So, as I was traveling around North Carolina and preparing to leave for school, I was spending time with an acquaintance who had a slightly more cynical view of my then-upcoming adventure than I did. Our conversation was a downer in general, but the real gem of the conversation was this (language alert):
“You may think you love London, but just wait until that filthy bitch eats all your money and rains on you all day one day, making all the trains late and ruining your shoes. See how much you love her then.”
You see, this friend had studied abroad in London but had, for some reason, failed to realize what literally every website or person that knows anything about London will tell you: London is expensive, and it rains a lot in London. So she had gone expecting something entirely different than what she got, and it left her a little bit… bitter. Okay, so, that’s an understatement.
When my mom and I visited in June, we were #blessed with incredibly perfect weather. It was about 72 fahrenheit an sunny all three days. Then, when I arrived, there were four more unseasonably sunny and warm days. But unlike my friend, I did my research. Shoot, I’ve been doing research on this city since I was nine years old. So I knew that I would experience rain, and I was prepared for the fact that things would cost more than I was used to.
Then yesterday happened.
I’m currently planning a backpacking trip to Wales. They’ve just completed a trail system that follows the entire coast. It’s not a particularly strenuous trip, but it’s supposed to be absolutely beautiful, so I’ll be spending two nights camping near Pembrokeshire and then a day and night in Cardiff. If you know of anyone in either of those places or have any recommendations, I’d love to hear from you!
Anyway, I brought my tent and backpack with me, but I needed a sleeping bag and mat. I found a website where I could get both of those things at a really insane discount. Since I still don’t know how mail and packages are going to work in my dorm, I would have to pick it up in-store all the way on the northern end of London, but with the daily caps on public transportation costs, it would still cost me only about half of what I would have paid at REI, so I went for it.
I had the route all mapped out.
You see, London is divided into six zones (really nine, but no one really counts the last three as London), starting with Zone 1 in the middle and radiating outward like a target. I live in Zone 3, and this store was in Zone 5 (though on the opposite side), so I found a route that would keep me between those zones so that the cap on my costs would be lower and I would save money.
This is where everyone who has lived in London probably starts laughing at me.
I just typed out the whole story, and it makes no sense for someone who isn’t familiar with the tube, so here’s the jist: I ended up traveling between six different zones that day and taking a form of transportation that negated my daily cap, so I spent over 4.5 hours and £20 (about $31) just to get to and from this store; a journey that should have cost me two hours and £8.
The part of town where this store is located is not exactly my favorite part of London that I’ve seen. It was grimy and bleak (which, yes, I know some would count the whole of London as bleak, but I do not, and I thought that this place was BLEAK, so you can imagine just how bleak it was); the wind was extra strong and would normally have been tempered by the shops along the road, but there was a huge block of building works still working on the foundations, so the wind was fierce.
Add to that a driving rain, and it sounds quite pleasant, right? Then, on the way back from the store to the station, as I had a massive shopping bag in one hand while wrangling my umbrella with the other, the wind ripped my umbrella out of my hand and directly over the road into the building works site. I waited to see if someone would bring it out, but no one did.
Today actually wasn’t much better…
The rain was even worse than yesterday, so I bought a new umbrella this morning just to lose it as I hopped from one registration station to the next. I tried to help out a lady at the bus stop who was confused about how to get to the university (and that’s the only thing I knew, so I was super excited to be able to help) just to have her tell me to mind my own business.
You could say that London has not been particularly nice to me the last couple of days…
…but I’m still absolutely enchanted by this city.
That’s how I know this is right. More specifically, that’s how I know that my friend was wrong. Because London did EXACTLY what she said it would do, short of ruining my shoes (though they did get really, really wet), but I still found myself smiling out the window on the bus as we passed over Hammersmith Bridge. I was still so happy when I was awoken by the construction outside but then remembered where I was. I still got goosebumps when the clerk at Sainsbury’s welcomed me to the UK this afternoon.
And tonight I got to sit down with my teachers and meet my fellow students, and I got to talk about books and hear about what I’ll be writing. I got to call one of my favorite writers by her first name at her insistence. I was congratulated by a woman who, before, was just a repeatedly highlighted name in one of my textbooks from undergrad.
Guys, I keep waiting for this feeling to go away and the cynicism to set it, but it hasn’t. Before yesterday, I would have said that that was because I hadn’t yet found a reason to be cynical, but I’m going to be honest and say that I could probably find a few if I wanted to.
So, in the battle of Sam vs. the City this week, the City won. It won my heart, over and over again.