This will be a mercifully short post. Why? Because I’m not going to dwell on it, suffice to say that there are times in a solo traveler’s life when you need to just have a day to get your footing.
After three days of museums, figuring out train systems, and foreign currency…and a crap ton of walking, when I returned from Bath, I was exhausted. I slept in. I really didn’t have anything planned for the day, so I figured I would recuperate and decide what else I wanted to do.
There are a few things about London that might sound negative on the surface. I’ll try to not be too down on things. In some ways, the trip was already getting repetitive. Yes, I admit that. Museums, food, tourist traps. Rinse, repeat if necessary. There are many, many ways London is designed to part a tourist from their money. On this day, I discovered one of the big ones: Harrods.
If there is a department store anyone has heard of across the Pond, it is Harrods. Back in the day, you could buy an alligator here. They had everything. I was a mere block from this icon. I had already bogarted their WiFi signal to navigate many times. Today would be the day I stepped into this place and saw what all the fuss was about.
The entrance where I came in opened up to the perfume section. A lot of perfume. Smiling women waited to douse anyone who came near with the stuff, like trapdoor spiders in pencil skirts. I passed through as quickly as I could, winding my way up, floor after floor, in some kind of Escher-esque world of escalators, tacky pseudo-Egyptian decor, and people–so many people–at this feeding frenzy of conspicuous consumerism.
It was enough to make just about any middle-class person a full-blown communist.
I simultaneously resisted the urge to shake my copy of Das Kapital at people from a soap-box, and blowing every last pound I had in my wallet on a pair of Ray-Bans. I threaded my way through sections for “Super Brands” furniture, clothing, appliances, gadgets, and the like. After making it up to the top of the Tower of Capitalism ™, I wound my way back down.
There, I discovered the Market.
Prawns the size of cats, halibut (I’d never seen one whole before), breads, olives, just about any kind of meat, cheese, pastry imaginable. Tins of shortbread, biscuits, sweets, etc. Granted, when a bunch of carrots is £5, it gets sorta ridiculous. I did walk out of Harrods with a wedge of cheese, which I later had for a dinner and a breakfast. It was delicious. And considering how much cheese is in my town, not a bad price considering.
At the end of the day, I felt a little disappointed. Almost like I had wasted a day. Walking around a mall on steroids was not what I flew 5,000 miles to do. Beating myself up a little bit, I got some kind of wrap from a local Lebanese restaurant. On my bucket list for the trip, I had promised my son that I would ride a double decker bus. I think he’s seen the Great Muppet Caper too many times. I had seen these buses for the last few days and could make no rhyme or reason how they ran. So, I held my breath, steeled my courage, and hopped on board. It took me through the city on a crazy ride, which made absolutely no sense to me as far as destinations are concerned.
Fearing I might have been reaching the end of my range for the Oyster card (I had picked Zone 1-3 for the week), I hopped off at Marylebone or thereabouts. From there I just started walking, using my good map to see where I might find a Tube station nearby. I found myself on Baker St. Passed by the Sherlock Holmes Statue. The Royal Academy of Music. All at about 10:30pm. I found the Regent’s Park Station and rode the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus. A transfer at Oxford Circus station brought me back to the now familiar Picadilly Line, which I rode back to Green Park. Then I walked towards Hyde Park Corner.
Which brings me to the low-point of my trip.
Someone I used to date always bought a t-shirt from the Hard Rock Cafe in every city she visited. If I walked towards Hyde Park Corner, I would find myself at the Hard Rock London. So, feeling a little nostalgic, I headed there. These restaurants are like American Embassies. A bastion of “American” culture, much like Starbucks or McDonalds, which are nearly the same no matter where you go. Needing a tea mug for the tea I bought in Bath, I bought one at their gift shop. I went to the bar and ordered a rum and Coke. It was nearly 11pm, and they were starting to shut the place down. On a Friday night.
Hard Rock Cafe was dead. There was more memorabilia on the walls at a TGIFridays. The staff were all dismissive and irritated that someone had come in at nearly closing time. My rum and Coke turned out to be a Diet Pepsi and rum and ice. For around £8. I chugged my drink and headed out, walking along Hyde Park at night until I got back to my room.
It gave me perspective, and this is why I bring it up here, so listen up.
Don’t travel for someone else. Do it for yourself. Sure, I got a coffee mug, but I also got a reminder every time I drink from that mug that I wasn’t living in the moment, and it was time to let all that go. I wasn’t there to re-create America or add to a collection. I have to admit, I let myself down a little bit, but I decided that was going to be my low-water mark. And it wasn’t all that bad. I had gained perspective and I still had a mug for tea.
When I got back to my room, I booked a train on Sunday to Oxford. I needed to challenge myself, to push my comfort level a little more. To make this trip my own. For Saturday, I would hit the British Museum again and catch what I had missed the first time through. Along the way, there would be the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the Tate Modern, and the Globe Theatre!