Summer 2015, IcelandAir lost my luggage on my way to London. The city was in the middle of a record setting heatwave and the only clothes on my back were the ones I was wearing in frigid Iceland the day before, a coat, sweater, pants and heeled boots. My dresses and sandals for a Cambridge study summer were gone and London was sweltering.
I had a few options open to me. I could sit around the airport all day and hope my luggage showed up on a later flight (highly unlikely as it seemed it had been lost back on my first leg through Boston), I could go to my hotel and strip down to my underoos and lay around on the bed postponing the inevitable which was finding things to wear, or I could use the technology in my hand and find a cheap clothing store and get myself kitted out as the British say.
I pulled out my cell phone while I still had airport wifi. I used Google Maps to find London’s version of San Francisco’s Union Square, SOHO, the place where I knew most retail stores would be cobbled so close together that they amassed into a corporation’s wet dream, and I planned my route, taking screenshots for when I knew my data would disappear. I had just finished two days of travel, three plane flights, was looking down the barrel of an hour long train ride and all I wanted to do was sleep, but I knew I could do this, I would get myself clothes to wear. I was born to shop…as we Americans say.
Bleary-eyed, tired, literally carrying all I had on my back, I popped out of the Tube at Oxford Circus and followed the crowd of people into the packed intersection like a lemming. There in front of me was the big box glass H&M store, shining like the Eiffel Tower…oh wait, I’m getting my similes wrong. Well, anyway, it was there. I stocked up on a dress, shorts, a skirt, two tank tops. I was hopeful that my luggage would arrive in only a day and wanted to compliment what I already packed rather than doubling up. I opted out on getting a pair of sandals and got some dress flats instead, thinking they would go well with some things I already had to wear.
I took myself, backpack, shopping bag, camera bag and all to a restaurant for lunch down the street. The waitress sounded familiar, close to home. I told her about my harrowing travels and lost baggage and she brought me a free glass of wine. We got to talking. She was from the San Francisco Bay Area and had moved to London about a year ago to pursue acting. She gave me information for a performance she would be going to later that evening if I wanted to join. The travel writer in me, wished that I had for the story, but the exhausted traveler in me made myself find my hostel so that I could successfully navigate to Cambridge the next day.
I hopped back on the Tube, having gotten the appropriate pass back at the train station, and found my hostel, Clink78, an old courthouse converted into a shared dormitory. In the ten minutes that it took me to walk from the station to the hostel, my new flats opened a large hole in the back of my heel and blood dripped into the sole of my shoe.
I couldn’t let this get me down though. I was about to shower, change and go to sleep at 7 pm as I always do when I’m jetlagged. I was proud of myself, happy that I wasn’t scared off by an unfamiliar city or lack of sleep or proper clothing to get myself what I needed. I was even more proud of myself, retrospectively, when it turned out that my luggage, that I was told would arrive at Gonville and Caius College the next day, didn’t arrive for another five, leaving me without my belongings for a full week.
I also think my shopping navigation bolstered my solo travel skills that whole trip, causing me to travel to more little pockets of London on my own, then I would have ever considered trying to find by myself before. I went shopping in Notting Hill, wandering down Portobello Rd and brunching at Farm Girl Cafe. I ventured out to pick up iced cookies (or biscuits) from The Biscuiteers. I walked through Hyde Park, meandering by the Serpentine Gallery and the latest outdoor art pavilion. I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum at 9 in the morning and waited in an hour long line to get tickets to the acclaimed Alexander McQueen exhibit that was hands down one of the best curated museum experiences I have ever had.
I’ll be leaving for my first winter in Europe in less than a week, heading back to London, but this time with a very private tour guide, my boyfriend, where he will show me all his childhood haunts. In that spirit, I want to look back at some of my favorite memories of trips to England. This one will be my third.
Here are some things I remember and/or look forward to experiencing again:
Men roasting chestnuts outside the Tower of London.
Eating scones and clotted cream in a cozy tea shop.
Sitting amongst the pink velvet cushions of sketch for afternoon tea and being dazzled by its opulence.
Punting down the river in Cambridge accidentally feeding ducks and drinking wine.
Traveling on a coach with my fellow high school students visiting historic landmarks like Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the place where King Arthur might be buried if he’s a real person, as well as Stratford-upon-Avon and more.
Being wary of fish pie in a pub when I was fifteen and then later drinking a pint in a pub when I was thirty-three.
And in that spirit, here’s to all the pints that will be had very shortly. Cheers and Happy Holidays!
*Sidenote: The posts have been few and far between as I am on a deadline to finish writing my novel by the end of the year. I hope to start posting more frequently once that is complete. Wish me luck!