I have been holding off on writing this for a few days. Mostly because I wanted to get the words right. The entire experience was amazing and there are so many details that it is hard to just jump into it. But, it’s something I need to write about, so here goes.
A lot of people have asked me what my favorite part was about the trip. That one is hard to put my finger on. Topically, I would have to say the British Museum. Acres and acres of some of the greatest artifacts of antiquity line the shelves and cases of that place. I explored it for two days. It was the first touristy destination on the trip and I went back a few days later once I realized some of the things that I had missed. And it was all free to see.
When you are traveling on a budget, free is a good thing to hear, and a word you don’t often hear. For what it is worth, London has some of the most marvelous museums in the world. And you can just walk into them, absorb, and walk out feeling changed by the experience.
As for my favorite experience on the trip, I will need to give you some context. This blog began because of a need to document my travels as well as many firsts in my life as I re-discovered myself as a single dad in my 40s. My experience was very limited over the last few decades as far as getting out and having experiences a lot of people take for granted. For example, this trip was a collection of many firsts. The first plane tickets, AirBnB bookings, first stamp in my passport, first solo international trip, (and even first flight cancellation/rebooking) and so many others its almost overwhelming. I think possibly the greatest experience I had was finding myself a veritable stranger in a strange land, having no guide other than what I had read in books, no first-hand experience, and minimal second hand experience, and just jumping in with both feet.
In 9 days, I went in to a foreign city cold, from the rush from the gates at the terminal to Customs, to the tube, and then wandering around lost in the neighborhood I was to call home for the next week and a half. I searched for my AirBnB for half an hour before finding it. I took a three hour nap to recover from a sleepless flight, and then made a point to go to Hyde Park and just let go. Wander.
I let myself get lost many times over the next week and figured out many different methods to find my way home again. My favorite experience, and perhaps greatest achievement was getting settled in, figuring out the tube system, and by the end of it that half-hour expedition to my flat from the tube turned into a three minute walk.
On my last few days in London, I was helping random people with directions, suggesting which underground stations to use, and finally getting to the point where my feet no longer ached whenever I would set out on another exploration.
I knew on sight which coins were worth how much. I could run several connections on the Underground to get where I wanted to go, and I could walk from Knightsbridge to Soho, and back again with minimal map checking. On average, I was walking 8 miles a day. I knew the good, but cheap places to get coffee and chocolate/hazelnut croissants, the stores with the best junk food, and that looks can be very deceiving when finding some really amazing restaurants.
I experienced British junk food. I worked from my room for paid blogs on occasion. I pushed myself to my limits every day: physically, emotionally, and mentally. It put things into perspective. The little worries that had become my world for too long. I walked the earth and I survived. It was more than a trip, it was a pilgrimage, as silly as that sounds. Whenever I would get a little scared or nervous, I would just put my head down and challenge myself to push even further. That hot feeling in my stomach was a good compass to know which direction I needed to be going.
I did something every day that scared me. Sometimes I would just walk down a road that looked interesting. Other times, I would duck into a store, hop onto a double-decker bus which I didn’t know where it would wind up. Tried new foods. Talked to interesting people. Listened to the city and just absorbed.
One day, which turned out to be my only down/bluesy/meh day, was because things sorta began to become repetitive. My mind had time to wander back to old patterns. So, I pushed myself. I decided to figure out how to buy train tickets and take a day trip to Oxford. Again, my mind had to work overtime. How to get there on time, what to see once I was there, how to get back. If you could map my brain, it would have been lit up like a Christmas tree.
The meh day turned into a day for regrouping. A pause in the trip where I could say “What’s next?” The museums and neighborhoods and pubs of London turned into figuring out other means of getting around. Other towns with museums and architecture and pubs and navigating those neighbors. Drinking in the experience. Keeping my body fueled with curiosity, high-caloric food and beer/cider. Taking care of my feet, because a traveler lives in his shoes.
The next series of posts will be somewhat exhaustive. Today, I really wanted to just highlight the best of the trip, which was to truly just immerse myself in the experience, become comfortable in my own skin, and just push the boundaries of my knowledge every step of the way.
I didn’t have tour guides. I didn’t pay for tourist packages. I had almost no prior experience of how to get around a city like this. And I kicked some serious ass the whole way.