Citytrip in London on my own! (English version)

(You can read the French version here: https://medium.com/@Fabian_BE/citytrip-in-london-on-my-own-135ecb48215e)

Hi,

3 weeks ago I decided to go to London on my own. You are going to ask me: “why?”.

I noticed it was always complicated to go abroad with friends. They’re never free at the same time, they don’t have the money, their boyfriends don’t want them to go with a man, and so on. I had to take time off before the 31st March, so I had to leave very quickly.

So I told myself, why not leave on my own?

Introduction: “Why I decided to leave alone?”

I have been getting out of my comfort zone for 1 year here in Belgium. I started doing easy things even if it was complicated for me but I overcame all these challenges!

I had to do something more. One year and a half ago I started learning intensively English and Dutch. I already could write and read without a lot of problems, but I couldn’t talk to someone in one-to-one. So, I decided to improve my speaking and listening skills.

My biggest problem was that something was blocking me, I couldn’t talk to someone “in real”. I think it was the biggest challenge in my life. I started reading some globetrotter’s blogs, they gave lots of advices about how to learn languages, how to overcome his fear when you have to talk to someone in another language. I was motivated to see that I wasn’t the only one who was afraid about making mistakes and looking ridiculous. I understood it was normal for a human being and it was totally surmountable.

So I decided to look for some penpal friends. I first met Sophie (from The Netherlands for Dutch) and Sonia (from Canada for English). At the beginning I just chatted with them because I wasn’t confident enough to talk to them directly, so I found a way to do that step by step. With WhatsApp, we can either chat or send some voice messages, I told myself “hmmm.. a voice message… I can prepare my message and then I can repeat it as much as I want before I send it without sounding stupid, great!

I used this method for 6 months and I felt comfortable, so I needed to improve myself once again. The best way was to talk on Skype, but I don’t know why, the “block” was still there, I knew that I couldn’t prepare my message in advance and that I should understand the person directly without hear his message 10 times. So I tried to talk to the person that I was feeling the most comfortable (with Sophie in Dutch).

I thought a lot of scenario about it, for instance: I couldn’t understand or say anything but… everything went well! So I decided to do the same thing in English. I tried with Naomi (England), Briana (USA), and Emma (England, my favorite!). (and some other people but I can’t write all the names :) ).

At the beginning, I talked for 15/30 minutes, then for 1h00, 1H30, 2H00, 2H30, 3H00! I remember that I spent more than 60 hours in 1 month. (yeah I spent all my evenings/weekends/holidays practicing my languages).

After that, I told myself: “I have to improve myself once again!”. But this time, It would be a little bit more complicated because it was depending on someone else. My challenge was to find a Flemish (dutch native speaker in Belgium) girlfriend to practice my Dutch in “real”. The first complicated thing was that I needed to find someone who was living in Flanders (North of Belgium) but I knew nobody there and there was no flemish in my friends.

Ah yeah before that, I watched lots of series in Dutch (see the picture below) and in English (I don’t know why, but I don’t have any dvd of that haha). First, I watched the serie with subtitles and then, step by step, without subtitles.

Later, I met a really nice flemish girl and I talked to her just to practice my Dutch. Then, she came at my flat for dinner and came with me to a event of my company. She showed me around some Flemish cities (Gent and Brugge) and then she became my girlfriend. Thanks to her, I practiced a lot (she couldn’t speak French, so we only spoke Dutch) and I surprised myself by talking “fluently” to someone! (“what?”, “Did I say that? wow!”). It was time to do something better!

Next step? Speak Dutch at my work, first with my colleagues and then in a meeting. What I did! :-)

From then on, I could speak another languages on the Internet and in real, there was another thing that I could do, it was… travelling! And it’s why I decided to go to London because I never had been there. It was the perfect place to speak English and also it was a great challenge to get out of my comfort zone because I never had travelled alone, never organised something like that!

From now on, it’s only a “travel diary” that I wrote during my trip to rembember how the trip was. :-)

Departure:
In the morning, I was trying to convince myself that everything was ok but I knew deep down that I was stressed. When I arrived at the “Nivelles Station”, I couldn’t find my tickets (eurostar + train). Oh my god! I was screwed up! And then… oh it’s ok, there were in my backpocket. haha

Eurostar (Brussel south):
Arrived at the Brussel south station, no problem to get to the eurostar. I had never taken the eurostar so I didn’t really know that there were lots of controls (identity check, luggage, etc) even if it’s logic. I thought there was space in the Eurostar, but no, it’s really tiny, it’s like a normal train.

