Everything in London is only a 15 min walk away

Another Big Ben view
The thing I love most about my mom and my sister is we can all laugh at ourselves and our own individual character ‘flaws’.
We all agree that we just don’t have very good luck in general and the only way to get through life is to laugh when things go all wrong. I’m known for my extreme sarcasm and bitchy-ness…..traits that my mom and sister love to tease me about. My mom, sister, and I all love giving each other a hard time about our experiences and quirks knowing that we all love each other and have a blast together.
Let’s just be honest here…..the ‘three musketeers’ can never be separated!
All three of us laughed and teased each other through Paris and mom and I continued laughing all the way through to London. However….that said…..there was a moment where things simply stopped being funny and that moment came when we got to the London public transportation…..AKA the Tube.

We pulled into the London train station right around 6:30 at night. Mom and I waited for practically everyone to exit the train and platform before we wrestled with our bags again. We managed to get them off the Eurostar and to the main entrance without incident.

My plan for reaching the hotel was that we would take the Tube from St Pancreas station to Hyde Park, the area where we were staying. This involved two Tubes, meaning we would take the blue Victoria line and change Tubes at Victoria Station and then grab the red District line to our hotel. The Tube stop was right by our hotel so we wouldn’t have to walk far and the ride wasn’t supposed to be too long. Cabs are expensive in London so I thought public transportation would be fine especially since Sam and I had really good Tube experiences when we went.

I brought the old Oyster cards that Sam and I used in London last year but I knew mom and I would have to reload the cards before boarding the Tube to our hotel. I went to the trusty billet machine and scanned the card and select ‘fill’. I go to insert my money and there is no place to put paper money….only coin. I have no coin, only paper money or my credit cards. So it says ‘Visa/MC accepted here’ in giant letters…..I whip out my credit card. It won’t take it because I don’t have some special Euro chip in my card. I stand at the billets machine trying to figure out what to do next while the line grows behind me. I tried two more times and gave up since I couldn’t figure out where the paper money went.

