This is it! The last part of the Wanderlust journey. Have you read them all yet?
Wanderlust Part 1: Hong Kong and London
Wanderlust Part 2: Paris, Swiss Alps
Wanderlust Part 3: Florence and Rome
Wanderlust Part 4: Rome to Venice
Wanderlust Part 5: Salzburg and Vienna
Wanderlust Part 6: Budapest to Krakow
Wanderlust Part 7: Krakow, Auschwitz and Prague
Wanderlust Part 8: Berlin and Amsterdam
Wanderlust Part 9: Amsterdam to London
Wanderlust Part 10: London
Day 32: January 25th, London
Today I’m basically living out a dream I’ve had since 1999. I’m standing outside the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio, about to go in and take the tour.
I am one of the original Potter generation. I was five when Philosopher’s Stone was released and have been a die-hard Potterhead from day one. My love for the Wizarding World has only grown as I grew up. I may be in my 20s, but anything Potter related (except the Cursed Child!) and I’m practically swooning. You have to get up pretty early to out-Potter me.
The exhibition is basically just props, costumes and behind-the-scenes of the films, but I don’t care. I’m like a kid in Honeydukes, running between sections, spotting the hidden Snitches, getting the chance to ride on a Nimbus 2000, learning wand choreography, and FINALLY tasting Butterbeer.
I finish up in the gift shop, picking up a pair of Deathly Hallows earrings, and a tshirt so nobody can ever doubt that I am a Ravenclaw.
But even the Wizarding World can’t stop reality forever. I have hit the 36 hour countdown. Less than two days until I’m on the plane home. I spend the evening checking into my flights and working out how I’m getting to Heathrow Airport. I need to make the most of the time I have left.
Day 33: January 26th, London
My extended family take me down to the town of Bath, since Stonehenge isn’t going to be a possibility on this trip. Nor is Stratford-upon-Avon, the Globe Theatre, or Buckingham Palace. I didn’t get back to Paris either. But this just gives me more reason than ever to come back.
Bath is a very pretty town, full of sandstone and the most English scenery imaginable. I get to visit the Roman Baths, full of history, and have lunch at an adorable cafe, while teaching the cousins some Australian slang. Personally, I find British slang/insults far more entertaining. Each to their own.
I take the 3 hour train trip back to Paddington, then to Whitechapel and back to the hostel. I’ve got something booked for the evening, but with a couple of hours to kill, it’s really time that I start packing up everything since I have to check out at 10am tomorrow.
It’s pretty tedious stuff. I reorganise my packing cubes, throw away empty bottles/unnecessary packaging, and pack my Disney tote with flight essentials. Finally I make sure my flight outfit is on top. A quick weight check, and I’m only a couple of kilos heavier than I was when I left. Yay for packing light and not buying useless souvenirs.
I only have one night left, and I brave not only the cold, but a Jack The Ripper tour. You’d think it would be scary, but the tour guide was beyond hilarious. He’s written several books on the subject, so we learn all the gory details of each murder, possible related cases and the various (often crazy) theories as to who the Ripper was, but the mystery remains. Thanks RipperVision for a great night in a great city!
With a 24 hour flight home looming in the distance, I head back to the hostel. There’s an Australia Day party going on in the bar. I figure why not, and duck inside. It’s pretty easy to spot the Australians. They’re teaching the Americans our drinking games and generally being the life of the party.
I have a number of free drink vouchers that I’m never going to use on my own, and I ask the group if they want any.
I’m an instant hero.
Day 34: January 27th, London. Last Day!
The next morning feels strange. I’ve been away from home for so long, and feel like I’ve grown so much older in these five weeks. I’m in a pattern of exploration now. I want to go home, but at the same time I don’t. It’s an odd sensation.
But I don’t have a lot of time to dwell on this. A final check of the room, and then I go downstairs to check out. I leave my bag in the holding room and head outside on a mission to visit a few last minute places.
First stop: Madame Tussauds. The famous wax museum is very crowded. More crowded than almost anywhere else I’ve been on this trip. Honestly, I could take or leave this place. People aren’t exactly behaving well. Literally shoving to get a photo with a wax model. I get a decent shot with Benedict Cumberbatch, but I mainly came to express my distaste towards a certain orange President. I only last 30 minutes at Madame Tussauds before I can’t hack it anymore.
Down the road I find the Sherlock Holmes statue and 221b Baker Street. When I walk into the bookshop, one of the workers sees how excited I look and sends me off to the ‘real’ 221b Baker Street where the actual series is filmed. It’s a ten minute walk away. There’s nobody there but me, and I have lunch in the cafe next door. It’s awesome.
