Earlier, as I dazedly walked through the crowded, bustling streets of London, rolling a small suitcase and double-checking my phone every five seconds to make sure I was getting where I needed to go, I found myself humming a line from the opening song from La La Land:
“I could be brave or just insane… we’ll have to see!”
And as I sit here, in my Airbnb flat, writing this and looking out at the quaint subsection of Shoreditch with the London skyline silhouetted the darkening sky, I’m still not entirely sure which one I am.
Was I brave or just insane to do this??
Here’s the great thing about going back to a place you’ve been before: you know what to expect, at least a little.
I was prepared for the sense of feeling out of place. The culture shock. The exhaustion from flying a total of eleven hours (and let’s be real, we’ll add on another hour of sitting on runways) plus jumping ahead eight. The inability to eat due to nerves and excitement.
Last time I was in London, I hadn’t expected all that and my first day sucked. This time, I’m coping fairly well, although I’ll feel better once I finally meet my Airbnb host who left the keys for me at a farmer’s market right across the street from her cute little place. Part of me feels like an intruder! EDIT: Host came home and is so, so lovely.
But I’d anticipated that I’d be too anxious or motion-sick to eat, and brought lots of mints (good for upset tummies!) and light snacks that would tide me over until I could locate a Pret a Manger, an organic café I fell in love with during London Take One. I’d anticipated that I’d have to carry my luggage through the streets and invested in a small, carry-on bag and squeezed all my belongings into it, which made walking through the streets of London super easy. I’d studied and restudied the map of the Tube and knew exactly where to go.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that for me, traveling isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
But it’s part of the freaking journey.
And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Earlier, when I finally got to my Airbnb room and collapsed on my bed, I tried to plug my dying phone in using my U.K. adapter and promptly had a complete meltdown upon realizing my adapter worked for my laptop cord but not my phone charger.
And my anxiety-stricken mind immediately jumped to scenarios of not being able to use my phone as my primary camera anymore or getting lost since I wouldn’t have the map and I wouldn’t be able to stay in touch with my host through WhatsApp and and and
And I dealt with my problem by doing what I think we should all do when confronted with a crisis. I took a power nap. Once I woke up 30 minutes later, my stomach was still churning with anxiety but I took a deep breath, looked up some places on my laptop, and set out to go find an adapter that would work for my phone. Voila, the first place I walked into six steps away from the flat had one for 5 pounds.
So then I went to Pret a Manger and got some soup and a sandwich then brought it back to the flat to nibble at them.
It really is true when they say how you don’t know how strong a person can be until being strong is the only option they have. That’s how I felt earlier. If I wasn’t going to solve my problems… who else would??
As I was going through customs at Heathrow Airport, the man who checked my passport had to screen me a bit, as is expected of them.
“And what brings you to London?” he asked me as I handed him my passport and information card they make you fill out on the plane if you’re not from the U.K.
“I’m on vacation,” I said with all the cheerfulness I could muster for someone who was so sleep deprived she couldn’t think straight.
“And this address?” he asked, looking at my identification card. “Airbnb?”
“Yes, it is.”
He nodded and circled it. “You’re traveling alone, then?”
“Yes,” I said. Then I blurted out, “Everyone I know thinks I’m crazy.”
The customs guy smiled.
“It’s a crazy world out there,” he said, and he handed me back my passport. “Might as well be part of it.”
After I’d eaten a tiny bit of food, I knew there was one more thing I had to do before I called an end to my first official day in London.
I’d seen the English countryside coming in to the airport. I saw all the cars driving on the lefthand side of the roads. I’d seen the Tube and ridden the Tube and interacted with the people on the Tube (some on a very intimate level as we crammed together to fit in the trains). And walking up the streets of London, I saw all the red buses and old buildings and heard all the accents and languages and soaked it all in.
But I still couldn’t end my day. Not until I saw what changed my life four years ago.
So I put my walking shoes back on an headed down to the nearest Tube station, which I rode south for a time then switched lines and rode further west.
I anticipated being at my destination in about 20 minutes. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would be commuting hour, when all the London workers and employees would be making their ways home, and boy was it a crazy few rides on the Underground! It’s amazing how many people can pack into one train.
Finally, finally, my train stopped at Westminster.
I got out, heart pounding, and followed the “Way Out” arrows up a few flights of stairs and escalators. I swiped my Oyster card to get out of the ticketing booths, and climbed the last steps to the great outdoors above.
And there it was. Waiting for me.
And tourist behavior be damned, I gazed up at Big Ben in complete and utter awe that I was there, seeing it again, and just about cried.
Then I walked around a bit, because Westminster Abbey was peeking over at me, too.
On my to-do list is to tour it again. For today, I’m thrilled I got a glance.
Because that’s when it hit me, just like last time.
I’m in London.
I stupidly scheduled a two-hour tour of the Tube for tomorrow morning at 11, and quite honestly I think I’m going to ditch it. I overestimate myself, sometimes. And I need a day of relaxing, of leisurely walking to whatever I feel like doing in that moment, of being able to eat without feeling sick (good old anxious stomach!).
That said, I write this now through the lens of someone who is running on like five hours of sleep in 36 hours, other than my mid-crisis power nap, so we’ll see how I feel in the morning.
Thanks for reading if you’re still with me. I’m hoping this made some sense to you! It is definitely a little scary, overwhelming, and nerve-wracking to be back… but it is also thrilling, exciting, awe-inspiring, and incredible.
Light doesn’t come without shadows, and I’ll take each hand in hand. I am so grateful to be here again, having this experience.
It’s 11:30pm here… or 23:30. Good night, y’all!