If you’ve read my last post, you’re probably pretty impressed with what a travel genius I am for being able to cheaply and directly infiltrate the British people and exploit their travel opportunities. If not, you should go ahead and read that before I admit to all the stupid things I did after making the initial discovery that I could book through Thomas Cook.
First Mistake, I got a little too carried away saving money. I can’t help it, I just love a good deal. Where I went wrong was finding the cheapest possible flight, meaning that I would fly into Manchester and out of Glasgow.
I also hate planning as much as I love saving money. So, I arrived in Manchester with no plan on how to get to London, no place to stay once I got there, and no definite plot to get me to Glasgow for my return flight.
I wasn’t really worried about it. I’ve been to the U.K. before and know that trains make everything very accessible. Besides, it’s a small country right? So I can say my one regret about this trip is that I didn’t spend a bit more to fly directly into Gatwick. What I didn’t account for was that train tickets can vary in price GREATLY depending on the time of day. It’s only a 2 hour train ride from Manchester to London, however the cost of this on any given day can be anywhere from £12.50-£150.00. That’s a pretty huge variance and I’ll give you a guess as to what it was when I needed to go. I compromised and took the slow train to save money and I had to make a transfer with an hour layover.
What really carried me through all the inconveniences occurred on account of my poor planning was the very thing that every American dreads. The rest of the world thinks we are stupid. This can actually be an advantage for a girl traveling by herself. Turns out you can buy any train ticket you want, off-peak, wrong zone, wrong time, doesn’t really matter and the English are nice enough to let you get on your choice of trains. Apparently this is not advisable and can get you in trouble, but from my experience 90% of the time no one checks, and the 10% of the time they do check, the response is “eh, no worries Love”. The English are pretty great.
Once I got to London things went a little smoother. I still had no place to stay for the night, but I had the whole day to figure that out. My first stop was La Gaffe in Hampstead, hotel, restaurant, and home to the greatest cappuccino in the world. (No, seriously!) Best of all, once I got there I found out they just had a room open up for 3 of the 5 nights I would be in London. See, everything works out! Or at least I had 3 days before I had to worry about it again. Bonus, I would be staying in gorgeous Hampstead, one of my very favorite places in the world.
Now that my accommodations were squared away, I was free to enjoy the city. The beauty of going to London (or anywhere for that matter) without a plan is that you can experience anything! There is much to be said about being able to experience all the popular tourist attractions that bring everyone to a city, but having been to London several times I had already seen the Tower of London,
and the museums that let you stand really close to priceless historical artifacts.
This left the entirety of my short stay to try to experience a more “local” lifestyle. Which should have been easy since I was there visiting some reported “locals”. I spent most of my time there with my friend Dave, who claimed to be a local, however took me to see about 7 different Buckingham Palaces, including this one where these men in silly hats perform an elaborate routine that culminates with the men dismounting their horses and giving them a firm slap on the neck.
Apparently I backed the wrong slapped horse for an authentic local experience. In fact, I even took a picture in a big red phone booth that smelled of urine and saw Big Ben… again.
So, I was seeing London as a tourist again. There are worse ways to spend a week. I still stand by my no plans policy. It just meant I got to do touristy things when the opportunity arose, and in between I got to bar hop! Plus it was summer sort of,
which as you can see, means you get to drink all the Pimm’s cups. It’s Pimm’s o’clock somewhere! Now this is a delicious cocktail I first discovered 8 times in a row at an open bar in New Orleans, a number estimated based on the amount of souvenir glasses I came home with. New Orleans likes to claim this cocktail as their own, but it is quintessentially English, and like everything else, much fancier when you order it there.
It was a poorly planned trip that ended up pretty amazing. Everything worked out. I ended up staying at an adorable inn called the Anchor in Dave’s hometown of Shepperton, a short train ride from Euston Station.
I also met up with my friend and former Disney World Jungle Cruise Co-skipper Nick, who was able to find the real Buckingham Palace.
I was even able to snag a cheap last-minute flight to Glasgow to get home. Turns out flights are a lot cheaper when you buy them in the U.K. and they don’t do that thing where it cost $700 to fly anywhere last-minute because they can.
For full disclosure’s sake, my poor planning also lead to me having very little time to change planes and airlines in Glasgow and a severely delayed flight out of Gatwick forced me to yet again be a “please help me! I’m just a dumb American girl” tourist. But with a little coaxing, a man who I’m almost certain was speaking English had them hold the plane for me as I ran. Which was really fortunate since Thomas Cook only flies that route twice a week. Unfortunately, that means that my first time in Scotland the only photo I got was this.
That’s me in the tiny cartoon plane.
Anyway, I made it back in time to teach a dance class scheduled for 2 hours after my plane landed at an airport an hour away. Turns out when you slyly infiltrate a British airline, the U.S. Passport line in customs line is pretty short! I also filled a page in my passport!
So as always, everything works out. Planning is stupid! Don’t worry about it.