Back to 2006 again, because I was out with some old friends last night and they reminded me of a hilarious story.
The first stop on my big UK and Ireland adventure in 2006 was London, where I stayed with my friends Cole and Kandice, who were living there at the time. It was a pretty quick visit – about four days or so – but it sure was eventful.
At the same time that I was visiting, so were Kandice’s parents, as well as two of her friends, let’s just call them Mandy and Shauna. Of all the coincidences in the world, I went to elementary school with Mandy, so on their first day in London, it seemed promising that we would maybe get along.
Did that sound ominous?
We took a day trip to Bath and Stonehenge, which went pretty well. The following day, I think Cole and Kandice both had to work or something, because I had the majority of the day on my own for sightseeing. Since I knew going in that my time in London was extremely tight, I figured I’d do a hop-on, hop-off bus tour to see as much of the city as possible.
“Oh, we’ll come with you!” Mandy and Shauna exclaimed.
To be honest, they had gotten on my nerves a bit the day before, but I was up for some company. I was 19 and travelling by myself for the first time ever, after all. I hadn’t found my groove yet.
So I got on the subway that morning and met them at their hotel, and we walked a few blocks to one of the hop-on, hop-off bus stops. We paid for our 48hr. ticket (which wasn’t brutally expensive, but I’d like to emphasize now that it was not cheap) and got onto the bus.
We had barely travelled at all when we came upon an area of London we wanted to explore a bit. I’m not going to pretend I know London well because I don’t. But we were right on the Thames near the London Eye and all that. There was a huge Dali exhibit at one of the galleries and we were all huge Dali fans – YAY! One thing we could agree on! – so we went in.
It was my one small chunk of fun time in that entire day.
After the museum, we wandered across one of London’s many cool bridges to a chunk of the city near St. Paul’s Cathedral because we knew there was another bus stop there. Sure enough, we found a small group of other tourists standing around, so we knew we had found it.
I should mention now that London was having a heat wave. It was 35 degrees and SUNNY. (When does that ever happen in London?!) We were all dying a little bit. I put on sunscreen twice.
After waiting for more than half an hour, everyone at the bus stop was getting fussy. Where the hell was the bus that was supposed to come around every 10 minutes?
We waited some more.
And then some more.
And…then a little longer.
And then we started to hear noise.
What the heck?
It was coming from a couple blocks down. After a few moments, it became clear: a parade of some sort was going down the street. Suddenly, thousands of people came into view, all headed toward St. Paul’s Cathedral. Music was blaring. It was intense.
No wonder our bus was late. It was probably stuck in some insane London traffic behind this damn parade.
“I wonder what the parade is for…” I thought out loud.
“Yeah, who knows?” Shauna replied, “God, it’s hot. I hope the bus comes soon. I really want to see [fill in the blank with some London tourist attraction] today.”
And then our day went haywire.
About halfway through the parade, a giant puppet appeared.
Apparently it’s a famous giant puppet.
I had never heard of it, and to this day, I have no idea what it’s called or anything.
All I know is that Mandy saw it, screamed like a small child, and TOOK OFF RUNNING.
“Mandy! MANDY!” Shauna shouted after her.
But Mandy was gone. She sprinted all the way down the street, turned the corner, and disappeared into the parade.
Shauna turned and looked at me.
“What the hell was that?!”
“You’re asking me? You’re her friend! I have no idea!”
We stared at each other for a few seconds.
“What do we do?” I asked, “Do we wait for her?”
“I have no idea. I can’t believe she just did that.”
And of course – OF COURSE – there was the tour bus. Which we had to watch drive away because stupid Mandy was nowhere to be found.
“Maybe we should go look for her,” I offered, “Maybe she’s right around the corner.”
Shauna and I made our way to the end of the street, completely unaware of what we were in for. As we turned the corner, I swear all the air left my body for a second.
It was a sea of people. Tens of thousands of people, filling the entire area in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The giant puppet was nowhere to be seen, and neither was Mandy.
Shauna and I instinctively grabbed hold of one another and turned back onto our quiet street.
“Shit!” she yelled, “I can’t believe this! What the fuck was she thinking?! Now what?!”
“I have no idea. I think we’re just going to have to wait.”
Isn’t it weird how 2006 seems like it just happened, only things were already so different back then?
We all had shitty little Motorola cell phones or whatever. And of course none of us had roaming. I don’t even know if our phones even worked in London.
That was the past, guys. The past.
So we had no choice but to sit back at our stupid hop-on, hop-off tour bus stop in the 35 degree weather and wait.
And boy, did we wait.
We wondered if we would ever see Mandy again. We wondered if she was lost, or kidnapped, or dead. We wondered if she would just go back to the hotel and not tell us.
We wondered a lot of things.
It must have been almost two hours later that Mandy finally showed up. We stared at her in sheer horror while she excitedly told us about how amazing the last two hours of her life had been. Not a drop of shame or apology. Nothing.
“We thought you were gone forever!” Shauna screamed at her.
“Oh, sorry! I just really love that puppet!” Mandy shrugged.
I had nothing to say.
By the time we got onto the hop-on, hop-off tour bus, it was the last one of the evening. We took it to a part of town with lots of restaurants. Thank god, because we were all starving. Then Mandy made us walk around in circles for 45-minutes while she shot down all of our restaurant suggestions until finally we found a place she was happy with. Being vegan, I think all I could eat was lettuce. So I remained starving.
Then Mandy and Shauna insisted that of all of places to go in LONDON ENGLAND, we go to some stupid fucking Canadian-themed bar called THE MOOSE or some shit.
That was the worst.
Also, it was full of Australians.
SIDENOTE: I don’t have anything against Australians. That’s just a funny random fact.
Then Mandy and Shauna basically just abandoned me on the tube to find my way home by myself.
I got lost.
About three times.
When I finally stumbled into Cole and Kandice’s flat at like, 1am, they were both sitting on the couch in their living room like concerned parents waiting for a tardy teenager. They jumped up when I arrived, arms outstretched, worry clouding their expressions.
“My god!” Cole said, “Are you okay? Where have you been?”
I told them about my day.
“I am so sorry those girls hijacked your one day in London.”
Lesson learned: Travelling is an art, and when you do it with someone, you need to have good travelling chemistry. Don’t travel with strangers. Because you may want to murder them by the end of the day.
P.S. I never got to use the second day of my hop-on, hop-off bus ticket.