It felt like I had got off in the wrong town. It was quarter past eight on a Wednesday morning and the parking lot outside Utrecht Centraal was eerily quiet. The air was cold and grey snow huddled in the corners, seeking refuge from a brisk wind.
Perhaps it was the wintery conditions, or the fact that the station was undergoing some large-scale reconstruction, but this certainly wasn’t the Holland I had been expecting. Where were the tulips, the canals, the historical buildings?
Winter is a bleak time anywhere, and first impressions can be hard to shake.
My arrival in London heralded a number of changes. Tuk-tuks and tramadol were swapped for the tube and pints of warm larger; bottled water and roadside pad thai traded for solid English fare and drinking the shower water. The Asian humidity gave way to crisp English wind and I braved it alone, the solidarity of good friends exchanged for the independence of flying solo.
Heathrow was quieter than I expected and customs was thankfully uneventful. I lugged my pack down to the tube, following in the footsteps of a million antipodeans before me. I had directions to my cousin’s house: take the Piccadily Underground to South Kensington, get a bus from the road to Clapham Junction (345 or 49), head up the hill past the KFC and the big ASDA supermarket then take the first left.
Piece of cake, right?
On the tube I lose my ticket. A forgiving employee lets me out; his brief chastisement is far preferable to the cost of another ride. Once I find the right stop the bus is straightforward and it isn’t long before I am hesitantly knocking on the door of a bricked Lavender Hill flat.