Travel (mis)adventures in London

Travel (mis)adventures in London

with 26 Comments

 

This morning I received a travel newsletter about the ten best capitals in Europe. London is one of them. The article features some breathtaking pictures of London, which made me decide to spend our next city trip in the British capital. But then, a little voice in my head popped up: “Are you serious? Remember what happened the last time you went to London? And the time before? And the other time before that?”

 

First time in London… a total disaster at the Piccadilly Circus

 

I was 15 when I first visited London. On a bright July day, my sister and I caught an early flight at the Luxembourgish airport. The azure sky looked promising and we were excited at the idea of shopping, eating and immersing ourselves in London. But as we approached Britain’s capital, the sky turned into a murky grey. When we landed, it was raining buckets. Ha! Of course… Welcome to London!

 

The first thing we bought in “the Big Smoke” had to be an umbrella. A tiny umbrella to which we both clinched, fighting off a nasty wind. As we climbed out of the Tube station, we paused a moment, surprised by the turmoil of people rushing around Piccadilly Circus.

 

 

A moment later, I told my sister that her purse was half open. As she turned around, we saw the kid standing next to us holding her wallet! It took us a second to realize that the little guy just stole from us! We reached out to grab him, but he dashed off and disappeared between two tall guys. So we ran after the rascal, but only managed to see how he tossed my sister’s wallet to his accomplice, who casted it to yet another kid.

 

Of course we wanted to call for help, but who could have helped us? A woman who had witnessed the scene told us that those kids always work in gangs. We better watch out for what’s left of our possessions, she said and walked away. We went to report the incident at the nearest police station, but the officers told us that nothing could be done. Luckily my sister had split her money in two wallets. Her credit cards, ID and other important documents were safely stored in her second wallet.

 

All soaked up, and holding tight to our belongings, we walked to our hotel, looking forward to get changed and to dry our hair. Except… well, there was no hair dryer at the hotel. Back home, when we had called the hotel to book a room, the manager had confirmed that there was a hair dryer in each room. In fact, there wasn’t even a bathroom in the hotel. Just a tiny toilet and a sink, for bathrooms were shared.

 

Second trip to the British capital: from horrible customs to mice hell

 

9 years later, a dear friend convinced us to spend a weekend in London. We had barely made it to the customs of Eurostar in Paris that I already regretted my decision.

 

At the customs, they were giving our friend a hard time, interviewed her for an hour, and made her show them all available official documents. All that, just because she’s from Hong Kong! We knew that there are people from Asia who would like to enter the UK territory and stay there forever. But our friend lived in Paris, studied in Paris, and worked in Paris. She was even in a civil union with a French guy. She had absolutely no reason to flee France! We both tried to reason with the woman at the customs, but were soon told that it was none of our business and that we’d better not interfere. Five minutes before the Eurostar closed its doors, they finally let us go. We hopped on the train, relieved, but all shaken up.

 

After so many years, London was of course different from what I remembered from my first visit. But one thing didn’t change: we still didn’t get lucky with our hotel. Because of my previous experience, we had decided to book a 3-star hotel for the three of us. As students, this was clearly an investment. In appearance, everything looked neat and clean, the beds were comfortable, and the continental breakfast was not too bad either.

 

A post shared by yasuhiro okada (@yshrokd) on

 

However, the disasters started on our second night in London. Needless to say, it was raining and windy. So, both Kerstin and I ended up catching a cold. We were glad to be back in our hotel room by 10pm, where we fell asleep after a boiling shower. But then a weird noise woke us up in the middle of the night. At first, we thought that our friend was having a midnight snack, since we heard some rustling noise. But then a second noise joined in: peep, peep! The peeping noise soon multiplied. We wondered whether we were both hallucinating because of fever? But no… the sound kept growing.

 

I think it’s mice! Kerstin whispered. I was so disgusted that I couldn’t move my body. And due to fever, we were both too weak to do anything about it. So soon the fever put us back to sleep.

 

A post shared by Shanna (@xplicit1) on

 

The next morning, we found residue here and there, crumbs and bits of torn plastic bags. We also saw a few detritus lying on our friend’s cushion. We moved her bed, and found a huge hole in the wall. The whole building was probably an amusement park for rodents, and those sneaky midgets clearly had fun in our hotel room! It was our last day at the hotel, so we complained at the reception when we checked out. But they simply said “Oh!” We were so shocked that we didn’t even get a “Sorry” from the manager!

 

But that was NOT the worst experience of my second trip to London. Two months later, I found out that my credit card was hacked by someone from London! Someone who was definitely too stupid to understand that he can’t hack credit cards to buy plane tickets and stay unnoticed. My bank quickly confirmed that the guy got arrested, since it was a piece of cake for the fraud department to find out the name of someone who books plane tickets online! And it turned out that he had been working at the hotel we stayed in, since he had hacked other tourists’ credit cards before.

