12-13 August 2010
So it begins. As this was my first time traveling internationally, I decided to travel with a friend who is also participating in the program. Hilary’s advice and insight have been invaluable to me as I hopped the pond for the first time. Many of the tips presented in this blog had their genesis in her guidance.
Hilary and I arrived at the airport and checked our luggage. I had some minor trouble checking in because I hadn’t booked my ticket under my full name, so my name on the ticket didn’t match my name on my passport. The agent from Aer Lingus was exceedingly helpful in getting my error corrected and soon reissued my tickets under my full name and we were on our way.
Tip I: For anything related to your traveling always spell and use your full name as it appears on your passport.
I really hate flying, but I have to say the flight from Chicago to Dublin was by far the most enjoyable I’ve had in years. I was able to remain calm and even managed to get a little sleep on the flight. We cleared customs in Dublin, which happened without incident, and then continued on to London Heathrow.
In Heathrow we reclaimed our baggage and I bought my Oyster Pass. (An Oyster Pass is a refillable prepaid smart card that allows you to use the public transportation system without purchasing a ticket each time.) We then took the tube into central London.
Tip II: Aside from walking, the tube is hands down the best way get around in London and the Oyster Pass is by far the best way to pay your fare. The card itself is pretty cheap (£3 I believe) and my understanding is that it’s refundable at the end of the trip.
I have to admit I was a little excited about riding a subway for the first time. I’d taken the Amtrak ticket from Indy to Chicago earlier in the week, so I’d already had my first experience with light rail, but riding the Tube for the first time seem like quintessential London experience. I’ll also add that I’ve found the tube to be clean, safe and relatively easy to navigate.
Tip III: Before you leave purchase a MoleskineCity: London. The surface streets of London are rather like rabbit warrens and this book will help you find your way around without holding a huge folding map and looking like a tourist. It also has a tube map, places for quick notes, and a place jot down telephone numbers and addresses. I found mine at Barnes & Nobles, but I’m sure they’re available elsewhere.
When we arrived at our station we encountered the only really obnoxious part of the whole trip. Russell Street Station is about five stories beneath the surface. The lift only goes down four… so we had to bang our very heavy bags up a flight of steps. I was a little concerned that the handle of my bag was going to fall off before we got to the landing! We were then able to take the lift up to the street level and from there we were able to quickly navigate our way to the Acorn housing office.
The housing office had not finished cleaning our flats so they offered to watch our baggage until they were ready and we set off in search of food. We found it in a cafeteria at the near by college and I had a delicious sandwich.
On the way back to the housing office it started to pour down rain. Of course we’d left all our rain gear in our bags…in the housing office… and I was in shorts and t-shirts. The temperature that day was around 65F so I was already on the cold end of my comfort zone before it started raining. Then the near freezing rain started coming down (I’d guess it was around 45-50F) soaking me through. While I was drowned and freezing by the time we made it back to the office it really didn’t bother me, after all I was in London and those are the type of events that make for good stories for years to come.
Tip IV: Do NOT ever, for ANY REASON walk outside in London without an umbrella. It doesn’t matter what it looks like out the window or what it says on the tele, it can rain at anytime and you’ll likely be very wet and uncomfortable if you don’t have your umbrella.
When we got back the rooms were ready and I took my things down to my flat and unpacked. I got to meet my new flatmates from Tulsa, Ravi and Brian. They both seem like stand up guys and I think we’re all going to have a good semester. Our other flatmate, Wiley wouldn’t join us until Sunday.
After I unpacked I met back up with Hilary and we set out to see some of the nearby area. The rain had stopped and we walked for hours taking in the city, finding the FSU Center, finding a fully stocked grocery store, getting dinner, etc. By the time we finished my legs definitely knew they’d been worked and I was pretty exhausted. I made myself stay up till almost 23:00 to combat the jet-lag before I finally zonked out.
Tip V: You’ll REALLY want to take a nap the first day or two. Don’t. Make yourself stay up until a reasonable bedtime (9-11pm) and eat at normal meal times. It may be a little difficult for the first day or so, but you’ll get through the jet lag much faster in the long run.
In closing, I just want to say that so far I love this city! It’s absolutely amazing! As we walked around, nearly every building was either built hundreds of years ago or was built in the 40’s after the original structure was destroyed in the Blitz. History is literally around every corner of this place. Everyone I’ve encountered has been exceedingly polite and helpful. It’s also a very clean city and it feels very safe, despite it’s size, population, and labyrinthine street system. While I hate to resort to cliché it exudes charm and has a timeless quality that’s hard to describe without experiencing it. The experience has been nothing but positive and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip will bring.