The European Experience: London

As part of our Master’s, Annika and I had the opportunity to apply through the University of Ottawa for an exchange course in Norway. Now I should clarify when I say Norway. I mean Arctic Norway. Svalbard to be exact. The exchange is through the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), which is the world’s most northernly university centre located at 78°N in a town called Longyearbyen. We were absolutely ecstatic when we were both accepted to UNIS for a “Remote Sensing of the Cryosphere” course. This meant we could spend 6 weeks exploring the Norwegian Arctic. But first, we decided to take advantage of our trip to Europe and explore a few other European cities. Before arriving in Longyearbyen, we spent almost a week exploring London, Copenhagen, and Oslo. Here are the details on London:

We caught a rather cheap red eye flight from Ottawa to London via Air Canada to start off our journey on March 6. The flight was great despite the 3 hours of sleep I got but we were given free gin and tonics so I can’t complain. We arrived at the busy London Heathrow airport and were greeted by an hour long passport check line and an unfriendly security guard who quickly dismissed my Canadian hello and sent me to another desk.

After we were officially allowed into the country, we hauled all of our gear (3 large bags and two backpacks) to Annika’s friends flat. Luckily, my sister had given me a heads up on how the tube system works in London and had a left over Oyster card from her trip to London a few months earlier. The Oyster card is the best because you can preload cash onto it an use it to jump on any tube. It is a 5 pound deposit but you get this deposit back when you return your Oyster card.

Now, no one lives near the airports in London (there are 7) and so our tube ride accounted for another hour of sleeplessness. Annika’s friend was the best and gave us some tips about London, including the very important tip that you need to purchase an additional train ticket when travelling to the Luton Airport. What a lifesaver. After we booked our train tickets for the next day, a delusional version of myself had a much needed nap.

Once I was feeling somewhat human, we went on a 2 hour walk around London. My initial (and slightly bitter) reaction of London was that it was busy, filled with people smoking, and was honestly pretty grimy. Throughout our walk though my reaction changed. We walked along a beautiful canal filled with house boats and tons of people biking. We even stopped at a grocery store to pick up some beer for the remainder of the walk. Let me just repeat that…we picked up some beer for the walk. Amazing.

We went to a bar in the “hipster” part of town and met up with another friend who we would be staying the night with. Bars in London are weird in that you have to order your beer and your food at the bar. The food was great and the cider was bountiful but the pound is almost double the Canadian dollar right now. Ouch. (Sorry for my lack of detail on names of where we actually were – I was only somewhat human, remember).

The next morning we caught an 11:00 am flight to Copenhagen. That meant we had to be at the Luton Airport at 9:00 am. That meant we had to catch the train at 7:00 am. That meant we got up at 6:00 am. My advice? Research how long it takes to travel to the airport in London before you book your flight. Also, this was prime rush hour time in London. We had to uber to the train station (LONDON HAS UBER!), and take 3 connecting trains to get to the airport. We only missed one of them! Not because we weren’t at the train station…but because we were unaggressive Canadians with massive backpacks trying to excuse our way onto a packed train. The English merely glanced our way and then blocked our entrance with their turned backs.

We were unaggressive but resourceful! We found a different train that could connect us to our next stop, caught a connecting train to the airport only 20 minutes later than we had hoped. At our last train stop we caught a shuttle bus to the airport (which you needed your train pass to get on for free) and made it to Luton.

Luton is a discount airport that services lines like Norwegian (what we were taking), easy jet, etc. Therefore, we had to print our boarding passes beforehand. A manageable but inconvenient thing to do while travelling. Also, Luton provides only 30 minutes of free wifi, taking the term discount to a new level. This is totally fine for some people but in our delusional state the day before, we hadn’t entirely figured out where we were staying in our next destination: Copenhagen. We were waiting on an Airbnb response that never came. As we were boarding the flight, Annika quickly messaged a different Airbnb host, who responded immediately. She snapped a picture of the address just as our last source of wifi ended. For those of you who don’t know, if you request more than 1 Airbnb and more than 1 accepts within 24 hours, you have to pay for both (or all).

This was the extent of our London experience. One of my favourite parts was when I asked the flight attendant on Norwegian for a free glass of water instead of a bottle I would have to pay for and he brought one to me when I was asleep. He left me a note saying he didn’t forget about the water but he didn’t want to wake me. It’s the little things. And that is my cheesy ending. Stay tuned for stories from Copenhagen, Oslo, and Svalbard.

Annika was the amazing photographer in London. Also, here is a picture of a Strongbow cider I’ve never heard of before! DSC_0506


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