Hola! Hope you're smiling :)
Everything about this epic winter came like winning a lottery. I was hoping it would happen and strived step by step without knowing if the plan will work out. And when it did, I was almost left with no time for planning even some very important, basic details like telling Catherine my date and time of arrival in London.
Perhaps you remember Catharine from my travel stories of London last July, Catharine my awesome London angel who didn’t just guide me but helped glide and glided along with me from one dream to another bringing each one to reality. I had written to Catharine about my travels in Europe and sought suggestions on accommodation for four days when she graciously invited me to stay at her place. I felt very lucky to be Catharine’s guest as her place wasn’t new to me, I had already met her wonderful boyfriend Marcus and also felt a little confident about finding her place easily from Whitechapel Tube Station, it is no more than five minutes away.
But! Oh but! I hadn’t had the chance, and this is really stupid, to inform Catharine of the time of my arrival. I had her phone number and flat’s address but that was all. I suspect I maybe purposely didn’t plan too much so I can be the solo-traveler that turns up at places with just the address in hand – Sebastien style!
I was slightly worried on the plane from Jeddah to London but more than that I was super duper tired. There couldn’t have been a better flight for me – Saudiaa Jeddah to London had less than 50% occupancy that night, meaning I had the row to myself and could sleep happily. I got great rest, was well fed and before I knew it, I could see London under me, blanketed by fog.
Fully recharged after a few hours of rest with food breaks, I landed in Heathrow enjoying the first sight of familiarity. Of course, I missed my brother Feroze horribly but was still very happy to be what I was that moment – alone. (Feroze and I had traveled to London, our first time to the city – our first time anywhere outside India, last July). It was cold but not too much. I did have to take out my much-better winter coat which I will use all of that month and which will make my pictures boring, and put it on. It was really the first time that I was wearing such heavy clothing! My first time in winter clothes! It was a great pleasure to spot my fluorescent green and grey Wildcraft duffel bag with wheels. Wheels this time! And not a heavy backpack, what a relief! This was an important change as I struggled pitiably with heavy luggage last time and couldn’t do anything about it but carry as it was a wobbly backpack. No carrying now!
I made my way to the immigration clearance line and stood in the shortest one. I thought I had everything ready to show to the immigration officer but not the UK Border Agency Immigration Clearance Form. Feroze and I had filled it in the plane last time, and since I was sleeping until the flight came to a halt after landing, the air hostess couldn’t give me one. At this point, the really nice and kind officer lent me a pen and said I should fill the form and head to another line for clearance – “but I must come back to return your pen,” I said, holding his tiny little, plastic, ball pen to which he said “no, no need to return the pen.” I couldn’t quite believe myself that I could keep the officer’s pen, a souvenir!
After clearing immigration, I headed to the Underground station and found myself at exactly the same spot where I stood with Feroze a few months earlier. Too bad we didn’t know about the Oyster card then and neither did the ticket seller tell us about it, obviously he didn’t think we’d be so stupid. With me on the platform were one or two other people, I noticed an aged man in a nice tweed cap, waiting for the tube.
I knew I had to get to Whitechapel. Now, I had spent 5 days in London before but never really, fully figured out how the Tube works. I remember telling Catharine that I would get to Hyde Park Corner because I know how to get there for sure from Heathrow and then get to Whitechapel from there. She obviously thought that was a useless idea but was nice enough to tell me that it was a better idea to try and get to Whitechapel from Heathrow – take the District Line.
I had just arrived in London, I was feeling fresh and I didn’t care about being lost so I went with Catharine’s suggestion and looked for the way to Whitechapel.
Take the Piccadilly line to Cockfosters, change to the District Line at South Kensington and get to Whitechapel. That seemed doable.
And like a migratory bird that is more guided by its instinct than the aide of maps and GPS, I just followed what I felt right, however, just the first five minutes felt wrong.
I took the Piccadilly line alright but found myself at Heathrow terminal 1,2,3 instead of Hatton Cross. Disaster!! Oh what a disaster! I took the wrong the train! I got off immediately at the terminal station and waited for a train going in the other direction. When one came by, I took it and brought myself back to Terminal 4 where I had landed.
The nice old, gentleman in the tweed cap was still there on the platform. I was truly boggled to see that there were no trains in the opposite direction. I walked to the man and told him that I needed to get on the Piccadilly line to South Kensington, he said I should get on the next train with him. I did. And as we were on the train, I told him that I was stupid and took a wrong train to which he very gently and very sweetly explained that there is no wrong direction. “You can’t go wrong with this because there’s only one direction, all trains take a loop turn and get to Hatton Cross and go on further – they have to take that loop,” he said.
“Oh my God, that’s true. What a stupid girl I’ve been!” I said to the nice gentleman. I also told him “I felt glad that nobody noticed how stupid I was to get on and off trains, thank God no one knew what I was doing,” and I chuckled.
It is then that this real sweet, beautiful human being said something that remained the most powerful line I would keep in my mind throughout my travels over the next one month, through each new country and each new city, through every new experience.
He said, “How are you supposed to know everything anyway. It’s okay to make mistakes, you can’t know everything all the time!”
This stranger did me the greatest kindness by saying that one line. I told him that I was traveling from India and hoped to go to several places in Europe. He was returning from Canada, a long, long, flight but seemed as easy and fresh as he just hopped from the next station.
I sat on the same side of the train as I did the first time I was in London, I recognized the houses and the thrill in my heart. I had the same thrill this time, only didn’t have Feroze right in front of me smiling.
The gentleman got off a few stations before South Kensington, perhaps at Ravenscourt or Hammersmith or Baron’s Court – I will never know and this is the price I will pay for writing this after 11 months since it happened.
I changed at South Ken and found myself at Whitechapel at around 6:30 am on the 2nd of December, 2012.