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.