Lost in London; or, I Hate You, Google Maps

Lost in London; or, I Hate You, Google Maps

I begin each of my occasional travel posts with the observation that I hate travelling. Because I do. One of the valid reasons for this hatred is my utter lack of a sense of direction. I lose my way in my very home city whenever I inadvisably venture in a side street, hoping for a shortcut. It’s no wonder then that wherever I go, I get tragically lost.

The morning I set off for my trip to London, I took a taxi in case I strayed off on my way to the railway station. Also, I didn’t want to give my suitcase a headache by dragging it in tow on the cobblestones. I found the right platform by trial and error and with the help of the knowledge that my RegioJet train will be yellow, unlike the discoloured Czech Railways cars.

Later, two hours into my trip, I was well pleased with myself as I hadn’t got lost yet. Perhaps it’s because it wasn’t the mushroom kind of trip when you chase a hallucination off a moving train. I was hallucinating though when I joined a nun in the business class compartment, who helped me to hoist my luggage on the rack and then sat down to WhatsApp some messages and Instagram her complimentary mint tea.

I miraculously didn’t get lost up to boarding the plane, likely due to the fact that it wasn’t my first trip on this route. I congratulated myself on the minor miracle that I performed. My confidence however waned the second I set my foot on the British soil. I got lost on the airport apron and couldn’t find the terminal. I’m not very observant, and how would I know a terminal from a hangar?

I wasn’t shot on the spot, which I probably would have been in America, but was politely escorted to the appropriate exit (Can I help you, Madam?). After an hour of crawling at snail pace on moving walkways, I got ejected in the arrival terminal. I had been put to shame by a person twice my age who speed-walked on the travellator and pulled his suitcase behind him with great agility, but that didn’t bother me enough to walk on it too.

The terminal turned out to be complex, to say the least, or a maze, to tell the truth. It may have been excellently signposted, but I don’t do 3D and can only read basic 2D plans, excluding actual maps due to their confusing complexity. The GATWICK EXPRESS signs pointed in random directions and proved to be impossible to follow. I suspected it was an instance of British dry sense of humour. When I lost track of the signs, I found the train station.

I took great pride at my successful purchase of a train ticket in a machine. There was an awkward moment when I got entangled in the tape that mapped out imaginary corridors to queue in. Eventually, I was forced to crawl under the tape where it said NO EXIT. I swear it was the only exit. The machine had printed out three tickets, which seemed somewhat profligate for a single journey. The explanation occurred when I was trying to insert a receipt rather than a ticket in the barrier gate (That’s not the ticket, Madam!).

The attendant who yelled at me at the gate thought it prudent to usher me on the train. An hour later, I simultaneously got off and got lost at Victoria Station. I switched on my dearly paid data roaming and opened Google Maps. I never read a manual to Google Maps because I always optimistically believed that the navigation would be intuitive. Not only is this a misled idea, but I also always forget all about it. A downpour set on, and my phone was crying real rain tears while it was trying to figure out my current location.

Some time later, my phone suggested that I turn on Wi-Fi in order to be informed about my precise location. This made me cry real rain tears too, as I assumed that if I were at a Wi-Fi spot, I would probably know where I was. An hour later it became clear that Google Maps had no clue where either I or my destination was. This revelation brought about a sharp stabbing pain in my chest. I was thinking a stroke, but it turned out to be a metal bra wire that bit its way out of the fabric. Unabashed, I dived into my cleavage and dug around to push the wire in its place.

I arrived at a random bus station, which made me tentatively hopeful, since I was looking for a particular name- and letter-marked bus stop. My optimism was ill-founded, for it turned out it was a cross-country bus station. I was considering for a while getting on a bus to Glasgow because London was clearly defying me, while in Scotland I feel at home. Then I tried not to be a pussy, kitty up and ask an attendant what he thinks about the G spot aka the G stop.

The poor man was puzzled. So was I when he showed me the way to the desired bus stop. I never get it when people give me directions. It’s clearly their fault. I was considering lying down on the ground and dying in a puddle of London rain when a nice policewoman approached me (Where can I direct you, Madam?). She showed me the way for the next fifty meters. Now desperate beyond being ashamed to ask, I proceeded to ask half a dozen more people. Two hours after getting off at Victoria, I found the spot.

The G stop was tucked away in the middle of I don’t know where and was largely disappointing. I never read the manual to London public transport, hence I discovered first-hand that a bus only stops when someone waves it down. I had an hour to meditate about this fact of life before another bus of the desired number came. I was waving it down like a mad octopus. I emerged as a public threat because I set my suitcase on its wheels when on the bus, and it chose to travel to and fro and punch passengers in their legs. They weren’t chuffed.

