Hello from across the pond

Kara McIntyre


London Pride Parade in Westminster, London. Photo by Kara McIntyre

July 9: I visited Bri, one of my best friends, in Cambridge immediately after Pride. I rushed from the parade to the dorms, then shoved everything in my backpack and speed-walked to the Mile End tube stop and headed for Kings Cross train station. By this point, I’m basically a pro at this whole public transportation thing (with the help of Google Maps, of course), until I get to the train station.

First of all, this place is huge. There’s a Platform 9 and 3/4 — yes, like in Harry Potter — and I can’t even tell you how many people I saw running over there just for a photo op with the iconic luggage cart halfway through the wall, looking like you can transport right to Hogwarts.

But that wasn’t why I was so damn confused. I figured out how to buy my ticket from a kiosk, but I was frantically texting Bri trying to figure out what kind of ticket to buy. Super off-peak single? Off-peak return? Super off-peak return?

All I could think was, “What the actual fuck is this? Give me a one-way ticket to Cambridge, damn it!”

I got a ticket (super off-peak single, if you were wondering) for 20:44, which left six minutes from when I bought the ticket. I ran around trying to figure out which platform my train was leaving from, and ended up at Platform 5. I wasn’t positive that that was correct, so I just wandered up and down staring into the train windows, hoping for some kind of signal that this was my train. I’m pretty sure the people already on the train were thinking, “Stupid American.”

Yeah, I am a stupid American who uses a car to travel, like a normal person. Sue me.

Turns out that was my train, and I jumped on with a minute to spare. I wandered through the train carriages trying to find a place to sit, and finally I found an open seat next to, of course, the weirdest person on the train. I guess there was a reason he was alone.

He also smelled. Like, REALLY smelled. I thought it was me at first — I’d been sweating my ass off all day, so maybe I finally stunk through my clinical protection deodorant and Bath and Body Works perfume. But I did the awkward, attempt-at-being-sneaky-but-it’s-really-obvious armpit sniff, and it certainly wasn’t me. He moved his arms to take off his jacket, and yeah. Definitely him.

Once I finally got to Cambridge, I had the best weekend with Bri. Even though it was short-lived, we’d been talking about me coming to England for months, and it was surreal to finally see someone I really, truly love in another country.

I had been having strong bouts of homesickness — missing my boyfriend, my family and my friends — but seeing Bri helped ease that longing. We drank wine, watched Netflix, talked, ate the best breakfast at Fitzbillies, split a pitcher of Pimm’s and spent way too much at Lush.

It was a much needed 24 hours in Cambridge.

July 8: As I said before, on Saturday my class and I went to the London Pride Parade. I’d never been to any Pride parade before, and how cool was it that I get to go to my first one in London of all places?

We have to take the tube around London, which is similar to the subways in New York, so after being packed like sardines in there for 20 minutes, we finally arrived near Trafalgar Square. We went down “the gayest street in London” as my professor so eloquently called it, and there were thousands of people.

I’m not kidding. Thousands. It was worse than New York during Christmas time.

Imagine 15 clueless Americans trying to stick together while shoving through thousands of people who are used to this sort of thing. It was overwhelming — we were told not to take pictures on the way to Trafalgar Square, because it would “distract us from walking” — but how can you ask a bunch of college students, who’ve never been to England before, to not take pictures of one of the most colorful, lively events in London?

Some of us (including me) started taking pictures anyway, and at some point or another, I got lost. Like, really lost.

I saw no one I knew. I was taking a picture of a floating Yoda (yeah…that was a thing), turned around and everyone was gone. I tried not to panic and imagine being the next star of the Taken movies, when I saw a flash of red hair — my classmate and friend, Kaytlyn.

I rushed over to her and we found several others from our group that had gotten lost from my professor, who was our “tour guide.” We all tried calling and texting people from the group, but to no avail. Without an international phone plan, there’s no service without WiFi. And even if someone does have an international plan, like I do, using data without WiFi is still pretty much useless.

And of course, almost all of the group didn’t have an international plan.

For my summer internship, I’ve been working with a company called VeepWorks, which is a technology startup focused on empowering communities to be safer and smarter through situational awareness. The developers created an app called DREAM, which is similar to Find My Friends for iPhone users, but it has more features. You can create groups with family or friends, and they can see your location no matter where you are. If you feel as if you are in danger, there’s a panic button to press that will notify your selected groups that you need help, and offer directions to your exact location.

It’s pretty cool. I got a few of my friends and classmates to download it (since it’s free), because I thought it’d be good to test out while we’re overseas, but here’s the problem — without an international plan and/or WiFi, it doesn’t work. I tried, believe me.

Once we all realized that we wouldn’t find my professor and the larger group, one of the other professors we were with told us we could go off on our own, as long as we had a buddy. Kaytlyn and I took off to find some food — it’s weird how often I forget to eat here!

We wandered down a couple roads, shoving through people, where we ran into the parade. We took dozens of photos — I even got an adorable one of a gay couple kissing — and then managed to wind our way into a restaurant called La Chandelle.

I ordered fish and chips. Come on, I had to. And it was delicious.

We also went shopping — probably a bad idea in hindsight, considering my suitcase was only 0.5 pounds under the weight limit on my way to England — and navigated the tube back home alone. We were pretty proud of ourselves; the locals on the tube with us got a good laugh out of Kaytlyn and I praising each other for figuring the confusing tube system out.

Getting lost in London wasn’t so bad, y’all. I strongly recommend it.

July 7: It’s 7:34 a.m. here in England, and I have about an hour before my first class begins. It’s been a whirlwind of trying to get adjusted to the six-hour time change, no air conditioning, and sleeping in a bed that doesn’t have a Memory Foam mattress topper (sorry, I just really miss my bed).

