England First Timer

And the time has finally come to pay the United Kingdom a visit, an overdue one maybe but better late than never I suppose. The timing couldn’t have been any better either catching up with the last glimpses of summer time in late August. It was such a unique trip I need to say; I got to experience few things for the first time and had the chance to delight in doing things I already love doing. Couldn’t ask for more!

When one thinks about visiting the kingdom, London is the number one spot to cross the mind and that was the case; I went straight ahead to the capital city being encouraged by the fact that one of my close friends has just moved in few months earlier. So why not start with London, right?


Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park – London

To most of the people I know London is about shopping and museums. Like seriously, almost everyone I talked to told me that I absolutely have to shop when in London, it was the number one recommendation I received! Being the non-shopaholic that I’m and given the fact that I have been living in Kuwait for a year now, shopping was the least of my priorities though I’m sure it can be a totally different experience in London. Now when it comes to museums; I’m not their biggest fan either!! But since they were also on the recommendations list I thought why not, let’s go to a couple of them! So I started with the Natural History Museum and frankly, I didn’t really enjoy it!! I honestly think it’s a place for kids and wasn’t even impressed with the T. rex fossil displayed at the entrance. Sorry, it just wasn’t for me!! Nonetheless, I managed to make it to the British Museum and that one was impressive. I only wanted to go there to see the original Rosetta Stone and thought I can wrap up my visit in an hour or so but surprisingly, I ended up spending 4 hours and only left the place because I was too tired to continue touring the premises. I was proud of how big the Egyptian section is and I couldn’t help but feel jealous that those exhibits are not displayed where they belong to but yet; will they ever have the same care and attention if they were!! Such a sad thought! That museum holds a huge collection of world art, culture, and artifacts which makes it a great destination to history lovers. If you are one you will need to add it to your list.


Soho at night – London

Frankly, this is not how I wanted to experience London. I didn’t want to spend my time shopping the streets or roaming the indoors looking at exhibits and displays. I wanted to have a different feeling of the city and I thought it can only be if I immerse myself in walks through the streets of the various neighborhoods of London, in an amble along the Thames or through the greenery of a park, in a hunt for something to buy at a local market, or in grabbing a hint of live music and good theatre. This is how I wanted to see London! And so, I enjoyed the sunny mornings I had exploring streets and parks on foot and touring local markets till my feet literally killed me, and had my nights portioned out over theatre and a live jazz performance at Ronnie Scott’s and that was just awesome. One of the things that need to be experienced in London I think is afternoon tea, I got to experience afternoon “iced” tea instead because it was just too hot for tea 😀 And no better place for that other than Fortnum & Mason and may I also suggest trying their sorbets. Scrummy!


Camden Lock Market

As noted before, I got to experience few things for the first time during this trip and one of those things was dorm accommodation. Yup, that was my first time to share a room with complete strangers for few nights. And here I’m trying to think of the right words to describe such an experiment but words escape me so I think I just better talk about it. Now, I know friends who wouldn’t agree to the idea of being with strangers and sharing the bathroom, not mentioning the need to always lock your stuff up and put them in order before leaving the room specially the important ones. And since I haven’t done that before, I was quite concerned to tell you the truth but was so looking forward to it at the same time. Come to think of it, I have actually shared tents with people during my hikes in Egypt so why would a room be any different huh? It turned out that I didn’t have a problem with those issues at all though at certain times when I was on a rush it would have been grand if I didn’t need to lock my things up before leaving the room because I tended to forget things needing to unlock my stuff again to find them and that can get quite frustrating sometimes!


Three Cliffs Bay in Swansea – Wales

Despite all of this I can’t really describe this experience in particular as totally awesome, not just yet at least! It wasn’t bad but not super great either. Apparently being a veiled Muslim female wasn’t exactly comforting to most of the people I ran into at the hostel. I was being eyed, looked at suspiciously, and ignored sometimes if not most even by the hostel staff themselves except for that morning when I was having breakfast and one of them complimented me on how I was always dressed in colorful scarfs and outfits and not in the regular basic colors you would see on everyone. Well, why not? Who said veiled women should wear dull colors, we can wear nice colors too. What that guy said and how he said it was so genuine, it made my day and I was glad that such a simple thing as dressing in nice colors helped make someone feel good. You would think such small things don’t matter but they actually do and shouldn’t be taken for granted.


