Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Long Walk

After leaving our bags at with the hostel we decided not to waste our first day in the city. We headed back through the freezing streets and went back into the train station. We had thought about it, and decided that we would go to BUNAC (the company that we organised our visa’s with) and let them know we were here.

We consulted the huge and confusing tube map and figured out where we needed to go. We climbed on the circle line train and caught it to Edgware station and then changed to another circle line train that went the rest of the way past King Cross St Pancras to Farringdon. We swiped our Oyster Cards in their cute Ikea pouches and walked out of the station. It took us about 2.5 seconds to realise that we were completely turned around.

We’d heard people say that if you want to learn London don’t catch the tube. It turns out they were completely right. Travelling underground on a train plays havoc with your internal compass. We finally figured out where we had to go and turned left and headed up the road to find Bowling Green Lane. When we finally found it we went in and introduced ourselves to the girls in the office.

BUNAC has a great room filled with computers, printers, job boards and housing ad boards and we took it all in as they showed us around. We had decided to do our introduction talk with them after we came back from our holidays in Scotland and Europe. We partook in their free internet and then asked for a nice way to get down to Oxford St. We had been told there was some great shopping and we needed a few cheap basics, like clothes designed for hostile temperatures. The girl pointed out a shop called Primark and took the directions she’d given us as well as some maps of the central area of London. We’d killed an hour or so hanging around and BUNAC and it was even sunny when we headed out.

We walked for a little while and then realised that it was almost 1pm and we still hadn’t had any lunch. We came to a pub that looked fairly local and walked in to try out our first pub meal. In the end I chose the pie with vegies and chips and loved it. Drew didn’t have quite as much luck, but we were both happy to find that drinks were cheaper here (cheaper than Australia, not SE Asia). Drew had a beer while I had a Hot Chocolate hoping it would warm me up from the inside out. The sun might have been out, but you couldn’t even feel its warmth on your face. It was a most disconcerting feeling.

We finished our lunch and continued walking, following the directions till we found New Oxford St. We turned right and headed up a street that had a few office buildings and as we walked gradually more shops. We looked in the Carphone Warehouse (which doesn’t sell carphones, they do however sell mobile phones) and ended up heading to the old faithful Vodafone. We both picked up a sim and some credit and headed off.

The further along Oxford St we got the more crazy it got. There are hundreds of thousands of people all trying to shop there (Ok, it was three days before Christmas). I like shopping, but I’d never seen a crush like it. There are so many chain stores that by the time we found our way at the other end of Oxford St proper we had seen up to 6 of each chain, seriously!

We found the shop Primark that had been recommended to us and walked in to find a whole new world of cheap mass produced clothes. On the plus side compared to Australian stores they hadn’t seemed to have sacrificed quality along with the cheaper prices. We picked up some gloves and some long sleeve tops and after waiting in a line that wound half way around the store we escaped the craziness and made it to the Marble Arch corner of Hyde Park.

At this point we’d be walking for about an two hours and the sun was starting to head to the horizon, that if I’m completely honest it hadn’t gotten far from anyway. We walked across the park watching people walk their dogs, which fell into two categories; normal dogs and dogs wearing clothes that probably cost more than anything I was wearing. We smiled and marvelled at the craziness of finding ourselves walking across a snow covered Hyde Park in the middle of London when we’d been in the heat of Bangkok just 24 hours before.

On the other side of the park there was a winter wonderland that had a whole lot of rides and an ice skating rink. We decided that we’d come back and explore it more when we hadn’t be walking for two and half hours and didn’t have sore feet. We walked back towards Queens Park Gate which is the gate nearest the hostel we were staying in. By the time we made it home we were completely buggered. Our feet hurt and we didn’t want to have to move again.

We checked in and almost cried when we found out that we’d be staying on the 4th floor. The forth floor in a hostel that was in a old building in Kensington! That meant that the last flight of stairs was almost a ladder for servants only! Ah, our poor feet. We headed upstairs and practically fell onto the bed, after our bad nights sleep on the plane the night before and the extreme time zone change we were knackered.

Unfortunately it was still early, we’d promised ourselves to stay up until 9pm to adjust to the time zone. There was also the issue of dinner. We trudged back down the stairs knowing that meant we would have to go back up them later, and inquired at reception for local restaurants. The nearest pub was around the corner, a really nice old typical English pub with a slight air of snobbery given the neighbourhood. We ordered the Sunday Roast, which was dry and disappointing.

We headed back to the hostel and found a comfortable spot on the couches in the common room. Couches are pretty rare in Asia, where they tend to be made out of bamboo rather than big soft cushions. It was so relaxing to veg out in front of a TV and pretty soon we were nodding off. Once it was near enough to 9pm to make excuses to ourselves, we gathered up our spare energy and climbed the stairs to bed.