Also in which many sweets are consumed.
I call this Day “0” because even though we arrived in London, England (!!) on Wednesday, 16 July, we…really didn’t do anything. I suppose technically Tuesday should’ve been Day 0 since that’s when we actually left California, but most of that was on a plane and then there’d be two Day 0’s, and that’s just silly.
The plane itself was, in a word, HUGE. Two levels, entertainment modules in the headrests, and the coach seats were actually somewhat roomy and comfortable. It’s one of the newest aircrafts to the British Airways fleet, actually. Here’s a link if you’re a plane-spotter and want to check out the deets. (Planespotting’s a thing, right?)
(N.B. I took well over 1000 pictures on this trip, but it should be obvious that I’m merely trying to pad this post out because, again, not much was accomplished on this day. Jet lag sucks, yo.)
We got to LAX with plenty of time to spare, thanks to my grandfather, chauffeur from home to airport as well as itinerary organizer and actual financier of our voyage. See, this whole trip was a college graduation gift from him last year (UCR FTW). My grandfather knew I was a big Anglophile, and so he “gave” me an open ticket to London, airfare and hotel included. It was truly an unexpected and wonderful present and I broke down into tears when I read the card.
And I could even bring one person with me. There was some silly competition after that, notably from my uncle and my boyfriend at the time, but I was always going to bring my mom. Not only was she an adult (well, more so than I) and had access to money (well, more than me), she had traveled hardly any more than I had, and this would be a wonderful adventure for both of us.
…Okay, it was mostly the money and life experience thing, but c’mon, you can’t say no to your own mother!
And hey, look, two paragraphs without a picture!
We left Los Angeles at around 16:00 PDT (why yes, I *do* always use 24-hour time) on 15 July (why yes, I *do* always write the date this way – they both make more sense, people!). It was approximately a 10 hour flight, and I had planned to sleep through most of it in order to be well rested for a British Wednesday. I’m actually a horrible organizer and planner, and had stayed up late the night before reading through various tourist sites about the best stuff to do in London, which really should’ve been done weeks in advance. Just a tip for those who may be reading this in prep for your own trip: Don’t wait until the last second. Spoiler alert, we did do pretty much everything I wanted, but more would’ve possible (and cheaper) if I had planned better. Second tip: Never rely on being able to sleep on the plane.
The modules actually turned out to be a lifesaver, because even though I had brought games, books, notepads for writing, etc., I didn’t use any of them. It’s surprisingly hard to focus when flying, and I was tired, but unable to sleep. I watched some Python, played a couple trivia games, and listened to classical music, all while trying desperately to doze off. Mom gave up entirely, and watched the movies she had pre-downloaded on her iPad. (See? She was prepared.) We watched The Grand Budapest Hotel together – pretty awesome movie, btw, though once you notice the symmetry theme of Wes Anderson’s movies, it’s impossible to un-see – and then I stared in horrified fascination when she put on Twilight: Breaking Dawn and I tried not look and turned up my music louder and stuffed my face into the headrest and was all wrapped up in the thin blanket, but holy beans, that movie is disturbing. Even from a non-audible perspective.
I eventually gave up sleep too, and was rewarded with stomach pains (from the chicken curry served at lunch, most likely) and a splitting headache when the flight path shown on the module revealed we were over England at last.
That aerial view was a “Whoa, we’re not in California anymore, Toto” moment for me. I live in Southern California, which does have mountains and hills and other such greenery, and I’m sure many parts of the United States look similar to the picture above, but I personally had never seen land look like this. With the nestled houses and tiny streets and so many trees!
The whole time leading up to the trip, I had been strangely un-excited, in the sense that I wasn’t a nervous wreck or bouncing off the walls. It all seemed unreal and not actually happening to me, if that makes sense. Even looking back now, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t all a dream. If I had to look at it psychologically, I think I sort of buried my emotions, which may sound bad, but when I was younger, I used to suffer from severe anxiety and panic attacks, usually about the most ridiculous things. I grew out of it for the most part (though emetophobic neuroses still linger), having learned how to embrace the unknown and keep calm during high intensity situations. I believe my body read this venture (correctly) as a potentially triggering experience, and instead of over-reacting, I underreacted and felt almost nothing. Seeing that view in the picture above was my first spark of excitement – an OMG I’M IN ENGLAND kind of thing.
But even true enthusiasm can be dampened by the journey that is going through Border Patrol and Customs and Baggage Claim, and when we finally emerged out of Heathrow (which for the record was huge and nice and very well organized), we were both nothing short of utterly exhausted. It didn’t help that we had specifically chosen our hotel due to its close proximity to the train station, but Mom was so desperate to get outside proper, we left out of the wrong exit and spent the better part of a half hour wandering around a cafe area with our suitcases, trying to find our hotel. T-Mobile had assured us our phones would work just fine abroad, perhaps a little slower. Well, traveler tip #3: Cell phone providers are liars. I only had call and text services, and Mom only had Internet with roaming data. See, SoCal is sprawly and big, and everyone drives everywhere. GPS isn’t an app so much as a necessity. It was weird not being to just Google information – or directions. In any case, I got Mom’s phone to work just long enough to figure out how to get to the hotel, and we finally got there, sweaty and achy from pulling cumbersome suitcases over lovely cobblestone alleyways.
