Going to UK: London Episode

So I went to UK. I took a bus from Tucson on June 28 afternoon to catch my flight from Los Angeles on June 29 morning. I had a long transit in Las Vegas before finally flying to Gatwick airport in London, UK. The flight was about 9hours. I didn’t get a window seat and I happened to sit between what seemed to be a couple and they talked to each other in a while. That’s not a problem since I slept most of the time. The problem was that the girl by the window seat went to the restroom a lot and every time she needed to go, I must stand and go to the isle as well to give some room for her to go out and to return to her seat. It’s troublesome. I understand that it couldn’t be helped, but, jeez, she could’ve just stepped over me, right? I’m not that big anyway.

Then my meal. I requested Muslim meal right after I purchased my ticket, right? But then this flight attendant came to me giving me the menu. I was like, “Should I still choose from this?” But then I figured out that I didn’t have to because some time later they just gave me my Muslim meal. As usual, in advance and before the others. I guess I loved that part of requesting a special meal. LoL But then as I said, I slept the whole flight. I was supposed to eat the main meal, some pudding and hot chocolate, and then breakfast before landing. Alas, I missed my red-velvet pudding 😔😭 I thought of asking for it when I woke up since I missed it but I didn’t because I was too shy and we were arriving anyway. Haha But, hey, they should’ve just left it on my tray! 🤷

Then UK border and immigration. I’ve been dreading about it. Well, maybe because, as you know, I unnecessarily panick and get anxious easily. I’ve been reading the stories about how hard UK border and immigration officers are. I just thought that it wouldn’t be funny if I arrived in UK with my visa and even return ticket but for some reasons they wouldn’t let me in. That would ruin my whole plan for not only traveling UK but also Europe. Yeah, I thought too far. My worries were extreme. But, well, when I arrived in UK, it wasn’t like that.

I was at Westminster bridge. The Big Ben was behind me but it was still under (re)construction. I didn’t get on the London Eye because the ticket was expensive for me. I was on a tight budget.

Soon after landing, I went to the toilet (yeah, what else? 🙈😅) and went straight to the border and immigration. There were many people, gosh, it even seemed a lot more than I’d seen in US border and immigration at the airports. They divided the queue into two: UK and EU passport holders and NON UK and NON EU passport holders. The first wasn’t so long or crowded. It looked fast. The second, though. It was very crowded; the line was very long, and ugh, it felt very slow. Not a good first impression of UK to be honest. But then came my turn. I handed my passport and my landing form. I wrote that I’d stay in UK only for 11 days. I was not sure about this. I haven’t bought my return ticket from Europe to UK yet so if they asked me about it, I wouldn’t be able to provide it. I had my ticket to Paris on July 11 though, but it’s on my phone since I didn’t print it, and it said in the premise that phones were not allowed. So I was wondering if I should just write that I’d stay for some days more instead since I had the printed ticket to fly back to US. But, well, I ended up writing it for 11days. The lady officer only asked me how long I’d stay. I explained to her that I’d stay in UK for 11 days, then leave for Europe, then back to UK to catch my flight back to USA. Then she asked about my port of departure. I said I flew from Las Vegas. She asked if I lived there. And I said yes, I was studying there. Then that’s it. It was so fast and easy. Later my friend told me that it must be because they saw me as a safe person, someone who’d definitely leave the Great Britain since I should go back for my study in the US. Well, of course, I didn’t plan on living in UK forever.

Then I took the train. Well, my friend had told me how to get to her place and Google told me the same. It wasn’t that hard. We also have such trains in USA! The problem came when I had to take a bus after the train. The ticket machine didn’t give any option to get such cards to ride buses. The ticket counter couldn’t help either. And I could not ride using cash so I ended up using Uber, which was of course more expensive. It was terrible, the bus system. Sorry to compare, but in the US, if we don’t have cards we can always use cash even for locals. Keep doing it that way, USA! It’s more convenient. (And guess what? The machine that sells new cards was available in much smaller station, and the cards were available in ordinary stores – that had no relation to trains/buses. LoL It’s crazy 🤷🤦).

