Day 1 continued.
Hostel From Hell
Apologies, no photos during this portion of the trip. I was lost, tired, and nervous as hell. Not a good recipe for whipping out the old Dslr. lol
London-Heathrow is set up similar to most American airports. You won’t have an issue finding your way around because the place is very well laid out. I went to baggage claim and laugh a bit when my bag came around. I’m carrying a big U.S. stamped military field bag. I got a few interesting looks. As I was struggling with my bags (they are both manageable but together they suck) I ran into Jo (Matts wife) waiting for Matt. We chatted a bit and I got last minute directions to my hostel which happens to be near where they were heading in west London. I went to the London Underground train system ( aka TUBE this system is AMAZING). I looked at the wall and was totally lost. It’s VERY similar to the NYC train system. The problem is I didn’t really know where to go. London’s stations are manned most of the day. ASK FOR HELP. I actually purchased a 7-Day Bus/Tram pass thinking it was a good deal. Well come to find out I didn’t need a tram pass but a tube pass. Trams and Tubes are different things. The attendant refunded the difference and had me pay for a tube which was about 2 pounds cheaper.
TIP: London has three primary modes of public transport. TUBE, Bus, and Tram. All different. If you’ll be in London more than 4 days then get the unlimited pass. Cost about 24 Euro. It allowed me to ride everything and I did. Paid for itself after 2 days. I only needed the tram (aka overground) once because of terrible directions so the Bus/TUBE pass is the best.
TIP: Only exchange for about 50 pounds at the airport. The exchange rate at airports worldwide are rip offs. You won’t have to go far too find a bank or forex which have the actual rates you should be paying.
The attendant was great. He was clear and direct. I was to get off at one stop, change lines, and get off at my destination. London’s tube network is vast. It was around 8am when I was traveling and got to see how most Londoners went about their day. It really was like being on a NYC subway. People were very nice and courteous and helped if you looked lost. This seems like a social obligation as people have gone out of their way to help me my entire time here so far.
I arrive after about 40 minutes on the tube network in a neighborhood that was a bit “rough”. It’s largely a Muslim neighborhood yet a bit rundown. Very working class. The streets were a bit confusing as they aren’t clearly marked, or not clearly marked in a place where a foreigner would notice (I would later learn where they were). After about 20 minutes of asking for directions, where it appeared no one spoke English, I finally found the Hostel. No.8 Hostel is in an old commercial building right on the main street. Buses, trucks, and other vehicles constantly drive by in what could be mistaken for a commercial shipping district. Once you enter No.8 Hostel you quickly realize the standards aren’t exactly “western”.
As I entered I was eventually greeted by a laid back desk clerk/cleaner/maintenance man. The check in process was relatively painless. I was asked to pay the balance due, given the rules of the hostel, and then given a key. At this point I was fairly tired and wanted to grab some sleep. He beckoned his assistant to show me my room. She took my key and left. I have one large backpack and my camera/day bag. I put them on and proceed to search for her. She’s nowhere to be found. She eventually comes from around a hidden corner annoyed as if I had a clue where she was. She takes me down the narrowest hallway I have ever seen. Think of the tunnels the Japanese used in WWII and you would have some idea.
After squeezing my way through the WWII tunnel of a hall, I was introduced to my cell/room. If I attempted to take a photo of this room I would need the widest lens on the market. My head was literally inches from the ceiling. The “lockers” were essentially wooden boxes. The window was around a small corner in the room. Basically the light from outside hit a wall and then kind of flowed into the room. It really looked like a prison cell. Now in my head I’m freaking out but the inner winner tells me, “Suck it up Erick. All you need is a bed and shower”. Well there’s the bed as grimy as it may be (two sets of twin size bunk beds), let’s find the showers. The showers were across the hall. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much grime in my life. I truly believe I was dirtier after going in there. But all of this didn’t deter me as I was too damn sleepy to care so I crawled into bed after locking up my stuff. Crawled is the new word of the day.
Lying in that tiny bed was a relief after spending the day traveling. I began to dose off and I feel a slight tingle on my skin. I brush it and pay it no mind. I then feel it again and get up. It would appear I made a new friend as a huge roach is running around my bed. Anddddddddd that’s my cue to leave. I grab my laptop bag and head out to reception. I tell the desk clerk what happened and he isn’t surprised or apologetic. I’m not a stuck up 5 star person. I’ve slept in ditches. I’ve slept in the back of military cargo planes. I’ve slept on pallets of body armor. I grew up with roaches running around BUT I’m not in the military or 10 years old anymore and have the means to choose if that’s something I want to deal with. It’s not. It wasn’t even the roach. It was the culmination of everything that had already happened there. I had a VERY bad feeling about this place from the moment I walked in.
TIP: ALWAYS follow your gut in travel. Be it where you stay, what you drink/eat, or who you choose to sleep with. In my experience the best travel defense is good instincts.
The clerk wasn’t an ass about the entire situation like I thought he would be. He helped me search for a new hostel and pointed me in the right direction. Unfortunately he couldn’t give me a refund and I really didn’t care. This was the first time I decided to follow my instincts. I basically went to HostelWorld.com and went with the highest rated hostel in London with vacancy. That led me to Palmers Lodge Swiss Cottage. About 6 stops away on the tram. This was the beginning of an AMAZING time I had in London.