Our Easyjet flight from Edinburgh to London Gatwick was in fact, easy. Catching the tube from the airport to Plaistow station went equally as smoothly.
It was dark when we exited the tube station with our packs, armed with the directions to our flat (which promised a short walk) – and we thought we had it made. Friends of Curtis’s mother had offered us a free flat to stay in for our week in London. They happened to be visiting Vancouver and Powell River while we were there and all info (such as directions and key pick up) had been emailed to Curtis.
Following the directions to the letter, we found the landmark of the pub they had mentioned. Continuing to follow their directions, we continued down the road.
The next street we came upon was completely sealed off with yellow police tape and – I am not exaggerating here – there were at least 50 cops canvassing the area. I was really hoping that this wasn’t our street – thankfully it wasn’t – because whatever had happened here was obviously not good.
I asked a few of the policemen directions to the street we were looking for but none of them seemed to be familiar with the area. After walking around a little more and asking a shopkeeper, we realized the directions after the pub just didn’t make sense so we returned to it.
The barman said we were on the correct street (no sign of course), which led down the opposite way of what was written in our directions (very confusing – obviously). Around this time is when I started to notice the local youths milling about. Menacing would be the best way to describe them.
We quickly found our flat but after pressing the buzzer for Flat 5 – we realized that Joan had given us her buzzer number and not the neighbor’s buzzer number. You know, the one who was actually in London and had the key.
Not feeling safe at all, I just started pressing random buzzers until someone let us in. In the safety of the stairwell, we hatched a plan that I would stay there with our luggage while Curtis went to try and call the neighbor. While he was gone, I was approached by one neighbor who offered to rent me his flat for 75 pounds a night (obviously I refused his offer to inspect the flat) and was also approached by a lovely couple who offered me use of their phone and a cup of tea. I told them I would wait until my husband had returned.
Curtis returned with the frustrating news that the neighbors cell phone (mobile phone as they are called here) wasn’t being answered. He was able to leave her a voice mail but his other attempts left him with an endless unanswered ringing….
This is when I decided to just ring everyone’s buzzer until I found the correct neighbor. Which only took two tries (it’s a small complex). She was absolutely lovely, offering us tea (of course), lending us two Oyster cards (which saves heaps of money on the Metro), apologizing and pointing out that you can in fact buy crack two doors down (I knew this was a dodgy neighborhood!) and offering us a frozen pizza so we’d have something to eat without having to leave the safety of our apartment again.
We breathed a huge sigh of relief once in our free digs – the free flat was fabulous.
Until the next day when I attempted to take a shower. It took us about half an hour to figure out how to make the shower work. The water for the bath was easy to turn on but we couldn’t figure out how to make it come out of the showerhead. After trying everything we could think of, Curtis spotted a pull cord over by the window. More out of curiousity than anything else (he was actually saying, “I wonder what this is for” as he pulled it) – he gave it a tug and it voila – the shower box turned on!
Our time in London was spent sight seeing, relaxing at home and running around the neighborhood. After our almost two week stint of way too much British pub food and beer, we were determined to make a concerted effort to get back in shape. We ate a lot of salads that week and packed healthy sandwiches and fruit to go that we could eat while sightseeing. Picnic lunches in small parks became our thing. And we banned the beer and wine completely (except for the one evening that we met up with The Cornholes – the couple we had met in Marseille).
All of our efforts paid off, I actually lost 2 pounds that week. Running in the streets of the Plaistow neighborhood however, was probably not the sanest thing to do. We often got mocked by the local youths who were drinking beer outside of shabby pubs. The rest of the people we passed just looked at us like we were crazy.
Besides our little health kick, we enjoyed walking around, taking in the famous sights.
On our way to the Tate Modern (free admission!) museum, we passed the Globe Theatre. I went in to have a peek and saw a sign that read, “5 Pound Tickets available for every show”. When we enquired about it, the cashier told us she had two left for tonight’s performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Sold!
