Backpacking life (6) – The hustle and bustle of London

London was one of the cities that I wanted to visit most in the world. If I had to choose only one place to go outside Ireland, I’d struggle between the English capital and Paris. Thank goodness I could visit dozens of locations.

I headed for London by bus (all my love, Megabus) after spending three days in Cardiff. I left Wales on a Friday evening in November 2014.

I was wax euphoric – not only I was travelling but I was also about to set foot in one of the most famous places around the world. During the journey, I could hardly believe that, within three hours and a half, I’d be there.

So far I remember my own feeling when the bus approached London and I realised we were already in the city. I saw the lights, the outdoors, the buildings, everything seemed magic. It was sort of feeling at the centre of the world. You are where loads of things happen.

It was a dream that came true, definitely.

We arrived at the bus station and, on the street, I asked for some information in order to get the underground. I found myself quite cool for buying a travel card and getting the train without any trouble. There were people all over the place, exactly as I’d imagined a busy spot in London.

As it was about 10 PM, I went directly to the hostel. It was quite difficult to find something reasonable without spending one arm and a leg, but a friend helped me with the booking.

It was in Candem Town, one of the coolest districts in London, where I read somewhere that Amy Winehouse and Sex Pistols used to be around. However, the hostel was cheesy and terrible.

The street was way dark, and I asked two guys in front of a house if they knew where the hostel was. One of them pulled my leg – he said the hostel had closed at ten o’clock, a very bad joke, but I was in London, and even the bad jokes were nice. Later, I discovered the lad was from Tunisia (I heard him speaking Arabic). Somehow I liked him and I really wanted to talk to him, but I was too shy for that, and I thought it was better to let it go.

In the room, I met my first “roommate”, one of the most inspiring fellows I came across during the trip. She was an American woman, aged 62, who had just left the US “for a change”. She had left family behind in order to start a new life in the United Kingdom. She was absolutely calm telling me that, what turned the fact even more amazing. I remember her quite often when I think I’m getting old for some things.

She asked if I knew about jobs in London, but, good Lord, I had just arrived in the city.

I told her the hostel was bad, but it could be worse. I also explain my way of dealing with hostels: always wait for the worst-case scenario. If you find out that the room is clean, and facilities are good, you’re a lucky person, and the satisfaction is guaranteed.

When I told her my philosophy, she said I was a wise girl. What’s more, that was wonderful to be so wise and so young at the same time. Receiving such praise from a woman like her was just tremendous.

In order to get the best discounts in the hostel, I booked beds in different rooms in three nights I’d sleep there. At the end of the day, all, of them showed to be cramped and unpleasant.

In the first day. I went to visit The Portobello Road, the famous market in Nothing Hill, and in the afternoon I strolled around some parks. Quickly I was involved in the cosmopolitan atmosphere – something that I appreciate pretty much living in Sao Paulo – and I thought that it would be awesome to live in London for a while. I can’t imagine how many things you can learn in a metropolis like that.

On Sunday, I got up early to visit the market which’s famous due to its flowers, something I like very much. From there, I walked towards Brick Lane, one of the well-known spots among cool people in London. Again, I was struck by the diversity.

After that, I went for a stroll along the River Thames. That part of the English capital became my favourite because it’s one of the places where I could feel “the London from old times”, a bit of Oliver Twist in the air.

In the evening, there was a thematic Walking Tour scheduled about Jack the Stripper. I loved the idea, but I couldn’t find the group – I guess it wasn’t active at that time of the year.

Instead, I went to walk around London Tower, which attracted lots of people. At that year, 2014, they were celebrating a century of the beginning of I World War. As a result, events were happening all over Britain to celebrate the victims.

I had imagined London similar to Sao Paulo in many aspects, but honestly, there’s no comparison. London is much cleaner and safer. Besides, it’s very organized, which is quite surprising for such a big city.

In my third day – the last in the hostel – I went to and fro in Candem Town. I loved that place.

From there I went to visit a palace (just outside because my budget wouldn’t allow me to go into) and, then, I headed for Big Ben. It’s just a clock, but it’s iconic and I didn’t stop until I got a good selfie with the symbol.

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In the evening, I went to meet a new friend, a Couchsurfer who would host me for the next three nights. It was the first time I used the site to be hosted somewhere. I was a bit afraid of sleeping in a stranger’s house, especially of a man, but the experience turned out to be one of the best of my trip.

Nad and his friend are from Bangladesh, but they had been living in the  UK for ages. Both were very nice with me, and it was priceless to share stories and perceptions with new friends.

Also, they live near Tower London, a very convenient location.

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These days I went to visit what would be one of my favourite places in London, the Borough Market. AWESOME.

I bought some food from Ethiopia there – I paid only 5 pounds for a large box of traditional food, which consisted of some vegetables and rice. Delicious.

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I went back to their market twice and to tell the truth I wanted to put it in my bag.

Another place that struck me was the Click Prison Museum. So creepy, so dark, so fantastic. No wonder is near the river, where some small and famous crimes used to take place.

(Thank goodness I could recover the pictures because they’re almost as great as the place itself)

Another museum where I learned lots of things was The Museum of London, especially about the Great Fire that consumed a huge part of the city in 1666.

In the last day, I visited National Gallery, which is gorgeous if you like paintings (as I do). It wasn’t that crowded, so it was possible to see the artworks. Of course, there’s always an irritating and ridiculous person trying to take a selfie with a portrait, what eventually annoys me very much.

From there I headed for British Museum, which I wish I can visit again in the future with not so many awful people. Tourists taking pictures with dinosaurs and this kind of stuff. The place is enormous, so it’s impossible to see everything in one day. Aware of that, I went directly to see the Egyptian section. The mummy of Cleopatra is there and I wanted to hug everyone and cry because that is so fucking amazing. Then I realized that no one seemed interested in that piece of marvel. Well, good for me, no concurrence.

Still, in the shop museum, I decided not to be mean and I bought a ten-euro book about mummification. It’s still on my shelves waiting to be read.

In the evening, I took a bus to reach the airport to take a flight to Porto. The girl who I had to show my documentation in the airport symbolized all the arrogance that a Latin person might find in England. Without speaking any word, she just gave me a dirty look. I’m glad she was the only one like that I came across in Europe.

I liked London, but actually, I thought that I would fall in love with the city, and that didn’t happen. I mean, I enjoyed my trip very much and I wish I can go back as soon as possible, as well I’d like the chance to live there too because it’s exciting. However, it didn’t hit on me (I would feel that later when I visited Paris). If I had spent more time there, perhaps…

It was time to say goodbye to the United Kingdom and advance in my trip. Next stop, Portugal.

 

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