King’s Cross:
Finally arrived at King’s Cross, I had to pee like every “human beings” haha. Everyone says “Be caferul, there are a lot of thieves there, don’t leave your bag alone” but I didn’t have the choice, I would’t hold my bag next to me, it wasn’t really clean. But it’s ok, nobody has stolen my bag. Take it easy guys! The world isn’t full of thieves or dicks :)

Next step, find the tube, buy an Oyster Card (it’s a contactless card, here in Belgium we don’t have “contactless credit card” so it was the eaysiest way to take the tube). In short, it’s a electronic card that you have to “check” (I don’t know how to say that) every time you go in and out the tube. It’s very convenient because if you exceed 6.50£ a day, you don’t have to pay more. Perfect ! because I took the tube more than 15 times a day.

Now, I had to find the quay, easy? hard? Well… it was very easy. Everything is explained!

Pimlico:
I had to get to my AirBnb in Pimlico (on the Victoria Line, the most crowded line in London). The stop was just after the Victoria station. easy! My AirBnb was only 5min walk to the station, so I found it without any problem.

It was cool because It wasn’t necessary to get the keys to enter in the house. I just needed a access code that the owner gave to me before.

The room was spacious (too much for me actually). I didn’t see anyone the first day. I didn’t even know if someone stayed there this day because the owner travelled often.

First thing to do: recharge the battery of my smartphone. Fortunately I knew that they’re using another “socket/plug” (thanks google, you saved my life). So I bought an adaptator for the UK and also the US (for later). I don’t know if it was because of adaptator but the “recharging” was very slow or if it was just slow here in the UK… (I’m kidding, it’s just because of my adaptor :p). Then I had to prepare my itineraries thanks to the Wifi of the house.

First I ate a “Steak and Mushroom Pie” at “Pimlico Fresh”. I wanted Scotch Eggs but they didn’t have that, too bad! But the pie was tasty! When I was leaving I asked them if they made the “Full English Breakfast” but apparently… no…crap! I had to find another place for the next day.

The adventure could begin, first with Big Beg, Westminster Place, Westminster Abbay and Buckingham Palace. It was easy to get there with the tube. Unfortunately, the area around Big Ben and Westminster Palace was under construction. On my way, I saw St Park James Park and Green Park, so I walked around a little bit in those nice parks.

When I was near Buckingham Palace, I saw a training (or I don’t know what) of the guards. They were a little bit ridiculous but it was funny haha.

Then I went to Piccadilly circus, Trafalguar Square, London Eye, Tower Bridge and Tower of London. It wasn’t foreseen but I saw all those places during the night so it was better, because everything was lighted.

Then I had an appointment with Sandy (Hi Sandy!), one of my penpals who lives in London. We went for a drink in a pub (I had a soft dark beer and she had something disgusting, a mix between a beer, coffee and a stong alcohol, yuck!).

Then we went to another pub to eat something. I wanted to eat some fish and chips and it was tasty! Yummy! With a great wine from Argentina. A really nice evening! “I had a few” (thanks Emma for the expression haha) and I had to get to my room but it was ok, I found the way.

The next day, I visited Hyde Park and all the shopping places (China Town, Covent Garden, Camden Town, Soho, Oxford street).

In the morning, I had a little problem, I had foot pain! Oh my god! It was because of my new shoes. Bad idea to wear it. I had to make do, I wouldn’t stay in the room.

I had to leave the room at 11h00 so I asked the owner if I could leave my bag for the day. I didn’t want to carry my bag the entire day. By the way, I saw the owner only two times. A nice indian, he looked like Tom in Parks and Recreations haha.

First thing of the day, a Full English Breakfast with beans and toasts! Delicious! (everything is delicious in England actually haha). But I’m not used to eating so much so I didn’t eat anything else before 5pm. I found this restaurant thanks to TripAdvisor. It’s a typical english restaurant in London, it’s called “Regency Café”. Next time that you go to London, go eat there! I recommend it!

