London's calling at the end of the road

After about eleven hours of only slightly interupted sleep in the twenty-or-so bed dorm (people were mostly quiet, but the door slammed as people went in and out every five minutes or so for hours!), I rose for the walking tour that left from the hostel. A large number of hostellers were on this and our pick up took us through two underground rides to the meeting point in Westminster: I talked with some friendly fellow hostellers on the train.

Although I had left the hostel to grab a cheap and tasty wrap for breakfast from the supermarket across the road (I’m impressed with the supermarkets!) and thought it was fairly warm, this initial assessment proved to quite flawed as it quickly became apparent that the weather was much cooler than I had dressed for. I think the hostel was so well-heated that it took a while for my body to adjust to the real temperature outside. By the time we were at the pick up point, I was seriously regretting wearing only a cardigan and leggings.

Nonetheless I pushed through the 2.5 hour walking tour (I suppose it wasn’t TOO bad). We went around Westminster and saw Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace with the pomp going on before the changing on the guard, took photos with some guards outside St. James’ Palace, Big Ben (actually the bell that is at the top of the Queen Elizabeth II tower) and the houses of Parliament before the tour concluded and a few of us went to an associated pub for lunch.

I had a tasty Chicken Masala and bought two more tickets: to the pub crawl that night, and another walking tour for the next day. Three other lads from the hostel were going to go on the pub crawl too, so we agreed to meet at the hostel at 7pm.

I went back to the hostel with someone who needed to collect his luggage from his room, which happened to be my room (he had already checked out and had no key) and immediately put on some warm clothes! I then went to a nearby internet cafe to finish my Ireland blog and back up my London photos so far. I also went on Craigslist and fired out about 16 emails to job vacancies in Toronto: by this point I was a bit concerned about finding a job when I got there in a few days, but was pleased that there were so many vacancies, in customer service jobs at least.

Feeling a bit relieved as well as productive (my focus was at this point necessarily switching from enjoy-frivolous-travelling to get-set-up-in-Canada) I quickly got ready and met the other three in the hostel. We followed Schlomy, who knew where he was going. I foolishly did not think to check whether we would be taking the underground, so I had not switched my Oyster card from my travel bag. This meant an unnecessary eight poud ticket, just for the day!

We made it to the Belushi’s bar near Covent Garden: the start point for the Pub Crawl. While Schlomy went back to get his forgotten ID and the other two went to an ATM I befriended some Swiss gents and we all went to the next pub – the other two were taking an inordinately long time at the ATM.

At the next bar I befriended some lovely Montreal girls, one of whom added me on Facebook so that I might have a friend in Montreal when I inevitably visit! I was also quite pleased to check my email and discover an invitation to interview on Monday for one of the jobs I had applied to via Craigslist. Although it was about 9pm, I was able, thanks to the wonder of time differences, to correspond via my phone’s email and confirm the interview while in the bar!

We then all went back to the first place and collected a few more people, including my original hostel mates. The third place was Ruby Blue, and the fourth and fifth both fun places of dancing to good retro music, and a good night was had by all until myself and my fellow hostellers take the bus back after 3am.

The next day I slept in and while enjoying a cheap and hearty vegetarian big breakfast in the empty Belushi’s bar adjoining the hostel I checked how much money I had left. Unfortunately, I did not have much left if I was going to have the $2500 required to be issued my visa in Canada. This meant some severe budgeting, and no extraneous purchases. But I worked out I could do it, if I did so.

Aware of my job interview on Monday and thinking I needed appropriate shoes, I took the train to Primark on Oxford Street. As well as being very impressed by Primark, I walked around this generally impressive shopping street and wished I had money to spend. I realised I could actually wear the black high heels I had in my suitcase to the interview, so I didn’t buy anything (more’s the pity).

I was booked into another walking tour, called the South Bank tour, so I took the train back to Covent Garden from where the tour left (the same place as the pub crawl). This, too, was a cool area, but I did not have too much time to admire it: I quickly got a pizza at Pizza Express and hotfooted it to the tour meeting point. I did not realise Pizza Express was a chain restaurant, like Cafe Rouge and The Real Greek: impressive looking restaurants that are actually chains and everywhere.

This tour had only myself, one other and a trainee guide on it. Nonetheless, the four of us took a Thames river boat a short way and experienced a tour of one side of the river, including detail on the different bridges, some pubs, the excellent Borough market (which it turned out was right near my hostel), a tea wharf and the Tower of London. The weather was annoyingly quite hot and sunny and then grew cold in the shade and as the day wore on, so I had to frequently change into and out of my various winter layers as we walked.

I had decided to try a different pub crawl that night and discovered a large and impressive looking one on google. I consequently grabbed some fish and chips at the Tower of London – which I immediately regretted because fried fish and chips are oily and horrible – and walked on back to the hostel to get ready and head to Leicester Square – not far from Covent Garden again – for the second pub crawl.

