Right around this time, in the year of our Lord 2012, my best friend Laurie Works and I were preparing to take a trip.
Not just any trip. An overseas trip. Our very first of its kind together, and my very first time going overseas EVER.
We had scrimped and saved and booked flights and took out loans and researched and squealed with excitement. It was really happening – 3 1/2 weeks in England, France, and the Czech Republic, with various side trips along the way.
Our first stop: London.
Because Laurie resides in the States, and I in Canada, we made arrangements to take different flights and then meet at our hostel in London. Because Laurie is the travel guru, the map-for-a-brain extraordinaire, with a nose for a good deal, I let her handle all of that while I sat back and tried to pack one suitcase and one backpack with a month’s necessities.
She sent me a link to a map that would take me straight from Heathrow Airport to our cute little hostel above a pub in downtown London. When I clicked on it, it said the map had expired, but once I refreshed it, there it was – no problem. I printed it out and added it to my collection of important papers hiding inside of a fanny pack that I would keep strapped to my person for the next 24 days. (I know. I’m awesome.)
Steve (who I had been dating for only 5 weeks at this point) took me to YVR Airport in Vancouver, told me he’d like to marry me so make sure I come home safely, and then sent me off through International Departures. I was thrumming with excitement and anticipation. (And a little sweaty from the vinyl fanny pack.)
The plane ride was unbelievable. For the next 9 hours, I watched movies, ate food, was pampered by stewardesses, and even relaxed enough to nap. I really wanted to practice my English accent with everyone around me, but even I knew that might be inappropriate.
When we touched down, I began to feel a slight pump of adrenaline and fear. I had everything I needed, right? If I got lost, there were about 1 million English-speaking people surrounding me. I would be fine.
After figuring out how the frack to choose and pay for the right metro card, I was off. I chuckled when I heard MIND THE GAP over the loudspeaker for the very first time. Even the automated voices are extremely polite, I thought. Mind the gap, dear, lest you find yourself crushed by a moving train, sadly.
At first glance, London didn’t look much different than Canada in the spring. It was raining, but I’d been smart enough to bring my umbrella, Elise.
Until I got off the Metro and realized I was NOT at home anymore. Cobblestone streets that made my suitcase wheels bump and topple like a skier on a mogul hill. Bright red double decker buses advertising musicals. Cigarettes on every street corner, whether in a mouth or literally on the street corner. Cabs and cars all driving down the gosh darn wrong side of the road. Crossing the street proved to be a challenge. If I was by myself, I nearly got run over and definitely got honked at, at least 3 times. If I was in a crowd of people, I was confused as they all started heading across the street BEFORE the lights said they could and DEFINITELY BEFORE the vehicles were at a full stop. Were they trying to get killed?
After about 30 minutes of walking, I reached the pub. I gave myself a high five at actually finding my destination, and prepared to give Laurie the biggest hug.
…the pub was completely empty. It was about one in the afternoon, so I guess that wasn’t too surprising. I wandered around for a moment, marveling at how a pub in London could look exactly the way I imagined it. Lots of dark wood, cushy lounge chairs that could swallow you whole, green soccer (er, FOOTBALL) tournament flags, old fashioned beer taps, and a beautiful, shiny bar.
As it turned out, the bartender was also the hostel front clerk. To my dismay and confusion, he told me that no one named Laurie Works had checked in there, and that she wasn’t even registered in the book.
We didn’t have phones for this trip, so I asked if I could use their wifi for a moment. My iPod touch was going to be my only form of contacting “my world” for the next few weeks.
Logging into Facebook, again to my dismay and confusion, I saw that Laurie had updated her status: “Landed in beautiful London and our hostel is awesome! Gonna go explore while waiting for my bestie Carly to get here!”
It was from 3 hours ago.
I messaged her, telling her that I WAS THE ONE at our hostel and WHERE ARE YOU – then I thanked the hostel clerk, and took my suitcase, my backpack and my umbrella back onto the rainy cobblestoned street.
I had been overseas for one hour, and I was already completely lost.