Memoirs of Young Traveler- Day 3

My third day in London sticks out as the epitome of everything that can go wrong when you’re travelling.

The Royal Botanic Garden at Kew does not only sprawl for acres and acres at a time, but they are also over 200 years old. I had visions of Kew being the perfect place to sit with a sandwich under a giant tree and read a good book. I wasn’t let down by what I saw as entered. Giant trees, green grass. There were two areas of the gardens I had been looking forward to seeing for days: The Bluebell cottage and the area of the garden overlooking the Thames. Unfortunately the cosmic forces in this universe decided that I would not be seeing that part of Kew.

Giant orange fencing was blocking off over a 1/3 of the garden the day I decided to visit. From what I could gather there was some sort of garden emergency that would be cleared up in the coming days, but until then only the front portion of Kew was accessible to visitors. So, no bluebells and no Thames.

The portion of the garden I did see was lovely. There were giant trees and green grass. The greenhouses were all huge and Victorian looking (probably because they were in fact Victorian). The manor house that sits on the grounds, at least from the outside, looked absolutely charming. There were millions of different types of flowers and trees. There were other old buildings not longer in use, somehow in their dilapidated state, fitting right into the landscape.

Adding to the disappointment though were the big signs splayed throughout the gardens telling me to “BEWARE.” Apparently the gardens have become invested by a type of caterpillar that lurches in the Oak reasons.  The signs are to let people know that contact with the caterpillar’s hair, whether the hairs are simply flying through the air or the caterpillar is crawling on you, can cause severe allergic reactions. So they encourage visitors to avoid sitting under the trees. So there went my idea of reading under a giant oak tree.

Unfortunately, the setbacks at Kew were only the beginning of my trip woes for the day. My next stop for the afternoon was to Hampton Court. This was already going to be a more complicated journey than any of the other trips in London I had taken. I would have to take a Tube train to Richmond and then from Richmond hop on a bus and go to Hampton Court, where if all went according to plan, I would end up directly in front of the palace. This is easier said than done. I successfully made it to Richmond and then onto the bus, from there all I needed to do was make sure I got off at the appropriate stop, and seeing as how it was in front of a castle I wasn’t too concerned. Apparently I should have been. Because of course the bus decided, with no warning (all signs said it was going to Hampton Court), to terminate early.

Initially I thought it wasn’t going to be that far. There were signs for Hampton Court and the little village of Hampton, so one would think it would be an easy trip. That was not the case. The signs pointing to Hampton Court had me walking down a sidewalk next to a busy roadway…for over a mile! In fact, I had been wandering so far that had I not stumbled upon the palace when I did I was actually considering hopping on a bus in the opposite direction and going home.

Of all the places I went to during my first time in London, the one I remember the most was Hampton Court. We took a personalized tour of the Castle and then had ample time to quickly wander around the grounds to the maze and see the King’s Tennis Court. But, we hadn’t really seen much of the gardens, which on quick glance seemed exquisite and I had no pictures to prove I had ever actually been there. So I was excited about actually completing my Hampton Court adventure.

As I approached the entrance I took a couple of quick photographs of the outside. Then I went to hurry and grab my ticket. On the way to getting the ticket I decided that I was a bit warm, so I proceeded to take off my sweater. I carefully tied my camera around my wrist for safe keeping. In a split second though, the camera fell to the ground. Now, this being an old camera, and I mean old, as in I’ve had it since I was about 12 and its giant and boxy because even as a digital camera it is just that old, over the course of its 10 year life it had been dropped numerous times and been fine. So when it dropped on the hard cobbled pavement and didn’t suddenly break open, I simply picked it up, got my ticket and went into the castle. A smart person would have taken the time to check the camera (especially someone as devoted to photography as I am). They would have made sure it turned on. That the batteries weren’t dislodged. That the memory card hadn’t been unhinged. A smart person would have done those things. Me on the other hand all caught up in the moment of being at Hampton Court, did not. And, so I didn’t realize the tragedy of the fall until after I had stepped into the castle and tried to turn my camera back on.  One try, nothing. Two tries, nothing. Try replacing the batteries, nothing. Try replacing the memory card, nothing. Try giving it a minute or two and trying again, nothing. My 10-year-old camera had officially met its death.

