Travel & London I (Day 36)

Oh dear.  Several days ago, my roommate Teresa booked a shuttle to take us to the airport because we found out it would be a lot cheaper than taking a taxi.  It was supposed to arrive at 9:30 am, so were standing outside of our apartment with all of our bags about fifteen minutes before.  Thirty minutes later… we were still standing in front of our apartment with our luggage.

Teresa, me, our luggage, and apartment door
Teresa decided to call the shuttle company (thank GOODNESS her French cell phone was still working today!!), and after talking to them for a minute or two, I heard her say, “Well… will I be refunded?”  Uh oh.  She got off the phone and said the woman on the phone said our shuttle was in traffic and wasn’t going to be at the apartment for TWO HOURS!!!
We just looked at each other thinking “what are we gonna do” and I started saying we could take the metro and RER; what I had been planning to do until I experienced the PACKED metro cars that are 9 am rush hour.  Within a minute of her ending the phone, I spotted a cab dropping off people at the end of our street (we’re in a very residential area and if you call a cab, they start charging you for fare as soon as they start driving to you!).  I just looked at Teresa , asked “stay with our stuff” and took off RUNNING down the street like a crazy person trying to get to the cab before it drove away.  After asking if he spoke English (“No.”) and a quick game of charades, I had him backing up so he could turn onto our street.  Yeah!
When I got back to Teresa she asked “How are we going to pay for this?”  Whoops.  We had paid 20 euros each for the shuttle, and by this point Teresa had 10 euros cash on her and I only had a 50.  After another quick discussion about trying to take the metro/RER, we decided we’d ask him to stop at an ATM.  He did, and Teresa’s card wouldn’t work!  Bah.  I ended up withdrawing money there and over an hour later (thanks, traffic), we arrived at the airport.  The cab was 70 or so euros.  Ugh.  But we’ve heard stories of it being 120 euros.
gate at Buckingham Palace
I got through the lines at the airport just fine, and am so grateful that I bought a little luggage scale before leaving home.  Teresa and I both used it multiple times yesterday and today to play the bag-under-50-lbs game.  The only trick now is that my flight from London to Rome (Alitalia) only allows me to have one carry-on, today’s flight, British Airways allowed two.  Guess I’ll just have to check an extra bag.
When I arrived at the airport, I got my luggage and took the tube (what they call their metro.. different!) to Victoria station.  There weren’t any elevators, so I was so lucky to have two different women help me up the two different staircases in the station; incredible how much easier it became to carry my laptop suitcase, other carryon bag, and 50 lbs big suitcase once someone just lifted the back end of the 50 pounder to help me up the stairs!
Buckingham Palace
When I got out of the station, I found someone with a smartphone who gave me directions on how to walk to my hostel.  Thank goodness I have good luggage so I was able to take the tube and walk instead of taking a taxi.  I asked someone who helped me at the airport and he said the tube would be five pounds, and a taxi would be something like 50 pounds!  Yikes!  No way, not twice in one day!  By the way, it’s such a relief to be in an English-speaking country, although now I keep having to stop myself before saying “bonjour” and “merci” to everyone!
The London Eye (wheel) and aquarium to the right
I’ve never stayed in a hostel before, but I suppose it’s an experience that a college student should have when in Europe.  I found the one I’m staying in online and was able to get an all-women room for $20 something a night, and I get breakfast!  I wandered into the building (someone let me in) and carried all of my stuff up the first flight of stairs before realizing I had walked by reception in the tiny (TINY) first floor (as in I didn’t see it because the door being open blocked the view), which shares the floor with a pub!  Hah.  I left my stuff and went downstairs to check in.
Big Ben!  Love it!
Unfortunately, I found out I was on the third floor so I had to carry my stuff up ANOTHER flight.. bah!  I just grabbed my two smaller bags and carried them up into the room and yahoo!  There was only one person in the room at that time, Sam, and she was very nice and from Chicago!  She helped me carry my big bag up the second flight; thank goodness because I felt like I had done something to my arm when I carried it up the first!
Westminster Abbey
The hostel is an interesting setup (again, I’d never been in one).  In my room, it’s all women and there are three bunk beds that go three beds high each, and there are small lockers but you have to have your own lock; thankfully I have plenty locks, and earplugs, so this is great!
After I got situated for a while, Sam and I went walking.  Woah!  The hostel’s website had said it was close to sightseeing places but at the price I got it for, I was skeptical.  We walked maybe ten minutes to Buckingham Palace, St. James’ Park, Trafalgar Square, then by a bunch of things that I can’t name, to the London Eye, Big Ben/Parliament, and Westminster Abbey!  Awesome!  
Big Ben and Parliament
I REALLY LOVE Big Ben, but I have a suspicion that I’m sentimental about it because I had a great Pyrenees guard dog named Ben last year that I was crazy about — I’d call him Big Ben — he disappeared.
This was Sam’s third time being in London; her second time was for a trip that went along with a “history of London” class, so I absolutely lucked out meeting her!  She had just finished her study abroad in Florence, Italy.


Will go back tonight for better pics