With Oxford done, I had one day left in London. I think for future trips, I need to have one or two days to decompress in the middle, just to rest up and catch my breath. With one complete day left, I decided to just spend time in Hyde Park, enjoy some of the gardens, take a lot of pictures and just drink in the neighborhoods before leaving early the next morning.
I did these things. I had a lot to think about too. I knew there were a lot of things I missed, but as I walked through the Italian Gardens and past the grounds of Kensington palace, I knew I wanted to come back one day soon. There would be time to see more things. London is a large city, packed full of thousands of years of history, cultures, and it is very amicable to travelers. It could be the biggest way I beat myself up in my reflections were to think about how I had missed so many years before getting to go abroad.
I was no longer a young man. My feet hurt. And I had a day of not doing much other than think. I had am amazing dinner at a hole in the wall Italian restaurant near my room. I did laundry, packed my bags and woke to a text at 5am the next morning. My flight had been delayed because of weather. Apparently a freak blizzard had struck North America, from the Rockies across the Great Plains. My flight went from delayed to canceled by 7am.
Oh shit, I thought.
This was my first international trip and also my first flight cancellation. Thanks to my United app on my phone, it was pretty much fixed on its own. I accepted the first available flight back home, twenty-four hours later. I contacted my AirBnb host who was gracious enough to let me stay another night for another £45 cash. I left the money under a silver tea set in their dining room, where it was collected secretly in some sort of Cold War dead drop exchange.
I had to get the cash from and ATM, and luckily there was a Bank of Ireland ATM nearby, which didn’t charge any fees, but my bank changed $5. I’m lucky I had the funds in my account. I had budgeted the trip down to the penny, but now I was faced with an extra day of room and board as well as transport costs and food. This is something you should keep in mind with a contingency plan.
I decided to head back to Hyde Park, only this time, since it was such a beautiful day, I would walk everywhere so I could have enough money to take the tube back to Heathrow the next day. I walked up to Oxford Rd. and over to Soho, then China Town (where I had a giant bowl of ramen), and back to the National Picture Gallery. Which I had missed earlier. There I witnessed a docent being swarmed by shrieking French school girls as she yelled “Shoo! Shoo! Off with you!” in an exercise of futility. At Green Park, I might have witnessed a murder investigation, along with an entire park full of people enjoying lunch on the grass as police in haz-mat gear paced around picking up clues.
After seeing Rembrandt’s and Gainsboroughs, Van Gogh’s, Monet’s, and Klimt paintings, I headed back to my room to enjoy another round of junk food as well as a final order of chips from the local pub and some good conversation with the bartender there. On the walk all the way back to Knightsbridge, I crossed paths with a trio of women from Austria who were lost. They hung with me for a while as we walked back to Hyde Park, and from there, I gave them directions to their next destination. They were grateful and friendly. If was funny to realize that in ten days, I had gone from total confusion and not knowing where anything was and wondering if I was way in over my head to giving directions like a local.
So when people ask “What was your favorite part of the trip?” that moment is right up there. Right along with figuring out the underground, the trains, and how to get around the city. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew my funds were running out and I missed my son. It was Tuesday, and he was already on an extended stay with his mother.
Wednesday, I rode the tube back to Heathrow, the same names that sounded so alien in my mind on the first ride now being familiar. I could almost recite them by memory along the Piccadilly Line. I no longer snickered at the terminus of “Cockfosters” on the east bound train.
On the plane, I saw next to two sisters, who were out with family. Another sister and their daughters. Just a beautiful, fun-loving family full of interesting stories. We chatted, swapped wisdom, and synchronized our screens to watch movies on the 9 hour flight. We even dealt with the only unfriendly person I met on the trip: a middle-aged English flight attendant who just snapped at us every chance she got. We laughed at that too. Back home, we high fived each other with every pass in customs as we marched through the lines to become repatriated.
After an hour and a half in customs, I met my ride at the arrivals platform. Hopping into the car, I heard the question that I always hear, yet how do you answer accurately?
“How was your trip?”
I answer the only way I can after such an experience: “Amazing.”