View of the Tower of London from
Westminster Pier
I am not quite sure when the world stopped accepting paper money and major credit cards but apparently in Europe, the general public prefers a coin purse to a wallet and paper money is hardly ever used.
Finally I find one….yes…..ONE machine that takes paper money (there was no line for the paper money machine, only the coin ones)
I ran over and loaded our cards. We were able to find elevators and escalators at St Pancreas station without incident and boarded the Victoria line bound for the Oxford Circus stop where we would change Tubes and catch the District line for three stops to our hotel.
The Victoria line Tube pulls up and it is packed….I mean…packed, shoulder to shoulder standing area only, faces smooched up against the emergency exit glass….its BAD. We then realized it was London rush hour and everyone is on their way home from work. We looked around and there were many other people with suitcases and backpacks boarding the Tube so it seemed like no big deal.
We even waited for a couple of Tubes to go by to see if the people situation would improve, when it was clear it would not we decided to board the Victoria line Tube.
Mom and I manage to load our stuff onto the Tube and maneuver ourselves into a fairly good spot (so we thought) right by the exit. We only had to go two stops to make it to the next train. The Tube was hot and everyone was pushing and shoving their way around us so they wouldn’t have to stand by us and people were mad when we didn’t move away from the exit.
Never mind there was no WAY we could move away from the exit doors with all the people around us, our suitcases, purses, and camera bags but people were still looking at us like GET OUT OF THE WAY!
Eventually some guy offered his seat to mom while I struggled to not be in everyone’s way. The guy who gave up his seat says to mom casually says ‘that poor girl, she’s just having an awful time of it isn’t she’….in reference to me. My mom simply replies ‘oh I know, poor thing’ and then whispers ‘she’s my daughter’ so no one would know we were related. The man gave her a pitiful look….sighed and said ‘oh dear, I’m so sorry’.
People were exiting the train JUST so they would not get hit by my giant ‘uni-bomber’ size camera bag. One lady looked at her boyfriend and said ‘I just need to get out of here’ and he’s like ‘but we still have two more stops’ and she’s all…’ya I don’t care I just need to get out NOW’.
I was horribly embarrassed but at this point I really didn’t care….I felt like, hello it’s a huge city and people have to get around SOME HOW and it might as well be public transit….just DEAL I am not the only one in the whole city if London with a f-ing suitcase.
View of Big Ben from the boardwalk
We got off at Oxford Circus to catch the District line to our hotel.
Oxford Circus is a name that will forever live on in infamy in our family for years to come.
Mom told me she just couldn’t take any more public transit (remember we have been traveling all day long in Paris) and she wanted to walk to our hotel. I thought about it and decided that getting back on the Tube was simply out of the question even though we only had three stops from Oxford Circus to our hotel, we just couldn’t do it. So we agreed that we would get off the Tube and walk since on the map it looked fairly close….apparently I didn’t learn my lesson in Paris and I didn’t take Susan’s very wise advice (never trust the map, it’s never to scale…objects are much further than they appear).
Oxford Circus is a huge Tube hub that links about five other lines together so lots of people got off here, plus Oxford Circus is a huge huge huge shopping district, like Times Square in NYC so we know there has to be an exit to take us above ground.
Mom and I see all these signs that say “WAY OUT” in big letters with arrows so we start following them assuming that we would eventually find the exit which would take us to the street….that was wishful thinking.
Every time we took the ‘way out’ we were met with long corridors of white tile and more Tube platforms. We just kept circling and circling and circling and suddenly realized we were lost in some underground nightmare maze and started worrying that like the Charles de Gaulle airport incident only four days earlier, that we would only ever see the inside of the Tube!
Our Tube stop
We start hysterically laughing and crying and finally decide to ask some people which way was out….we could hear the street but couldn’t find the exit. People just ignored us…finally we were able to lure some Aussie man into helping us out.
When we asked which way was out he thought we were kidding and told us to follow the signs that said “WAY OUT”. I felt like slapping him and screaming DAH! To his credit he did take us down a flight of stairs, up an escalator, down another flight of stairs, and finally at the bottom of two flights of stairs leading to the ‘street’ exit…..all the while NOT helping us with our bags and practically RUNNING through the Tube platforms and passageways.
We lugged our bags up the two flights of stairs while trying to avoid getting run over by hoards of people only to make it to the next set of stairs which would eventually lead us to the street. Again we lugged our bags up the stairs (when I say lugged, it was more like pulling them like pack mules) without any help what so ever. We get to the sidewalk and it’s like we literally entered the Twilight Zone.
