It was late when I arrived in London, maybe 10 pm or so. I was meeting my brother there. He had arrived about six hours earlier and was already at our room, rested and recovered from his travels. I, on the other hand, was exhausted and covered in “airplane funk.” But, like any other time I travel, adrenaline was taking over and I couldn’t wait to see the city.
I was able to find WiFi in the airport just long enough to call an Uber, which meant I didn’t need worry about having cash to pay a taxi. So, bag in hand (or rather, on my lap), I headed outside and started looking for the black Prius that would be picking me up. A few strolls up and down the sidewalk at the drop-off area and I finally found him. I gave him the address and we were off. The windows were cracked slightly and the cool September air breezed through my hair. I was having a hard time staying awake and found myself dozing off several times. About 30 minutes into the drive, things started to become more and more remote and I wondered if we were going to the right place. Ironically, my driver was from somewhere in the Middle East and didn’t speak English very well. Of course, in London, I would have a non-English speaking driver. So I just sat patiently as he drove along.
He pulled up to the guesthouse and parked along the street adjacent to it. It looked very similar to the pictures and I knew it was the right place. My brother, Matt, had sent me a message that I was able to pick up at the airport, “I am at the guesthouse and we are in room 101. It’s very small so we might have to move tomorrow but it will work for tonight. I’ll see you there soon!” The driver pulled my wheelchair out of his trunk and helped me arrange my bag on my lap. I thanked him and headed down the sidewalk in the front of the guesthouse, towards the only entrance. It was very dark and I was a bit concerned about my safety, so I rushed as quickly as I could. I entered through a black, wrought iron fence and found myself facing a dozen steps. “Hmm,” I thought. “There must be another entrance…”
I found myself maneuvering around the house, on the very dark streets and allies, before I concluded that this must be the only entrance. I attempted to find a WiFi connection so I could message my brother for help…but nothing. Not one connection was available. I had debated on crawling up the stairs on my butt, but really didn’t want to dirty my pants this early on in the trip. As I sat there and contemplated what my options were, a group of four young European men, 18 years old or so, walked through the wrought iron fence. Immediately, one of them asked, “Would you like some help up the stairs?”
“Oh my gosh! Yes, that would be awesome!” I replied, so thankful for their offering. I instructed them to each grab a corner of the chair, two in the front and two in the back, and just lift as they walked up. It’s like they were professionals. I thanked them graciously and headed for the front desk. They must have known I was coming, as a British woman greeted me with excitement and told me my brother was waiting for me. She led me down a very narrow hallway, making several turns along the way. The house appeared to be much like a very old college dormitory, and there were even groups of young adults hanging out in the lobby. We knocked on the door and my brother opened with excitement! “Have a nice evening,” she said, as she smiled and turned back towards the lobby.
I entered the room and found that Matt was right – this was a tiny room! Mike would be flying in early the next day to meet us, and it was clear that this was definitely not big enough for the three of us. I was even concerned that it might be too small for Matt and me! But for the night, it would do. After all, it was nearly midnight.
After a few minutes of catching up and chatting about our travels, we found ourselves back in the lobby. We stopped by the front desk to explain that we would be leaving the next day as the room was simply too small. The staff was outstanding – they assured us it wasn’t a problem. A few more questions about where we could grab a drink and a bite to eat, and we were on our way. As we headed for the door, one of the gentlemen behind the counter stopped us.
“Ma’am. Sir. There’s a ramp right over here. You can use this entrance.”
“What a relief,” I burst out. I told my story of getting up and they chuckled, and of course apologized. We were led down a very dark hallway with floors made of marble, through two separate doorways, and finally into a very dark alley. The gentleman pointed off in the distance and told us the main street was just a few steps away.
We strolled down the street looking for a place to sit and chat. After a quick stop at a gas station to get some pounds from an ATM, we found a classic-looking English pub. It was a weekday night, so it wasn’t too crowded and we found a table right away. A few beers later and we found ourselves chatting with some locals about all there is to do in London. One of my favorite parts of traveling – talking to the locals. We exchanged contact information, mainly Facebook, and Matt carefully took notes on a small notepad he had in his pocket.
A few hours had passed by now and pure exhaustion was setting in. We headed back down the dark street towards the guesthouse. A thick drizzle had started and it was chilly. We hurried to get to warmth, and before we knew it, we found ourselves back in the dark, marble hallway…in the middle of the night with no working lights. It was very eerie, much like a haunted house. We stopped and asked for a few extra blankets (so we could each have our own…since we would be sharing a bed), and minutes later we were sound asleep.
The alarm went off way too early, but we needed to find a bus to the Hilton so we could meet Mike. I started packing my things and asked Matt if we could stop to grab a bagel or pastry. “If we see a place, yes. But we are already running late,” he responded bluntly. I could hear a bit of irritation in his voice, and knew that he was waiting on me.
“Ugh…” I thought, and secretly hoped there would be dozens of places, knowing all too well that there wouldn’t be.
The bus stop was just a few blocks away, and the only thing we passed was a very small convenience store. I found myself leaving with a turkey sandwich, Cheetos, and a Coke. Not the ideal breakfast, but my belly didn’t seem to care.
I was glad Matt had researched where we were going. I just got on the bus, paid a few pounds, and waited until Matt told me to get off. The final bus stop was right in front of the hotel…or so we thought. We entered the front doors and asked the staff what room Mike was in. They searched and searched and couldn’t find his reservation. Not under his name, or Matt’s name, or my name. We gave a description of him and asked if they had seen him walk in. He should surely have arrived at this point. Confused, we asked if there was another Hilton.
“Ahh, yes, there is another one and that must be where he is,” they responded, relieved that we had solved the mystery. They called a cab for us and ten minutes later we found ourselves at a different Hilton. The cabs in England are…quaint, unique, like nothing I’ve seen before. They are all the same, black and the same model of car. And they have four seats in them, two of which face backwards, so a group of four is all facing each other. Matt commented several times during our time in London, “I think the cabs are my favorite thing!”
We found Mike quickly, lounging near a buffet and waiting patiently for us. We had a few minutes to waste as our room was not quite ready. But the minutes flew by as we chatted excitedly about all the things we would see that day!