Then, I walked aroung in Hyde Park. I saw a horserider’s traning (I don’t know). It was funny because they were not really good at it. They couldn’t take their sword correctly haha. Hyde Park is a really great and big Park!

Then I went to Chinatown, nothing special, except the big doors and the decoration.

After that, I went to Covent Garden. It looks like an ordinary market but it’s really beautiful. A market under a big roof. There was a surprise while my visit there. 4 young people was playing violin and it was great! I really enjoyed their music and they were smiling and were really enthousiast (it makes a real difference!). So, I stayed there until the end of the “concert” and I gave them some pounds. I recorded one of their last performances. They were calm on this song but I preferred to enjoy the present moment rather than record with my smartphone.

Next destination, Camden town, unfortunately, it was raining! So I went to a pub for a beer (a guiness and another english beer but I don’t remember the name), until the rains stops.
My opinion on Camden town, the facades(?) are nice, it looks like a punk/rock area. That’s cool.

Then, I went to Oxford street, it’s like the “rue neuve” in Brussel but with some other shops like Uniklo that we don’t have in Belgium.

I came back to my room to take my bag but I wanted to eat Scotch Eggs before I leave. So I decided to go to “The Marquis of Westminster” to eat some. Once again, it was delicious. (NB: I’m going to cook some english dishes here in Belgium in the following weeks).

It was time to leave London, so I took the tube towards King’s Cross and I took the Victoria Line during the rush hour. aie aie! Bad idea!! It’s worse than Brussel.

At that King’s Cross station, once again, identity/luggage check. In the waiting room, I noticed that the room was jam-packed. In fact, two eurostars before mine were canceled. Oops! Fortunately, the eurostar that I had to take wasn’t canceled.

In the eurostar I was wondering who was my “neighbour” (it’s the cool thing when you travel alone!) but apparently nobody had booked this seat or he/she missed his/her train haha.

After 2h hours, I finally came back to Brussel-South without any problem. Belgium, I’m back! But I already had this feeling of nostalgia after 2 days. I was used to take the tube, to talk to people there, to see the wonderful places. I want to go back there now!

What I’ll remember of this citytrip.

- It’s like Brussel but x times bigger with x times more people.
- All the people who live there are really nice (AirBnb, Waiter/Waitress, people on the street, residents, …) and they are always ready to help you,
- People always look happy, even in the tube (it’s the opposite of here, everybody is complaining here),
- The multiculturalism is huge, that’s cool!
- The fashion for the london girls looks like “mini skurt” with tights. It’s sexy!
- The young men look like Richard Gere. They wear the same clothes than him… haha
- The food is really delicious and the beers… it depends on what you order!
- Even if I talked to native English speakers, I thought that I would have had lot of problems to understand them, but everything went well! (except maybe during my first lunch, I think that the waitress had a Irish or Scottish accent, it wasn’t easy).
- I made a few mistakes during my trip (in the organisation). But it was the first time, next time I’ll know what I have to do or not.

Now I want to travel a lot! Especially where I can speak English or Dutch!

Conclusion:

Travel alone is really cool!
Lots of people are afraid to travel alone, they use a lot of excuses like:
- « There’s not interest in it»,
- « I don’t want to look like someone that doesn’t have any friends »,
- « I’ll get bored without my friends ».

People also don’t like to go to the restaurant or the pub alone because our society makes us believe that it’s not normal, that you have to be with other people. Well no, you just have to go beyond your fear and enjoy your meal and your beer!

There are only advantages!

- You don’t have to wait for your friends to travel,
- You can organize your travel as you want,
- You don’t have to see things that you don’t care (in my case, I didn’t see any museum),
- You meet new people, 
- You go out your comfort zone,
- If you have a problem, you have to talk to the people around you,
- You practice your target language during the entire trip and you don’t speak your mothertongue.

Next destinations:

  • Rome (3 days — 18/19/20 April)

Useful addresses:

  • Pimlico Fresh: 86–87 Wilton Rd, London SW1V 1DN, United Kingdom
  • The Marquis of Westminster: 50 Warwick Way, London, SW1V 1RY
  • The Regency Café: 17–19 Regency St, London SW1P 4BY, United Kingdom

You can click on this link to see all the pictures: https://goo.gl/photos/XbPj6rdypSg2ovGU6

See you soon!

Fabian