Tuesday, November 1, 2016
I left London for Leeds at the crack of dawn in a true pea-souper. Yes, it brought to mind the lines of an old nursery rime I had learned as a child in India--"One misty-moisty morning/ When cloudy was the weather/I met a little old man/Dressed up all in leather..."
I left my home at 6.45 am for the 8.00 am departure by coach from Victoria Coach Station. On other occasions, when I have left the house this far in advance, I have reached with ample time to spare. Who would know that there would be signal failure issues on the District Line that held up the entire lot of trains and affected me so badly that an hour later, we were only at Earl's Court???? In despair, I jumped off the train there and looked high and low for a cab to take me to Victoria. When I did eventually get one after a harrowing wait on the main road, the sweet cabbie worked hard with me to get me to the place on time--with 11 minutes to spare!
No such luck! Despite his valiant attempts, I saw my coach just moving out of its bay as I arrived panting at the gate and begging the guard to let me through. Alas! Regulations do not permit them to open it...so I missed my coach by a hairs breath!
Deeply afraid of how this would affect the rest of my journey up north to Leeds, I approached the clerk at the Megabus Ticket Counter. She was sweetness and light! She told me the next one would leave at 9. 30 am! She also told me I had simply to pay the driver 5 pounds' penalty fee upon boarding. She gave me a ticket to hand over to him.
Brekkie Fit for a King:
So the downside was that I would reach Leeds about two hours later than planned--no biggee! I had nothing other than sightseeing in Leeds for the afternoon anyway!
The upside was that I left the coach station to try to find brekkie on Elizabeth Street--and lo and behold! What do I find, but a Dominique Ansel Bakery--right here in London! Brand new and still waiting to be mobbed as the New York flagship store has been ever since its opening and the announcing of the Birth of the Cronut--Ansel's creation that combines (as it's name suggest) a croissant with a donut--this tasty wonder has taken the Big Apple by storm. Crowds line up at 6 am to enter the bakery that opens at 8.00 am and, I am told, that by 9.00 am, all the cronuts are gone!!!! The saga continues again the next morning. I have only ever had it once in my life and it was good. At $6 a pop, it had better be!!!
Well, here in London, there were about 6 people ahead of me in the line. If I was looking for a silver lining in the cloud of having missed my coach, I could not have found a better consolation. I stood in the line and even bought one for a lady who had a dog with her, could not enter the patisserie and so begged me to buy her one!!! Unlike New York, where they have a Cronut of the Month (a different creative flavor each month depending on the season), here there was just one kind. And boy oh boy oh boy!!!! Was it terrific! It was simply delectable. The texture outside is crisp and that sugary sprinkling offers crunch and sweetness. Inside, there is a sweet cream filling and a layer of strawberry jam. The two in combination are just gooey enough. On top, there is a thick coating of runny royal icing (just the right touch of added sweetness) and it is finished with two mini prunes that make it look like a Christmas wreath. This concoction costs 4 pounds! I could not have been more delighted with my find--right outside the coach station, no less! And comfort just when I badly needed it You know where I shall be getting brekkie from now on every time I have a coach to board!
Off to Leeds:
An hour later, I was on the coach to Leeds--I sat front and center on the upper deck. And guess what? The sweet driver looked at the ticket I gave him and said, "Oh, you missed the previous coach. You suffered enough. Just go through!" So, I did not have to pay the additional fiver. So...you know what this meant? I actually did travel to Leeds from London for one pound! Yes, one skinny pound. It is true what they say on their buses--you can travel on Megabus for a pound! I could and I did as I had bought my ticket online for a pound!
We had almost zero visibility for a good part of the journey. It was only after we entered the Midlands that the fog cleared. And once it did, sunshine did actually struggle to come through so that when we entered Leeds at about 2.00 pm (after a stop in Sheffield), the weather was all right. I mean, it was very cold--far colder than London. But as I was expecting that, I was warmly clad.
From Leeds Coach Station, I found the No. 6 bus that took me to the University Steps--and it was all downhill from there!
Trying to find my Accommodation:
I had made a reservation through Hostels.com in a hostel called Russel Scott Backpackers (as I wanted to be close to the university) where I will be giving a lecture tomorrow. No one knew how to direct me to it. The librarian at the Parkinson Library tried hard--but he was not from the area and had no clue. Eventually, when I called the place, they directed me and I discovered that it was in a very dodgy area called Little London. The folks at the hostel were kind enough to send someone to the corner of the road to accompany me to the place. And believe me, there was no way I'd have found it on my own.
The hostel is actually an unmarked house--and a very poorly constructed house at that. Its walls and ceiling are so thin that with the slightest movement even two floors up, the entire house reverberates loudly! The receptionist called Omar is a nice enough fellow, an Algerian, who tried hard to please. But he can do nothing about the location or the people who register.
He showed me my room: it was a four-bedded female dorm--nice enough except that it was tiny. There were no lockers, no room for me to even stash my little backpack as every inch on the floor was taken by other residents. The toilet and basin were close enough but showers (not gender-segregated) were located two floors above!!!! I was besides myself. Only the fact that I was really tired and badly needed a nap prevented me from walking right out and looking for another place. I could not bear it. Believe me, my tolerance threshold for discomfort is pretty high and I have stayed in some pretty crummy places in my time--but nothing was as awful as this.
Feeling deeply dejected, I climbed up into my top bunk and curled up for a nap. Things had not started well at all and I was loathe to discover what other nasty surprises the rest of my trip would bring. I woke up at around 4. 30 pm and decided to go out and find some dinner as I did not fancy being out in the dark--and it now gets dark by 5.30pm.
So off I went, taking my life in my hands--or so it seemed--on to the main road. On the way, I asked a woman if the place was safe and she demurred to respond. She advised me to use another lane to get to the Main Road (via a block of university student accommodation where there were CCTVs in operation). This made me feel a tad safer--but I was still on tenterhooks. I found a Subway, sat down and ate a Chicken Tikka sandwich (which was quite tasteless) and hurried back along the way the lady had shown me and got back to my dorm.
Inside, I found another one of the residents--an Indian woman from Bangalore on a short-term IT project in Leeds. We got chatting but my entire mood was so low, that I crept back into my bunk, pulled out a book and read for another hour before I prepared myself for a very early night.
Until midnight, I was kept wide awake by 'regulars' who actually live long-term in this place--which seems to be a half-way house for new immigrants into the city looking to save enough of a down payment for a place to which they will then move on--or so I hope. They were a bunch of big burly loud black men who spoke in a foreign tongue that I could not identify. They were one floor above and they laughed and shouted until well past midnight. I made two calls to the Management to complain as there is no assistant on the premises after 8.00 pm. A lady called Andrea was helpful but she actually had to come personally to the place to quiet them down as they did not respond to her phone calls to stop the noise. It was one of the most miserable experiences I have ever had and I fell asleep sizing up my options: should I stay for one more night (I had paid already) or should I leave and try to find someplace else.
It was not a pleasant entry into Leeds...and I hoped the next morning would bring better experiences my way.
Until tomorrow, cheerio