Travel Epiphanies and Night Ferries

“Just one drink,” I say, as I’m looking at myself in the mirror of my tiny cabin on board an overnight ferry. My face is sunburned and my hair is frizzed, I had just spent three very hot and exhilarating days in London. I expected to fall deeply in love with London, for reasons I couldn’t really explain, and London certainly delivered any preconceived expectations and then some. My final day in London consisted of riding the tube to Camden, browsing all the open air markets, and then finally settling down on a grassy hill in Greenwich Park with a bottle of wine and friends. My new friends. People whom I’ve met about a week before in Dublin.

After spending a few hours lying on the grass, talking, drinking, observing, and laughing, we force ourselves out of London and onto a ferry bound to the Netherlands, where we will continue our adventure together in Amsterdam. I’m tired, and already feeling a little boozy from my wine. While already declaring that it will be a quiet night on board, I make no effort in my appearance, and I sheepishly leave my room in a t-shirt and yoga pants, wearing no makeup. I see some familiar faces, and we convene by the bar in the lounge. Someone remarks that the bar drinks are overpriced, and it makes more sense to buy bottles of liquor from the duty free shop on board. I shrug and buy myself a glass of wine, as I don’t expect to hang out for very long before returning to my cabin.

As we were one of the first passengers to arrive, the deck is completely empty. The chairs and tiny tables are strategically attached to the deck with wire, but we figure out how to arrange a little sitting area for all of us. Slowly, my travel mates find their way to the deck and we begin to chat about what we all did in London. Soon, everyone becomes generous with their bottles, and paper cups filled with nothing but alcohol are passed around. I can’t tell if it’s from drinking or being on open waters, but I start to feel dizzy. As I sit around and look at my little group, I am taken over with pure happiness and amazement at how well we are all getting along, despite being strangers just days prior. Somewhere along the line, I relent and buy myself my own duty free bottle and have been taking swigs out of it for who knows how long? How long have we been out here? What time is it? Don’t we have to be up pretty early tomorrow? Who cares? It’s a vacation, dammit, and I’m enjoying every second out here on this boat deck. Tomorrow morning can wait.

After a while, I worry if we are being too loud and disturbing the other passengers. I turn my attention away from my crowd, only to see that we have become the center of a ring of other passengers, who have been happily watching our antics for god knows how long. Instead of the scowls I expect, I only see people drinking and smoking while shaking their heads and laughing at my crew. A few eventually decide to come join us. An employee makes his way on deck, but instead of telling us to quiet down and go back to our rooms, he exchanges smiles with us and asks if he can take any garbage or empty glasses.

The night carries on, people keep coming and going to the duty free shop to replenish, regrettable photos are snapped on smartphones, and I sit there thinking how I’m so glad I decided to come out for “just one drink”, instead of curling up on my cot and catching up with my friends and family on Facebook. Somewhere, on that ferry, mid-transit between London and Amsterdam, I fell in love with everyone I was traveling with. I felt so lucky that somehow, by fate, we all unknowingly decided to travel together. We crossed the boundary of simply being companions while abroad, and were now, undoubtedly, friends. No more awkward icebreaker conversations, we were instead freely conversing and divulging; without worry of any judgment from someone you don’t quite know yet.

It was that night when I had my first “travel epiphany”, where the profoundness and magic of travel really came flying at me and hit me in the face. It wasn’t when I saw Big Ben and the London Tower for the first time in person, nor was it when I had my first pint of Guinness at Temple Bar in Dublin, as wonderful as those moments were. No, it was there, on the deck of that ferry, sitting in a metal chair, resting my elbows on a table littered with paper cups, empty bottles, and ashtrays, that it really hit me that I was in the midst of something truly special that will stay with me forever.

I got up from my chair to stretch my legs, to prepare myself for what was already making itself into a very long night, when I looked over the railing and noticed that we hadn’t even left port yet.


London, London, London

It’s hard to believe I’ve already seen Dublin, North Wales, and London on my tour. It’s also hard to believe I’ve finally visited LONDON. London has been a place I’ve wanted to visit for so long and it felt unreal walking around the city, riding the Tube, seeing all those famous sites and landmarks, and hearing English accents wherever I went.
I was unbelievably giddy sitting on the bus when we first made it to London, and I couldn’t wait to go out and explore once we got to our hotel around 5 PM. Once we settled into our rooms, Darren explained London’s public transportation system and then we headed to Covent Garden to explore. We walked around the city a bit before heading to Covent Garden, and we all saw Big Ben for the first time and I think that was pretty surreal for most of us to see such a famous landmark in person.
I was craving Indian food; it’s my favorite cuisine and I know London is known for good Indian. Luckily, a few girls from my group were feeling the same way, so we found a place not too far from Covent Garden and it was so delicious. We were all so hungry and it was the perfect welcome to multicultural London!