I felt like somewhere between Gare du Nord train station and St Pancreas we took a wrong turn and ended up in Mumbai India!
London is apparently the new ‘it’ destination for Indians…..there is actually a section of London now called ‘Little Bangla’ and no I’m not kidding!
Oxford Circus from traffic camera, yes it’s like
this all the time apparently!
Oxford Circus is accurately described as a ‘pedestrian scramble’….it was absolutely horrible…..I get anxious just thinking about it…..I probably have post traumatic stress syndrome now because of it.
So not only is this ‘Circus’ a peds worst nightmare, it’s also a huge shopping area which I mentioned before. In Europe (especially London and Paris) most clothing shops don’t have sales like we do here in the USA. They can only have sales once a year and everything is like 75% off (even designer labels like Prada, Dior, D & G, Coach, YSL, Louis Vuitton etc) so EVERYONE goes shopping at that time and all the stores stay open late meaning it’s even busier than normal in the ‘Circus’.
Big Ben from the River Thames
Mom and I take a few minutes to orientate ourselves to our surroundings and as we start looking around in awe, it is clear we need to get out of the way as we are being run over. I realized I didn’t have a map with me because I knew I could get one from the hotel in London plus I knew we were taking the Tube to our hotel and wouldn’t need to know street names just Tube stops.
It never once entered my mind that I would be walking the streets of London.
I pulled out the ‘London quick guide’ that I picked up at the Eurostar station in Paris and prayed that it had a map with of anything other than the Tube. As luck would have it…there was a map in the guidebook…..but it was in French so it ended up being utterly useless.
Mom noticed some signs which had maps of the area, we began our journey here. As we walked all of a sudden it started to rain, we had no umbrellas, no jackets, and were wearing sandals….oh yes and all the sidewalks were uneven cobblestone as well.
We walked and walked and walked for about five blocks, stopping along the way to check the peds maps on every corner. Every sign estimated “15 minutes” walk from the “You Are Here” spot to Hyde Park
Someone should be ashamed to call themselves a cartographer/surveyor!
By about block seven I was getting really really tired and not to mention my feet had blisters the size of a dinner plates. My chest was a little tight and I was having a hard time breathing (since I have decreased lung capacity in both lungs after my blood clots) and I was getting a little lightheaded. But we marched on, though some Indian guy in a rickshaw pulled up asking if we wanted a ride but then saw our bags and took off….apparently the thought of carting two grown women and two massive suitcases was NOT in his job description no matter the price.
We eventually made it through the sea of people to Hyde Park but still couldn’t find our hotel. By now it’s about 8:00 pm and getting dark, we are tired and REALLY sick of walking. I had also planned on surprising mom with a nighttime flight on the London Eye complete with champagne which was scheduled at 9:45…now I was sure we would make it there in time if we had taken the Tube…..I was even reasonably sure we would make it even though we still hadn’t found our hotel and were still walking.
However, I did not realize Hyde Park was about the size of Central Park and we were on the farthest end by Kensington Palace.
ube stop by our hotel…..FINALLY
By 8:00 we were still at the far end of the park and again the map sign thing said “15 minutes walk from here” to the end of Hyde Park. We started again with the hysterical laughing/crying when a policeman started walking up to us. All we could think of was he probably thought we were drunk, he saw us crying and laughing and clearly thought it looked too complicated and turned around and walked away.
We kept walking for….surprise 15 minutes and still no hotel…..and after flagging down another policeman (who also told us it was a 15 minute walk from here) we started thinking maybe we would hail a cab since it was about 8:30 and reasonably dark and rainy. The second that we exited Oxford Circus it was like all the streets were deserted.
Another view of the Eye
I have to admire mom’s dedication….she refused to give up, I was ready to call it quits when I saw the first staircase at Oxford Circus Tube stop! Well about the time I was thinking what else could go wrong, the wheels on my suitcase started making a funny sound.
I had been smelling this weird smell for about two blocks……then I realized, the place where the handle/pull mechanism attaches to the wheels came loose and the smell was the result of friction/burning from the plastic liner of my suitcase scraping the sidewalk.
All of a sudden I went from pulling a reasonably functional suitcase with two wheels to the equivalent of a shopping cart that only has one working wheel in the front and one working wheel in the back but on opposite sides….and the plastic was combusting….it was that BAD!
I was able to keep the wheels more or less intact by jimmy rigging the handle and wheels….not to mention I had a rip in the back of my suitcase from all the dragging and stairs….. the inside of my suitcase still drug on the sidewalk and I still smelled burning rubber. Thank God for the little plastic liner thing inside the suitcase otherwise all my clothes would have been falling out the back so I can’t complain too much but it was clear I would need to buy a suitcase before departing London.
