I’m sitting on the train right now, on our way to London, at the end of a very long, wet day!
Today was the very first day of the beginning of my trip across Europe with my best friend, Tamara. We’ve been talking about traveling together through Europe since high school so to actually be here doing it is pretty surreal. Also, the combination of jet-lag and lack of sleep contributed to the overall haze and dream-like feel of today.
Yesterday, I was still in Montreal at my parents’ house, running around frantically finishing up last minute things I needed to do before my departure. My flight was at 11pm and my parents and grandparents came to the airport to see me off. My mom told me repeatedly that I should prepare for her waterworks at my send-off, but surprisingly, neither of us really cried. This is because we recently realized that my parents will be in Rome on the exact same days as me and Tamara (August 8-10). My grandparents are taking my parents on a trip/cruise through Europe for their 25th wedding anniversary and the dates magically lined up! This helped with goodbyes at the airport because we knew that this wasn’t the real goodbye… that would happen in Rome.
Our 6-hour plane ride from Montreal to London Gatwick was delayed by about an hour. Tamara has anxiety about flying to she took a pill for motion sickness to knock her out, and boy did it work. She already began to feel a little woozy before we boarded the plane since she took it at around 10:30pm, before we knew our flight was delayed. We flew with Air Transat and there aren’t individual screens at each seat, only one every few rows in the centre suspended from the ceiling, so I decided that I would start reading the 5th Harry Potter book on my iPhone (my dad uploaded all 7 of them for me).
Tamara and I strategically booked a window seat (me) and an aisle seat (her) because those are our seats of choice, and left the middle seat available, hoping that no one would sit there. To our surprise and glee, we had all three seats to ourselves and Tam didn’t hesitate to lay across two seats and listen to her iPod. After takeoff, there was actually a bit of turbulence. Though I don’t really have a fear of flying, I really don’t like turbulence and I was sure that Tam was trying to be brave. I later told her how impressed I was at how well she dealt with the turbulence and her reply was “THERE WAS TURBULENCE?!” Those pills worked really well!
I was awake for the first half of the flight or so. It was so odd looking out the window at 1:45am Montreal time and seeing the sun rising! They served us dinner, and then, what felt like an hour later, they served us breakfast! It was very strange. Between dinner and breakfast I finally fell asleep and probably got around 3 hours in.
When we go into the London airport, we had to wait in line at customs and the line was so crazy long and it felt like it took forever. It was almost 7am for us at that point. After the hour or so wait at customs, we got our bags and made our way to find a payphone to call Will, a friend I had made through couchsurfing.org. He lives in Burgess Hill, not far from Brighton, and offered to give us a tour of Brighton, apparently the gay capital of Europe, and has apparently been home to Madonna, Paul McCartney, Fat Boy Slim and more. It’s on the water and has a huge man-made beach.
We took the train from Gatwick to Burgess Hill (₤8.50) and Will met us there. He lives less than 5 minutes away from the train. I was so excited to me meet him because we had been virtual pen pals for a while. He has already been to Southeast Asia and he gave me tons of advice and was an overall amazing person to talk to about my trip. Tamara has always been hesitant about anything related to couchsurfing but trusted my judgment on this one. She’s asleep right now but I can confidently say that I know she had an amazing time with him today. I know it doesn’t change her hesitation toward couchsurfing in general, but at least she has one experience to open her mind to the idea a little more.
We dropped off our bags at Will’s parents’ beautiful home, where we relaxed for a bit, had some tea, and talked to him and his mom for a bit before heading out to Brighton for the day.
We started off going to a pub right near the Brighton train station called Hope Pub where they have delicious thin-crust pizzas for ₤5. Tam and I shared a pizza with pesto, goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes.
This was the start to a day filled with eating unhealthy (albeit scrumptious) food and, worst of all, dairy! My body was already in shambles and there I went and decided to have two-cheese pizza. I almost immediately regretted my decision as my stomach gurgled and pains came and went throughout the day.
Will took us to the Brighton Pier where we walked through a 1920s style amusement park suspended over the billowing waves of the sea. When we first stepped foot on the pier, we saw a couple of food stands, and Will insisted that we buy doughnuts since it’s part of the Brighton experience They were fresh, but nothing special (I’m not a huge donut fanatic). Moments after we started eating them, a flock of seagulls swooped down and Will warned us that they would snatch the doughnuts from our hands if we weren’t careful. The moment I let my guard down, a seagull did just that, and even nipped my finger in the process! It was pretty crazy.
But nothing was going to ruin my mood!
Not even the light rain that eventually turned into a torrential downpour as we were walking outside. We ended up completely soaked to the bone.
Back at Will’s house, his mom made us an incredible vegetarian dinner from scratch that reminded me of lasagna with big noodles, eggplant (which they call aubergines even though they don’t speak French!), topped with pine nuts and, yup, you guessed it, filled with a cream sauce!! My stomach was in knots at this point and I really didn’t feel well at all but it looked delicious and I ate as much as I could… it was great but my body didn’t appreciate it one bit.
I had previously decided that while on my trip, I was going to allow myself to eat dairy so I could experience the culture… I didn’t take into account that doing so on the first day after no sleep and jet lag was a terrible idea to say the least! I’m going to stay away from dairy for a few days until I adjust to this new lifestyle and environment.
Almost immediately after dinner we left Burgess Hill to meet our friend Simon and his brother Ben in London. We’re staying with them until Friday and I can already tell that they’re so hospitable. Simon gave me and Tamara his room and he’s going to crash in his brother’s room. We have so much planned but we are also going to try to wing it as much as possible.
I wrote the second half of this post lying in bed. It’s 1 am and I have just written a novel though I’ve left out so much. We really should go to sleep. Tamara and I are trying a new system where she types and I dictate my thoughts. It seems to be working really well because Tamara types approximately 100x faster than me (she has amazing skills). So off to bed and I’ll update you about more of London in the next few days.