And talking about buses, I had a very very bad experience about it. So I got on this one bus to meet up with some friends; we planned to go to China Town and since the nearest stop of the bus was at Covent Garden, we agreed to meet there. But then the bus got broken in the middle of the journey. We, all passengers, were told to get off. And that’s it. Just apology and no further info. What about the amount that’s been deducted from our card to ride that bus? What about the amount we had to pay again to take another bus? Not to mention how we could know which bus to take next since we didn’t arrive by that bus. Gosh, it was so irresponsible! But fine, I used Google map and it told me another bus to take. I walked to the bus stop and waited. I was the only one waiting. Then the bus came but it didn’t stop! Later my friend told me that I should wave my hand to stop the bus otherwise the driver would think I was waiting for another bus or simply as someone who stood or sat there at the bus stop. I was like, “It’s ridiculous!” Sorry, but I really need to compare, just so you understand why it upset me. In USA, if the driver sees a person in a bus stop, they’ll stop no matter what, unless it’s out of service or full, which is otherwise indicated on the bus screen so we know. If the person waiting does not get on the bus, they then continue after stopping. But at least we don’t need to wave hands or such. Gosh, it’s so like my country where we have to wave our hands to get on a public transportation. But here is ‘worse’. At least in Indonesia we do it because we can do it beyond bus stops, like literally anywhere on the road. In UK, we still have to do it even though we’re already in the bus stops. LoL Anyhow, it’s better from US buses in term of info of each bus stop. They display what stop is next and what stop is the last. US buses dont do it; they display it only if it’s a major bus stop. And oh, in US we have both buttons and ropes to signal the driver when we request a stop. In UK, they only have buttons. And they have a lot of two-storey buses, which is cool!

The public toilet at Hyde Park. Need to insert 50pence to get in.

Then public toilets. I always observed the toilets because I think it’s important; it’s one of our basic needs. (And maybe because I go to the restroom a lot. They call it loo here by the way.) But guess what? The public toilets were not many and when they were available, it’s not for free. Yes, we have to pay and insert a coin to get in and use the facility. It’s infuriating! The first time I found out about this was when I was about to get my ticket for Tower of London. I followed the directions to the public toilet that they provided there only to find that I could not get in because I didn’t have any coins with me. Fortunately, there was this Chinese lady who was exitting the toilet when I was about to give up and leave. (I don’t mean to be racist by mentioning her race here. But I’ve heard many bad things about Chinese tourists so here I wanted to tell you that the good ones also existed. Well, it might be against the rules, but seriously as I was really in a dire need to use the toilet, I saw it as a kindness.) So this lady seemed upset probably about that coin too. When she saw me, she gestured me to get in from the exit “gate”. I thanked her and got in from the exit passage instead of from the entrance, where it would only open a way if I inserted 50pence. Ok, I’m sorry that I had to do that but I really got no choice, and holding our pees was not healthy, right? Thus, ever since I found out about this toilet not being for free, I observed it more and more.

The change machine outside the public toilet near Tower of London. (The toilets inside Tower of London are ‘free’, though).

In Bank station, for instance, after I got off the train, I wanted to use the toilet but it wasn’t open; it’s locked because it’s weekend! But I did read a notice close to the door that said, “Children must pay to use the toilet.” Gosh! Then at Hyde park, I found the same. I didn’t need to use the toilet actually, I was just curious, and I was right, to get in we must pay 50pence. Do you want to know what’s more ludicrous? In Victoria Coach Station, I needed to use the toilet while waiting to board on my bus to Leeds. And guess what? I should pay 30pence! And there was even a guard! LoL Luckily this time I had my coints, exact amounts since they never give change! And when I was inside, I heard somebody was arguing. All I heard was, “This is too much. I’m done.” and “I will pay for you.”, which was replied with, “No, thank you!” I sensed exasperation there and I dont know why but I was assuming that lady must be American. Well, because in USA, public toilets are every where and it’s free. In the park, in bus stations, in gas stations, in rest areas, etc. Even if we go to grocery stores only to use the toilets, that’s totally fine. Because it’s basic human needs, by letting us use the toilets for free, they acknowledge us as human; it’s part of human rights and thus humanity! Here in London, it’s terrible. Even the grocery store I went to did not provide a toilet. Sigh. When there was one, only customers were allowed to use it, they said so, they had the notice for that 😐🤦 And if you think it’s going to be better and cleaner because it’s not free, you’re wrong. I still found one that is not flushed. I still found one whose door could not be closed. I still found one that ran out of toilet paper. And I found one that refused to be flushed that I should stay longer to flush it again and again. I asked my London friend about this to make sure that it was okay to flush the toilet paper or if it should be thrown into the trash bin, she said yes, we flush the toilet paper so I wasn’t wrong. But, well, this thing about toilets alone made me miss US already. I mean, take the toilet-at-Victoria-station example. I have paid for my ticket, right? If I were to go to the toilet more than once while waiting to board my bus, then I should pay 30pence every time I go to the toilet? That’s crazy!

