The plan for our second day in London was to visit the British Museum. The place was a fair distance away from our hotel, but J used his City Mapper app to figure out the Tube system, so we put on our confident faces and headed towards London Bridge station.
We already had prepaid Oyster cards, and had watched at least a dozen YouTube videos over the last several months explaining how to get around London. We figured that between the two of us, the City Mapper app, and the station’s maps and display screens, we’d easily figure out which train to board.
Before I continue, I should explain that in our hometown of Pittsburgh, public transportation is somewhat of an enigma. We have public buses, but they’re inconvenient. We have a railway system called the T, but its accessibility is laughable compared to London’s Tube and New York City’s subways.
Although we located our current and intended destination, it took us forever to figure out which line and train we needed. Then once we figured that out, we couldn’t physically find the track. Every board we looked at did not list the northern line. We eventually ended up asking someone to point us in the right direction.
After we found our first train, making the connection to the next train was a nightmare. It was hotter than hell on the car itself and in the tunnels and stairways, and I could not believe the sheer amount of people and the lengths of the passageways. I felt like we were mice lost in a giant, un-ventilated maze as we wound around corners, rode countless escalators, and hurried up and down half a dozen set of concrete stairs. For the first time in my life, I experienced claustrophobia. At one point I literally felt like the walls were closing in on us and we were never going to see daylight again.
Once we finally emerged on the street, we promptly got lost again trying to find the museum. The walking app on our phone was taking forever to load, and by the time it caught up with our location, we had missed several turns and had to back track a couple of times. As if this weren’t frustrating enough, London was experiencing its hottest October in over a hundred years, and our stressed, curvy/brawny, American bodies were sweating in the uncommon sun.
Unfortunately things did not improve once we found the museum. The place was absolutely crawling with visitors. Every exhibit was almost impossible to see because of huge groups of people crowded around each artifact and display case. We did manage to get a few good pictures and see some cool items, but it was also extremely hot inside the building and our patience had already gone out the window hours ago.
After a quick snack in the beautiful (but hot) atrium, we decided to make our way back to the hotel. The Tube was a tad bit easier to navigate the second time around, but at this point we were both exhausted and sweaty, and I had no less than three blisters on each foot from doing so much walking. The $90 Dansko walking shoes I’d purchased to try to curb my plantar fasciitis were NOT doing their job.
We did pause long enough to stop at the (now open) Borough Market where I indulged in a giant, steaming serving of creamy mac and chicken and a fresh, cool glass of sangria. J enjoyed mac and pork with a beer, and we ate in the crowded shadow of Southwark Cathedral while resting our tired feet. After purchasing some cheesecake and brownies for dessert later, we headed back to the hotel to take a long nap.
Feeling refreshed a few hours later, we decided on pizza for dinner, The restaurant was housed just down the street from our hotel in an old building with low ceilings, a wood burning oven in the back, and soft lighting. I ordered a glass of wine and a basil mozzarella pie, and we sat back and relaxed in the cozy atmosphere as we waited for our food.
Shortly after our food was served, an older gentleman was seated at the next table, and we got to talking once we realized we were all Americans. As we dined on our delicious pizza, we discussed his frequent trips to the city for business, and he gave us some recommendations on “must sees” during our vacation. He introduced himself as M, and we talked about American football, his season tickets for the Giants, and the pros and cons of paying extra for business class seats on airlines. It didn’t take long for me to realize that M was from a whole different world – he’d traveled the globe several times, his wife had a horse, and he’d been working on Wall Street and witnessed 9/11 firsthand. We laughed when we discovered we were staying at the same hotel, then shook hands and wished each other well after we finished eating. As J and I walked back to our hotel in the chilly air, we speculated how much money our new friend must make in a year, knowing full well that it was unlikely the two of us would ever see that much cash in our lifetime. Yet there we were, three Americans in the same foreign city for two different reasons, staying at the same hotel, eating the same food, chatting casually about life in the States and tourist attractions in London.
These thoughts stayed with me as J settled in to watch some TV before bed, and I felt the need to take my notebook and jot some thoughts down in the quiet hotel lobby. There, I grabbed a warm mug of coffee, settled into one of the cozy booths, and scribbled down some observations while I listened to the soft music coming over the speakers and the crackling of the fireplace. I thought about how the world at that moment seemed simultaneously vast and tiny – we were so far from home, and M’s life was so different from ours, yet we found ourselves hailing from similar parts of the globe and enjoying the same city.
As I wrote, I found myself getting a bit down. Maybe it was because I was comparing my life to M’s. Maybe it was because I found myself wondering if there was any way in hell he needed a writer for whatever prosperous business he operated, then feeling foolish at the mere thought. Maybe it was because the hour was relatively early, but the long, stressful day left us tired and worn out. Maybe it was because I was in freaking London and I was sitting in an empty lobby, scribbling illegibly in a notebook, hoping against hope that some random millionaire would someday pay me to write for a living.
I think I felt like I was wasting my time since there was still so much to see and do, but then I realized that I was, in fact, on vacation, and part of being on vacation means relaxing. And part of being a writer means writing. So I recorded my thoughts and feelings, sipped my latte, and took in my surroundings, from the inviting yet unfamiliar scent of the hotel to the volumes of classic literature haphazardly lining the lobby’s bookshelves and smiling at the adorable owl statues from across the room. I needed time to refresh.
Tomorrow would be another day.