I'm not sure I've officially said this on the blog anywhere yet so here's the deal - we are officially back in London!
Okay, well, kinda. We are in a London suburb called Garden City and it may or may not have been a 50-minute drive from the city center to get here. But still, London, baby! (Name that show!)
So how and when did we get here? Well, let's back up to exactly one week ago today.
The homeowners for our most recent housesit returned from their trip to Portugal on December 26th (also known as Boxing Day around these here parts.) We spent that day packing up all of our stuff (why so much stuff?! I cry every time we have to pack) and preparing for a trip to London.
We left the Welsh housesit a little after 8 AM as they generously gave us a ride to the bus stop in Carmarthen - about a 45-minute drive. We arrived a little before 9 AM and waited for our coach to arrive around 10. (I tend to use bus/coach interchangeably but technically a bus is intra-city and a coach is inter-city.) The coach arrived on time, we triple checked we were on the right one, and off we went! The drive to London was supposed to take around 6 hours, stopping in Swansea and Cardiff along the way, and we didn't have to make any changes which was nice - fewer chances to screw up.
But notice I used the phrase "supposed to take...."
If all had gone according to plan we should have arrived in London around 4 PM.
What time did we actually arrive in London? 9 PM. Yup.
The first bit of trouble we ran into was traffic. I don't know what road we were on but it was busy. At first, I thought it was maybe because it was just after the holidays and everyone was headed home from wherever they had been. Later I learned that there had been some sort of accident (nothing fatal, though, thank goodness) that slowed everything down.
Then, we hit the second bit of trouble. Our bus pulled over on the side of the road for seemingly no apparent reason. After about 10 minutes our driver came up (we were on the second level of a double-decker) to tell us that the bad news was the bus had broken down...but the good news was he knew how to fix it! About 20 minutes later we were ready to hit the road again...with another bad news announcement. Due to the traffic and the stall on the side of the road, the driver had hit his maximum hours that he was able to drive. In order to continue, he needed to take a legally mandated break. This meant we were driving 10 minutes down the road to the next service stop where we would have to wait while the driver took his break.
We arrived at Membury Services at around 4 PM. Astute readers might realize that is the time we were supposed to be arriving in London...but we are still a good two hours (with traffic) away from London. Bummer. Everyone got off the bus and we were told it would leave again at 4:35. We went into the building to look around (there were some grocery shops, a Starbucks, fast food places, etc.) and kill time. We returned to the bus around 4:30 to settle in for the final ride to London.
Ten minutes passed... The bus started - lights came on (it's dark outside by now) and our phones were able to charge in the charging ports the bus had. Then the bus went off.
Another ten minutes passed... The bus started, ran for five minutes, then turned off.
This happened about half a dozen more times. Finally, around 5:30 the driver came up to tell us that what he had done on the side of the road to fix the bus was apparently just a temporary fix and now the bus was undrivable. Something about the brakes. Okay, well, those are rather important.
The verdict now was that we had to wait for another bus to come from London to where we were to pick us all up. With traffic, that was going to take a while.
At this point, Joel and I were just mildly inconvenienced. It was annoying, to be sure, but at least we didn't have any connections or time-sensitive things to make in London. Others on the bus were missing connections to other buses, missing flights from the airport, or missing concerts or other events for which they had tickets. We just had to keep messaging our Airbnb hosts that our arrival time was getting later and later but they were very understanding and accommodating so no big deal.
The driver did his best to keep people calm and to apologize for the situation. I think he did a great job and really, none of it was his fault. He can't control traffic, or legally mandated breaks, or broken brakes. The only thing that could have been better was to realize the bus was done for when we first stopped, then the replacement bus could have been called in an hour and a half earlier. Oh well. He gave us the information on how to contact the bus company (Megabus) to see if we could get refunds or if they would be willing to pay for alternate transportation for people who really needed to get somewhere at a specific time. Joel and I considered calling an Uber to take us to our Airbnb from this stop rather than going all the way into London first, but it was too expensive.
So we waited.
We waited on the bus. We waited in Starbucks. We waited back on the bus. The time dragged ever so slowly.
There was a bright spot, however. The bus company emailed everyone with an automatic refund! I must say I was very impressed with this level of customer service. I thought for sure we'd have to contact them, get the runaround, and fight for a refund. Instead, they sent one to everyone without us even asking. So hey, it took forever, but free trip to London! Yay!
Eventually, around two hours after it had been called for, the replacement bus arrived and we all switched over. It wasn't as nice, there were no charging ports, and people sat in different seats and refused to move so that Joel and I couldn't sit together for the last leg of the trip. Since it had taken so long for the bus to arrive there was now less traffic on the way into London so we got there in an hour and a half instead of two-plus hours.
There were still a ton of Christmas lights up in the city which was delightful. My favorite thing, however, was a self-storage place on the way into the city. They had a big huge neon sign that says "Self Storage" but the S was blacked out (I'm pretty sure on purpose since it was on multiple signs on different sides of the building) so it said "Elf Storage." How fun is that?!
We finally arrived in London at Victoria Station at 9 PM. This was not the end of the road for us, though, as we still needed to get to our Airbnb which is north of London. Turns out it is north of London by quite a bit. We could have figured out public transportation - a train and then a local bus route would have gotten us there. But at that time of night and with all of our luggage we did not feel like navigating all that so we called an Uber instead. We figured we just saved the money we spent on the bus and Uber actually cost less than that did.
Mere seconds after Joel sent in the request (literally!) our driver showed up and we were on our way! The driver was very friendly, chatted with us about politics, his home country, and other things along the way. Before we knew it we were arriving at our new home for the next week! Or two. Or three. But no more than three. Probably.
The Airbnb we are in is fantastic. We are on the 3rd floor of a new build (our room literally still smells like construction in a good way) and we have a large bedroom and bathroom all to ourselves. The owners only come up to this floor to bring us fresh water (daily) and clean dishes and towels when we request it. We don't have access to the kitchen but we do have a mini-fridge and an electric kettle so we are making do with that. It's basically exactly like being in a hotel except a heck of a lot cheaper (and not all hotels give you a fridge or kettle!)
So why are we in an Airbnb and not another housesit? Well, it's complicated. We have exciting plans in the works but I am not sharing details because I'm afraid things might fall through. Just know that we are hoping for something more permanent soon. If all goes according to our plans we will not be doing any more housesitting this year. (Maybe ever, haha.) If you are willing to pray and send good vibes for this vague situation I would appreciate it! And you know I'll share all the details just as soon as I can.
We have now been in this Airbnb for a week and we have booked it for a second week so we will officially be here through January 10th. After that, as of right now, we don't know where we'll be. But we are enjoying our stay here, exploring the area, and even made some new friends at church last week (which I'll share about next week!) We're still pretty much just waiting for our real lives to begin...but I think that is coming sooner than later! In the meantime, we'll just enjoy our limbo in London and get to work on our 20 for 20 goals!