London in a Lockdown

Updated: Mar 1

In early October I came across a deal for a $25 round trip ticket to London. At the time, things were quite calm in terms of Covid in Europe. The UK had just recently lifted the ban, letting Swedes enter without having to quarantine, and with having just received my resident permit, I knew I would be able to get back to Sweden without difficulty. Without question, I booked a ticket.

Fast forward to the week before I was supposed to leave, Covid numbers started to soar again, making people uneasy once again, and London declaring a lockdown. I was faced with the decision- travel and make the most out of what I could do, or cancel my trip and lose out on my super expensive plane ticket and hostel. Now the normal person would say it was a sign and that the timing was not right, but Megan doesn’t listen very well and decided to go anyway.

The day of my flight, I started to get uneasy. Our school at that point had moved all meetings online so we would be distancing from one another, and there had been many confirmed cases both in Uppsala and my school. The more I was reading up on London, things sounded equally bad there, as well. I sent several emails to the hostel and airline asking if I could get a voucher or refund, with them all replying “all sales are final.” Like every other adventure and obstacle life decided to throw at me this past year, I decided to lace up my big girl shoes, and see what would happen. If I’m paying for the trip either way, I might as well have some fun. With that new mentality, I booked a last minute bus ticket to the airport… 5 minutes before it left.

Now, more background to the story. For one, tourism related travel both to and from London and Sweden is currently banned. It’s not something that can really be enforced, though. If you’re an honest person- or a bad lair- then it’s probably best for you to stay home. But, if by the odd chance border control asks why you are flying, and you say a funeral or work or whatever half believable story, who are they to know if that’s true? With this in mind, during my bus ride to the airport, I came up with my “cover story” if I were to be stopped. My dear sweet grandmother, Rachel Diviney, had died the previous week and had a funeral that weekend. I would be in London for just 48 hours to attend her funeral. I found an obituary online to collaborate with the story.

Problem 2. Two weekends prior, I had been in Poland. Poland was currently 1 of the countries banned from the UK. With Saturday marking 14 days since I had been there, technically I couldn’t enter London until after 12:01 Saturday morning.

Now problem 3. London was closing their borders to Sweden again starting at midnight. My plane was scheduled to arrive at 11:15pm. That gave me 45 minutes to disembark the plane and get through border control. Shouldn’t be too big of a problem, but the odd chance the plane was delayed or we had to taxi upon arriving, could mean I may have some issues. Or if they checked I had recently been in Poland and couldn’t enter until after midnight...

Luckily, my plane was on time and I passed through Swedish border control fairly easily. Getting through London security was a bit more of an interesting story.

When I flew to Sweden back in August, I had to transit through London. Since Americans were at the time, and still are, banned from the EU, I was not able to pass through border control electronically, but rather manually have an officer check my paper work. So, when I had a red X pop up in my face saying I wasn’t allowed entry, I wasn’t too surprised. I headed over to the manual border control checks instead. On the way there, I was stopped by an officer. He asked why I couldn’t get through, and asked where I was headed. Take in mind I had about 30 minutes until midnight, and seeing the line was about 12 people long, I knew I would be cutting it close. The officer looked at my passport and said to me sarcastically. “Americans are banned from the UK currently you know, right?” Thank you, Joe, for stating the obvious. I explained how I have Swedish residence and was flying from the EU, something that I legally could do. He walked me over to a counter, took my passport and residence card, and typed away on his computer. You could tell Joe was not the officer people choose to get help from. After a minute, he told me that I would need to go speak to another officer since, “It isn’t looking good for you.”

An ounce of panic struck me at that moment. Do I just chill at the airport for the next 48 hours until I take my flight back home? Do I get detained? Please don’t say I need to pay a fine...

With that ounce of panic, a gallon of sassy, badass Megan came out also. I knew what I was doing and that I should be let in. I marched over to the next counter and laid out all of my paperwork. I shared how I was here for my dear sweet grandmother’s funeral, and that as an EU resident, I am allowed entry. Sam the Man didn’t flinch, simply gave me his sympathies and waved me through. Bless you Rachel Diviney.

Grinning ear to ear, I took the train to the city and got to my hostel.

Now, over the last couple years, I have stayed at my fair share of hostels. Shayna and I got lucky with most of ours in Australia, while Megley, Marissa, and I had horror stories to tell about time in Fiji. This one in London took the cake.

With it being after 1am by the time I checked in, I simply wanted to get up to my room and go to bed asap. I may be just 23, but I go to sleep at about the same time as an 83 year old. (I live across from a nursing home and have a secret competition with who goes to bed and wakes up earlier each day. I win more times than not…) Unfortunately, the desk clerk didn’t know what was going on. After 15 minutes of him trying to figure out what room I would be in, and then finding the key to that room, I made my way up the 7 sets of stairs to the last room down a long hall. I put in my key, turned the knob… and got the door open partially. With just the hall light shining in, I made out a person on 1 of the 4 beds, and endless clothes, food, blankets, and suitcases spiraled across the other 3 beds and floor. So much stuff I couldn’t open the door all the way, let alone walk in. Back down the 7 sets of stairs I went. But, by the time I was back at the front desk, the clerk was long gone and the lights turned off. With my gallon full of sassy Megan still flowing through me, I called the number of the front desk and asked for a change. 10 minutes later the guy was back, and not too eager to see me. After explaining the story, he reluctantly gave me a new key and room. Back up the 7 sets of stairs I went. I was luckily able to open the door fully this time, but was hit with the strong stench of BO when I did. At this point accepting defeat and being exhausted, I called it a night and went to bed.

Like clockwork, I was awake by 7am the next morning. Since all public places were closed- museums, tours, restaurants, etc… I knew the weekend would consist of lots of improved adventures and walking. Having googled a list of must sees, and talking to my British coworker to get recommendations, I was on my way to all of the touristy attractions. That day I got to the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, Soho, Big Ben, and several parks. With London being in a Lockdown, the city was a ghost town. Only at parks and along the water were there multiple people. By 4pm, the FitBit read 50k steps, and I was ready to find my way back to the hostel for a shower and dinner.

The plan was to grab my backpack from the room and take a shower, before finding some food and calling it an early night. But, when I made it up to my room, I once again was hit with the strong stench of BO, and I knew I would be trying to spend as little time in my room as possible. Not only did my roommate smell like she hadn’t taken a shower in weeks, but she also had clothes and food all over the place. That wasn’t even the most bizarre thing, though. Whenever I walked in the room, she would face plant onto her bed, flopping around to turn off the lights at the same time. I didn’t know if laughing or running was the appropriate response. Just one more sleep until I was out of there…

With my bag in hand, I headed outside in search of food. I was hoping to get the most stereotypical British food- fish and chips, and some scones and crumpets. With all of the restaurants closed, and not wanting to deal with delivery, I came upon a grocery store… that had just marked down all their food for the day. Clearly I am Dutch and have been living in expensive Sweden too long.

With my loot of British finds in tow, I claimed my corner in the hostel lounge. I caught up with social media, messaged my mom that I was still alive, and watched some Netflix, before plugging my nose and heading off to bed.

The next morning was another early start. After taking a dozen more double decker bus pictures, and having an impronto self timer photo shoot with a phone booth, I was off to the airport once again. This time passing through security effortlessly.

And with that, my 48 hour trip to London, during the lockdown, was complete. I saw everything that was on my list, and spent less than $100. Pretty successful adventure if I do say so myself.

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