Our first time overseas – with three days in London! I’m writing in my mind everywhere I look, already seduced by London architecture through the cab window. My two kids are two-parts excited, two-parts jet-lagged as we stare out at the biggest city we’ve ever seen.
And that was just the ride from the airport! It was years ago, but for us, that first trip overseas really was the trip of a lifetime. So I’ll tell the tale in present tense.
We book into a room in Hyde Park Square (booked for us by a PR firm).
No Regency carriages and rakes these days, but the rectangle outside the tall, narrow hotel building is quaint and green. Heaven after the slush of melting winter in Saskatchewan! The room feels like luxury incarnate (although officially it’s three- or four-star). We’re two blocks from Oxford Street, lined with shops, but that has to wait for the jet lag to wear off.
Instead, we sample sweet potato soup and Perrier at Stuzzico’s on Kendal Street. Later, I unpack enough to realize I left all my maps and research in a file folder on the kitchen table in Regina. My plan to see a Broadway show fizzles: we’re asleep before I can figure out how to get tickets.
In the morning, I tell a concierge we’re headed for the hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus recommended by work colleagues. He convinces me to take a guided tour of London town instead. “It’s once in a lifetime.” He thrusts brochures and tickets at me. So I gulp and spend $350 on tickets for us. Now we need to make our way to the Royal Lancaster hotel, where the tour will start.
“Just go straight down this street, and you can’t miss it,” he tells us.
Right. We walk two blocks, and discover the road in front of us forks out in five directions. It’s our first encounter with the time-honored English tradition of the traffic circle. To quote the immortal words of Dr. Seuss: You can go here and there — but straight is no more in Seuss’s vocabulary than in the London street grid.
And so, on the morning of our first day in London, bound for a sightseeing tour intended to kick off our holiday, I have us running up street and down lane, desperately trying to find the right bus tour.
Pretty soon I can feel the tears trickling down my face, and I’m dragging and being dragged along by my two red-headed kids. We pass a gaunt Londoner right out of Coronation Street, complete with a smoke dangling out of one corner of his mouth and a disheveled black windbreaker. He stops, and growls, “Y’awright?”
I start to blurt out something about being lost and spending too much money and the bus tour. He’s looking at me as if my head just exploded. I feel a flush creeping over my face, and force myself to calm down. “We’re all right,” I say. “Don’t worry. We’ll find it.” He nods, shrugs, and walks on, relief written all over his disappearing back.
Leanne suddenly calls, “There it is!” I look up in time to see a bus barreling around the corner a block away, bearing the tour company’s name. The kids race ahead to flag down the bus – by then stationary – so Mom can catch up. Desperately waving the chunk of paper that serves as my receipt (I should have paid online and obtained a proper piece of paper, like everyone who knew what they were doing), I ask if he can help us find our tour.
The bus driver stares at me, and then gestures behind us. We turn to find three-foot high-letters glaring at us: Regency Hotel. Our tour. And a tour guide, who takes one look at us and pawns us off on a colleague called in to accommodate the waiting crowd.
But we made it. I wish I could say that was the last time we were lost in London – but I’ll write more about that in Part Two. Have you ever been lost in an unfamiliar city? It’s okay to laugh about it – now that it’s over! Click “Read more” below to leave a comment.