Solo in Europe: UK edition

[Warning: This is a long post. Feel free to skim.]

It’s no secret I dislike doing things on my own. While I enjoy some time hanging with myself, I also get bored and restless easily. Too easily. And sometimes that makes me reluctant to push myself outside of my tightly-knit comfort blanket. This can include an action as mundane as grocery shopping, or as grandiose as country hopping. I really, really hate grocery shopping on my own. Like, it’s not normal. You don’t want to see me in a grocery store alone. Trust me.

On that slightly awkward note: Just about a year ago, one of my favorite singers released a song that spoke to me. Except not really because he’s not a rapper. (Ha! Hahaha. Sorry. I had to. That wasn’t even funny. Okay let’s move on.)

To quote the song, in case you don’t listen to it….although you should listen to it because it’s basically therapy:

I want a life on fire, going mad with desire
I don’t wanna survive, I want a wonderful life

If this was the year 2004, I’d absolutely have those lyrics in my AIM profile. No doubt.

But it’s not 2004 and I haven’t been a high school freshman with a buddy list in a long time. As a 20-something figuring her shit out, I’ve also had to understand that it’s not always possible to enact the buddy system in every facet of life.

And thus, aligned with my goal of living large, ditching the 9-5 desk, and creating lasting memories, I booked a cheap ticket to England.

Okay, so actually I originally booked it to Scotland but after chatting with a friend in-the-know, I rerouted myself at the last second to England and then worked my way up to Scotland.

It turned out to be a 5-day completely solo adventure — the first of its kind in my life — and I generally have mixed feelings about the experience itself. I spent the time alternating between intense bouts of loneliness followed by incredible realizations of my own willpower. I’d have to agree that the lows made the highs that much better, but they also didn’t make the trip any easier or bring solace of any sort.

ENGLAND:

Day 1:

My first day in the United Kingdom was basically a wash. Because of poor planning on my part, I spent just about 10 hours traveling. In Prague, I walked to the bus stop, took it two stops, got off at the metro, took it 10 stops, got off, waited for the airport bus, got on, took it 9 stops, and arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare.

Once in Edinburgh, I raced through passport control, another bout of security (which was a breeze because Edinburgh is AWESOME), and another plane. At London Stansted, I bought a ticket to Liverpool Street Station and spent another 45 minutes on a train.

When I arrived in Liverpool Station, I felt frozen in space for a second. London has never been on my bucket list and I’ve never really considered what it’d be like to visit it beyond a basic knowledge of the main tourist sights.

Did I realize London was basically New York on steroids (a phrase I used MANY times)? For some reason, nope.

At first I tried to figure out the public transport system (oyster cards and the such) among throngs of humans moving at superhuman speed, but my brain was hazy, so instead I walked out of the station. I started walking around aimlessly but noted that my accommodation was still 45 minutes away by foot. Pass, pass, pass.

I then did the sensible thing and called an Uber. Or, well, at least I thought sensible. It took another 45 minutes by car to arrive across the river. London and New York certainly have several commonalities and car traffic is one of ’em. Talk about $$$.

At my Airbnb, I dropped my stuff off and realized I needed to eat STAT. I pulled up Yelp (RIP official international communities as of this week, UGH, so sad!!!) and found a place called the Mayflower Pub nearby. The pub claims a bunch of historic connections, including the Mayflower ship, obviously.

When I walked in a few minutes later, the pub was packed to the gills. It was the height of dinner time, after all. When I asked at the bar about dinner, I was initially told they were all booked up for the night. But then the bartender seemed to take a closer look, noticed I was by myself (or potentially I looked sad and pathetic), and said she’d see if she could move things around a bit.

A few minutes later, she brought me upstairs to the most adorable and cozy dining area. I was seated in a corner (which I prefer!) and attended to by like five different servers. No joke, I’m not sure how I even finished my meal. They all seemed very concerned about my singleness and constantly asked if I needed anything. In other situations, this might have been annoying. But as someone alone in a foreign country for the first time, it was welcomed and appreciated quite a bit.

Oh, and the food itself was INCREDIBLE! I had a local half pint with a steak & ale pie. So, so good.

After dinner, I decided I didn’t feel like going to sleep yet, so I wandered down the street. I quickly noted it was dark and slightly desolate, which concerned me. I’m all about being safe too.

Luckily, I spotted a pub nearby (because they are EVERYWHERE in London) and walked in.

I was a little confused by the lack of clientele at first before realizing that I had stepped into a hole in the wall. It only had two working taps, to put the place into perspective.

Nonetheless, I decided not to walk out and took a seat at the bar. And thank goodness! I ended up spending a good hour chatting with the only other customer and the bartender. They told me to “get my shit together” because I’m not getting  younger, but they also told me I look like Lily Allen (lol no but cool), so they’re good in my book.

