An Aussie in London…What have I done?
My first week in London was a blur. I left home without a return ticket, one of the perks of being in possession on a British passport, so I had no idea when I would see my family again. Between jet lag, excitement, and home sickness, I didn’t know what day of the week it was. This would be my longest journey away from home. Both in distance and time.
I was staying with friends for a few weeks while I found my feet, and I had met a number of people who were so lovely, but I couldn’t remember their names to save my life. I hoped I didn’t look as blurry as I felt, although I’m pretty sure I did.
I started exploring my new burrough, and I’d never walked so much! At home I’d had a car, and I’ll admit I’d become lazy. Shanks’ Pony (my own feet) was my mode of transport now but soon I was introduced to the amazing network of trains, buses, and light rail that became my new obsession.
My first ride on the Tube, London’s incredible and ever-evolving underground rail network, was on the day I’d arrived, but I only had snippets of that journey in my jet-lagged mind. Now in possession of my very own Oyster card (the name of their tap and go system), I was off. My exploration of this foreign city had begun!
It didn’t matter where, really, I just wanted to explore! The Tube trains were more narrow than I was used to, and very long, especially in peak times. At times the trains were longer than the stations they pulled in to. Almost instantly I was obsessed by the network. How did the “tubes” they had built more and more of since the late 19th century avoid each other? It must have been an engineering mine field building them. It took a trip to the transport museum to give me the full picture, and I spent hours there marvelling at this underground wonder.
But they were not without their quirks, of course. Some smelt bad, others were over-crowded, other still were delayed due to all manner of unfortunate circumstances.
They took me everywhere, and I was never lost if I could find a Tube station or a bus stop.
My first time visiting Oxford Circus certainly lived up to its name. It was a circus of people going this way and that, hurrying about their business while, quite frankly, they didn’t give a care about yours. I was jostled, elbowed, shoved, and without even a hint of an apology. People spat in the street. I was mortified! Bearing in mind that at the time, the population in Greater London almost matched the entire population of Australia, it was crowded. More crowded than I’d expected. It was like the Christmas rush every day of the week.
I made my way to where I knew I’d find peace. The water. I’d always found peace when I was around water. The only place I knew of was the Thames. I’d never seen it, but I knew it was there. I jumped on a trusty bus and found myself at London Bridge. It was underwhelming to say the least. It didn’t look anything like I’d expected. It was…well, boring. Simply a road across the river.
I was losing faith in London. I was grumpy, tired, my feet hurt, and I felt like I’d been bashed around in an old pinball machine. I hated London in that moment. Hated it. It was a grubby and unfriendly place. I felt lost and very much alone.
What had I done? I’d packed up or sold almost everything I’d owned, and moved quite literally to the other side of the world.
I must have looked as bewildered and betrayed as I felt, as a lovely passer-by asked if I were lost. They smiled kindly and pointed down the river and gave me directions to Tower Bridge, the one I was actually seeking. They were first nice stranger I had met! They took time out of their lunch break to help me, and I was more grateful than they will ever know.
When I first set eyes on Tower Bridge, it took my breath away. It was beautiful, colourful, and everything I’d read about. It never stopped making me smile after that day.
I wandered from there around the Thames to Westminster. I sat on a bench watching the river and felt calm. I heard Big Ben chime for the first time and felt a tear on my cheek. Not far down the road was Westminster Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. All of these places I’d dreamed of seeing, but was never sure I would.
I’d done it. I was here.
And soon it would more like home than I ever thought it would.