So, London. Where do I start? I guess at the beginning. Everything is overwhelming. Everything is fast paced. There’s no time to stop and smell the roses, for more reasons than 1. 1 being that there are no roses to smell. London is a pretty gritty city; narrow, congested roads, big buildings, beautiful architecture, loads of stores, pubs, coffee shops, restaurants on every street corner, on most streets. Have you ever seen that? London is one of those cities, where every second street is a busy high traffic (day and night moving is what they call it) street. Businesses close around nine or ten in the evening, sometimes even at midnight. I remember seeing that in Vietnam. It’s exactly why I loved Vietnam. But I could never orientate myself when I was there. Like in Cape Town, you know that only the heart of the city is a buzzing commercial hub, and there are certain times when you should avoid it, but that’s sort of how I orientated myself to where in the city I am. The further out of the centre you go, the quieter it gets. But not London. I think that’s why I am having such a hard time finding my bearings over here, because I can’t really process exactly where I am in the city and which parts are okay to walk in at night. Overall, I’ve had a lot of reality checks this week. Every street seems like the start of something awesome. There’s too much to take in, too much to look at, and when you turn one way, you sort of miss what’s on the other side of the street. So here I am, alone, in the real city that never sleeps.
MONDAY, 20 APRIL 2015
My very first experience on the infamous tube. I had planned leaving Heathrow airport with a cab, because of my 10ton luggage. It was all already planned and organized – just like my life back home. But I arrived, after a very stressful 45 minutes at Abu Dhabi airport, and a Brit was waiting for me as I exited the plane. It was not my cab driver.
“That’s me.” I said, panicking a bit, as a guy holding up a sign with your name, if you’ve not planned it, can often mean misery.
“Your bag has been delayed ma’am. It will be on the next flight, so you need to go to my colleagues at baggage collection and report it.”
All I thought was thank goodness I packed underwear in my carry-on luggage. So I carried on to the Heathrow tube station and presented my oyster card lovingly gifted to me by one of my work BFF’s Kaeli. I loaded credit, asked the guy how to get to Hammersmith and he said “just go through the gates”. So this was my first time in London. My first time on Heathrow airport, and my first time navigating the tube. I had never been this overwhelmed before in my life.
Hammersmith is exactly not what I had expected. I had never heard of Hammersmith before, so I was initially expecting a cheap, average suburb based on the 10 year old photos from streetview. I checked in to the airbnb place and it was lovely. At this point, I had still not experienced proper London, the way most locals experience it. I had this spacious, neat, clean apartment and it was located at a central transport hub. Hammersmith Broadway was 2 minutes away from the apartment, and so was King’s Street. It was convenience, on my doorstep – quite literally.
Photo Courtesy: Air BNB
TUESDAY, 21 APRIL 2015
It was so easy to travel to work with the tube from Hammersmith. I had mapped the route, there were no changes and I could get to the city in less than 35 minutes. Despite not having my luggage, I managed to put together a work appropriate outfit and went to meet my new colleagues who ‘fcourse were super lovely. Everyone already sort of knew I was coming and who I was, from “the Mercedes work”. At lunch, a couple of guys in my team took me to the pub down the street and we had drinks on the pavement, because it was one of the rare occasions when the sun made an appearance in London. If you’re wondering, I had a cranberry juice. Everything amazed me about London, and I couldn’t stop to take photos as I usually do. It was like my brain was processing a few frames later than what was actually happening in real time. And I couldn’t take it all in.
WEDNESDAY, 22 APRIL 2015
I was just starting to get used to the tubes. Stand on the right, mind the gap, push your way to the front, pace don’t walk..that sort of thing. Hammersmith Broadway had also now given me this standard to expect of tube stations in London. The broadway looked like a mall inside. On the way to the pink line I passed Hasty Tasty pizza, and even though I couldn’t even afford a bottle of water this week, I knew that one day I would need to try that amazing smelling pizza. Wednesday at the office continued in the same style as the day before, get in late, leave early. I still had no real work to focus on. I participated in a brainstorm session, and went to a supplier meeting. Then I went home to get the hasty tasty pizza. I was slowly starting to fall in love with Hammersmith. And then I had to leave.
THURSDAY, 23 APRIL 2015
I had 1 night left at this beautiful apartment, and I only had Friday booked for viewings. Panic has definitely set in. The agency that I had organized with, had made me false promises and slapped me with hidden costs – but they guaranteed me finding a place! I didn’t know what to do. All of a sudden, doing this on my own seemed like a bad idea. I missed MJ and Sutro, and everyone at home who I could bounce ideas off of.
So I checked out of the bnb early to stay at my mum’s friend’s place. They’d allowed me to stay at their place for a few days until I find a place for me and MJ and Sutro. It was a nice gesture, and not one I was comfortable with, but I had no choice. In the meantime the airport had delivered my luggage to work, broken and unmovable. I had to go to primark to get 2 cheaper, smaller bags so I could cart my luggage around. My mom’s friend’s son met me at Hammersmith Broadway to take me to their place. In the ghetto (his words). We were travelling with two kak heavy bags to the other side of the tracks. Literally.
“Where do you stay?” I asked, nervously.
“Do you know the movie Green Street Hooligans?”
“Yes! That’s only my favourite movie of all time!” I said, a little bit more hopeful
“Well, that’s where we stay. Just off Green Street.”
So here I was, traipsing through London, to the actual street that was used to film my favourite movie of all time. It felt magical. Until we arrived at the place.
You know what they say, nothing is like it is in the movies? Well, they’re right. The bathroom in this place was a bit more dingy than the bathroom in the junkboat we were on when in Vietnam. And this was in a house! In England. From the window I could see West Ham stadium… and all my dreams dying. I texted my mum and MJ back home to tell them the current state; but what could they do from all the way over there? I suddenly realized the huge distance between beautiful South Africa, and this small, island near the Arctic. I missed Hammersmith.
FRIDAY, 24 APRIL 2015
I woke up in the same ____. The people were amazing and made me feel at home. They asked me my favourite food and what time I’ll get home from work so that supper would be ready for me. They asked if I slept okay, and if I needed more pillows and blankets and opened up their home to me. I would’ve scored free food and a room indefinitely, until I found a place to stay of my own. But I just couldn’t do it. I believe that your environment directly impacts your mindset and ultimately, quality of life. So I logged on to Facebook, to escape… and there, hidden between one of my notifications was the single message that saved my life.
MJ and I had met Chris on our Contiki trip to Vietnam. People always told me that the friends you make on Contiki are the friends you’ll have for life. And they couldn’t be more right. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to crash. Without knowing the situation at all, Chris saved me from a near meltdown. And for four days I could take a breath, relax and truly enjoy the London experience. It was also only then when it dawned on me, I never really paid attention to any of the tourist attractions. So on Saturday, I went to Oxford Circus. I walked for miles and still couldn’t shake the inner fear of something #walrusyes happening to me. I have to keep reminding myself that any area in London is safer to walk than South Africa. No offence, South Africa.
And when I sat down, took a breath and lowered my shoulders, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the detail. Everyone who’s been to London has told me about the stand on the right, walk on the left rule on escalators or stairs. What is so amazing is that everyone actually follows this rule. And people get really pissed off with you if you don’t follow it. I’ve also now started wearing my sunglasses indoors. Sunnies, have become a functional piece of attire. Back home sunnies were an accessory only used in summer, when driving or hanging out at the beach. Now, I wish I brought all my pairs of sunnies with. It’s used to block out any unwanted eye-contact. And in London, all eye-contact is unwanted eye-contact.