Satiated, I headed back to the accommodation and passed out until…

Day 2:

The crack of dawn. Actually I’m not sure it was even light out yet. Due to my time constraints, I had booked one of those all-in-one day trips via Viator out to the countryside. It was set to depart at 7:45 AM…and I was about 50 minutes away by public transport.

I was slow to get ready but eventually found the bus stop. When the bus pulled up, I found out that they don’t sell one-time passes on the bus from the surprisingly unfriendly and unsympathetic driver. Per his instructions, I needed to go to a station to buy a ticket…and I didn’t have the time for that.

So I yet again called an expensive Uber. By some stroke of luck, he was basically a London pro and weaved through the traffic-ridden streets NBD. I arrived right before departure.

Before leaving for the tour, I assumed I’d easily make friends on the bus. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead I spent most of the day tweeting about the astonishing number of people clinging to each other with blinders on. It was the weirdest, most isolating tour of my life.

There were a few other solo travelers on the tour, but even when I’d try to talk to them, they often returned my sentiments with constipated expressions. Clearly they just wanted their space and had no desire to make international connections.

Additionally, this particular tour fulfilled every American stereotype out there. Loud white folks, older, many talking about Texas, others grumbling about the election. They even took selfies with a stray cat at one point.

I know I’m not exempt from the blame. I did book the tour too, after all. I think I just expected to find people to have tea with…rather than the reality of sitting at a table staring at my teapot and feeling sad because the group from my tour at the door tried to cut me in line and didn’t invite me to sit with them even when I said table for one. I would have invited them to have tea if the roles were reversed.

Beyond the tour group analyzation, I did enjoy seeing the countryside for the most part. Windsor Castle wasn’t really my thing (too damn stuffy!) but it was cool to see where the Queen hangs in her downtime. I even saw the big march to change the guards. Cool.

From there, we headed over to Stonehenge. As we inched closer, the sky got darker and darker (because, England) and soon it was a full on downpour….right in time for the shuttle up to the stones. What joy.

But seriously. WHAT JOY! It was such a sight. It’s pretty difficult to get a photo without any other tourists in it, but even so, it’s a really neat place to visit…especially in crummy weather. It makes the scene so much more #moody.

The tiny little village of Lacock was next on the agenda. We had a pub lunch there and the sun returned (because, England). Since we didn’t have a choice, I ended up at a table with two ladies from the Lehigh Valley (yes, the valley in Pennsylvania near Philly) and a solo traveler from Brazil.

It was pretty obvious that the two ladies thought I was younger and more naive than I actually am. I tried to give the one some professional suggestions and a contact for her future travels, but she told me that I couldn’t help her….because she runs some big team for a big fancy company (she didn’t name it, because I guess it’s TOP SECRET and super special) and thus all her travels and expenses are taken care of.

Bravo.

Goals: Do not turn into that lady.

After lunch, we wandered around the town a bit. People took selfies with some house from Harry Potter. Apparently HP’s parents “lived there” in the series but I dunno. I’ve never read the books and only saw the first three movies. HP was considered Satanic (magic and whatever), so I was banned from reading the books as a kid. For whatever reason, I’ve never felt the desire to delve into the series. Maybe one day.

K, moving on.

Next, we went to Bath. I was pretty cranky and tired by this point. I honestly didn’t see the point of visiting the town. It was cold and dark. The baths are closed for the season. Most things were closed. This is where I had the sad tea. Although it was at a place called Sally Lunns…and I’ve totally been to the Sally Lunns in Chester, NJ, and loooove it there, so it was cool to check out its British counterpart. I later learned (in Scotland) that the two are actually connected in some way. Pretty cool!

Also my cinnamon bun was incredible. So was the tea. I was mostly just lonely and feeling sorry for myself.

After a 3-hour bus ride back to London, I called an Uber again and chatted with my Lithuanian driver. And here’s a weird story: Usually I’m so honest it gets me in trouble. But I didn’t feel like being me while I was talking to him. So I created a semi-new backstory for myself. In it, I was a traveler from the States who moved to Central Europe to teach. I was an active teacher and had the funds to travel freely. I planned to stay for a year at least.

Okay. So not fictional, but not reality in the least…anymore. I only wish it could be real.

Day 3:

I woke up with a realization: It was my first and only exploration day in London…AND IT WAS NOVEMBER 5! Bonfire Night!

If you check my Yelp profile, you’ll note that V for Vendetta is listed as my favorite movie. It has stayed that way since the movie was released a decade ago. I love, love that movie, and I don’t think I’ve forgotten a fifth of November…ever.

My London day was almost entirely spent walking around the city at random. I hit many of the big attractions — Tower Bridge, Borough Market, Millennium Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus (NEVER AGAIN, DEAR GOD!), and obviously Big Ben and Parliament.

I also ate at a Shake Shack (after eating at a British pub!) because I was craving a good hot dog after having a crappy one the day before in Windsor.

