After a few hours wait at the airport, which I will just say was not very fun, we caught the first bus into London at around 4:30am. We all slept, but as we drove into the city Anna and I woke up and started to get really excited as we spotted red double-decker buses and saw glimpses of London icons.
We arrived just before 6am and headed into the first cafe we saw for coffee and muffins. It was way too early to check into our accommodation but we were exhausted and already fed up dragging all our luggage around so, instead of being intelligent and asking directions, we walked around randomly for ages until we found a train station and, with the help of an Underground employee, figured out how to get to where we were staying. It was here that we experienced our first taste of the London Underground’s lack of public lifts, and spent about ten minutes getting everyone and everything down one very long flight of stairs. By the time we got off at the station nearest our accommodation it was pouring with rain and we only sort-of knew which way to go. After a very long and somewhat emotional walk, we found our hostel – The YHA London Thameside. Relief is an understatement!
We walked in, wet, dishevelled and exhausted. The man behind the desk was an absolute hero. Not only did he invite us to sit and wait in the lounge for as long as we wanted and requested our room be a priority to the cleaners, but he made us all hot chocolates, free of charge, and gave the kids colouring packs to keep them entertained. Such a good, genuine, friendly man, a real testament to what is already an awesome hostel that we would recommend to absolutely anybody wanting to stay in London at an affordable price!
We had only booked one night’s accommodation here. We left it pretty late to book, considering it was summertime, and this was the cheapest we could find in London for our large family and they only had one night available. As there was nowhere else available at the budget end of family accommodation in London, we had also booked two more nights in another YHA near Dorking (around an hour south of London) giving us three nights to execute our plan. The plan was to arrive in London and spend the first few days finding and buying a car and some tents and camping gear which would then give us the freedom to go and stay wherever we want, combining camping (especially in the more expensive and popular areas) with hotels, airbnb rentals and anything else we find along the way.
Before we knew it our room was ready (well before check-in time) and we were all so happy to have showers and get changed into clean clothes. Even though we were well and truly exhausted, we wanted to make the most of our short time in London so we headed off back into the city. We took it easy and just wandered around, checking out a little market and eating a late lunch in a park. We headed back to the hostel early, and made dinner in the communal kitchen.
After an awesome nights sleep we had a fantastic buffet breakfast in the dining room before heading back into the city. We caught a bus straight to Tower Bridge where we took some photos and had a look around before Peter took off to look at a car he was considering buying in Essex.
Suddenly, on my own with 5 kids in London, I realised just how big the city was. We walked, clueless as to where we were or where we were going. We attempted to catch a train to somewhere of note but couldn’t find a train station with a lift. So we walked some more. And a bit more after that. We went into a pub to use their toilets and a very friendly waiter drew me directions to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. This would have been great if I had any sense of direction whatsoever! By the time I had managed to get us even more lost than we were before, I realised it was nearly the time we were supposed to be meeting Peter back at the hostel (to add to the stress I had no phone and therefore no way of contacting him). We finally managed to find an Underground station with a lift and caught it back to Tower Bridge. Now what? I had no idea what bus we had caught from the hostel and wasn’t even certain of the name of the area the hostel was in. I asked a policeman for directions. He didn’t know but offered to call Peter for me from his personal mobile phone. Probably would have been a good idea to have Pete’s phone number written down somewhere………. Eventually I found a bus station, where a very helpful French man looked up the hostel on his phone for us, found which bus we needed, and rode with us half the way there.
When we finally got inside the hostel, an hour later than planned, Peter wasn’t there! We waited another whole hour, with no way of contacting him or knowing what he was up to, before he finally arrived………………by bus. The car had turned out to be a piece of junk!
We had two nights accommodation in another hostel booked and paid for over an hour away and weren’t even sure how to get to it. Peter did some frantic googling and then we raced to Waterloo Station (via the bus again) just in time to catch the last train to Dorking, the nearest town to our hostel. From there we had no choice but to catch a taxi to, what felt like, the middle of nowhere. The hostel was in a tiny town, down many narrow little roads. We checked in right before 10pm and headed straight to the dining room where we finally ate the curry we had bought at Waterloo Station two hours earlier.
Our time in London was short and frantic. We had some fun (honestly) and made some great memories, but saw hardly any of the sites anyone visiting London should see (fortunately we have been and seen years earlier). Korey is genuinely disappointed that he didn’t see Peppa Pig, The Queen or Paddington Bear! We will however, be back in September and plan on hitting the hot spots hard! Look out Your Royal Highness, Korey will be back to find you!