 

Third attempt in London: sticky sandwiches & ants invasion

 

About 2 years later, my professor in Paris told me about a great summer school program in London, which offered intensive classes in ancient Greek. The archaeology department of my University would pay all study fees! I couldn’t refuse that opportunity, could I?

 

Given the expensive accommodations in London, I was very lucky to stay at an acquaintance’s flat for free. The lady lived in a 3-story house, and each story was occupied by one of her family members. Her mother happened to be abroad for a few months, so she let me stay in her apartment. I had my own bedroom, my own living room, and my own kitchen. It was perfect I thought. But as I returned from the groceries the day I arrived, I saw an army of ants marching into the kitchen…

 

My host sprayed chemicals in every corner to make them flee the scene, but it didn’t work. I bought a stronger repellent to get rid of them, but they continued to invade the apartment, always finding new ways to intrude. Soon they were spreading over the living room, parading over the couch, patrolling along the armrest. I didn’t know where to sit, or where to put my bare feet anymore. Dealing with an army of ants each day before cooking was not exactly what I had expected from my stay in London!

 

A post shared by Weitat Pua (@weitat96) on

 

So, I decided to eat out. But since I was just a poor student back then, most restaurants in London were too expensive for me. Hence, I had sandwiches every single day. Those triangular sandwiches where half of it stays stuck on your upper teeth with each bite. I once tried to NOT remove what’s stuck on my gum, but to keep gnawing at my sandwich until I had so much mellow dough accumulated on my gum that I couldn’t close my mouth properly. Of course, it was at that exact moment that a professor came to talk to me…

 

Fourth visit in the City… or how we managed to always catch the wrong bus

 

My last trip to London was in 2012 with Kerstin and our two teenage nephews. It was their first time in the City, so we visited all the touristy places from the Royal Palace to Madame Tussaud’s, waiting patiently in lines with thousands of other people.

 

To make sure that our nephews didn’t have to mingle with mice, ants, or other animals…, we chose to stay at St Ermin’s Hotel, a 4-star luxury hotel with awesome room service. The hotel was great, we didn’t get robbed, and it was even sunny and warm in London! Everything seemed perfect… until we tried to catch the right bus.

 

For more sightseeing, we decided to take the bus and not the Tube. But finding the right bus station in London was actually counter-intuitive. First thing to remember: the UK is the only country in Europe where they drive on the left-hand side. This means that if you want to go to a place located on the right side of where you’re standing, you have to take a bus that stops on the other side of the street.

 

 

However, it’s often more complicated than that: whenever we found the right bus number at a station, we crossed the street believing that there we’d find the same bus going to the opposite direction. But instead of stopping at a station just across the street, it often stopped somewhere on a side or parallel street. We ran up and down the streets so many times that in the end we visited almost everything on foot. To be honest, failing at understanding the public transport system in London was actually quite frustrating for us city-dwellers, who lived in Paris for a decade!

 

So, after all these misadventures, do I still want to return to London for another visit? Parts of me refuse. But there are still so many places that we want to explore in the British capital. And somehow, I like to believe that it could just get better in time. Besides, misadventures are also adventures, right? 🙂

 

Have you also had a similar experience in London? Or perhaps you have a few tips and suggestions to share with us?

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Travel (Mis)Adventures in London © Travelwithmk.com

Follow Mei:

Traveler - Storyteller

30-something Archaeologist, born and raised in Luxembourg. Besides traveling, Mei loves eating stinky cheese and raw food, as well as listening to Kerstin's stories while driving on long road trips. She speaks 7 languages, and wishes she had time to pick up Ancient Greek. She's afraid of heights, but adores panoramic views. Her favorite places are those she chose to live in: Paris, Greece, San Francisco.

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26 Responses

  1. pinkcaddytraveloguegmailcom
    | Reply

    I can’t believe all of your bad luck in London!! Though I’m really impressed that you keep going back and giving it more chances haha. I don’t think I would do that!! But on the other hand, you have some pretty great stories to tell now 🙂

  2. Lydia
    | Reply

    Wow! I haven’t read such story until now, Mei. You’ve been through to worst so you’re now prepared for every situation. Thanks for sharing your experiences from my dream place!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yes now I’m totally prepared for whatever can happen! 😉 So have you planned to visit your dream place in the near future?

  3. Wow! Misadventures, indeed! That is a lot to have go wrong in all of your travels around the world, but especially in ONE CITY. Many years ago, my husband and I took the chunnell from Paris to London for the day. It was SO cold and cloudy, but we fortunately had a great time. I hope you have another chance to visit London and that it is a pleasant experience, to break the bad luck cycle.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Well, we just booked our flights to London for December! So let’s hope that this time we’ll have a better experience. 🙂

  4. Erica Edwards
    | Reply

    Haha, 5th times the charm?? I had a similar mouse experience a few years ago in a bungalow in Cambodia and I think those little scrapes and squeaks are forever burnt into my memory! I think sometimes we’ve got these cities that we’re instantly drawn into and connected with and other times we just can’t for the life of us find that connection.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yep it looks like London is one of those cities that we just can’t connect with! But let’s see if the 5th time will make me change my mind!