Royal Naval College Chapel – London

While some of the people I met in the hostel were a bit edgy about me, others were totally not! I had the opportunity to get to know some of the ladies who were sharing the room with me and ended up spending a lovely sunny morning enjoying the local markets of Camden Town with one. So maybe it wasn’t such a bad experience after all, not what I was expecting maybe but not entirely bad either. Nonetheless I have to admit that I was turning into a bit of a reserved person over what was happening and that’s not me at all, I just couldn’t help it, but when I was approached by those ladies it was just great. I was getting to meet people who like to travel and we talked about what we do in life and where we traveled to so far and this is part of the whole travel experience, to meet people from around the world and get to learn new things. But probably I wouldn’t have experienced that if those two ladies haven’t approached me.  The negative vibes I received made me feel uncomfortable or more of an outsider. I never faced such a situation in all my travels and some of them were in Europe. I have lots of foreign friends with whom I traveled and I never for a second felt that I’m out of place or an outsider when I was with them because of my religion or the veil. But this one time was enough to make me feel bad, bad about how I was judged because of my scarf and not anything else! I might be even becoming oversensitive and paranoid about it 😦

Natural History Museum - London

Natural History Museum – London

Would it have been different if I didn’t cover my hair but chose to cover my body? Is that piece of cloth covering my head the reason behind all the mess? And why should I be judged because of it? Why wouldn’t people give me a chance to judge me based on who I’m or what I think? I was backpacking and staying at a hostel, wouldn’t that send a different message that maybe I’m not what the media is selling you and that not all of us Muslims are fanatics? Why instead of communicating to get a better picture people chose to judge me from afar? Isn’t this the main reason why we became divided? Because we simply don’t accept one another for who we are any more thinking that different is bad and should be feared and bit by bit we are becoming less tolerant to towards one another. It is so easy to hate than to love these days and with all the craziness happening in the world and what the media is feeding us we are being drifted apart. Such a shame! We are all similar in spite of our differences I have always believed; we just need to seek the truth ourselves to be enlightened. And like the song says:” we are how we treat each other and nothing more“, so how do we treat each other these days?


With my roommate Jo enjoying hippie Camden – London

Unlike London the people in Wales were the complete opposite; they were so laid back and very friendly. Maybe the big city life and how fast and changing it is has made its toll on the people! I had such great encounters with the people in Wales except for that time when I found myself in the middle of a political conversation between an Israeli couple and a British guy; that was when it turned a bit awkward but civilized still! I was quite surprised by how big the Islamic community is in Wales and I had such great conversations with British Muslims when I was there. My visit to Wales was a short two days visit during which I went hiking in Waterfall Country and was blown away by how beautiful it’s despite the fact that it was raining and so humid and my eye glasses kept on fogging that I had to clean them every 10 seconds or something to be able to see clearly! I never felt the need for an eye corrective surgery as I did during that day 😀 It was just great how I kept on having lots of talks with different people when I was asking for directions sometimes as I hiked through or when I was being offered to be photographed whenever I was seen attempting another selfie. And in all those talks I was always asked where I’m from. To most people I didn’t fit the bill for an Egyptian and some of them were even surprised, some said it could be my English, others said my looks. I loved it when I was told stories about visits to Egypt and when I was offered recommendations for things to do or even asked about what I did so far with wishes of enjoying the rest of my trip. People are the best part when it comes to traveling and for all the lovely ones I met and had the chance to talk to in Wales, thank you as you really made those days delightful 🙂


