned for more zany European adventures!