When I was 18 I went to London for the first time and absolutely fell in love. From the moment I arrived I felt immediately at home, I felt like I understood how the city worked, I was comfortable getting around, and I never felt lost. So when, at 19, I got a chance to go back and explore I jumped at the opportunity.
This mini-adventure came in the form of a 10-hour layover at Heathrow airport. I was traveling with some other students from Northern California to Kenya; which meant a lot of long flights and even more time hanging out in airports. By the time we got to Heathrow everyone was exhausted but excited to explore the carnival like atmosphere that is the International terminal at Heathrow Airport. That’s when I upped the stakes.
I knew that Heathrow had a Tube (underground, metro, subway, whatever) station and I knew we weren’t far from the city. I was also pretty sure I remembered my way around enough to let us see some sights, grab some non-airport food, and get us back in plenty of time to go through security before our next epically long flight.
Luckily I was traveling with some amazingly spontaneous and adventurous people who agreed to let me lead them through a city I barely knew on a tight deadline. We dropped off our bags at the airline counter, grabbed our passports and carry-ons and booked it for the tube.
It wasn’t until we were sitting on the Picadilly line that I realized how much this group was relying on me. Had I been alone I probably would’ve just gotten off at any old stop and let the chips fall where they may, but now I was responsible for other peoples’ fun and there was no room for error. I made the decision that we would get off somewhere between Hyde Park and Picadilly Circus and promised the group a great surprise.
After getting off the train we wandered around a bit while I got my bearings and eventually found a cute little overpriced café were we all indulged in delicious lunches not at all reminiscent of airport food. After a few more minutes of wandering we found the memorials at Hyde Park Corner where we all took far too many pictures and spent far too long reading plaques. Then came the piece de resistance… a stroll though the park itself.
It was June and the weather was lovely. After a nice walk and a lot of people watching our motley crew came upon a sort of clearing and one by one dropped our bags and had a seat. Lying there in the summer sun we discussed politics, the meal we had just eaten, and our excitement about the next leg of our journey. As time went on our conversation petered out and we all began to doze.
Eventually we woke up, dusted the grass off of each others backs and got back to the airport with enough time get through security and buy a few yorkies for the road. That trip was full of a lot of amazing experiences, but that day spent racing the clock, giving in to our jetlag, and napping in the park is one of my most treasured.