Now looking back on it, if a camera had to meet its death to the cold hard world of the ground, I’m sure it was happy to have done so on the cobblestone in front of Hampton Court. At the time, however, it was the worst possible thing that could have ever happened. What was I suppose to do after my camera broke after only 2 ½ days in London. I still had another week left of adventuring around England. Part of my trip, was to be able to photograph what I saw. You can’t exactly photograph what you’re seeing when you don’t have a functioning camera. It was a disaster. A disaster which inevitably led to my calling home in tears (yes even big independent girls travelling around a foreign country by themselves still call home in tears). Of course there was a solution. It wasn’t a solution that would make me happy, but it was a solution. I could find a place that sold disposable cameras. None of this would make up for the fact, that I would depart from Hampton Court, a second time, with little to no photographic evidence that I had been there.

I had the chance to wander around the gardens, even if I was a bit gloomy about the whole situation. The building is actually remarkable. From the entrance of Hampton Court you look like you’re walking into an old ancient castle, you can practically picture Henry the 8th stumbling around with his 6 wives (it doesn’t help that there’s a living history version of him walking around either). When you emerge in the gardens at the back, though, it’s like you’re looking at an entirely different building. The George’s and Charles’s of England added to the castle in later years, adding their own bedrooms and kitchens and anything else you can think of.  So the back looks like a Georgian manor instead of a crumbling old castle. To be expected the gardens were beautiful and more incredible than I expected and the grounds continue well beyond the portion where visitors are allowed to tread. Beyond the fence the trees go on forever, and it’s regrettable that I couldn’t wander out among them for hours at a time.

Aside from my camera breaking, I drew one significant conclusion while I wandered around Hampton Court: if ever there was a place to get married, it would be here. (Unfortunately I’m pretty certain you have to be royalty to get married at a royal castle: I’ll start looking for my duke as soon as humanly possible).

After the day I had though, I was certain that all I wanted to do was go home and sleep. As I was walking from the random bus drop off to the castle I passed several buses marked for Hounslow Central. I memorized the number, figuring it made more sense to take a bus directly to where I needed to go than it did to take a bus to take a train to take another train. So I found the nearest bus stop and waited for the bus I needed.

I’m about 99% sure the bus said Hounslow Central on it when it pulled up to the bus stop. I got on, took my seat and pulled out my book, occasionally glancing up to see where we were. I shut my book around Hounslow East, figuring that any minute I’d be pulling onto the street that ran right in front of my hotel. But, the bus just kept going and going and going, until I was one of about 3 passengers left. And then I realized that the bus no longer said it was going to Hounslow Central it said it was going to Heathrow. I could have easily stayed on the bus and gotten off at Heathrow and took the train back to Hounslow. But, there was a part of me a bit concerned that the bus was not going to stop somewhere at Heathrow where I was going to be able to get to a train. So, I got off immediately at the next stop and waited for the bus heading in the opposite direction. It came rather quickly and I departed at Hounslow East and grabbed the train to take me one stop over to Hounslow Central.

It was perhaps the most terrifying part of an already bad day. The thought that I could have gotten lost in a foreign city, in an area that was beyond my maps limits. Oh, and did I mention I was by myself. Yeah that added to the fear. Luckily, having come from a public transportation city, I knew that the same bus will follow the same route, in the opposite direction, and all you have to do to get that bus is cross the road.

I finally made it home around 7:30, considerably later than the 6 I was originally planning on being back. I was tired. I was grumpy. And so, I quickly climbed into bed, because I had made the decision that I couldn’t live in England without a camera so I would need to set out early the next day to pick up at least 3 disposable cameras.

Maybe everyone needs a day like I had to make them realize that travelling is not always easy. To make them appreciate where they are. In the moment, it was the worst day ever. But, looking back on the day, I had not just 1 good story, not just 2 good stories, but at least 3 good stories, to share with friends and family, all from one day. And, if you ask me that’s just impressive.

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