Once I reached Leicester Square I admired the atmosphere of London’s answer to New York’s Times Square. I grabbed a take away slice from a stall version of a sit-down Pizza Hut – which in London are in restaurant form, unlike the takeaway only joints of Australia. I was jealous of the various half price theatre ticket booths: some claimed to be selling tickets for only 25 or so pounds, but I simply didn’t have enough money left (or so I thought).

I met the pub crawl and was immediately a bit put off by the multiple sleazy Australian organisers who were determined to cut the girls’ included T-shirts to show as much skin as possible, and blatantly so. But I befriended some friendly guests of a different hostel, including a couple of lovely Australian girls.

We headed to Ruby Blue again. I wasn’t immediately sure I had been here before – like elsewhere in Europe, a lot of the bars were very similar in layout and size – but the lady working in the bathroom recognised me. I made it two more bars, enjoying the company of these people, before the sheer number of people on the crawl / in the fourth bar, combined with my now-familiar crushing wave of tiredness, led me to ninja out at no later than 12:30pm. I walked straight to the underground station and managed, by the skin of my teeth (I had to run) to make the very last trains back to the hostel on each of the changes I made!

That morning I checked my finances again – lo and behold, over $350 had appeared in my credit card account! I certainly had enough money to not scrimp on my last day of my Eurotrip! I went straight to Leicester Square and bought a ticket to Once – of which I had never heard, but posters of which I had jealously admired in underground stations!

The next day I had another tasty supermarket wrap for breakfast then found Harrods, which was full of people and having a sale. Walking through the underground station I felt properly emotional – neither good nor bad! – when I realised this was the last day of my long trip, and I would be moving to Canada the next day! At Harrods I took photos but lost interest quickly.

I decided to go to the Tower of London, which had been recommended by both tour guides, and do the tour. When there, military people were setting off canons for the Queen’s Birthday celebrations that day. Having bought a 20 pound ticket for the Tower (oh dear!) I was able to get the best view as I walked through into the tower.

I bought a 4 pound audioguide (oh dear!) and walked around, admiring the historical towers and where Anne Boleyn was executed. I did not much feel like exhaustively following the audioguide, though, so I mostly just soaked up the atmosphere. And the rain, which began in true London Style. Luckily I was dressed significantly more warmly than the previous day, and had an umbrella.

I was cutting it fine to make it to the third walking tour I had decided to go on with the same company as the others, but I just made it by jumping straight on a bus (thanks Google Maps!). This one was called the Old City tour and we walked around the City of London (as opposed to Westminster) and saw the stock exchange, St Paul’s Cathedral, Pall Mall, the Strand, various churches and more. Before long it began to pour with rain, and my umbrella had given up the ghost in a gust of wind at the tour’s beinning. I simply had to walk around in the rain for most of the tour! Luckily it wasn’t too freezing and I was wearing many layers, and a hat. At some points we got sun again and it dried me off a little.

I had to rush off the moment our guide concluded her shpiel at the Tower of London (some of the tour unfortunately overlapped with the previous day’s one) to catch the same bus back toward Covent Garden to find my theatre for Once. My phone – the battery of which is very inconveniently poor these days – unhelpfully died so I had to walk a little bit lost toward the theatre. That’s what happens when you rely on technology! I found a Subway on the way and scoffed it down as I followed the clerk’s directions and eventually found the Phoenix Theatre.

At the theatre a crowd was waiting outside to go in and I joined them. Eventually it became apparent we weren’t really moving inside: this was particularly awkward as taxis kept trying to drive amongst us down the relatively small alleyway. Eventually someone informed us that some kind of technical malfunction (I overheard curtain) had delayed the show an hour.

I joined some others going to a nearby pub to use the bathroom and grab a wine. I asked the bartender if he knew of a nearby internet cafe as I was conscious that I had not yet printed out my bank account statements for proof of funds – or my plane ticket, or the way to get to my hostel in Toronto. Happily, there was one right nearby that was open until 3am and which I could go to after the show!

Relieved, I went back in time to head into the theatre. The cast strangely just began while the lights were still on and people filtering into the theatre. They were playing Irish songs. So barely had I read the synopsis that I wasn’t fully aware that it was set in Dublin. But after my recent time there I was pleased: especially as one of the songs played was a traditional song we heard on our last night.

Sceptical at first that I had made a rash decision in choosing this musical of which I had never heard, by the end I was in no doubt. This poignant love story had me in tears for most of the second act! The fact that it was heavily about moving overseas to take chances and have a new beginning probably fed into this.

Back in the internet cafe I went to print out bank balances, only to find that my credit card account was now reading zero, not over $300. I quickly calculated that I no longer had enough to get into the country. Feeling panic wash over me (a very bizarre feeling that needs to be experienced to be explained but I’m sure involves bucketloads of adrenalin being very quickly produced) I spent the next few hours rectifying the situation. I didn’t get to bed until 1:30am and had to be up at 5:30am to catch my plane to Toronto, but I eventually fell asleep, somewhat relieved and exhausted.

There endeth the Eurotrip, but only begins the adventure!

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