A terrible night smell
The stench from the hostel keeps me up for most of the night. It’s a mixture of body odor and sweat, similar to a boy’s locker room. I opted to stay in a dorm, meaning I share a bedroom with twelve other people. Among these strangers are a few who don’t know the meaning of soap and water. It is not an ideal way to start off a trip to London.
Being in a cramped room with 12 other people isn’t ideal for having the perfect night of slumber. I am in a new place and no one sleeps well the first night they stay somewhere new, or at least I can’t.
If the stench wasn’t enough, the loud noises below our hostel continuously woke me up with blaring sirens and yelling from the pub hosting a concert the previous night.I am thankful the window is open to let some fresh air in. My bunk is on the top next to the window. I turn my nose next to the window so I can attempt to smell the air outside and not the funk in here.
I would have slept well in that hostel only if a tranquilizer had been involved. Nevertheless, as soon as it’s morning, I climb out of my bunk, eager to shower and leave the odorous room. I use the flashlight on my phone to quietly dig through my belongings to find the clothes I want to wear for the day and my toiletries to shower, even though I could never feel clean in here. I lock my valuables in a small locker and take the key and shower supplies up two flights of stairs to the bathroom. It’s taken, so I wait at the top of the stairwell for the person to finish up. The only thing going through my mind is to get ready as fast as I can so I can get out of there.
Awkward mornings from sharing a bedroom with 12 people
When the person opens the bathroom door, and I walk in, the entire floor is covered in water. At least it doesn’t smell as bad as the room. I shower quickly and get dressed. My small microfiber towel doesn’t do much justice, and I put my clothes on while I am still slightly wet.
There is a small mirror in the corner of the room in the hostel near the window. I put on my makeup using the light of the starting day. While traveling, I don’t wear a lot of makeup, but today I am sure to put a little more foundation to cover the bags under my eyes this time. I wear an off-the-shoulder brown top with a maxi jean skirt and white tennis shoes.
I zip up my bag again, ensuring I have the pounds I need for the day and my camera, and I am finally out the door. A few blocks away is the bus stop. I need to hop on bus 21, heading toward the Borough Market. The iconic red buses in London are not only for aesthetic purposes; everyone uses them to get around. The red buses and the underground are the top choices for transportation around here. Shops start opening this morning as I head to my bus stop.
Big red bus
When using transportation in London, all you need to do is tap your card for a one-time fee, and you are on. At the time, I didn’t know this. I start to scramble for the pounds buried in my purse. The bus driver, a petite black woman with hair braided in a low bun, waved me through. She was not in the mood to watch me count my coins with a bus route to stick with. I am grateful she spared me. I find a seat on the upper level.
It feels odd to sit up here with other locals and cosplay a Londoner for the day. I sit close to a woman with a dragon tattoo on one side of her head. If I stayed in my sweet hometown in North Carolina, I might never have seen a woman with a tattoo on the side of her head. London is huge. To give perspective, almost 9 million people are living there. I am bound to see more dragon tattoos as the trip progresses.
Today’s plan is to head to the market, but of course, I want to find a good coffee shop to start the day.
Roasting Plant Coffee Shop
After about a 40-minute ride into the city, I get off the bus. The first stop along my journey is to obtain some coffee. Although staying in a hostel might get me the allusion that I am roughing it I am just using the money I save on a hostel for more cups of coffee. I ordered a flat white at Roasting Plant Coffee Shop. The coffee shop seems like the modern coffee shops in Chicago- elegant, minimal, and sleek. I chose a lighter bean for the espresso, and my coffee tastes creamy but not sweet. Overly sweet coffee gives me a stomach ache, but I don’t have a taste for bitter coffee. This is the goldy locks of coffee- just right.
It’s only a few blocks away until I reach the market. I knew it when I got close because of the delicious aroma that reached my nose. Knowing I have limited room in my stomach I take a lap around the market to access my options rather than go for the first thing I see.
I weave through the crowds in the borough market; vendors sell cheese, bread, pastries, and more. I cross the street to another side of the market where they sell plates of seafood patte, lavender lemonade, and fresh fruits. There is one particular stand I had in mind. Before coming on this trip, I had heard about the famous chocolate-covered strawberries. Now, I can see them from the corner of my eye. In a British accent, a man yells, chocolate-covered strawberries, “Extra chocolate if you are dressed like a strawberry”, he says. I am sure someone has done that before with how many people come in and out of here.
Chocolate covered strawberries
The strawberries are bright red. They are so red they almost look cartoonish. A faucet of rich milk chocolate is generously poured over the bright red berries. Not just a single drizzle, but long pours come out of the facet, then more strawberries are added, then more chocolate. “Extra chocolate for the pretty lady”, the man controlling the chocolate stream.
A heavenly bit of sweetness. I stand in the corner and enjoy the ripe strawberries and creamy chocolate while watching the crowds of people walk through the market.
As I continue eating the strawberries, my stomach aches—too much sweetness for one sitting. The cup of berries should be shared or at least not indulged in one sitting. I needed to walk around a bit more and ease the ache in my tummy.
