2. “Welcome to London, love”

On my flight from Kiev to London I was joined by another 17 year old destined to achieve academic heights in a far away land. Dana also just graduated from school, was enrolled on the same Business English course and set to live in the same hall of residence. I’ve never met her before, but all those arrangements were made through the same company, planning education abroad, and they thought it would help us get used to the new place, if we become friends.

“Thank God, I’m out!”, were Dana’s first words as we said good bye to my dad and her mom in the airport. “Finally, I can do whatever I want, without listening to all that nagging! And I could use some change of scenery, for sure”. That sentiment required a cup of coffee and a cigarette as soon as we were through the passport control. Within the next couple of hours we managed to get to know each other a little and I starting having a hint of a doubt rising inside me, whether we would indeed just hit it off and be best mates, sharing a room and all. To say we were different would be to put it mildly. We were quite the opposites.

We arrived to London Gatwick Airport in the evening, took an express to Victoria Station and there was no way we could drag our heavy suitcases any further by Tube, so we opted for a Black Cab.

“A’right, girls? Where’re you heading then?” Don’t you just love London cabbies? I do. They can talk non-stop, if you’re up to it, asking you questions and providing you with all sorts of valuable and not so valuable information. As he found out that we just got off the plane, he inquired where we came from and that started one of the geographical and political speeches I had to repeat word by word on many occasions. “Ukraine – where’s that, love?” – it was year 2000 and Ukraine enjoyed its peaceful obscurity from the world mass media coverage, so I had to recite a paragraph I learnt for one of my English classes in a junior school, stating the countries Ukraine boarders on, the seas it has access to and historical facts leading to its independence, proclaimed a decade ago. That cab driver was fully loaded with geo-political knowledge of Eastern Europe half way through the ride.

As our place of origin was successfully identified, a friendly cabbie, feeling himself a representative of all London folk, decided to give us a bit of a tour of the city, describing everything we saw on the way. “Here’s Oxford street with Selfridges, Debenhams, M&S, and just over it’s Regents Street with all them fancy shops. And now we’re coming to Baker street, home to Sherlock Holmes, heard of him?”. Oh yes, I have, one of my most favourite characters! Baker street got me quite a bit more excited than Oxford and Regents streets put together.

We arrived to the halls late in the evening and had to wait a bit for someone to come over and open the front door for us. It was an old red brick building surrounded by magnificent sycamore trees. It looked so pretty that I already started imagining how much I would enjoy living there, until we were told that our room was one the 3rd floor and there’s no lift, so we should take our monstrous suitcases up that tiny winding staircase. That’s just what I needed by the end of the day.

It might be just me, but there’s something so authentic about old English buildings that it makes me want to admire them, only without living in them. It could be those narrow creaky stairs, wooden single glazed windows, which always have a gap somewhere making sure you have fresh air supply all year round, or maybe it’s the sinks with two taps that thoughtfully give you a choice of scorching or freezing water. Our halls had an additional bonus of shared bathrooms at the end of the corridor.

We made an effort not to jump at conclusions straight away, sat down, took deep breaths and tried to see the good points. We came up with one – we lived just across a lawn from our language school. Leafy sycamore tree gently swaying just outside our window also added some charm. We almost accepted this new place as our home for the nearest future, until we noticed a giant black spider crawling in through an opened window, probably just having jumped off that aforementioned tree. That was a moment, when we found that there was something we had in common – arachnophobia. Next morning we were navigating Camden Town with an address of a host family, which was our second boarding option.

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