You’ve come this far, so don’t miss a moment of my Wanderlust recap!
Day 29: January 22nd, London
When I wake up, there’s borderline commotion in my dorm. The lights are still not working, despite multiple trips to reception. Nobody likes showering in the dark. Do not try it at home. So management moves everyone into different rooms, and I’m given a couple of breakfast vouchers and free drink vouchers for the bar.
My winter boots have been thoroughly soaked in the rain yesterday. I stuff them with paper towels and let them sit under the heater in the dorm. Today, I’m wearing my sneakers. Thankfully it’s about 14ºC outside, quite pleasant compared to the rest of the trip.
I’m well rested, and VERY eager to cram in as much of this city as I possibly can. Since it’s just me, I can do whatever I like, and stay however long or short I wish.
I make a plan of where I’m going to go today, and tonight I’ll see my first West End show.
First stop, Oxford Street, which of course has a very different reputation back home. I was thinking I may do some shopping here, but once I arrive I feel more like a hot chocolate. At the Starbucks, I experience the only time on my trip (and quite likely my entire life) that someone can’t understand my accent. I’m not kidding. In the heart of London of all places, the Starbucks employee can’t make out what I’m saying. I didn’t think my accent was that strong. I’m far from ‘ocker’. Quite the opposite; I’m continually being mistaken for British. Not just in Europe, but also when I visited the USA in 2016.
I wander along Oxford Street, but it’s not really for me. After a little while, I begin walking to Trafalgar Square, past a number of theatres including Her Majesty’s, where Phantom of the Opera has been playing since 1986. Trafalgar Square is somewhat crowded. I’m prepared to bet it’s far worse in summer. And frankly, thanks to Blackadder, I can’t take the Duke of Wellington seriously.
It’s time for a break. After learning that the legends of British fish and chips are true, I keep walking along to Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben which is also under renovations. The London Eye is too, but will be open the day before I go home.
There’s still more I want to see and do. Next on my list is the Imperial War Museum. I could easily take the Underground but I decide I’ll see more of the city if I walk. An hour later I seriously regret that. The museum is seriously worth it though. With each floor dedicated to a different conflict, my inner history geek is more than satisfied.
I’m curious to see what Harrods is like, but I stupidly walk there too. And my feet are literally screaming in protest because my sneakers are nowhere near as supportive as my boots. When I arrive at Harrods, I want to leave immediately because it absolutely sucks. But my feet hurt too much and I have to sit down for a few minutes. No more walking. As soon as I’m capable of standing, I take the Tube back to Leicester Square, have dinner and make my way to St Martin’s Theatre for The Mousetrap. Running for 66 years and counting, I’m watching performance #27, 192. Yes, I’ve read the script. Yes, I already know the twist ending. No, none of that matters. It’s a wonderful production. Afterwards I’m the only one at the stage door and get the cast’s autographs.
Today’s been a good day.
Day 30: January 23rd, London
When I wake up the next morning, my legs and feet are incredibly sore. I’m also absolutely worn out. The past four and a half weeks of non-stop movement and adventures have finally caught up with me.
I ring home, and Mum suggests I have a more relaxing day. My boots are dry at last, so I won’t be punishing my limbs by walking too much today.
I catch the Underground to South Kensington and begin the five minute walk to the Natural History Museum. But literally next door, I spot the Science Museum. I’m reminded a little bit of Questacon back home. I have the whole day, and since museums in London are free, I see no reason not to go inside. So I do. It’s a fun place with a number of incredibly cool exhibits and free WiFi, but I have to admit it’s more geared towards children. Plus there’s no rollercoaster simulator, guillotine simulator, earthquake house, or free fall slide. I don’t spend as much time in there as I thought I would, but I don’t regret going either.
The Natural History Museum on the other hand, is absolutely magic. I almost lose track of the hours, walking through the massive and varied exhibitions. I recognise some from a charming video my brother and I adored when we were kids (Dinosaurs: Fun, Fact and Fantasy). The display of Australian animals makes me smile, especially seeing everyone else ooh and ahh over the kangaroo. If only people understood how aggressive they are.
You could spend days in the Natural History Museum, but I manage to get through the entire thing, satisfactorily, on my own in about three to four hours.
That evening, I take in my second West End show, The Play That Goes Wrong. It recently played in Sydney, and I missed it. I’m not missing it here. I have a good seat in the stalls, and in a happy coincidence, one of the boys from my Topdeck tour is seated right next to me.
I will not dare spoil the genius of The Play that Goes Wrong. I will say that I was honestly sobbing with laughter by intermission. But to reveal anything further would be a major disservice to the piece.
However, not all is well. My anxiety disorder is bubbling beneath the surface, and on my way back to Whitechapel I’m making a massive effort to keep it under control.
But it can’t last.
I’m standing at the entrance to Leicester Square station, figuring out which platform to go to, when I hear the word every female is all too familiar with…
I ignore it.
“Hey honey, give me a smile!”
I ignore it again.
“Smile! Smile sweetie! Smile! SMILE!”
I’ve had enough and look around. There’s a young homeless man sitting by the entrance, though very obviously in his right mind. He and the man handing out the evening paper are smirking at me.
“Give us a smile!” Homeless Guy says again (he’s persistent, I’ll give him that).
“No,” I snap and turn back to the sign.
“Aw, come on!” he grins and spreads his arms wide.
Maybe it’s the panic attack threatening to emerge any second. Maybe it’s the memories of those revolting waiters in Venice, or the creep in Prague. Maybe I’m overtired, or I’ve just had enough at this point. Whatever the reason, my temper flares.
“WHY?!? WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO YOU THAT I SMILE, HUH?” I roar back in his stupid face. “WHAT DO YOU CARE SO MUCH?”
He considers for a moment. Clearly he hadn’t expected this kind of reaction. “Because…life is….great?”
“That’s not a good enough reason. Screw that!” I give him the most acid-filled look I can muster. Newspaper Man shoves a paper in my face. Big mistake.
“F*** off!” I storm down the stairs onto the platform. A second later my blood pressure drops and I realise. I just yelled at a catcaller. And I’m still alive.
It’s a miracle.
Day 31: January 24th, London
Today, I’ve got some exciting plans. First stop, the London Dungeon. This is one of my favourite activities on the whole trip. It’s an interactive theatrical show which takes you through 1000 years of British history. Yeah, Sweeney Todd didn’t really exist. But still. It’s great fun. Just the right amount of creepy and hilarious. The actors really embrace the gore of Britain’s often gruesome history, and you can’t help but enjoy every minute. Even though I scream a couple of times.
That night I have a lovely dinner with a dear friend from university, who I haven’t seen in 3 years. Bec and I studied musical theatre together and she moved to London in 2014. A few members of our class were also expats, but she’s the only one still there and doing quite well for herself. We have a lot to catch up on, and I’m amazed at her British/Australian hybrid accent. She’s coming back to visit Australia for Christmas in 2018, so it’s not a forever goodbye.
I quickly go back to the hostel and put a few things in my Disney tote bag I use on flights. My suitcase goes securely in my locker. I take the Underground to Paddington Station and then catch a connecting train to Swindon, where my extended family are.
Next time: Part 11/11 The Final Chapter