The first day of the trip was an unexpected delight. The flights could not have run any more smoothly as I talked with nearby passengers about their travel plans. However, the day got interesting when I had to get through border control in the London airport. I had the pleasure of dealing with an Indian at border control who decided to essentially assault my mind. I should have been able to pass through with ease, but no, I had to make things difficult. He questioned me as if I were being judged on the witness stand of a homicide trail as I tried to explain my travel plans. Confusion ensued after he struggled to understand my travel itinerary. I know I may be an odd one but apparently my sketchiness outdid me this time. After I got through that mess of a situation I had no idea where to go next. The train station near the airport had the typical British warning “mind the gap” when boarding which helped really sink in where I was. I took the train past English neighborhoods all the way to London’s city limits. Cleveland weather is awful but I was treated to the worst kind of awful with London’s thoroughly drenching rain; plus carrying a 40 pound backpack across a city like London can kill the spirit of any person, but I was not deterred. I found the easiest way to interact with people on the streets is to simply ask to get your picture taken. Some people were Brits, others Italian and some people spoke languages unfamiliar to the sheltered ear but all could not be more kind. A few were willing to share where they are from and gave me advice on cities and regions to visit during my travels. While exploring the terrain, I found the perfect spot to take a picture of the London Eye from a quiet little bridge over a river near Buckingham Palace. Out of nowhere a cranky Brit started yelling to me and several others to “get out of the way you fucking wankers”. After I experienced that, I truly felt I was in London and loved every bit of it, haha. I continued onward and took pictures of the main sights such as Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, Hyde Park, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Queens Guard, the River Thames, etc. but I was still missing that authentic London experience. After checking into my hostel which has a bar in its “lobby” (story to be continued…), I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral which has an evensong that is similar to a mass but all in song. Once inside, I found a gorgeous display of artwork in the form of detailed stained glass windows. As I moved further into the church, I became more and more amazed by the sheer immensity of the building which might have fulfilled this spiritual experience but the voices of the choir boys and priests during the service sent me to heaven. I don’t think I have ever heard a sound so angelic. Despite my senses being overpowered by the sounds and sights of this church, I could not overcome my lack of sleep as I bobbed my head every once in awhile while seated. After being thoroughly exhausted from all the walking during my first day in London, I headed back to the hostel to enjoy my first British pint. Good God was it delicious! As I savored this true taste of England, I started shooting the bull with a British gentleman down the bar. We talked about what brought each of us here and found common ground despite a 20 year age difference. He divulged to me what I should see in London and then we discussed numerous topics, such as football, actually mainly football. I asked him about the Hillsborough tragedy (for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, definitely look it up or watch the powerful 30 for 30 documentary from ESPN – 96 people were killed from a human stampede that crushed many innocent football fans) since he grew up in Sheffield Village, where the events took place. Being someone who was around at the time and had experienced games at that very pitch before, his descriptions really brought home the gravity of what I watched in the film. He even said that that sad day in sport continues to be a subject that most people do not like talking about; I really appreciated his willingness to open up about this topic. Learning about people from a different culture and truly understanding what it’s like to live through situations I only know from the news is what I find most rewarding. Having those connections with people make a trip more enjoyable and worthwhile. Once he killed his last pint, he said cheers and left the warm embrace of this international bar for the cool night that lay outside. I struck up a conversation with a fellow backpacker who for whatever reason decided to buy me a beer, which I gladly accepted. He too was just beginning his exploration of Europe so we bonded over that shared wonderment of what may lay ahead for us on the road. I am surprised I hadn’t crashed by this point but the night and I still had some more time left together. After talking with a girl who had joined us at the bar counter to buy some drinks for her table, we joined her and her new friends for a little while. So far, everyone I have met was starting their trip in London. I can’t blame them since traveling abroad by oneself is a little overwhelming at first so beginning in an English speaking country seems to be a great launch pad and way to ease into a trip abroad. After chatting with all of them, I found myself dead tired. After saying good night to everyone, I slowly climbed the tight wooden staircase to my hostel bed for a surprisingly comforting night of sleep within a room of 21 fellow travelers. As for those back home, live and love life on your side of the pond!
Day 1: Mind the Gap