Part 1: Arrival in London, School Tour in Hereford
By C.L. Bridge
In October 2018, I visited the UK with a friend and her mother. This was my first time outside the United States, and I bounced excitedly in place while waiting in line at the airport. By the time the lights went out on the plane that night, I wasn’t feeling so bouncy anymore. When it comes to sleeping arrangements, I’m like the Princess and the Pea. I constantly noticed the hard armrest digging into my side. My legs and feet were sore, and I wanted so badly to lie down. If I hadn’t brought my own eye mask, which blocks more light than the eye masks we were given on the plane, I would have been even more miserable. Maybe sleeping on a plane will get better with practice, but I didn’t sleep a single minute that night.
Fortunately, Heathrow was fairly empty and quiet when we arrived, with no line at Immigration. I easily figured out where to go thanks to the printable guide for autistic passengers, which I’d found on the airport’s website weeks before our trip.
This break from sensory discomfort didn’t last long, though. Soon I emerged from the hot, crowded tube into an even (unseasonably) hotter, more crowded city. The walk down Brick Lane to find our Airbnb was longer than expected. I was in complete overload from lack of sleep, heat, crowds, noise, the weight of my backpack, too much to look at, and the anxiety of being somewhere new. Once we found the apartment, I collapsed onto the bed, clutching my stuffed animal and sobbing. Perhaps ear defenders and seeing pictures of the area beforehand would have helped? By evening, the streets were less crowded. I was relieved to get some fish and chips for dinner, and to have a bed to sleep in, even though the basement room was very stuffy.
The next day, I was still fairly anxious, but once we boarded the train to Hereford, I started to feel happy and excited again. Trees, grass, and calm! It was my very first train ride, and I enjoyed getting to relax and look out of the big windows. If only the humidity hadn’t gotten to my hair during the walk to the bus stop; by the time we arrived at Hereford College of Arts for my campus tour, I was a sweaty, disheveled mess. Not exactly the first impression I hoped to make, and I felt very self-conscious when I arrived.
HCA was a wonderful campus to explore. The postgraduate student who did my tour was very friendly and informative, and told me about a project she had made out of discarded books from a public library. The main building is historic and beautiful, and the studios have equipment for working with wood, metal, fabric, and just about any other material. There is also a library of art-related books, and a small café.
I would have liked a little more time to explore Hereford. But after the tour, it was time to catch a bus to Hay-on-Wye, Wales. Again I wished desperately for headphones, and sunglasses. The bus was crammed with hot, sweaty people, the sun shone in my eyes through the windshield, and our arrival was delayed by about twenty minutes. By the time we arrived in Hay-on-Wye, I had a terrible headache… but my favorite part of the journey was about to begin.