My first morning in London I woke up very early. There were birds chirping because it was already light outside. I grabbed my phone and scrolled through Twitter to see what people back home were doing as their nights came to a close. How strange, to be on the other side of the ocean, awake at 5am, reading people’s observations about The Tonight Show. Strange for me because I’ve been on the other side of it for so long.
I made myself turn over and go back to sleep. It was too early, my hostess was still sleeping, and what would I do in London at that hour anyway? I was happy enough to drift back to sleep in my cozy bed for a few more hours.
The bed. Now, remember, this entire trip was an Airbnb adventure. I’m glad I made the decision to go that route because I experienced a lot that I wouldn’t have otherwise. There was one aspect of this particular place that I was unsure about, even though I knew it was often the case in these scenarios — I was putting the hostess out of her room. Whenever she has a guest she sets up camp in her living area, a room with two couches, an assortment of tables, afghans everywhere, and these floor-to-ceiling windows that still invade my dreams. All that to say, sometimes when you Airbnb, you kick a stranger out of their own bed. I was too tired at night to really be bothered that much.
Yeah, you’re probably going to get music with these. Why not? It sets the scene. I’d just finished watching Her when we began the descent into London. It was magical. There wasn’t any time to think about what was happening as we slipped out of the sunlight, through a layer of low, dense clouds and I had my first quick view of the city. There’s no photo to go along with that. That will be a theme of all these blog posts — too busy experiencing things to stop and take a picture. Most of the time.
I thought the Tube was going to be more difficult to manage, but the Youtube videos I watched served me well and once I was through customs I made my way that direction. It was strange, walking out into the area where people were waiting on loved ones to arrive. That was the first moment I felt really alone. Not in a bad way. It was a moment of realization that I was truly on my own here. It made me smile.
Hopping on the Tube was easy. We sat waiting for a little while and then proceeded on. I’d studied the map and knew where I was going, but I hadn’t known exactly where I would board at Heathrow. Turned out I got on at Terminal 5, so I had a nice little journey ahead of me. We moved out of the darkness underground and into the light outside and I was able to see a lot of gardens and backsides of houses as we moved further into the center of the city. I changed lines at Hammersmith, moving from the Piccadilly to District Line. It was a short wait for that train and then I was off toward Victoria Station. That was a shorter ride and I disembarked at Victoria, walked up the steps to the street (very glad to only have the carry-on at this point), and there I was. I stepped out onto the sidewalk and this was basically my view, only it was raining a little and the corner was crawling with Red Hat Society ladies.
This was the point when I realized I’d left the map at home on the printer. The one that would show me how to get from Victoria Station to the flat where I was staying. I had taken the time to write the directions down, which I took a moment to glance at, but having no idea which exit I’d ended up leaving Victoria from, I had no clue if I was in the right spot. So, I did what you do and I started walking in the direction that looked right until I saw a street that I knew I was supposed to be on. Without giving too much away about where my host lives, here’s a map:
I found the house number, rang the bell, and my hostess buzzed me in. Up a set of very dark stairs, trying very hard not to make too much racket (as I’d been instructed because there was a nosy downstairs neighbor), I made my way to the second floor and there my hostess greeted me. I was damp from the rain, probably looked bedraggled, and she promptly sat me down in the kitchen and gave me tea. The tea was followed by a spoonful of hot chili peppers. I’m still not sure what that was about entirely, but I knew within a few moments I was in for an adventure at this place. We’ll call my hostess Kay. Lovely woman. About the same age as my parents, though I wouldn’t have guessed it. I’d told her I was traveling alone and one of her biggest concerns was making sure I felt at home and safe. She sat me down on the couch in her living area and talked to me for about an hour about bus routes and tours I should take. She was very kind, but by now I was a little overstimulated by the travel and HAVING TO WALK THROUGH LONDON ALONE WITHOUT MY MAP. I feel like I should pause here for a moment to recognize what kind of miracle that was.
Eventually I made my way back to my room, let all the people who needed to know I arrived safely that I was in the house and there for the evening. Then, against my better judgement, I crashed on the bed and slept for a couple hours. I figured I’d regret this the next day, but I was so exhausted from getting hardly any sleep on the plane, I didn’t care. I woke up a little later, had dinner and a shower, told Kay my plans for the next morning, and retired to my room for the night. I sat and wrote one of the few journal entries of the trip. That was a surprise for me whenever I got back. I really thought I’d write more and take more photos, but I was so busy just being there and absorbing everything, I completely forgot to make those things a priority most of the time. I slept easy that night, the sounds of the city not quite as loud as I’d imagined they might be. My plan was made for the next day. The Queen was going to be at Westminster Abbey, and so was I.
I’m heeeeeere 😀 — Elizabeth Michelle (@ElizabethMelle) May 8, 2014
On our most recent podcast, Jolene and I talked about the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. We were talking about travel and our experiences and how we both identified with a few of the definitions.
Rückkehrunruhe n. the feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness—to the extent you have to keep reminding yourself that it happened at all, even though it felt so vivid just days ago—which makes you wish you could smoothly cross-dissolve back into everyday life, or just hold the shutter open indefinitely and let one scene become superimposed on the next, so all your days would run together and you’d never have to call cut.
We each had a kind of life changing trip to another country last year. I know it left me marked and I think she would say the same since she’s starting new adventures thanks to her time in Poland.
I have wanted to write about my trip ever since I returned, but I’ve struggled to know how. Sure, I could have dumped 500 photos in your lap and called it a day. Maybe when this is all over it won’t amount to more than that. I’d like to try though. There have been several false starts, promises of “next week on the blog” that I fully intended to follow through with, only to find myself paralyzed when I sat down to write.
I don’t know what this is. It’s might be more about how I process things than anything else. I don’t know what happened over there. Well, I do. I know what I saw, who I met, where I walked. What I’m trying to understand is what happened inside me. This sounds like melodrama, but I promise I’m being sincere. A year ago I was hovering somewhere over the Atlantic. Tonight, it’s time to write.
exulansis n. the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it—whether through envy or pity or simple foreignness—which allows it to drift away from the rest of your life story, until the memory itself feels out of place, almost mythical, wandering restlessly in the fog, no longer even looking for a place to land.
We talked about that word and our experience with it. It was one of the most difficult parts of returning home for me. Trying to explain all that had transpired while I was there and finding people (a few, not many!) indifferent or completely unwilling to hear about it. That’s enough to shut a person up for a little while, never mind being told, “I hope you got that out of your system.”
There are few things I’ve been sure of for a very long time. One thing I always hoped would happen was that trip. I think I got distracted along the way and stopped believing it would. But things bubble to the surface. That trip was always going to happen. And it could be some hippy dippy belief in fate and the order of things, but with everything I experienced over there I’m certain it was supposed to happen. It took a long time and I had to work up the nerve, but once I stepped foot on the plane, and every day after, there was no trepidation. I just kept walking forward.
This is going to go slowly. I figured a nice way to get it all out was to focus on one or two days at a time. So, there won’t be a post every day, but I plan to wrap this all up in two weeks. It’s more for me than anything. I do hope you enjoy the pictures that I’m finally sharing though, and the little bits of stories from my days.