I half expected to hear the bells of Big Ben blaring over loudspeakers upon arrival in the UK, but the only thing greeting me off the jetway at Terminal 3 was passport control. Oh, passport control, that joy of joys! Be still, my heart.
a rubber-stamp welcome.
I staggered into Terminal 5 to meet up with my colleagues, completely exhausted from more than 20 hours of nonstop traveling. Their flight didn’t get in for another hour and a half, but even a small nap seemed unattainable for the time being. Suitcases littered the row of seats the students had chosen, some of the students bringing entire designer wardrobes encased in £700 luggage sets. Priorities, I suppose. I’m here to cash some checks in the Life Bank, but if all that’s on your mind is the par-tay, suit yourself. I’ll be the cheery bloke in the corner falling asleep still strapped into his backpack.
Skip ahead an hour or two, and our school-chartered coach pulled out (the wrong way, for les americains) onto the M4 headed for central London. I was of course riveted by the view out the window, but my enthusiasm was no doubt hampered by my acute lack of sleep. The drizzle I had heard was such a characteristic of London smeared the windows of the coach as we sped toward the city.
Lack of sleep was addressed fairly soon as we arrived at the University of London, my new daily grind. The foreign student centre soon looked like an impromptu backpacker’s hostel, with bodies strewn over the much-in-demand couches and backpacks and more bodies littering the floor. I staked out a spot in the corner near the radiator and passed out as the world outside turned dark again.
Our hosts got home around 5pm, and my roommate and I headed out into the neon-studded night. Our taxi wound its way through the serpentine streets, our foul-mouthed Cockney driver shouting stories of dodging evil traffic wardens, until we arrived in our new home for the next four months.
The next few days were a blur, punctuated by lack of sleep, endless orientation seminars, and generally being smacked around by jet lag. Names, places like Bloomsbury, Finsbury Park, Kensington. Being told over and over and over not to get in unlicensed minicabs. The traffic’s on the left and sometimes if you don’t mind the gap, you really will fall flat on your face. You’ve been warned.
Eventually the insomnia subsided somewhat and routine settled in. Get up, fight the crowds on the Tube, go to class, head back home and sleep. Sprinkle in the pub and more pedestrian things like getting phones sorted and grocery shopping, the first few days were booked wall to wall. Soon London would even out, and we’d get around to enjoying ourselves, but at the beginning, London was a pressure cooker. Take heart, the sun would shine soon (literally! incredible, i know), and things would become much less hectic. This is only the beginning.
I spent weeks in London and only took a taxi once. I used the Underground, with an Oyster card (“Mind the gap”). It’s way cheaper than a taxi. The nice thing is you get in the general area of where you are going and then you have to walk to your destination, passing interesting things along the way. I fell in love with Cornish Pasties there.