Disclaimer: I know it’s July 10. I only put July 7 because I’m recounting the events of Friday, July 7. Bear with me!

Once we got to Queen Mary University of London on Friday, everyone lined up and waited for their names to be called to get their room keys. We’d just gotten off a nine-hour flight, an almost two-hour bus ride from London Heathrow Airport to campus, and while most of us thought we escaped the Texas heat — we were SO wrong. Even though the temperature may be lower, the humidity and influx of people makes London feel just as hot, if not hotter than Texas. So you can imagine how ready we were to be inside, in the cool air, unpacking and settling in.

I waited for my name to be called…and waited…and waited. Nothing.

“If your name wasn’t called, go to the reception desk and get your key.”

I walked over to the reception desk with three other girls, where we found out that our room had a leak and we couldn’t go in yet. Maintenance was trying to fix it within the next 10-15 minutes and they’d let us know what the status was on our room shortly.

Of course I get the room with the leak.

So we sat in the shade, luggage strewed about the benches for about 10 minutes, when I could hear one of the girls start whispering about me.

“Go ask her, she might switch.”

One of the girls waiting around, whom I noticed already had her room keys, starting walking my way. I connected the dots — she wanted to switch rooms with me because I was in the same room as her friends. Hell, anything to get me out of the heat and into a room faster!

I agreed to switch and took her keys. We talked with the reception desk and got everything sorted out, and I headed to Varey House (that’s the name of the building) to get some nice, cool air conditioning.

The lobby was a little stuffy, but I figured it was from the constant opening and closing of the front door. I walked to the elevator and rode it up to floor three, only to get off and realize that wasn’t my floor. I rode down to floor two, and that STILL wasn’t my floor. Did I have to run through a wall with all my luggage in tow like Harry Potter on Platform 9 3/4? Was my room in Narnia?

It turns out my room is in this weird in-between level. It’s between floors two and three, so at least I was heading in the right direction.

I got to my flat (they’re not called dorms or apartments here, I guess) — Flat 57 — and tried to unlock the door. I tried for about five minutes straight with zero luck, thinking maybe I’d accidentally grabbed the keys for my original flat or I was just that dumb and couldn’t unlock a damn door, when one of my flatmates opened the door for me.

“Don’t worry, I couldn’t get it open either,” she said.

Thank God it wasn’t just me.

I walked into our cozy little flat, opened my bedroom door and BOOM. I was hit with the stuffiest, hottest air I’ve ever felt in my life. And something else hit me.

England has no air conditioning.

Is this a joke? Do they hate themselves or something? How do they live without air conditioning?!

Just as I was convinced I was going to die here, I remembered I was going to take a bedside fan from one of my best friends, Bri, who lives in Cambridge. I was going to see her the next day, so I just had to endure one night without a fan.

It was absolutely and entirely miserable. After a pizza party for dinner, a small excursion with my class and a quick run down the road to get as many 2-liter bottles of water as I could hold, I took a cold shower to get myself to just stop sweating for two seconds. I managed to get my body temperature down enough to relax a bit, and finally got ready for bed. Some of my flatmates were going out to underground punk clubs and invited me to join, but I was so tired I swear everyone started looking like talking crabs.

Yeah, jet lag and zero sleep will do that to a person.

I had a T-shirt and Nike shorts on to sleep, but it took about 30 seconds for me to rip both of those off and throw on my 2XL night shirt to sleep in. I needed something that didn’t cling to my body or to the inevitable sweat that has been consistently lingering on my skin for the last three days.

I finally drifted off to sleep and was passed out for about 10 hours. I didn’t even wake up once, which I usually do. I guess I was just that tired.

Saturday was filled with the London Pride Parade, getting absolutely lost in the middle of downtown London, fish and chips, navigating the tube system and catching a train to Cambridge in the last four minutes before it pulled away from the platform.

But I guess you’ll have to wait until later today for those stories. Ta-ta for now!

July 6: Here I am, coming at you live from 30,000 feet in the air and about two hours into a nine-hour flight. Everyone told me to sleep on the plane, but when you’re claustrophobic and shoved between a 6’2″ man and a window, sleep is left back home. Oh, and he’s asleep, leaning so far into my “bubble” that I can feel his breath on my neck. I love traveling.

Fun fact: I’m typing this on my phone, because my laptop wouldn’t connect to the airplane WiFi quick enough and I only have 55 more minutes before I’m off the grid again, so I’ve got to make this quick.

I had to walk through all of first class and about half of economy seating before I arrived at my spot for the next nine hours. My rolling carry-on bag got caught on every single seat as I tried to walk as fast as I could to 36A.

I’m not kidding. Every single seat. 

I plopped down after getting my bags settled, thankful for the small television screen on the back of the chair in front of me and the most coveted item on an airplane: an outlet. I plugged my phone in, picked out 22 Jump Street on my mini TV and watched as I pulled away from DFW Airport.

And of course, as soon as we’re in the air and I have two people comfortably in their seats next to me, I realize — I have to pee. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel bad when I have to ask people to move so I can use the restroom. I know I can’t prevent a bodily function, but still. I tried to talk myself into getting up, but before I knew it, the flight attendants were handing out dinner and I just couldn’t miss that.

Airplane pesto pasta isn’t so bad, y’all.

Now I’m sitting here, lights out and The Blind Side streaming on my TV, starting to get a bit sleepy. It’s probably my anxiety medication, thank God!

I’m going to try and sleep now. Only if the guy next to me stops leaning my way every time he nods off.

Oh, and I still haven’t gone to the bathroom.

Kara McIntyre is a mass communication senior.

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