Area where our hotel was located in….clearly
NOT Hyde Park
We finally reached the hotel about 9:30 after taking a few wrong turns……I asked the front desk guy if they had an elevator (if not I would simply have left my stuff )……as luck would have it they did have a ‘lift’ but it also was the size of the lift in Paris…..mom and I had to ride it separately.
We raced up to the room, put on jackets and grabbed our scarves, and ran back down to the lobby hoping we could still make the London Eye flight. The Tube stop should have been right by our hotel but with it being dark out and with us bring in a state of distress and exhaustion, we somehow missed the giant red Tube signs.
We couldn’t find the Tube station and I started crying….mom suddenly saw a bus and we ran to get on it without knowing really where it was going. The driver didn’t speak much English and when mom asked where the bus was taking us he yelled some gibberish and pointed to a marquee sign that said ‘Westminster’. We rode the bus for about 10 minutes and got off at the right stop only because he was screaming at us to get off in broken English.
As we were running across the bridge to the Eye, Big Ben struck 9:45….so we had made it in time for the final ‘flight’ but by the time we got to the other side of the bridge and up to the line they said we were too late (it was 9:53 according to Big Ben).
Our hotel
They told us we could do it the next day and all we needed to do was go in to the ticket place and tell them what happened and we would be fine. Most people would be disappointed but happy that they would be getting a refund or something….not mom and I. I was disappointed, tried, cranky, hungry, and really really really ready for bed. We started slowly walking along to boardwalk toward the bridge to go back to the hotel. Mom knew I was disappointed and said she thought we should eat.
Now eating in this family is never easy….eating for my mom and sister is usually a sit down place. Naturally I was just NOT in the mood to sit down anywhere….even in a place where I could get a much needed drink.
I just wanted to go to bed. I told my mom that I just couldn’t eat, I needed to go to bed and that we could grab something by the hotel to ear in our room. All of a sudden my mom bursts into uncontrollable sobbing hysterics on the boardwalk because she thought I meant we weren’t going to eat anything.
What I meant when I said we weren’t eating was that we weren’t going to eat out….like I was ready to get McDonalds and go to bed, not that we were just not going to eat period but mom misunderstood me.
So everything had built up all day long and all of a sudden turned into a sobbing hysterical mess. We were both crying and couldn’t get it together. As we walked back across the bridge I tried to make up for the not eating comment and bought us both the best roasted peanuts in the world but I forgot mom can’t eat peanuts so she again started with the hysterics which only made me cry too. So here we are in London on a beautiful night (minus the rain and of course the wind from the River Thames listening to Big Ben strike ten o’clock and we can’t stop crying…..we can’t even enjoy any of it because we are so tried and exhausted both physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Big Ben by Sara Mendez
We sat down on Westminster Pier trying to collect ourselves before we were ready to brave the Tube again…..mom never did stop crying until we got to our hotel room. I managed to get it together but only just. We boarded the Tube back to our hotel which was much easier to navigate without the suitcases. When we got off, we ironically noticed that the Tube stop was right in front of the bus stop where we caught the bus to Westminster so we must have ‘over looked’ it in our rush. We stopped at a little deli and got mom a sandwich and a bottle of wine and walked to the hotel.
After eating and sitting down finally (the first time all day it seemed like), I emptied my purse and found three pens and tons of coin…..if you recall things started going wrong when we realized we had no pens in the line for the UK customs office…..apparently we DID have a pen and we had money which I could have used to refill my Oyster card at the train station rather than search for a machine that took paper money! We decided to go to bed and sleep in the next day.
Graphic design by Sara Mendez
I was really sad that our first London experience was on the Tube. When Sam and I were there, it was so surreal to hear Big Ben and see it up close and personal especially at night. I remember thinking how much I wish my mom could be there to see it and hear it with me since I have had a love affair with London since my childhood. I felt bad that when we saw it for the first time together we were too tired to enjoy it and appreciate it. However, like I said before, in my family, we all have bad luck and it WOULD happen that we have something f-ed up happen….but I can say this…..I will never forget our first time together in London!
The London Eye
All in all I am not disappointed or sad about how this day turned out but I just wish it could have worked out better but now my mom and I will forever have a memory unique to us which illustrates perfectly how our entire lives have been…..messed up but all kinds of fun. I wouldn’t trade this day for all the tea in London, that’s what I love about the three musketeers!

 

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