No one but fancy people had gps on their phones then (I didn't even have one of those!) but I whipped out my mapquest directions like no one's business. I tried to look very confident because you don't want people in a big city to think you don't know what you're doing or anything--they might try to pickpocket you. Just a hunch but 10 year older me thinks that the enormous suitcase and paper directions just might have given me away. Thankfully Londoners were kind to the helpless American girl with too much stuff.
I walked those 10 or so blocks to the hostel. I remember being so glad to finally get there as the last 5 or so had been completely cobblestone. I was wrong, however. I had only reached the check-in desk. My room was located at the other location back 4 blocks in the direction I had just come. Feeling like an odd combination between Wonder Woman and Popeye pre-spinach I gritted my teeth and pushed 'the beast', as I was starting to
yell call it in my head back those darn 4 blocks and up the stairs to my private suite that I would be sharing with about 8 other people in what can only be considered as the world's biggest dorm room.
Unfortunately, the internet café that the hostel provided was located back at the check-in office. I briefly contemplated letting everyone back home consider me MIA at least for another 24 hours but decided my mom just might swim the whole Atlantic Ocean if she hadn't heard that I'd landed safely. Funny to think about in the age of Whatsapp, Viber, and instant everything. So I dutifully wrote and told everyone that I was okay. I wrote another email that night too. There was this cute guy that I had been emailing now for a few months. It had started off as a random French contact and had evolved from there. I told myself that it was only a little crush, because after all, how can you actually have a crush on a guy you've never even met before. (I know, I was the one girl in school who didn't have a crush on Leonardo Di Caprio after Titanic came out) That's what I was telling myself because not so long before I had crashed and burned after falling for my best guy friend in college. There was no way I was playing the fool twice and Cautious Carol had now become my name. I did, albeit very reluctantly, throw in that he would know how to spot me the next day in the Paris train station (oh, did I mention he had arranged my whole Paris stay?) by the fact that I'm just under 6 ft tall (1m80). I had kind of been avoiding that little factoid due to the fact that it tends to scare most boys off. But I figured that short of chopping off my calves and replacing them with peg legs my height would become obvious soon enough.
I'm assuming I fed myself somehow. Not sure when or how but clearly I didn't starve. I do remember not having factored in my big heavy suitcase to lug around during my little "London visit." I couldn't just leave it unattended. Someone might steal my fabulous book collection. Thankfully I made a temporary friend who looked nice enough and she agreed to watch my suitcase for an hour or two. I did some sort of bridge walk along the bank of the Thames (which I wouldn't learn for a few months yet is actually pronounced as if there's no H). I walked by famous monuments having no freaking idea exactly what I was looking at. It took me forever at one point to realize I was staring at the London Tower. finally made my way back to the beast after doing way more walking than I thought was possible and somehow found the force within myself to drag it to the train station.
Back then, before the age of terrorism, security with the Eurostar was nothing like it is now. I just about died of embarrassment when I couldn't get the beast up onto the shelf reserved for luggage and the gentleman next to me had to do it for me. And then I really wanted to just sink into the floor when he loudly declared for the whole cabin to hear, just how heavy my luggage was and what could I possibly be bringing that could be so heavy? I should have made up some ridiculous answer but all I could think of was the truth and that made him look at me even more incredulously. I took my seat and promised myself that I would wait a few years before coming back over the channel. By then maybe my embarrassment would have waned a bit.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I was actually hoping to see the water from the train windows once in the tunnel. I don't know what I pictured, maybe one of those viewing floors you find at an aquarium? Clearly I was quite the seasoned traveler by that point. But one thing is for sure, I successfully managed to get off that train and step onto French soil which turns out is a decision that would change my life from that point forward.