As I have already related, we fell thoroughly in love with London over the course of our week-long stay, and I think we were all quite reluctant to leave when it came time to head to Paris. However, when we first arrived in London, it did not make such a positive first impression. In fact, for the first 18 hours or so, all I wanted to do was leave London and go back to charming Dublin.
Rather than catching a flight to London from Dublin, which would have been quick and easy but excessively boring, we opted to travel via SailRail, taking a ferry from Dublin Port to Holyhead, Wales and then a train down the coast and across England to London. We thoroughly enjoyed this option: yes, it ate up a full 8 hours of our first London day, but we got to enjoy miles upon miles of gorgeous Welsh and English countryside from the train, plus traveling in the luxury of ferry and train rather than a cramped, tiny airplane. Given the chance, I would absolutely choose this route again. (For a wealth of information regarding SailRail, visit Seat 61. It can be complicated to figure out how to book a ticket, but with a little exploring, it is a terrific option.)
However, coming into London via train forced us through two of London’s busiest transit stations, Euston and then Victoria, right at commute hour. With all of us carrying backpacks and having no real clue where we were going, it was overwhelming to say the least. My introverted personality felt slightly terrified as we found ourselves surrounded by what felt like ten thousand people, all with steely-eyed determination and one goal: to reach their destinations as quickly as possible.
After experiencing severe culture shock, we risked turning on our cellular data to temporarily open Google Maps and try to navigate to our hotel’s address. The rental flat that we really wanted to book was only available starting the second night of our stay in London, so I found a hotel chain on Rick Steves’ budget London hotels list and booked rooms in the cheapest location on the list, thinking we would tough out a cheap hotel for one night and then move to the flat for the rest of the week. (First mistake!) The hotel location I had chosen was much farther out of central London than I had realized, and it took us almost an hour via the overground and a tram before we even started out on foot. After getting pulled off the tram by a policeman at one point (another story for another post!), we experienced some truly harrowing wandering in the pouring rain (since London decided to greet us with gloom and rain) while trying to find our hotel. Google Maps utterly failed us, and the rainy conditions made the whole experience miserable.
At one point, we were even willing to turn on our international roaming and call the hotel to ask for directions, only to discover, after revisiting the booking confirmation that I had dutifully printed off, plus the hotel website, that there was absolutely NO phone number to be found. Honestly, we started to wonder if the hotel actually existed. Finally, after a grueling search that had us retracing a painful amount of steps, we found the hotel. Our initial relief, however, turned to low-grade anxiety when we entered a musty lobby with a scary, overly-friendly guy behind the counter who handed us registration cards (shady and unprofessional in their own right) that asked for such an obscene amount of information that we only filled out about half.
It was probably good that I had come down sick during the course of the day and felt like death; otherwise, I might have had an actual panic attack at the thought of spending the night in this place.
The whole hotel reeked of mildew, and by this point it didn’t even surprise us to find that the rooms included beds, a couple hooks on the wall, and literally nothing else — no nightstand or dresser or chairs or closet or anything on the walls. Even the overhead lights in the room and the bathroom would only turn on when the room key card was inserted in a slot on the wall. Luckily, exhaustion had settled in so thoroughly that we really only cared about getting some sleep and then getting the heck out as soon as humanly possible the next day.
Fortunately, the next morning turned from grey downpours to sunshine, and suddenly we said hello to the London we had hoped to meet all along. What a difference 18 hours can make! A whirlwind tour of the British Museum and lunch in a funky cafe soon washed away the bitter taste in our mouths, and I knew that London hadn’t betrayed us after all.
Do you have any travel horror stories? (Hopefully stories that later redeemed themselves, like ours did!) Come share in the comments!