Tower Bridge from the Tower of London. If u just want to take a pic there, u dont have to go to Tower of London. The tickets for Tower Bridge and Tower of London are separate. Crossing the bridge itself is free but to go to the Tower Bridge with its glass floor is not.

Well, I wouldn’t act holy or superior. In my home country many public restrooms are not free either. They even have different charges for (sorry) “pissing” and “shitting.” But, well, they call it a third-world country. But here in the first-world country, they’re no different. LoL (But, hey, many public restrooms are becoming available for free in my country now! 😊)

Then restaurants. Here in London, they didn’t serve me (tap) water unless I asked for it and they didn’t offer a refill unless I asked for it. Gosh, I miss USA. In USA, the seconds you take your seat, the waiter would ask what you love to drink while handing you the menu so while deciding on what food to order or waiting for your order to be done you’ll have something to drink. And they’ll make sure that we always have water unless we say we’re fine. Such different service!

I opened it and it was stinky and filthy.

And oh, my friends told me that people here were cold, racists, and even displayed fake politeness (that’s my friend’s term). They even had a supervisor like that. I was like, ugh, in US, even though some people are not nice and even racistic, at least people in academic environment are not. Our professors stand with diversity, with international students; they make us feel welcome and home. I guess when travel, we come to realize how good our homes are and be thankful for them.

But I’m not going to talk about things that upset me only, there are also things that I like about London. I love the tubes! Probably because I dont have it in both Tucson, AZ and also Indonesia. I love figuring out how it works, how we can get on different tubes and transfer to different lines, etc. It’s not really difficult and it’s exciting. (Except that it’s very expensive).

I also love the fact that there’s no “tip and tax”. We pay as much as the price that is displayed. If we buy something that says £8, then we pay £8. In US, it’s different. In a restaurant, for example, if we order something priced $5 on the menu, we’ll end up paying more. First the tax, which is different in each state, it could be .8% or more, but it could also be 0% (or no tax) like in Montana. Then we must tip. Normally it’s 15% of the total (price n tax), if the service is not good, then maybe 10% is enough, and if the service is great, we can tip more. But it’s the norm. If we don’t tip, we’ll be considered very rude. That’s what I dont like about USA. I prefer the tax n the tip included so I pay as much as I see in the menu/display, not on the final receipt, which is usually more expensive.

Then I love the museums too! My friends told me that most museums were free. I went to British Museum and National Gallery. They were so cool, especially British Museum. I can’t really tell how gorgeous it was, you’d need to see it yourself, but if you want a cue: they even had mummies! Real ones! And oh, it’s better to take just a small bag or purse because big bags were not allowed.

They have a moving escalator in the British Library!

I also visited British Library, well, because I love books. And I really love the place, except that I couldn’t really go to the reading rooms since I didn’t have a pass/reading card/such, which is not free. This part is kinda disappointing, but I was not surprised because previously my friends told me that in their UK colleges/universities, only students with student ID could enter the library. I was like, “Wow!”. I mean, in my campus, everyone can enter the library, even non students can enter and read the books. You’ll only need the card if you want to use the computer or to check out the books. If it’s just to read in the library, you dont really need it. (And by the way, my friends tell me that their gym is not free. But it’s kinda weird, I asked about the tuition fee and it’s kinda similar to my tuition fee, except that in my place, it includes the gym and other facilities, so we don’t have to pay any more if we want to use the gym or other facilities. Dang, I’m loving my campus more now. Sorry 🙏🙇‍♀️)

But, well, of course we can’t generalize this onto the whole parts of UK. London is a very big city, while I live in a small town in USA. If we were to compare maybe it’s best to compare London to New York. And we know I don’t live there even though I’ve been there. And perhaps, London is simply too big and too overwhelming for me. I love a more peaceful place where it’s not too crowded 🙂

PS: I’m sharing this because I really wish I had known all about it. I hope by reading this, people who’ve never been to London and plan to go there can be more prepared so that they could make a better use of their time while visiting and thus have a better experience 😊🙏🙇‍♀️

PPS: Mostly they have discounted prices for students. I used my catcard, UA Student ID card, to get students prices all the time 😁✌️

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