Getting to Soho by cab from Heathrow airport I took in the scenery like swimming backwards through a dream. By the time I got to Heathrow, I was well into my 27th hour of travel since leaving Cleveland airport. I was hungry, tired and seriously in need of a shower and just beginning to regret the full weight of my two heavily overstuffed bags. Never having had much experience with public transportation, I rushed out toward the black cabs, not wanting to experiment with the tube, as tired as I was. Besides, how much could it possibly be?
I had started to realize the ride was taking a bit longer than the black taxie cabbie had promised and by the time we reached the hostel, after driving around the same block at least twice and waiting for a flock of school kids to cross the street I was nervously watching the meter and sweating the calculations. Seventy pounds Sterling was roughly $135.00 which was about half of what I had paid for the flight from JFK. The cabby finally found the place and I let him remove my bags from the boot. “I hope you take Euros,” I said, not joking… or tipping.
The hostel was, well, a hostel. I had never stayed in one before and had figured before-that I could tough it out for at least two nights. It vaguely resembled and even smelled like a ski lodge decorated with the cast off things I might find in my grandmother’s attic. At first glance and after the overpriced cab ride, I solidified my decision to go to Paris a day sooner.
Thinking I would be able to take an earlier train when I got to the train station tomorrow, I told the lady at the front desk I would be leaving a day early and she said I would have to pay the two nights anyway (13 pounds to sleep in a room with 5 other strangers). I forked it over, along with a few heavy pound coins, for extra fees that were not advertised online. I had been in London a little less than 2 hours and was ready to get out. Feeling better after a shower, I decided not to sleep away the remainder of the day.
I locked my two enormous bags in the cage under my bunk-bed and took off. I proceeded to get lost several times, somehow making my way to a fair number of places I’d heard of in Beatles songs and movies and decided to stop for some coffee. Wandering around near Piccadilly Circus, I saw some people reading newspapers and sipping drinks.
When I looked up at the sign outside the shop, I stared in horror. Starbucks. I guess I just expected not to see giant American chains in London. It would take me awhile to get used to the commercial alliances big British and American companies had. I still prefer BBC to CNN but essentially, they are really not that different, much like Wal-Mart and Tesco. The evening was uneventful. I ate dinner at the hostel, crashed early and woke up at about 4 am. The 5 hour jet lag was unavoidable.
Getting started the next morning, I was headed for the train station, bent on using the tube despite my heavy bags. It was brutal. I checked out of the hostel and they were busy so my bed sold immediately. I contrived a rickety system on the wheels of the one piece of luggage I had that was designed for travel by balancing one stuffed and overweight shoulder bag on top of it.
Using this system earned me an equal mix of looks in disgust and sympathy from the Londoners I had blended in so easily with the night before on my long walk-about. I used my make-shift luggage rack just getting to the underground tube that took me to the Waterloo train station. Getting up and down the escalators and stairs as well as into the tube itself was a nightmare.
At one point, I just checked to make sure no one was in the way and chucked my overstuffed duffel bag down a long flight of stairs. Carrying and pulling the canvas piece on wheels I felt myself following it straight down until a sympathetic businessman in a grey suit caught me by the elbow before I plunged down the set of stairs. He carried it down for me while his colleagues watched, amused. Suffice it to say that this type of transport for my burdensome luggage has taught me a very important lesson about traveling as light as possible when falling down the rabbit hole.
After getting to Waterloo Train Station, I pursued getting out of this bloody overpriced place, but to no avail. Apparently the 90 euros I had prepaid for the ticket a month before was nothing compared to the going daily rate of 149 quid for the transport. I was unable to find a sympathetic ear even though I also talked to the “supervisor.” They offered to let me pay the 79 pound difference, about $160. I refused.
I had had a rough first day, and this morning wasn’t shaping up to well. I wished so badly I could go to Paris a day early I had almost talked myself into believing I would be able to. After stashing the two bags from hell in a train station locker, I quickly sought out the nearest local hostel. Okay, so things have not been going exactly as planned, but I guess I had known that would happen from the start.
The second hostel in Waterloo was much more modern, quieter and cleaner than the first one in Soho. I’m still looking forward to the privacy of a room of my own in sweet Paris, but happy to be enjoying London at last. On the friendly advise of the proprietor, I was able to find wireless in the main room, and am getting internet service where I am sitting here at this very moment. Time for a pub?