I overpaid for my train ticket into London. I blame my inability to read the very simple signs on the platforms (what’s that upright infinity symbol? Oh..an “8”). You see, I had just flown from Atlanta to London and landed at Gatwick airport. I breezed through English customs, but probably embarrassed myself a bit. When asked the nature of my visit to the United Kingdom, I gave the passport control lady a big smile and proudly proclaimed, “I’m a tourist!”
The passport lady just shot me one of those wry smiles that said something like “you’re special” as she stamped my passport. “Enjoy your stay,” she said to me while handing it back. It probably didn’t help that I was also wearing a brown fedora. Indiana Doofus on another epic adventure!
While searching out the trains into the city, I saw a counter for the Gatwick Express. This is a train that takes you directly to the London Victoria Station, smack in the middle of the city, non-stop. I bought one despite it costing 11 pounds. That’s pounds, as in the currency of the United Kingdom. For my fellow Americans that have never left our borders (most of the population it seems), 11 pounds is the equivalent of about $4,723.
I followed the signs and made it to the platform with a sign showing “Gatwick Express”. I was later to find out that two different trains could basically use the same platform, one on each side. As the first train pulled in, I boarded it without double-checking which one it was. It could’ve been the train to Hogwarts and I wouldn’t have noticed. I just assumed it would be mine.
After about ten minutes, the train stopped at a station to pick up new passengers and drop others off. Wait a minute. I thought this was supposed to be non-stop into London. Just as I was pondering this very conundrum, another train on the opposite track blew past us. It was painted differently and I was able to make out “Gatwick Express” clearly on its side.
There you have it. Because I boarded the wrong train, I ended up paying 11 quid for the regular train into central London. But I wasn’t going to let that dampen what was to become a two-week drinking binge. Indiana Doofus and the Lost Maze of Tourism!
After a long flight, I’m always wired. So instead of trying to catch a nap, I decided to walk from London Victoria station to my planned stop, The Generator Hostel, which was further north near King’s Cross. It’s about an hour’s walk if you don’t stop on the way in case you were wondering. But I ended up stopping at Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard, took a stroll through Hyde Park, and visited Trafalgar Square.
Walking the streets of London is quite the experience. You can see so much and find so many little nooks and crannies that you wouldn’t see if you took a taxi or the Tube. One cool thing I noticed about the city’s streets was its crosswalks. The city is used to hosting thousands of tourists who come from countries that drive on the right-hand side. So London has painted a little reminder for pedestrians on the pavement as you enter a crosswalk telling you which way to look for oncoming traffic.
Also, in my experience, London drivers are polite when it comes to crosswalks. If you’re standing at one, the local motorists will stop and let you cross. A word of warning. Don’t take this to mean you can cross anywhere anytime you want. If you try jaywalking in London, the average London motorist won’t stop. I wonder if they get points if they take out a jaywalker and then stamp the outside of their car while laughing like Goofy. If you decide to jaywalk in London, just know you’re playing the English version of Frogger.
I eventually made it to The Generator Hostel, which is on Tavistock. It’s four stories, has free breakfast in the mornings, and coin-operated laundry. Oh, and one of the best things about The Generator, is that it has it’s own bar and nightclub. During their happy hour, it was 1 pound for a pint of Carling. You can bet favorite aunt’s righteous rump I took advantage of that.
After paying for my bed and getting settled, it was evening and time to find some food. I know England has a bad reputation for its food, but I liked the food there. However, don’t take my word on what constitutes good cuisine. I’ll eat at Waffle House. Anyway, I wandered the neighborhood until I found some random pedestrian-only side street. The street was old cobblestone, nearly black as cole and narrow, almost an alley, with a few trees scattered here and there.
I felt like I was in one of my Dungeons and Dragons games from high school, especially after a guy in a full cloak and hood walked past. This alley-cum-side street even had a D&Desque pub. I really wish I remembered the name. Since I don’t, I’ll just call it The Floppy Eel.
The Floppy Eel’s entrance was an old door with darkened, aged oak. The inside looked about the same with hard wood floors the color of chocolate and tables that would look at home in King Theodin’s hall. This place was awesome. And the food was good too. Yes, my first meal in Britain was fish n’ chips with peas on the side and a pint of the black stuff. Indiana Doofus and the Secret of The Mysterious Floppy Eel!
That evening, I partook of The Generator’s happy hour and drank a lot of Carling. Hiccup!
The next day I went to the British Museum. Let me tell you something. I absolutely love The British Museum. For people who are history buffs and archaeology enthusiasts, this place is like Disneyland. The front entrance looks like it was constructed for Greek Gods with its large, thick columns and angled roof. Once you’re inside there’s a central room that contains a library and a gift shop in the middle. All of the various wings and exhibits lead off from this central hall.
They have so much cool stuff there such as The Rosetta Stone. For those that didn’t pay attention in middle school, The Rosetta Stone is what allowed archaeologists to finally translate ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics into Klingon. They have mummies, sarcophagi, medieval armor and weapons, Roman statues, Japanese katanas, Sumerian cuneiform tablets, and Lindsey Lohan’s dignity.
The only thing The British Museum didn’t have was the world’s first taco truck.
After enjoying several hours there, I had another major tourist attraction to visit. This time I took the Tube to the Tower of London. Public transport is much more efficient in London compared to anywhere I’ve been in the States. There was a train every two or three minutes. In America, the best you could hope for was hailing a taxi after giving up on your train showing.
The Tower of London is a castle right on the Thames River with the Tower Bridge nearby. It’s not a small castle either, quite an imposing sight. I paid my entrance ticket, which includes a guided tour. The tour guides have these uniforms that are straight out of the Tudor era. They explain the history of The Tower as they show you around.
One part of the tour takes you into the White Tower itself. This was the section that held the infamous dungeons down below, and also the rooms where political prisoners were kept. I have one question. Is Canada still part of the commonwealth, and if so, do you think they’ll ever send Justin Beiber to The Tower?
Another treat you get to see inside The Tower is the armory. The armory is a set of large rooms containing hundreds of swords, axes, crossbows, and a few lightsabers. You can also see the sets of armor worn by Henry VIII and Charles I. In one corner of the armory rests the original chopping block an axe used to execute so many people, including Anne Boleyn. The creepy part is that you can still see the grooves cut into the chopping block. I took pictures of this and the rest of the armory, but they didn’t develop (this was before iphones).
After the sun set, I returned to The Generator to once again to continue taking advantage of their happy hour. Tee Hee!
I only spent a short time in London, but let me tell you, I aim to return. London is a great city, and if I could afford to live there I would seriously consider it. There is so much to do there. I highly recommend anyone visit London at least once in their life. Just think. Instead of taking that road trip to places like Mississippi or Detroit, you can visit London.