I’m running out of time, so I hurry to the nearest Underground station and get the train to Kings Cross, for obvious reasons. Sadly, the line is far too long for me to justify waiting to take a picture at Platform 9 3/4. I have to satisfy myself with the Potter shop next to the trolley.
And finally, I race back to Westminster, walk over the bridge one last time and get on the London Eye. It finally re-opened yesterday, and I figure it’s a great final activity before I go to the airport. But the line is so long I’m seriously fearing whether I’ll be able to do it before I have to head back to the hostel to collect my bag. The London Eye is ok, I guess. But it’s just a giant Ferris Wheel, and I can’t say I’d be rushing to do it again.
Now it’s time to go back to Whitechapel. I collect my suitcase and begin the trip to Heathrow Airport. I’m not going to have the disastrous experience I did when I arrived, because the Heathrow Express is running.
I catch the train to Paddington station. I have a little more time than I thought since I’m early to a fault, so I go into the Paddington bear shop, and take a picture of the Paddington Statue with my beloved travelling bear Cecil.
The Heathrow Express is smooth and quick, and very quiet. Heathrow is crowded and bustling with movement.
I don’t check in straight away. I’m still heavily layered up in thermals, about to go home to an Australian summer. I drag my suitcase into the largest vacant bathroom stall and change completely. My boots, down coat, thermals, turtleneck, scarf and gloves go into the bag. I won’t be needing them anymore. My flight outfit is waiting on top. A loose t-shirt, stretch hybrid pants, my blue sweater, and sneakers. Comfortable, warm enough for the arctic chill I’m about to face and presentable enough.
The flight to Hong Kong is uneventful in the best way. The night has fallen and after dinner is over I recline my seat by a couple of centimetres. I’m rewarded with an swift and instant kick to the back of my chair. Not having any desire to become a viral sensation, I move back up without a word. 11 hours, 40 minutes and I do not sleep at all.
The plane lands early evening in Hong Kong. I don’t need to worry about my luggage but I do need to go through customs. I’m hardly conscious at this point, but suddenly the security guard makes me snap awake.
“What’s that in your bag?”
My mind is instantly in panic mode. What could I possibly have done? I double and triple checked my carry on. My liquids were all fine, or were they? I don’t use drugs….but what if….
He pulls out…my book.
“You read? Nice to see a young girl read,”
My knees are weak with relief. “Yes!” I stammer.
“Don’t see much of that now. You keep reading, ok?”
There will be no exploring the city today. My stopover is about 5 hours. There’s just time to eat, and get some rest in the relaxation lounge. Before I know it, it’s time to board the flight to Sydney. Another 9 hours til I’m home.
As I take my seat, the little girl next to me is quietly sketching away. I don’t pay much attention to her until she slides me the paper. “It’s you. Because you are very beautiful,”
My heart melts. Her name is Angelina. She 12 and can sketch as well as any anime artist. She has some serious skills. She draws me another picture later in the flight. I’ll cherish them forever.
The plane is delayed for about an hour on the tarmac due to some technical/logistical error. And again, I can’t sleep. At around 3am the kids have fallen asleep so I decided to finally watch the movie IT. What I don’t realise is…the kids wake up. I found this out during the infamous jump scare. The less said the better.
Morning comes, and the plane descends into Sydney. I see beaches, sparkling blue water, sunshine, Sydney Harbour. There’s nothing quite like it. Angelina gives me a hug. “I will miss you very much,” I’ll miss her too. The flight lands with a thud, later than scheduled but I’m not too bothered by this. I’m back.
I stagger off the aircraft and into the terminal. I get through immigration without a lick of trouble but have to wait an uncomfortably long time for my bag at the carousel. Customs merely glances at my landing card and sends me on my way.
I walk down the hallway towards arrivals, dragging my blue suitcase behind me. A rush of emotions threatens to engulf me. 34 days, 18 cities, 13 countries, 13 hostels, 7 currencies, 5 weeks, 3 shows, 1 suitcase.
Deciding to travel alone was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. But I did it. I’ve navigated public transport systems in foreign languages. I’ve walked through ancient structures. I’ve seen sights I’ve dreamed of for years. I’ve fallen in love with Europe and left pieces of myself everywhere I went.
But here I am after the fact. Holy hell, I actually did all those things.
Just before I go through the final door, I catch a glimpse of my exhausted face reflected in the glass. I haven’t slept for more than a day. I’m starting to sweat in the heat. But as I step into the bright arrival hall and see the smiling face of my friend, I feel prouder than I’ve ever felt before.