Hallelujah! After a delayed flight, a lost phone and a bumpy plane ride, after 10 hours we finally arrived in London. The plane itself was a bit cramped, and my carry-on was too big to fit under the seat, so I had to straddle it the whole way, using my maxi dress to hide that fact from the flight attendants. Whoops! Plus, Clare somehow misplaced her phone and didn’t realize until she was on the plane — by the time she ran off to try and find it, the plane’s doors were starting to close, and it was too late to do any real searching.
Clare and I weren’t able to get seats together, but I managed to make friends with an older British gentleman sitting to my right — we bonded over the terrible airplane food (pasta or chicken curry were the options) — and talked about the major differences between England and the U.S. (he’s lived in both places), the most beautiful places in California (he had just finished up a 10-day motorcycle ride through the state) and American politics. It was really interesting to hear an “outsider’s” take on things.
Clare and I both managed to get some sleep on the plane, but we woke up about an hour before the plane touched down. And, I swear, that last hour was just about hell. It was twisty and turn-y, and my stomach most certainly did not like it. And I usually have a steel stomach! About three times, I actually had to choke back down some vomit that threatened to come up because I couldn’t find a barf bag, and I didn’t want to be the stupid American who couldn’t handle a flight. Thank goodness for minty fresh gum.
When we finally landed and were able to get off the plane after an electrical problem kept us stalled at the gate for a little bit, it was pretty smooth sailing through immigration, to the baggage claim and to the Tube. (How quaint is “the Tube”?) Then, our hostel was just about a two-minute walk from a stop.
And, oh, the hostel. I’m not entirely sure what I expected, but after seeing the places Clare booked for us in Paris and in Barcelona, I guess I expected more. This is one of the few hostels in London that accepted under-18s (only a few more weeks for Clare Bear!), and it was on the cheap side. I can see why. It’s incredibly cramped. Our room has a few plugs, but none of them are conveniently located. There’s a sink, but you can’t really use it in the morning or at night because others in the room will be asleep. Yes, I am currently sharing a room with 11 other people, men and women. Dorm bathrooms ain’t got nothing on this.
Of course, Clare is being a champ, so I’m going to suck it up and focus on the good things. After all, a grungy hostel in Europe really isn’t that bad. I mean, I’M IN EUROPE!! We get free breakfast and free wifi, it’s super close to Hyde Park so we can go on our runs (ha! I mean, Clare’s runs, my walks), and the people seem to generally be pretty friendly. Still, all those pluses might go away if someone in the room starts snoring!
After dropping our stuff off, we walked over to Hyde Park, which is truly one of the most glorious places I’ve seen. It’s lush and thick and there are so many different shades of green it feels like you’re looking at a painting and not reality. The park was filled with people just sitting around talking and laughing, walking their puppies and doing yoga. It has such a vibrant, fun energy, and I want to spend days exploring the whole place. (I’m determined to find the Peter Pan statue and see if it’s the same as I remember from when I saw it in 2005.)
Hyde Park is the kind of place where you feel like things should just happen. It’s magical, and the wisps of the tall grass and the crinkling of the trees sound like the park has its own language that us mere humans aren’t privy to. It’s filled with twinkling laughter and sounds of athletic competitions that really aren’t all that competitive.
I’m amazed by how much is packed into this one park. I mean, for goodness sakes, it has a palace in it! C’mon, New Yorkers. You’ve got some work to do with Central Park.
Of course, being my father’s daughter, I loved thinking about the history of the park, and, being my mother’s daughter, I couldn’t help admire the spectacular gardens.
Clare and I then left the park and decided to walk around, which was made a little bit difficult by the fact that neither of us can use our phones to guide us (I only have wifi enabled on mine).
We started walking toward Portobello Road when, of course, it started raining. Welcome to London, I suppose! It was a pretty light mist, but it was still enough to get the bottom of my dress pretty wet. But, the good news is that my white converse now finally look like they’ve been worn before, not like I just purchased them yesterday.
Walking in London in the rain had a sort of mystical quality, so Clare and I kept walking toward Portobello Road, which happens to be home to Hummingbird Bakery. Clare owns
their cookbook and uses it to make cupcakes that have, obviously, gotten rave reviews. Unfortunately, we got to the bakery too late (around 8 o’clock, or 20:00, as I’m trying to teach myself to say), so we’ll have to save the taste testing for another day.
But Portobello Road itself is the cutest little street. It’s full of quirky little shops with adorable dresses — my weakness — and lots of brightly colored buildings. People were sitting in restaurants eating by themselves, reading a newspaper, which seems impossible to imagine someone doing in the States. I loved to see a more relaxed approach to dinner plans. I mean, can you imagine an American grabbing a burger or sushi and asking for a table for one? For shame!
Clare and I meandered back toward the hostel, stopping again in Hyde Park, and, luckily, at this point the rain had stopped. We got to see the sunset, which was incredible. The sun looked almost red, and it cast a beautiful tinge over the green landscape of the park. The thick grass rustled in the wind, and everything seemed to have a kind of gentleness to it.
Other people were walking around in the park — a group of teenagers had music going and seemed to be dancing near some sort of gazebo — and everything just seemed very peaceful and still. No one was in a hurry, no one was yakking on their phone, a nice departure from home, where it seems like everyone is always running somewhere or other.
Well, we’re off to Wimbledon tomorrow! Is it bad I want to see Rafa Nadal play largely so I can see during a change-over whether his abs really are that incredible in person?
Eh, if it is, I don’t really care!
More photos from Day 1: