London

…another type of adventure

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London was on our list for a long time, since it was one of the few large cities in Europe my husband didn’t already visit before meeting me. And because the discussions about leaving the country were becoming more and more serious, London seemed to be at the top of the list, especially since we assumed we would adapt easier because we already speak the language.

We also have a good friend living there, and my husband has a cousin who relocated to the UK, so this was a good opportunity for us to visit dear friends. We bought the tickets super early because we wanted to make use of some bank holidays, but we bought them before the wedding, and the departure was going to be after the wedding.

The honeymoon was already set, like the accommodation and the tickets were already reserved, but London was going to be the first destination after the wedding. Basically, the wedding was in May, we went to London in June, and we went to Indonesia in August. So this was our first trip as a married couple.

Immediately after the wedding, I had to go change my ID (since I changed my name) and, as soon as I received the ID, I had to go and make a new passport too. For London, the plan was for me to use my new ID because the passport wasn’t ready yet, but we were relaxed because the trip was inside the EU, and I didn’t have any problems before while using the ID.

Getting in London

As usual, we left early morning, to have a larger part of the day available to wander around. The flight was long enough to seem hard to handle in a low-cost plane, so we discovered which were our limits, with this occasion (about 4 hours, if you’re wondering). We landed on the Stansted Airport, because it’s either there or Luton when it comes to low-cost companies, and we went at the end of a huge line that was made at the passport control offices.

After about one hour of moving forward with the speed of an old snail, we finally reached the front of the queue. And because we were seeing whole families going together at the passport check, my husband said we could take advantage of the new marital status and go there as a family, to gain some time for the checkout.

So, there we go; we present our IDs and the nice lady starts to ask us multiple questions. And then we wait. And the nice lady starts looking at my ID under different angles, and to verify it in her computer, and to analyze it with a magnifying glass (no joke), and she calls a colleague to also take a look at my ID, and this guy also calls another guy to look into it.

Meanwhile, we were boiling because our patience resources were very slim already and the people in line were also as happy as we were to keep waiting. I also thought I should mention that the ID it brand new, the ink isn’t even dried out yet, so to say, and maybe it has some newer security elements added.

Finally, they decide to explain the problem: my ID was not cut out as it should have been. Compared with my husband’s, because they had something to compare it against (we had a great idea to come together, right?), my ID was shifted with 2-3 millimeters to the right. And yes, the difference is noticeable when you look at it.

I didn’t notice it when I took the ID from the population registry office, I only looked if the data was correct, it hasn’t even crossed my mind that this sort of situation can appear. Of course, I didn’t even think about going to change it, because I hate queues (and this is how it still works in Romania, unfortunately), and also probably no one will change it because no one will believe me that I had problems in the airport because of this.

So, I still have the ID, but I don’t use it at all, I rather use the passport and not worry about it. Anyway, let’s be honest here, it’s not like I ever went somewhere and nothing happened. If it was like that, what would I write in here?

So, we bought our Oyster card, because everything we read about it made us believe it’s the must-have thing to have in London, and we tried reaching our accommodation, to leave our luggage. We had a scheduled free walking tour in the afternoon and we had online bought tickets to Madame Tussauds, the only place that’s not included in the London pass, another must-have if you plan on visiting lots of places.

The accommodation

The accommodation was absolutely horrible. Our godmother helped us in choosing it, and we’re grateful for the help because the options were disappearing at a high speed, and we wished to stay as close as possible to the city center – something we always do, so that we don’t spend a lot of time and money on transportation.

This approach, I can tell you, is not at all applicable to London. The city is huge, and the distances are impossible to cover on foot. You cannot walk from a metro (or a tube) station to another without losing at least one hour. The idea of having a hotel in the center doesn’t help at all, I highly recommend spending the same in a room outside the city center.

The accommodation was horrible from so many points of view that I’m almost afraid to remember. The towels were stained, and when I asked for different ones, I received some other towels that were stained with a different pattern. Everything in the building was squeaking so loud that you would think the building was going to collapse.

The walls were so thin and so badly isolated that you could hear everything that was happening in the neighbor’s rooms – without any exaggeration, one neighbor opened his door during the night and we both woke up because we thought it was our door, that’s how loud it was. The breakfast was appalling and consisted of some toast, some coffee which allowed you to see through it, some jam and butter.

The bathroom was similar to the one from the airplane: it wasn’t exactly a room, but some sort of a module made entirely of plastic and mounted into the room. You were able to sit on the toilet, with one hand in the sink and the other in the shower area (there was no cabin, only a small area with a curtain), without being very elastic.

At least we had hot running water, but we weren’t sure how much of it we had, so I wasn’t brave enough to wash my hair and take the risk of having a head full of foam and nothing to rinse it with. When we entered the room, we were welcomed by a stench of paint or bleach, couldn’t quite recognize it.

And although I like the smell of fresh paint (because I’m a freak), I am still aware it’s not safe to inhale it for a long time. The Wi-fi was something like 5 pounds per day, so we preferred using the one from coffee places and restaurants. The check-out was at 10:30 AM, and the check-in was at 14:00; I don’t know why, because they were obviously not cleaning in that time frame.

They even asked for money to leave our luggage there after check-out, and they left them somewhere near the reception desk, easily reachable by anyone, so we had to take the laptop with us to have a feeling it was safe. All in all, I wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone, for any reason, under any circumstances, ever.

The tour

After we had left our luggage at the “hotel”, we went to the Covent Garden area, where the free walking tour was going to start. We had a great tour guide, a nice girl you could find here, but it looks like, unfortunately, she’s not providing the tour anymore.

She offered such a great tour that we left the group being very sad, and we wouldn’t have done it if we wouldn’t have had the tickets to Madame Tussauds already bought. The only problem with the tour is that, given the large distances, it cannot cover lots of places, even though Roberta would have spoken about London her whole life.

I feel very tempted to share some stories I heard from her, but I don’t want to ruin a surprise if someone decides to have a similar tour. What I can say for sure is I wouldn’t have known so many interesting stories if it weren’t for this tour. We then left to Madame Tussauds, where my dear husband didn’t want to go, but I insisted enough to convince him.

And he looked quite interested after he took pictures with Angelina Jolie and had a small talk with George Clooney. I had just read the Hunger Games series (I know, it’s old, I’m just weird with books), so I was happy to see Katniss there, but we also liked Shrek, Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, Albert Einstein, Beyonce, and Obama.

After that, we went to meet with my husband’s cousin, who was very happy to see us and was even willing to visit stuff with us, even though we told him we’re on “tourist” mode and we’re probably going to every tourist trap available, especially things that everyone avoids when living there. We had a talk about how it is to live there, to work in London, to pay taxes, social security, and health insurance, how it is to be away from your family and how easy it is to make friends.

Of course, we went out to some pub, because you cannot miss having a beer in London, and we had so many recommendations from friends for places to eat and drink that we didn’t have time to visit all of them. We also didn’t manage to visit everything we wanted in London, so the list stays open for the next visit.

First day in London

Westminster Abbey


The next day started with Westminster Abbey, the place where all the royal weddings and ceremonies take place. The place is impressive, but cold, like any other Gothic building, but you can feel the centuries full of history marked in every corner of this place. Then, using the bus tour that was included in the London Pass, we went to the Tower of London, the place where the royal jewelry is displayed, and the place where the interesting prisoners were kept.

Tower of London


It’s well worth it to take the tour with the Yeoman, especially since you only have to pay for the ticket and wait until one of the hourly tours starts. I don’t know if we were lucky or this is how they all are, but the guy was great. He was funny, and serious, and took care of the children (yes, it’s a former prison, some stories will be pretty graphic), and the fact that you become a Yeoman only after at least 20-25 years of impeccable service somehow guarantees that these guys are both commanding and charismatic.

My warning related to children is very serious: the stories have a great deal of blood involved, so please take this into account if you have your little ones with you. The royal jewelry is as we expected: big, many and well guarded, a thing that made us go out directly into the rain at the end of the tour, unlike everyone else that just crowded near the door but no one wanted to get out because, big surprise, it was raining in London.

Tower Bridge


Until we reached Tower Bridge, the rain had stopped and didn’t come back, so we were able to enjoy the rest of the days without hiding in buildings. At the Tower Bridge, we managed to test our fears, while setting our feet on a see-through floor and waving to the people below, but we also had the chance to see the special system the bridge has that allows it to “break” when larger ships need to pass it.

Belfast


From there, we went to visit Belfast and had the chance to see how a fairly modern ship looks like, but also how its social life was looking, even in times of war. On the ship, you can see not only guns and cannons but also kitchens, sleeping, and social rooms and medical cabinets. We spent the evening with Andreea, at a pub near the Borough market, after we managed to pick her up from a metro station close to The Shard. Obviously, if we’re clumsy, our friends also have a chance of being clumsy as well.

The second day in London

Greenwich


The next day, we used the boat trip that was going to take us to Greenwich. We’re not exactly fans of river cruises in big cities, and Thames (and you have to learn how to properly pronounce the name) didn’t seem like a big deal, but it looked like a good way to get to the Royal Observatory, especially because it was included in the London Pass and otherwise we would have spent a lot of money to get there.

Because I forgot to mention earlier, London is precious. And I don’t mean cute, I mean expensive for a tourist. Also, the fact that we earned in Lei (Romanian currency) and spent in Pounds didn’t quite help, but still, my hand was shaking every time I had to pay 9-10 pounds on a beer in a pub, not to mention a coffee or a dinner out. We mostly lived on pizza and snacks, but once a day we had to eat a proper meal and the hole in our budget increased.

But we have to admit we ate great food and encountered awesome service. My husband received his fish a little undone for his taste and when he asked for it to be cooked better, he received a new portion, a huge number of apologies, and the product was not charged on the bill. Another time, the waiter gave us a coffee which we didn’t order and after mentioning it, they took it off the bill but gave it to me as a present. We even had tap water for the table with some ice and lemon pieces in it, even though this is not a product that brings in income. And I also got beer recommendations that matched my hair color.

Honestly, these guys are great in terms of services: they don’t show you unneeded respect and they don’t treat you like you’re a god because you’re a client, but are very friendly and go a long way to make you a happy customer. Our friend even had a small problem with the mobile network that she uses and wasn’t able to make any international calls, so she spent 30 minutes with them on the phone explaining the situation and received their deepest apologies and a nice amount of cash in her account “for the trouble”.

So, as I was saying, we went by boat to Greenwich. There was on board a guy that was making some sort of a presentation but, as he said, he wasn’t a guide, so his stories were the ones that he had heard from his grandparents. The stories were quite cute, but he repeated himself a lot, especially when mentioning he was single and he would appreciate some phone numbers from nice girls instead of a tip.

At the Observatory, because we’re serious geeks, we made the usual photos with each foot in a different hemisphere and we analyzed the instruments used for different astronomical measurements, we touched an asteroid and we were fascinated by a dark, simple room, where we were able to see a projection of a part of the boulevard, using only a system of mirrors and lenses, and the image was so clear we thought it was a webcam view.

We also enjoyed the nice park that surrounds the area and visited Cutty Sark, a great place to enjoy the five o’clock tea ritual. After that, we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral, but unfortunately, we didn’t reach it in time before closing, so we had no other option but to rush to the Transportation Museum, to make my husband happy.

Well, there were only five-year-olds and him enjoying the place. I’m joking, of course (he’ll read this someday and will complain about how I embarrass him in front of people), the museum is actually quite interesting, very well adapted for children, so you can touch things, press on buttons and jump into cars. What stuck in our heads was a simulation of the metro system of London and how it evolved through time – a not so good video, but ours is not better, can be found here.

After the museum, we decided to gather all of our friends to the same table, so that we don’t have to pick, so we called our friend and my husband’s cousin, who bought also another friend of his, to have a beer somewhere. Unfortunately, we had the bad luck of being not very far away from this that evening. If you’ll read above, you’ll remember we were there two nights before, when we had dinner with our friend.

This experience made us realize London is not right for us. We wouldn’t raise our children there. It was the third attack (if I remember correctly) in that same year, in the UK. Another one was in Manchester, where Ariana Grande had a concert. There were around 20 victims then, all of them children.

This was the only thing on my mind after that moment: if we’ll raise our children there, they could have the bad luck of being at a concert one evening. I know it’s not OK to think like that. I know. But when you’re SO close, when you have to write to your parents at 1 AM so that they don’t worry in the morning, when they’ll hear the early news at the radio, when your friends that live there ask you to not give lots of details to your parents so that their parents don’t worry about them living there, when you wake up in the middle of the night in the crappy hotel where everything is squeaking and when looking at your phone, you have to answer tens of messages from people that just want to know you’re safe, then it’s VERY hard not to think like that.

You cannot ignore the fact that, considering the number of people in there, and that this is the best place to feel easily accepted or easily lost for everyone, this is also a good place for the bad guys to get lost. Friends of ours told us that, at the metro, there’s a second set of doors not to prevent accidents, but to prevent suicides, and apparently this happens quite often in the central stations. What made us sad was the fact that they mentioned they’re starting to be less and less sensitive about these things.

They just hear about these sorts of things, for two seconds they think: “It’s a shame someone thought about doing such a gesture!”, and then they think “I have to avoid that area somehow ’cause probably it’s very crowded now”. And I’m not accusing anyone of anything, they are our friends and they’re great people. But living in a city with 8 million people, so 8 million dramas at the same time, this makes you care only about the dramas of people very close to you.

You cannot gather all the dramas from so many people in your soul without going crazy. And we also realized that some of the reasons for leaving Romania were related to Bucharest. Yes, Bucharest, considering the traffic, the crowd, the hours spent commuting, the people in a hurry and sad and concerned about everything. London felt the same, only bigger.

It’s a great place to visit as a tourist. We would like to go there at least once more, that’s how many things we missed due to the limited amount of time. But we couldn’t live there. Now, when we moved here after we found out that you can live in an area closer to nature without selling your soul to pay the rent, and can also reach the office in 20 minutes, we wouldn’t even think about moving to London.

Yes, the fact that we already speak the language would have helped us a lot and would have made our lives easier. But our intention is not to have an easy life, but to have a quiet one, for us and our children.

The third day in London

The next day we went, a little bit scared (especially me, to be honest), to visit the British Museum. Even if we were all checked at the entrance, I still watched my back all the time, feeling scared and unsafe in such a crowded place. I know this is what terrorism wants us to do and that we shouldn’t give them the satisfaction, but it’s not so easy after knowing and seeing things.

The British Museum

The British Museum building is impressive. After you pass the Greek-style facade and go inside, the building becomes modern from all points of view. You need a map to be able to navigate between a large number of areas. The most fascinating collection is the one from Egypt, but I was also drawn in by the African art (that was the moment when the idea of exploring Africa came to my mind, and I hope I’ll add a link to this comment soon, a link that points to an African destination apart from Cape Verde), but I was also impressed by the Greek and Assyrian art, together with the large collection of coins and ancient objects from all around the world.

From there, we went to the St. James Park because we were feeling the need to be outside, but not very exposed and still protected by nature. The park made us happy and made our worries fade away. People were laying on the grass and relaxing, the ducks and geese were playing near the lake, everything was like nothing happened the evening before.

My husband was very relaxed, I have to admit, I was the only one still scared, and that feeling didn’t leave me until we got back home. We went out with our friends that evening too, but we avoided the center of the city, and all of us discussed calmly how should we proceed. It is known that all solutions found while having a beer are great ones, and we managed to obtain world peace in just two or three pints, which would make any Miss World participant jealous.

We said “Goodbye!” to our sweet friends with the thought of not seeing them soon in their city and we tried to get ready for the next day when we were supposed to leave.

Leaving London

The next day, after we had left our luggage at the “hotel” for a small fee, we went for a short walk and a nice English breakfast in an Indian restaurant (it was great!), and then we enjoyed a pancake, took some photos of a phone cabin so that we can prove we were in London, and we went to the airport, thinking about the lines we’ll encounter at the security check and about my ID that was going to create an even longer queue.

Hey, check out this post from a local to find out where you can have the best bottomless brunch in London! I’m sure you’ll find some great recommendations.

After the security check, we started searching for the passport control office because I wanted to be sure there’s enough time for the officer to analyze my “interesting” ID. After we had walked around the whole airport, we finally asked someone about it and found out that, oddly, there’s no passport control office in that airport.

Yes, two days after the terrorist attack, they weren’t verifying people’s passports while leaving the country. For me, it was shocking, especially since I had problems with my “shifted with two millimeters to the right” ID. So the major challenge is to enter the country, not to exit it. In the plane, of course, they split us apart (like they also did at the departure, but we managed to change seats), but now it was so obvious they do it on purpose to make us pay for it.

We checked-in online in the first 5 minutes of availability, and my seat was on line 30, and my husband’s was online 7, both of us having the seats in the middle. So it’s not like they had two couples which they put together, so they split us up to use the spare seats next to them, they actually placed people, one by one, after an algorithm known only by them.

When something similar happened in Asia (LINK), even if we were flying low cost, we just had to ask when we left the checked-in luggage and they moved us immediately and offered their apologies. We eventually managed to move so that we stay together, after multiple changes for many people (we weren’t the only ones affected, of course), but the feeling of rudeness was still present in our minds.

It’s true, it’s our fault, we are traveling low-cost and expect something more than that. That was still a special flight because I had the chance to experience something new: my ears hurt when we were close to landing. I had some flu symptoms the last days, but I ignored them, and probably my sinuses were not working full time, so I wasn’t able to take care of the pressure difference, a thing I had no idea I was doing.

I was panicking a little bit, since the pain was increasing and I didn’t know how to fix the problem, no matter how hard my husband was trying to explain how to do this using my jaw like he does when he goes diving. I was barely hearing him, and I wasn’t hearing anything else around, and I didn’t know what else to do. Luckily, we landed safely, even though there was a serious storm in Bucharest, so serious that some planes weren’t able to land on that airport, so they were sent to land in Constanta. If that flight would have been my first one, I don’t think I would have used a plane ever again.

The takeaway


I am deeply sorry about the way this article sounds. I read it after a few days from writing it like I always do. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m sorry if you were expecting something funny like I usually deliver. I’m sorry if you come here only to read nice stories and to have fun, not to inform yourselves about serious stuff, and I have broken your reality escape.

It was the same for us. It took us out of our tourist mode and kidnapped parts of our enthusiasm we grant for every new place, and it threw us in an abyss of despair, panic, and terror. So, I’m sorry if I had ruined your good mood. But there are things more important in the world besides having fun, and the sooner we realize that the more chances we have to make the world better.

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