London. Living the dream on a 14-hour layover. I could bore you with how much I love the city, its people (and their accents) and its diversity, but let’s be real. What’s worth reading is the weirdness that went down.
1. Passport Control. I finally arrive at Heathrow. I haven’t showered in two days, but I’m fresh of the plane, wide-eyed and ready to take on the city. I’m here all of five minutes when I almost get kicked out. Okay, that’s over-dramatic, but I did unlatch a fence to help a lady and her two small children get in the family lane at passport control, and then I couldn’t relatch it so I kinda panicked. Luckily two older women from Mississippi helped me before an agent walked by on patrol. The Australians in front of me thought it was funny. Thanks guys for judging all of the United States on a moment of awkwardness.
2. Streets. Everyone knows that in England they drive on “the wrong side of the road.” However I didn’t know that the street gutters would give me directions. Like the famous MIND THE GAP messages in the underground, the curbs tell you which way to look before crossing the street. When I first saw this, I thought, “Thanks Westminster. Because I haven’t known how to cross the street properly since, I dunno, kindergarten.” But after a close call with a double-decker I realised why: it’s not Right. Left. Right and go. It’s Left. Right. Left.
3. Wifi. Exploring without data is very difficult! I actually had to talk to people. How did they do it before in the Dark Ages!? At first I figured I could find a Starbucks (cos there are 20 on each block in New York) and use their wifi. Apparently the English version of Starbs is Pret à manger. But it’s not on every corner. So I connected to wifi a grand total of three times over a distance of 20 miles. I now know what it’s like to be off the grid. Sidenote: good luck charging your phone without a European power adapter. USB charging ports are rarer than Starbucks.
4. Food. Aside from my lactose intolerance, I will eat almost anything. But without wifi, finding a place to eat that’s fast but not junk food was a challenge. I wanted to go to Nando’s but chickened out when I found out it was a sit down restaurant. I don’t want to be that one random person eating alone in a formal setting. So I opted for Whole Foods cafe. I should have taken Lyle Lovett’s advice: don’t eat Mexican east of the Mississippi.
5. Losses in translation. I’d like to think that I understand British English better than the average American. And I think that theory holds true, but the problem was they couldn’t understand me. I really hope that I looked so much like a local that they just expected a British accent, not that my Southern American accent is that thick. But there’s grace; near the end of the day I was shocked to hear an agent at the airport speak in a British accent, and I had been hearing it all day.
Sidenote: interacting with British Airways flight attendants is hilarious, especially when they come by your seat every five minutes to serve you food. “Madam, would you like some tea?” (That story deserves its own post, so TBC…)
6. 221B Baker Street. Near the end of the day I hoped to stop by Sherlock Holmes’ house on my way back to LHR. I knew it would be a little difficult to find because Westminster purposely gave it 221B instead of the house number it really should have, which is something like 274. (When Doyle wrote the books Baker Street houses only went up to 100.) Anyway, after 10 minutes of frantically walking around Baker Street Station, I gave up. But I did manage to get these: