London for a week on $200


You would have thought it was impossible, but I made it work! I will admit this week spent in London wasn’t even planned, but that may make it even more amazing. The reason it wasn’t planned was that I never intended to spend more than two hours in the city, but that two hours turned into eight days.

I was on my way home after a two week vacation. My short flight from Amsterdam to London went off without problems, and my easy two hour layover in London before the final leg to Chicago should have been the same. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans. As we landed at London Heathrow airport, the pilot informed us that all flights for the rest of the day were to be cancelled, due to a volcanic eruption on Iceland. I couldn’t even process this information, but as we exited into the terminal the situation began to sink in.

All passengers were being asked to exit out through customs; I got a nice “Leave to Enter” stamp in my passport and proceeded down to the baggage hall with the rest of the herd to retrieve my luggage. After having my luggage lost for 5 days at the beginning of my vacation, I was anxious to have back as soon as possible! The rest of my day was spent waiting; waiting for my luggage, waiting for a hotel voucher, waiting for a bus, waiting for good news.

The airline was kind enough to put us up in a hotel, although the hotel was 40km outside of London, and I had no clue where I was anyway. A luxurious room at the Hilton to myself improved my mood, and those first two days passed fairly quickly. Travelers wandered in and out of the lobby, chatting and congregating in front of the TV which played the news all day long. On Saturday morning we were suddenly told we had to check out immediately and head back to the airport. What were they going to tell us there?

As it turned out they told me they could do nothing else for me, so a woman I had met at the hotel offered to let me come along with her. We bought cheap cell phones from the Vodafone store in the airport and I was able to call home for the first time. The cell phone continued to help when I got in contact with a young man in west London who was willing to put me up for a few days. I will be eternally grateful for the kind people across the world on courchsurfing.org and for William who hosted me for 6 nights at his small apartment in Notting Hill.

So I took a leap of faith and agreed to meet William at the tube station closest to his house. His apartment was a charming little place near the famous Portobello Road, and the kitchen window looked out onto an overgrown courtyard garden. I started to like the idea of being stranded in London and gave barely a thought to my job back home. William and I played UNO on the floor and talked until we went to sleep.

William had an extra bike and so Sunday was spent riding bikes through the parks and neighborhoods in the area, and even through downtown London. We grabbed a late lunch at an outdoor café on a quiet little street and rode along the Thames. Seeing the city on a bike was the best way to see it, and I used the bike the rest of that week. I spent my days visiting all the city museums and public parks, and wandering around Notting Hill. I even happened to unknowingly walk into the bookshop that was in the Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant film ‘Notting Hill’.

So while the British Museum, the Tower Bridge and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater were all highlights of my visit, but my evenings were all spent quietly back at the apartment. William and I might eat dinner together and have some tea, talk, read aloud from a novel in our best acting voices, or simply watch the TV if anything good was on. And so I passed my 8 nights in London for less than $200. It’s a memory I won’t soon forget.

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