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Wanderlust Part 11: The Final Chapter

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.

I’m home!

Wanderlust Part 10: London

You’ve come this far, so don’t miss a moment of my Wanderlust recap!

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

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…

“Smile!”

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