Planning my entire trip to London, was an emotional roller-coaster. It took me no time to get completely ecstatic and book my flight from JFK to Heathrow, and just as quickly, things began to fall apart and go wrong. I spent weeks trying to pull plans together and make things work and though everything seemed to slowly fall into place, days before my departure I still questioned if stepping foot on that air plane was a good idea. (que in dramatic music) Part of that reason is I have an excellent ability to over-think and worry about every possible outcome of any move I make, but none of that in this post!
I guess I can say, my trip to London was my first solo – I’m totally winging this – not exactly sure what I’m doing but lets go – type of trip. It was also one of the best trips I took because it was the trip that had taught me an incredible amount about myself (the good and the bad).
But besides my personal mushy gushy-ness, there was something about London that just felt, natural. Not at first of course. I spent the first few days completely terrified to step foot on a bus and go into the unknown. But after almost five weeks in (and around) London it almost felt like I had been there forever.
Yet here are a few things that came to me as a surprise during my very first trip to London.
I think I should copy right that because it sounds like the title of an epic movie.
When I landed on British soil, I wasn’t really expecting a super warm “Welcome to the United Kingdom” party with balloons and confetti, or anything of the sort, but the customs agent made ME question if I had come to England legally.
I was not prepared for the swarm of questions of “Who are you visiting?”, “How are you related?”, “Mom’s side or dad side?”, “You got this much time off work?” and her “I dare you to lie to me” glare. All that was missing was chains of guilt around my ankles and a tabletop lamp glaring the light of justice straight into my eyeballs. But I swear I’m innocent!
(Come to think of it now, after a 7 hour night flight and a 5 hour time difference, maybe I did look like a terrorist.)
I then found out that even British citizens can get the heat when re-entering their own country so if you ever decide to take a trip to London, be prepared to answer a lot of questions as you fly into the UK.
But in the end I got the “stamp of approval” and trotted along.
Ease of Transportation
This is a big one for me because as someone who has lived most of my life in a place that has basically no public transportation established, getting around by buses and trains can be extremely intimidating. Yet London made this so easy I felt silly for ever being worried about it in the first place!!
A HUGE role in this was played out by my phone and… ladies and gentlemen a round of applause for… Citymapper!! I would have probably died without the app. Scratch that. I would have definitely died without it.
Now I’m making it sound like London is impossible to get around without a fancy app, it’s not! It just made it ridiculously easy, especially since I had a tendency to travel from one end of London to the complete opposite to meet a friend or something of the sort.
Anyway, being able to get around on my own, regardless of cancelled trains or delays, was a super empowering feeling and the confidence boost that I absolutely needed. Although I did almost get stranded in the middle of no where, when I was traveling from Cambridge to Wimbledon (only 70 miles of travel) in the middle of a Monday night. Huh. That was fun.
A clean city?
I always pictured London to be this big, loud, super touristy city. With that you generally expect to see garbage. But wait… could it be??
I should point out I flew to London straight from New York City. I’m not talking layover, I was actually in New York for a week. Want to talk about a filthy, loud, obnoxious and over-crowded city?
London was a walk in the park! And I’m not talking about Hyde Park either.
The only places I recall being really crowded were the Buckingham Palace and the Westminster Bridge but that is to be expected. Other than that London really surprised me by being, quite decent and pleasant.
I was a little disappointed that the UK doesn’t really have much of a specialty when it comes to cuisine. Unless I just hadn’t really discovered it yet?
As much as I loved having all sorts of beer, at all sorts of pubs (I wonder if pub hopping is a thing? I mean it’s gotta be, right?) and the delicate scones with cream and jam, and fish with fries (ouh snap I said fries) have never tasted better – But that’s about it. I can’t really say I tried anything new.
Wait, no, that’s a lie. I had tea WITH milk for the first time ever. Can’t drink it any other way now.
No Tea Time?
I can’t get over this. I’ve been living a lie my entire life thinking that everyday at a specific hour the entire country stopped and everyone sat down for tea and scones. You know, the ones with the jam?
Tea time is basically an even hosted at hotels and restaurants. It’s quite fancy, of course, with all the finger food delicacies and champagne (Yeah I also hadn’t expected for champagne to be served during tea time). It can also be quite expensive.
It’s just not a thing British people actually do, which kind of killed it for me.
A friend I made told me that tea time hasn’t really been a thing since the 15th century and that a true Englishman drinks tea all day everyday.
I can do that!
I knew London had stunning flowers due to the rainy weather, I just didn’t know HOW stunning. What I also hadn’t expected was to stumble upon foxes, meet squirrels that literally weren’t afraid to enter your house or enter a park and see deer grazing, at the reach of my hand.
This of course made for some unpleasant surprises. Like the night I found a GINORMOUS spider just chilling right above my bed.
Let me set something straight here, I live in Florida. We’ve got black widows, brown recluse, wolf spiders, I won’t go on because I don’t want to give you nightmares. But they don’t just chill in my room above my head when I’m trying to sleep!
Definitely hadn’t expected to see wildlife THAT up close and personal. That was a big nope for me!
But the deer were nice.
Family Friendly Pubs
My concept of a pub was basically what Americans call a bar. (I imagined it to be a hundred times cooler of course.)
Ouh and it was!
But my jaw did kind of drop when I went to my very first English pub, walked to the outside sitting area to find a playground. You mean I can swing and enjoy my beer AT THE SAME TIME???
I’m telling you guys, England is doing it right.
The Not So Friendly Pubs
What my friend had warned me about was to be careful which pubs I went to, because apparently in certain neighborhoods, there are quite a few that aren’t so friendly. They can smell a foreigner from miles away and they will not hesitate to throw you right out if you look, talk, walk like someone who clearly doesn’t live here.
Learning the British ways was a delight (yes in my head I said that with a British accent and yes, it only sounds good in my head). But I have yet to learn a whole lot more and I absolutely cannot wait for my next chance to do that!
Until then, may your tea be milky and your scones slathered with cream and jam!