  5. Nic Hilditch-Short
    | Reply

    Well London always is quite the adventure!! I’ve seen so many times and always enjoy going back but it can be a crazy old city and not always in a good way!! I hope you come back to the UK, but come up to Manchester, it’s much friendlier and easier going up here!! But it does rain even more so bring the brolly!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Oh then we have to put Manchester on our bucket list! When’s the best time to visit?

  6. Yukti
    | Reply

    Oh you had so many mishaps in same city – London. Next time you come with some special prayers or rituals for your successful visit to London. The worst part of your trip was getting robbed or attacked by rodents. Best of Luck for you next trip!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thank you Yukti! Have you ever had similar mishaps in other cities?

  7. Theresa B.
    | Reply

    Enjoyed reading your misadventures in London. Maybe the fifth time will be the charm? I mean, what else could possible go wrong? Nothing else, I hope. What jerks though, those hotel workers. Thankfully you were notified of fraud charges and nothing went through on your credit card. Best of luck on your next visit to London. Now you’ll be totally prepared for every scenario that could go wrong.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thanks Theresa! I‘m confident that the next time will be much better! I just booked our stay in a 4 stars luxury hotel, so at least we won‘t have the ants and rats problem (or at least I hope not!)

  8. Patricia
    | Reply

    In the list of what can go wrong, that’s pretty steep a list right there. I guess going back now, you are prepared for the worst, so you have 50% chance of actually having a good time. Maybe head to other places in the UK than London to see if whether this is a true London curse?

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      We visited Cambridge and Oxford last time and everything went well there. So maybe the curse is just in London? Haha… Let’s see how it’ll go next time! :D.

  9. Dang Travelers
    | Reply

    What the?! Talk about bad luck! I’ve only been to London once for about a week and had beautiful weather and no issues so I am so sorry you had these terrible things happen! We really loved our trip and talk about getting back to London at some point. All I can say is at least you live and you learn and now you have a few good stories to tell!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Haha! No worries! We’ll be luckier next time. And yes: we learn from our past mishaps! 🙂

  10. Melanie
    | Reply

    Mmm those are a lot of misadventures for the same city! I’m happy that they have not entirely removed your desired to visit London. I guess these misadventures can happen anywhere else. Hope next time you have more luck!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      I’m sure we’ll be luckier next time! It gets better in time and we get smarter too! Haha…

  11. Stephanie
    | Reply

    Oh I have also had my share of London mishaps (namely, walking in circles at the tube station getting lost and confused, then missing multiple trains waiting for the less busy one – FYI there is never a train that isnt busy!)
    Give it another try- I did with some locals I met travelling in Croatia, and they showed me a really quirky side of London and it certainly charmed me without so much chaos and stresssssssss.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Oh yeah.. the Tube! 🤦🏻‍♀️ We never have difficulties when taking the metro in Paris or subway in NY or HK or anywhere else in the world in fact. But London? Well… never managed to fully understand the system neither. And why are the platforms and trains in London sooo far deep down underground?

  12. Bernie Jackson
    | Reply

    Ah, that’s a series of London misadventures indeed. I’m fortunate enough to live close enough that day trips are usually fine, so I’ve not had to stay over too often. When I worked there, I had a few weeks before I started daily commuting when things like the mouse hotel (and I love that Insta pic!) were my weeknight experiences. There was definitely one place which had a shower, but you had to be careful that the tiles stayed on the wall (and floor) while you were in it. If you’re back in London again (and hopefully for an easier experience), I can wholeheartedly recommend the (free) Citymapper app, which is great for getting you around on public transport without incident.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Oh we didn’t know about the free Citymapper app! Thanks a lot Bernie! We’ll definitely use it next time in London. 🙂

  13. TheGreatAmbini
    | Reply

    You really haven’t had much luck at all in London… I went the first time when I was 15, but I have never had any problems. I think being British already helps knowing the side of the road for the buses and how to attempt the tube. I’ve always stayed with relatives, so I never had accomodation problems, but I have had similar things in other places. Airbnb has been a saver with people houses being less full of rodents haha. There are so many other places in the UK to visit, my favourites are Cardiff, Bristol, the Cotswolds and my home area of Herefordshire. I also like Cambridge and other touristy cities, so many visit those next time!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Haha yes! Being British definitely helps to find the right bus going into the right direction! We visited Cambridge a few years ago and loved it. But still want to go to Bristol and Brighton! Herefordshire looks nice too!

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