Well, first things first...rail tickets for two us at peak time were £150. Seriously. Central London is a 40 minute train journey from here...and then I expected another 30 minute tube travelling experience. So I decided it was cheaper to drive. Found an underground car park, all day for a tenner, so it wasn't going to cost £150 to use the car. Which is why everyone drives I guess. Central is in Swiss Cottage and very accessible, despite the North Circular and rush hour traffic. We got there with 15 minutes to spare and Miss Dunnit was instantly ushered away. I enquired about a quick look around - erm, no. Any info on accommodation? Wry smile - there isn't any accommodation, even for first year students. Ouch. Research over, I realised I had a lot of time to kill..it was a day long interview/look around for Miss Dunnit.
Now let me tell you gentle reader. Tuesday in England was COLD. Obviously, not as cold as elsewhere in the world and not as cold as Scotland and northern England where the snow and ice were playing havoc with commuters. But it was below freezing all day, despite sunshine. I wasted an hour in the Hampstead Theatre coffee shop and decided to go into Camden, which has a reputation for a vibrant town and market.
I set off on foot and changed sides of the road wherever necessary to walk in the sun...it was cold enough without being in the shade. I realised that I could hop on a bus...and as I was surveying the timetable at a bus stop (working out how far back I had to stand to see the damn thing without having to take my gloves off and rummage in my bag for my readers...), a bus stopped. I kinda felt obliged then, so I stepped on. Ahh the warm!
Well I told the driver where I wanted to go and he waited very patiently while I rummaged in my handbag, trying to locate my purse. (If you're American that won't have made much sense: I rummaged in my purse to find my wallet.....)
I asked the driver how much the fare would be and he politely told me that I needed an Oyster Card to pay. I don't have an Oyster card. Of course I've heard of them..they are pre-paid tickets that deduct your fare when you 'scan' them. But I didn't have one, obviously. So he explained that London buses don't take real money, and if I didn't have an Oyster, I couldn't use the bus. So I got off. COLD! I wasn't embarrassed so much as feeling like a right old country bumpkin for not knowing. But why would I know!
Five minutes later, I was stopped by a lady using the maps app on her phone and she asked me for directions. I told her that I was not local, indeed, I was so out of date that I couldn't even use the bus because I didn't know I needed an Oyster card! She stared at me. Then bent over and laughed and laughed and kept saying...'you couldn't ride the bus for no Oyster innit' until we were both crying with laughter. And then we laughed again when we worked out that she was holding the 'map' the wrong way round and she was actually walking away from where she wanted to go. Well that epsiode had me smiling for the rest of my walk!
The market was lovely...but stone cold. And not very busy at mid morning on a Tuesday - I imagine at the same time on a Saturday that you can't see a stall or shop for people. Large parts of the market were located in ex military stables. You can tell that from the architecture. Shopkeepers were layered up in warm clothing, stamping their feet and huddling round teeny heaters. The outdoor stands were mostly food..I could have eaten a couple of meals just from the samples being offered as I walked around. I bought a hat and a thicker scarf. I was so cold.
I spent a lot of time browsing at a second hand book shop, the keeper and I had a conversation about Dickens, Trollope and Carol Shields. That was really nice. I bought a slim volume by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and decided to give in and find somewhere to have a warm, sit down lunch. Of course I did. And like so many people who are on their own, I read my new book.
I was too cold to think about doing more sightseeing, and walked vigourously back to Swiss Cottage. I sat in the Hampstead Theatre coffee shop for another hour, watching the world go by and reading. And hugging a radiator - did I mention how cold it was! Miss Dunnit was 'released' at about 4pm and had a sheaf of information about life as a student at Central. On the drive home, she confessed that she would rather they didn't offer her a place. The course wasn't quite as she expected and chatting with students had added to her impression of penury caused by living in London. Interesting. My next travel bulletin will therefore be from Plymouth. And I'm assuming, because of trade winds or some such, that it will be a tad warmer.