Diary of a Backpacker: Days 1-3, London

My travel blog ‘Diary of a Backpacker’ is being published on Scotcampus.com for the student population of Glasgow to read – hallelujah! 124

I hope to provide an foundation for other wannabe travellers who would like to travel just like I have, drawing attention to crucial mistakes and positive choices to provide a balanced insight into the world of backpacking.  >
You can read it on Scotcampus here.

Over the course of 27 days we will be visiting:

  1. London 
  2. Italy: Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre and Venice
  3. Hungary: Budapest
  4. Czech Republic: Prague
  5. Germany: Berlin
  6. The Netherlands: Rotterdam and Amsterdam
  7. Belgium: Bruges and Brussels

 

  • How we got here: National Express BUS, Glasgow Buchanan Street – London Victoria 6/10
  • Where we stayed: Generator Hostel 9/10
  • Attractions visited: London Eye, The London Sealife Aquarium, Buckingham Palace, Wicked at The London Victoria Apollo, Big Ben and Westminster
  • Best way to navigate within the city: the London Underground

Rachael_London02Before boarding my National Express bus service from Glasgow to London, my boyfriend Stewart – the temple of all Interrail knowledge – and I visited the Buchanan Bus Station’s shop and demolished what is likely to be our last roll and square sausage for 28 days. The consumption of this fine, Scottish delicacy holds a potent thought: it means that if I die during this trip I at least appreciated the peppery seasonings of my favourite food one last time and didn’t Hoover it away in three bites like I usually do.

Having already endured a ten-hour bus journey down to London once before, I didn’t hold high hopes for a pleasant experience, and sure enough, the driver – a bald, middle aged Liverpudlian gentleman – insisted that NO FOOD, DRUGS or ALCOHOL were to be consumed during the journey. Fortunately he failed to notice the mammoth, sky blue M&S cooler bulging beneath my seat that was thoughtfully packed by my Mum, full of Frubes, Cheese Strings and every flavour of Hula Hoops imaginable. To be honest, if at any point I had been asked to dispose of this foodie goldmine I might actually have wept at his feet. Luckily I wasn’t, and the journey was surprisingly OK.

 

 There’s something about being in London. The magic greets you as soon as you spot the motorway signage. Whether it’s through fiction, voting for parliament or on the television at 6 o’clock, every single one of us have engaged with London in some way or other. This city, lined with skyscrapers and landmarks, is where things happen. So, you want to be somebody in the UK? Go to London, because if you can make a businessman smile on the tube then you’re going to make it everywhere.

On our first evening we relished the type of typical touristy experiences I’d definitely normally shun people for: portraits photographed outside Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, a measly attempt at a very windy selfie by the Thames, and waiting out the children for the big swing outside Kings Cross Station.

 I kept having to take a moment to appreciate my surroundings, like: that is The Serpentine and not The River Clyde; oh, and that is The British Museum, not Kelvingrove Art Gallery. The great fuchsia backdrop of the ‘PEOPLE MAKE GLASGOW’ canvas – visible from every angle in the south side of the city – is (obviously) not here, and there isn’t even anything remotely similar. No ‘People Make London’ campaigns litter the streets with colourful stickers or postcards in this city, probably because people are precisely what do NOT make London…

“Hi, I’m, em, looking, uh… Buy deux, uh, passes for de train, please.”

“What, sorry?”

“I’m looking to buy, uh…” *stretched fingers into a peace gesture* “deux passes-”

“What? I can’t understand you.”

*Peace sign* “Passes for de train, please.”

“I can’t understand this woman,” said the man at train station customer services, leaning back in his chair and making eye contact with his co-worker as he shook his head at the lady who was obviously struggling with the language. Some Londoners are dicks.

Being in a city that doesn’t sleep comes at a price. All around you people are rushing, banging into one another, fighting for seats – for space – for the front of queues at every minute of the day. They’re clambering directly towards you on the trains, refusing to grant you the minimal space required to allow you to alight and depart from each carriage safely. London is full of successful people and, as I’ve learned, it’s because they cater for their own needs before those around them – which just results in a lot of avoidable congestion all over the city.

That’s not to imply that every person we’ve encountered has been as self absorbed as the commuters on the underground. In fact, sometimes the souvenir shop workers are so lovely to you it feels as though they’re practically forcing you into making a purchase.

  Upon entering London’s Sealife Aquarium we were greeted by a huge flash and two young excitable female divers who were holding cameras. They insisted the photos they were taking of us were “free of charge” and so we caved in when they encouraged us to make funny faces and poses in front of a large green screen as demonstrated. But as we exited the aquarium a lady with a huge smile and crazy chocolate hair handed us a glossy, colourful and pre-printed photo album that contained the photos, saying: “£25 for the whole book,” – going into her bumbag for change as we pondered, holding a twenty and a ten in one hand, cracking under the uncomfortable pressure. We refused and were shunned by hard sideward glances as if we had wasted their time on purpose. This happened on the London Eye, too.

Rachael_London03

There seems to be a negative stigma attached to hostels, which made me feel like they were places to be scared of and cautious within. I was led to believe this would be the type of environment that would see me taking my entire suitcase into the bathroom every time I needed to pee. But I’m happy to report that my first experience in a hostel has been a positive one.

Generator was extremely accommodating, colourful and friendly. Each bedroom was made up of four bunks and complete with a security chest you could padlock closed. The franchise has hostels all over the world and each one is equipped with the same facilities: a cinema, bar, breakfast buffet, internet zone, laundrette and travel shop. The travel shop is unique to Generator in that it sells tickets to each city’s top attractions at extremely low prices. We utilised this facility to go to London’s Sealife Aquarium. But this hasn’t been the only touristy thing we have indulged in – oh, no…

And I guarantee you as we move on now to Italy it won’t be the last!

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