Saturday August 21: Final Day in London/blog post that never ends

When one’s plane doesn’t leave until 10:15pm and they have to be checked out of their flat by 10:30 am, secure bag-ditching is job #1.

I’d looked into different places to store my bags for the day (although it would have been pretty funny to see me wearing a backpacking backpack, a laptop case, and dragging a large wheeled duffle around London) but I hadn’t had much luck with my search up until the night before checkout.  Being a thrifty college kid, paying £24 for luggage storage services recommended by my school in London sounded like a waste of a few days’ food money, so I decided to hold out for something better.  While discussing the issue with a flatmate, I decided to ask the front desk if they could help me out.  24 flights of stairs later (12 down, 12 up), I had a place to store my bags—for £4!  As an added bonus, storing my bags at my apartment building meant minimal travel with heavy baggage since the apartment was located a 5-minute taxi ride from the express train station to Heathrow.  WIN!

After leaving my flat for the last time, I took the tube and then a train to the Southwestern area of London to visit an Australian friend that I’d met on the Amsterdam-Belgium weekend.  Visiting her was the first time I’d gone outside of sprawling central London (excluding trips), which was a lot of fun.  Central London is constantly humming with activity, is intensely overcrowded, and is a very multicultural city.  When you get to the outer areas, the feel switches from a vibrant metropolis to a quaint village—not what I was expecting at all!  The difference was actually pretty similar to going from downtown Minneapolis to West River Road towards St. Paul, but it still surprised me since it didn’t fit with my existing perception of London.
Après dropping off a bag of goodies/all of the barely used bottles of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, lotion, and uncooked pasta I couldn’t bear to throw away (all opened things had to be thrown away but why my flatmates and I each bought our own instead of sharing is pretty foolish in looking back on it), plus a bottle of wine as a flat-warming gift at my friend’s new place, we set off for my final adventure day in London. 

Stop 1 was Platform 9 ¾ @ Kings Cross Station, which ironically, is located on Platform 8. Our timing was pretty impeccable since there were just a few people there when we arrived but a massive group as we were leaving.  I love it when that happens.
From there, we went to my internship site which a. has a great view of the Tower Bridge (which she hadn’t seen) and b. was a 5 minute walk from our lunch location—Bourough Market! 
Bourough Market is a foodie’s paradise—you name it, they’ve got it.  Kathryn (my friend) rocked an ostrich sausage sandwich, me a quinoa, leek, and red pepper veggie burger on a leaf, and we split some olives with feta.
Wandering around Bourough Market is a dangerous thing because everything looks so delicious and free samples are around every corner.  About 10 cheese samples and an hour later, we departed the market with a baguette and cheese in hand for Kathryn and a multigrain-seed cookie for me in hand for later munching.  We only made it a few stops away on the tube before being told that the line was suspended for planned repairs.   Luckily the end of the line was where Kathryn needed to be to head home (it was around 2pm and we’d done a lot of walking) and a convenient place for me as well.  The stop put me out near the Southbank, which is an area filled with theatres, festival halls, street performers, and the London Eye on the South bank of the Thames.  It’s a pleasant walk from this area back to my old flat so after sitting down for a while to people watch, I started the final walk to my former London home.

The walk’s route starts along the Thames, crosses a bridge to Westminster, runs alongside St. James’ Park, passes Buckingham Palace, continues through Green Park, and then follows my favorite path through Hyde Park to Speakers’ Corner and Marble Arch.  Along the way, I was asked twice for directions—once from a man from Florida and the other from a German couple.  I love being asked for directions in foreign countries since it means that I look native enough to know the answer.  Score for not coming across as an American tourist!  Conveniently, I was headed in the direction the people wanted to go both times I was asked, so I personally walked them to where they needed to go.  I know from experience how confusing London is if you don’t know where you’re going so it made my day to point them in the right direction.

By the time I got back to the apartment building, it was around 5:30pm.  I wrapped up some loose ends via the free wifi in the lobby, grabbed a cab shortly after 6, and was seated on the Heathrow Express 20 minutes later. 

Travel tip: If you’re planning to study abroad, get an International Student Identification Card (ISIC).  It will pay for itself pretty quickly with all the discounts you get, plus it’s handy to have as an additional student ID since it has an expiration date.  Some of the theatres in London wouldn’t accept my friends’ U-cards for student tickets because they didn’t have an expiration date…meaning they were SOL for discounted tickets

Once at Heathrow, I had to wait for about 30 mins until check in for my flight to begin.  The tricky thing about baggage allowances is that they differ between coming to Europe from the States and flying between countries in Europe.  Coming from home, I was a 50lb bag under the weight allowance (I only checked 1 instead of the permitted 2 and carried my backpack and laptop on), but in Europe, I was allowed 20 kilos (44 lbs) for checked luggage and one carry on bag.  Dagnabbit.  I figured that I was going to have to pay a rather hefty overweight luggage fee, but since appealing to the generosity of people that are in a position to help you is always worth a shot and pride is overrated, I went for it. 
In this case, that person was the ticketing agent.  In the middle of writing how much I would have to pay in fees and apologizing for not being able to help me out, he had a change of heart, instructed me to check only the duffle (which was under the weight allowance), stuff everything from my purse into my backpack, and carry the backpack on along with my laptop.  And they say ticketing agents don’t care about people.  To say that I was incredibly grateful would be an understatement—thanks again Olympic Air agent!

Typically, as I was rearranging my backpack at a nearby table, I found a paring knife that I had packed in the bag with the intention of checking it.  Perfectly good knife, meet rubbish bin.  Sigh.  I think the airport gods will never get tired of playing the ‘lets see what illegal thing Lisa can try to carry on’ game.

2.5 hours later, I was sitting on a plane bound for Athens.  European flight attendants never cease to amaze me with their language knowledge.  Every flight instruction is given in at least 2 languages (the carrier’s native language, English, and the language of the country the plane is headed to if it is different than the other two).  I napped until the meal service started (yes, European carriers actually feed their passengers!) then chatted with the lady sitting next to me for nearly the rest of the 3-hour flight.  As a native Greek that’s lived in London for the past 19 years, she was a wonderful source of information for me about Greece, what I should expect from the Greek people (friendly hosts, no need to learn any Greek words since most know English, and don’t be put off if they don’t say please or thank you—the words aren’t used in Greek culture) and what food I should seek out (almond sweets, bread, watermelon, yogurt).

Traveling has made me a lot more comfortable with striking up conversations with people that I don’t know and I’ve learned some really valuable things from talking to people!  As soon as I say that I’m a student studying abroad, most people light up and become really chatty—all you really need is a few questions to start things off and then soak up the knowledge that they share!