Contiki Take Two: London Bound

25/04/2018

Getting on the train this afternoon, everything suddenly became very real. Having enjoyed my first Contiki adventure so much, I didn’t think I’d have so much to think about on the three hour train journey I was about to embark.

A British train journey is often a very familiar experience. People wander up and down the carriages the moment we set off, dancing around each other down the incredibly narrow aisles and clearly not having gone prepared with pre-boarding toilet stops.

The carriage is a buzz with busy murmurs – drinks and snacks strewn across tables, people working on laptops, one man talking loudly on a phone, distracting me from my reading. Everything from a girl studying a laptop intently, calculator in hand, to a man with an empty beer can opposite her – it’s all here. Luckily, no one is being too disruptive. There is some chatter other than from the man on the phone, but it’s mostly quiet as we all keep to ourselves and sit up straight, arms tucked in so as not to accidentally invade the personal space of the passenger next to us – the typical British way.

Travelling solo is a funny one, and you are bundled with a mixture of emotions. There’s the excitement and anticipation of having a great time and exploring new possibilities with new people, but there is also a sense of dread, a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach as you instead imagine all the things that could go wrong over the things that could go right.

Pulling into Kings Cross station, the excitement continued to dwindle as the nerves set in. It’s irrational really. It’ll be what it is and I am already very independent by nature. I’ve also been to London many times before and know exactly where the area of my hotel is situated in relation to the train station. And yet all I could think was what if I don’t find anyone, or what if I do and they already hate me, or have already formed little groups by the time I arrived later than many others. Irrational, right?

After a quick toilet stop and a little browse around Paperchase to ease the butterflies in my stomach, I finally headed for the tubes. There’s something oddly comforting about stationery, though this often means spending silly money on silly things I don’t need. To be fair though, a scrapbook in my mind is genuinely a good investment for a frequent traveller.

The key to surviving the London Underground is to exert dominance and exude confidence, even if you feel completely lost and overwhelmed. You can always ask the staff for help, but you will be surrounded by typically Southern English commuters rushing around with their heads down, not paying you a second thought. It becomes easier with experience, but being the worrier I am, even I like to keep my guard up. 10 minutes or so after boarding the cramped coach while awkwardly trying to fit my luggage between my legs like I was playing a game of Tetris, I emerged reborn from the depths below to the open streets of Russell Square. “I’ve come this far; now there’s nothing left to do but bite the bullet and head to the basement where (hopefully) my fellow travellers will be.”

Aside from getting slightly lost in Russell Square itself, things were pretty plain sailing to be honest. I repeated my actions of my Croatia trip in 2017, positioning myself awkwardly at the edge of a group and waiting to slowly fall into the mold. We then, as a larger group, took a walking tour of West London. This was surprisingly fascinating, as for all the times I’ve visited the English capital in the past, I’ve missed out on so much of the history and cultural knowledge behind significant landmarks.

The best part of this experience though was having the chance to actually talk to people – which is sure to help when boarding the coach for the long drive to Amsterdam tomorrow. A small group of us finished the evening with a good meal and got to know each other a little, and I might have slipped a sneaky vodka or four in there as well!

The anxiety is always going to linger within me to some extent, but I’m generally feeling good about this trip. Let’s just see what happens in Amsterdam…

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