I didn’t know what to expect when I first boarded my Norwegian Air flight at LAX. I had booked through the airline because it was a low-cost carrier, but I had never actually heard of the airline before I started looking for flights. I had a seat in the very back of the airplane, and though the seats there appeared to be a little cramp, I’m not a big person so it was fine for me. I was a little worried about having to be stuck on a plane for 10-and-a-half hours, but I have been on long plane rides before (when I had studied abroad in Shanghai) and the seats luckily had a touch screen with different options for movies, television shows, music, and games. No trivia though, but I’ll let that slide.
To get me into the mood for the first two countries I was planning to visit on this trip, I actually ended up watching The Imitation Game and Moulin Rouge. I also listened to Bastille’s “Bad Blood” and Ed Sheeran’s “X”, partly because I like their music, but also because they were English musicians. I have strange rituals and put more meaning than I should in some things.
It was a little after 3 in the afternoon when I finally arrived at London Gatwick airport. The sky was cloudy and pretty gray, but it wasn’t raining. Border control went by pretty smoothly and I got my passport stamped for the first time in five years, which was awesome. I only packed enough to do all my traveling with one carry-on sized bag, so I skipped baggage claim and went to buy a ticket for a Southern line train to London Bridge station.
I stared out the window the whole time that I was on that train, just thinking about how I was actually thousands of miles away from home and fulfilling something that I had wanted to do for the longest time.
At London Bridge station, I had to take the Jubilee line to Swiss Cottage station, where I would be able to find my hostel. This was my first venture into the London Underground and it was crowded but pretty efficient. I wasn’t really accustomed to the idea of having an Oyster card yet (I really should have done more thorough research), so I bought a ticket during what was apparently peak time and doing that is so expensive! My ticket from London Bridge to Swiss Cottage was £4.80, which is the equivalent of about $7.41 USD. That same amount could buy a day pass for LA’s metro system (though LA’s system is not nearly as extensive as London’s, but still).
The Swiss Cottage station was conveniently just a short walk away from the hostel that I would be staying at for next six days — Palmer’s Lodge Swiss Cottage. I checked in and was given a top bunk in a 12-bed room in the basement level. It might sound a little dreary, but the room was actually pretty spacious and my bed had its own light, an outlet, and a curtain, which was amazing. There was a locker underneath the beds to keep your things, though you need to bring your own lock (which I did) to use it. I had only stayed in a hostel once before (during a weekend trip to Beijing) but I knew everyone in the room I was staying in. Seeing this bed made me feel much more comfortable and it was a good first bed for my trip.
I didn’t have any British pounds on me, but luckily there was a Barclays bank and ATM nearby. Barclays is one of Bank of America’s international partner banks, similar to how I was able to use China Construction Bank in China. You don’t get charged an international access fee, but you can still get charged an international transaction fee of 3% of what you withdraw. You can read more about the Global ATM Alliance here.
It was already getting dark and I was feeling tired from the flight, getting to the hostel from the airport, and unpacking, so I planned to just take it easy the rest of the day. I did start to get pretty hungry, but rather than hunt for a restaurant nearby, I went to a Sainsbury’s supermarket and bought a ham hock and extra mature cheddar cheese sandwich with some Walkers (British version of Lay’s) cheddar and onion crisps and a Ribena blackcurrant juice drink as part of a meal deal for £3 (or ~$4.63 USD). I would be taking advantage of this meal deal pretty often actually and I would also be falling in love with blackcurrant juice to the point that Ribena became my go-to drink in London.
I brought all this back with me to the hostel and ate in the lounge while I went over what I wanted to see and do during my time in this city. I had planned on visiting specific places, but I also left a lot of open time in my schedule for things that I just end up coming across and that proved to be very helpful, as you will see in future posts.
Honestly, my first day in London wasn’t too eventful, but it didn’t need to be. I didn’t want to make this a trip where I had packed everything in and didn’t have time to rest because that just leads to burnout and I didn’t want that to happen to me. I would still have a lot of time to do things, and if I didn’t, well, that was okay too.
After finishing up my meal, I went to bed, excited to start my first full day in London and my first day actually exploring the city.