Waterfall Country, part of the Brecon Beacons National Park – Wales

So till now, I have been having a blast but Lake District was a completely different level of blast! Lake District has always been on my list of the top places to go to when in England and it might have been the main reason why I started on this trip and it didn’t disappoint me at all, not one bit. This time I was going with my friend, I wasn’t on my own as in Wales, and we decided to rent a car and drive our way to and through the district and this is where it all began! Talking about things for the first time, driving in England was one for me. And so we made it from London to Kendal then came my turn to drive to Windermere. See, in Egypt driving is on the other side of the car, other side of the road which to the Brits is the wrong side of course. Thus as I started driving I kept on thinking of that scene from The Holiday when Cameron Diaz started driving saying to herself: “I can drive on the wrong side of the car, wrong side of the road” and wishing the cars coming on the opposite direction won’t hit her! That was me 😀 But, the first segment of driving went fine with only minor occasions of leaning too much to my left side which is quite normal, right? Now, since my friend and I had our minds set on camping, having brought our tents, sleeping bags and all, we ended up choosing a campsite that is an hour drive from Windermere, in Eskdale to be exact. We started on the road with my friend driving and as we were approaching the campsite on an uphill in a tiny road in the middle of nowhere after dark, the rental car had other plans for us! A no drive that was the car’s plan for the night! The car refused to move no matter how hard we tried to figure something out and to top it all we had no signal in our phones! Stranded! Yes, we got stranded 14 km away from our campsite with no reception. I had to climb up a hill with my flash light trying to find a signal to call the rental car company and report the situation. Long story short, we had to wait in the car for around 6 hours for a recovery car to come and tow us! It was pouring rain and cold and the sound of the flash light almost caused me a nervous breakdown! Then it took us 4 hours to replace our car from Manchester Airport and another 4 hours to drive back to the campsite, we got there 10 am next morning!! As compensation to what happened with our first car, we ended up being upgraded to a brand new Audi A3, not bad at all yeah? And since it never rains but it pours, in my second segment of driving, I managed to have us a flat tire on the brand new car because of me leaning too much to my left side while driving! And that ladies and gents, was day 1 in our 3 days trip to the district 😀 The people at the campsite couldn’t believe we made it after all; they thought we should better have driven our way back to London and call it off!


River Esk in Ravenglass – Lake District

Quite a start, huh? That night was such a surprise; not only because of the unexpected happenings but because of what I came to find out about myself then. I have never been stranded before and it never crossed my mind how I will act if I’m put in such a situation and this is where the surprise came from because I was completely calm and in control of the situation to the amazement of my friend as well!! I instinctively took my flash light because it was already dark and climbed a nearby hill trying to find a signal to call the rental car company leaving my friend by the car in case someone stopped to offer us help. And while my friend was getting irritated feeling responsible about me and my safety, I was at ease; much to my surprise and his. I kept on assuring him that I’m ok and he doesn’t need to worry about me being stuck with him in such a pickle. I know I’m not namby pamby at all but still I had no idea how strong I can be and the way I handled the whole situation that night was a breakthrough in getting to know myself and what I’m made of. You only get to know the real you at such plights and what you find out can take you by surprise. It totally did to me!


On our way to Coniston we had to drive through Wrynose Pass where we got stranded and we had no idea it was that beautiful. It gave us quite a rough start but offered us stunning views and a chance to get to know what we are made of 🙂

Ironically, what happened that night was truly a blessing in disguise. We were supposed to have rainy weather all weekend but the closest we got to rain was those hours we got stranded during and the rest of the weekend was gorgeously sunny with blue skies and scattered clouds. It even might have been a miserable night if we ended up camping in this heavy rain, some of our neighbors in the campsite we were staying at told us how bad an evening that one was. So apparently every cloud has its own silver lining so one better be hopeful and hopeful we were indeed because with all that has happened and the fact that we ended up having shorter time than what we planned for, we winded up having such a wonderful time hiking, canoeing, and enjoying such stunning landscape. And though I only got to see a small part of the Lake District, I was mesmerized but how beautiful it is. Driving through those tiny passes was such a pleasure on its own; you just stare outside the window and enjoy the view. And speaking of driving, after the mishap I encountered bringing the replaced rental car to the ground flattening its tire, I didn’t want anything to do with driving anymore! I was really feeling bad about it and thought no more driving for me but my friend insisted that I drive on our way back to London to shake that feeling off. And so it was, I was driving the Audi A3 on our way back to London through the beautiful Lake District with a warm sunset in my side view mirror! That moment was the perfect closure to a weekend well spent and I couldn’t have asked for more to bring such a fruitful and eventful trip an end!


Landscape view from Wrynose Pass – Lake District

Alas, my short visit to England came to a halt after that weekend. And as I was walking through Hampstead Heath on that sunny morning of my departure enjoying the few hours I had remaining before I head to the airport I realized how much I will miss London. It was growing on me somehow without me even realizing it and I guess I kind of denied it especially when my friend kept on telling me so but here I’m confessing that it actually did! It grew on me and I just fell in love with it. I know I’m making someone really happy now with this confession, hope I won’t regret it but knowing my friend I probably will 😀


Thank you England for the abundance of memories and happy times; dear friend, thank you for ensuring that I was having fun and enjoying my time the best way possible 🙂 Photo taken by Jo Martinussen in Camden Town – London


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