We landed in London at 10:30 after a sleepless night on the plane. By that time, we meandered our way through the UK border, which was a two-hour time increment. It was so strange seeing people from all over the world speaking different languages. Despite cultural differences, they all shared a similar position as us- either extremely weary or overly anxious to officially claim their stake in London.
We hopped on the train to Paddington station from an underground terminal at the airport. The damp, cool atmosphere felt so much more refreshing then the circulated air we had been breathing for six hours even. As the train sur- faced above the streets, we gazed at the new world we were embarking. Our jaws dropped at the slightest differences, such as the indigenous trees of the area and the local cars on the street. Even their McDonald’s was more civilized than any fast food restaurant I’d seen.
Once we arrived at Paddington station, we sensed the urgency of civilians dodging us and our suitcases. Everyone had somewhere to be. Coming from a small rural community, it felt uncomfortable but exhilarating, we were ready to explore Europe.
With our luggage in tow, we caught the nearest taxi. Although I could hardly understand our driver with his East London accent, he took interest in where we were originally from and asked several questions about the weather. It was small talk, of course, but I was hoping that we weren’t the only ones who were completely fascinated with foreigners.
Sure, the English wake up every morning and go to work just as we do, but what made them different? What made them so keen on fashion or silent unless they had some- thing quite important to share?
The taxi ride was quite fascinating. We were on the wrong side of the road with the wrong clothes on our backs in the wrong part of town. Everything was so fancy. Rod iron gates, weeping willows, and red phone booths lined the streets. And that’s when reality slapped me in the face. From the outside, our hotel looked royal with a checkered patio and glowing blue lights at the entrance. e woman at the front desk started by letting us know that cleaning services were available every three days. She handed us our keys, warning not to keep them close to our phones or they may remove the key code. She even offered to keep our keys at the front desk for us. Not suspicious at all. As we turned to go up to our rooms, she informed us that free continental breakfast would be served in the basement from 7-9 a.m.
With our thirty pound suitcases behind us, we endeavored the most challenging three floors ever. One body’s width, we squeezed our way up to the third floor and navigated our rooms. Mine was on an elevated corridor within walking distance from the toilet and bath rooms. My expectations of quaint, English living quarters were shattered. I walked into a room the size of my walk in closet from back home. Wow. Us Americans were spoiled for sure. e twin size bed had two sheets and a pillow. Across the room sat a dripping faucet head,
a heater, and a mirror. Next to my bed, a cabinet served as a closet. I sat all my belongings on the floor and did what Adam told me not to do: lay on the bed. Was I in a shithole? Yes. But I was in a European shithole. And I had it all to myself. And it was fabulous.
I know this won’t be my last trip. I have ten years left before my passport expires. I don’t want to waste it on a cruise to the Bahamas or some fancy resort. I’ve loved everything about this trip. The historical landmarks, exhibits, and museums have all been educational and interesting. The authentic and not so authentic places we ventured to: pubs, markets, restaurants, and neighborhoods have guided me toward a different, more unique way to travel. The culture shock may have been my favorite experience. I have never surrounded myself with such a diverse group of nationalities in my life. It’s been incredible, nerve-rack- ing, and embarrassing at times, but it’s far more exciting than feeling comfortable. I hope to never be comfortable with feeling comfortable.