Just because you own a map, or two (or three)…
Just because you’ve read Frommer’s and Steves’ and have an excellent sense of direction…
Just because you’ve prepped for weeks doesn’t mean you’ll be able to find your way around the streets of London on foot without seriously pissing off whoever you’re sight-seeing with!
Actual conversation between me and my hubby:
“Give me the map! You’ve obviously gotten us lost!”
“Yeah, well you figure out where we are!”
Fifteen minutes later. “I give up!”
“See, I told you!”
“Let’s stop at a pub and get a beer.”
“Oh yeah. That’s a good plan – have a few beers and then try to find our way home!”
Save your time, money and marriage and just ask for directions.
No, strike that. Londoners, though for the most part friendly, are much too busy getting wherever they’re going to stop and give you directions. They’ll just shrug their shoulders and say “Sorry Mate!” …if you’re lucky. If not, they may send you in the wrong direction (not on purpose, of course). We even ran into a policeman walking the beat who claimed he didn’t know where he was. “Ask the bloke at the fruit stand on the corner, luv,” he said. “”He knows the area.” But there was no fruit stand or bloke on the corner.
The problem is the city’s flat. There’s not one mountain on the horizon in any direction to provide a north/south, east/west orientation. And, if that weren’t bad enough, there’s this river running through town (the Thames) which does not run in a straight line. No, it winds through the downtown in a giant ‘s.’
Sometimes it will be to the north of you, sometimes to the south and God help you if you have the map upside down (a very easy thing to do). Instead of heading south, you could be heading north, soon winding up miles from where you wanted to be.
If the attraction you’re trying to find is on the Thames, no problem. Just walk along the water until you find it.
But if you’re looking for the British Museum, which is somewhere at the intersection of Piccadilly, Soho and Covent Garden, God help you. The area is full of alleyways and streets not on any map. In addition, there appears to be an ordinance that a street cannot have the same name in Piccadilly as it does in Soho!
Weather-wise, we were very lucky. The first couple of days the weather was (as the Brits would say) brilliant. Sunny and so mild that we left the windows open at night. I’d followed the weather reports carefully for weeks before the trip and thus packed appropriately (or so I thought) – no winter gear. My plan was to layer if the weather changed. I didn’t think my husband would be so cruel as to actually take pictures of me all layered up. Let me tell you, it’s not a good look for anyone who weighs more than ninety pounds.
The day we decided to see Dover Castle started out sunny and our hopes were high. By the way, if you want to witness the efficiency of the British, just visit Victoria Train Station. There are lines on the floor leading you to the trains, the bathrooms, the ticket counters. It’s truly idiot proof. And the trains are clean, run on time and keep you well informed of your location. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stuck on a train in the US which, after being delayed for days, quickly dissolved into a scene from some zombie apocalypse movie when the food ran out and the toilets overflowed.)
Dover Castle, according to Rick Steves (who was losing credibility by the day), is an “easy, well-marked, fifteen minute walk from the train station.” Ha! It sits on top of a hill overlooking the the English Channel. You can see it as you enter the small sleepy town but can you get to it? Aye, there’s the rub. After cavorting around the town for over fifteen minutes searching in vain for the “well marked” route, we ran into a lady carrying groceries who showed us the path to the castle.
This path led to a seemingly endless staircase which only got us half way up the hill. From there we followed the road up, up and up again. We’d barely managed to reach the top when the clouds menacing the channel suddenly appeared overhead, driven by strong and icy winds. Then came hail. Hail, I said. Followed by thunder, lightening and a wind strong enough to sweep you into the Atlantic.
Never travel to England in October without a winter coat!
A few pics for you…