After wandering around for a bit, we called it a night because we were all pretty tired after a long day of traveling.
The next morning Darren took us out to do a bit more sightseeing, and to take us to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Darren is from London, so he knew where the perfect place to stand was to watch. We were so close to the guards when they crossed we could have touched them! It was such a neat experience.
After that Darren took us to Trafalgar Square and let us have a free day. That day we all had passes to a hop on, hop off bus tour to see the city, so a group of us visited the National Portrait Gallery for a bit and then hopped on a bus. We had originally intended on just riding it for a little while and then getting off to do our own sightseeing, but the guide on the tour was so enjoyable to listen to and had neat stories and anecdotes, so we just sat on the bus and enjoyed her commentary for about an hour.

After that, we did some shopping on Oxford Street. It was so, so hot out that I really wasn’t in the mood to shop, I only bought a scarf and then went to the market to get some food and wine because I had a picnic to go to later.
Almost everyone in my group went to a pub crawl that night, but I had plans to visit some friends who live in London for a picnic at Hyde Park. The picnic was sooo lovely! We sat right by a pond and the area was full of others picnicking and walking their dogs. There was also a music festival going on so we could hear music and cheering in the distance. We all had such an enjoyable time eating at chatting, and I was so glad to have a relaxing night out after such a busy (and hot) day.
The next day I had plans to meet up with even more people from the area, so I went back to the Covent Garden area to meet them. It was another unbearably hot day, so we escaped to a cocktail bar called Henry’s and got a drink. My friend told me I had to get a Pimms and Lemonade while I was hear because it’s a very well known a British drink. It was very refreshing and enjoyable. It was served with fresh fruit and cucumber.
After lunch, I met up with other girls from my group so we could go to the Harry Potter studio tour!!!!! I was finally going to Hogwarts after thirteen years of being a Harry Potter fanatic. We met at King’s Cross station to get a picture of Platform 9 3/4 and then it was off to Hogwarts!!
Anyone who knows me knows how obsessed I am with Harry Potter, and thankfully a few girls who I was going with felt the same way so we were all so giddy together while waiting in line to get in. I got teary eyed and had a lump in my throat when the tour was showing how Harry Potter mania blew up all over the world when the books and movies were being released.
The guides on the tour were so great at pumping everyone up and when it was finally time to open the doors to the Great Hall, I was so overwhelmed I started crying tears of joy. I was at the very place where the cast and crew created such magic for me!

I spent HOURS in there and took hundreds of pictures. I kept running back and forth marveling at things, reading the info, and taking pictures. It was like a religious pilgrimage to me. I got to try some Butterbeer, and at the end of the tour there was a room full of wands, dedicated to every single cast and crew member who worked on the eight films. I found my favorite actor’s, Alan Rickman, so that was cool!

I ended up leaving by myself from the tour because the group of girls I went with all had plans and had to leave to get ready. It was a long journey back to my hotel, but it was easy to figure out. London’s public transportation system is so efficient. I talked to two Belgian girls who were working and living in London on my ride home and we had a nice chat about my trip, the differences between America and Europe, and the Harry Potter tour. 
I called it a night after I got back, it was a long journey home and I already had such a big day. The hustle and bustle of London is exhilarating, but exhausting.
The next day was our last day in London, so one of my roommates Megan and me decided to head out to Camden in the morning to shop. Camden was amazing! So many open markets and vendors, and so, so cheap! I could have spent hours walking around. I bought some jewelry and a sweater. It was such a successful day trip.
After Camden, we met up with more of our group and Darren and spent the rest of our day at Greenwich Park. The park was full of people of all ages enjoying the gorgeous weather and the amazing view of the city. We all laid in the sun and I had some wine and enjoyed my surroundings.

I left London with a bit of a heavy heart because I loved every second of it. I loved all the different cultures, the pace, the history, the accents, and the company of my friends and travelers.
Luckily I wasn’t sad for very long because we were on our way to Ansterdam and had to board an overnight ferry to get there. The night on the ferry was one of the most ridiculous, outrageous, sloppy, stupid, and entertaining nights of my entire life. But that will have to wait for its very own entry…