We spent a couple of hours enjoying the Tate, ate our sandwiches, warmed up with a coffee and then lined up for our play.
I had no idea when we bought our tickets that we were buying standing room only. No wonder they were so cheap! Not only were we expected to stand for the duration of the play but the theatre was actually open air – there was no ceiling in the middle of the building. Did we get cold? Did our legs or feet get sore from standing all those hours? No! The Merry Wives of Windsor was the absolute best Shakespeare play I have ever seen. It was so high energy – so hilarious and fun – that I would have felt a little sad when it was over if I hadn’t been grinning so enthusiastically!
There was a catwalk that came out from one side of the stage and circled around to create a mini stage in the middle of the room, which was also used creatively in set changes. Part of the floor flipped around to create a “garden”, then magically disappeared to a regular floor, depending on the scene.
We were standing between the main stage and the catwalk so that the actors were often sweeping past us in their amazing costumes. It really felt like we were part of the play, being that close, I was able to smell the dust and perspiration clinging to the ends of their petticoats.
Another highlight from London was going to see the Changing of the Guard. It may be a cheesy tourist thing to do, but I felt a surge of excitement at my first glimpse of the procession.
London is a very expensive city – everybody knows that. But we managed to get by on 20 pounds for a weeks worth of groceries. We spent more than that taking the tube! So the free stuff is very appealing – which includes most of the museums, the Changing of the Guard, walking around Camden Town (market neighborhood full of punks), seeing the sights like Big Ben, the London Eye (to actually ride the thing costs 15 pounds – so we skipped that), London and Tower Bridges (the Tower Bridge is the nice looking one, the London Bridge is actually plain and boring).
Even spotting the double decker buses and the phone booths is neat!
Curtis really wanted to visit Abbey Road – the sight of the Beatles album cover by the same name – and recreate walking across the road just like they did. There were a few other tourists who had the same idea – so we took turns taking pictures of each other walking back and forth across the street. We were giggling with our new Japanese friends in no time!
There is a recording studio on Abbey Road and we saw a real life paparazzi waiting outside with his giant camera. He wouldn’t tell us who was inside when we asked, and actually had the nerve to scoff at us for being tourists. I took his picture just as he was getting off his cell phone – I figured fair is fair. So here’s a picture of an actual paparazzi in action. Unfortunately, I don’t have his name, but I can tell you he spent an awful lot of time on his phone and pacing around waiting. Boring!
We were told that one thing we should see while in London was a football match. We splurged on the 40 Pound tickets (that’s $80 each!) to witness our first footy game. (Which is called soccer where we’re from.)
It was a blast! They have to keep the fans separated on opposite sides of the stadium and no one is allowed to have the tops of their water or pop bottles (obviously in case you try to hurl a full bottle at someone or out onto the field). We didn’t witness any violence though – just some good old fashioned singing and stomping with each side’s fans shouting down the other. It was the Queens Park Rangers vs. Derby. Footy is actually quite a good game to watch!
With our week in London coming to a close and a very early morning plane to catch, we opted to take the last tube to Gatwick at midnight instead of catching a 4:00 am bus to the airport. That is how scary our neighborhood was! We didn’t want to be walking with our stuff in the wee hours of the night, only to get rolled for all of our earthly possessions. Or worse, stabbed! Every day in the paper we read about several stabbings – the most “famous” of which they dubbed the Phantom of the Opera murder. This was the one that had taken place in our neighborhood on the night we had arrived! I will spare you the details….
Gatwick airport is a haven for the sleepy traveler. By that I mean, everywhere, literally everywhere you looked, people were sleeping on benches, in chairs and on the floor.
I managed to stay awake until 4:00 am and then joined in the sleepy masses, finding myself a bench for a 90 minute nap – until Curtis woke me up to wander in a zombie like state through check in and onto our flight – where I slept like a baby from before take off until just before landing at our next destination.