We later found out that the train station is literally connected to the hotel, and you don’t even need to go outside to reach it. So again, research research research and bloody pay attention to freakin’ signs.
This was our first look at our hotel, when we really should’ve been greeted by this guy inside the train station:
Behind him is the escalator that leads to a gift shop, a Starbucks, and a door right into the hotel. Yes, we are idiots.
Our rooms weren’t ready yet, as it was only about 11:00, and we gave our luggage to the concierge, and wandered out into the London streets. I had actually had some semblance of a plan for the day, thinking it would be a good idea to take a bus tour around the city to get a feel for the layout and then maybe even the London Eye at night. I was totally not expecting to be so tired. It was about 3 o’clock in the morning, California time, and neither of us had gotten more than maybe two hours’ sleep on the plane. If I had been alone, I might’ve tried to push for it, but I honestly felt that I wouldn’t enjoy anything I saw or did that day. (I promise future posts won’t be so whiny, it was just this first “day” that was awful.)
Paddington is a great little district, a hub for foreign tourists and local commuters. As mentioned, the sizeable train station is right smack in the middle, and there are three entrypoints to the Underground. Multiple bus stops are nearby, and there are loads of shops and restaurants everywhere. It’s close to the financial area, or at least one of them, so not much of a nightlife, but that wasn’t really an important factor for me. Mom remarked that everything was similar to New York City, in terms of building proximity and street navigation, but the buildings are not quite as tall, so you can actually see the sky.
We ate lunch at The Pride of Paddington, a pub/hostel right across the street. Yes, we ate fish and chips, and drank beer (well, Mom did). Yes, they were delicious, and no, the beer was not warm. It’s very much a touristy place, as is all the places around that part of Paddington, but the prices were reasonable and the service good. Actually, having not much taste for bar scenes, we were a little confused on the whole ordering food thing, as there is not a waiter. You have to order at the bar, and someone brings food to you, and then you pay at the bar when you’re finished. This is probably obvious information, but still possibly useful. I spent the remainder of our time there being fascinated by the British coins we got back as change, and trying to form the Royal shield with the backs.
For reference, the pound coin is super fat and the two pound coin is huge. There’s also no sales tax, at least not like how we were used to in California, so that was nice. Especially considering the exchange rate, in which our $$ budget was cut down to barely more than half in ££.
We went back to the hotel to find that our room was ready, and we changed out of sweaty clothes and reveled in air conditioning. Another traveling tip, particularly for those who are used to hot, dry climates: London is, contrary to popular belief, hot and also humid. Not quite as bad as Florida or Hawaii (I say those names with the maligned confidence of someone who’s only been to each place once), but still sticky. It was, admittedly, July, and the temperature stayed in the high 70s and 80s throughout our trip, with it only raining one day. No, I don’t know the Celsius, the metric system being the one I can’t figure out. Luckily, the British still like miles and feet. But they don’t like air conditioning, which seems bizarre until you realize that they don’t really need it for most months of the year. It did make most interior places like buildings and the Underground very very hot.
As I said, I had vetoed any plans to do anything other than eat and try to catch up on sleep that day, and we decided to check out the oh so very nearby Paddington station. There were a number of restaurants and shops inside, similar to – I’m assuming – most indoor train stations of that size. There was also a Sainsbury’s, which is a popular supermarket chain, though this one was a Sainsbury’s Local, being somewhat smaller and more of a convenient store, stocking items best suited for those always on the go: ready-made sandwiches, salads, curry, etc. and crisps and drinks and sweets. Oh, the sweets!
For the record, I pretty much ate and liked every kind of candy they had. Mom insisted that everything tasted “off” – even items like M&M’s and Pringles and Diet Coke. Which was actually true, for the most part. Not bad, of course, but not quite the taste I was used to. Different factories, perhaps?
So that night, I pigged out on sweets and figured out the hotel’s WiFi (not complimentary, unfortunately) and made plans for the next day. Our first proper day in London, England.
EDIT: Mom has rather pointedly reminded me that we went out to dinner that night as well. This oversight is obviously due to how tired I was
when writing that day. We went to a nearby Zizzi’s, a chain Italian restaurant a bit like Olive Garden, but tastier. Delicious bread with their signature oil dressings and lovely big bowls of steamy pasta. So I guess we did do quite a bit overall… Day 0.5? I also met this guy: