• January 31, 2020 |

    the bumbling fool’s guide to london

    the ryanair of logistics, the ritz of memories

    article by , illustrated by

    For Elaine and Paddington Bear, as promised

    It will help if you are already studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland, because then you and your friend can book last-minute $29 Ryanair flights to London after freaking out at how expensive getting to Budapest is now. Then you can complain about Ryanair, ride Ryanair, and subsequently swear you’ll never ride Ryanair again (although let’s face it: Ryanair, famed Irish budget airline, is part of the experience). Don’t forget to book a place in a hostel! If you want the full bumbling fool’s experience, you can even stay at a slightly sketchy hostel a good ways out of the city center—perhaps in Elephant and Castle? If you pay a bit extra, you can get a room for just the two of you. 

    Of course, your flight out of Dublin will be at the ungodly hour of 6:30 a.m., and neither of you will have any concrete plans about how to spend the two days in London. When you get to the airport, you two will stand in the wrong line until finally noticing that the signs are actually for British Airways, not Ryanair. You are already proving yourself to be the Ryanair of travelers. Congratulations!

    Once in London (Stansted Airport—not Heathrow—because you flew Ryanair, remember?), you’ll step off the plane into thick fog with a Brexit-induced confusion about whether or not your Irish SIM card works in the U.K. the same way it works in other EU countries. Don’t worry about that for now. Find one of the kiosks for the airport coach into the London city center, fumble through the fog to a bus stop, and settle in for a long ride to Victoria Station. 

    Once you’re there, you and your friend can immediately trot off toward Buckingham Palace. On the way, you can stop by a very English tea shop where you try samples, chat with the quirky saleslady, and each buy a somewhat expensive tin of biscuitsotherwise known as cookies to us uncultured North Americans. 

    You will, of course, make your way through that tin of biscuits pretty quickly—just as quickly as you’ll make your way through London’s streets—out of your desire to see as much as possible. At Buckingham Palace, you’ll find that you have somehow arrived just in time to watch parts of the changing of the guard. You’ll have to push and squeeze by the gathered tourists to peek through the gates at gray-clad men marching in place. Leave the crowds behind for a walk in nearby St. James’s Park, where you can gawp at the strange birds and eat even more biscuits. Wander in the gray drizzly weather to see major tourist stops. Find yourself a red telephone booth. Realize that everything is under construction and that Big Ben is currently nothing but a tower of scaffolding. Visit the Waterstones bookstore in Trafalgar Square—there’s a whole Harry Potter corner!—and then start heading to your faraway hostel because you’d like to get there before dark. Which is, of course, roundabouts of 5 p.m. 

    Your hostel will definitely look a little bit…scrappy. When you open the door to your room, you’ll find yourself in something resembling a bunker—a very dimly lit, very small space with a spartan bunk bed pushed against the one narrow window. Laugh hysterically at how absurd this is. Also, note the useless outlet somehow placed above the bathroom door. Laugh some more. You’ve managed to find the Ryanair of hostels. 

    But it won’t be too bad. There are lights by each bed, embedded into the wall, and they have a warm glow that creates a campfire ambiance. You and your friend can lie side by side in the narrow bottom bed to watch (and talk through) half of Paddington 2 on your phone because, naturally, there’s no wifi. You can even make shadow puppets on the wall to add to that summer camp feeling. The hostel will grow on you, but the next morning, all the running water on every floor will stop working for a solid 15 minutes. 

    The one good thing about staying so far out of the city center is that you’ll end up seeing parts of London that tourists don’t usually see, and you’ll stumble upon treasures like Borough Market before other tourists inevitably discover it. Go by the Tower of London (you already got a glimpse of the interior last night in Paddington 2) and the Tower Bridge. Head off to the Charles Dickens Museum in the rain. Round out the day with another long walk to King’s Cross. On your way back to the hostel, you can take some pictures in front of Shakespeare’s Globe and stop by Borough Market once more. (Bumbling fool pro-tip: If you are ever unsure of which direction the cars are going to come from, have your friend look right while you look left as you both run wildly across the street.)

    Back at the hostel, finish Paddington 2. Go to bed assuming transportation to Stansted will be just fine (it won’t be).

    The next morning you will discover that the hostel is too far out of the city center for taxis to be available at 5 a.m. Full of agitation and nervousness, walk in the dark and the rain to a bus stop. A division of labor is highly recommended for such a situation—your friend should have Google Maps open to navigate, and you should be prepared to dial 999, the U.K. emergency number. Realize again that you two are definitely the Ryanair of travelers. Realize it once more when you attempt to get on the bus without the Oyster Cards required for London’s public transit. The driver may take pity on you for being such fools, in which case: Hallelujah, you are saved! Get off at the Liverpool Underground Station, dash to buy tickets for the Stansted Express, and cut it close at Stansted to make your flight back to Dublin. 

    Finally, let out that breath you’ve been holding the entire trip—and laugh. Turns out that bumbling about is a surefire way to make the very best memories.