Be Humbled by Travel: London and Paris

While all the pictures reflect a pretty good time, it's not exactly how I felt. Travel can be very stressful, and it began with my first stopover in London. Without an exact plan other than my one-way ticket to London into Heathrow International and my hostel for the week booked, I ran into some problems with passport control. I was grilled for 20 minutes by the immigration officer, who happened to be on his last ten minutes of his shift.

I knew I wanted to see the typical sights, meet up with friends and relatives I have never been questioned so harshly at immigration control. At the moment I was frustrated, nervous and to be honest a bit scared. Then it hit me; this is a harsh reality for a large portion of the world. He questioned me about my finances, how and who paid for my ticket, how much I've spent since arriving in Spain, what I'm doing in London (he asked twice). I flew by immigration into Spain with a one-way ticket, so this was very surprising.

But at last, he stamped my passport. For one of the first time in my life, I experienced what I imagine it's like not having male, white, or U.S privilege. It's humbling because until something like this happens, you have no idea how it feels.

Luckily, my first morning in London had clear and sunny skies. It was perfect weather for the free-walking tour provided by Sandemans. For those who have never heard of Sandemans tours, they are "free" tours where you only pay the tip. This concept makes it perfect for budget travelers looking to see the major sights of the city, learn a bit of history, and culture. Since the guides are working just for tips, it typically means they are very good at their craft. Without giving away most of the tour, he led us through the major sights of Diagon Alley, Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, and Westminster Abbey. Don't worry there were a couple more stops and a lot of stories.

After the tour finished, I was starving and went with the group to grab a bite to eat. To hungry to take a photo, I dove into my traditional steak and red wine pot pie. When it came time to part ways with the group, I said my goodbyes to the fellow travelers. The clouds drew in and darkened as I went on my own walking tour to find Denyer Street, so I bought a cheap umbrella. It was as cheap as it gets and almost completely broke on the first gust of wind. After walking for what seemed like hours in the rain and wind, I finally found Denyer Street. I don't know why we have a street named after us, but we do. It was a bucket list item for my adventure abroad.

Although it was raining, I managed to position myself pretty close to the London Museum of Natural History. Having shelter was a plus, and the museum was fascinating. It was only open for a few more hours so I knew if I wanted to see most of it, I would have to move pretty fast. If you wanted you could spend an entire day here. The museum has exhibits everything from dinosaurs to human life and a pretty extensive collection of rare gems and minerals. Finally, after a long day walking close to 14 miles, it was time for dinner and beer. Thanks to a personal recommendation from my friend Kelsey, I sat down for fish and chips at Poppies. It was great, but since I didn't know where the night was going to take me, I left the camera at the hostel.

Day number two was very successful and another bright day. It was cold and windy, but at least it wasn't raining. I don't want to get my hopes up and won't believe it until I see it, but I was able to talk to someone in person about getting my British passport. Even with the looming "Brexit," having my passport should be a golden ticket for finding work and living in Spain longer than three months. After chatting at the passport office, I grabbed brunch at the famous Regency Cafe. The Regency Cafe has been open since 1946 and has been a filming location for BCC. With my stomach once again full, I was ready for some more walking. I wish I remembered my Garmin charger because it died and could not track my mileage. I must have walked another 15 or more miles walking that day.

By foot, I walked back and forth from North to South London. Doing this I was able to see more iconic buildings and bridges of London. It is important to note; I didn't see everything. I think I would need a month to see the entire city and hit all the museums. Additionally, Big Ben has scaffolding covering it for the next five years. That night I met up with my friend from High School, Kelsey, who is studying abroad in London at a bar called The George Inn and bar. If you are staying in South London, this bar is a must. It was a frequent spot by author Charles Dickens and is one of the last galleried inns in London. You can find a collection of pubs around The George, but I had a good time people watching at Wheatsheaf.

After spending a week in London, I was excited and nervous about Paris. My original plan was to take the train to Paris. That did not happen. I realized I could find a flight cheaper and fast to Paris. So I went on an hour train ride to the small airport on the outskirts of London and made my way to Paris. Thankfully flying into Paris was a lot easier than London. The whole process took five seconds. I was humbled once again going to Paris. Not knowing the language was very challenging being a solo traveler. Between not being able to speak French, the pouring rain and the risk of getting pickpocketed, my guard was up.

My hostel was a classic. Located in the Montmartre neighborhood with a tiny shared dorm and small bathroom, it was an experience. I do have to say though the pillows were very comfy. With only a limited amount of days in Paris, I hit the night strong. I was determined to get night photos of Sacre Coeur, Moulin Rouge, and the Eiffel Tower. I was successful for the first two, but the Eiffel Tower shot was challenging. I spent too much time at the first two locations and also forgot to change my time back. I arrived at the skyscraper that provides excellent views 20 minutes late. I found the metro system very confusing in Paris, and I felt confident in my walking skills. My phone said it was only a 30-minute walk. For some reason, my phone mapped it in the complete opposite direction, and I got lost. I did happen to see more of the city by night. I also laughed at myself the next day on the walking tour as I passed a few places I walked past the night before. Finally at 1 am I was able to see the very last light show of the Eiffel Tower. It was an awful angle as I was right below the tower.

I also managed to get lost going back to the hostel as many of the main metro lines were closed. But I refused to break down or give up. I knew I just had to keep going. Keeping my eyes on a swivel, I managed to find the main bus line, the N2, that was still operating and passed my hostel. Part of the hostel life is knowing you might have a person who snores like a freight train and only managed to get 2 hours of sleep.

I wanted to get up early to get photos of the Louvre and to get in line. Pro tip for Paris, book the free walking tour in the afternoon and hit the Louvre first thing. Like London, I had two goals for the Louvre. I wanted to see the famous Monte Lisa and find a statue of Athena. Seeing a sculpture of Athena was especially special because she is a symbol of my Fraternity, Phi Delta Theta. The Louvre was the best part of the trip. A crazy thing happened at the Monte Lisa, and I managed to see it with only 25 or so people. After spending 4 or so hours at the Louvre, I headed to another Sandeman walking tour.

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With just roughly 2 hours of sleep and 4 hours of walking at the Louvre, I was a bit exhausted. I was running on pure adrenaline. I chose not to take as many photos on this tour for two reasons. I was tired and wanted to take it all in without looking through the lens. The rain was spitting, and I was worried about my camera. The walking tour mostly focused on Napoleon's rise to power, which was funny just coming from England and my guide was from London. With my background in International Relations, I found it very interesting at the end of the tour when the guide said, "Napoleon is someone who resembles Plato's, Philosophers King."

What do you think about that statement?

Sunday was a bit of a wash. I accidentally slept through my alarm for my 8 am the bus back to Bilbao. After seven days of hostel beds and being in two cities that I did not know how to navigate, I was ready to go back home. It rained most for the day, and my phone was completely dead. For lunch, I figured I would see what all the fuss was about with the restaurant with the line out the door. I think I waited at least an hour to eat at Bouillon Pigalle, but it was worth the wait. Bouillon Pigalle is the best place to try authentic French food without breaking the bank. By the time I finished lunch, I only had a few hours before my bus home. I decided to use the time to go back to the Notre Dame because on the walking tour we did not go inside.

In conclusion, while it was a successful trip, it was very stressful and humbling at the same time. By being grilled at immigration is something I have never experienced before in my travels abroad. I can now say I know what it's like to go through an experience like that. It's not fun, and the entire time I kept thinking just stay calm. I was able to see a lot, and I still have more to explore.

Be curious. Be courageous. Be chivalrous.

B.E