The most astonishing part of the day’s trip came when I arrived at the bus stop where I was getting off. I procured a paper street plan and started to follow it, all the while thinking that it might be faster just to walk in increasingly larger circles around the bus stop until I hit the hotel. Before I managed to get lost, I found the place. The entire route took me four hours, though Google Maps estimated one hour. Google Maps have no clue about maps.

The next day I checked Google Maps to see what sights were nearest to my position. As I said, I always forget that Google Maps are like Jon Snow – they know nothing. I’ve seen most of London already anyway when I was searching for my bus stop. The Maps Which Know Nothing suggested that Hyde Park might or might not be in a walking distance from my position. I refreshed myself with a slivovitz shot or two and bravely set out for the hike.

Finding the place was itself the highlight of the day. I grew grumpy several hours later when there was no end to the park – and when the effects of the slivovitz wore off. Determined to find the end of the park because I hate loose ends, I walked past the bridge as far as to the end of Kensington Gardens. How was I supposed to know that behind the bridge it’s not called Hyde Park anymore but Kensington Gardens?

I exceeded my original objective, but my pleasure was tainted by the fact that I had to walk all the way back. After the previous day’s experience, I understandably didn’t trust buses. The whole hike took eight hours. It surprised me not a little that I still lived, since I’m strikingly unfit and unathletic.

I’m also incorrigible and incapable to learn from experience, for I cheerfully consulted Google Maps the next day to see what other sights there were within ten miles, which was apparently a walking distance for me now. There was Buckingham Palace. The directions seemed pretty straightforward, but I defeated them and went the wrong way.

I did find the place, but only after walking a significant stretch past a high wall adorned with barb wire at the top and polite warnings not to trespass. I wasn’t inclined to barbecue myself on the barb wire, so I meekly walked and walked and walked along the very boring road. The palace wasn’t at the end of it and I had to took a T-turn, which is a half-U-turn, to get there.

Once satisfied with Buckingham Palace, I was self-destructively craving for more walls, wires and gates. I ambitiously decided to walk through St James’s Park up to Trafalgar Square. Admittedly, I was originally aiming for the Downing Street, but I wandered off a little. At Trafalgar Square I got lost. I certainly knew I was at Trafalgar Square, what I didn’t know was how to find the Charing Cross station. The inhuman amount of hiking got the better of me and I was determined to take a bus or die in the attempt.

The first piece of advice I received from a local was to go to the Strand, where there’s a pharmacy and a railway station, and Charing Cross. There was some logic to this advice, as it turned out an hour later, when I actually got to the Strand to see for myself. For the directions to be helpful, though, they should have been: Walk round and round and round Trafalgar Square and when you find a street leading from it called the Strand, you’re there.

Still lost, I moved in side streets and was addressed by a bored security guard: Why so sad, Madam? I walked up to him and whined, I’m lost. I thought that was self-explanatory. It wasn’t. The man took greater interest in my facial expression than my welfare and shockingly proposed to trade his directions for my smile. I frowned and was about to walk away when the man gave me his directions after all and added some unsolicited Zen advice.

I found the bus stop, the bus and the hotel. On the day of my departure, I even found the relevant tube station. At the ticket gate an attendant spoke to me. As I don’t speak Londonese, he had to repeat his question five times. After I understood that the question was where I was travelling to and after he made himself satisfied that I was a complete idiot who doesn’t speak English, he announced that I wasn’t getting to my destination from here. I felt a sudden urge to stab him with my bra wire. I didn’t when he showed me to the right platform.

The tourniquet at the train station still hated me and refused to eat the ticket that I fed it. An attendant pulled me over (Come on here, Madam!), scrutinised me and my ticket and then let us go. I went through the last batch of madam-ing at the airport, where I was semi-stripped and put in a sunbed which was really an X-ray. Inadvertently, I promise, I smuggled on board a lip balm and half-drank tube of Speed 8 stimulant. In your face.

29 thoughts on “Lost in London; or, I Hate You, Google Maps

  1. I find the London Underground very easy to navigate (unlike its New York counterpart) but the bus system always befuddled and stressed me out. I, therefore, used to walk all over central London just to avoid using buses.

    One of my (many) neuroses is over getting lost. It ties into my neurosis about punctuality: if I get lost, I will be late. GoogleMaps helps me a lot and I do have a good sense of direction but there are still times when I get panicked because I’ve lost my bearings. “Ask a policeman” is what I was told as a kid and it does actually work.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your experience! It’s true that the London tube seemed ok-ish to me, the buses were more confusing. A shame there are no trams…

      Google Maps helped me a lot in my home country, I have no clue why it worked so poorly on roaming – and in London of all places, which is surely well mapped…

      The policemen that I met in London were actually very nice and helpful, so there’s a point about what we’ve been taught as children!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is the reason why I don’t like big cities, you get lost easily. Even if you ask for direction, you still feel lost. I already got lost in Helsinki twice and it’s no fun at all. Even if I’m been there a lot of times I still only know my way around in the town center.

