So. After a very long summer of wishing, waiting, and working, the day of our flight arrived. London called and I was answering. My mother and I were driven to the Charlotte airport by her always sarcastic husband where we boarded our flight for Toronto. The plane was so small that I couldn’t stand upright, but a short flight later and the first leg of our trip was over!
Upon our arrival in Toronto, we made a quick detour through customs, past the surly but incredibly attractive border agent (seriously – he was hot). The gate for our flight to London was just around the corner. Toronto’s airport didn’t seem very large… At this point, my mother was anxious for a cigarette, but no dice. There simply wasn’t enough time for her to leave the airport and make it back through security before boarding began. Boarding for international flights always seems to take longer than it should, but we finally taxied down the runway and took off.
To put it mildly, my mother is not a pleasant person when she is denied her “civil liberty” of smoking. In her eyes, nothing was satisfactory about the flight. The less than polite flight attendant did nothing to alleviate the matter. But, two films, a spilled Coke, and an in-flight meal later, we arrived in London where made the long trek through the Heathrow airport to customs. Of course, as scatter brained as I have become, I forgot to bring a copy of my acceptance letter. I had my passport with my visa inside, but what good is that if I don’t have the letter of sponsorship from King’s? One would think that, considering the amount of paperwork required in order to obtain a visa, one could simply walk through customs visa in hand… Nope. Not the case. So I quickly whipped out my handy dandy iPhone, pulled up the letter online, and voila! *stamp stamp* “Go on through. Enjoy your stay.” And with that, I was approved to enter the UK. We grabbed our bags off the conveyor belt and carted our way out of the airport.
A friend of mine met us at the airport and, after waiting for my mother to smoke a much needed cigarette, the three of us hopped in a cab and headed for the hotel. En route, my mother thought to embarrass me by regaling my friend with anecdotes from my childhood, complete with pictures. Luckily, the hotel wasn’t terribly far away and the cab ride was mercifully short. We dropped off our bags at the Hilton Olympia and walked down the street to have brunch and allow mommy dearest to smoke. We stopped at two shops along the way – one to buy cigarettes, the other to buy a lighter (which she had forgotten). Being new to the UK, my mother immediately (but unintentionally) tried to skip the queue. Tsk tsk. Queues are the lifeblood of order in the UK.
After brunch, we made our way back to the hotel to check in. The Hilton Olympia has to be one of only a handful of London hotels in which it is legal to smoke (she was quite happy about that). Smoking rooms were in their own wing, sealed off. You knew as soon as you stepped through the door to the wing that smokers had been there. The hallway smelled of stale cigarettes and dirty ash trays, but the room itself was decent. We dropped off our bags, refreshed ourselves, and began the Herculean task of finding a decent flat in London. Dun dun dun…
I had been looking at flats online all summer and contacting agents only to be told time and again, “Give us a call when you get to London.” So I called. One thing I had not discovered in my search was that, because I am a student without a full time job, if I wanted to live on my own, I would need a UK guarantor or pay the first six months’ rent outright. Well, both of those were out of the question… So I was forced to look elsewhere. There are several websites that list rooms to let in flatshares and houseshares. So, I browsed. Endlessly.
The first viewing. The flat was great and, as I would later find out, great places do not often fall within my price range. In my naïveté, we pressed on, not realizing what a true gem we had discovered. We saw three more flats that day and none of them could hold a candle to the first. I contacted the first to let her know I was still interested, but she would not make her decision until Saturday, as she was still showing the place. So we kept looking, my mother becoming increasingly frustrated.
Mummy sat the next round out while my friend and I made a whirlwind tour of London, looking at flats in an attempt to find something suitable. Even he was exhausted by the time we were through (apparently, I am exhausting person to travel with). Two days in and we had seen some places that I could accept, but nothing fantastic. Saturday also proved fruitless.
Come Sunday, we had changed hotels, suffered through numerous arguments, I had lost my dumphone, and I had been denied the first flat we had seen. A break was definitely in order. I took momma to Portobello Market and we ventured down the street, occasionally diving into one of the shops that caught her eye. But antiques and knick knacks can never truly satisfy one’s need for retail therapy, so we headed to Oxford Street, home of shops galore.
Several shops later, hunger began to get the better of us, but my mother’s palate limited us to McDonald’s or fish and chips. Not exactly a fan of Ronald’s House, I preferred fish and chips. So, we popped into a nearby pub, patched into the free Wi-Fi, and I continued the flat search online. Our luck seemed to finally be changing. Having lost my phone, I had also lost my contacts for the appointments I had made. With my new phone, I rescheduled an appointment and we headed out, wending our way toward Stratford on the Underground.
The neighbourhood: pleasant, the street: quiet, and the largest urban shopping centre in Europe: just down the road. We were greeted by Justas at the door and shown around. He and his girlfriend share the flat and were looking to rent the spare room. The place is simply furnished, but nice. The bedroom has a double bed and plenty of space. It seemed perfect. Tired of looking at subpar flats, my mother was adamant that this be the place I stay. So we talked to Justas, he to his girlfriend, and presto! My own room in a flat in London!
Relieved of such an onerous task, I would now be able to show my mother the sites and sights of London. From the changing of the guard to the Tower Bridge (with stops for coffee and a place to sit) we covered London over the next two days. She was exhausted from the constant walking we had been doing. I realized she’s not exactly a spring chicken anymore… But she survived. A few more arguments later, we ate dinner and went back to the hotel for the last time. Wednesday morning at 5am, we took a cab to the airport and parted ways. I was truly on my own for the first time. Kind of surreal… But I’ve survived thus far! Stay tuned for the next episode of my adventures in London.