A sandwich for lunch would be the perfect thing to counteract the sweetness of the chocolate-covered strawberries. I start in search of bread and land on sourdough. Then for the cheese, I get a strong truffle cheese with cured meats and a small batch of vegan pate for the sandwich.
The next stop on my list is to find a spot to enjoy my picnic lunch and hopefully see the London Bridge in the background.
The London Bridge & Tower of London
On my walk over to the London Bridge, it struck me for the first time. I am in London. This morning, I woke up in a haze. It’s hard to believe I am thousands of miles away from my home. Living in Chicago, I am familiar with the feel of cities. Somehow, I felt like I was exploring a new side of Chicago until I saw the London Bridge in the distance. The constant stream of red buses should have been a dead giveaway.
The day is cloudy and cool, just as I pictured London to be. I eat the bread, cheese, meats, and pate on a bench overlooking the London Bridge in the distance. The area is just far enough away from the bridge to be a peaceful lunch.
After eating enough bread and cheese to fill up a small balloon, I walk to the London Bridge for a closer look. The details of the bridge are teal.
A man is yelling “upstairs to the Bridge”, over and over again to let tourists know where the entrance is. I can only imagine how sore his voice must be at the end of the day. The bridge is busy. I snap a few photos and take a view of the river.
The afternoon is slow. I meander through London, leaving my noise down any alley or streets that peak my interest. It’s my first day in London and it is leisurely. This kind of methodical practice of wandering led me to find one of the most beautiful courtyards hidden in the city.
I look to my right, and there is it. I must stop in. Shaped in a square is an enormous stone courtyard- the Somerset House. In every corner is a café with chairs set out. People are enjoying their afternoon espresso tucked away in a quiet sqare in London. I walk to the right corner of the large sqare courtyard. There are signs that this is an art gallery but I don’t intend on purchasing a ticket. I do, however, want a coffee. After finding a café with the most beautiful view I enjoy a sparkling water with a flat white before venturing out on the streets once more.
I continue to walk when I hear the chiming of church bells. Everyone else continued walking throughout their day, but I stopped and stared at the church in awe of the beautiful ringing sound from above. It was one of those moments you wouldn’t notice unless you were new to the area, and the beauty of the bells struck me. After they stopped chiming, I headed towards the actual church destination I was heading towards- St. Paul’s Cathedral.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
The walk around St. Paul’s Cathedral is stunning. The weather is perfect with a cool fall breeze, but the sun’s warmth keeps the temperature comfortable. The Cathedral is dramatic and has some of the best views of London.
Now if you want a public bathroom, that will make you say Holy Shit…. Try the St. Paul’s Cathedral. These were the only public bathrooms I had seen all day and the nicest we would likely find for the rest of the day.
Fish & Chips
It’s time for dinner before the show. The Marquis bar and Kitchen is a lucky find by following the crowds of people standing outside with a beer in hand.
I peek in the bar and read the side restaurant upstairs. I ordered the fish and chip, a British Classic. The fries, which I dip in Tatar sauce, are thick and crispy. The fries are perfect, but the fish battered in a thin and crispy skin reminds me too much of the fish fillet sandwich at McDonalds, which my nana loves. I don’t love fish or fried food, so I may stick with something I would love.
I arrive at the Moulin Rouge show only to discover the tickets are all sold out. I considered purchasing tickets beforehand but needed to figure out where the day would take me. They had tickets available throughout the rest of the week, but this is the only time I will be in the area, so I will have to catch the next show.
The no-show might have been for the best because I am exhausted- deflated like a balloon- after my first day in London.
Not quite ready to go home, I pop into a small lounge restaurant with a green velvet L-shaped couch in the back of the restaurant. It screams cozy. I order a glass of white wine and reflect on my first day. Perhaps I am prolonging the evitability of returning to the strong scent of body odor waiting for me back at the hostel. Either way, I enjoy my wine and the kind waiter staff, along with a large bottle of water, before taking the bus back to the hostel.
An interesting ride back
The next part of the trip includes moving from train to train car to return to New Cross Station. I wait for the 453 bus, and only when it arrives is there no room.
The bus is stuffed like a big red burrito. There is not an inch of standing room left. Part of me just wants to squeeze myself in- like one more bean in the burrito, but the bus driver waves me away- saying no more.
The following bus isn’t coming for another fifteen minutes. Worried that I might have the same fate as the next bus- I go for the train.
Next, we get on the train. Be sure when you use your card to purchase a train ticket, you use the same card to get off, or else they will charge you a full fare. At first, the trains seemed tricky, but after the first day, I read the underground signs like a local. Now, I must resist the urge to say “cheers.”
Bedtime at the hostel
Arriving at New Cross station after a thirty-minute train commute, I walk a few blocks to my hostel. I can hear the loud music coming from the pub next to where I am staying. The crowd in the pub looked like something I might want to avoid since I was looking for the low-key side of London. Next time, I will venture onto the London party scene. For now, I want to shower and get some sleep.
Staying at the hostel makes washing my face and brushing my teeth difficult. I shuffle through my bag to find my toiletries and pajamas. The room sleeps eleven. Some in the room are asleep, and the lights are off. It makes digging around a cluttered suitcase even more challenging. Exhausted, I clean up before heading to bed. Ready and eager for another day in London.
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