I left Stockholm Tuesday morning at 11am, looking forward to a leisurely trip southward, expecting to arrive at Clint's around 5-6pm England time, which is one hour behind Sweden time. I arrived at 11:30pm, after nearly 13 hours of traveling by bike, bus, car, airplane, bus, train, and car again. Clint and I drank two Foster's pounders in his living room. They were much needed.
My 'Tunnelbana' card had run out of stamps, so I biked to the central station in Stockholm. Mia was supposed to pick up my bike after school, so I locked it outside of O'leary's pub near the main station entrance. I think i biked through some fresh street paint - my feet, in flip-flops, were speckled with white paint, and each tire had white marks on them.
Usually I am adept at planning travel, but in my experience I must have grown pretty lax. I nearly missed the bus to take me to Vasteras, where Mia's older sister Frida was to pick me up for the last short leg to the airport. Once on the bus, I ended up paying double what I should have paid for a ticket, had I booked it in advance. This was not the end of my traveling troubles on this long day.
The flight was the easiest part of the trip, and Ryanair takes after the Aussies (or maybe vice versa), and boards their planes from both the front and the rear, foregoing the jetway for the old-school walk on the tarmac. This made for 25-minute turn-arounds for the planes, and the entire operation was incredibly efficient.
Once at Stansted, the 'other' airport in London, I had to make my way to the South Coast of England. All I had was an address of Clint's house, and a phone number which was unreachable to me, for I didn't have a phone, nor any British money to use the pay phone.
In a lovely British accent, the info desk lady offered her assistance: "You must take the bus to Victoria Station, transfer to a bus or train for Southampton, and transfer again to the local train for Romsey. Cheers!"
I didn't know that Victoria station was in central London. We fought incredible traffic and wound our way through a city much bigger and exponentially more crowded than I'd ever imagined, finally disembarking 90 minutes later near Buckingham Palace. The central station at Victoria was bustling with people at 5pm. My foggy mind was spinning. I purchased a train ticket for Southampton which was to leave in about 40 minutes, so went and found some sailing magazines and a coffee and tried in vain to find a quiet spot away from the crowds.
Once aboard, I settled into my train routine, wrote a bit in my journal and daydreamed while i watched the scenery go by, becoming increasingly rural the further from London we traveled. I was absolutely enchanted by the English countryside - in the fading daylight, the rolling hills and meadows glowed with a warmth you could feel. On a hillside in the distance a castle stood silhouetted against the backlit horizon, and though you couldn't quite see it in the darkness, the enormous flag flying from the ramparts was unmistakably British.
The serenity of my rail journey was abruptly halted when the announcement came over the loudspeaker that someone had decided to jump in front of another train further down the tracks, forcing us to divert. We would not be going to Southampton after all, and I'd have to find another way down.
For some reason I had only emailed Clint with my expected arrival time of around 5-6pm. It was then 9pm, and he had no word of me, I had no clue where he lived or how to get there, and it was dark outside. I've grown quite experienced traveling on my own without plans, but my complacency was now costing me considerable headache.
The Brits, I learned almost immediately, are incredibly friendly. Linda, a mother from the South Coast let me borrow her cell phone to call Clint, and a man named Clive joined in the conversation as we brainstormed how exactly I was going to get to my friend. Linda consulted her rail map while Clive called the train service, and together they were an unstoppable force, determined to see my safely to my destination, and my fascination with all things British grew.
Linda bid us adieu at Havant, while Clive and I slogged ever onward, for he was headed to Southampton as well. We were a team now, but he was the unquestioned leader, jumping from train to train at each new platform, planning the route on his map and cell phone, timing everything to perfection and offering precise driving directions to Clint on the phone when we finally found a near-enough station for him to pick me up. Clive was invincible, was made to help foreign strangers like me, and seemed to positively glow with joy when I finally reached my last stop. Good on ya Clive.
My reunion with Clint was subdued only by the fact that I just saw him in Stockholm in September, but it's always great to see an old friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation in the car on the way to his house, as we drove on the wrong side of the road, me in the driver's seat but without a wheel. It was 1130pm by the time we reached his place, but the beer was still cold, the welcoming friendship warm, and I was finally comfortable.