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    1. Being lost is sure no fun, except one can have fun at least blogging about it 😉 I’m lost all the time, one would say I grew used to it, but I don’t think I ever will. Here’s to NOT being lost!

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  3. I generally enjoy navigating big cities. The only country where I have literally cried twice because I was lost was Italy. Because worse than getting lost is getting lost among a bunch of people who refuse to help in any way. I once spend over two hours at Rome Ciampino trying to find out which bus would take me to my nearby B&B. The bus listed on their website did not seem to exist. I asked some 10+ bus drivers and airport staff and they either ignored me or gave contradictory directions. The taxi drivers wanted to charge 30 Euros for the 5 minutes trip. And walking was only possible at the side of a busy and scary highway.

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    1. Oh dear, that’s a horrible experience! Thank you sharing it, though it’s quite deterring… One would expect locals to be helpful when they see a tourist coming to appreciate the city and support its economy… A shame it’s not the case. Here’s to happy travelling and not being lost!

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  4. A lot of walking! Nice little smuggling there at the end too. I was stopped by customs in Amsterdam when I was on my way to India (I was just changing flights). They interviewed me forever and they didn’t find it amusing when I asked them questions in return. Questions like:
    “Why do you stop me on the way to India? Do you think I’m buying expensive drugs in Norway to smuggle them and sell them cheap in India? You should stop me on the way back instead”.

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    1. Haha, always the rebel 🙂 Thanks for your amusing story. You obviously have a point. The very fact that I went through a thorough check and even without particularly intending too, I got two suspicious things on the plane says a lot about the real efficiency of these checks. And it was the same kind of “logic” – Prague was no problem, it was when I was returning from London, the most expensive place ever, that I was deemed suspicious…

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  5. The best/worst part about asking directions is that each person gives a different set of directions.
    You should start writing more posts like that and name them the travel guide to people who get lost alot.
    Really funny 🙂

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    1. Oh, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m happy that the post worked for you – that’s the comfort I have for being lost all the time, at least I can blog about it!

      Travel guides for permanently lost people? An excellent idea! Mine would probably contain no fancy maps and lots of common-sense directions. Google Map’s advice “walk to the west” is ridiculous because how do I know where the west is? I for one never know.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I had such a ball reading your article and I felt very sorry for you – poor you, what adventures you’ve gone through! London is such a great city. And people are so polite and willingly to give directions and help you in any way. I have a tendency to screw up things while traveling as well. From getting lost, going onto the wrong buses (because the name sounds so similar…^^) to forgetting my passport (which I needed for the flight…) at the hostel anything you could think of has happened to me before. And the funny thing is that I’m actually an experienced traveler and have been bravely jumping onto each journey with a sword and courage. In the end, there’s always something that goes wrong and you could think I’m an amateur… But don’t those things make up great stories? Imagine if you’ve had the perfect trip to London… I don’t dare thinking how boring your article must have been 😉 Just kidding – your articles certainly won’t get boring, but the trip might and you have nothing funny to remember, eh? 🙂 Loved the quotes about the bra (hate that!!!) and Jon Snow *rofl*

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    1. You’re very right that stories of things going wrong are way funnier than stories about things running smoothly! It’s interesting, I’m a moderately experienced traveller as well, but I always mess up. Once I forgot my passport too when I was travelling to Scotland, but I was rather fortunate that they let me in with just my ID card. Perhaps a passport was not required after all, but then everyone else had it and I was on the brink of despair. So here’s to happy travelling (and no murderous bra wires)!

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      1. I think you can travel most of Europe with an ID card only. Stupid me wanted to be vintage style and travel by passport to try to snatch a stamp at the border – which I didn’t get after all… And I left the ID at home thinking it might get stolen in the big city of London… well, bummer 😀 I missed the flight and had to purchase another one… *sigh*

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        1. I miss the stamps in passports too! I’m sorely disappointed anytime I don’t get a stamp – which is always, these days. Yes, most of Europe is on ID, but I wasn’t sure about Scotland. After all, Scots have their own money, so why wouldn’t they have their own rules for admitting people in 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes, you’re right… These people can be quite particular 😉 Next time – opt for the guys and flash them a lovely smile and a nice “how do you do?” That usually works well at the Irish border 😉 I keep collecting those green stamps…^^

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          2. Ah, I’m glad to hear that 😀 Yeah, they usually work better – I once thought the ladies would be nicer and more understanding – I was way wrong!!! She cut me off with a bored voice “we don’t do these anymore – NEXT!”… Too bad. Guys are up for little chats as well as usually most guys are in Ireland – bus drivers, bar keepers, guides, anyone really. I find them very friendly.

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