Getting Lost in London While Abroad

by Cassidy Kearney

It was a matter of bladders that led to us getting lost in London. Dounia and I hadn’t gone to the bathroom since the plane. It became too much to bear. While the other members of our group tried to figure out our location, how we got there, and how to get back, I decided I felt fed up with their lack of direction. I decided to take matters into my own hands.

After being met with the first public restroom that we had ever had to pay for, we emerged back into the rare British sunlight, noticing that the rest of the group had decided on a route and left. We were on our own. It was around 3:00, and we were supposed to be back by 4:00. We had plenty of time to get back (or so we thought). Wandering over to the Waterloo IMAX, we eventually found a station. We took a northern-bound line up to Euston, north of our hotel. It should have been a quick jog south, and we would have been there with time to spare. Instead, we wandered south for at least an hour before I finally admitted some defeat – I got us lost.

London Sign

For some ungodly reason, I, being the traditional Floridian that I am, wore flip-flops to the airport, and was now stuck wandering around, lost in London, with no map and an ever-thinning pair of flip-flops. Every time my foot hit the pavement I could feel a small bit of the cheap foam from the $5 flip flops I had picked up from some Payless Shoe Store compress ever so slightly as they slapped the ground. I might as well have been barefoot.

Where’s A Map When We Need One

The only map we had were small snapshots that London (ever so helpfully) had posted on street corners of major roads. This, of course, was no help because our hotel was on a small side street. We couldn’t use our phones for a GPS this early in the trip – each of us only had about 100 MB of data that we could use within the next 30 days. We were deep within London – so deep that tourist stalls were replaced with residential apartments, local parks, and offices.

There wasn’t even a map to buy (even if there were, I would have been damned before purchasing something as insignificant as a map). Several helpful Londonites passed us by, heard us arguing, and tried to help, but all we could offer them was that tiny, insignificant side street. We had no idea which neighborhood we were in or the closest major road.

Map of London

Fed Up

Finally, Dounia had had enough of me. She bolted ahead and ran into a building, which turned out to be a hotel. She emerged with a free map. We had wandered from northwest of our hotel, in Euston, all the way down to Liverpool – southeast of our hotel. By the time we finally got back it was 4:40. We were 40 minutes late, much to Dounia’s dismay (Dounia is the queen of punctuality and has never once been 40 minutes late to anything. Growing up in my family, however, we considered arriving 30 minutes late to an event almost “on time”).

(Un)Fortunately, there was another girl who was even more lost than us. She was all alone and still hadn’t come back, so we weren’t the only ones holding the entire group up. Nikos gave us our hotel room’s keys and then set off to find her.

Rachel, our roommate, was a bubbly girl from Texas, and a wonderful talker. This came as a relief to introverted Dounia and me, as we both struggle with small talk. She was the kind of person anybody could be friends with.


Nikos summoned the group once he found the other girl (her name was Yennifer). We were all (finally) issued maps, loaded subway tickets, and a ticket for our free dinner and a drink. Nikos told us to find our “exit buddy” (your roommates) and took us to Piccadilly Circus and the Covent Gardens. I remember neither of these locations and cannot tell you what either looked like — I was that exhausted.

Trying Ale For the First Time

We ended the evening in the rented-out upstairs portion of some local bar. We received a free dinner (again, I have no idea what I ate), and I tried my first alcoholic drink. My parents often ordered craft beers, so I thought they must have been onto something. I ordered a local ale, which left a lasting impression. It was disgusting. Later I wrote in my travel journal that, “a shiver went down my spine every time I took a sip, and I only got through half of it. I guzzled Dounia’s chardonnay to wash out the flavor of the ale.” There’s about a page dedicated in my journal about how gross the ale was.

I sat next to Bill, one of two guys on the trip. Bill was not good at small talk, which made for a rather quiet corner as each of us wished to be over on the louder end of the table. Eventually, we’d all grow to become good friends, all thanks to the help of the many extroverted friends we were soon to make.

A building found on our London Walking Tour

Lesson Learned

This night would later teach me a really important lesson. I had already dismissed several members of our group as people I probably wouldn’t like for ‘X’ reason. By the end of the trip, I cried because I was going to miss them all so much. After getting to know everyone, it genuinely surprised me how wrong I had been about my first impression. I had also made a mistake in where I thought I would fit in with the group.

After finishing dinner, we all followed Nikos back to the hotel (even though we were all free to explore the city more) like lost, exhausted puppies. When we got to the room, I lost the rock, paper, scissors match with Dounia, and wound up sleeping on the pull-out couch. I can’t tell you what might have happened later that night. I showered and had passed out before I had even had time to pull the blankets up. Dounia later told me that I started snoring about two minutes later, much to the amusement/chagrin of she and Rachel. A pull-out couch was never as comfortable as it was that first night.

In my next post, I’ll talk about my trip to Oxford, the adventure to find an apple martini, and our train out of London to Paris.

The Little Things

Hey there. It’s me again. Your local, friendly Spanish wanna-be (according to another quiz/blog thing. I need help, I know. Do you think they have AA’s for people who take too many personality quizzes??). Today is a short blog, as I’m taking a break from the short novels that I seem to have a habit of writing. My entry today consists of some small differences that I’ve noticed between Oklahoma and Spain. Some of the differences may make some of my compatriots say, ¨Wait, but we have that here.¨ That may be true, but I can’t speak for New York or California, as I have never been there – or at least, I haven’t spent enough time in either state to notice everyday living differences. So, here it is:

Número Uno: Utilities and Miscellaneous

  • Back home during the winter, I always turn the heat at night when it’s the most cold (i.e. freezing depths of hell. Sorry, I mean winter.) and the most needed (duhh), and leave it off during the day.  Do that in Spain, and your heating bill will be freaking outrageous. I’m talking like 400 a month, as opposed to the $80 to $100 that I was/am used to.  ? Why do I have that specific figure in my head? Guess.
  • Almost no one has or ever uses dryers here.
  • Even the window blinds are different here. What would be a special order and a very expensive purchase back home, are the norm here. They are great blinds, though, because they’re truly efficient at keeping out the heat/cold.
  • Back home in the ol’ OK, I have always lived three ways to make sure that I didn’t die from exposure: Central heat and air (a true and masterful godsend, in my opinion), gas/electric furnaces (get thee away from me, Satan!!!), and wood stoves (?). Here, they have ceramic radiator contraptions. You can put clothes or blankets on them to dry, without worrying about burning your house down! And that is pretty damn cool.  
  • You know how we have Velveeta, and how it doesn’t need to be refrigerated? Well, here there is milk, MILK, I say, that does not have to refrigerated. Crazy, I know.

Número Dos: Indoor Living Habits/Things Learned While Being an Au Pair

  • If you want to try your hand at being an au pair, DO NOT GO BAREFOOT. Most Spanish families don’t do it and might be super judgey about it.
  • DO NOT GRAB A BLANKET FROM THE SOFA AND WEAR IT AROUND YOUR SHOULDERS. Again, Judgey McJudgersons. Side note: If you want to be an au pair, be aware that not only could there be a cultural differences, but that there might also be a class difference.
  • The Spanish are very structured when it comes to eating times. They eat at specific times and have literal courses. For example, the 1st dish might be a soup, and the 2nd dish, which is eaten separately and only after the first, could be chicken empanada or a la plancha. Also, they like to have a small dessert after their meal, which is usually a coffee, a yogurt, or a piece of fruit.  
  • Everyone knows about Spanish siestas. But did you know that wearing PJ’s in the middle of the day for said siestas is a normal thing? Preposterous!!!
  • Air conditioning: a lot of Spanish people think it is the devil and will barely use it, even when they have access to it. Most places don’t have it, but the ones that do are a higher class type of place, such as hotels, shopping centers or restaurants like Corte Inglès, or McDonald’s. Wait…McDonald’s?

Número tres: Hanging out in the city

  • Burger King, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Taco Bell: These are all places that are in really, really nice buildings, which is usually not the case in the States. I’m talking about winding staircases, marble walls and granite floors, etc.  
  • Public spaces in Oklahoma that are perfectly manicured with perfect bushes and gorgeous flowers tend to fall into two categories: golf courses and universities. Not so in Spain. Gardeners and gardening is still a viable trade, and even small towns are beautiful and perfect. There are many community spaces with fountains and an abundance of colors.
  • The variety of meat available is also much wider. You can order/buy rabbit or duck in a restaurant/store at (usually) the same price as chicken or beef. Also, you can buy a thousand types of seafood, like squid or octopus or whatever. I may miss American food a lot (Oh, generic Chile’s how surprised am I that I miss thee so) but I think having so many options is pretty cool. I’m not even going to talk about the stupid amount of varieties of jamón they have. I mean, they are obsessed.  
  • They still have public phone booths here. I’m not sure if they work, though.
  • Speaking of marble and granite, the stuff is everywhere. I designed kitchens for a little while in the ol’ OK, and granite countertops were always the dream, and an expensive one at that. Here, I notice that even walking around in the metro stations, that the stairs are sometimes made of unfinished granite. I suppose that it’s just that widely available here.
  • Cleanliness: In the city, about every 10 feet there are little trash cans that are hung everywhere down the streets. It makes it easy to not litter. People still do, but it makes it way nicer to live in.
  • China Stores. Madrid doesn’t have Dollar General or Walgreens, but it does have China stores on every corner. They are nicknamed as such, because they are almost always owned by people who are/appear to be of Chinese descent. China stores are AMAZING. They have everything, and for a much cheaper price than any other place. Need teaching supplies? China store. Need cute clothes? China store. Need tools or gadgets? China store! Sometimes the things you find there are actually decent quality. Sometimes they fall apart. Either way, I love them.

Numero cuatro: Social Interactions

  • This isn’t really a difference, but more like a contrast to how I thought things would be.  Firstly, I thought the men would all be tall, and have dark, wavy hair. Basically, I was imagining a country full of Antonio Banderases. BAHAHAHAHAHA. No. Actually, a lot of people look like people from Oklahoma. People who look like they should be out in a wheat field, smoking a tobacco pipe and in overalls, open their mouths and out comes Spanish. Now THAT was surprising.
  • Contradictorily, a lot of people are extremely well-groomed here. There are a lot of beards out and about, without a hair out of place. During the winter, a lot of slender, stylish men wear scarves and nice coats. Their hair is perfectly coiffed and gelled, some of them even wear hose (hose!) under their pants, and their shoes are polished and shiny.
    Years of not-so-subtle social conditioning caused me to be repulsed by these men when I first arrived to Spain. Words like ‘pricks’ and ‘pansies’ came unbidden into my mind. I’ve gotten used to it now, and I even bought my boyfriend a new scarf. 🙂
  • In Oklahoma, I never worry about getting pickpocketed. I can walk around a mall with my purse wide open and my phone in my back pocket without any problems. But if I find myself out at sundown walking, my neck hairs will stand up on end and I just might worry about getting raped or murdered. In Madrid, Spain, pickpocketing will probably happen to you eventually, one way or another. However, I have rarely felt unsafe here even while out alone at night at 3am. It is a strange contradiction.  
  • Earlier in the au pair section, I mentioned siestas. A lot of people back home imagine the Spanish lifestyle to be super relaxed. This is mainly because of what comes to mind when Spain is mentioned: bulls, sangria, sexy people and afternoon snoozes. Don’t be fooled, though. They take these afternoon breaks because they (small business owners mainly) have been working since before sun up until long after the sun goes down. That’s also why a lot of stores close down from 3pm. to 5pm.
  • I don’t go clubbing very much, partly for the following reason: I went to one of the most famous clubs once, called Kapital, and was surrounded by babies. Sorry, I mean 18-year-olds. The drinking age here is 18, rather than the States’ 21, and so club entry is not limited to those that are 21 and older. I don’t think that they check the ID’s very thoroughly, though, because some of the whippersnappers looked younger than 16.  Balderdash, I say!!!
  • Back home, most older folks are in bed by 9pm, or at least, that is the case with my family. In Madrid, nightlife is not just for the young, but also for the young at heart!  Spaniards love to socialize! I have been out at 5:00am after clubbing or doing whatever, and it is not unusual to see little old ladies with their walking canes and fur coats, looking fabulous, out and about. Forget bulls and sangria, the Spanish symbol should be one of these feisty little old ladies.

As time goes on, I’m sure that I will notice a million more things that should be added. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. Spending time in any new place can be a challenge, but it can also be pretty cool. Recently I went to explore Lanzarote, an island off the coast of Morocco known to have a landscape unlike any other  on Earth. Tune in again to see an update to know more about what my latest adventure has in store. ?

Yours truly,

Amanda AKA Squirrel