After many harrowing adventures, I have returned at long last from my trip to Oxford, and am finally well rested enough to carry on at great length with the usual amount of spirit and verbosity. (Rest assured, if this becomes too unwieldy in length, I shall be certain to split it into multiple posts.)
First off, I arrived safely and without unusual delay in London last Thursday, hoping to be able to spend a few hours seeing the city before setting off to see my friend in Oxford. My great mistake was that I did no research on London prior to arriving in the city itself. London was sort of one of those famous places that I assumed I would just understand when I arrived. “Why do I need to look things up,” I think to myself, “when everything there is so ridiculously famous that of course I will know exactly where everything is as soon as I arrive?” Well, much to my great surprise, even though London is famous, and even though I know of a lot of things in London which are famous, knowing famous places exist in a famous city is not the same as knowing where the are in that famous city.
London, after all, is pretty big.
So is Heathrow Airport, actually, which is what I few into at about 8:30 that morning, knowing absolutely nothing of my destination, except that it was famous. And big. Getting out of Heathrow and into London was a lot less of a hassle than I thought it would be. Navigating around London on the Tube was also not so bad, although some of the trains were rather loud and rackety. Also, I should note that since I was to be staying the weekend in Oxford, I had no place to put my luggage until I arrived at my youth hostel that evening. So all of my adventures in London were experienced with the sort of gigantic backpack one finds on alpine mountain hikers, and the world’s largest fanny pack. (When I mentioned this to my Oxford friend, she informed me that I should under no circumstances refer to it in such turns while I was in England. Apparently “fanny” has other connotations, as noted in the wikipedia article I linked to.)
By the time I made it into Paddington station (for the first time that day, as it was not only the station I went to from Heathrow, but also the station I needed to depart from that evening) it was getting close to lunchtime. At least, it certainly felt as if it were getting close to lunch time, but this may have been because I got up at five and then gained an hour when I crossed time zones. By this time all the traveling had already worn me out a bit, so I stopped for an early lunch at a place called “Eat.” I liked the name of the restaurant. Simple. Stylish. Short. It did not even stand for anything. Also, I bought a meat pie there, which was not very much like an American pie, and more closely resembled those pasties the Yoopers are always making. In fact, it probably was a pasty, just sold under the name of “pie.” In any case, it was amazing.
At this point, even I am beginning to realize how long I could ramble on about London, so I shall attempt to summarize a bit.
Not knowing what to do after lunch, I decided to go see St. Paul’s, because I remembered mein Bruder talking about some giant beautiful church when he visited London, and because this was the one referenced in “The Ball and the Cross.” St. Paul’s not being the property of those stinking, greedy, money-grabbing Catholics, I had to pay about eight and a half pounds to go in–with the student discount. I wandered about for a bit, but was not allowed to take pictures inside the building. Eventually I decided to try to climb up the four-hundred-something stairs to the top of the dome, in spite of the giant heavy pack on my back, boots that were too small and already giving me blisters, and a minor, unidentified breathing problem that is triggered whenever I exert myself too heavily. The climb was well worth it, although the way was incredibly narrow. There was one point where I actually was forced to take off some of my gear in order to squeeze through a low, narrow doorway. The horizontally challenged would have stood no chance. At this point, I was high enough up to have a pretty good view of the city. I took many pictures of this, it being a nice day, and having then oriented myself as to the position of the river Thames, I began my descent downwards once more, and eventually out of the church.
I wandered across the new foot bridge build over said river, then wandered along the other side trying to find more interesting things to see, and being in this regard somewhat disappointed. Eventually I ran into a rack of post cards which showed me that Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the houses of parliament, and all manner of other interesting things, were in a completely different location. I jumped on the train, and managed to reach Big Ben and other aforementioned wonders just as it was beginning to get dark (which happens earlier the further north you are. In this case, about four in the afternoon.) Sadly, I was not able to go inside Westminster Abbey, as it was already closed for tourists. But I did take some nice pictures of that area before deciding it was time for me to try to make my way to Paddington again. I did so, bought another pasty, ate it, bought my ticket, and headed for the appropriate cab.
It was at this point that my two greatest misfortunes of the day took place.
First off, it was at this time that I was forced to resign myself to not buying fish and chips off of the street vendors. Maybe it was because it was winter, but although I looked sharp all day, not once did I see anyone selling them. This made me very sad. I loved the Berlin street food, and for me, one of the greatest things about being in big cities is the street food. Fortunately, the pasties somewhat made up for this.
Secondly, though I did not realize it at the time, it was at this point (after I had bought my ticket but before I had boarded the train) that a pickpocket robbed me of the rest of my money.
More on this tomorrow.