Europe: the continent that used to be number one, until ‘Murica, land of the free, took the title; home of soccer, the sport Americans love to mock; home of tons of small nations that have all most likely hated and gone to war with each other at some point in their history; nations with accents that us Americans love to try and do, making a fool out of ourselves in the process 99% of the time. But, enough cheeky banter, as the Brits say. I visited two countries, England and Germany, in this historic continent, and it was the trip of a lifetime.
Getting there took a while, to say the least. To start the trip, my family and I drove up across our northern border into America’s hat (or are we Canada’s torso?), finally stopping in the magnificent city of Toronto. There, we checked into our hotel room, and found ourselves some dinner at a fast-food joint. (I also stuffed my face with complimentary hotel cookies, but that’s not really important.) The next morning is when the fun truly began.
We woke up, ate an early breakfast, and rode in the lap of luxury on a shuttle-bus to Lester B. Pearson International Airport. We stood in a mind-numbingly long line to get through security, then sat for a mind-numbingly long time before we boarded our flight to London.
The flight was operated by Air Canada, and it was pretty good, as far as plane travel goes. It was equipped with a tablet-looking device on the back of every seat, which, although it had an atrocious build quality and a touchscreen that usually clicked on something other that what you intended, was pretty entertaining. It had some halfway-decent movies and TV shows on it, and I remember binge-watching The Big Bang Theory episodes for at least four hours straight. The plane also had built-in USB ports and international outlets, keeping my handy-dandy iPhone at full charge for the entire trip, something that turns out to be very useful later on. There were three in-flight meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The breakfast was pancakes with sweet, maple-less syrup (on a Canadian plane, go figure) and some fruit, which I probably didn’t eat it. The lunch consisted of a nice, slimy chicken sandwich, and some carrots, which I, again, probably didn’t eat. It also came with a water bottle, which I started flipping until my parental unit yelled at me. The dinner was a “roast beef and cheese sandwich,” which turned out to be an Air Canada brand Hot Pocket. I also had around six packages of high-quality airline pretzels, as well as a hefty amount of ginger ale. After checking on the tablet to see how close we were at least a couple thousand times, the captain announced that we had arrived in downtown London, at around 9:30 PM local time.
We got off the plane, set foot on British soil for the first time, and I began to think that the journey was over, and we could bask in the British sun and enjoy our vacation.
Oh, how wrong I was. Once we got off the plane, we made our way over to UK customs. I rejoiced at my phone’s full battery. The line was so long, it doubles back on itself a good fifteen times. Even worse, there were two lines: one for EU citizens and one for the rest of the world. I watched, and the EU line had maybe ten people in it at the most, while our line had probably close to a thousand. There were fifteen or so kiosks where you meet the customs agent, but only two – that’s right, folks, two – out of the fifteen had agents working at them. I tried to play some Pokémon Go (because that was still a thing at the time), which did not go well, since I was stuck in a mile-long line, and sent Snapchats to all my friends to rub it in their faces that I was in London and they weren’t. This occupied my time quite well for a little while, but I got bored quickly. It also didn’t help that the airport Wi-Fi only worked half the time since hundreds of other travelers had had the same idea. I checked my phone when we touched down, and the time was around 9:30. I checked the time on it again when we finally were though customs (this wasn’t the first time I checked it – I probably checked it every five minutes while I complained about how slow the line was), and the clock read 11:45. That’s right, I stood in line waiting to go through customs for just a little less time than I spent in the car going from Rochester to Toronto.
We got out of the airport so late that the subway, or “the Tube,” as it’s called in London, was shut down for the night (it closes at 11:00), forcing us to take a £100 ($121.84 at this writing) cab ride across London to reach our hotel. We reach our hotel at around 12:30 AM, and we check in and get settled in our room. We try to go to sleep, but, thanks to my jet lag, it feels like it’s 7:30 PM, or dinner-time. I try, to no avail, to convince my dad to let me get room service, but I end up instead making a 1:30 AM run across the street to the supermarket. I ended up, after a long decision about whether to buy Jaffa cakes or Scottish tea cakes (wait for my article about food for more on these!), sitting in the hotel lobby in the middle of the night stuffing my face with Scottish tea cakes and chocolate milk. After my snack, I walked back to my room and sat on my bed trying to sleep for a while, before I finally glanced at the London skyline for the last time that night (or morning, really – it was 3 AM or so) and I fall asleep. I had made it to London, home of loud British soccer fans, about whom you’ll hear more later.