Eventually, I had logged over 23,000 steps and was tired. I really wanted to just sit in a pub and chill, but London city center has no chill and it was a Saturday night, sooooo I ended up watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from the balcony of an old theatre.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve watched a musical, but it’s now something I want to do more often for sure. I felt so much more fulfilled than I would have sitting alone at a bar surrounded by groups of people. What an awesome show too. It’s long-running, so if you end up in London, be sure to check it out if you can! It only cost me like 22 pounds last minute.

After the show, I headed back to the accommodation and passed out shortly thereafter…until…

SCOTLAND:

Day 1:

The crack dawn the next morning. I had booked the earliest train to Edinburgh since I wanted to spend most of the day exploring the city. Eventually, after traveling up the beautiful coast, my train arrived on time at 13:16.

I dropped my bags at the Airbnb, had a surprisingly long chat with my insanely friendly and sweet host, and hit the streets. Since I had yet to eat, I made that a priority and stepped into The Devil’s Advocate. A 5-star review awaits that place. My burger was expensive but soooo good! So good. Ugh. So good.

I spent the rest of daylight exploring the town in a state of total glee. Edinburgh is SO much more my speed. It’s still a city, so cool, but it’s not teeming with humans. You can actually walk without feeling like a sardine. I love that and wish I had stuck with my original idea of Scotland only.

Eventually I went back to the apartment to decompress for a bit and then switched to my heavier coat and headed back down the road. My host had recommended a bar called the Hanging Bat Beer Cafe and said they offered flights. That met my quota of local suds for the trip and it almost felt like being at home again. Cozy, not too crowded, and friendly staff. Check, check, and more check.

A day well spent. I went to sleep early again because…

Day 2:

I had to get up at the crack of dawn. Seriously. I don’t know why I did this to myself the ENTIRE TRIP. But yeah, trying to cram in as much as possible in my limited timeframe, I yet again had booked a tour via Viator. This time: to the Highlands and Loch Ness.

Per my tour guide, the Loch Ness tours are the most popular in the world. I don’t know if that’s an actual fact, but either way….cool.

This one was a smaller group tour (16 people total) and it was somewhat easier to talk to people, though no one was talkative yet again. Aside from the guide, who pretty much talked nonstop for 12 hours. I don’t know how he managed to come up with so many topic points, but good going for him. He’s evidently in the right field.

The scenery itself was insane. It felt similar to Connemara in Ireland in some ways but like an entirely different world in others. Apparently we traveled on the same road as seen in the movie Skyfall. Neat.

Loch Ness was cool, though I’m sorry to admit I didn’t encounter any monsters….aside from a tourist couple that I wanted to smack.

Basically, being that it was just me and all, I wanted to take a loch (lake) selfie without my coat on. Since no one was around (most of them did a boat tour but I’m still too scarred from the Wild Atlantic Way puke-fest to get on a boat), I took my coat off and stuck it on the Loch Ness sign for a moment.

Snapped a couple selfies when the aforementioned couple rounded the bend and yelled, “OH MAN! She has her coat on the SIGN! *GRUMBLE GRUMBLE GRUMBLE*”

Blink. And. Stare.

I just want to point out something right here: I’m not deaf. I’m not blind. If you’re going to talk about me, please be certain I can’t hear or see what you’re saying. You’re otherwise free to talk shit all you want. But seriously? In what world is it okay to yell out in total disgust because someone has her coat resting on a sign for a second? Eye roll.

I glared at them, scooped my coat up, and walked away…but I do wish I had just left it there and continued to piss them off since they couldn’t just simply ask me to move it, or let me move it on my own because I’m not actually a jerk.

They didn’t even thank me for moving the coat. Not that I expected them to consider pleasantries.

I think that’s a problem with traveling sometimes. People think the world revolves around their wants and needs when really we’re all just experiencing our own slivers. We all need to learn how to coexist better and how to be friendlier in foreign situations.

After the tour ended, I had dinner at a Mexican restaurant near the apartment and went to sleep early….

Today: 

Because, as you might guess, I had booked a 7:20 AM flight back to Prague. Eye roll to last-week me. Last-week me knew how much I hate mornings and apparently didn’t care.

I made it back into the country without issue and slept for most of the day. But I won’t be resting much longer. Tomorrow I head off to Belgium and The Netherlands for a week.

And you guessed it: I’ll be traveling with just a suitcase, a selfie stick, and not a single familiar face in either country. I’m also hopeful I won’t have to answer questions about Donald Trump and why my country even has him on the ballot, but that’s probably wishful thinking…and also a totally different topic that I’m not going to enter into on my travel blog.

This time around, I’ll be traveling with a half-empty checked suitcase, so if any of you are dying for souvenirs (or, um, beer), feel free to let me know. Also feel free to join last minute. YOLO and all.

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