Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Travel Tuesday: Getting to England (and Some Safety Tips)

I missed my Travel Tuesday post last week because I was hard at work getting this order finished up and in the mail for a wedding later this month.  The bride has promised to submit her pictures to the blog afterwards and I can't wait to see!  The order is on its way to her (already in Washington, should be delivered soon), so it's back to Travel Tuesday for me.

After getting packed (for better or worse), it was time to go!  Arriving in London was magical for me and it's still one of my favorite cities.  The way everything just seemed so similar yet, at the same time, totally and completely different from the States was incredible.  Even the air was different (I'm assuming a combination of exhaust and no Florida humidity).  

We stayed in London a few nights before we would head on to our final destination, Harlaxton College.  While in London, we stayed at the Corus Hotel.  It's a nice hotel with a great location right on Hyde Park and I'd recommend it.  Our room was fairly small with two twin beds.  I still remember laying in bed that first night with the windows open (unlike home, nice weather and no A/C), listening to the sounds of the street below.  I was hooked on traveling.

The type of room that we had at the Corus Hotel, London.  I think it's been remodeled since we stayed there, but even pre-reno, I would have recommended it. Image via hoteldirect.co.uk
Despite the fact that there were about 30 of us, our group was all women.  So being with a large group of college age women, most of us on our own for the first time, I did pick up a few safety tips, which I think are worth sharing:

1) Beware of the park and similar places at night. One of the first things a Londoner told us upon our arrival was to avoid Hyde Park after dark, telling us wild tales of it becoming a cesspool of drugs and prostitutes.  I have no idea if this was true or not, since I didn't try it, but it is always a good idea to avoid dark, isolated areas, especially while walking in an unfamiliar city, even if you're with a group.

2) Stay in groups and use common sense when going out to bars in an unfamiliar city.  We had several girls in our group who could not wait to go out clubbing as soon as they got to London.  I remember my much-more-well-traveled roomie being pretty concerned and I think she ended up escorting them.  If you're not super familiar with how to get around and the type of people you'll be surrounded by, it's always best to keep all your faculties in working order aka don't get stupid drunk.  Way too often, I saw college girls traveling abroad become really easy targets.

3) Don't be obnoxious.  I remember walking to Queensway for dinner the first night we were in the city.  Most, if not all of us, went, so we were a pretty huge group.  I'm sure we were taking up the entire sidewalk, not paying attention to where we were going, etc.  As we were walking, a group of teenage boys started yelling "Yanks!" at us and taunting us.  They were rude and I'm sure some of the United States' global policies at the time didn't help, but still, I can't help but think that if we were a little more aware of our surroundings and how we appeared to locals, we probably wouldn't have been yelled at in the streets.  My general rule for traveling is to try to blend in with the locals as much as possible.  It seems safest and also the best way to really experience a city.  I can't even tell you how many times I've been asked for directions while walking or asked what part of England I'm from while chatting with people.   

4) Know your Tube stop and carry a card with your address.  This is good for safety and for generally just having a visit that doesn't suck.  The Tube (and most subway systems) is huge and you need to know which stops will get you home.  Getting off at the wrong stop and having to walk for blocks sucks, especially if it's late at night.  A lot of hotels will give you a card with the hotel's address on it when you check in.  If you're taking a cab, you can just show the driver your card, making it easier for them to take you back.

5) Look the opposite way when crossing the street.  A lot of streets actually have signs telling you which way to look, but keep in mind if you're traveling in the UK that traffic goes the opposite direction from the United States.

6) Beware of the showers.  This is kind of silly, but I did almost knock myself out one day, so it's probably worth mentioning.  A lot of us from the US are accustomed to purpose built shower and tub combos or giant walk in showers.  In a lot of places in the UK, bathrooms are tiny and showers are just built in where ever there's space.  We had a big angled wall (maybe from the stairs?) jutting out into our hotel shower.  You kind of had to shower leaning to one side.  Being as clumsy as I am, it wasn't terribly surprising that I bent over to get the soap or something and stood up, smacking my head.  Tiny capsule showers are also pretty common in Europe and the UK.

I love London.  It's a beautiful, generally easy to navigate city with locals who are usually polite. Like any large city, it's wise to be make good choices and be aware of your surroundings.

Happy traveling or just happy day dreaming!

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